The Longest Thirty Days

6 05 2007

When you live in Oklahoma, the very heart of “tornado alley,” the joy of spring is always tempered by a certain dread of the sort of destructive weather that this season can bring. When you read stories like this, it becomes difficult to look at a calendar without mentally ticking off the number of days before the spring severe weather season ends, usually by the end of May or the first week of June. Then you see what happened in Greensburg, KS, on Friday, May 4, and you just want to crawl in a hole and pull the hole in after you.

(Hint to all of you potential future storm chasers out there…you are supposed to be BEHIND the freaking tornado, not in front of it. These goofs are lucky that the damn thing didn’t turn on them)

I’m not as bad as I used to be. There was a time that the coming of spring would send me into a deep depression that would start sometime in March and would last–quite specifically–until June 1st. Of course, it’s not impossible, or even that unusual, to have severe storms after the first of June, but by that time I know that the severe weather season is pretty much over. I even wrote a haiku about it which, I think, sums up my feelings about Oklahoma spring rather nicely:

summertime will bringmen sorting through the wreckageof another spring

In recent years I think I have managed to take a more realistic approach to the problem. I don’t get as depressed as I used to, although spring is still my least favorite season, and always will be. For the most part I avoid watching weather forecasts until the day that severe weather seems imminent–if you live in “tornado alley” long enough you can tell when you walk out the door in the morning if it’s going to be “one of those days”–and I try to steer away from news stories about the damage and destruction wrought by tornadoes in other parts of the country. But try as I might, every year it seems that there is at least one outburst of tornadic violence that simply cannot be ignored. The story this time around would appear to be the horrific destruction of Greensburg, KS. I have probably seen more tornado aftermath footage than the average person, and I am telling you right now that the images I saw out of Greensburg are some of the most devastating that I have ever seen. I use as my reference the famous May 3, 1999 “super tornado” that struck the OKC metropolitan area.

Image 1Image 2Image 3Image 4

While the May 3 tornado in OKC/Moore was clearly more devastating in terms of financial loss, and, according to the latest reports from Greensburg, total fatalities, the images are eerily similar. If anything, the Greensburg aftermath looks worse than that of the May 3, 1999 tornado, but this is only because the May 3 damage is being viewed within the context of the much larger OKC metro area , whereas Greensburg is a small town in southern Kansas that, as near as anyone can tell, was almost completely destroyed.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend such devastation. Being a writer, and having the blessing/curse of a creative mind, I cannot help but try to imagine what it must have been like for those people, fighting for their lives while that monster ravaged their little town. My heart nearly breaks when I see those images from Greensburg, KS, not so much for the loss of homes and possessions, but for the terror that those people must have felt during those horrible moments in which nature vented her fury upon them. I turn away from those images toward my calendar. In thirty days it will be nearing the end of the first week of June. The severe weather season essentially over. Summertime. Back yard barbecues and baseball. Picnics in the park and an expedition down the creek with my son to find tadpoles and crawdads. And, in Greensburg, KS, unfortunately, “men sorting through the wreckage of another spring.”




2 responses

6 05 2007
Nancy Mathis

My name is Nancy Mathis and I’m the author of STORM WARNING, The Story of a Killer Tornado, which is about the May Third event. It’s also about the issues of shelter, which was the biggest lesson learned from May Third.
Poeple can check out FEMA’s web site or the National Storm Shelter Association’s site for info on how to strengthen your home from the winds and about shelters and saferooms.

6 05 2007

Hi Nancy. I saw you on a local television news station several weeks ago and your book is on my “must have” list. Thank you so much for passing along that information. We get tornadoes in this region every year, and yet so many of us are utterly unprepared. Thanks for reading.

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