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Monday, March 5, 2012

No, Folks, This Isn’t Kansas or Those Other States…Thank Goodness…

Late winter sunsetWe live in a windswept Valley. Storms cruise in from the southwest during the winter months.The winds unfurl, sweep down the hills and rake the open fields of Tualco with a vengeance. At night we may be awakened by a crescendo of wind chimes, house creak, shrubs rattling against the siding, a branch or two thumping on the roof (a bit more percussive if your roof is metal…), but you go back to sleep and when you awake, your roof is still intact. Some families can’t say that, especially after the latest spate of vicious tornadoes that ravaged towns in five states. Perhaps you’ve looked at the photos of the destruction and like me were overwhelmed by such incredible scenes as cars thrust into homes, school buses crushed and flung on top of buildings, residences shredded to pieces and scattered—excuse the expression—to the four winds. That folks could be warm, safe and secure in their home of many years one minute and in one circuit of the minute hand be homeless, perhaps climb out of their cellar to find themselves standing exposed to the elements…roof gone, walls gone, furniture… everything…all gone…is simply unfathomable to me. I read about one fellow whose house was tornado-struck less than a year ago and last week another twister returned and this time around finished the job, leaving his home beyond repair. And then the terrible toll on human life…a fourteen month old child, critically injured, found in a field, her home destroyed, parents and two siblings killed. She herself died later. In the twinkling of an eye and horrendous crush of wind an entire family gone….

Whether because of shifts in the jet stream, temperature variations in the Gulf stream currents, global warming or what, the midsection of the country has been plagued by extreme weather the last couple of years. Record setting numbers of twisters (what’s the difference between a “tornado” and a “cyclone?”A cyclone is a tornado that stars in the movies…) have been tallied in Tornado Alley in a twenty-four hour period the last two seasons. These storm systems have been so severe the U.S. National Weather Service had to recalibrate its Fujita scale, the rating used to measure a tornado’s intensity.The Service has added a category 5 designation for tornados whose core wind velocity is 200 mph plus (“strong frame houses lifted off foundations, carried considerable distances to disintegrate; car-sized missiles blown distances of 109 yards; bark stripped from trees, concrete-reinforced structures severally damaged…”). Our Valley winds-- gusts of fifty to sixty miles an hour—that’s kite flying weather compared to a Category 5 twister.

When I worked in the apple orchards of Eastern Washington my teenage years, I worked alongside “an old feller” from Arkansas. I remember one summer day when the air was absolutely still, not a single leaf quivered, the humidity stifling and it was difficult to breathe, and the old Arkie leaned on his hoe, looked at the sky, and drawled, “Days like this yer liable to have a tornader.” “Not happening,” I scoffed. “In Washington?” thinking about our state’s mountains, hills, and broken landscape sure to deflect any funnel cloud if one ever developed, “nahhhh, not here.” The old man shot me a glance that said, “Yer a fool, young feller.”

Now when you’re young, of course you know it all, so I set out to prove my case, show the old man the error of his ways. During the lunch hour the first thing I did before I sat down to lunch was rush to our set of World Book Encyclopedias--the “T”volume--to arm myself with the truth. Turns out, I wasn’t ready for the truth: “Tornados have been recorded in every state of the Union,” I was astonished to learn. I can’t remember what my companion and I talked about that afternoon, but most likely the topic of weather never came up.

Tornadoes in Washington State? Twisters in Snohomish County? Funnel clouds in the Valley? Hold onto your hat and don’t spit into the wind. Last spring, less than one year ago, my environmentally friend Nancy L took the following photo up valley towards north High Rock: a classic funnel cloud spiraling down toward the Valley floor…(dangerously close to our roof?)High Rock Funnel cloud

I complain a lot about our winter weather here in the Valley. And November I spend a few sleepless nights during flood events. Curious, isn’t it, that to escape a tornado, you head for the basement and if flood waters do fill your basement, at least you still have a roof left to climb up on.

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