May 11, 2010

Tornado Alley

If you watch the national news this time of year, you would think that those of us who live in or near Tornado Alley must spend weeks at a time cowering in fear. These programs all seem to feature weather maps showing areas highlighted with the direst of warnings for everyone in the affected area to take cover because tornadoes will be coming!

Believe it or not, we actually go on with our lives throughout the spring. Which works out nicely, because yesterday the Today show showed my part of the country right in the middle of the bulls-eye. Sure enough, late yesterday afternoon, storms began to pop up to our west. My mom called me at work shortly after 5:00 p.m. to make sure I knew there were storms headed in our direction. I asked her how close they were. "About 100 miles away," she said.

Even with the construction between work and home that I complained about last week, it doesn't take me that long to get home. I assured her that I would leave work in plenty of time to get home before the big storm hit. After all, we live in a state where we joke that the tornado sirens are the signal that it's time to go out and watch the tornado.

Throughout the spring, tornado watches are a dime a dozen, and we barely notice them. A tornado watch means conditions are right for tornadoes to form. It doesn't mean they will. A tornado warning means a tornado has been spotted. We're not sure what to make of those now. With the advancement of radars, sometimes the tornado has been spotted in the radar - even then, it can be aloft and never come down to cause damage. The only thing a tornado warning means for sure is that there will be no broadcast TV on the network affiliates. Instead of our favorite shows, we'll see hours of meteorologists showing us radar images and footage of storm spotters watching the wind blow.

To say that we have become jaded would be an understatement. When my grandmother was 77, a tornado was headed towards her apartment. Not wanting to miss the only tornado she had ever been that close to, she walked out the front door just in time to see it jump over her, and come down a few blocks later, taking out an ice cream store. Nonetheless, most of us do have a healthy respect for the damage that tornadoes can do, and we find a closet or a bathtub to hide in, once we're convinced there's a valid reason to hide.

After my mom's call, I kept an eye on the clock, leaving in plenty of time to get home before things could get bad. The first thing I noticed when I walked outside was that it didn't really feel like tornado weather when I walked out to my car. "Tornado weather" usually feels oppressive. All the same, I decided it was better to be safe than sorry. When I got home, I moved the cat carrier into my downstairs bathroom, as though there would be a possibility of getting my two cats into the carrier if the sirens were to go off. (There's virtually no chance they would want to come near me at that point, must less allow me to stuff the two of them into a carrier.) I changed into comfortable clothes and settled in for the evening, surfing between local stations to check for watches and warnings, and cable stations for, well, entertainment. To be fair, the video on the never-ending weather report was pretty impressive, with multiple vortices (there's a word I never expected to use in a sentence) surrounding some of the funnels.

There wasn't much to see where I live. The wind blew for awhile, and there was the briefest of downpours, as the storms mostly just went around my hometown.

There was a family in Norman that, like most of us, took the tornado warning lightly. The warning areas are always much broader than the path covered by a tornado, so they went about preparing their dinner, with an eye on the TV. When they noticed the tornado seemed headed for their house, they made a beeline for the storm shelter, which believe it or not, most of us don't have. If you didn't catch their story this morning, here's the link to their interview on the Today show. It pretty well sums up how all of us approach the possibility of a tornado.

Despite the fact nothing happened at all in my city, there was a stark reminder of why the TV weather guys hold us hostage every time the wind blows. Five people were killed and dozens were injured elsewhere in the storms that went around us. They say tomorrow night could be another rough one.

That's OK. The cat carrier's still in my downstairs bathroom.


  1. You mean you don't cower in fear in your basement just like we don't pack our cars with our belongings, water, and extra cans of petrol to evacuate from a hurricane during the summer and fall? I don't believe it for a second!

  2. wow tornadoes sound scary. I think I rather have hurricanes to deal with instead of tornadoes. At least you have a little more warning with hurricanes. LOL Glad you are alright.

  3. hey margaret,
    a really accurate account of how we handle tornadoes,
    with careless disregard!
    my son, max, drove directly underneath one. he could
    see the rotation through his sunroof! yes, i begged him
    to wait out the storm, but just like our careless disregard
    towards tornadoes, he extends the same attitude towards

  4. OK, I had a long reply to all of you, but Blogger lost it when I tried to post, so let's see if I can make it shorter.

    Loren, I'm convinced the Weather Channel thinks we're all as obsessed with the weather as they are. Most of us don't even have basements or storm shelters in which to cower in fear!

    Carol, the advantage of tornadoes over hurricanes is we don't have time to stress watching a storm headed our way and wondering if we should board up the windows and get bottled water. With tornadoes, it's over in a short time, and while you can see entire neighborhoods wiped out, it's usually a very small area that actually gets hit. (Apparently about the size of a trailer park.)

    Lea, Max deserves to have his neck wrung. Did he see anyone jump out of their car and into a ditch? That is my worst fear about a tornado...the possibility of having to go for a ditch and hoping my car (or someone else's) doesn't wind up on top of me.

  5. margaret,

    i am having trouble figuring out how to publish posts that
    i have written in the past. they file in behind the newer

    for instance, i wrote today's post about ten days ago but
    saved it for today. when i published it, it went in behind
    the four i had written since then.

    so i just put those four back in drafts, which seems really

    how do a remedy this?

    thanks for all your help!

  6. I think you have described the way we prepare for hurricaines. We never do anything until right before they hit because even though we can watch them coming you never know which way they will go until the moment they hit land. Great reminder of who is really in control.

  7. Katy - you're right about why we don't get stressed. We can't control it anyway, so we just wait and see.

  8. About 14 years ago, I was visiting the ex-in laws in Missouri when there was a tornado watch. I was a little bit freaked out but everyone went about their business normally. I kept staring out the windows fully expecting a tornado to come and rip the house apart.

  9. A watch is like saying it might rain later. Ho hum. I always wonder about people who are staying in hotels. What must they think?

  10. I imagine it is difficult to know exactly when to take action ... I bet after one too many "non-events" you do just take it with a grain of salt. I've never even been near a tornado but I find them fascinating.

    Stay safe!!!