Monday, June 3, 2013

Ode to Oklahoma (With a Lesson in Cloud Watching)

Growing up in small town Oklahoma gave me a wonderful start in life. I love my home state because the people are friendly, gritty and they follow the Golden Rule- most of the time.

But along with the many wonderful things that go along with living in Oklahoma- tornados are the crappy part of the package. Fearing tornados was part of my life while growing up in Oklahoma. The weather could be just fine one minute and then all hell would be breaking loose a second later- that's just the way it is in the plains states. I knew that all too well. When I was five years old a tornado made a surprise visit to our neighborhood. It left an indelible impression that tornados were wild and very destructive. We were home when the tornado hit and even though my mom stayed calm I knew it was a very serious, very scary situation. I remember the event quite well and it happened in 1975. These things don't just fade away like an average day.

I think my grandma was a good example of how to react to a bad storm. In 1999 there was a really big storm that took out Moore (yep, same Moore) and kept whooping everything in its path. It had started in central Oklahoma and was now on it's way towards my hometown.

I called my grandmother's house and said, "Grandma! A big tornado is coming! You gotta go get in a closet or the bathtub or something!"

She calmly replied with her killer southern accent,  "Well... you think so?   Oh-I think Bill and I are just going to set right here and watch the news until we think we ought to move."

I wailed, "But, Grandma, this one is bad. It's been taking out everything it touches. It's coming right for you guys!" I could hear the tornado siren in her background. I was really scared for her.

 Again, she scolded me, "Oh now... no tornada can keep-a-going for that long."

This had been one of those freakishly big and very deadly tornados that didn't seem to be following the rules at all. So naturally (for me) I got all bossy and all but demanded that she and Grampa Bill go get in the hall closet, a bathtub, something.

She laughed at me this time and said, "Well.. if I go and do that I won't be able to hear the man on the TV. If it passes and I've gone and gotten myself all stuffed up in that closet, how am I gonna' get back out? "

I couldn't argue with that. I hadn't taken into consideration the fact that these two 90 year olds would be stuck in a closet. If they did get in the closet it had better be a sure thing, otherwise I would feel terrible if they went and got themselves all "stuffed up" in there and couldn't hear the news well enough to know when the danger had passed.

Grandma was right, that massive tornado fizzled out before it got much farther. They would have been "all stuffed up" in a closet for nothing if they had listened to me. My point is, Grandma and Grandpa Bill weren't new to this. They had lived in Oklahoma all their lives. They probably have seen enough tornados throughout their lives to know when to get serious. I think they also knew that if it was going to be really bad that a closet wouldn't really do them much good. Frankly, if I were to live in Oklahoma ever again I would hope that I would have a house with a storm cellar (called "fraidy holes" in Okla).

 I think we had Doppler radar back in those days but I'm not sure. We also had the emergency weather broadcast "bleeeeps". Then, finally, in the mid/late 80's our little town got Tornado Sirens installed. That was one thing that actually did give me some peace of mind.

 After you've been through or experienced the after math of a tornado I think it just takes a while to realize that tornados aren't dropping out of the sky with no warning. They are fairly predictable, especially with the technology we have now.  We know the factors that create these storms and there are tools being used all day/every day to pick up on atmospheric changes. Getting educated on the details reduces the fear a lot.

I decided to learn more about super cells right after that May, 1999 storm happened. We lived in Oklahoma at the time and I was the mom of two kids. Our oldest was four or five and was aware of tornadoes because we had to jump into a neighbors storm cellar one night. It was pretty creepy and she wanted out of there. We had to keep telling her that we had to wait until the storm stopped. I totally lied and told her not to worry that are we are safe "in here". I decided if I was going to live there then I had to beat back the fears as much as I could, especially since I was driving along some of the more notorious Tornado Alley roadways when I went to visit family. From that moment in the neighbor's storm cellar I decided I had to start learning asap. I enrolled in a night class at a local college, I took Physical Science and learned quite a bit about the weather. Nowadays, I'm a bit of a weather junkie. I take notice when there is a serious cloud forming. I can sometimes even see where updraft is occurring. Not all updrafts are visible though. Not all clouds or big storms are waiting to demolish your house, either. Getting educated helped a lot.

Here is my way of coping with inclement weather:

I look for visible updraft when I see a cloud growing taller. Thought, updraft
 is not necessarily scary or anything to be overly concerned about. Frankly, I think updraft
is pretty cool to witness. An updraft is basically fuel for a storm that could be brewing. 

