“There are two big forces at work, external and internal. We have very little control of external forces such as tornados….what really matters is the internal force….How do I respond to those disasters…? (Leo Buscaglia )
“The world is resilient, and no matter what interruptions occur, people so badly want to return to their lives and get on with a veneer of civilization which descends quickly like a shining rain. Dust settles. (Lorrie Moore)
It has been said that our Midwestern Spring is a time for growth and also to prepare for natural disasters. This I know because at a relatively young age I married into an extended clan of Swiss-American, Kansas wheat and dairy farmers. At that time, my then new, and now late husband, was a medical student at the University of Kansas Medical Center and I had reluctantly left my position at Johns Hopkins Hospital to join him there. With a baby on the way we felt an obligation to venture on out to family farms in Junction City to visit and take time to acquaint me with both family clan and rural culture. At the time, I had never ventured far from the Metropolitan East Coast and agricultural Kansas was something quite different. My in-laws were quick to sense this as their tongue in cheek initial tour of their property included a structure which they dubbed “the music room”. Inside an outdoor shed, behind one of their barns, as something of a museum piece, were the sad remains of a concert grand piano.
This once magnificent instrument, which had somehow made it all the way over from the Old World was now twisted into some impossibly surreal sculptural configuration. Just one of many funnel clouds that had visited this rural farm, lifted up, crashed, smashed and then deposited their family instrument somewhere down and around some nearby ground onto another of those many places that had been ravaged; over acres and acres of their property; as well as ongoing generations.
In those days of the very early sixties, there were no reliable tornado warning systems for rural areas, and locals had to rely upon their ability to scan cloud formations and read their skies under all conditions. Given this necessity, Kansas is fortunate to be quite flat and from most locations one can count upon a more or less 360 degree overhead view, As a new mother, I was especially eager to learn about atmospheric signs and color changes from the southwest corner of the sky; darkly tinted inverted muffin shaped clouds, and warnings physically felt in case of a sudden stale and all pervasive stillness. That visit to the “music room”, and a look at their quite spacious , outside, underground storm cellar was enough to refresh my memory of those black and white cinematic images from the 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz…with farm folks exclaiming “It’s a twister, its a twister” as they dove underground for cover”. In this iconic film, they were all safe, except for runaway Dorothy Gale and her little terrier Toto. These two arrived home too late, storm cellar doors were already locked … and that’s another story, which nevertheless, remains and resonates deep within our collective American psyche; especially on any occasion of mid-western tornados. Anyone who sincerely wishes to understand our American psyche should include this classic film to their viewing list.
Kansas has been the scene of many tornados since it is located within the so called “tornado alley”, which extends along our country’s midsection; from Texas on up into the Great Lakes. However, the number one state for tornado activity, after Kansas, may be Oklahoma. After a few weeks of quiet early in the season, what may well qualify as the largest whirlwind ever recorded, touched down in the densely populated Kansas City suburb of Moore. This spiraling funnel reported to be 2 miles wide, cut a swatch 20 miles long and 4 miles wide , while churning havoc across the landscape for some 40 minutes. Nearly the entire town was leveled including their hospital and a direct hit on an elementary school. While hundreds were injured, the death toll, so far is reported to be as low as 24, although many of those were children. The National Weather Service soon confirmed the strength of this event as a Category, EF5 tornado given that cyclonic wind speeds were clocked at over 300 mph).
While multiple mainstream media outlets reported that local residents had only a 16 minute warning that a huge wedge shaped cloud was approaching, the Storm Protection Center had in fact, issued a heightened risk for severe weather across Oklahoma 5 days earlier. This was followed by a tornado watch at least 1 ½ hours before the funnel touched down, and 30 minutes before it reached Moore (population 55,000). Checking in with my favorite online weather guy Dutch Since, (firstname.lastname@example.org ) I found that he had posted a warning of a series of radar pulses/HAARP rings/scalar squares appearing over Oklahoma City 36 hours before the spiraling winds ravaged the pulsed areas. More information about radio frequency weather modification is available in the archives on his site.
As far as I know it is not yet possible to stop a tornado of this magnitude. Folks choosing to remain in these storm-prone regions will need to continue to rely on both personal knowledge and experience, as well as weather service and media warnings, and take whatever precautions necessary to minimize the dangers. Many casualties result from flying debris or “storm shrapnel”, and experts agree that the safest place to be is in a covered underground shelter like we saw in the Oz movie. Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s hard red clay soil makes construction of both basements and storm cellars somewhat difficult and also expensive. Some alternative advice, for those unable make it to an underground facility is to jump in a car and drive fast and as far as necessary to outrun the danger. Nevertheless, reality maintains that living anywhere in “tornado alley” involves a substantial risk of encountering a good sized twister; and probably more than once. This was certainly the case for Moore, Oklahoma, which has suffered through five massive tornados in the last 15 years.
Biology researcher Rupert Sheldrake has suggested the existence of places in Britain marked as “black spots”, which are so designated in order to warn that bad, usually extremely violent things have happened in these locations. While I don’t doubt the validity of Professor Sheldrake’s observations, there may be an additional reason why tornados tend to revisit earlier paths of destruction.
For readers who may have skipped any or all of those fascinating courses in meteorology , as I certainly did, (didn’t seem in any way relevant at the time), there are scientific, geologic and atmospheric reasons why Tornado Alley continues to exist and why dangers there are not likely to be resolved anytime within our collective lifetimes. For clearly evident meteorological reasons, America’s mid-section is more prone to tornado activity than almost any place else on our planet. Apparently, we can look forward on the ongoing cold dry air from the North meeting warm moist air from both our desert regions and the Gulf of Mexico; meeting up along Tornado Alley with predictable result. Those seeking information as to the more archetypal aspects of these cyclonic events will find information offered by Jungian Analyst, Martha Blake who informs us that the word tornado comes from the Latin “tonare” meaning thunder. Within this inclusive view, a tornado is an open vortex structure, an entrainment of vast amounts of moving air, water, earth and objects. Single vortex tornados move air up on the outside and down on the inside. More complex tornados may have several parallel outer vortices around the perimeter.(www.marthablake.com). For now, I don’t know what else to do other than leave you with a most modern and timely heartfelt blessing from Vera Nazarian: “May Anderson Cooper never be sent to your town”.