Tornado Alley

It’s no secret to anyone who watches the national news that Arkansas’s normal Tornado ratio skyrocketed this year.   The evening news told the husband and I that  we’ve had 84 confirmed tornadoes.   Sixty of Arkansas’s 77 counties are declared disaster areas.   The local weathermen claim La Nina as a culprit. 

 Either way, like the rest of Arkansas and much of the middle-south, I’m weary of dangerous weather. I love the rain this time of year, but I’m sick of the tornado sirens. I’m tired of the pictures of poor folks standing in the wreckage of their lives.  I’m starting to get a little irrational and paranoid.

When my best friend asked me today if the world was coming to an end after we spent twenty minutes talking tornado, I actually thought it was a reasonable question.  This, to anyone to knows me well, is not in my character. I never was much of a church goer, much less an expert on the end times.  But I actually wondered if she had a point.

Then I declared I was so sick of tornado talk that I wasn’t going to watch the news again until July.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel for every last one of the victims.  I know, too, what it can do from personal connections.  A friend of my family, Britt, had to help out his parents, his nephew, and his brother after the Atkins-Clinton tornado blew away all their houses, barns, and cows.  They all survived by standing in a hallway, the only standing structure in the aftermath.  

I know I’ll have to contradict myself, though. I can’t escape it.  Most people I run into around here do the same thing I do: shake their head and say something like “goddamn” (like the guy who bought cigarettes ahead of me in line at the quick stop when he saw today’s Arkansas Democrat Gazette). 

Most people can’t help but start to about talk how terrible it all is, and “but there for the grace of God,” and then eventually get around to telling the story of their own Tornado near miss.  We all have one.  It’s just part of living here.  Hardly anyone has a basement and only folks out in the country tend to keep storm shelters, so mostly we’re all dependent on hiding in our bathtubs and hallways. 

The tornado story I’m telling these days goes like this: Just a block from where I live, the most recent Little Rock tornado knocked a giant oak tree through a two-bedroom ranch house, which had to be leveled. About ten houses in the neighborhood had to have major roof repair.  The night the storm hit was the first time I actually heard the tell-tale “sucking” of the wind and the “freight-train” noise.  I freaked out, grabbed the dogs, and tried to put us all into the bathtub. 

Then my husband pointed out that the bathroom had a window and the hall didn’t.  By then, it was all over. It lasted less than 30 seconds. 

This replaces my older story, which is also about a tornado that passed within a block of my house.

Back in the late 1999, I lived in an apartment downtown on Sixth Street just two blocks away from MacArthur Park in the Quapaw Quarter of Little Rock.  I lived in an apartment building with windows on every exterior wall.  So the only safe place to go was the central hallway.

There were about a dozen one-bedroom apartments in the building and about twice that many people living there, plus their pets.  I, alone, had a cocker spaniel and an alley cat. Add to that a couple of Chihuahua’s, a baby, about six more cats, and a cello and you get the scene. (The cello belonged to a Arkansas symphony member, I think).

We all piled into the hallway and set up camp, listening to the television through someone’s open door. A woman who lived at the end of the hall on the first floor had just moved to Little Rock from Hawaii. She didn’t, and I quote, “believe in tornadoes,” and thereby deemed us all insane.

She decided to go to the Harvest Foods down on Main street, even though we told her not to go. A few of us begged her.  That storm picked up nearly every tree in the park and completed flattened my favorite Waffle House, along with several other buildings in the Quapaw District.  It also completed destroyed the Harvest Foods while the Hawaiian lady watched from her car.   She found her religion after that, I think.

I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t start practicing a little superstition, just as insurance against anymore near misses.   Vance Randolph tells us in Ozark Magic and Folklore that many Ozark old timers believed sticking a knife in the ground with the edge facing the tornado, it would, as he put it, “split the wind” and keep it from destroying a farm (32-33). 

I never heard of anyone doing this personally, but at this point, I’m starting to think an old charm wouldn’t hurt. 


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Tipper said,

    I agree the weather has gone wacko with tornados not to mention the horrible earthquake and cyclone overseas. There was an earthquake in Mississippi a few days ago too. I’m lucky to live in the mountains where tornados are a rare occurence. The most recent in my area-all the way back in the early 70’s. I was to young to remember it-although it killed several folks in our county.

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