Man survives two tornadoes in Barrie, one in Maryland


“At this point they tried three times to catch me and they missed, so I’m developing a sense of confidence,” a Barrie resident jokes

Editor’s note: Friday marked one year since a south Barrie neighborhood was hit by an EF-2 tornado.

You can forgive Michael Johns if he heads for his “go-bag” every time a strong wind blows.

The political science professor has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet manages to get away with it unscathed.

Johns managed to survive three near misses with three separate tornadoes in his 47 years, the first being a violent F4 tornado that hit Barrie’s Allandale neighborhood on May 31, 1985, killing eight people in the city.

Johns was 10 that spring and, like many young children, was eager to visit the new McDonald’s that had just opened in the south end of town. And even though it’s been nearly four decades, Johns admits it’s a hard day to forget.

“The sky was a weird color and it was very hot that day. We went to McDonald’s and by the time we got there there was no power so we had to go home,” he said, adding that they had returned to their homes in southern the city via the Allandale region. “We got home and about five minutes later our neighbor across the street came running up and said she had been through Allandale and thought a bomb had gone off.”

Johns and his family had narrowly missed getting caught in the tornado, having traveled almost exactly the same routes in the family station wagon just minutes before. He knew, even as a child, how lucky they had been.

“We had really just missed it and if we had looked behind us we don’t know what we would have seen because it was probably two or three minutes we were ahead,” he said. “We were really lucky. We would have been pretty much sitting ducks because we were in our car. … We would have been in a lot of trouble and certainly a lot of people were that day.

Tornado: Take two

Sixteen years later, Johns was studying for his doctorate at the University of Maryland, located less than 10 miles from Washington, DC, when Johns found himself a bit too close for the comfort of a twister for the second time in his life.

“We had just been through 9/11 and 13 days later I was in my office and had the window open as it was particularly hot. I heard a very loud noise and like an idiot I went stick your head out the window to see what it was,” he said.

All he could see, he recalled, was a “great wall of black”.

“You couldn’t see a funnel or anything because it was too close,” Johns said, adding that he immediately went back inside and hid in a small interior office. “It was the smallest space I could think of at that time.”

As the tornado made its way, Johns recalls the building starting to shake and ceiling tiles shattering and falling on his head. Once he was sure it was safe, Johns came out of where he had been hiding and walked out of the building. It didn’t take him long to realize just how bad things were.

“You could see he had walked across campus. The lacrosse stadium was destroyed, there was debris everywhere and the buildings were really damaged.

In the parking lot, Johns noticed his car had been slightly damaged by debris, but a vehicle a few spaces down was not so lucky.

“Poor guy was standing there staring at his little van. A port-a-potty had gone through the air and destroyed the front of his car,” he said. “Where the engine block was, there was now a portable toilet.”

At that point, Johns said he started looking around to see what he could do to help.

“Emergency services had arrived on campus and just told us to get out. Unfortunately, the on-site emergency services took some of the brunt of the tornado and many first responders needed rescue,” he said.

Two students were killed that day, he added, when the car they were in was picked up and thrown into a residence by the F-3 tornado.

“It was quite traumatic, getting over the events of 9/11 and being in Washington, DC, for that tornado to happen immediately.”

Tornado: Take three

A decade after surviving the devastating tornado in Maryland, Johns found himself in need of trying to find safety again when an EF-2 tornado ripped through his southern neighborhood of Barrie on July 15, 2021. Unlike At the first two tornadoes he witnessed, the future Canadore College professor admitted he didn’t feel like it was the kind of day you would expect a tornado to strike. .

“I was in my office and there was a power cut. Came down and stood outside our window which was probably the worst place you could be and talk with my wife. All of a sudden she had a weird look on her face,” he said.

She pointed to what was happening behind him on the other side of the window.

“I turned around and the tree in our front yard was basically lying on its side the top of the tree was touching the ground,” he said.

The couple then noticed debris flying down their street, which was located one block away from where the tornado hit hardest.

“We were on Maple Crown and the tornado came up the street behind us,” he said.

Despite the damage it caused, Barrie 2021’s twister was short-lived compared to others it had seen. Johns admitted he and his wife barely had time to figure out what was going on before it was over.

“As soon as I saw the tree and the debris…I yelled at my wife to grab one of our dogs and go to the basement and I’ll grab the other one. By the time we grabbed them and walked from our front room to the basement door, it was over,” he said. “We didn’t even really know what happened.”

Given how close they were to where the 2021 tornado hit hardest, Johns said BarrieToday the damage to their home was minimal compared to what many of his neighbors suffered.

“Part of the siding on the front of our house had been ripped off… (and) we could see that we had lost shingles. The house behind us, a whole part of the roof was gone,” he said. “As soon as I turned the corner, you could see that there were houses that didn’t have their top floor, there were trees everywhere, debris everywhere… and at that moment there, I said to myself ‘come on, that’s enough’.”

be ready

Looking back on his three ‘close calls’, the 47-year-old admits he has sometimes wondered why he was so ‘lucky’ to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. thrice.

“It’s kind of weird to think it’s become old hat in the face of tornadoes. It would be easy to say tornadoes hate me,” he joked. “Frankly, it’s just a case of bad luck. tornadoes than other places and unfortunately we’re going through climate change, (so) we’re going to see more of that, but it was just bad luck.

In some ways, he actually considers himself lucky.

“When the third one happened, I was able to tell immediately what was going on and was able to prepare myself. My wife and I discussed emergency preparedness. Based on that and some strange things that have happened in my life with disasters, we have “carry out bags” (ready) for if we need to evacuate the house.

While these types of natural disasters are unlikely, as Johns proves, they are not impossible.

“We spent a day collecting everything we would need if he had to evacuate our house. … If we had been a street further or the tornado had taken a slightly different path, we would have had to evacuate our house very quickly, so you have to be prepared for that.

Johns is watching the forecast closely if he senses the weather is changing.

“At this point they tried three times to catch me and they missed, so I’m developing a sense of confidence.”

Joking aside, Johns said he’s definitely more aware of climate change than some people.

“When you see a tornado warning on the Weather Channel, you take it seriously because it can happen. You don’t have to duck, but there are some things I do when there’s a tornado warning. I don’t wear shoes at home, but if there’s a tornado warning, I put shoes on in case something happens,” he said. “If you have to leave your house quickly, you should have shoes.”

He didn’t know how he would react the first time Mother Nature hit the city with her next big storm, but he said when it happened he found he wasn’t more nervous than he was. normally would have been.

“I wanted to see how I was going to react and (I) got away with it,” he said. “A tornado is an event that you are part of. You can be as prepared as you can be…but tornadoes are one of the most random things for me. There’s an element of luck there, so I can be prepared, but I’m not going to be afraid of it.

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