A New Yorker in Tornado Alley

My niece Dale got off the phone with her mom (and my sister) with a concerned look on her face. “My parents are worried about the tornado watch around here,” said the beautiful 24-year-old pianist and composer who was in Dallas touring. I laughed. “Oh, your mom’s such a worrywart,” I told her. “Dallas won’t get hit by a tornado!”

“Well,” said Dale, “it says here on theweatherchannel.com that we are under a tornado watch.” Still, I resisted. “Oh phooey. I’m sure they’re just being overly cautious. We’ll be fine,”I said confidently. About a half hour later it started to rain.

The next day at work, it was still raining and VERY windy; Dale stayed in my apartment to work on a new composition. Thinking about the wind and rain again, I asked my magazine editors, “Hey gang, what’s with this tornado warning thing?”

“It’s not a warning,” said my Editor, Lisa. “It’s a watch. If it’s a warning, you’ll hear the sirens go off.”

“But wait,” I said. “This isn’t Tornado Alley.”

“YES IT IS,” four voices said at once.

“We’re right at the bottom of the alley,” said my Senior Editor, Amy. Oh. Well, Dorothy, I thought to myself, you’re not in New York anymore.

“Have you guys ever heard the sirens go off?” I asked. Oh yes, they said. Many times.

Then I said something so stupid even I realized how dumb it was the second it came out of my mouth. “So do you get under a doorway like you do for earthquakes?” I asked.

My polite staff paused. “Get in the bathtub,” Lisa said. “You don’t have windows in your bathroom, do you?” “No,” I answered dully, glad for once I didn’t have one of those giant whirlpool tubs that overlooks acres of verdant gardens.

“Is that what you recommend, too, Amy?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said, “you want to go to a central spot in the building, and the tub’s plumbing means it might stay in place. If you have time, drag your mattress in and put it over you.” Even I could figure out why. It’s so that when the building smashes around you, it hits the mattress before it gets you.

In the art department Creative Director Carl was watching the tornado activity on radar. Then we heard “Oh my God!” coming from Production Director Alan’s office next door. We raced in and, to our horror, watched the now-famous video footage of 18-wheelers being lifted into the air as if they were Tinker Toys.

By day’s end, hail had ripped through the area, damaging our Managing Editor Mary’s car, heavy rain flooded streets and reports of massive damage were coming over the wires. When I got back to my apartment I gave Dale a hug. I told her in as calm a voice as I could about what was happening, how sorry I was I’d made light of it, and what we’d do if we heard the sirens. I could see the fear in her face and I stayed in the calm mama mode my own two kids had trained me in. We made dinner, watched the scary footage on TV and went to bed—though neither of us slept.

They now know that 17 separate tornados blew through Texas on April 3, devastating entire towns. Incredibly, no one was killed. Once again, I saw the indomitable, loving Texas spirit rise to help the victims who had no homes, no food. Neighbors helped neighbors. Towns helped towns. The debris was cleared within days in Forney, one of the hard-hit towns near us. So I’m prouder than ever to be a Texan. When school is over, my husband and kids will finally join me and we’ll be a family of Texans. But tell me, readers: What will I tell my 8-year-old girl?

I’ve told my high school-aged son all about the experience and the tornadoes. But my daughter gets really scared about things. She has a phobia about spiders—particularly, tarantulas—and some nights she stays up sobbing for hours because she can’t get the picture of a tarantula out of her head. (And yup, I checked—we’ve got tarantulas in Texas too!).

So, I ask you, How do I prepare my little love before the next time the sirens go off? The best idea I’ve heard yet came from one our Facebook fans who said that crawling into the bathtub with her kids was one of the best cuddles they’d had in a long time. That’s the part I’m going to emphasize to Darcy.  

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