Monday, May 30

Memorial Day 2011

If you grow up in Kansas in "Tornado Alley", this is the time of year when tornado watches and warnings become so numerous that long-time residents rarely take notice.

Topeka's TV weathermen love them, though, because it's an opportunity to hog the airwaves, giving every detail of the storm or storms ad nauseum, details only other meteorologists can appreciate. Ten minutes of this and I'd change to a non-local channel or turn the set off altogether.

Not so here in central Oklahoma. On-air alerts are confined to the time normally set aside for commercials. Programs are only interrupted if cities or towns in the viewing area are in imminent danger. Nor are viewers subjected to endless, b-o-r-i-n-g loops of Doppler radar images. Oklahoma City stations have storm chasers sending live footage from the road, and in the case of News4, from a chopper.

This extended coverage, I think, tends to make residents take dangerous weather more seriously. It certainly makes me take it seriously, especially when it includes a FREE robo-call from the City that an alert is in effect. (There's a charge for this service in Kansas.)

And so it was last Tuesday evening when I turned on the telly at 5:30 to watch the NBC evening news. But instead of Brian Williams, News4's weather guy was on the screen, advising that tornadic activity had been detected in several storms southwest of OKC.

Then came live footage from News4's chopper showing funnels forming, dropping down, and ripping up homes and everything else in their path. Fascinating but very sobering after seeing the devastation in Joplin from two days earlier.

Still, I wasn't all that alarmed yet. This was all happening west of I-35 (the north-south interstate); I was a good 40 miles east of a system moving northeast, meaning it'd miss my town altogether if it stayed on its present course.

It didn't.

By 8:00, it had somehow looped east and south and was headed my way. Only then did I become concerned...terrified, actually...struck by the image of the family that News4's chopper's camera had caught emerging from a pile of matchsticks that only moments before had been their house with nothing but the clothes they had on. Everything else necessary to re-establish normal life was in the rubble or scattered to the four winds.

Having been in much the same situation only a few months ago, for the first time ever I took a tornado warning seriously. Even before the siren sounded I began gathering The Stuff I Didn't Ever Want To Be Without Again:
  • My purse, containing every form of ID needed to verify my identity
  • Several changes of clothes and underwear
  • Toiletries
  • My laptop and power cord
  • Cell phone and charger
  • A storage tub containing family photos
To prevent having to scramble around as I did, a post-disaster bag containing extra clothing and toiletries for all members of your family, along with copies of IDs, ATM and credit cards, should be prepared at the beginning of tornado season and stored somewhere other than your home. Not in your vehicle, but away.

Family photos and important documents should be scanned and stored online. If you don't already have one, set up a second email address...I recommend Gmail...and email the images to yourself. Or transfer them to CDs or a thumb drive and place in the post-disaster bag. (Emailing them to yourself is easier than remembering to add new items to the CDs or thumb drive...)

That done, all that you have to grab on the way to the basement, innermost room or the bathtub is your loved ones, your purse/wallet and your laptop (don't forget the power cord).

Have a great day and stay SAFE!

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