Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Eye of the Storm

The last few days have left us with flooding and wind damage, and a clutch of tornadoes have made their way across the Great Bluegrass State, just in time for us to host the oldest continuously-held sporting event, the Kentucky Derby. As I write (partly to allay my anxiety), I'm awaiting word from friends in Alabama. A colleague's son and daughter-in-law lost their home, their business, and very nearly, their lives, to one of the tornadoes in that state. We are collecting money at work to help them get back on their feet.

Last night, I looked out my laundry room windows and saw low, fast-moving black clouds hovering over the town...and then I realized that the rain had stopped. I opened the back door to check the barometric pressure and felt the oppressive weight of the air, and yet- I looked up the National Weather Service's alerts for my area, and there was no tornado warning. I turned on the weather radio and began monitoring the reports.

Tornadoes frighten me. When I was five years old, a series of devastating tornadoes crossed Kentucky. A town in western Kentucky where some of my maternal cousins lived was completely flattened- the death toll was enormous, and the high school gym was used as a morgue. A few years ago, the same town was flattened a second time.

The Chez sits on a cliff overlooking a valley that stretches into the next county over from ours- I remember watching a tornado descend from a swirling cloud mass and split into two separate funnels that then traveled opposite directions, wreaking twice as much havoc as the single tornado would've. One night as we sat at the dinner table, a tornado jumped our house; it happened so quickly that we had no time to react as we realized we were in the eye of the funnel. There are two things that one sees in movies that I can confirm as very realistic based on personal experience: the roll-cam in simulated car accidents, and what a tornado looks like from the inside. The churning wall of devastation sucked our patio furniture straight up into the air, carried it beyond the edge of the cliff, and dropped it into the river before moving on to damage the city park below the ridge.

Tornadoes are not 'cool'. They are not 'fascinating'. They are dangerous and should not be taken lightly. Having also survived a hurricane, I can tell you that they aren't any fun, either. I once interviewed for a job in Florida and was reassured by the college administration that "where we are, hurricanes just don't hit us". That city was laid apart by a hurricane not too many years after the interview. The upshot is that weather will come and we have no control over it; we can just seek shelter and pray that we survive. There is nothing that man can build that's guaranteed to withstand the ravages of nature- the Japanese are superior engineers, and they know this better than anyone right now.

So now we play the waiting game. I have yet to hear from my friends in Alabama, and I'm developing a cracking good migraine from the stress...I'm already on overload from dealing with family matters, and just not capable of fending off this irrational fear as well as I should. To everyone who has lost loved ones to this weather system, my sympathies; to those who lost their possessions but not their lives, I am grateful that you were spared. We have too many petty arguments afoot in society right now that must be set aside to deal with human issues, so can we just suspend the political hostilities and work on helping others in their hour of need?

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