Things have been scary around here the past couple of days. Having lived in Tornado Alley nearly all of my life, I'm well aware that nasty weather is expected this time of year, but we've had a relatively quiet time of it the past couple of years. The weather people gave us the heads-up for Monday, so I was expecting a thunder-boomer or two. I wore my jacket in the morning; when I went outside about 1:00 that afternoon and felt that strange air -- hot, wet, close -- I said to myself, "Oh, no. This is going to be bad." You get to know the feeling in the air when you've had so many scares over the years. People say, "This is tornado weather." As it turns out, I was not mistaken.
For a while, I thought I was going to end up in Oz. Low, churning black clouds, rain and hail blowing from all directions, no thunder or lightning. The latter means bad things are going on up there. All that energy is being stored, and then sure enough, a few miles from my house, a tornado. Then another and another and another. I can't see them for all the trees and dust in the way, and there's no way I'm leaving my house to "chase" them as so many living in the Alley do. I'm home alone, running from window to window (the worst thing you can do, by the way), to see if I reeeeally need to duck into the closet under a pile of pillows. I toss in a flashlight, a bottle of tonic water (all I've got on short notice. Shoulda thrown in the vodka, too. What was I thinking?), my laptop and my novel manuscript. (I used to have such a fear of being blown away in the night that I used to sleep with my works-in-progress right beside the bed) After an hour or so, the storm blows past, we get a final downburst of wind that threatens to bend the trees sideways, and debris flies past the window (some kind of white tile or metal siding). After all the near-hyperventilation, the sight of the debris causes the blood to drain from my head. Yep, I nearly have a fainting fit. Then sun. Filtered through red earth wafted high into the sky, but it's sun, nonetheless. For me at least. The tornadoes went on to tear up miles of houses and killed at least 7 people. Last I heard, they were calling for volunteers to walk the woods and fields to look for missing bodies. When my husband got home, he said, "We dodged the bullet." Well, technically, there wasn't much dodging. The "sitting ducks" metaphor fits better.
A fabulous illustration of this saying was the footage of the first touch-down (which happened right outside an apt building where I used to live). In between window-peering, I was watching Mike the weather-guy and his radar maps crawl by with all those lovely colors. They cut to live footage shot from the helicopter in time to show us a white cloud spin up from the ground. This ground happens to be feet from a traffic light. There are cars stuck at the traffic light. We all get to see, in real time, a white van being picked up, spun around, and thrown into the cars sitting at the light. God knows what words came out of my mouth.
This was all a reminder of May 3, 1999. All those feelings and thoughts came rushing back. I will never forget that day. Even though it took place over a decade ago, it stands out in brilliant color. Everyone seems to give all the attention to that amazing stovepipe that ripped through the city (and rightly so, for it took the greatest toll in lives), but while we were standing outside watching that green cloud pass to our southeast, there was a second tornado to our northwest. We were standing in sunshine, surrounded by these things. It continued all night. We slept on the couch in our clothes, with the weather station on. And every time the warnings would beep at us, we'd wake up, terrified that we were about to be blown away. Tornadoes were fun until that day.
The threat is back again today. I'll have to be watching the radars. And praying.