August 19, 1982. F0 Mattawa ON Tornado

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Nobody forgets their first tornado experience.  Although mine was at the ripe old age of 8, I still remember it like it was yesterday.  I was spending a couple of weeks with my Grandmother, Uncle Shawn, my Dad and sister at my Grandmother’s cottage on the Ottawa River just West of Mattawa Ontario.  On this particular day, there had been showers on and off.  After one heavy rainfall, my sister and I had ventured back out to play.  I was proudly posing for a photo in a tree I had just climbed (pic below) when my Grandmother, standing on the deck, declared (long before the movie Twister was released) “It’s going green”.

In her wisdom, my Grandmother ordered my sister and I back into the cottage.  She said: “When you see the sky turn that yellowish-green colour – it means some nasty weather is about to hit”.  I looked around but we were surrounded by tall mature pine and the only sky we could see for distance was to the East along the river.  Other than the eerie colour, everything looked fine to my 8-year-old mind.

I was sitting under a window on a couch in the cottage with my uncle when my Grandmother observed what she thought was a lot of birds flying by the window.  My uncle Shawn corrected her saying they were in fact leaves.  As my uncle and I watched, we observed a small branch whizz by the window.  My uncle was in the midst of saying “oh shoot” when the door to the cottage blew off its hinges into the cottage while a nearby window simultaneously exploded! My father quickly ordered my sister and I under the big wood table in the centre of the cottage as he and my Uncle Shawn tried to hold the door back up into place.  My Grandmother kept my sister and I under the table guarding it with a broom and whacking us if we tried getting out to sneak a peak.

I will never forget the sound of the Tornado that was roaring past the cottage that evening.  I have yet to hear anything similar.  Freight Train through the room comes to mind.  Just as the roar began to die down, my Uncle exclaimed that he could see the tornado crossing the river.  Assuming it was safe, I desperately tried to crawl out from beneath the table to get a glimpse.  Whack!  My Grandmother hit me back under with the broom.  My uncle then shouted that the Tornado had hit the forest on the Quebec side of the river and just like that had dissipated and it was over. As we emerged outside to survey the damage, we quickly realized how lucky we were to be injury free.  It was a warzone around us.  Massive mature pines, 3-4 feet in diameter were snapped in half or ripped out of the ground.  Our Muskoka chairs from the deck were 100 feet away, floating in the Ottawa River.  The tree I had just climbed was ripped out at the roots.  The shingles of the wood cabin were gone, some of the siding blown off too.  Massive trees fell on the outhouse and wood shed.  A clear swath of downed trees stretched from the far side of Highway 533 through our property to the Quebec side of the river.

Knowing what I know now about Tornadoes and having experienced an F2 two years later in my hometown of London, I am still shocked that this tornado was only given an F0 rating. 

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