In observance of the Memorial Day holiday, the Northwest Herald newspaper will not be published May 28. Breaking news and information will be updated on

Peterson: Long walk to basement after 2 a.m.

I should have known better, and I should have done better. Next time.

But the best I could do was roll over and go back to sleep. And that was foolhardy.

At 1:50 a.m. Monday, while I was in a deep sleep, my cellphone made a screeching sound that woke me up. And it takes a lot to wake me up in the middle of the night. I can sleep through the most violent of thunderstorms, I am immune to snoring, I don’t hear doors outside opening and closing when someone comes home late.

When I am sleeping, I am a lot like our dearly departed dog, Huck, who was deaf and a deep sleeper. You could come home from grocery shopping, bang the door open and closed while carrying in groceries, put the groceries away and turn on the TV, and Huck would be oblivious to it all and continue sleeping.

It wasn’t until you touched him that he woke up, and he would shake his head, as if to say, “What? I knew you were home the whole time. I just wasn’t interested. Really. I’m a watchdog. You didn’t need watching.”

But the screeching sound my cellphone made was like the sound you hear on the radio or TV when the emergency broadcasting system takes over. And it woke me and my good wife up. It took quite a bit of doing to unplug the telephone from the charger, which was 2½ feet away on the dresser, without getting out of bed.

But I did it rather than fall back asleep immediately, which is what I would normally do. At about the same time, lightning was flashing in the sky, following by loud peals of thunder. I could hear the rain in a downpour.

Even in the haze of drowsiness, I immediately read the first line of the text message. There was a red exclamation point, followed by “Extreme Alert.” Then: “Tornado Warning in this area til [sic] 2:30 AM CDT. Take shelter now. Check local media. – NWS. Mon, Jun 30, 1:50 am.”

Now, what I should have done was take my good wife by the hand and seek shelter in the basement until 2:30 a.m. when the warning lapsed. Instead, I rolled over and went back to sleep, mumbling something about “tornado warning in this area,” with “this area” being said dismissively.

“This area” could mean someplace in northern Illinois, otherwise they would have specified a county. That would have caught my attention.

My cellphone has never done this before – attempted to save my life. And I’m sure we’ve had a tornado warning sometime in the past nine years.

Now, this isn’t a smartphone. It’s a dumb phone that does little more than flip open to take and make calls and text messages and take pictures, which I have done once or twice, not counting the pocket pictures it sometimes takes on its own. I don’t have any apps for severe weather or anything else.

How did the NWS, which I suspect is the National Weather Service, get a hold of my number? At first I thought it was NWH, the Northwest Herald, which may have made some sense because the paper has my number as a subscriber. But it clearly wasn’t, so I rolled over and went back to sleep, thinking I didn’t want to sacrifice sleep for some warning for “this area.”

Well, “this area” happened to be McHenry County, as I came to find out in Tuesday morning’s newspaper, right down to the 40 minutes. And a funnel cloud was spotted near Route 176 and Route 14 in Crystal Lake at 2 a.m.

Woodstock decided not to sound its tornado sirens because people were not outside but asleep. And my good wife, who stayed up and listened to the storm a little longer than I did, reported not hearing sirens, which was a good thing if you were going to roll over and go to sleep.

Maybe the sirens should have been sounded for the light sleepers, the night owls and people who work the overnight shift. And the people who have cellphones that alert people to emergency weather conditions and didn’t know it.

We got lucky. I should have never rolled over and gone back to sleep. Now that I know the cell means business, I will not dismiss it as an annoyance in the middle of the night, but actually get out of bed and head to the basement where we have a futon, and I can fall asleep again if my internal clock calls.

I promise. I got my free pass, my Get Out of Jail Free Card already. The next time I might not be so lucky. It’s to the basement until the all clear has passed. Seriously, it’s a real warning by the dint of technology.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

Loading more

Digital Access

Digital Access
Access from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

Home Delivery
Local news, prep sports, Chicago sports, local and regional entertainment, business, home and lifestyle, food, classified and more! News you use every day! Daily, weekend and Sunday packages.

Text Alerts

Text Alerts
Stay connected to us wherever you are! Get breaking news updates along with other area information sent to you as a text message to your wireless device.

Email Newsletters

Email Newsletters
We'll deliver news & updates to your inbox. Plan your weekend and catch up on the news with our newsletters.