The EF-5 tornado that swept through Moore, Oklahoma Monday, leaving 24 people dead amidst a swath of horrific devastation, is just the latest manifestation of the scariest weather phenomenon on the planet.
It is impossible to suppress a shudder when watching the (incessant) television coverage of the disaster. In some respects it’s déja vu all over again, after having seen similar scenes played out in Joplin, Missouri; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Ringgold, Georgia within the past few years: the horrifying result of God’s own vacuum cleaner making a few passes over the carpet of the earth. But the sheer scale of destruction in Moore is mind-numbing, with entire neighborhoods scraped off the planet’s surface as though they had never existed.
The only other comparable events that come to my mind are the razing of parts of the Bolivar Peninsula in coastal Texas by Hurricane Ike (2008) and the impact of Hurricane Andrew (1992) in south Florida. In both instances, destruction was so thorough that the land was scoured completely, to the point where it resembled Hiroshima after it was leveled by the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. It is hard to imagine anyone being able to survive a storm like that, save for divine providence.
Tornadoes figure deeply in my subconscious, despite my relatively limited experience with them. Most of that experience, in recent years, has taken the form of staring in gape-mouthed horrified fascination at the TeeVee Screen, watching the weather maps and praying that those big red and magenta blobs stay well away from our neighborhood... or hunkering down in the basement and hoping that the tornado that was on the ground a mile or two west of us - and headed directly for us - would dissipate before we (and Chez Elisson) got sucked away to Oz. More direct experience, I have no desire whatsoever to have... but it is an occupational hazard for those who live in the Southeast.
A map of the frequency of F3 and greater intensity tornadoes by area. Darker colors highlight the area typically known as Tornado Alley. (Wikimedia Commons)
Oklahomans, as most of us know, have it worse. They are ground zero for wind-funnel activity, parked right in the bull’s eye of Tornado Alley, which stretches from north Texas to southern South Dakota. Big tornadoes are far more frequent in the Alley... and huge, catastrophic ones are more likely to strike there than elsewhere. The Moore storm may have raised the bar on Disastrous Storms, owing to its exceptional size (up to two miles wide!) and intensity... but it was not completely unexpected.
Strangely enough, the Mistress of Sarcasm had her own close encounter with a tornado the very next day, a funnel that swept through her small town in upstate New York, knocking down a tree in her front yard in the process. The storm swept eastward into the remote northwestern corner of Connecticut and dumped a heap of hail - quarter- to golf ball-sized stones - in Falls Village, enough to accumulate in inches-deep drifts. Fortunately, she had been a few miles to the east, missing the worst part of the storm.
A funnel touches down near Copake, New York... a very unusual phenomenon for the area. Photo: Larry Selfridge (via Terri Moore).
Compared to a typical Tornado Alley storm - and especially the Moore disaster - this one was a mere fart in a hurricane. Nevertheless, scary business... because no matter where you are, tornadoes can happen.
Which is, I suppose, why I dream about them. Tornadoes and tsunami. Maybe it’s my subconscious’s way of saying, “Whether you’re paranoid or not, sometimes someone really is out to get you!”