Death And Disaster In Tornado Alley

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.

Yesterday was one of those days in the Oklahoma City region, and the devastation — emotional and physical — is horrific.  A series of tornadoes hit the area, and one of them tore through Moore, Oklahoma, leveling the Plaza Towers Elementary School, ripping off the roof, toppling walls, and killing a number of schoolchildren.  The current death toll stands at 91 people, with hundreds more injured, but that number is expected to rise as search and rescue teams comb through the debris.

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.

A Twister’s Awesome Power

If you thought the movie Twister was an exaggeration, think again.  Dallas was hit by a huge storm earlier this week, and the footage of a tornado ripping through a truck stop and tossing trailers into the air like playing cards is pretty amazing stuff.

My sister Cathy has always been terrified of tornadoes.  Looking at this footage gives you a good understanding why.

Living On The Edge Of Tornado Alley

Anyone who lives in Tornado Alley cannot help but shudder at the awful death and devastation in Joplin, Missouri, where more than a hundred people are confirmed dead, many others are missing, and huge amounts of property damage has occurred because a king-hell storm took dead aim at the city.  We sympathize with the people of Joplin because we know that what happened there could just as easily happen here.

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?