Monday, April 4, 2011

Stormy Weather

This first day of school after spring break may be a bumpy one.

The weather forecasters are predicting damaging winds, isolated tornadoes, heavy storms that are supposed to arrive by mid-afternoon. Already, our neighbors to the west in Texas and Arkansas are dealing with the powerful system headed our way--a clash between a mean cold front and warm, wet air dancing off the Gulf of Mexico.

On a similar April day in the early sixties, when I was in the fourth grade, we had a major storm in Hardin County, Tennessee. It was the first time I had seen my teacher scared of anything. There was no weather channel or no Internet to give minute by minute movement of the storm. My teacher just had his eyes and those of other teachers that day, and you could see the fear in them as they looked southwest at the thunderheads blackening the noonday sky.

The storm passed over us, dumping heavy rain between the lightning flashes, but no tornado touched down in our little community. It made a mile-long path in two other sections of the county. The majority of electric wires were down, either from direct wind or trees falling on them. We had no power for several days, which didn't really make that much difference at our house. We had the wood heater to cook on and the water could still be drawn from the well just like any other day.

In the Burnt Church community on the other side of the county, some people were killed and several injured. The most tragic story involved an elderly couple whose home was completely demolished. We were told (I did not see this with my own eyes) that the woman was found dangling in the air, twisted in electric wires with chicken feathers blown into her body. The storm had blown every stitch of clothing off her body, causing her to leave this world just as she had came in--buck nekked.

My family and others talked about nothing else for several days. School closings, job closings, freezers full of spoiled food, people made homeless.....nothing seemed as tragic as that poor old woman nude in the wires. Some of the women of my family, always a modest bunch, were so traumatized that they took to wearing their girdles on stormy days. They even wore them to bed on nights that storms threatened, theorizing that not even the worst tornado could separate that latex from their bodies.

I'm off to school today in spite of a stormy forecast. I'm much better prepared than my teacher was way back then. My students were informed about storm preparations the first day of class. There is an emergency siren that goes off when a storm is spotted anywhere in the county, located right outside the science building and loud enough to wake a person from a coma. In addition, the university issues an alert that goes to every computer and most phones on campus anytime we are threatened.

It's a good thing we are prepared. I don't have a girdle to protect myself.