For the past two days, local news crews have diligently covered the aftermath of the EF-4/EF-5 tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013. Native Oklahoman’s watch with empathy, knowing well the impact of volatile weather. People from across the nation and the entire world watch coverage in the days to follow, in disbelief. For some folks, video footage of the giant, grinding vortex cast a horrific view of nature. Invariably, in the aftermath of such destruction, the question comes up again and again; “Why would anyone choose to live in an area where tornadoes strike every single year?”
Growing up in Nebraska, I was used to spring weather that brought tornado activity. Back in the early 1960′s, we did not have the greatest technology for predicting weather and communicating warnings to alert communities of approaching storms. Radio and television stations might interrupt programming to send out alerts. Towns might blow a siren to alert people to take cover. Most every house had a basement or an underground fruit cellar in that part of the country so, whenever these alerts came, we took shelter in our basement.
After moving to Oklahoma in 1990, I was surprised to learn that most homes here did not have basements, and those that did, generally had difficulty keeping water from seeping in. Much of the soil in the central area of Oklahoma is either sand, sand stone, caliche, or clay. Water drains well, which does not make for dry in-ground shelters. So, without a basement in my Oklahoma home, I simply went to a central room in the house when the sirens went off in town, or the local television station advised folks to take cover from an oncoming storm. I made sure I had something to get under, or had plenty of blankets to throw over myself and my dogs. And, I prayed.
This past Monday, FD and I happened to be heading back to Oklahoma from Nebraska. We had taken a long weekend to visit family. While up there, we purchased some antique furniture and, because we had our 3 little Japanese Chin dogs along, the entire crew cab of the truck was full. This arrangement left the furniture to be strapped down in the bed of the truck, exposed to the elements. Knowing volatile weather could be expected through Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma that day, we set out early in order to get home before any rain or storms moved in. Two days prior, weather forecasters had predicted moderate chances of severe weather for this day and, only the day before areas just southeast of Oklahoma City had been hit by tornados. By getting an early start, we hoped to avoid running into any bad weather of this kind while driving through the tornado alley corridor.
As we approached the Oklahoma City/Moore area from the north, we could see the sky darkening as a storm brewed. Pulling up the weather radar on my iPad, I could see a line of storms setting up from the southwest to the northeast. The super-cell in the Oklahoma City area was directly in our path home. So FD and I opted to drive out of the way, heading directly west, in hopes of skirting the approaching weather. More than anything, we were concerned about rain soaking the furniture and hailstones beating up our truck. Often, spring storms carry high sustained winds and large hail, and Big Green, our 1996 Ford pickup truck, was still in decent shape for her age. Dimples from hail stones would not be covered under our “liability only” insurance, and we felt it best to drive a little out of our way and take a different route home. Driving westward along the state highway that would take us around the looming storm, we could see the clouds to the south and east of us continuing to grow and darken. Whatever was brewing near Oklahoma City did not look good at all.
As we approached the highway we would take south towards our home, a nephew who we had stopped to visit briefly in Wichita, Kansas, sent a text-message to inform us of the ongoing devastation in Moore, Oklahoma that he was watching via television. Family began calling to find out where we were, concerned for our safety. We were, fortunately, able to assure them we were a good distance from any danger. But, there was a sickening realization that something terrible was happening to people maybe 20 or 30 miles from us. Having seen such devastation from the EF-5 tornado that went through Moore on May 3, 1999, we knew people were losing their homes… and their lives. And some, for the second or third time.
The good news for all who suffer such fate, is that each time a catastrophic spring storm hits the “Tornado Alley” area of the central United States, communities of people band together to help one another. There is an outpouring of aid from rescue folks, emergency crews, utility workers, medical personnel, and cleanup crews from all over the United States, and even other countries. Truckloads of supplies and monetary donations come from all over the world to help those in need. Strangers arrive to help people find scraps of their lives and salvage something of sentimental and personal importance. And often, it is not about the work or cost involved. It is a stranger offering a hug, or sitting alongside a victim and shedding tears of compassion. Many times, it is the balm of love that we offer, that means so very much.
I have received many lovely comments and emails from people all over the world, offering thoughts and prayer to the people of Oklahoma. Thank you so very much for that. It is this amazing connection we have as a people, that offers encouragement and strength, in times of need… and in times of pain. On occasion, I become negative about what I see of people – an every man for himself mindset, people arguing and fighting, rudeness and disrespect of our fellow man. But, when catastrophic events come along, I am quickly reminded of the compassion and love that abounds in the world. It is always encouraging to see that, when faced with the worst circumstances or conditions, our true, inner nature still shines through.
So the question remains; “Why would someone live in an area where tornadoes strike every single year?” My answer? Because it is home to me. I love the weather here (yes, even the crazy and volatile spring storms) and I love the people of the South. I grew up with adversity – I was raised a farm girl and I am not a quitter. My roots run deep in the soil, and are anchored firmly. There is not much I fear in this world – certainly not an act of nature. As I write this, people are grieving… but they are also recovering and beginning anew. There is hope, and with each day we heal. The people of the central United States who live in Tornado Alley (and beyond) are resilient. And here in Oklahoma? We are Oklahoma Strong.
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…