Tis tornado season in Kansas and tonight looks like it’s going to be a long night for some in the area. Hutchinson is not going to be hit tonight unless something strange happens – it’s to the south and east of us – but it looks like it will be a doozie.
It’s curious the things one becomes accustomed to. Until I moved to Kansas I had never even paid much attention to things like tornadoes. Now, I’ve been in town when it was hit, although I missed the whole thing. I was on the top floor of one of the taller buildings in town (not very tall!) and missed the whole thing. But, that one decimated Willowbrook, a very upscale “burb” of Hutchinson. I helped cover the aftermath of the Hesston tornado, even though I was no longer doing news. I remember the Andover one – it’s the one that the famous footage of Greg Jarret (then working in Wichita, now with MSNBC) under the overpass with the frightened family that we’ve all seen a few hundred times.
But, it’s funny how things just become common place. A little after 9 I drove up to Skaets for a Moonburger, and on the way was listening to the radio where the mobile guy was saying he could see wall clouds and he thought there was rotation. As I was going around the roundabout he said, “There’s definitely rotation. We have a funnel coming out of the wall cloud. If you’re in the area of blah blah blah, take immediate cover.” We accept these things as common place here – even though of us who are transplants – it’s just part of the landscape. Of course, we do take cover when necessary, but we toss around words like “wall cloud” as if they’re commonplace. (They’re the clouds from which tornadoes come – they’re straight – just like a wall – very distinctive.)
When I was growing up in Kentucky, we lived near the New Madrid fault line – it’s a huge fault line running through five states. (The last really huge earthquake in the early 1800s made the Mississippi river run backwards for three days and rang church bells on the Eastern Seaboard.)
I was in dozens of minor earthquakes. Because they were commonplace, I paid no real attention to them. Of course, we never had a big one – that would have made a difference, obviously. But, it was not unusual to be awakened by the bed shaking, hearing the dishes rattle in the other room. Sometimes a picture would fall off the wall, but there was never anything major where we were – across the river, although the fault line goes under the river.
If you were walking, you wouldn’t feel them the same way. But if you were still, you’d feel it. I remember once as a kid being outside playing and I noticed the ground moving. I stopped and stood still and I could feel it then. It was significant enough you could see the sine wave going through the ground – just minor, but noticeable. Because I was on a farm, I watched it go across the field, unencumbered by buildings and such. It was just part of life. We thought no more about it than the fact that the backwater came up every year when the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers flooded.
Of course, it’s always the things you don’t know about unless you’ve been in them, that are the worst. Everyone knows about the destruction tornadoes do, flattening houses. What you may not think about if you’ve not been in one is the hail. Oh my, the hail. The hail comes down in droves – huge pieces of hail – in areas that are far away from wherever the actual tornado may be.
As I was thinking about this entry on my way home tonight I was trying to think about how to describe it. The best I can come up with is a dozen two year olds armed with wooden spoons and pots, doing what’s natural, would approximate the sound of being in a car. The first huge hail storm we had after I moved here – my first one, my learning experience – I thought the woman in the upstairs apartment had fallen down the stairs. Nope. Just hail. On the roof a floor above me.
What such things do to vehicles and roofs is not something we like to discuss.
In addition to the hail is the wind and the rain. Tornadoes usually bring flood warnings with them. This is a great time to remind you that flooding is very, very dangerous. More people die from floods each year than any other weather phenomenon. Do NOT drive through that water up ahead. Really. Just don’t.
There are the storm chasers, who want to see tornadoes. I have no great desire to do such a thing. If it were in front of me, of course I would look. But I’m not going to seek it.
The lightning is quite amazing – even here – miles away. The golf ball sized hail is falling all over the area, although thankfully not on my relatively new roof.
The real shame of it all is that farmers have just started the wheat harvest. The rain, much less the hail, will destroy some of these farmers for the year.