TORNADO! –nearly 41 years old, not forgotten.


(photos at bottom of post to depict (as best I could create) cloud color like that often associated with funnel forming conditions)

This is about the Oak Lawn tornado that happened during a spring outbreak in April of 1967.

It has been referred to me, by the person I predicted it to about an hour before it happened, at the last class of the day, as; “(Benafia). You and your tornado!” When school resumed many days (3weeks?) later, that room was the last remaining open on that floor of the high school. Plywood boarded off the rest to the southwest. Nearly two dozen people died in my town. (Now I have learned it was 33 deaths. I found a site on recollections of that days events. I also have discovered conflicting information, so what the parameters, like time or town borders may be I do not know.)

Anyone who has been in this kind of natural disaster, might recall how reality seemed turned on its head. That day National Guard rifles were pointed at we kids as we walked down the middle of the street. They asked us what we were doing in an angry tone, rifles pointed at us. (We were where you were told to walk; not near stores, down the center of the highway. We had been out checking on some of our relatives and friends.)

Sirens went on and on. There is no power and so no news but rumors. Electric clocks everywhere were stopped at that fateful moment for some time to come, in some cases months or more. When I got home from the terrifying “normal” trip to the store to get pop for my terminally ill step brother who was working (one of the longest living survivor of a blood cancer at that time), favorite trees were gone. We got that pop to him at the job another block north. (I worked there on weekends, Friday evening, Saturday and 2am Sunday morning to sometimes afternoon ($1.00 an hour). Anyway, in the parking lot at his (our) work there was a two by four going right through someones windshield. Debris was everywhere.


Earlier, we had left home for the four block walk to the store after waiting out an exceedingly wicked but brief electrical storm. It passed and it cleared up a bit. Leaving to the store, there was an ominous sense of pushing ones chances with the unknown. I had completely forgotten my prediction it seems to me.

While just into the grocery store and up the first aisle a bit, a man ran in saying there’s a funnel cloud outside. He was quite excited about it. I thought I have to see if this is true. I was an avid weather watcher, so I went out on 95 street to look and could not fathom the odd sloped wall dragging down from the sky to the west. It seemed a mix of brown pushing into that eerily gray to yellowish brown green that I have come to see in the cloud atmosphere around future funnels. Since it was just three quarters to a mile from us at the time, I could not see the other side of the funnel. My memory is of an inexplicable fuzzy sloped wavering wall dragging into an oddly greenish sky. That time of my viewing would place it very near the touchdown point at Southwest Highway and 95th St.

With the wind staring to howl, two younger step brothers and my younger sister went back into the store with me. We went to the back of the store to be away from the huge wall of windows on the stores north side. I thought; man, is this ever the worst palace to be, a grocery store full of potential projectiles. That jet and train engine combo roar built up and seemed to shake the air. It went pitch black. I reached out and touched someone. I said; “George. Is that you?” He said” Yeah. It’s getting hard to breathe.”


I had never heard of this vacuum experience phenomenon before. I prepared for the onslaught of glass and cans as the roof came down. Suddenly, dying seemed close at hand. I was trying to get us away from shelves that could fall on us when time just ran out. Time disappeared with the light and the waiting, seconds or a few minutes, I can’t quite recall. Then light came back through the store windows, the sound rapidly diminishing. Rushing outside, the clouds were whirling in the opposite direction as I last looked. Pieces of fence, roof shingles and all kinds of tree debris and metal objects were on the road. We paid for the pop left at the counter and went back on our mission. I did not then know the tornado went by about 500 feet from us.

Later, out exploring after running home, then going out looking for where the emergency vehicles were really heading, when we got to near the high school, total devastation started. The cement gymnasiums pool roof had gone into the pool. We walked on cement beams, some that dove into the water, looking and listening, since someone said they heard a voice in the water. A man came up and asked us what we were doing there. We told him of the voice someone heard, and it seems memory has it that he said; ‘It has been checked out. It is too dangerous for us to be there.’ Across the diagonal highway, a young girl (9yrs old?) in a trench coat was picking up surviving whiskey bottles from a liquor store, and hiding them in her long coat.

