4.23.2010

Stormy Weather


The sun is hidden by thick, gray clouds. A few lone raindrops patter upon the windshield of our car.  The storms are rolling in from the west, as they almost always do this time of year. They say that April showers bring May flowers, so we're all prepared for rain. But here in the South, we must also be prepared for an unpleasant phenomenon that sometimes accompanies the rain.  April frequently delivers severe storms, and specifically terrifying tornadoes.  Between the months of March and May each year, we in Alabama prepare ourselves for stormy weather. On average, Alabamians are slammed by an average of 23 tornado containing storms per season.

I've always loved rain and thunder. When I'm alone on rainy days, I love to get comfortable in cozy pajamas, curl up on the couch, and read a good book. If Will's around during a thunder shower, the two of us enjoy snuggling in and watching a good movie. My favorite thing about rain is the quiet lullaby it produces as it drops on the roof. Plip plop plip plip drip drop. The sound of rain is both comforting and hypnotizing. I can always count on a deep, restful sleep when the raindrops are falling. Even little Hudson sleeps best at night when his soothing Sleep Sheep is set to play the calming rhythm of rainfall.

On the other hand, I can't count on a restful sleep when storms are in the forecast. As a lifelong native of North Alabama, I've seen my share of frightening storms. As a child I had a debilitating fear of tornadoes.  On days that storms were in the forecast, I dreaded nothing more than having to go to school. I could just imagine how my day would turn out...The tornado sirens would sound, and I'd be ushered into the hallway and instructed to assume the crouched position we students had practiced so many times during our monthly tornado drills. There I would be on the cold tile floor, hunkered down outside of science class, stuffed tightly between the stinky boy who just left gym class, and the annoying girl that has no fear of storms and wants to chat loudly about lip gloss instead of obediently ducking her head under her history book. There I would be, cowering with fear, trying to hold myself together by willing the crocodile tears to stay in my eyes and not tumble down my cheeks. This is the scenario that ran through my mind each stormy morning, as my mom would pull into the crowded car-rider line with the intention of getting me to school before the 7:50 bell.  In the third grade, I even devised a sneaky plot which helped me to feel better during storms. As soon as I saw the ominous clouds rolling in, I would quietly sneak out of my desk and head for the tissue box, which was located on the shelf under the tiny window in our classroom.  I would then pretend to blow my nose, which I never actually did, and stare out the window through fear stricken eyes. If I could just check out the situation....get a good look at the color and size of the dark clouds....I could better estimate the seriousness of the conditions.

Now, of course, my eight year old self was no meteorologist, but I did know a thing or two about tornadoes. In November of 1989, Huntsville was devastated by a disastrous tornado that killed 22 people, some of whom were at Jones Valley Elementary School, which was flattened and destroyed by the storm.  I remember that day because it had been stormy when I went to school. My mom had promised me that if a tornado was to come, she would check me out of school. Right before school was dismissed, the dreadful tornado siren wailed loudly from the hall. I was still sitting at my desk, and wondering why I hadn't been called to the office to find my mother waiting to whisk me away to safety. Complete terror pulsed through my veins. I could hardly move. We were filing silently into the hallway as the overhead lights spookily flickered.  I knew I was doomed. And as I walked slowly to my tiny spot on the floor, I noticed something I'll never forget. I caught a glimpse of the sky outside the tiny window at the end of the long hallway. It was a color I've never seen before. The normal stormy gray atmosphere had turned a sickening shade of yellow. Yellow, like when the pollen contaminates the air, and everything is washed in a shade of repugnant gold.  It was ugly. And it was downright scary. To a seven year old, the sky looked like something straight out of a creepy movie. I could sense an impending calamity. And then, my teacher gave me a shout, and standing beside her was my best buddy Scarlett, who I also carpooled with every day. She was calling me to the office. My mom had come through! She was there to rescue myself and Scarlett. I had never been happier to see her.  We piled into her car, and raced down the glaringly empty streets, heading towards Scarlett's house. The wind was whipping like we were caught in a wind tunnel. I pictured our car flying into the sky...just like Dorothy's house in The Wizard of Oz. And then, thankfully, we pulled into Scarlett's driveway, and ran through the wind into her basement, where we sought safety from the storm. Less than 45 minutes later, the worst weather disaster to ever strike Huntsville dropped in with a vengeance. The F4 tornado reached full fury with winds topping 250 miles per hour. In a matter of seconds, 22 people were dead and over 500 were injured. Suffice to say, the damage was unimaginable and horrifying.  And this occurance caused my lifelong fear of tornadoes. And the warning signs I saw with my own eyes that day, the strange sky color and howling winds, were two things I would always look for whenever storms were in the forecast.

So when I slyly snuck to the tissue box in my elementary classroom, I was always watching for my own tornado warning signs. If the sky was even remotely amiss, my eyes would fill with tears. I would take a soft tissue back to my desk, and dab my eyes so as not to tip off my classmates of my fear. And then I would proceed to pray with all my might that a tornado wouldn't come. Or that my mom would rescue me from school.  I just didn't like the feeling of the uncontrollable circumstances of stormy weather. And even now, at 28 years old, these old fears come creeping back into my mind whenever bad weather rolls into the area.

So tonight, here we are, back in Huntsville, my hometown, where I've witnessed and escaped so many tornadoes. And the weather is forecasting severe weather for tomorrow. And that old familiar fear is slithering into my subconscious. This time it's even worse, because Will is scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C. early in the morning. So if your reading this, please keep him in your prayers for safe travels. And while your praying, lets pray that our community doesn't suffer any more damaging tornadoes this weekend.


{aftermath of Huntsville tornado, 11/15/89}


{Huntsville tornado, 1/21/10}

1 comment:

Gina said...

Great post! I lived in Oklahoma for five yrs, so I know what it's like to live in tornado alley. Pretty scary. I also was at TCU when the tornado hit downtown Fort Worth about 9 yrs ago. That last picture you posted is freaky!