After two springs in a row of throwing the cats into carriers and diving with my wife into a bathtub, tornado season is already wearing me out.
But it’s here. Let me rummage up some nearly pleasant storm memories to take the edge off.
I’ll soon be 50, and except for four months as a congressional intern in Washington, D.C., 26 years ago, I’ve lived my whole life in Tornado Alley: Muldrow; Stillwater; Wichita Falls, Texas; and Edmond.
Around Muldrow, storms used to come up almost before we noticed, with the hills and tall woods in the way, blocking the view.
One morning after a bad storm, Daddy came in and announced that one end of our big hay barn was gone. I was little and scared.
Mama soothed me by explaining that it was not a tornado that hit the barn, but the wind off the tail of a tornado as it passed over. That made sense.
It made sense for 20 years, until I realized: The wind off the tail of a tornado IS THE TORNADO.
Mamas. We have to love our mamas.
This was before Fred Baker Jr., owner-operator-gadfly of KISR-FM in Fort Smith, Ark., got his own weather radar. He was following storms street to street in Fort Smith and county road to county road in the country, besting the weather service, in the mid-’80s. He set the weather coverage curve.
In Stillwater, the basement in Bennett Hall, then Stout Hall, was always handy. One spring when I was on the Bennett Hall staff a bad storm came up and a tornado warning went out. My job was to help corral students and get them to the basement.
Some Chinese students were deep in their books. I couldn’t get them to understand. I didn’t speak Chinese and they didn’t speak Sequoyah County.
Finally, I grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil and drew dark clouds and a thick twisting line coming down, a tornado.
They all looked shocked and RAN to the basement. I read later that in some Asian mythologies, tornados were thought to be dragons. I wondered if they thought I meant a dragon was coming.
In Wichita Falls, the whole 10 years I lived there, if there was stormy weather within 100 miles, I was at work, either in the newsroom of the local paper or on the road myself to report on damage and emergency response.
It was west of Wichita Falls, on the rolling plains between Electra and Kadane Corner, where I saw, for the first time, an entire, isolated daytime thunderstorm: roiling top to dust-kicking bottom, leading edge to anvil – rain curtain, shelf cloud, wall cloud, the whole nine yards.
It was a little bitty thing – but what a novelty to my Ozarkian eyes. I stopped my truck and just sat and watched it for quite a while. That’s when I got it:
Thunderstorms are alive. We have to try to outsmart them.
Be safe, y’all. Be smart.