Friday Afternoon in the Basement

I walked through the connector between the undergraduate and graduate libraries yesterday and today on my way to work. Late yesterday afternoon, an impressive storm was brewing that turned out to be the near-tornado of last night. This afternoon, a similar storm was brewing as I walked through. I stopped to look out the window at it, at the way it rolled and broiled across the sky, the way it made the birds scatter for cover, and got a couple of glares from passing students, as though I were somehow not supposed to stop in the middle of the connector to look out the window, but also got a little conversation out of a passing library worker, or maybe a person visiting from out of town—she was surprised when I told her about the storm last night and expressed the opinion that the one brewing right now looked pretty substantial as well. Five minutes later, I was walking with everyone else in the undergrad library to the basement after an announcement over the PA system that DPS had ordered everyone to take cover until further notice. We all herded down to the windowless basement—everyone in the building, evidently, amounting to about 55 or 60 of us—and waited out the tornado warning.

The students seemed more annoyed and inconvenienced by the enforced confinement than anyone else. The library workers and the visitors stood around and chatted. The students, many wearing shorts and flip-flops, sullenly stomped around the basement, looking aimless and unhappy, as though the weather were some sort of unfair adult imposition. Some of them eventually sat down and started reading or doing work. Others just continued wandering around the perimeter of the basement, as though it were a track.

One of my co-workers recalled a tornado that had hit Ann Arbor 15 or so years ago and downed power in parts of the city for 3 days. One of my SI cohorts came over and said hi and we had a brief and somewhat humorous conversation about the weather, during which it became clear that not only had I never had to “duck and cover” as a kid for any reason, but I still couldn’t keep straight the distinction between a tornado watch and a tornado warning even though Steve has reminded me of the distinction, oh, maybe 50 times. An undergrad wandered over and started chattering about his brother in San Diego and the hellish firestorms they had out there last October. Finally, and anticlimactically, the PA system came back on and the announcer said, with more than a note of tentativeness, “DPS has given the all-clear signal. You can now go back to ….. your various library locations.”

All in all, it was a combination of nervous energy and random conversation that would never have happened without the tornado warning and all of us being forced to spend a half hour in the basement of the library.