If you live in Oklahoma or other states in the Tornado Alley region of the United States, you learn to live with terrible storms that occasionally sweep through the region. But sometimes you can’t live with those storms.
The storms were unbelievably powerful, with winds reaching up to 200 miles per hour. I’ve seen the tree-toppling punch of storms where winds reach 70 and 80 miles per hour, but I can’t imagine the strength of 200 m.p.h. winds that can shred sturdy buildings like humans can shred tissue paper.
I also can’t imagine the anguish of parents whose little children were taken from them by a storm. Our hearts go out to the battered residents of Oklahoma City as they search for survivors and struggle to deal with this extraordinary tragedy.
Columbus, Ohio is at the eastern edge of Tornado Alley, that wide swath of America stretching from Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska across the Midwest to the western edge of the Alleghenies. In Tornado Alley, severe storms are an inevitable and scary part of the late spring and summer months. You notice the sky growing absurdly, impossibly black. You watch for the severe storm warnings, with the lurid colors on the Doppler map showing areas where the killer storms are brewing, and you hope and pray that the storms bypass the residential areas and wreak their havoc in some woodlands or an unfortunate farmer’s field. And typically, the storms do pass by.
So, you tend to become a bit cavalier about the possibility that the awesome power of the storm might find your home or your neighborhood, and you don’t go to the basement or take the other simple precautions that authorities strongly encourage. I confess that I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t pay much attention to the tornado sirens or severe weather warnings. But there is a reason why people use weather references as a metaphor for unpredictability. You just never know what a storm is going to do. I wonder how many people in Joplin thought this storm was going to be like all of the others they remember, until they realized that it wasn’t going to be like all the others — and by then it was too late?