I’m acutely aware that it is tornado season in Ohio. I am terrified of tornadoes. I grew up under the threat of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. We actually had earthquake drills in school. In Okinawa, I weathered several typhoons and worried about tsunamis. There, the local base school conducted monthly tsunami drills where the children would walk up to the “high ground” of the PX. Despite exposure to the constant threat of a natural disaster, tornadoes scare me like no other phenomenon.
During the summer of 2003, I visited my husband’s parents in North Dakota. His mother has a NOAA radio in the kitchen. The first time it squawked a warning, I was ready to run to the basement and strap myself to a pipe. Mike just laughed and then instructed me to ignore any notifications unless they were a “warning” for that county. Still, just a “watch” had me at the windows, looking for a funnel cloud. Once, when the air seemed heavy and the light took a reddish cast, I was sure that the radio was wrong and a tornado was on the way, but I had just worked myself up into a needless panic.
The next summer, we flew to North Dakota and then drove to Cincinnati on a house hunting trip. On our return, as we approached Minneapolis, there was a tornado warning just south of us. We hurried to a hotel and checked in. Moments later, a guest entered the lobby behind us, claiming to have seen a funnel cloud down the street. I wanted nothing more than to get to a “safe area” (the interior hallway), but everyone else wanted to GO OUTSIDE AND LOOK! Once in our room, we turned on our television and Mike determined that it was safe for us to walk across the parking lot to eat at a Mexican restaurant. No twisters touched down in the area, but I spent the whole meal wondering where I could run to and how many of our fellow patrons would be sucked away should a tornado cut a swath through the restaurant.
When we moved to Cincinnati, I had no idea we were in a tornado zone. The area is hilly, and I thought tornados only developed over flat places. When I first started working downtown, I discovered otherwise. The city tests the warning sirens monthly. Our building has maps of the safe areas listed on every floor. Yesterday, my coworker told me about the tornado that touched down north of here in 2002 and killed five people.
Last Saturday, tornados were the last thing on my mind. I had braved the cold long enough to trim the roses and make a trip to Home Depot. I was relaxing on the couch, enjoying the sounds of my new fountain and an opera CD, when I heard a strange sound in the background. I looked out the window to see hail falling from the thunderstorm that had been predicted for the day. Normally, I delight in electrical storms. I’ve had some dicey moments in the open in Yosemite, but for the most part, I love to watch the lightening streak across the sky and feel and hear the thunder’s rumble. That day, I was enjoying being indoors as the storm raged around the house. Mimi sat on the table behind me and didn’t seem to mind the weather. We were both a bit surprised by the intensity of the thunder. The windows and wall hangings shook from the sound waves cracking through the air. Finally, after one flash, the rumbling just kept going and going and going. It seemed to get louder, as if something were approaching. Suddenly, I recalled how the sound of an approaching tornado is described as a freight train coming towards you. Convinced I was in the path of a tornado, I bolted for the basement. Halfway down the stairs, the sound stopped. I sheepishly returned to the couch, to see that Mimi hadn’t budged. Despite the adage that an animal will warn you of disasters like earthquakes and tornados, I didn’t trust my kitty alarm and turned the radio on. I was chagrined, once again, to hear no mention of the weather on the radio, just the usual pop and dj prattle.
My false alarm hasn’t made me any less afraid of a twister. I still entertain morbid fantasies of what would I do if a tornado struck while I was waiting for the bus or driving over the Ohio river or shopping at Biggs. I’m ashamed that I didn’t grab my kitties when I ran to the basement on Saturday. I’m completely preoccupied with the tornado threat. I suppose I should just be glad that I don’t live in Kansas. I don’t think my nerves could take a truly flat state.