Saturday, April 30, 2011

Following Severe Weather from Oklahoma to Georgia and Points East

I will admit it -- I'm a worrier.  I am also a person who will not let anyone leave without hearing these words from me, "I love you.  Be careful."  And I urge my family to check in with me when they get where they're going, or when bad weather is in their neighborhoods, or when I know that something is not right in their worlds.  We have a large family, so that means a lot of checking in, but that's okay with me.  I need to know -- as if knowing what's going on is a charm against something really bad happening.  (I also want to hear from them at other times, but that's another story.)

When I started writing this, my daughter and her family in northern Alabama were under a tornado warning, the second one they had been under on Wednesday.  I thought that I could work on a blog post as I watched what was going on in Alabama.  I was wrong.  I was so wrong that I never got dressed on Wednesday; I stayed in my pajamas all day. I didn't go to the library program that I had planned to attend.  I needed to stay with her family, in spirit, as much as I could. 

You know what happened in Alabama.  There were many who lost their lives, their family members and friends, their homes and their businesses.  My daughter and her family and their home were unscathed and I am so grateful for that.  I also weep for those who lost so much in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia.  I feel wrung out, as if I personally witnessed a tragedy.  In a way, I did -- at least much more so than we have ever been able to.  For me, it started last week.  Maybe it did for you, too.

We knew what was coming in Oklahoma -- the possibility of tornadoes.  That's not unusual; the town I used to live in before we moved here, the town whose library I managed for 13 years, received heavy tornado damage in May of 2010.  We were under warnings that night, as we were last week.  We were a little better prepared this year; we had enrolled in our city's "blackboard warning system", which called us on our cell phones to tell us to take cover.  We could hear the sirens going off, and we were listening to NOAA radio.  I knew it was time to take my little dog into our "safe spot" (our walk-in closet) and stayed there for 45 minutes.  I had time to get really uncomfortable, take a couple of calls from Tom, who was at work, and think about the possibility of some sort of portable "safe bubble" (similar to what the astronauts have when they land in the ocean) that would be affordable, reinforced, padded and comfortable, and life-saving for those of us who don't have cellars or safe rooms.

As the storm system moved on, my attention was drawn to my home town and the surrounding area.  Kennett, Missouri, is about 45 minutes from Poplar Bluff, where the levies were breached on the Black River.  It is also 30 minutes from the Mississippi River.  The entire area was drenched from rain and my friends on Facebook expressed great concern for the lives, homes and businesses as more storms approached them.  Tornadoes in St. Louis and Memphis affected friends and family, but we were relieved to hear that everybody was safe after the storms.

Then came Wednesday.  We had all heard that a monster system was heading towards eastern Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia and this takes me back to the beginning of my post.  I was the beneficiary of information from many sources the day of the tornado outbreak, as I had been earlier in the week.  This time, I was watching my daughter, her husband, and three grandchildren from a great distance, with a growing sense of alarm and helplessness.  They seemed to be in the direct path of the tornados and I was able to talk with Mary by phone during the first round, making sure that they were in their safe place and had their weather radios close by.  She reassured me that they all were together except Adam, who was at work.  She directed me to the website of their local television station so that I could watch live reports of what was happening.  Then we said good-bye and told each other we would stay in touch.

I watched the channel Mary recommended on my computer and also went to Google Maps to zoom in to exactly where the tornados were.  I could see Mary's street west of town and follow the tornado path which went northeast.  It appeared that they were in the clear, but the weather crew said that more storms would be coming.  I took a break away from the computer during lunch.

When I went back, they were under another warning.  As I started tracking the storm, they announced that electricity was out in some areas and that would affect the sirens; people might not hear them.  I tried to call Mary and couldn't get through.  I told myself that Mary had her weather radio and would be tuned in, so she would know they were under a warning.  Then they announced that the NOAA weather station closest to Mary's home was out and would probably be until Thursday.  I was in a panic and all I could do was watch and pray.  At one point, as I watched, the electricity went out at the television station I was watching and the crew was in the dark.  They were still broadcasting, but they couldn't continue with the radar tracking because their lights were out.  They found someone's iPad and were able to focus their tv cameras on its screen, continuing to follow that way for a few minutes until their electricity came back on.

Finally, I was reassured again, as the tornado went east of Mary's home.  My son Cory (who lives in the Washington DC area) was able to keep in contact with Mary through most of it, and relayed to me that  they were safe.  I later found out that they had no damage.  They did have some debris, including some pretty good sized pieces of metal siding.  As Cory texted me about Mary and family, I heard that the DC area was under a tornado warning and he signed off.

At this point, we were learning about the tornados that had hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, south of the Huntsville area where Mary lives.  Eventually, we knew what the rest of the country knew, that this was the second-worst tornado outbreak in recorded history and hundreds of people lost their lives along its path.  Their are thousands of stories like mine about the storms, many of them will be told by people who were there and personally experienced the horrors of that day.

My story is one of a mother and grandmother who watched from a distance and cried and prayed for her children.  Technology has given us so much, including the ability to know (when it's working) minute-by-minute what is going on.  Sometimes that's a blessing; sometimes maybe it's not.  Now I know (as I always did, deep inside), that saying, "Be careful. I love you!" is a protective charm that doesn't always work.  The most I will say about that is that "I love you" is always worth saying.   


Thisisme. said...

I so agree with you about saying "I love you." I always do it myself. What a worrying time you have had - I feel for you and all those who have lost lives and homes. A dreadful situation! I am so glad that your family are safe and sound. Take care.

Anonymous said...

I never ask someone to tell me when they arrived safely because I have learned that "bad news" travels too quickly. Growing up without a telephone may have been the cause, but I remember people coming to our house to commiserate when brother Robb was in a train wreck in Minnesota. He was safe, but we didn't know that for several days and Mom was certain everyone on that train had been killed. A lot of crying for nothing. Worry is "like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but gets you nowhere". Once again, I enjoy your blogs. tjbb

Marianne said...

Hi there, I keep checking back in with your blog. Hope everything is OK. I miss you! Hugs.

Annie Joy said...

Marianne, it means a lot to know that I'm missed! Everything's been pretty chaotic around here; we went through another round of tornados in Oklahoma and damage and destruction has been all around us; my stepdaughter and family live just a couple of miles where many homes were destroyed. We've also had two deaths in the family. I've sorta retreated from writing during the last few weeks, but am determined to come back into the blogging fold -- it is such a comfort to me!

Marianne said...

Still checking. Still missing. Thinking of/praying for you and your family. We have "monsoon rains" here in Northern California this fine Saturday. Mother nature is a wild woman! xoxo Marianne


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