Thursday, May 23, 2013

23 May 2013 Where the winds come screaming.

Cassi Creek:  I grew up in the tornado belt.  I have gone through seven with only minor or negligible damage and have never been injured during one.  I have been fortunate. 
          At one point in time, I lived in a town of 26,000 that possessed only two warning sirens.  Even more dangerous, the only local radio was a 5,000-Watt sundowner.  Since there was a SAC air base abutting the town, and as the street I live on was mostly populated by bomber and tanker pilots and radar-navigators, it became the practice to go out into back yards and look toward the base if a warning was broadcast over television stations 70 miles distant.            Those were days when bombers armed with nuclear weapons stood alert along with support tankers, crews ready to be airborne in minutes.   Since there was no chance that either a BUFF or a KC-135 could withstand a tornado, and since no one with normal intelligence wanted to see what a tornado would do to a nuclear weapon; the alert planes were scrambled off the alert pad and into the best evasive flight plan possible. 
          Those of us not on alert (or in the Air Force) would sit or stand in the oppressive darkness, sweat pouring down our bodies in rivulets.  We’d watch for the lighting strikes as they became more frequent and nearer to us.  We’d wait for the thunderous roar of the BUFFs as they clawed skyward, and the even louder roar of the invisible funnel.  We hoped to near neither roar.
          At some point, if the warning was accurate and active, the mosquitoes would quit biting, seeking their own shelter.  There was not a single dwelling in that town that had a basement outdoor storm celllar.  It sat on, and about 6 feet below what had been a huge marsh adjoining the Mississippi River until the levees were built in the 1930s.  The only protection available in most homes was the bathroom. 
          We watched the alert planes scramble out one night about 2100.  The distant TV stations had broadcast a warning, the local radio was off the air, and the town was already without power.  Rain and hail were falling.  The lightning flashes were nearly constant – a useful marker for the presence of tornadic storms, as was tuning a broadcast television to channel 2 and watching for the screen to display bright white hash. 
          In those moments waiting for the storm to blow through, not knowing whether the alert planes scramble foretold the end of the civilized world or just the likely end of people unable to fly out of the storm, it was academic in nature within 30 minutes.  The planes flew around consuming fuel before RTB and the tornado lifted as it crossed the air base’s outer fence.  One of my neighbors saw the radar images that night.  They displayed a ½-mile wide tornado.
          This, of course, was back in the 1970’s.  It could have been a major event but it wasn’t in the end.  Forecasting was much less developed then.  There aren’t many sundowner radio stations now.  TV stations will follow dangerous storms and pump out information, often saving many lives.  However, a downed power line or two can black out large areas, leaving them no TV or radio. 
          We have a NOAA weather radio.  It is always on.


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