Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memories of Tornado Alley Past

So much tragedy in the past few days, between Joplin, MO and now Oklahoma.  TV and the Internet brings us a taste of the suffering and tragedy that has resulted.    It brings back memories of living in Tornado Alley, years ago. 

Sunday, I was alerted to the tornado in Joplin on-where else, but Facebook.  I turned on the Weather Channel.  A team of Weather Channel stormchasers had almost rammed into the back of the tornado.  The weather had delayed them, otherwise they would have arrived in Joplin just in time to be swept up into Oz.

They arrived at a local hospital to find a parking lot that looked like a junkyard.  A hospital had been hit.  Rubble of former buildings was everywhere. The only thing I could think of many dead under that rubble?

When I lived in Tornado Alley, I met people who had survived tornadoes.  It is an experience you never forget and I'm glad I never had that experience. The trauma colors the rest of your life.  The one thing everyone remembered was the sound.  A tornado set to strike you sounds like a train  The largest train you could ever imagine.  Roaring so loud it can shatter your eardrums.

Yet, most of the time you are not dodging tornadoes or listening to tornado warnings (contrary to popular opinion).  Actually, it becomes a part of your everyday life.  Many people live all their lives out there without coming close to a tornado-yes, really.  And, in general, spring is a gorgeous time of year out there.

Memories of living in Kansas flood into my mind, from the safety of the Southern Tier of Upstate NY.

When I lived in Kansas back in the late 1970's, there would be a special symbol in the lower right hand corner of the TV screen if we were under a tornado watch.  A different symbol if it was a warning.  This was before Wichita had cable TV.  We listened to the broadcast networks: CBS, NBC, ABC.  The CBS stations in Kansas had banded into the "Kansas State Network" so they could better keep people informed of bad weather, hence the symbols.  The "tornado watch, tornado warning" became an almost everyday feature of life in the springtime.  We had no Weather Channel, no doppler radar.   We did have warning sirens.  The same sirens that put fear into my life as a child (too many duck-and-cover drills) now would be warning me to take cover from nature.

I remember seeing the sky turn black as night at 9:30 on a summer morning, one day at work.  I remember storms where the sky turned green, where rain came down so hard you couldn't see the road in front of you.  You haven't experienced Kansas weather until you've seen the ground covered in summer snow, but it isn't snow-it is large hail, and your garden has been pounded into submission.

But now those memories flood back live, and in color, online and on TV.  Yesterday evening I watched the Weather Channel, again live, picking up the live feed of Channel 4 in Oklahoma City.  A storm chaser was surrounded (literally) by tornadoes.  As he drove down the road, a utility pole snapped in two and rose into the air, barely missing the car, like some kind of special effect. 

I understand that storm left at least two dead.

Spring.  Beautiful....and deadly.

Yes, our turn will come.  Our turn will come in mid-June.  Not as bad as Tornado Alley but I'm not looking forward to it.

Now to enjoy the calm while we can.

1 comment:

  1. Its been a terrible season for tornadoes. Our friends lost their house in Joplin on Sunday and then last night I can't tell you how many friends were posting on Facebook as they were huddled in closets waiting for the storm to pass. We too had our safe room ready for a quick dash for cover.

    I've always lived somewhere in tornado alley, from one side to the next. You are right, you somehow cope and know people who have lost something because of them. I am thankful for living in a time where we do get better notice. Not like the old days where we read the sky by its colors, the cloud patterns and the feel of the air. It was terrifying as a kid, but it was just part of the "normal" of living there.


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