I asked my older sister at home what they did during the storm. I wanted to make sure they went into the basement. We always had this plan to go to the southwest corner of the basement, which was two thirds underground, into the old coal room. She said they heard the noise and were looking out the window. They could see garbage cans and all kinds of stuff flying sideways down the street, so they ran into the basement.


You could see through town as if a mysterious trail has been blazed, where buildings and homes once were. We heard horror stories from just moments before; someone allegedly impaled out in the athletic field. A bus was upside-down on top of a three story house left standing, I seem to remember. That looked even more unbelievable than the generalized devastation. The bus stations collapse killed some (?). And now another storm was starting to form, so we had to head home 5 blocks away north. I touched a leaning telephone pole and saw four or five others down the line start to move. I could not believe they were so close to seemingly falling. Our house missed annihilation by about one block.

Many times that year, the tornado warning sirens would go off. Once I ran out of where I was working to see it pitch black out west. I began to suspect that when clouds are that black, something has drawn soil into the air. We were all on edge that summer as much severe weather occurred. Another time at around six on Sunday morning at work, someone said there is a strange cloud coming down. I went out to look and it was a finger like projection of a wall cloud. I could see it act like some kind of conveyor belt, just blocks away and getting nearer, almost touching the ground, yet not a tornado. The clouds top was going one way, its bottom the other, as its thunderstorm approached from the northwest. It might actually be called a “roll cloud”. I will have to check up on it. I got back in since I did not want to find out what a strange thing was up to.

Another aspect of the 1,000 people injured that day carried grim news into the future. A stepbrothers swimming team friend was in the emergency room, his face wrapped and I believe several broken bones, not knowing if he would see again. His dad had picked him up from practice. My stepbrother, when visiting him a day(?) later, was not to tell him his father died being sucked out of the car window at the intersection. That is how I remember hearing it. My second youngest stepbrother had his confirmation cancelled at St Gerald’s for that night, understandably.


There was a famous (have seen it on TV in historic tornado footage) shot of my former grammar school damage where the tornado lifted enough to stop destroying homes, (except mobile homes a mile further up, at least 1 death there.). If you ever happen to see it, 16 year old me was standing right behind that photographer at that moment. I believe there are a few nuns and a priest in it, not sure. That is the one I am trying to get on this post. It is strange in that way, it is what my own eyes remember exactly. The adjoining church had some windows blown out, so for some time different colored replacement glass was a reminder of a kind of survival and remembrance of that day.

You could smell the wet or rotting plaster and wallpaper then when the “famous” photo was taken. Those old school walls had an odd smell to them. I took six roles of film on some cheap little spy camera from Japan I ordered from a magazine, that I had never tried before. Never developed the hundred or so photos, as the little roles of film vanished in time.

I remember the house directly across from the school had been battered but not erased like all those to the high school. One tree at the southwest corner on St Gerald’s School lot had something like a 1″ by 6″ board going right through the middle of a branch 20 feet up (?). I took never to be seen photos of ground down trees, brick homes half eaten away at the edge of the tornadoes trail. Many dramatic angles from the beginning to the end of the tornadoes track. In most intense tornadoes of F-3 and up, you will see these same scenes; trees holding someone’s couch, buses and cars crinkled and put into piles and stuck into homes as if they were origami paper vehicles, and the insides of homes scattered and mixed with everyone elses. Devastation takes on a certain shocking similarity.


The tornado killed the huge elm trees that were the landmark in our front yard, where as I child I would sit between their large root–to trunk legs. Sometimes many of us sat in our own trunk niche. Our trustworthy large apple tree split in half. We had to climb through it to get to the house.

