Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dorothy, Dorothy

I've been dwelling on the recent tornadoes that hit our area last Thursday and the tornadoes of my youth.

I grew up in southwest Kansas. As you can see from Tornado Alley, I was smack dab in the lane. Southwest Kansas is a flat, somewhat barren place. You can see forever as a result. One summer, I forget which, a girl came to town for the summer to stay with relatives. I don't recall her name or the particular summer at all. I do recall having a crush on her. As we were walking to the ballpark that summer, I commented that there would be a storm and the rain would hit in about 45 minutes. She scoffed. "How can you possibly know it's going to rain in 45 minutes?" she asked. I pointed to the southwest sky and said, "You see that storm front? That's 45 minutes away from here. The prevailing winds are always from that direction and when you can see it in that direction, you know you've got 45 minutes." You can use that time to a) walk home from the ball field, b) bring in your laundry from the line, c) dry off and walk home from the pool, or d) get to the edge of town for a better view of the storm. Actually, none of those things really take 45 minutes as the town was about the size of Berthoud, CO. And, I let my mom take the clothes off the line. Typically, these storms--especially those based off of supercells--bring a storm of dirt just ahead of the rain. This makes for very mud splattered clothes.

But back to those tornadoes. I saw tornadoes, and supercells as a kid--mostly in the distance or sometimes only second hand--my vision wasn't very good in those days. My folks would talk of the storms and their destructive power. After one such tornado (in the late spring, early summer, but it seems school was still in session), we drove over to see a trailer house that had not moved an inch--well, the base of it hadn't. This particular trailer house had been sealed up--likely no one was at home. Consequently, it over pressured and exploded. The air speed of a tornado causes a significant vacuum to form. The contents of that trailer were strewn around locally and the tires that were in place on the roof of it (and the roof itself) fell neatly onto the floor of ths structure. The walls--exterior and interior--were unidentifiable from the rest of the debris.

During our recent storm, the Thompson school district (along with the Poudre and Weld county districts) held "tornado lockdowns". I'm not entirely sure why they call this a lockdown--though it probably refers to not switching classrooms or leaving the building. The children were kept inside and moved to interior rooms (without windows) in the school. When I was very young, K-2, we frequently had tornado drills and when we actually had tornado warnings (usually after a sighting) we'd resume the tornado drill position--lined up in the hall facing the west wall and crouching/bowing to some imaginary goddess of destruction. Our hands over our head in the "kiss your crotch goodbye" position. I'm not sure if the school districts here in Colorado still use that position or not.

Another thing I remember from my youth was in a particularly bad storm, moving from our house (which had no storm shelter nor basement) to the church. We didn't go to the closest church, but rather a couple blocks to OUR church. However, our neighbor who to my knowledge never attended church went with us. As a child, I struggled to understand why we could invite a "stranger" to our church for protection from a storm but that we weren't fit to go to the closest church ourselves to seek shelter. I suspect it was a parental pride issue though I've never discusssed this with my folks.

Today we do have a basement--however, it's not clear how we'd ever know to descend therein. I've heard there was some reverse 911 last week--but not with enough warning prior to the descent of the storm to be effective. Back-in-the-day, we watched a lot of TV. The thing was almost always on, sucking our will to live. So, when the stormcasters noted that there was a tornado watch in effect or more pressingly, a tornado warning, we'd almost always know about it. The Emergency Broadcast System would kick in and make the pronouncement and the news would typically scroll along the bottom of the screen the areas effected and any sightings. Today, we don't watch TV. Moreover, we seldom listen to the radio. The radio stations at any rate are rarely locally operated so its not entirely clear what effect they would have even if we had them on. I have heard an EBS on NPR/KUNC, so perhaps that would be of some value. Our time is spent watching canned (DVD, VHS, Youtube) video and surfing the net. Perhaps I should add that at least one child spends every waking moment playing MMORPGs. None of these are conducive to early warning. My in-laws, bless their souls, have a NOAA radio. And, if I were truly concerned, I'd be sporting a NOAA in my kitchen as well. Surely, it would have been non-stop emergency radio excitement on that device last week.

Last week, I was able to contact my eldest son via cell phone and tell him to "duck and cover." He thought I'd blown a head gasket but apparently enough other folks got similar phone calls the kids (who had only had a half-day of school and were goofing off) finally took it seriously and went to the basement.

I seem to be done rambling--I've made no links to tornadoes, tornado alley, home towns, EBS, nor stations. I mostly just wanted to stream of consciousness this thought out. I guess I'll tag this melancholy nostalgia. A quick check shows that wikipedia is familiar with tornadoes and their ilk--for more info, head there.