Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Living in the Alley.....Tornado Alley That is
Well here we are in the midst of another tornado season....right smack dab in Tornado Alley. Spending my entire life in this region of the country, tornado season brings on many emotions. You can't help but get a little psyched when the season approaches because with tornadoes bring a certain amount of electricity to the air (and I'm not just talking about the lightening). There is an exhilaration brought on by the thought of an approaching storm. The air is humid and the sky often gets a certain look of haze about it. You can feel deep down inside that everything in the atmosphere is turned upside down and totally unstable. Maybe it is all this excitement and instability that draws people towards these huge monsters of destruction...instead of away from them?! I have no idea but I can tell you after the exhilaration dies down and the reality sets in that this beast could be headed your way....my thrill level goes from 10 to -60 as I find the lowest most secure place in my house and crouch in fear with my children.
In all my years in the Alley..... I have lived through many near misses, a few...too close for comforts, and a couple....I never want to go through that again's! It all comes with the territory though. As a very young kid, we didn't have a basement and one particular summer during the 1970's it seems we spent every single evening running to the neighbors basement as tornado sirens blared all around us. Back then the time between the sirens going off and the tornado actually hitting was a very narrow window. Early warning was about 2 minutes and when you are packing up valuables, kids and pets to make a mad dash across the street, it is absolutely no fun. After that summer, we moved to a new house with a basement and from then on....any house we lived in had to have a storm shelter of some sort.
Back in the 1970's as I said, there was almost no such thing as an early warning.....although we did have the sirens to tell us that the tornado was about to hit us, and we did get the yearly public service 30 minute broadcasting of what to do during a tornado. This was always broadcast at the end of March or the very beginning of April....just as tornado season began. I can't speak for anyone else....but the 1960's made film always used to scare me to death. Every year we sat and watched as the film showed a perfectly sunny day with people out going about their business....and then within minutes, the sky's were black and the tornado was upon them. Great public service announcement showing that a tornado could come out of a clear sky and be on you within minutes....and no early warning! Luckily....that film was phased out in the late 70's and tornado forecasting became more precise with better warning times.
Tornado season in Tornado Alley usually begins at the end of March and lasts until mid June. During that period of time, seasoned vets of the Alley know the difference between a run of the mill storm and the feeling in the air that comes with a possible tornado. It is definitely a feeling like no other.
Many years, even though we are smack dab in the middle of the Alley....we can go through a whole season only seeing dark clouds, maybe some rough storms, and a sprinkling of hail. In fact we can go for several seasons like this and this is not good. We tend to get lax in our observance of storms and even more lax in our reaction times to take cover. Then we end up with disasters like the 1991 Andover, KS tornado which wiped out most of the town and killed 24 people, or the Haysville, KS tornado in 1999, which killed six people and then went on to destroy Moore, OK and kill 43 more. People simply forget the strength of these unbelievable forces of nature and the destruction they are capable of, leaving them vulnerable to the worst.
In 1991, I and my then boy friend were headed to Andover to see some friends as the storm began to form. As we were driving we followed the wall cloud and watched as the tornado literally picked up pieces of the town and tossed it into the air causing debris to fly everywhere. After the storm fragments of homes, furniture, toys, etc were everywhere. We saw a blanket wedged through a tree and were astounded as we drove from farm to farm seeing one spared and another destroyed. It was a devastation I never wanted to witness again. But I did.
In the Haysville tornado, it hit late afternoon, early evening. My family and I did not realize the storm was even forming until it was on us. We lived in a town SE of Haysville and the storm was heading directly at us. At the last minute it veered and hit Haysville head on as well as parts of SE Wichita. The devastation again....was unbelievable. It was like a bomb had gone off. Streets were unrecognizable because all landmarks had been destroyed.
Then in 2004, right at the end of tornado season....a storm hit my hometown. It had been a lot of years since I had been as scared as I was that night. Tornado's were dropping and going back up in the clouds and then dropping again. Sheets of rain were falling and the sky was a steel gray. I knew that what was going to happen that night would not be good. I was right. My town was spared, but not outlying farms and homes. It wasn't until the next day that I realized that one of those homes hit was a dear friend of mine. The tornado had formed over her house and come down on top of it. She and her youngest son had run for cover in the basement under the stairs. The house and all its contents were sucked up and spewed back out all over farm fields for miles. Luckily....she and her son were spared. That same tornado took out a saddle club and the house next to it as well as the house across the road. (The above picture is the tornado that did the damage).
Again there was so much devastation and this time it was too close to home, for this was in my back yard and had happened to a very close friend of mine.
So here we are yet again in the midst of tornado season and yesterday the local as well as national weather forecasters were on their toes. Our atmosphere was set up just like it was in '91. People who remembered that year took the forecast seriously and they were not wrong. Fortunately for my part of the Alley, we were spared. Only a few quick moving storms with a couple of tornado's that taunted us, but did not damage us. Our temperature had just not gotten warm enough to cause the unstableness needed for the storms. However, south of us in OK was a different story. The tornado's hit as they seem to do, with a vengeance. Once again property was destroyed and tragically four lives so far have been lost....and months of repairing and rebuilding are left for the survivors.
So that is life here in the Alley. We know that three particular months out of our year are potentially deadly. There is an understanding with Mother Nature, that property can be lost and at times...even lives can be the price for living here. And yet few leave. I know I probably never will. After all....every place has it's problems. The coasts have hurricanes, the SW and W seem to have their share of earthquakes, and we have our ravenous storms. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes deadly, but always exhilarating. So yeah....I don't see me leaving anytime soon...because I really love it here. In fact....I think I will just stay right here in the Alley....Tornado Alley that is!