One year ago today (that is, the date on the top of this page), Platteville residents woke up to a gray sky, humidity, and a whole lot of debris that didn’t belong where it was.
As I do every Monday night, I was here working, having shuttled children between baseball games and rehearsals for the UW–Platteville Heartland Festival’s “Shrek.” I got them home, went back to work, it stormed, and then the lights went out.
Other than the damage, that remains the impression I have of the night of June 16, 2014. No lights, other than emergency vehicles, gawkers, cloud-to-cloud lightning, and generators in a couple of buildings.
The areas of Platteville served by Alliant Energy did not wake up June 17, 2014 to electric power, that day or the next, until power was restored. Even if you had little or no damage from the tornadoes, the tornadoes affected everyone who didn’t have an electric generator. (I’m guessing more people have them now.) Since no one died in the tornadoes, I guess I can joke that those among us who require coffee as much as others require oxygen had a rough day without it.
It took until sometime June 17 for the National Weather Service to decide that all that damage on the UW–Platteville campus, destroyed houses in Harrison Park, and significant damage to buildings along West Business 151 was the result of an EF-2 tornado. Later, the NWS determined that the damage to Emerald Court Apartments was the result of an EF-1 tornado. Platteville went 44 years without a tornado in the city limits, and then two hit within five minutes of each other.
I decided to do a few before-and-after photos this week to show how things have progressed in the year since the tornadoes. Houses have been or are being rebuilt, other houses have been repaired, one house became the next-door house’s garden, and life is pretty much back to normal. And then as storm-looking clouds roll in, the sirens go off — for a fire alarm, not a tornado — and the Police Department gets inundated with phone calls. People will be touchy about bad weather for a while.
The standing reminders of the tornadoes are the trees — the new ones planted since June to replace the big destroyed trees, as well as trees with portions of them stripped by the 120-mph winds. There’s also the slab where the Shell station used to be, and there remains a lot of tree debris, and apparently even some tornado debris, on either side of Business 151 one year later.
This question has been asked and answered repeatedly since June 16 — why was there no warning? Sirens can’t be sounded to warn of a tornado no one sees. (And if you want to get people really irate, sound the sirens for severe weather that doesn’t pan out.) The National Weather Service said the tornadoes were relatively rare squall-line tornadoes, instead of the more common supercell tornadoes, coming from a line of storms instead of one large cell. That fact, night, rain and their storm path up the valley west of Platteville gave us our unwarned tornado.
That should make people realize that, independent of weather radios, radio or TV, and sirens, people still need to take responsibility for their own safety. Weather technology will continue to improve, but weather in Wisconsin remains fickle. For instance, despite several predictions — and you can keep track of breaking weather on our Facebook page and on Twitter — we have had no severe weather in this month where severe weather most often happens … yet.
There is one other lesson the tornadoes give us. For a while after 9/11 the boundaries between Americans disappeared due to the magnitude of what happened that day, and the reality that it had happened to all Americans, regardless of political beliefs or religion. Similarly, from the night of the tornado until weeks later, it was remarkable how well people in Platteville worked together, even without asking, to clean up what needed (and in some cases still needs) cleaning up and to rebuild what needed rebuilding. Emergency responders came from the rest of Grant County as well as Lafayette and Green counties to help us, because they know this could have happened to them.
This comes to mind when one thinks of how things often happen in Platteville, where governmental bodies and organizations have their silos, and disputes sometimes crop up over who is responsible for what, or who gets to decide what. (Most recently, planters in City Park to match those that have gone up on Main Street.) How divided our governments in Madison and Washington are goes without saying. That is our fault, because we humans are flawed, which means the institutions we design are flawed. Every once in a while, apparently, we need a lesson in what’s important, and what is not so important.