It had been raining on and off all day. We spent the weekend cleaning, resting, snacking, and watching a slew of tornado documentaries on Netflix and YouTube. Tornado documentaries are at the core of our marriage. We love them. The first thing we ever did together was watch a tornado documentary while James was house-sitting. I had the flu at the time, but I was too excited to hang out and pretended I was completely healthy. I'll never forget the way James' face lit up when I sheepishly confessed that I have a strange obsession with extreme weather. And just weather in general. I guess you could blame these destructive forces of nature for bringing us together.
A few weeks before our wedding, we were driving back to school after a trip to Raleigh to drop off my MacBook at the Apple Store, since the hardrive crashed during finals and a week before my graduation. We knew there was a tornado warning, and we couldn't decide if we should wait it out and grab some food or drive home. We decided to drive home despite a vividly green sky and churning clouds above us. We got home, turned on the news, and discovered the EF3 tornado had chased us down highway 64.
But it had only been raining all weekend. No thunderstorms, just a steady, warm rain. Gracie was in bed, and we had decided to wait until she was down to eat together. As we sat down with our food, my phone buzzed. I figured it was a text from my friend telling me about her weekend away, but it was a tornado warning. I was sure it had to be a mistake. The sun was peeking through the clouds and everything seemed calm. Instead of turning on Last Man Standing, I flipped to the local news just to confirm my suspicions that my weather app was confused.
The meteorologist was flailing her arms across the map of our city, telling us funnel clouds had been spotted to the west, and a tornado had already touched down a county over and destroyed a house. The forecasted track of the storm with the funnel cloud was going right over us. Suddenly, the tornado sirens went off. In all our years here, they've gone off less than five times. Two of those times there has actually been a tornado that touched down less than a mile away. James and I stared at each other, our mouths wide open. Did all our documentary watching cause this somehow? A weird self-fulfilling prophecy of some kind? All day long I had been thinking how grateful I am to not live in tornado alley. I live for some good weather drama, but when faced with an actual tornado, I'm done playing games. Ohio isn't in tornado alley, but we get our fair share of tornado watches in the spring and summer. It's just enough excitement without too much risk, but rarely has a warning every appeared out of the blue like this.
It was 7:29. According to the news, the storm and possible tornado would hit our neighborhood at 7:46. I looked down at my dinner. "Is this going to be our last meal?" We were eating tacos, and honestly, it's a pretty good way to go. My brain kept racing with scenes of the documentaries we had watched. Comments about people dying because they disregarded tornado warnings and tornados dropping out of the sky at any moment whizzed through my brain on a loop.
"Should I go wake up Gracie? Her crib is near a window!" James told me to wait a little longer. There was a chance it would go just south of us. I kept walking toward the stairs, hesitant to wake her for a false alarm, but terrified a tornado would hit strike at any moment. James was adamant that we keep waiting and watching. The clouds were getting darker by the second, and it was starting to rain with thunder in the distance. Honestly, it was a miracle she was still asleep as the sirens continued to blare.
The worst part of the whole scenario is that we have nowhere safe to hide. We're on the second and third floors with two interior rooms: a bathroom on the third floor, and the laundry room on the second where the water heater could easily fall on us. Neither seems particularly safe. I was pacing the living room trying to think of a better place where the tornado couldn't suck us out of the windows. All I could think of is that scene in Twister when the tornado hits the drive-in movie theater in the dark. It chills me to the bone every time.
At 7:40, the sky was the same shade of green as my face when I'm motion sick. The last time I saw the sky that green, there had been a tornado. The thunder was deafening. The sirens went off again. By some miracle, Gracie was sleeping through everything. "That's it!" I'm grabbing Gracie and we're going to the laundry room!" I screamed over the sirens and the meteorologist on TV telling everyone to get in a basement or interior room. The one night I wish she had laid in her crib talking to Pooh Bear is the one night she falls asleep immediately.
I grew up on the west coast where tornado isn't even a part of the vocabulary. Jumping under my desk during an earthquake drill at school was second nature to me. I never adjusted to piling into the long high school hallway, with doors at each end, and putting a math book on my head as if that would save me from an entire school collapsing. All we were doing was inserting ourselves into a giant straw the tornado would suck us out of. Our townhouse doesn't feel any safer than my old high school. I wished we had a basement, until I remembered a survivor in one of the documentaries said if she had been in her basement, she would've died, since the entire house fell into the basement.
As I ran upstairs, I looked at the radar on my phone, and even to my untrained eye, I could see the telltale hook indicating rotation. It was going south of us. Just as I told James, the weatherman on TV confirmed everything I said, which was good because I was half-wondering if I was making it all up in my state of panic. The sky was still green, and it was storming intensely, but it was easy to see that it looked even worse just to the south. I collapsed on the couch and breathed a sigh of relief. The tornado warning expired ten minutes later. Gracie had managed to sleep through it all.
The thunder and lightning started to die down, and the rain became a little softer. And then, a little voice chirping in the monitor. Of course.
I gave myself an extra scoop of ice cream last night to drown my frayed nerves in. Plus, you never know when a tornado warning will strike, and I'm going to make it my mission to eat every meal like it's my last.