Thursday, April 28, 2011
I remember being a child and watching a tornado warning be issued after the thing had formed over us on the way home from my aunt's, flattened the grass across the road, and was already clear to Hobson road (we lived a good five miles east of New Haven).
I remember in sixth grade when the super-outbreak of '74 happened. We were just returning from a field trip when they hit, saw a funnel behind us but way in the air. When we got back to St. Louis Besancon, the nuns had everyone else herded into the basement, and the little kids were crying. We were laughing and joking about it. The one nun asked "How can you joke at a time like this?" and we said, "We saw it!" Instant celebrity. We sang the school song (I swear in six years I had no idea we HAD a school song) and told ghost stories. We were scared, but it was an excited scared, a fun scared.
By the time I had kids of my own, storm chasing was in vogue, so we tried it one afternoon after church. By the time we got to the place where we were going to "follow" it, it was following us, preceded by rain heavy enough I could barely see where we were fleeing to. I think I finally began to re-think the fascination.
I lived on Dupont road during the Northcrest tornado, and it passed right over us -in our mobile home. No place to go to, I sent the kids into the solid-est place I could think of under a pile of blankets- and the phone rings!
Kids' mom: What are you doing?
Me: Taking shelter from the tornado!
KM: What tornado?
Me: Look on the tv! CLICK.
I turned to see that my daughter had wandered back out to see if she could talk to her mom and was staring at me. Needless to say, she only bounced once, right in front of the bedroom door, and scrambled back where I put her. Now I've been through winds that shook the trailer back and forth, no big deal. This was rocking the trailer UP AND DOWN.
So obviously a lot of the fascination of close looks at tornadoes has worn off. But last night I watched the video that kid took of the Tuscaloosa tornado. I've never seen a blacker, more merciless monster in my life, and it scared me even separated by time and distance. I looked at video of Tuscaloosa and thought, JAPAN. We followed the live feed out of Birmingham, and even as they gave hope- describing one last line coming into the state that was the "dry line", i.e. the end of the storms- and THAT line sprung up a twister and sent it through the middle of a town that had already for all practical intents been wiped out by an earlier tornado. Then I saw the sky-cam video of THAT tornado- how it went from a wispy little nothing into a hulking finger of Armageddon in something under thirty seconds. I saw a post on facebook where a woman was holding a hailstone that covered two-thirds of her hand and said, "here's another one".
And I said, "Another one?" Then I saw the first one.
I won't say that I'll ever get to a point where the "severe thunderstorm warning" comes on and I don't shout, "Bring it on!" just as I have for decades. But I believe I might throw some more disclaimers on with the request.
180 dead just in Alabama. And today you can watch it on radar as it approaches. I shudder to think how many more it might have been if Birmingham got its warning when the storm was halfway to Talladega like it was back in '72, on that day we said, wow, that really was a tornado. My thoughts and prayers go out to those people who are wondering where their lives will go and where their town went.