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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How’s the weather?

Nowadays when I read what people chat about online, it seems America is becoming more homogenized in its experience, largely because of the leveling effects of TV (we all watch the same shows) and shopping (we all have a McDonald’s, a Barnes & Noble, and an Anthropologie—I hope!). But one thing that will always differ vastly from region to region is the weather. My critique partner called me to say it’s snowing where she lives in Utah. Here in Alabama it’s sunny and 80 degrees, but it looks like we’re about to get more tornadoes.

You might not think of Alabama as being part of Tornado Alley, but it ranks fourth among the states for number of killer tornadoes, third for tornado deaths, and first for the percentage of tornadoes that are F2 or stronger, cause a death, or both (lots of interesting statistics here if you are really wonky like me). You may not remember the freaking F5 (ie, largest, most powerful, scariest possible) tornado in Oak Grove, Alabama in 1998 that leveled parts of the high school and killed 34 people. But you probably remember the tornado in Enterprise, Alabama in March 2007 that leveled parts of the high school and killed 8 students. We're constantly bombarded with news about disasters happening to strangers, but hearing that a school was destroyed in your home state makes you realize it could happen to you. The local school systems must feel the same way. They have let out school early five times this year because a storm was coming.

A storm was coming last week. All morning I expected to get an automated call from the school system saying school was being dismissed early. The call never came. In the afternoon I drove to the school and waited in the carpool line with the other parents, as usual. Then I got a call from my critique partner in Utah: “Are you watching The Weather Channel? You’re about to get hit by a tornado.” Just then the phone beeped with another call. The automated system was informing me that school was being held over rather than letting out early because the tornadoes were already too close and no one should be out driving.

I looked at the car behind me, blocking me in from the back. I looked at the car in front of me, blocking me in from the front. I looked toward the southeast, where the tornadoes come from. I switched the call back to my critique partner and asked her to have my posthumous book royalties donated to the local high school marching band.

But by this time, every parent in the line had gotten the automated call, and everyone was walking up the hill to the school to check out their children. When I got back to the car with my son, the line of cars was moving, and we made it home before it even started raining. We watched the local TV channels (all the local channels broadcast nothing but weather when there’s a tornado warning) and gauged the exact moment when we needed to run to the basement.

That was Thursday. Friday was beautiful and sunny. Saturday night the eerie wail of the tornado siren woke us at 1 a.m., but the most violent part of the storm was passing north of us. The nice thing about everyone here being completely freaked out by tornadoes is that we have a great warning system and lots of information. We know the line of storms will develop in the Midwest (thanks, Midwest!) and gather strength across Mississippi. It will tear up Tuscaloosa and poor Oak Grove before it hits here in Birmingham. If the “areas of circulation” (read: possible tornadoes) on the weather radar enter our county, the warning siren will sound. But if they’re already north of us, we can go back to bed. It’s important to check. A few months ago when the siren went off at 3 a.m., the area of circulation moved right over our house. We spent quality time in the basement.

And now, another line of thunderstorms has formed across the Midwest, headed our way. Thank goodness tornado season is almost over. You can never be too careful at any time of year. We’ve had some doozies in December. But for the most part we will be okay if we just duck our heads and wait for June. And I’d still rather have tornadoes than hurricanes or earthquakes or blizzards or floods or OMG volcanoes, because tornadoes are my natural disaster, the enemy I know.

What’s yours?


Kelly Parra said...

Scary, Jenn. Here in California it's earthquakes and on the coast there are chances of tsunamis. The small trembles are a relief because you're glad its not the big one.

jennifer echols said...

I had a friend who moved to California from NYC, and when Californians came into her new apartment they had to tell her to REMOVE the heavy decorations from over her bed, REMOVE the glass things from the high shelf--in short, earthquake-proof the place. These local differences in how people view things are so interesting--even if they have their roots in scary. It really does seem sometimes like we all live in different countries.

Personally, in an earthquake I would FREAK OUT.

Kelly Parra said...

Some of us live dangerously with breakables on the fireplace mantel or in the china cabinets. Yeah, never over the bed. haha! I've seen "Twister"--I'd freak with a tornado!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

I’m in the Midwest so tornados are my disaster, too. They definitely seem easier to handle than hurricanes or earthquakes (we had a tremor in Chicago about a month ago and it was exciting but a real earthquake *shudders*), However tornados still make me very nervous. When I was a little girl in St. Louis which was slightly more tornado-prone than Chicago (I heard the lake sort of insulates us, but then I heard this was a lie and last summer a tornado was actually spotted above the city), whenever there was the possibility of tornados according to my mom, I would pack up this toy baby carriage I had with all my most valuable things in it, books, toys, sometimes the cat if I could make her sit in there and wheel it around everywhere in case we suddenly had to flee. Not entirely sure of how I thought I would get it down the basement stairs, but I guess I never had to. Now I just force my cats to go downstairs, which they are usually happy to do since they hate storms.

jennifer echols said...

Aw, poor baby Steph and her treasures! Cats do not do what you tell them.

It's hard to picture a tornado hitting a big city, isn't it? We think of them moving through pastures in Oklahoma, even though I've seen the video of the tornado in Miami, and Nashville also got hit a few years ago. Here's a pic I took in March of the tornado damage in Atlanta. The church in the foreground had its roof ripped off. The buildings in the background have their windows boarded up. This was a few hours before much of this area was blocked off to pedestrians because glass was falling on people. This was actually only an F2 tornado.

Lis said...

Yikes, those tornadoes scare me. Up here in Alberta, we're good for those and the lovely green sky that accompanies them. Lots of snow storms in the winter it seems, but not much else.

jennifer echols said...

You know, I remember the description of the green sky that comes with tornadoes in the prarie from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. I can't remember which one but I think it may have been These Happy Golden Years, ironically.

Little Willow said...

It is so hot. Le sigh.

Bonus points for use of the word "wonky."

jennifer echols said...

Bonus points for use of the word "wonky."

Thx. ;)

Anonymous said...

I live in the northwest and we get ALOT of rain here and it's the middle of August which is usauly hot, humid and there is more then likley a drought going on. But yesterday, it started pouring all day. This was no normal summer storm. It was like one that happens towards winter and there was thunder too. But I think that had to do with some humidity. If I misspell anything I really don't care.