Our front-page story about the city’s emergency management drill has triggered lots of thoughts and memories about tornadoes.
In my younger days, I used to really fear them. I’d have nightmares about hiding in a ditch with my children, waiting for a tornado to pass. It was terrifying.
Growing up in North Texas, tornadoes were a constant threat. In elementary school, we’d have tornado drills. When the bell rang, we’d all file out into the hall, crouch down by our lockers and cross our arms over our heads.
I really doubt the hall-crouching would help us if an F5 tore through the school, but I guess that’s the best they could do at the time.
We students participated like little storm troopers, excited to have a break from our studies but unmoved by the danger the drill prepared us for. Tornado alerts were common for us and as much a part of our childhood as mesquite thorns and “The Brady Bunch.”
Later, after I married and had children, we lived in the country outside Fort Worth. From our house on a hill, the kids and I would watch the storms roll in across the prairie.
When the sky turned green and the air grew still, we knew it was time to take cover. We’d climb into the bathtub — all five of us (I was much thinner then, thank goodness, and they were quite little) — and wait for the danger to pass. Most of the time, nothing major occurred besides maybe a kid-to-kid shoving match in the close confines of the bathroom.
But one day, a spring storm arrived as I watched TV and the kids played in their rooms. The local news station broke in with a weather report that tornadoes had been spotted in our area. A green radar illuminated the locations, and sure enough, there was one just south of my little house and moving our direction.
I ran to the front porch and looked across the wheat field toward town. Sunlight peeked through dark, ominous clouds piled high like scoops of chocolate ice cream. The kids joined me on the porch and oohed and aahed over the scary-looking sky. The wind had blown the lawn chairs around, but as I set them straight, the air grew still. “Mommy, why does the sky look green?” my oldest daughter asked.
That’s when we headed indoors. I grabbed a box of cereal from the kitchen counter (in case one of the children grew inexplicably hungry in the midst of the tornado), gathered my flock and piled them in the bathtub. We crouched there for what felt like hours, hearing nothing but large drops of rain hitting the tin roof.
But then the telltale sound of a freight train began to roar. I heard tree limbs cracking and the house creaking, as if a very large hand were giving it a very slow shove. I laid my body over my little toddlers, who had all grown very still and silent in the cramped tub. In that moment, nobody asked for cereal.
The tornado left as quickly as it had arrived, leaving the house intact. But it cut a wide swath of destruction several miles long, passing just 30 yards west of where we crouched in the bathroom. We were safe and sound, left only with a mess of broken tree limbs, scattered yard furniture and indelible memories.
Now, many years later, tornadoes don’t scare me like they used to. I don’t have nightmares about them anymore. When the skies turn green and the air grows still, I don’t run to the bathtub. I watch the storm from the porch or the living room window and wait for it to pass.
It’s nice to know the city is preparing for disaster, even if I am not.