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Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Event

Husband and I have been missing spring in Kansas. However this year I hear it has gone straight from winter to summer, dust storms and heat rather than super cells and mild temps. So yesterday's deluge of water came as a welcoming suprise. 

It was accompanied by panic and chaos. 

My phone suddenly goes off. An alert has been issued by the National Weather Service. It tells me nothing more, just to seek immediate shelter. I, of course, go outside, skipping and clapping like the naughty child I am. And see nothing to indicate a tornado was in the area. Well, it could be rain wrapped, but the temperature and pressure wasn't right. I went back into the shop and looked at the radar. Maybe there was a hook forming on the backside of this storm, but it wasn't very structured. I texted Small Farm Girl when nothing was said on the radio station, and the fire alarms had been running for ten minutes without a rotation. Husband and I waited. I played on the computer, he looked bored. Checking over the radar once more I informed Husband if there was a tornado, it would be a weak one, here, west of us on the Ohio river. 

The rain tapered off and the winds calmed. Nothing abrupt, just a normal storm course. Husband and I went about our business. He had to make a run to Ohio and I held down the fort. After a bit, our rag delivery man showed up with pictures. A decent sized, albeit poorly structured, tornado had touched down in another town. Doing some damage. I hope everyone was alright, I told him. 

I informed Small Farm Girl of the tornado, and was then informed that a funnel had been spotted on the Ohio, where I told Husband one would be. The day turned muggy and the interruption of life was quickly set aside.

The chaos was in the schools. 

At the time the sirens were sounding, I received an automated call. One thing we were always taught was to stay off of landline during such storms. But it was the school system, so I answered. The kids were all on lock down and we were not to come get them. Well that's a no-brainer. I need to remember I'm not in Kansas anymore. And that fact was reiterated to my boys.

Small's elementary school was dangerously chaotic. Small said it was confusing. Having had years of training on what to do in this situation, it now is a habit. He knows where the best place to be, how to protect yourself, and to remain calm. He told us that the kids were screaming and crying, loudly calling to Jesus. One wasn't able to hear instructions from the adults. He was pushed and elbowed in the ribs as children frantically scrambled to be where they thought they were to go. Inside of the school became more dangerous than standing outside in the storm.

Medium's middle school faired little better. The kids thought is was merely a drill. The laughing and play drowned out any instructions that the adults had for them. 

Large's high school did nothing but place the children on in class lock down. They were to remain in the rooms until further notice. Large found being trapped in a room with windows during a tornado warning absurd. He did however lighten the mood by apologizing, and claiming he didn't think the tornado would find him here.

Since we have been here, there have been numerous watches and warnings. The schools have tornado drills, as does the state, once a month. It makes no sense that they are so unprepared. I understand that tornadoes rarely touch down, however they have actions in place for such an event yet are unable to execute them smoothly. They may not have the large dangerous tornadoes that Kansas has, but the chaos created by a funnel is in itself, dangerous. Without the calm, without the ability to know what is actually happening, the people cramped together in panic and confusion can lead to something more than a mere uncomfortable situation.

I was terrified once, like these kids. It was in 1991, a mile wide F5 tore through the suburb I grew up in. I prayed as we hid in the octagonal hallway, mattresses, pillows and blankets shielding us from debry that may fall. It was half a block from my home, the sound of a freight train was barreling down on us, our ears popped, and our eyes ached from the pressure. 

The boys compared the tornado experience in Kansas to our funnel experience in Kentucky. And just as I remembered my school days in tornado alley, hallways were quiet, or kids talked in hushed tones, walking single file. They lined the hallways, facing the wall. Sitting on the ground, knees tucked under, they bent in half, chin to knees, and arms covering their heads, waiting for the all clear. If you were lucky, as I was in middle school, the locker rooms were bomb shelters, or as in Large's case, and actual basement. Small's old elementary had built a new gym, it was a safe room.  It didn't matter if you were in a safe room gym or in a cinder block hallway, it was quiet and a controlled atmosphere. You needed to hear the instructions, you needed to hear the storm. 

It isn't an everyday occurrence in Kansas either. One could argue that because we have them so often that the kids are use to it. That isn't completely accurate. Tornadoes in Kansas tend to happen after 6pm. Normally during dinner time. When the temps start cooling is when severe weather ignites. Occasionally one does go off during the day, catching our kids at school, sometimes it happens in the dead of night. But those are rare. In our part of Kansas, kids had practice drills once a month. Tornado season lasts three months, a rare fall storm may create a tornado, however typically April, May and June (well end of March beginning of June) is the peak season. Straight line winds and micro bursts are much more common. In the 12 years we were at the Neophyte Homestead, the town closest to us had many warnings, but no tornadoes ever touched down. In the surrounding country side, several touchdowns had been reported over the years, yet none at the homestead. The major city we were close to had a touch down in it or just outside the limits every year. As a child, my suburb had multiple tornadoes touch down yearly. 

