The thing about weather on the plains is you can see it. From way off. Sometimes you can see one weather pattern in one direction, another in a different direction, and still another where you are. As in: look to your left, there’s a thunderstorm. Look to your right, there’s another thunderstorm. Meantime it’s bright and sunny above you. Where the storms are you can see the clouds, all compact, and the shadow extending downward from them that means rain.
I don’t pretend to know much about weather. The Man of the Place, he knows weather. (Look at me already! You folks have inspired me.) He reads his own weather radars and doesn’t trust anything said on TV. Recently we were driving to town. It’s about a 25-minute ride, and it started raining — which was very welcome, as we’re practically in a drought — just before we left the house. More like pouring. And The Man of the Place was looking antsy, which he hardly ever does. He kept trying to dial people on his cell phone, retrying when he reached voice mail. I looked at him questioningly. “Is this serious?”
“Well,” he said in his characteristic understatedness. “The storm coming that way” — he indicated toward the southwest — “is supposed to have potential for rotation.”
Potential for rotation. Don’t you love it?
I grew up in Massachusetts, people. In my youth, they were still talking about the great tornado of ’53 in Worcester, about 40 miles west of Boston. Not a likely place for “rotation.” But I’m learning to acclimate to the plains and the weather that spins its way around here. Interestingly, we’re outside of what is technically called “tornado alley,” which runs down through Kansas and Oklahoma into Texas. But tornados around here aren’t exactly rare. So far I’ve only had to hit the basement twice–once in the middle of the night, and once in the afternoon, home alone, while my kids were at daycare in town and the Man of the Place was working at his land in Colorado. Thankfully nothing happened, but it’s not something I necessarily want to repeat.
As we passed through the small town that our actual zip code represents, The Man of the Place indicated a vehicle belonging to the county Sheriff’s office passing us. “That’s Dave,” he said. “Going out to spot.”
“To spot?” I thought of Pa, standing outside the cellar in the still moonlight, watching the sky. “Don’t they have radars?”
“Radars are good,” he conceded. “But if you really want to know what’s going on, you need people on the ground looking.”
Around here, on a clear day, visibility is better than 30 miles. Even I, by now, know what the air feels and looks like when a tornado is a risk. I know the sounds. There’s a certain roaring to the wind … or a frightening stillness. The air has a greenish tinge.
Funny, isn’t it? At the end of the day, when it comes to man against nature, we still have to rely largely on ourselves.
And our cell phones.