I have a very personal reaction to Joplin and it appeared in the online version of the newspaper today.
My home town, Muskogee, Okla., is 125 miles south west of Joplin, and Joplin was on the way to grandmother's house in southwestern Missouri. My 1940s childhood memory of Joplin was a pit stop to fill up the gas tank.
When tornado season came I huddled in my bed on the second floor of our wood frame house, waiting for death to come. It never did, but I resolved never to live near tornado land again.
The Wizard of Oz story never had much credibility with me. I never thought I would wake up from a fantastic dream because I knew I would be sucked up and die in a funnel cloud.
Looking back on those times, I probably was realistic. There were no tornado sirens, no Doppler radar, and no storm shelters. The closest cellar was in a neighbor's home nearly a block away. All we were educated to do was to go to the southwest corner of the building. We knew no more than that. We were just sitting ducks waiting to be plucked up. The myth had always been that Muskogee was immune because it sat down in the Arkansas valley. One April day in 1945 the myth was blown away by a tornado that devastated the east side of the town. Two children were killed and my father, a telephone company executive, took me on a tour of the destruction, which only reinforced my terror of spring.
Two years later the Woodward tornado in the southwestern corner of the state killed more than 100 people. I remember the radio reports, newspaper's screaming headlines, and my parents talking about it. It was since that terrible episode that records began to be kept of death and destruction caused by tornadoes in the U.S. Joplin 2011 was the worst.
My life brought me to Colorado 15 years later and for once I breathed a sigh of relief, though springtime at the edge of the Rockies was a brief, windy, late and cold matter. Through the thin, clear and dry air we saw many of the funnel clouds, and some farther out on the eastern plains of Colorado were also devastating. Limon and closer to Denver, Windsor, were names that took on special meanings from destructive tornadoes that ravaged them ... the rest near us were baby sized, compared to Oklahoma's.
I have made a few brief trips to Oklahoma where a funnel cloud is now plotted and followed block by block on local TV thanks to Doppler radar. When a siren warns us, it is to a closet, a bathroom tub immediately. I am the first there, believe me. Bless the storm chasers, the weather broadcasters, the attention given prediction and causes by both the weather service and the universities.
The closest I have ever been to the devastation that tornadoes can cause was the destruction I saw in the wake of a category 5 hurricane accompanied by 26 tornadoes. Even then, only two people died because there was time to evacuate and go to well organized shelters. It was no miracle; it was a matter of time to warn in advance.
Every day I count my blessings that I now live high the mountains where we do not have a spring … just mud and a chill wind, a bit of unpleasantness until a glorious summer arrives. The only fears we have here are forest fires and blizzards. Fires we can deal with and pay our insurance premiums, make our homes defensible, and get out of the way. And blizzards bring our bread and butter for the ski area — snow.
For every one, I suppose, there are preferred rankings of degrees of fear of whatever Mother Nature dishes out. For me nothing equals the terror of those springs in Oklahoma.