As a child growing up in west Texas I remember well the wail of the tornado sirens. I remember at James Bowie Elementary School in San Angelo, there was an underground storm shelter, its dust covered door easily accessible from the playground. I can recall, face in knees and hands behind head, as we would line the hallways of John Glenn Junior High anytime the sirens roared to life. We knew what to do. We had practiced and practiced, not in the off chance a tornado would hit, but for when one did. My mother was the director of a child care center then, The Sandcastle. We had drills there, too. She made sure we all, from the little ones in the baby room to the pre-teens hanging out after school, knew what to do when the weather turned nasty. And it turned nasty quickly and often. The thing about Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas and other states in the middle of our country is that they are unbelievably flat. Just earth below and sky above for miles. You feel like you can see forever. That topography makes any storm, but especially the most powerful and unpredictable of the storms, the tornado, seem to go on forever, too. It churns along, strengthening and weakening, disappearing into the clouds for a merciful second before dropping down in a thunderous funnel. It makes a noise like nothing else, save the cliched freight train. You can hear it chug, chug, chugging as if along a track gaining speed, whistling, blowing, devouring until its on top of you or your home or your school and then it all explodes. The misconception is that a tornado sort of breaks things apart. It doesn’t, it sucks them into its force and spits them out, shattering them. There is no other weather related phenomenon more destructive. Or more fickle. You’ve seen the aftermath, one house destroyed, another right next door, untouched. Cars in the parking lot of a bowling alley will be tossed around but a complete set of pins will remain upright in an alley. We have incredible, advanced radar that can detect when the atmosphere is ripe for a tornado. We have trustworthy meteorologists who know what elements must come together to create these beasts. We have an entire national weather service dedicated to tracking storms and warning us of their arrival. They are the ones who tell the ones who sound the sirens that warn the ones it’s time to get down against the wall in the hallway at school or underground in the shelter, quickly, quietly, so this monster can pass and we can emerge, stunned, dirty, but alive.
May God bless the people of Moore, Oklahoma.