Thursday, January 31, 2013

Weather Dreams: January 30, 2013

As a young woman my grandmother was struck by lightning--knocked out cold and quit breathing--during a Southern storm.  As a four-year-old, I had a recurring dream that the wind caused an airplane to crash into our house.  In real life I kept my little pink suitcase packed at the foot of my bed, sure that when the time came, the sound of the wind would wake me and I would hear the whine of the falling plane, giving me time to grab the suitcase and escape to my and my brother's large sand pile under a cedar tree in the back yard.

If you are from the Deep South, bad weather is part of your blood memory. 

My Southern colleague whose office is next door to mine has five weather apps on her smart phone.   She needs them.

This is not to say that people become visibly shaken or quit going about their daily business at the threat of what weather types like to call 'tornadic activity'.  People don't panic.  They keep right on brushing their teeth and putting on their shoes and appearing at the office as if it is a normal day.  Which it is not.

If you lived in the state of Alabama yesterday, there were periods of catatonic awareness, where concentration was limited and anything you attempted to do failed.  It was like someone from Louisiana had put a hex on us. The Weather Channel's Tor Con prediction number for our area was  moderately high at '5'.  Weather scientists can debate the legitimacy of the Tor Con Index all they want and make fun of it as wannabe science.  All I know is the Tor Con Index predicted the April 2011 tornado outbreak of 62 tornadoes that killed over 252 people in Alabama alone, according to the website that lists all the names as well as the locations where they died.

Those 62 tornadoes raked our entire state as if the claws of a giant paw had swooped down from the heavens.  They left big long parallel gashes of damage that cut diagonally across Alabama into Georgia.

Yesterday it began up in the northwest corner of the state at 3 AM with the fading wail of the tornado sirens and the wind whipping the bare trees around in fits and starts.  My husband--who grew up in another state--stayed in bed, but I wandered down to the TV to stream the latest radars.  He didn't sleep any better than I did.  And when he got up to drive to work, we noted on the TV screen where he might encounter wind and driving rain on the road.  From there, the day just unraveled.

By late morning the threat across our region had passed, but we were all dazed and marginal.  So far there were downed trees, blocked roads, lost power. If there was a black cat on the street, it was going to run right out in front of us, we knew.  I watched a female student slip down in a puddle in her cheerful rubber rain boots. Students and professors alike had the semi-dazed look of the hungover.

By noon, as the hit parade of counties under the gun had passed further and further south, I got an email from my friend down in the lower part of the state.

"Tornado warning on now – sirens blaring." she wrote."The sirens are quieting now, and then restarting.  They are eerie. Impossible to concentrate or to work in this."

By the time my husband arrived home from work, the threat of bad weather had passed our state and moved its killing powers into Georgia.  But the look on his face told the story of his day. Everything he and anyone else at work had tried to do was jinxed. Doomed. Out of sync. 

And then we started hearing the stories of damage and death. Adairsville, Georgia.  Coble, Tennessee. Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. We heard countless stories of damaged roofs and flying awnings but also of old houses we love that had escaped the giant claw once again.  Then the stories of travel horror.   Not one but TWO of our friends stranded in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport.  One got home in the wee hours of the morning by taking a detour flight and driving the rest of the way in a rental car.  The next day he left his laptop in the returned rental car, and just about the time he realized it, he got stuck in an elevator. Checkmate. The other friend couldn't get out of Dallas.  Her mom and grandmother back home in Alabama had been taken to the same hospital, freakishly, with nothing storm-related--at least not directly. By the next night, though, Friend # 2 had made it home and tweeted "1 flight, 1 hotel, 3 delays, 1 more hotel + 1 more delay = it's good to be home & cooking dinner for the fam tonight."

Some people say it is sheer human folly to worry about tornadoes.  If it's your turn, brother, it's your turn.  

But I say that to go about one's normal business on a day when the Tor Con is over the level of 5 is to face life head on,  head down into the wind of turmoil, and at the end of the day--if the power is still on--you can retell the story.  You can even laugh about it over dinner. But forget about it?  Never.  It's our shared history we carry in our blood.

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