Forty minutes was all it took for a massive tornado to sweep through Moore and Newcastle, Oklahoma, yesterday afternoon. Forty minutes that changed many lives forever. Forty minutes that took at least 91 lives, as of this writing.
Tornadoes are a fact of life in that part of the United States we call Tornado Alley. I lived in that area of the country (Iowa, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas) for almost 10 years. In fact, last night, the county where I lived in Arkansas was under a tornado warning for awhile. (A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been spotted - vs. a tornado watch, which simply means conditions are favorable for formation of a tornado.)
When I lived in Kansas, I met people who had survived tornadoes. It is a traumatic experience none of us would want to go through. In this tornado, two elementary schools suffered direct hits and the survivors will live with that memory for the rest of their lives. A horse farm was hit and, in part of the live coverage, you could see horses that survived wandering around near what used to be a residential neighborhood and was now a pile of debris.
It was surreal, this live coverage, which would have been impossible when I was growing up.
All you had to do is go to Twitter to find out the latest. You saw photos and videos from the scene. And, you read worse. It was heartbreaking - simply heartbreaking - if you read some of the other hashtags that were trending, you saw tweets from people whose relatives are in the affected area of Moore, or Newcastle, Oklahoma. At least one tweet came from a woman whose cousin attended one of the destroyed elementary schools. Her cousin was missing.
If you didn't have a Twitter account, you could try the New York Times website, which was streaming live video from the various scenes. You saw emergency workers, with yellow helmets, swarming over the debris that had been one of the schools. The only way you could have survived this tornado was to have been underground, in a reenforced concrete bunker.
Google? You can Google a city or county and if it is under a tornado warning you will see it in a box at the top of the search result.
People continue to live in what we call the "tornado belt". Many grew up there, and their families have been there for generations. When I lived there, we had tornado sirens to warn us. Now, things are a lot more high tech, but sometimes you only get several seconds of warning. You can not look out the window and see a tornado coming. And, these storms don't always strike in the afternoon. Sometimes they strike in the middle of the night.
I saw some of the coverage live, from KFOR-TV, channel 4 in Oklahoma City, yesterday, as a weather helicopter filmed a tornado in action. When you see the power of those storms close up, you know that your life is so much less in your control than you think.
When dealing with nature, control is an illusion. All we can hope for is to spend our lives without ever feeling the full force of nature's power. Especially if you live in Tornado Alley.
Today, the storms are expected to return.