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Archives: Tornadoes

Blowing in the Wind


It’s tornado season again, and I’m finished with my calling and emailing around St. Louis to check in on everyone after yesterday’s round. Happy to report that everyone, save a few downed tree branches and lots of jangled nerves.

I had a cousin who moved to St. Louis after a stint in California. Tornado season made him crazy. His ideas about how they worked were similar to my own childhood fears, where it was my notion that tornadoes stalked you, much like vampires and perverts. You hid in the basement where it was less likely that they could find you. The idea that they were a localized, somewhat predictable phenomena seemed beyond his ken. This, a man who spent years in earthquake country.

Other than a short stint in DC, I’ve lived my whole life in tornado alley. I remember a few late afternoons when the busses would be held and we’d ball up against the walls of the old basement cafeteria. When I was teaching in Minnesota, we had one or two drills per year, but luckily no actual storms.

In spring 2012, a whole series of tornadoes raked DFW from south to north. It coincided with the first official test of SMU’s campus wide alert system, which hadn’t quite been debugged. My office has a panoramic view of Dallas (say nothing of presidential lawn parties) and between the live webcast of the local news and the window I had a pretty good idea where things were. The alert system toggled from minute to minute between “take cover” and “resume normal activities.” I kept reading those student manuscripts.

Growing up in tornado alley, you develop keen sense of the color of the sky. There’s a certain shade of purplish green that says “duck and cover” about as well as any text message. I met the director of building operations coming up the back steps as I was headed down. He’d just gotten the “all clear.” We spent enough time discussing the best course of action to have gotten us both killed. Luckily the storm passed.

Today’s photo: vaguely, Mt Ranier, alpine glowing off to the southwest.


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