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‘There Was So Much Sky’: Rogers Park Residents Mourn Loss of Hundreds of Trees as Tornado Hits Close to Home

Loyola administrator Jennifer Clark said her favorite thing about living in Rogers Park is the large trees that line the sidewalk.

She’s lived in the neighborhood for 17 years and said she’s never seen as much sky as she did the morning after a tornado touched down about a block away from her home this summer, uprooting many of the trees that used to provide shade from the sun. 

“It really struck me the next morning to go outside and there was so much sky,” Clark, Loyola’s associate vice president of campus and community planning, said. “For those of us who have lived here for a long time, it was heartbreakingly noticeable. For the next few days, it was almost like the trees themselves were mourning. There was just this deadness in the air.” 

The Aug. 10 tornado touched down in the suburb of Lincolnwood at the intersection of North Crawford Avenue and West Touhy Avenue. It traveled three miles across Rogers Park before moving over Lake Michigan, turning it into a waterspout, according to National Weather Service. This is the first tornado Chicago has seen since Sept. 3, 2018.  It was part of a series of storms that caused damage across the Midwest.

At its peak, the tornado’s winds were 110 miles per hour and its maximum width was 300 yards, the National Weather Service reported. Hundreds of Rogers Park trees fell and nearly 6,000 Rogers Park residents lost power, but there were no serious injuries reported as a result of the tornado, according to Alderwoman Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward, which covers Rogers Park. 

Hadden said most of the initial cleanup was finished by Aug. 21 by both the city and neighborhood volunteers. More cleanup will happen throughout the fall and winter as the City of Chicago’s Forestry Bureau assesses the damage done to trees that didn’t fall but were injured in the storm, she said.  

Nomi Noman, a 36-year-old who’s lived in Rogers Park since the 1980s, saw the tornado while he was driving home from work at Autotecx Collision, a car repair shop he owns. Although this is the first tornado he’s ever spotted in person, he said he loves “chaotic weather” and lives in the midwest because of it. 

Noman said he usually anticipates severe storms days in advance by keeping up with weather reports and a variety of Facebook storm groups. But he said he wasn’t paying as much attention to the weather the morning of Aug. 10 because he was at a friend’s funeral. On his way out of work, he got a severe weather alert on his phone. 

“I’m looking up through the sunroof of the car and I see the clouds going in a circular motion and I’m like, ‘holy crap, the clouds are super dark,’” Noman said. “I’m reminded of the alert on my phone and I just thought, ‘this is the real deal.’” 

As he continued to drive west on West Touhy Avenue, he said the wind picked up and it started pouring rain. He said he saw an old woman clutching a light post after the storm caught her while she was walking home. He pulled over and told her to get in, but she was hesitant so he got out of the car and helped her get into the backseat, he said.  

“No joke, right? I closed the back door and I tried to get into the front door of my car and I almost got blown away by the freaking wind,” Noman said. “It was crazy, man. I mean, I love chaotic weather, but that was scary.” 

Noman said he wasn’t personally impacted by the storm’s destruction, but he posted online offering free repairs at his shop for people whose cars were damaged in the storm and was able to help out a few people.  

Also motivated to help due to her love for the trees and their positive environmental impacts on the neighborhood, Clark posted a message in a community Facebook group called Rogers Park Neighborhood News asking for help designing products to raise money for replacing the trees lost in the storm. 

Soon, she received messages from three artists who wanted to donate their designs to the cause, she said. The group plans to work with Tee Mart Decorative Apparel — an independent custom t-shirt shop in Rogers Park — to sell t-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, face masks, coffee mugs and a tote bag featuring the three designs. 

Andres Quiroz, a 44-year-old who’s lived in Rogers Park for about eight years, was one of the artists who contributed a design. He said he wasn’t impacted by the storm, but wanted to help because he loves to volunteer. Quiroz said he’s an active volunteer at his daughter’s elementary school and always looks for ways to get involved around the neighborhood. 

“I’m just at a point where I care about the neighborhood I live in and if I didn’t I wouldn’t want to be here,” Quiroz said. 

Quiroz’s design, which he sent to Clark after seeing her Facebook post.

All profits from the project will be held by the Rogers Park Business Alliance until next spring when the money can be used to replant trees. 

Hadden said the city usually allocates about 10-20 young trees to plant in Rogers Park annually in the spring, but her office has purchased additional trees in the past. She and her office plan to work with the Forestry Bureau to map out where the trees are needed most and how much it would cost to plan them while taking community input into account. 

“I’m hoping to create a bit of a process so that we can have something positive to kind of plan and be able to give residents as many options as possible,” Hadden said. “It’s also another opportunity to work with some local expertise in environmental issues and local arborists. We’re definitely looking to engage them so we can make some smart, sustainable choices when it comes to planting.” 

This is the design Perez donated to the cause after seeing Clark’s Facebook post.

Jeiline Perez, another artist who contributed a design to the project, said she feels like “giving a bit of extra effort for a good cause goes a long way.”  

“I feel like while we’re living in a time where everyone is kind of segregated, at least Mother Nature knows everyone has to come together to help out one another,” Perez, 22, said. “I just hope people realize we all live in the same world … The only way out is supporting each other because one person cannot plant millions of trees, they’re going to need the help of somebody else.” 

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