Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shock, awe, sadness, and shelters

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a weather geek. In many ways, I think I missed my calling. I watch the Weather Channel the way a lot of people watch sports: I love the science, and I want to know what's going on. My dream vacation would be two weeks of storm-chasing: riding around in a van with other crazy people who love weather. This is never going to happen, says my husband. We'll see. I have a problem with authority.
 
I have been fascinated with weather since I was a small child, and in fact, many of my childhood memories involve weather events. The ice storm of 1958 features in one of my earliest memories, that of my mother hanging a blanket between the living room and the dining room to conserve heat. I also recall the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, a brutal March storm that destroyed the coastal summer home of one of my childhood friends, as well as much of the beach towns I knew as a child. In my mid-teens, a dramatic microburst struck my Delaware neighborhood, taking out many old trees, and during that storm a nearby electrical tower was struck by lightning and bent in half. The wind was so high in that storm that I remember rolling up towels and stuffing them into the door and window frames, to prevent the rain blowing horizontally into the house.

I came honestly by my love of wild weather. My Dad, who also loved to watch nature's power, encouraged me to sit with him on the back porch during thunderstorms. At a certain point I realized how dangerous this was, and ceased the practice, but Dad observed thunderstorms from the porch during his whole life. We also loved to walk on the beach during what was known as a "dry nor'easter," watching the huge surf pound the Delaware shore.

And tornadoes, maybe because I had never seen one, held a particular fascination for me, probably dating from the first time I saw The Wizard of Oz. Tornadoes figure often in my dreams, where they always appear near my childhood home (a psychiatrist would probably have a field day with this). Nothing else models for me in quite the same way the raw power of nature.  A tornado is a nearly perfect expression of nature's devastating and impersonal power, and they are gorgeous and awe-inspiring to watch -- from a safe distance, which is not always possible. This is easy for me to say, because in our section of the country we tend to get the occasional wimpy EF-0, sometimes a marginal EF-1. I have never had to hide in the bathroom or laundry room, fearing for my life.

Along with the rest of the country, I've been watching the aftermath of the devastating EF-5 tornado that ravaged Moore, Oklahoma on Monday evening.  Such shock and grief! Most of us, fortunately, will never go through such terror and personal loss, at least not in the brief span of time that it takes a tornado to ravage lives and homes. In "tornado alley," what is needed is a reinforced shelter in every home, in every school.  There's not a lot that can be done to protect property from the largest monster tornadoes. Lives, infinitely more precious, could be saved with more shelters. My co-worker's sister-in-law and her family, who live outside Moore, raced for their shelter with their dog and two cats, and heard the tornado pass at some distance. And they emerged safely afterwards.

Will universal storm shelters in vulnerable parts of the country be the answer? If this would save lives, I would be willing to pay more taxes to see it happen. Legislators, take note. I don't say this very often. What worries me is the thought of folks rebuilding, in and around Moore, the same type of dwellings they had before -- houses on concrete slabs, because the cost of a basement or storm shelter is prohibitive. At the very least, shouldn't every neighborhood have a shared shelter?

I know I am not the only person thinking this way. It really needs to happen. And with global warming, will bigger and bigger tornadoes continue to roam the plans and the south? Will some parts of the country become uninhabitable, as the coastal areas are threatening to become?

But that's a topic for another blog post., I imagine.