We’ve been through a lot on the road to the current incarnation of Tree House. There was - as can be expected with any new small business - insecurity, fear, debt, and never-ending risk. There was Snowtober, a deep trial of personal will and triumph. And countless other tales and experiences that shaped our culture, personality, and insight.
But absolutely no story or event is more memorable, or more harrowing, than the Brimfield Tornado of June 1st, 2011.
Let me set the scene.
It was a humid day, that Wednesday, and the weatherman had forecast strong thunderstorms in the area, a fairly typical outlook given the season. Tree House, in it’s infancy (we weren’t even officially named yet) and as driven as ever, would not be deterred from brewing a new test batch. So we convened in the barn on this fateful evening and got to it. I remember it vividly. As the batch proceeded effortlessly the calls from relatives became more dire.
“I think you guys should seek cover”
“You see the radar??”
“There was a Tornado spotted in Springfield. Cell headed right for you. THIS IS SERIOUS”.
We paid such close attention to the brew and remained naively and stupidly oblivious to the impending storm. Then the power began to flicker. And then hail the size of baseballs oddly rained down from the increasingly rotating sky. And then, a remarkable, unnervingly peaceful calm. Then it happened. In an instant we were overwhelmed with noise like a freight train; the wind pushed the tops of trees to the ground, bending them beyond comprehension. Damien and Johnny were literally hanging from the barn door. Incomprehensible wind. I, being terrified of storms, hid under the stairwell seeking whatever futile refuge I could. We had never seen anything like it, and we were only brushed by the far outskirts of the Tornado.
Lauren called absolutely hysterical. The Tornado had passed right in front of her on Route 20 at the Village Green Campground, spinning her car around 180 degrees and leaving her car tarred and feathered with an abundance of spring greens. She spoke of transducers on fire and complete chaos.
Back at the barn, power had now been lost and we were in the middle of an electrical storm for the ages. Lightning crash after lightning crashed couple with rain so fierce it started to inundate the barn. And still, the brew went on with the help of the headlights of Jonathan’s Corolla. The hop schedule was 100% improvised given the circumstances. The loss of power meant we’d have to cool the beer in the carboy overnight and hope it didn’t spoil.
A few more cells passed over us that night, none quite as fierce as the first, but still ferocious in their own right. A NWS report shows that an F1 Tornado literally dropped right on top of us at 6:54 PM:
...EF1 TORNADO CONFIRMED IN NORTH BRIMFIELD...
LOCATION...NORTH BRIMFIELD IN HAMPDEN COUNTY
DATE...JUNE 1 2011
ESTIMATED TIME...654 PM TO 657 PM EDT
MAXIMUM EF-SCALE RATING...EF1
ESTIMATED MAXIMUM WIND SPEED...90 MPH
MAXIMUM PATH WIDTH...100 YARDS
PATH LENGTH...1.3 MILES
BEGINNING LAT/LON...42.1295N / 72.2444W
ENDING LAT/LON...42.1544N / 72.2075W
It wasn't until the next day we realized the extent of the damage the Tornado had wrought in Brimfield. A NASA satellite photo showed a nearly ¾ mile wide swath of completely destructive damage in the Brimfield/Monson area, extending east to Soutbridge and west to Springfield. A quick drive down Route 19 revealed an endless field of horrific destruction as far as the eye could see - Absolutely gut wrenching, terrible scenes.
We were very, very lucky to avoid major damage in the barn, but many many others were not so lucky. Today Brimfield has been rebuilt, and lives have gone on with the scar of a traumatic experience continuing to haunt us. The barren landscape along Route 20 is an ongoing reminder of nature’s fury, and a constant reminder not to take things for granted.
As for the beer, it turned out delicious and we are quite proud of it. We've brewed it yet again, two years later, as a testament to strength and will of those so dramatically effected on that fateful June day. It's available for the first time this Thursday at our humble barn on St. Clair. We hope you try it. And we hope you like it!