Tornado Respect

On Saturday night, for some inexplicable reason, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread at an impending thunderstorm.  Enough that I opted to move immediately down to my parent’s room where I would be sure I’d hear the weather radio go off.  I’ve done this before.  Outside of my stint in Virginia, I’ve spent my entire life in tornado alley.  My elementary school had more tornado drills than fire drills.  I have a very, very healthy respect for mother nature during the spring.

The difference this time was that it wasn’t just respect.  I was really scared.  The paralyzing, irrationally stupid kind of scared like I haven’t been since I was 7 and would bring blankets and pillows and dolls and curl up in our hallway, pleading with the rest of the family to join me lest we all be ripped to shreds by a tornado.  This used to happen every time a thunderstorm came up, and batten down the hatches if that little cartoon tornado showed up in the lower part of the TV screen to indicated a “Tornado Watch.”  Complete Cammy melt down.  My fear of tornadoes was matched only by my fear of snakes, and that “bad guys” were destined to break into our home at night and use my bedroom window as the primary point of entry (honestly, it was the best option–accessible, yet not easily visible).

Some how, some way, after a lot of nights spent awake and terrified, I got a grip.  I still fear tornadoes, but all of those school drills and the visits from the local meteorologist  eventually paid off, and I feel I know how to handle it.  And moving back to this particularly active part of tornado alley has only improved things because, unlike in Texas, we have a basement (which we were all taught was the BEST place to be….but which didn’t exist anywhere in our Texas town except that half-basement under the Lutheran church).  I also have the most impressive meteorologists of any place I’ve ever lived before (Dallas/Ft. Worth might be a larger media market, but their weather forecasts are a total joke) who are not afraid to interrupt anything in prime time to show me that hook-echo on the map.

All this is to say, that while I’m still the first one in my family to heed the weather forecaster when she’s on TV berating anyone who is not taking cover in a tornado warning (yes, ladies and gentlemen, our weather forecasters scold us on live TV), I don’t melt down anymore.  And I don’t waste time worrying.

So it was doubly horrifying to have that feeling again, especially when there was nothing on the weather radio to justify it.

Of course, the next day, Joplin, Mo. got whacked.  A place I drove through repeatedly going to and from Dallas has been blitzed beyond recognition.

My irrational fear is feeling rationalized, and that’s not good.

I’m still maintaining some sense of logic.  I know that this tornado season seems scarier than usual since things are hitting population centers.  It’s not really any more tornadoes than usual, it’s just that they’re hitting the wrong places–towns instead of open corn fields, houses instead of empty hay-sheds.  I also know that while I use those fabulous weather casters as my safety net, some people have grown complacent.  With so much weather warning, they go numb and stop listening, so that when it’s really game-time, they’re not paying attention.

I also know that I have that basement, and that I’m not going to take those great warning systems for granted, and I sleep with shoes nearby (why shoes?  Do you want to be barefoot in the kind of debris you see post-tornado?).  I still have the kind of respect you need to have for this kind of weather.

But that’s not stopping me from two nights of fitful sleep interrupted by panic at the sound of thunder and heart-pounding at the thought of sleeping through the sirens, or not being able to find the cat in time to run downstairs.  I’ve found myself lying awake in bed, tense and waiting for the weather alarm to sound, and contemplating just picking up my pillows and blankets and the cat and going to sleep in the basement.

I’m all for reliving parts of my childhood, but this is not the part I wanted.

Still Not a Midwesterner

Let me just say now, for any MTV, MPB readers out there who may not fully appreciate this, that whenever Cammy reads this she will be intermittently rolling her eyes at me and yelling cross country at me for my stupidity and lack of self-preservation instinct.  And when Cammy gets mad her Texas twang gets stronger, so let that amusing image warm your heart.

As previously mentioned, I’m a military brat.  I grew up a little bit of everywhere, but mostly on the east coast.  A childhood in Florida gave me a more than healthy fear of alligators and crocodiles (I know there’s a difference, but if one is close enough to me for me to care, I’m not taking the time to analyze snout shape).  I have a healthy respect for hurricanes.  But tornados?  Not really part of my world.

Yes, they happened every once in a while.  Yes, I know that they’re devastating.  No, I would never be one of those idiots on the weather channel deliberately parking my car in the path of one.  But mostly we made fun of my father (who grew up in West Texas) for going out on the porch during storms and watching the sky.  Somewhere between becoming a mother and evacuating a roller coaster in a thunderstorm my sister became afraid of tornados.  When I told her I was considering a university in Missouri she looked at me in shock and said, “But it’s in tornado alley.”  In her mind, that should have absolutely ruled out going to school there.  This has naturally resulted in my mocking my sister a bit.

I moved to southern Indiana instead of Missouri.  My current town of residence sits at the bottom or a bowl so we rarely get tornados.  Or so the old timers tell me.  And so I tell my mom.  Who bugs me constantly about buying a weather alarm.  My stance is, I live in a second floor apartment, what the heck am I going to do even if I know there’s a tornado?  (Yes, yes, Cammy, I know, hug the toilet).

If you needed further evidence about my lack of healthy fear of tornados:  I saw my first funnel cloud this summer.  I was driving home from Indianapolis when I got hit with a nasty thunderstorm.  Suddenly, I looked across a field and way over there was a funnel cloud.  It wasn’t on the ground and it wasn’t moving towards me.  Still, my reaction?  Nearly crash my car going, “Dude!  How cool is that?  It’s a funnel cloud!”  Whereas I’m reasonably sure most of my new Midwestern friends would have gone, “Oh shit!  Oh shit!  Oh shit!”

This morning I thought, “Oh shit!”  Right after discovering I was under a tornado warning.  But it wasn’t because I was afraid of dying.  It was because I was about to catch the bus because I wanted to get to campus early to finish my Middle English reading assignment.  (Margery Kempe’s autobiography.  Summary:  She talks to God.  She cries.  People are mean to her.  She cries.  She talks to God.)  I’m having a crazy semester and there is no room in my day planner for a tornado warning.  It’s not like they cancel classes for this crap, so there’s no benefit to this.  Just an annoyance.

So what it meant in the long run was I caught the 10:15 bus instead of the 9:55 bus.  (I got the all clear text message as I was locking my door).  I faked my way through the end of Margery Kempe.  And I realized that I may never be a good Midwesterner.