Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Our first tornado warning

Once, maybe twice while we lived in Utah we heard the "emergency broadcast system" announce an actual weather warning over the radio, and then it was just a winter snow storm advisory. Prior to that, my memories of the beeps and scratches of the warning system were connected with test interruptions of Saturday morning cartoons, or episodes of "Ramblin' Rod."

But now we live in the midwest-- Tornado country--and for the first time since moving here we heard a severe weather warning issued over the radio.
A huge thunderstorm, moving at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour is currently marching its way across the mid-west, and has apparently been creating funnel clouds and other scary weather as it goes. We have dodged the brunt of the storm, and it looks like it will continue to skirt past us, but its still a little disconcerting. We emptied out one closet, just in case we need a place to duck into tonight, and we'll sleep with the radio on.

Melissa and I stepped out onto the porch tonight about 10pm to watch the lightning flash like so many strobe lights at an outdoor concert and we both had the same thought--how did the pioneers do it? As I watched the tops of trees and the silhouettes of buildings blink to life in the storm, I couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like to sleep in a small cabin, or covered wagon beneath a storm like this, with so little between me and nature. And I wonder about experiencing this storm without the modern understanding of predictable weather patterns that dilutes the mystery of severe storms, if not the severity itself. Still, even safely inside my house of brick, knowing the national weather service has got my back, when the thunder cracks like a shot gun blast, and the rain comes down so hard I can't see across the street, its not difficult to feel small and vulnerable.

Worse than feeling vulnerable though is the twisted desire to actually see the storm. A part of me wants the storm to come in full force--perhaps for the experience, perhaps to be able to say "I was in a tornado once," perhaps to record a great Youtube upload. I remember as a child wanting to be sick, so I could stay home and watch The Price is Right and Matlock, and I remember wanting to break a bone in my leg so I could use crutches. As an adult I've considered the benefits of getting provoked into defending myself with my fists, or being mugged, or witnessing a bank robbery, or being in a devastating (but ultimately harmless) car accident, all for the novelty of it. And tonight I'm caught between curiosity and concern for my family, and I've got to say that with the storm dying down a bit outside, the curiosity is winning out over the concern. How ridiculous is that? Shouldn't I be more worried? An actual tornado watch (which, at least, is not as bad as a tornado warning), and a flash flood warning on top of that, and all I can think about is
Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton chasing F5 tornadoes (and their complicated romantic past) across the American heartland, and that rolling house they drove through and the cow that flew past their window and then I think about here and what would happen to the cars in the parking lot, the windows, the trees, the roofs, the thousands and thousands of trailer parks clustered all over the Appalachian countryside, and I wonder why anyone would ever want to live in one of those things, and then I wonder about a country that can't supply safer affordable housing, and I wonder about who would really want something like a tornado to come anywhere near them. No, no, the storm can stay as far away as it likes. I'm perfectly happy leaving the 72-hour kits right where they are, collecting dust in the closet, waiting for that something to happen that we hope never will.