My boys understand the seriousness of a tornado as it is part of our up bringing. That is typical of generational Kansans. We learn the signs, we know the feeling, we can smell it coming. The funnel in this storm was an after thought, if it had hit anything but a river, it would have done similar damage as straight line winds. No one would have ended up in Oz. I have no news on the one that did hit the town, but from looking at what pictures people have shown me, I would say that any damage that had been done was more due to improper preparation; having things laying about, rotting homes, shallow tree roots, panicked people. It looked like a large dust devil. 

I am by no means trying to belittle the people here. I for one am unprepared for a forest fire. If I can't get out by using my driveway, well I am in the creek. I have no idea what to do for a mudslide. . . Yet these things don't seem to crop up in conversations. They aren't frequent, like tornadoes. My gritch is with the school system and the way the chaos was handled. It shouldn't have gotten that way, not with the fact that they do drill for such an event. 

And then Small decided to scare the heck out of me.


small farm girl said...

Your not in Kansas anymore Dorthy....

Phelan said...

Doesn't matter where. I am. The fact that the adults allowed this to go on irks me. If there had been a true tornado, this put my children at risk.

Judy said...

Because the children could feel the panic in the adults the children went off the deep end. They need to practice the drills until every child and adult can do the drill in a quiet calm manner.

I remember we had a time limit to get where we were going and get into position. If we didn't get it right we did it over-n-over until we could do it right.

I was amazed at the panic high winds (20mph) caused when we lived in Michigan and all the junk that blew around because nobody put anything away. Of course, I was outside with my arms stretched out catching as much air as I could. : >) Boy did I miss my Kansas breeze! (20 mph)

Chris Mallory said...

I have lived in Kentucky all of my life and I have learned a healthy respect for running water. Don't cross high running water. It moves with more force than you could imagine. Don't let your kids play in high running water. I have seen it remove road beds, asphalt, rocks, trees, tons of gravel. Even the picture of your truck tire in running water you posted on 1 May gave me pause. I have seen too many cars and trucks washed down stream.

Phelan said...

Thank you for your concern. I too have grown up around water. The creek has a long tradition of boys doing exactly what mine did. I kept my eye on him. We already had the talk about rushing water, and this is the only time he was allowed to do it. As for the truck crossing the water, it wasn't an inch deep, looked more dramatic than it was, as it wasn't rushing, just flowing.

but again thank you for your concern.

Sandy Livesay said...


I have to agree with you, the adults need to know exactly what to do and instruct the kids accordingly without chaos.

Once you've been through a tornado you pickup on the signs and know what to expect to prepare for the next one. Last years were bad here, I pray we don't have to go through a big one like those on May 20, and the 31st of 2013.

Sending hugs to you and yours.

Practical Parsimony said...

I live in AL, tornado alley. When people hear the name of my town, some say they don't even want to shop or visit here because it appears we are a tornado magnet. The storms track on a highway and travel to a resort right up the highway to this town. I know which tiny towns to listen for on the weather alerts.

We have two tornado seasons in Dixie Alley, the only place in the world with two tornado seasons. We have a second season in the last of Oct and all of Nov. Kansas and Alabama have had more people killed by tornadoes. Today, I thought one was coming, well, already here because hickory trees were bending to the ground and thrashing in a 100 ft arc. That lasted for a full ten minutes.

The scene from the school sounded horrific and out of control. I would be tempted strongly to go get my children. The problem here and probably there is that tornadoes cannot be seen from afar. Plus, the tornadoes here and probably where you are come in rain, hail, and any time of the day or night.

Tornadoes can come down in hollers, no matter what they say. A mother of seven was the only one left after a tornado hit their holler. They did not take shelter. This happened about 70 yrs ago, so people in hollers around here do not repeat the lore that tornadoes skip the hollers. I don't want to frighten you, but don't feel secure down there.

Fire? That would be horrible. Even 3-6 inches of swift-running water can topple an adult.

Well, I am glad your kids made it through the hysteria.

Michelle said...

Sounds like it's time to send letters to the principals of your sons' schools, with copies to the superintendent. It's utterly unacceptable for a standard emergency procedure to be stuffed up so badly. As you said, it put YOUR sons, well-prepared though they be, in danger. Not ok. If you don't get satisfaction, a copy of this blog post to the local TV station and/or newspaper.

HermitJim said...

Sounds to me as though the teachers and other adults need some additional training to prevent causing panic in the children. Just my thoughts, though.

FancyHorse said...

I agree with you. The children and the adults should have been better prepared. This was dangerous.

small farm girl said...

The tornadoes are different here than they are in Kansas. We don't often have supercells like you did in Kansas. We have fronts. The tornadoes here do not stay on the grown and rarely form hooks on the radar. Most tornadoes here are F1s. They come down an then are gone in less than 1/4 mile. Many differences in our weather systems.

West Tx at Heart said...

You have created a beautiful life.

Jess (Ozark Momma) said...

That must be one wholly unprepared school system. Growing up (here in KY) we had the same tornado drill training that you had in KS. Even here in SoKY the drills are the same as they were then...the niece was telling me about the non-issue hideaway they had the other day whilst during finals and rough storms.

I'm guessing it wasn't so much the plan that was the problem there as it was teacher/student panic.

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