I grew up in Hamden, Connecticut known as “The Land of the Sleeping Giant” for its 738-feet tall popular hiking mountain that, from a distance, indeed looks like its namesake. The Sleeping Giant got a rude awakening last week when an EF1 tornado ripped through the northern section of town bringing with it eight minutes of maximum 110mph winds. It wreaked havoc 600 yards wide and 9.5 miles long, leaving a path of uprooted and snapped hardwood and pine trees. The National Weather Service confirmed that it was indeed a tornado, not just a macro or microburst.
Because I’ve got lots of Sandwich Generation stuff going on right now, I make the 4-hour round-trip to the New Haven suburb with increasing regularity these days. I was almost out the door and on my way there the evening of the event when I got a text from my mom’s neighbor. “House is OK but neighborhood is bad. Possible tornado.”
House is OK? I didn’t know it might not have been OK, such was my ignorance. I wasn’t worried about my mom. Her safety had been ensured a few months ago. Instead of cowering in the basement of her home all alone as a natural disaster swirled around her, mom was with caring people in an area that fortunately was not in the tornado’s path.
“Our street fared well,” the neighbor continued, but Quinnipiac University area got hammered. Know two people who had trees come into their house. Like BAD. Road is blocked off, so don’t even bother heading down. Landscape is changed forever.”
That landscape changed forever part sounded ominous. Now I was itching to get there and see for myself. What I saw a couple of days later was eye popping, and I’ve brought pictures back to share with you. I rolled in just as most of the roads were opening up and the town of 60,000, about a third who were directly affected by the storm, were firing up their chainsaws and clearing away the rubble. Quinnipiac University, which was in the direct path of the storm, carried on with its graduation ceremonies just a few days after May 15th event as if nothing had happened. That’s how you know those kids are going to be just fine out there in the world. Not even a tornado can stop them.
Back when I was a kid experiencing a post-Wizard of Oz viewing anxiety attack about tornados, my parents would paraphrase the palace guard as they assured me that “Nobody sees a tornado in Connecticut, not no how, not no way.” They’d point to the hills that would thwart a tornado that even dared to try anything funny. It was good, solid parenting in the days before superstorms and a changing climate.
Given that this is the second Hamden tornado in thirty years, I don’t know what Hamden parents today say to their kids worried that their house will rise into the funnel, just like Dorothy’s. Can’t happen a third time?
All the best to my hometown as you rebuild. May the disaster aid funds flow your way and the insurance companies pay out big. Stay away from those fly-by-night contractors, and listen to Sleeping Giant Park officials who say to stay out of the park because “you should assume that there are branches that could fall, that could potentially injure or kill you.”
As I said to my BFFs with awe, “You lived through a tornado. I can’t believe it.”
“I was praying to the angels,” said one.
“Well, you hogged them up,” I told him.
The tornado literally grazed their house, having dropped a tree on the across-the-street neighbor’s home before moving on to the conservation land to the right and behind my friends’ home. At least a dozen trees were felled within 15 – 50 feet around them. Their cat snoozed in a wicker chair on the screened-in porch throughout the event. A robin sat on her nest, safe under the eaves of their rock-solid abode about which the tornado said “no thanks, don’t wanna wreck this one.”
That’s the kind of day it was in Hamden on May 15, 5:01 – 5:09pm.
Betsy Roberti says
Hi Mrs. Swellesley –
What a small world – I grew up in Hamden too! Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful report on the tornado. I have been following old friends’ postings on the devastation there., as well. Betsy Roberti