Written by Shana Thornhill Tuesday, 29 May 2012 14:42
I may never live this down. In all my 35 years of life, this is certainly a first. Folks, please put your coffee down and have a seat—this is a hard issue for me, and I’m sure it will hit you hard as well. Ready? Take a breath.
I bought a weather radio. Oh, the shame.
I know this is hitting your mailboxes quite a while after the fact, but it was a pretty big event for us this year. When those storms were brewing on April 14, I’d had a strange feeling all day. Sometimes books talk about the hairs on your neck rising, and I think mine were not only rising but doing the tango.
The clouds were odd, the light was odd, the temperature was odd, and the humidity felt like it wrapped itself around my face with a mind of its own. Mind you, I was born and raised here, so I’m used to weather. But this was another thing entirely.
The last time I felt this was when I was growing up in Buhler. Mom and Dad were still at work, so it was just my brother Stirling and me at home. After watching the clouds turn a sickly shade of bottle green, we tuned in to the TV and learned that a tornado might be headed straight for us.
Like a good big brother would do, Stir helped me carry my pet birds downstairs. It was no mean feat since I had three breeding pairs of parakeets plus finches, softbills and a parrot or two. As we got them down and covered, it started to hail.
I’d never seen hail that big in my life. It was only golfball size, but I was really thankful that he and I could pull our cars up under cover (his Camaro and my MGB) so they didn’t get mauled. The sky was a frighteningly unfamiliar color and the air was thick enough to cut with a knife.
The tornado narrowly missed Buhler, but it stayed on the ground long enough to demolish much of Hesston. As soon as the hail stopped where we were, we hopped in his Camaro and went to chase it. We parked on a hill outside Hesston. We watched it go through, and when I realized that the little puffs I saw were peoples’ homes being blown into splinters, my jaw hit the ground.
Since then, I’ve been (un)fortunate enough to drive through cities that had just been hit by tornadoes. Fort Worth, Norman, and Greensburg come to mind. The devastation in all cases spring rapidly to my memory even after all these years.
I think about what it would mean to me if my favorite photos, my handmade quilts, or my inherited silver and Fostoria dinnerware suddenly got sucked into an abyss—or worse, dumped on some poor unsuspecting soul’s head...let alone my favorite shirts, my critters, or (most important) my kids.
Growing up as a town girl, I’ve always been used to the sirens. I had come to depend on them. Even now, it’s so easy to check weather online or on TV. But what if the electricity goes out? What if the Internet connection fails? We live far enough out of town that the only time we can hear the sirens is when they blow the noon whistle on a clear still day and we’re outside to hear it.
As much as I like to chase storms, I have kids and critters to look out for now. I have a home that I adore. My neighbors and I are raising crops to support us this year. Ours are vegetables and chickens, but wheat farmers take a big gamble, too.
Besides, I don’t like it when anything sneaks up on me. I tend to shoot it when it does, but you can’t shoot a tornado without learning a huge lesson in futility.
Somehow weather patterns just mean more out here. Maybe it’s because we love our place so much. Maybe it’s the city herd mentality—hoping that whatever storm is out there will get tired before it gets to us because it has all of those other places to chew up.
Now we’re the “other” place. When I was a kid, we wondered how Marion County was still on the map because they (we, now) were always in the weather warnings.
I know, we’re Kansans. We run outside to watch when we hear about a tornado. Folks, please stay safe. You’re my neighbors, too, and I’d hate to lose any of you.