The tornadoes of the 19th and 20th of May, while every bit as horrible as they were reported to be, didn't come within ten miles of me, and I confined myself to a few remarks at a distance. Detachment, doncha know. On an emotional scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is Zeno of Cithium and 10 is any random guest on any of the daytime screamfests, I might have managed a 7, which is not so far from my usual sixish; I have long suspected that one of the keys to my modest success in this realm is being able to write like a 3 or 4 under those conditions, which requires, yes, detachment. The hardest blow, in fact, was looking into the eyes of a coworker and seeing the most undiluted fear I'd seen in years. She lived in the north end of Moore, and at the time, she wasn't quite sure if she still had a house or not. (She did.)

When it's my own unworthy self on the line, I tend to behave differently. During events like the 3 May 1999 tornado outbreak, which at the time was the Biggest Thing Ever Seen, I fake up a layer of preternatural calm, which then overlays the layer of sheer panic. The results are seldom amusing. During the approach of that F5 storm in 1999 it had, at that time, dropped below F5 strength, but I didn't know that because the power was off and the National Weather Service radio was busy delivering warnings I reasoned, if you want to call it reasoning, that there was no safe place, and therefore I went outside to face the storm alone. Suicidal as this was, it sounded very High Noon, and I get a lot of my emotional cues from old classic Westerns, where something has to be done and dammit, somebody's got to do it.

You would not have heard any of that in my follow-up report six days later, since, well, it was six days later, I'd had a chance to take stock of the situation, I figured there was no point in looking foolish, and I wasn't doing daily reports back then anyway. (I didn't inaugurate daily blog posts until the following summer.) From time to time I've thought of going back and expanding that piece, but I never actually did so. And besides, there'd almost certainly be another opportunity.

On the 31st of May 2013, I left work about 45 minutes early, mostly because various commercial operations across town had announced that they'd be closing early, and I didn't want to get caught in the inevitable traffic snarl. There was only one pocket of congestion along my usual route, and it cleared quickly, telling me that it was the fault of one bonehead who either barely got up the ramp or almost missed his exit, and several more who duly slammed on their brakes. Asphalt slalom? Yes, please. I made a fairly huge dinner, including a T-bone steak, though this was more a utilitarian gesture than it sounds: it used up most everything perishable in the fridge, an important consideration when power outages are in the offing. (I figured the freezer could go half a day or longer without anything being ruined.) And then I sat back, set up Twitter and the browser, and waited.

Around 6 pm I was reading a book and half-listening to the radio. There are three major station groups in town Clear Channel, Cumulus and Tyler and each of them, in times of Dire Emergency, abandons regular programming in favor of the audio portion of one of the three major television stations. The nearest preset was WWLS, the Sports Animal, a Cumulus station, which was carrying KWTV; this was fine, since I'd rather deal with avuncular Gary England than with KFOR's almost-certainly-infomercial-bound Mike Morgan. The projected track of the storm, now along the southern edge of Canadian County, was well south of me, and assuming it continued on course, it would stay that way.

Tornado track for 31 May 2013
It didn't stay that way.

This new northeastern trajectory, I figured, was Not Good, and I switched on the television. The standard graphic used in the storm-projection systems is trapezoidal: the current path runs down the center, and then the image fans out to cover both the expected width of the storm and a ten-to-twenty-degree variance in the path. England intoned, "This should be at Penn Square at 7:02."

I looked closer. It wouldn't take much of a turn to put the storm at Penn Square, and if it got there, it would get me first. The nearest reliable shelter was in the basement of Integris Baptist Medical Center; I could get there in time if traffic wasn't bad. What were the chances that traffic wasn't bad?

It was now 6:45. I turned off a couple of extraneous lights I have no idea why and began dismantling my bed. By 6:50 I had a makeshift tent set up in the living room, mattress and box spring over love seat: it wouldn't keep me on the ground when the winds came, but it might keep me, briefly, from getting hit in the head by flying debris, which I deemed a Good Thing. I went over to the computer, issued my Last Words, and prepared myself to assume the position.

Two announcements of interest followed: the storm had slowed down, and it was realigning its course yet again. And then the cone rose back into the sky. Apparently I was saved.

I waited a couple more minutes, then reassembled the bed and resumed my communication lines. Gallows humor was the order of the moment: "So I'm cleaning the kitchen. I want the house to look nice for the insurance adjuster."

I got next to no sleep that night, the result of an unfortunate interaction of heavy adrenaline (inside) and heavy rain (outside). Still, when I finally collapsed about three-thirty and, for some reason, dreamed about an alternate universe whose spokesperson was "Weird Al" Yankovic I was still alive, although too tired to yell "Screw you!" at the Grim Reaper. And ultimately, that's what it's all about: putting one over on that scythe-wielding son of a bitch.

The Vent

  1 June 2013

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 Copyright © 2013 by Charles G. Hill