The east west highway in front of the house was blocked for a while, as chainsaws growled away on the widest Elm that split in half. You could see those Elm trees from up to ten (?) miles away, when up on the other side of the moraine deposit, on the other side of old glacial Lake Chicago. They were a plume of green rising above a sea of green. An underground stream (my father said, and our lower yard drop and uplift at the neighbors across a grass lot indicated) happened to flow beneath them, they always had all the water they wanted. My father had said to us as kids that those trees were invincible, lasting all these years being often hit by lightning and ferocious storms. One myth ended, very near his own vincible (month later suicide) end.

As it turns out that tornadic day, another high school in session about an hour or more before was hit. That town had even more casualties, I believe, leaving that tornado I was in, kinda off the Weather Channels radar when I watched a special on it of that days outbreak. (I have now learned that is wrong about that town having more casualties, but that high school had several deaths, giving it a more concentrated impact to a tragic similar narrative for those families.)

Ours was a wedge tornado in the photo (I remember the photo being called something like; A portrait of a killer.) and the one side I could see, must have been F3+, (just learned F-4) the radar image shown in coming papers (as I recall), had it seeming to have its own spiral band of storms feeding into it, (the prior intense lightning storm?) leading me to believe it was so well organized and long lasting a super-cell, that it may have been the same storm that hit the other school. Just guessing.


A very shy guy (me) blurting out; “There’s going to be a tornado!” to the kid next to him, I believe, picked up on the subconscious currents that some of us know, moves between those of us open to receive them at unpredictable times. That is the one and only time I told anyone there is going to be a tornado.

Lake Michigan. That is what I believe was the savior that day. The tornado could possibly have gone many more miles through solid cityscape. Once cool and more stable air got entrained or sucked in off the waters large cooling effect mass, it probably pulled most of the energy on that hyper intense uplift of hot humid air. You had an F-4 drop down and get pulled right back up in less than a mile, while allegedly travelling at 65 miles an hour, progressively dimming of the F scale rapidly, while heading right for the Great Lake. Why Chicago’s downtown is virtually safe from a tornado, but I would never say, given the right wind speeds angle and storm formation development, that it is an absolute impossibility.


Working as a volunteer on clean-up after the storm, changed my perception on what being a human in this world of life and humanity, is all about. It is about being there for one another.

{I have attempted to approximate the color of some funnel clouds proceeding classic unusual greenish tint. It has been said (in a very liberal sense) that hail is natures tornado watch. Usually a hail storm would require some other atmospheric spin in differing level winds through the atmospheric vertical profile. I believe this greenish to yellow brown strange cast to some thunderstorms, again very liberally, is considered natures tornado warning, along with any notable rotation in a wall cloud or descending cloud structure of course.}


and from my local photos taken during last years monsoon period, these three.



When you see that unusual color you will probably know it. For me it carries an ominous sense to it; clouds usually are never that color, especially away from sunset or sunrise. I have not studied the color issue. Long ago I heard a theory that tornadoes might be a type of natural motor, with some kind of ionization creating the odd sky color. Many tornadoes seem to have a lack of lightning, but not all. Transformers and other power sources exploding can make it seem like lightning at the bottom. Not all storms with the greenish color by any means, all produce known rotations. And some rotating storms never produce the intense spinning of a funnel. Many variables can make or break a storm at nearly any time while they are forming and going through their life cycle.

When watching weather radars, rotating storms, usually super-cells, can have quite a round shape on radar. During the radar loop you can pick out at times the rotation of the echo loop. Not all super-cells are round, but tornadic ones setting up a continuous flow (possibly relatively long lasting) can have a little hook near the trailing edge (often south-southeast side of storms moving from a southwest direction). There is where the funnel can be, near the tip, right above it, possibly causing the radar arch in a counter clockwise manner that gives the image a tail point.

