Soundtrack in my head: R.E.M. “It’s The End of the World As We Know It”
It’s not very often that I look at The Weather Channel website and get scared. But there it was, this map of the midwestern states viewed from an angle and this big evil-looking red swath cutting across from the Texas panhandle up through Wisconsin and Minnesota to show where, well, something scary was supposed to happen the next day. A Midwestern storm. Then, in Arial italic letters that by themselves seemed to scream “Danger, Will Robinson!” appeared the words, “an outbreak of severe storms” (quick, grab the Purell!) “tornadoes,” “winds up to 70 mph,” and “hail.” It looked like a page ripped out from a comic book. It looked the end of the world. Or at least the Midwest.
I take Midwestern storms seriously. When I was about twelve, my family and I were camping with members of our church, and we were on the patio singing songs when strong, whirling winds suddenly whipped up. We ran toward our tent–an old canvas tent with inch-thick poles–but headed towards the car when we found that the awning had collapsed. We were quite scared. After the storm had subsided, we discovered that the winds had taken one of the poles from the awning and threw it through the tent fabric like a javelin. Being inside the tent at the time would not have been a good thing. A couple of pop-top campers had the canvas ripped off the sides. No tornado had touched down, but we suspected one had passed over us.
I take tornado warnings seriously. Some people think that they are invoked too often, that the local authorities are crying wolf. I try to pay close attention, and if something’s spotted within a few miles of us, I take to the basement. I figure that there’s no way that we’d get any warning if one decided to pop up in our neighborhood and say hello. I admit I sometimes find myself getting a little indignant at housemates who don’t take it seriously–I once said to a co-op housemate, “You’re OBVIOUSLY not from the Midwest.” (Once, when tornadoes touched down on Madison’s west side, one housemate was downstairs in an instant. She’d grown up in Texas.)
So anyway, I was watching the radar, checking it throughout the day and watching multi-colored blobs floating across the map, preparing for the end of the world. Green meant “good rain,” yellow meant heavier rain, and red, well, we didn’t want to mess around with red. I read everything I could about the weather. I read about the current atmostpheric conditions made it ripe for these storms could spring out of nowhere. I also learned more about supercell storms and for the first time learned what a derecho is–beyond the fact that it’s a Spanish word for “right”.
I think I saw the aftermath of such a Midwestern storm in the summer of 2003 in Rockford, Illinois, though no one could be quite sure how to classify that storm. That summer, I had a temp job with an auto glass wholesaler and I had a route that took me down from Madison through Janesville, Beloit, Rockford, and back up through Freeport and Monroe. The first place I stopped at had been with power for two days. This picture shows what the surrounding neighborhood looked like:
The following picture was taken on the other side of town. Howling winds basically pushed over this tree, exposed a deep and extensive root system that was pulled out like a weed.
So yesterday, I prepared the best I could for the Midwestern storm. I unplugged the computer and stereo lest they be fried by a power surge. I followed the situation closely at work. I learned that Barneveld, a town 30 miles from Madison that was completely leveled by a tornado in 1984, cancelled class in the late afternoon so children could go home early. A number of other meetings and events were cancelled, so I decided that I would go straight home after work. CNN reported baseball sized hail and tornadoes near Wisconsin Rapids, Stevens Point, and Wausau. The skies were starting to darken a little bit over the Capitol as I headed toward home.
My computer (plugged in once again) became Weather Central as I had the local radar continually looping. And so as I worked on the computer, I checked back and forth.
And I waited. And waited. And waited.
Oh, we got some precipitation. I’m not sure when, but we did. The ground was damp. Like I was disappointed. Based on what could have happened, I’ll take humdrum any day.