Thursday, February 12, 2009


So last summer, we faced the big decision: buy a decent TV that does not ring and buzz and distort so insanely that Renee Fleming sounds like Selma Diamond--OR invest in a tornado shelter.

A tornado shelter is in that category of things you buy and hope you never use--like longterm care insurance, or the chip that is implanted under your dog's skin so that if he is lost, he can be retrieved (IF the finders give a hoot, and IF they take the dog where someone can READ the submerged chip, and IF they then give a second hoot and notify you.)

The tornado shelter costs about three times as much as a jim-dandy TV and is about the same size. Ours was installed beneath the concrete floor of the garage. In theory, it accommodates six people. In practice, the two of us and a hamster.

February is early for tornados here in Oklahoma. The wind, as you all know from the song, has the main year-round weather franchise. Tornados are normally onstage in the spring. So when the tornado watch became a tornado warning on Tuesday, folks didn't know whether to take it seriously or just to figure that the TV weathermen felt unappreciated.

If you think sports announcers have to be on their toes (or more aptly on their vocal cords) during a hotly contested game, envision the weather guys trying to cover a major tornado (or, in Tuesday's case, three tornados roaring down the track one after another). The Big Blow moves at 45 mph or faster across the largest metro area in the nation. (On the east, the Oklahoma City limits extend clear out to Hellandgone, where most residents actually vote in Arkansas.) On the TV screen, a radar arm sweeps across a street map of the area, and red dots show the neighborhoods next in line for a scrimmage. Outside, two guys in cars drive wildly through the streets, keeping their cameras trained for funnel clouds while the rain and hail play Car Wash on the windshield. In the sky, helicopters bounce about in the storm and capture pictures of roofs becoming airborne and large trees flying by like pitched celery stalks.

Pretty soon the red dots blink in our direction. The sky darkens and hail the size of Brussel sprouts begin to pelt and bang the roof and windows. Now it's time to corral the dogs, who are on edge (a) because their superior hearing alerted them to the storm while we were still watching Family Feud, and (b) because we keep saying, "It's all right, kids. It's all right," convincing them that disaster is afoot.

Inside the garage, Nancy pulls her car right up to the kitchen door. In theory, that allows us to slide back the cover of the shelter and climb down into its bowel. The cover, of course, lies flat, protruding just a couple of inches above the garage floor. There is minimal clear space between the garage door and the end of Nancy's car smack above the shelter cover. Getting ourselves inside is thus like slipping mail through a narrow mail slot. Except that this mail is more like a thick padded envelope. And of course the two dogs, having never had a rehearsal of this aspect of family life, are dubious. Finally I just plop them through the slot into Nancy's arms. Then I run back to the TV. All the weather guys and gals have been waiting for the possible touchdown. It comes, its funnel right there on the screen. It spins to the ground two blocks north and two blocks east of us.

The next day, in the chiropractor's office, I listen to two businessmen talking about the problems they had driving home after the tornado. Police and fire trucks had cordoned off some of the major arteries, but Suit #1 boasts about having given his wife an alternate route, and "she got home slick as a whistle." Then he casually continues, "But Fred's house was totally destroyed. Just trash and debris left. And their dog's run off."

1 comment:

Emily said...

Wow. I heard something about the Oklahoma tornadoes last week and thought, nah, surely it wouldn't have happened within four square blocks of anybody I know. I probably rode a bicycle down that street, for goodness sakes.