A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The answer is blowin' in the wind...

I don't know about y'all, but we got to spend over an hour huddled in a darkened hallway with about 400 adolescents this week while the tornado warning sirens went off for what seemed like forever. As time went on, the smell of that many teenaged bodies piled 6 deep across the hallway was a palpable malevolent miasma. But I was grateful that the tornado sirens actually went off, since I once watched a twister begin to form OVER MY HOUSE and it had been on the ground for five minutes before the sirens finally were employed.

That's the challenge of living in a place that does not think it is in tornado alley. However, as a public service, I include the above map in a feeble yet determined attempt to disabuse people of the notion that tornadoes only strike in Oklahoma and Texas. Being a native Okie, I can tell you that this attitude drives me absolutely whacko. I mean, the last time the local tv station where I live actually cut into Everybody Loves Raymond to warn that there was a tornado on the ground in a nearby suburb, the screaming that the poor weatherman received over the phone, in emails, and in the paper were absolutely shameful-- basically along the lines of: "How dare you make us miss the madcap antics of Ray Romano just for the sake of saving a bunch of people from being sucked out of their homes and tossed around like rag dolls!"

Then we have a tragedy like this to remind us that it's really not that much of a sacrifice to ride herd on kids in the safest part of a school building:
Tornadoes ripped through Alabama and killed at least seven people, including five at a high school where students became pinned under debris when a roof collapsed, state officials said.

As night fell Thursday, crews dug through piles of rubble beneath portable lights at Enterprise High School, looking for other victims.

"The number could very well increase as the search effort continues through the night," state emergency management spokeswoman Yasamie Richardson said.

The burst of tornadoes was part of a larger line of thunderstorms and snowstorms that stretched from Minnesota to the Gulf Coast. Authorities blamed a tornado for the death of a 7-year-old girl in Missouri, and twisters also were reported in Kansas.

In all twenty people lost their lives in this latest line of storms which swept across the Midwest and South this week. There's already been some criticism of the school in Alabama that they should have sent the kids home. People who make claims like this don't understand that you can't just predict the touchdown of a tornado like you can a hurricane. What if they had let those kids out and they had been in their cars? More people would have died. Believe me.

On June 8, 1974, four tornadoes touched down in my Tulsa neighborhood, leveling or severely damaging a large part of our subdivsion. In all, twenty-two tornadoes were spawned by this one storm, touching down all the way from Norman to Big Cabin, near the Kansas/Missouri border. Ironically, the first tornado to touch down that day struck the National Weather Service building at the Oklahoma City airport. We were lucky that no one in our neighborhood was killed, and we knew it. We also were spared the damage from flash-floods that then swept through a large part of the area of Tulsa in which we lived-- some of our friends were not so lucky. Our house barely had a scratch on it, and some houses were levelled. We spent the rest of week returning identifiable belongings to our neighbors and generally helping clean up from the mess. We mucked out more than two feet of mud from a flash flood that swept through my godparents' house. We were all grateful school was out for the summer, because our school suffered some damage. Over the years, I have experienced several more tornadoes. You never get used to it, and if you're smart, you learn to respect their destructive power.

To me, tornadoes are not fascinating things to go stare at-- which is, by the way, the response that a few of our administrators had, as they stood outside (WTH???) while the sirens sang out all around us. I have had relatives killed by these violent storms, and it makes you feel exactly as the character of Jo in the movie Twister said: "You've never seen it miss this house, and miss that house, and come after you!" I felt like dragging them back into the building, but what are you going to do? Besides fight the sneaking suspicion that they would have rather been mano a mano with an F5 than actually help supervise all the steamy, kid-filled hallways with the rest of us, that is.

So, a word to the wise: tornado season has arrived with a vengeance. Make sure you know what to do. Be grateful if the weatherman can give you warning. And for God's sake, don't stand outside or in front of a wall of windows to watch the clouds. It might be the last thing you do.

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At 3/4/07, 8:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first year of teaching, I got to see a tornado... I was the only person in school with a real class (not athletics or study hall) 7th period, and the sirens went off. I lined my class along the wall, told them they had to face it but not to put their arms over their heads until further notice, and that they could whisper while I stood in the doorway listening to the weather radio in the office. Since the sirens often go off, and nothing happens, I didn't take it very seriously. The office manager asked me to come to the front windows of the school, and she pointed to the football field and asked, "Is that what I think it is?" I took it seriously then as I watched a funnel forming. Everything turned out fine; the tornado was sucked back up into the clouds, but being responsible for those 10 young lives was one of the scariest feelings I've ever known.

...All that to say, I completely agree with your warning.

At 3/4/07, 8:08 AM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

When we moved down to our part of Tennessee, that gets hit regularly with tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, the only thing my husband wanted in a house was a finished basement - not so he had a rec room, but somewhere we could go comfortably when the tornadoes hit. We have a siren at the end of the street and we've spent many an evening downstairs with the critters listening to the sirens wail around us, saying our prayers.

At 3/4/07, 8:21 AM, Blogger M-Dawg said...

I grew up in IL so I know exactly what it is like to live through a tornado. I've been through four of them - ugh!

My thoughts and prayers are with the families in Alabama.

Now that I live in MA, I don't miss those sirens or drills. I've tried to explain to my students what it was like growing up and living with tornado drills in school and having a tornado hit our town. They are very curious and have a ton of questions.

It's very rare that we get a tornado here but if we ever did, I can guarantee that I'm the only one in my building that would know what to do!

Hang tough and keep doing a great job!

Oh, I agree w/ your warning too!

At 3/4/07, 10:25 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

And the irony is, in Oklahoma most people don't have basements because of the bedrock. If you have one, it has to be blasted out with dynamite. They now build steel-reinforced rooms in the venter of the house, usually a bathroom, that the natives would call "fraidy-holes," but we mean that in a black humor kind of way, not in a pejoritive sense.

We've spent many an evening in our basement where we live now, and yet my neighbors stand on their deck and point to the clouds. Insanity!


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