I watched the news come in on Monday about the tornado that drove right through the city of Moore, OK with the same sick-at-heart feeling that I’m sure most people did. It’s terrible to know that people are picking through homes blown to matchsticks for what few treasures and possessions weren’t shattered, drenched, burnt, or blown into Kansas. To know that rescue workers are digging people out from under yards of rubble and aren’t always finding people unhurt, or even alive. Two schools collapsed. Two elementary schools! Side Note: why don’t schools in Oklahoma have tornado shelters? I mean, it’s Oklahoma, aren’t the presence of tornados pretty statistically likely? My elementary school in Pennsylvania had a tornado shelter – though, honestly, it was a repurposed nuclear fallout shelter.
But as bad as I felt about what these people were going through part of me remained aloof. This was a problem other people suffered, it was not a problem that affected me. Here in the Finger Lakes you only have to worry about a few kinds of natural disaster. There are storms, sure, and they can bring high winds, lots of rain, and lightning so it’s possible to have a tree fall on your house, to get your basement full of water, or worst of all, to get struck by lightning. In the winter heavy snowfall can make driving impossible, lead to lost power if snow-laden trees fall over power lines, or if you haven’t kept up its maintenance, your roof could collapse. All that stuff is bad, definitely. I don’t want it to happen to me for sure. But all the major types of natural disaster, flood, hurricane, tornado, wildfire, earthquake are uncommon to unknown here. Sandy blew in some wicked weather, for sure, but our power didn’t even flicker. Some homes built right near creeks might experience substantial flooding, but the watershed is so broken up and the lakes are capable of taking in such a large amount of water before rising that even homes built right on the lake see flooding but once or twice a century. Damage is generally very localized. A tree falling on a house cause damage and injury to one family, a tornado takes out a city of thousands. I’m grateful for this aspect of the Finger Lakes. I think it is an important thing to take into consideration when looking for a place to call home.
But I got a scary message yesterday, just a day after the Moore tornado. It said there was a tornado watch for the tiny town I live in. Uh-oh. I call my husband who is driving home and he says he’s getting pelted with hail and is turning back until the storm subsides. The tornado watch is upgraded to a warning. While a watch indicates that conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop a warning means that someone has identified an actual tornado either in person or on radar. A warning means take shelter now. A warning is ignored at your own peril.
Peril? I was just congratulating myself on choosing a tornado-free neighborhood and within a day a possible tornado is bearing down on my tiny community? From my job, 45 minutes away (where it was sunny and clear all day), I kept obsessively refreshing the radar screen. The bright red spot heading for my house was condensing into a smaller hot pink dot. That seemed bad. I texted my neighbors about the warning and they took shelter in their basement with their dog. No one was around to scoop up my cats and take them to the basement though. I was worried. If our house was hit, would they get out of it alive? If they got out would they come back?
By the time I got home the tornado warning had expired and we were left with a simple big thunderstorm. No tornado seems to have touched down on our side of the lake, but there is some evidence that one might have after the storm crossed the lake (the storm was heading perpendicular to the lakes going from west to east) but the area is sparsely populated and good data is apparently hard to come by. Our laundry that was hanging up to dry on the porch was strewn about and some pots of plants had been knocked over, but overall we had been very lucky (as was our landlord, who had finished putting on a new roof on an adjacent home literally that morning).
I’m not sure what to take from this experience. Obviously, I need a NOAA radio and to keep the cat-carriers somewhere easy for a neighbor to find. But in the larger picture, should I worry about tornados? Should I worry about other weather events that I haven’t experienced yet? Will this experience make it harder for me to “otherize” problems that I haven’t specifically faced?
Have you ever experienced a tornado? Is there advice you’d give on being prepared and reacting to such events safely? Have you ever learned anything from either experiencing a tornado or other extreme weather event?