When these are embedded in a lot of storminess in a line, they might be called “a dog foot” taking on a remote notion of the same. (There are on rare occasion clockwise rotating funnels.) Lone storms out ahead of a squall line or storm filled front, are sometimes good candidates for unimpeded development to high intensity. Sometimes, if a “bow echo” line runs into one of these, near the touch point may become a rotation, with the intense dynamics of the merger. Part of why tornadoes are not just standard set ups one can predict ahead of times.

Super-cells can be moving along a dry-line or other frontal or air flow boundary (ahead of and parallel to the front), seemingly stretched along its angle of movement. The movement seen in the radar loop and the darkest points in the storm can be near the rotation. Usually Doppler radar picks up the differing speeds on the opposing wind echo sides of the funnel, giving them quite a sure signature of at least a funnel cloud. Take their indications seriously when you here that spin is detected by radar. Do not wait for a weather spotters report for confirmation. You might never have time to hear it.

On many occasions I have called a storm as having a tornado by my above radar viewer depictions, before the weather service does. No ESP necessary. They have to type out and clear the info. for the newscaster, which probably accounts for part of the delay, and or wait for the severe weather expert to confirm the suspicious indications.

I hope I was able to give you some information regarding tornadoes that will help to keep you safer in the future. Nowhere in the US can be said to be absolutely immune from their development, well, maybe in northern Alaska and exceptions like that, to be more precise. Cold air funnels (a more upper air event) could conceivably cause an incidence above a high mountain range, but do not quote me on that!

Tropical storms and hurricanes often produce relatively weak tornadoes usually in the north-east quadrant of the system, where instability and, shear can spin up cells quickly. The problem with their “weakness” is that depending on the storms other wind speed added in, the EF-1 for instance might in effect go up a notch or two on its ability to enhance damage. And micro-burst can do much damage as well, and are ever a threat to planes landing during thunderstorms. As you might know, storm lines setting up a “bow echo” on the radar can produce hurricane like winds as they rush through from one direction, able to knock down trees and power lines.

During monsoon season here, we quite often get rotating clusters of thunderstorms called a mesoscale convective complex.  These organized storms set up a small somewhat temporary low pressure system.  Sometimes, as they decay overnight, they effect the next days storms.  Too much clouds can prevent next day heating and instability.  The low circulation might focus the next days formation.  Residual outflow boundaries might ignite storms early the next day off to the edges of the prior days storms.  Lots of variables.

Our southwest monsoon season is highly dependent on humidity, days heating, pressure set ups, stearinf currents, and often orographic caused starter storms, the days valley heat rising up the mountains.  Storms form, then may or may not move out, or their outflows start new storms a bit away.

Dust devils near Tucson have even knocked over mobile homes on cement blocks. I have seen sheet metal roofing flying blocks away 30 feet into the air, creating a sudden commotion, just to let you know on rare occasions they approach possibly F-1. We had roof shingles torn off the middle of our roof by one last year. Noise, trees rustling intensely, a twenty foot otherwise small branch breaking off a tree as I looked, and going up into the sky full of leaves, swirling dust column, bags and possibly a few birds. They do come out of the blue, and on rare occasions get kinda scary. Often, you might not see it, but dust devils can have a reverse spinning companion, hundreds of feet or a half mile or so away.

(The title of this page; TORNADO CHASIE, refers to my many future encounters with tornadoes, or funnel cloud producing storms, that occurred shortly after I moved to a new home in places across the country. Believe it or not. I speak of those coincidences on my X-Filez page.)

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on March 8, 2008 at 9:26 am Comments (0)
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One thought on “TORNADO SKY’S

  1. That was a powerful description of a terrible event. I can’t imagine the feeling one has when the world as you know it suddenly disappears. I hope I don’t experience it.
    As you say, such an event alters your worldview and makes you realize what is important in life and what is trivial. Obviously, that signal event you described, changed your life in many ways.

    Thank you for writing your experience. It gives me pause for some deep thoughts.

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