In September 2021, Temple University Ambler experienced firsthand the ferocity of natural disasters. On September 1, the unthinkable happened. The remnants of Hurricane Ida spawned a tornado that ripped through the middle of the Temple Ambler Campus and our surrounding community.
The damage to campus buildings and the Ambler Arboretum gardens has been severe. Many buildings suffered roof and water damage and a considerable number of trees have been lost. Recovery efforts have continued steadily.
"The fact that both a hurricane and a tornado hit this region of the U.S. is uncommon, and that's something we need to monitor and understand. There is so much that we can now learn about climate change and other things from this," said Amy Freestone, Director of the Temple Ambler Field Station. "We are now a disturbance lab, and we have some really interesting research questions ahead of us. These are not the questions that we expected to study, but we're biologists, and we follow nature. This is where nature has decided to take us." In this section, learn about the tornado and the recovery that has followed.
Temple Ambler: The Road to Recovery Begins
It's the late afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 1, and Benjamin Snyder, manager of the Tyler School of Art and Architecture's Greenhouse Education and Research Complex at Temple University's Ambler Campus, is about to head home for the evening. The skies have started to open up, and the wind has picked up, too. Despite it just being 5:30 p.m., the entire area has been blanketed with an eerie darkness, akin to a scene from the middle of the night, rather than the late afternoon.
"You could tell that something was different and that this was not just a normal windstorm," Snyder said.
Snyder was in his car at 5:42 p.m., when his suspicions were confirmed. It was then that the remnants of Hurricane Ida, an EF2-level tornado, barreled through the center of the Ambler Campus. Winds reached as high as 130 mph. Hundreds of trees were either uprooted or destroyed entirely. Windows in many of the campus' buildings were blown out. Almost every building sustained some level of roof damage, including West Hall, which had the entire roof of its east and west wings removed.
As he was on his way home, Snyder decided to call an audible. Rather than ensuring his own safety, he turned around and headed back to campus.
"When you're a manager of a greenhouse and you maintain 1,600 tropical plants and then a tornado hits, your first thought is to make sure that they're all OK," Snyder said. "My response was, 'OK, this is what happened. What do we do next?'"
Not Focused on What Was Lost, but What Can be Gained
For decades, the campus has doubled as an outdoor learning laboratory. Thousands of plants and trees, some more than 100 years old, were twisted at the base, felled, or so heavily damaged they had to be taken down. Two parallel rows of pecan and walnut trees were flattened. Shaded canopies were blown away, shade gardens turned to sun gardens, roofs ripped off or damaged on 17 of 19 campus buildings, and 50 light poles lost.
At Temple Ambler — founded in 1911 as the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women and one of the first of its kind in the United States, teaching women to garden and farm — what survived is perhaps just as remarkable.
The campus’ state-champion Turkish filbert tree, which also made it through Hurricane Sandy, was virtually untouched. A prodigious weeping beech that creates a shaded tunnel over a walkway was relatively unscathed, though a tree just behind it had fallen on a building. The greenhouse lost some glass panes, but all 1,600 plant species were undisturbed and three beehives left intact.
Temple’s Ambler Campus: Rebuilding
Temple Ambler wasn’t on its own after the disaster. Dr. Vicki McGarvey, Vice Provost for University College and Director of Temple University Ambler, said the next morning after the storm there were hundreds of people on campus.
“The support we’ve gotten from the main campus has just been incredible, as well as our own alumni and our friends and neighbors, we’ve just had a tremendous outpouring of support and volunteers to come and help us clean up,” she said.
This disaster is devastating, but Temple Ambler wants to turn this situation into an opportunity to expand its environmental education and climate change studies. Read more from this report by Kathryn Oleary for Temple Update.
A Symbol of Hope
Hope can come from the most unexpected places. Sometimes it’s just a kind word or deed. Sometimes it’s an offer of support. And sometimes it’s a little bit of normalcy at an exceedingly challenging time.
At Temple Ambler, hope came in the form of a little girl and her pitcher. The statute has been an iconic symbol of the campus and the Ambler Arboretum for decades. When power was restored to campus, there she was. Amid the buzz of an army of people working to restore the campus after the September 1, 2021, tornado, surrounded by downed trees, came the calming sound of water trickling from her pitcher into the pool below. Hope.
In this video, Kathy Salisbury, Director of the Ambler Arboretum at Temple University, talks about the recovery efforts taking place on campus just days after the tornado hit and the importance of this little girl and her pitcher to the history of Temple Ambler.
Healing the Land, the Body, the Heart and the Spirit
As tornado recovery and rebuilding continues, the Ambler Arboretum welcomed the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania to campus for a special healing ceremony for the land and all of us who share a special connection to it. Chief of Ceremonies Chuck GentleMoon Demund, Storykeeper Adam Waterbear DePaul, and tribal drum the Itchy Dog Singers, helped to heal hearts and mind through drumming and storytelling. Read a story by Haajrah Gilani for the Temple News about the ceremony and the group tree planting that followed.
Everyone is invited to join the Friendship Circle!
Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania Healing Ceremony at Temple Ambler
Supporting Ambler Campus and Ambler Arboretum Recovery Efforts
So many of you have expressed interest in supporting Temple Ambler in so many ways.
Temple University has established a Relief Fund supporting the Ambler Campus, Ambler Arboretum and Temple Ambler Field Station recovery efforts.
Many people have additionally expressed how they would like to help the Ambler Arboretum and Ambler Campus with recovery efforts directly on campus.
If you are interested in becoming an Ambler Arboretum volunteer, please fill out the online volunteer form. You may also contact email@example.com with questions about helping in the Ambler Arboretum.