The More Things Change …

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.


3 Responses to The More Things Change …

  1. Dakotagirl says:

    Sandra, The Man of the Place has probably heard of it, but a lot of cattle farmers here in the area use Accuweather. It was started by a group of ranchers who wanted a better weather reporting system. My boss and her family raise Herefords, Angus, Tennessee Walkers, and Racking Horses. They swear by Accuweather. Here is the link.

  2. sgaissert says:

    The Man of My Place experienced “seeing the weather from way off” during the LIW Pageant in De Smet two years ago. He was so fascinated by watching the distant storm, he had trouble concentrating on the show. Some of the audience left, afraid that the storm would “rotate,” I guess, but my man assured us that we were fine. Luckily, we were.

  3. Connie R. Neumann says:

    I am so glad that your Man of the Place keeps a watchful eye on the sky. He’s right – you have to just watch and know what the weather is showing and how it feels.

    I grew up in Tornado Alley – Wichita Falls, Texas. When I was in 3rd Grade a twister plowed through the north side of town, hitting Shepherd Air Force Base, primarily the hospital. As we sat in the school library the alarm sounded and Miss Spangler, the librarian, mistook the alarm for a fire alarm so she marched us outside. The tallest girl in the class, Ginger, was leading and she stopped and turned us all around to quickly retreat back to the building. We took cover in the hallways the rest of the afternoon.

    Many years later, when I was teaching 3rd Graders in Arlington, Texas, I was home visiting my folks for Spring Break in April 1979. That Tuesday, evening around 6:00 the alarms sounded. I was visiting my best friend’s parents less than a mile away from my home, when the electricity abruptly went out and we, of course, stepped outside to look at the skies – they were green and a heavy blue-black cloud was to the west, then we took cover. The storm blew over but did not hit us there. However, when we looked north over the trees we could see the nornally solid white dome of the university coleseum was checkered black and white. With no electricity, we just waited, listening to sirens on the nearby highway and wondering what had happened.

    My friend’s father had been driving home from work when he saw the storn cloud, and he took cover under an overpass. By the time he reached the house, he knew that there had been an enormous tornado that had blown through the southwest section of town, so after checking that we were OK he drove over to my house. Over two hours later, he returned with my parents and youngest brother – they had survived but our house was destroyed.

    Mom and Dad and James had just sat down to dinner when the sirens blared. Dad ran out to check the skies and Mom and James ran through the house opening windows. Then, Mom and Dad raninto a little powder room between two bedrooms (no window or outside walls) and James ran to his bathroom and jumped into the tiled shower stall. Our house was in the center of the mile-in-diameter tornado and it was hit by the on-coming and out-going edges of the twister. Miraculously, the only ceiling that was left was over the little powder room where my parents were hiding; my brother was unhurt because he was in the tiled shower stall (a beam came straight through the bathroom missing him).

    The storm was an F4 tornado, 3 funnels that formed into one, a mile in diameter and was on the ground over 25 miles, finally skipping over the Red River into Oklahoma. Bank notes from Wichita Falls were blown as far northeast as Tulsa. Over 50 people lost their lives – mostly in cars and in the mall. Over 500 homes were destroyed or damaged as well as my elementary and high schools. Needless to say, we spent the rest of “Spring Break’ digging out and salvaging what we could. Every weekend I returned with friends to work on my home or others. We still find bits of pink insulation in vases or boxes.

    We know from experience: things are replaceable, but lives are precious. Be thankful your dear husband knows the skies of the prairie.

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