I can still remember the day I made my sister Kim so angry she cried. That’s when I knew how much she really loved me.
We’d gone to her home for a barbecue on her deck, even though we knew it would probably storm. She always starts her regular family barbecues in late spring, and continues to hold them – often several times per week – until early fall. Kim loves her outside barbecues as much as she loathes the season’s unexpected guests — those dark and looming mammatus clouds that hunker down above her deck whenever she goes to fire up the grill. Kim hates thunderstorms and tornadic weather as much as I’ve always thrived on it.
It’s not that I want a tornado to actually hit — I just want to see a funnel cloud up there somewhere. Or perhaps see a tornado touch down on the edge of town without doing any damage before it lifts back into the clouds.
That day at my sister’s, we’d just finished eating when the sky turned very dark and the wind came up, fast. Kim went in to check the weather, and came back out to announce we were in a tornado warning. She wanted us all to go to the basement. If there’s a tornado warning in the area, you can be sure to find Kim and her kids somewhere in their basement. We all said no, we weren’t going yet. And then the town’s siren went off. It means, of course, a tornado has been spotted in the area and for everyone to immediately seek shelter.
Kim grabbed the kids — hers, mine, anyone’s within reach, and screamed for me to follow. Instead, I followed her husband off the deck and out to the corner. As a volunteer fire fighter, one of his responsibilities was also being a tornado spotter; he was doing his job. I wanted to help.
After Kim got the kids safely to the basement, she came back up long enough to yell at me to get inside, while I shouted to her husband (over the high winds) “Where is it? I can’t see it yet!” Kim then called to her husband, probably thinking if she could get him inside, I would follow suit. It didn’t work. She’d begun to cry as she hollered at both of us, but we stood there on the corner, unwilling to budge. She went back to the basement.
The sirens eventually stopped, and I still hadn’t seen a thing. I know I’m a meteorologist’s worst nightmare, the kind of person they warn you about, the kind that often get other people hurt, or even killed, because of their inexperience and fascination with storms. But I can’t seem to help myself. It’s a fascination I’ve had since childhood from that day at my grandma’s house (on the very edge of town) when the tornado siren went off. (My very first memory of a tornado siren.) My father yelled to us “Hit the basement!” and I remember him scooping up my Aunt Mabel on the way and carrying her frail, hunched-over body down the steps under one arm like one might tote a small child.
Once he deposited her safely in the basement and made sure the family was safe, “he” went back upstairs to watch. I tried to follow him but my grandmother wouldn’t let me. Dad later told me he saw the tornado touch down west of town, out past the cornfields that ran parallel to my grandmother’s home, and I was furious that I’d missed it.
A couple years back I took an online distance education Meteorology course through Iowa State University, and was fortunate to have as my instructor the great ISU climatologist Dr. Elywnn Taylor. Before moving to Iowa, Dr. Taylor was a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Alabama, and his voice is well known throughout the Midwest from his radio broadcasts of crop-weather and other educational information. He brought to his classes (which I viewed online and through pre-recorded CD-ROMs) a real passion for his subject and a terrific sense of humor. If I was passionate about the weather before, I came away from Dr. Taylor’s class with a whole new appreciation of the upper troposphere and St. Elmo’s Fire.
The picture here is one I took during the class. Dr. Taylor gave extra credit if we wanted to submit weather photos (though he advised us not to risk our lives doing so).
I’m still here.
My sister Kim likes to take photos, too. But I doubt she’s got any like this on her computer desktop. At least not ones she took herself.
We’re expecting strong storms here today. We had a real good one last week. When it first hit, my daughter called to tell me about it; she called from her cell phone in Kim’s basement.