That downward shoot is a wall cloud. Wall clouds usually drop down from the
 base of an anvil top cloud. I would be concerned about this if I saw this tube or
 wall forming, especially if I could see rotation. Most tornados are connected to the
wall cloud. At the very least you're look at a severe thunderstorm here, it looks serious.

Yeah, I don't like this one at all. The light gray fluff there is a descending wall cloud.
Behind the wall cloud could be a funnel cloud, you really can't tell because a wall cloud this low
can act like a curtain. I would be quite concerned if I were near this storm. If this were a video the
fluffy light gray part would be moving and swishing around. This had to be a serious storm.

Ok... this photo explains a lot. This funnel cloud is a classic example of a tornado that forms like a tail behind a wall cloud. You can clearly see the wall cloud in the background. This storm would most likely be heading away from the photographer.
 There is probably rain/hail coming down just in front of the wall cloud.  I would say this is a typical tornado. 

Moore Oklahoma, May 2013, F5 tornado. This funnel cloud is HUGE and was
reported to be as big as a 1.5 miles wide at some points. Winds were between
 200 to 300 mph. This is not a typical storm. Thank goodness F5's are rare.

Oklahoma, my heart is with you. I think about all the kids and adults who have lost so much. Some are still searching for the bodies of loved ones presumed to be dead. Their homes, their lives, their peace of mind have been shattered. Losing a family member or a friend, plus your home/livelihood all at once would be beyond devastating.

The kids and families who have had their lives demolished by these recent tornados are surely struggling to maintain their sanity right now. They have to be in survival mode. Yet, the hearty people of Oklahoma rally on, making progress, making jokes and are making life happen in spite of the obvious need for help.

"Gone with the wind" - Well, that's one way to look at it I suppose! :)
Please pray for the people of Oklahoma, for God's mercy and peace for them all.



  1. So, the next time I look at a stormy set of clouds, I'm pulling up this bookmarked post! :) I like your grandmother's accent in print. I am henceforth referring to those twisty things as "Tornadas". And, I think, perhaps, we should all keep tvs in the closet from now on. :) Just in case. Terrible news about the Nat Geo Storm Chaser who perished in the recent bout of tornadoes- He was really brilliant and dedicated!

    1. Thank you Critters and Crayons! Her accent permeates my every memory of her. She had the funniest ways of saying things. I wrote it incorrectly, she hadn't lived in OK her whole life. Most of it- yes- but her early years were spent on Crow Mountain in Arkansas. That also helps explain the accent.

      Yes, the Nat Geo storm chaser that passed away was a huge loss to the community of educated, non-sensationalist tornado guys. That should tell all those hillbillies with a gps and a video camera to stay in their fraidy holes and get off of the road when the wall clouds start dropping!

  2. I always hated hiding in the closet too without any knowledge of when it was ok to come out. And for what it is worth, I always hated earthquakes more than tornadoes for the exact same reason as the 'little or no warning' issue. Although, I was told that when you see the roaches come out and dance, get out of the house quickly or under something solid. Amazing what local knowledge will give you in peace of mind. Thanks for the rundown on bad, badder, and bada$$ cloud formations. I'll be gazing at storm clouds now with even better assessment abilities. 'Course if it is a two mile wide F5... dang, that's one big damaging storm to try and survive.

    1. Two F5's within days of each other. It's really hard to comprehend how destructive something like that is. I looked up pictures of bombed buildings and compared it to F5 destruction and it looks almost the same. It's freaky.

      So, that's why God made roaches! Lol! Finally, a good explanation as to WHY they even exist. I'll run for un-cover if I ever see roaches come out and dance the samba before an earthquake! That's an important tip! I've not experienced an earthquake yet. They seem much scarier to me because of the lack of forewarning. Riding the S & P waves- actually, that's a possibility in Jakarta!

      I keep thinking about the Nomads by Nature family- know that I'm praying for you guys.


    I wanted to let you know that I linked to you here. Just getting settled back from R&R where lo and behold we landed ourselves in two F1s. I'm going back through your tutorial now to figure out what signs we missed. I'm blaming jetlag and lack of caffeine for not catching on quicker, but I was recalling random bits of information like descending wall clouds and bad stuff coming which I'm sure saved our lives as we sought shelter.