There's a joke, that people who survive a tornado always come out saying, "It sounded like a freight train" when a reporter sticks a microphone in their face.
The reason they say that is because that is exactly what they sound like, or as near as to make no difference. The roar even almost sounds like train cars rattling across tracks.
Almost always, the tornado siren at the local fire station is blaring alongside it, adding a discordant, horrible up-and-down-and-up wail on top of the wind trying to flatten the world. If you're in it, you are deaf to each other until the noise dies down.
The mercy of tornadoes, what little mercy there is, is that they don't last very long.
Except that sometimes, they do.
We get flippant about tornadoes in the Midwest. They occur so often that they become something we are mostly cautious about, but discount their destructive potential. People stand outside with cameras and cell phones while a funnel cloud bears down on them, or drive out on country roads to get just the right shot. There's a video circulating on youtube right now that a man took while driving his SUV around a parking lot, with the massive Oklahoma tornado heading right at him before it changes direction. That he walked out of it uninjured was nothing short of sheer dumb luck.
It's a risk we take because fatality counts from tornadoes tend to be so low that we forget what a tornado can do when given flat land and plenty of time.
My thoughts are with people in the Midwest today, but most especially with those affected by the huge EF4 (news has just reported that they are officially declaring it was an EF5) just outside Oklahoma City, in the little town of Moore, a town most assuredly devoid of fortune; they were decimated in 1999 by a tornado with the highest wind speeds ever recorded.
As always, the stories that come out of storms like these are stories about the best that people have in them; neighbors helping dig out a man's canine best friend, teachers throwing themselves on top of as many students as possible to shield them from debris, people showing up to help rescuers dig to find those trapped in their own storm cellars, men and women carrying injured children out of a ruined school, citizens declaring over and over again, "We will rebuild."
Because that's what people do. It's what we're best at; adapting to each disaster in order to make ourselves less likely to be as badly affected by the next one.
Living where I do now, in Upstate South Carolina, I don't have to think about tornadoes in the same way I did back in Illinois. I no longer listen for the telltale siren every time there's a thunderstorm that fits the pattern, and I don't check for watches and warnings on the news the way I used to.
We discount the danger of tornadoes in the Midwest because we see them so often, the warnings and watches are very nearly part of the routine of spring and early summer. Maybe an occasional few houses get flattened, but it doesn't seem that bad from the outside. We drive under green skies now and then or find our cars dented from hail, but for the most part, we don't see much more than an EF1.
It's the risk Midwesterners take to live in what I personally think is one of the most beautiful places in the country.
But oh, what a risk it seems, when we see something like this.
My thoughts are with Moore and with those who lost family members and friends. My heart is with the mayor declaring they will rebuild.
Of course they will.
It's what people do.
We take the blow and stagger, then get back up and rebuild.
here's a link to a small USA Today article on how to help