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© 2006

A Little Introspection goes a Long Way

I wrote this article a few months ago and re-discovered it recently. Although the storm has long since passed, the next storm is always just around the corner...

Today, at 0845 a.m., a long line of severe thunderstorms is approaching the west coast of Florida where I live. I am off work today, sitting at home alone. My wife is at work and my step-daughter is in school. I have to ask myself, "Have I done all I can do to make my family safe?"

There is a Tornado Watch issued one county to the north of me and I am sitting helplessly alone with my family out of my grasp. I won't be a control freak and keep the wife and kids at home just in case something bad should happen. That's like not going to the mall because bad guys might hold up or blow up a store. I won't live in fear like that. But, I have to think about things like that...because that's just the way I am. Right now, there is nothing I can do to protect my family if bad weather hits. I have to rely on others to protect them. It's a feeling I don't really like, but can't control.

I have extra bottled water around my house, as well as food supplies to last through the relatively short term disasters that tornadoes bring. Tornadoes are local events. They don't tear up entire cities and states like hurricanes. There will be no food or gas shortages because of a tornado. Tornadoes, with a few major exceptions, usually hit and run like a drunken driver. You can't be sure where they will hit, and if they do, how hard will it be. You can't predict the time and date of the incident. There's no looting after a tornado touches down. There's nothing left to loot.

Midwestern America, starting with the Rio Grande Valley and extending in a line all the way to Chicago, have their share of super-cell tornadoes. The really big-daddy storms that ship small towns into a new zip code start in this area. When I lived in Altus, Oklahoma in the 1970's, new homes in the area were "graded" by how nice their tornado shelters were. These were usually built first, then the home was built. If you haven't seen a super-cell storm cloud in Texas or Oklahoma then you have missed one of the truly awesome weather phenomenon that God has created.

Tornado incidents are over in just a few minutes. I remember the storms in Oklahoma sounded like a train was coming down the street...and you were on the tracks. I got caught in a "roll-over" storm off lake Michigan (in Wisconsin) one day. All I had time to do was lay down in a depression in the ground and cover my head. The storm went right over me. I could feel the wind sucking at my clothes trying to pick me up as "storm food". Thankfully, I was unhurt. Scared, but unhurt.


The "Roll-Over" storm is similar to a tornado except that the funnel of wind lays flat against the ground rather than straight up in the air like a tornado. The band of wind and rain is usually small in area, but it is intense to the max. It would be like getting caught up in the beater bar in a giant vacuum cleaner. Only the people who live in this region can tell you what they are really like.

Today, I sit at home hoping my large oak tree doesn't get blown over onto my house, and that my deck furniture on my rear deck is tied down OK. My dog has enough sense to come home through the "doggy door", although he likes to bark at thunder. Hey, it works. If you bark at the thunder, eventually it goes away. Works every time...and he comes back in the house all proud of himself at saving us once again. He gets his doggy bone. After he dries off.

I can't even go outside and bark at the thunder. I can't do anything except watch today's weather events unfold and hope that nothing happens to my family. I have to hope that my wife's employer has made an effort to protect their staff in the event of a tornado. I have to hope that my daughter's school has enough sense to keep kids indoors today, away from windows, when the bad weather hits. I have to stand in a long line of cars to pick up my daughter this afternoon, while the kids stand in the driving rain waiting to be picked up. They can't wait indoors. Go figure.

How come architects don't know how to design parking lots? Don't architects have kids? Or Cars?

It is frustrating having your home totally prepared to shelter your family from whatever disaster you can think of, only to find nobody's home. In the brief but violent life of a tornado, it is foolish to chase around after it just to find out if everyone's OK. The telephones usually still work, use them first. Don't call the school, even if you get through, you'll get a recording of the day's announcements. Nobody human works in schools anymore...only "Push 4 for Attendance Excuses", or "Push 1 for English". "Empujar Dos por Espanol". (Translation: "Push 2 for Spanish")

I guess the answer to my underlying question is "Yes, I have done all I can do in today's American society, to protect my family." As frustrating as it seems, they are only gone for 8 to 9 hours a day, and at home for the rest of the time. I have the majority of their time protected. Granted, a 66% protection factor may not be the greatest, but it's better than none at all.

After staying home for several weeks before, during and after some surgery, I am a veteran of watching educational TV. If you watch Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, the Learning Channel, and others of the same ilk, you think it is amazing that you are still alive. Each channel has a different set of truly sincere (and probably correct) scientists stating the "its not IF it's going to happen, it WHEN it's going to happen". No matter if you are talking about a super-tsunami, a meteor impact, an earthquake, or whatever, these guys sincerely believe we are (eventually) doomed. It would be really easy to get very paranoid about preparing for a disaster.

This is where you have to sit down and once again gauge the immediacy of the threat to your own actions. If you think a super-tsunami will hit in the near future, then sell your beach front property and move to the hills. If you think you are in danger from an earthquake, MOVE. You can always find a similar job somewhere else. You have to really think about these things though, because it is very difficult to pull up long established roots and move to a hole in the ground in the mountains.

Even if you have the urge to move out to the hills, do you have the cash-capital to move? It's not cheap hauling the family stuff, even 10 miles. Thousands of dollars WILL change hands...with most of it out of your pocket. Unless you have inherited dear uncle Freddy's cabin in the woods, you will have to pay for every square inch of the property you select to use as a shelter. The cost of a for-real underground shelter will probably be at least 3 to 10 times the cost of a normal "above ground" home. Are you ready for that?

Can your wife and family live like bats in this cave you've decided to base your life in? Mine won't. If it doesn't have a window, she won't go in. I'm stuck's one of my "limiting factors" on sheltering my family. While I personally think that light from windows is not all its cracked up to be, my wife can't and won't live without it. If I'm home alone when she comes back, the first thing she does is open the drapes and/or turn on the lights. "Do you live in a cave, or what?" I just think like a cave man, I can't behave like one.

Today's potential threat of tornadoes will expire at about 2:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. We then move on to the next unscheduled potential disaster, as yet unknown. It (at least) gives me some sense of preparedness knowing that, for at least 66% of the time, my family is as safe as I can physically make them.