I had the opportunity Thursday after our NBC10 Boston morning shows to meet with Cape Cod residents to hear, first-hand, stories of the storm that hit Tuesday. If you’ve never seen tornado damage up close, it’s awe-inspiring - both in the sense of respecting the unparalleled power of nature, and also with respect to the lives that have forever been changed by the storm.
After absorbing the personal accounts from Cape residents today, there’s no question so many have joined a somewhat exclusive club of those who have been forever changed by the touch of a tornado.
Hearing some recollections of Tuesday’s midday maelstrom, I couldn’t help but recall the stories shared with us on an necn morning show years ago, on the fifth anniversary of the Springfield Tornado. I’d headed to Monson, Massachusetts, hit hard by that historic vortex, and I’ve always remembered how residents carry a badge of honor and pride at the rebuilding of homes and lives in the wake of the storm... but there is also an open acknowledgement by some that no storm has ever be the same for them from that point on - every rumble of thunder in the years that have followed brings back memories, and the stronger storms ignite anxiety that otherwise lay smoldering just beneath the surface.
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Here on the Cape, that journey of emotion and discovery is only two days old. One resident on Egg Harbor Road in West Yarmouth, teared up as she pointed to the tree that toppled beside her house, resting flush against the outside wall of her daughter’s and niece’s bedroom... where nobody was sleeping and nobody was hurt in the midday terror.
Another West Yarmouth resident recounted the woman one block away, watching the storm from inside her picture window... mesmerized by the sway of the trees and then the approaching swirl of wind, water and dancing debris... until a tree branch flew into the window and shattered glass all over her, making her one of the few injuries of the storm. A tarp still covers the window after her trip to the hospital.
Nearly all Cape residents share a common recollection in the Tuesday storm: a nagging skepticism coming off the tornado warning the night prior that failed to produce a tornado, even as some sought refuge in basements and lowest levels of homes. That Monday night storm was unanimously agreed upon by these Cape residents to have been the “worse” of the two storms - continuous lightning, night turning to day in the constant flashes, thunder that shook the house and torrents of rain.
Tuesday’s tornado warning, on the other hand, came with a blanket of tropical rain absent of the electrified cacophony echoing through the night sky just several hours prior. Another example, most agreed, of nature’s fickle fury, unleashing ravaging tornadoes in the otherwise seemingly much more polite of the two storms.
What I found most apparent in my visit to Cape Cod today, however, was the innate spirit of moving forward. Laughter could be heard in the streets - between rooftops pierced with pine and tree trunks twisted into toothpicks. Handshakes. Friendly conversations. Neighbors connecting and reconnecting, some after years.
Even for those few for whom the task seemed just a bit too overwhelming to fully fathom and embrace, this media meteorologist was greeted with handshakes and hugs.
I met one teen who’s an aspiring meteorologist and - even with a large limb resting on her roof from an uprooted oak in her front yard - his Mom climbed on a stepladder while I steadied it, so she could tighten her son’s weather station instrument that had come loose, because she knew how much he loved the weather.
Now, in her roll of dozens of photographs reflecting her phone camera’s lens view of storm damage, a happier one will show up with her son riding aboard our Weather Warrior truck that was out in the height of the storm, broadcasting live images to our NBC10 Boston and necn storm coverage as the funnel touched down.
I asked some of these wonderful New England neighbors about this nearly indomitable spirit and all answered with the same premise, a few even using the exact same words: it’s the summer, it’s the Cape, we move forward.
There is a lot of hard work ahead for our New England family members on Cape. As many reminded me: we are used to hurricanes, they ramp up slow, they peak, then they wind down... but this was different. This wind came with limbs at the front stoop that blew one way, while those off the back deck blew another. One farmer described her sheep bleating like they never have before, while learning first hand the horses will need better harnesses going forward.
“We have... had... apple trees - just before we lost them, we saw the apples dance, they just danced on the air, right off the tree... then they went skyward.”
In these Cape towns hit by Tuesday’s tornadoes, patio furniture is upright again, though fences are laying. The flower boxes are back on the house, though the flowers in them are mangled and clinging to life. Old Glory is taut in a summer sea breeze, though the flagpole needs straightening. The watering can has returned to the back stair, though the shed has buckled under the weight of felled trees.
Weary homeowners are finding moments of respite in their favorite restaurants and bars, though they know the hard work and, for some, the still-darkened home that awaits when they return at day’s end. But this all makes sense if you truly know Cape Cod - you see, it’s summer, it’s the Cape, they move forward. And they always will.