Growing up in the north end of Tornado Alley

Recent severe weather in Iowa spawned tornadoes that, thanks to amateur video, have appeared on Facebook garnering thousands of shares. I took particular attention as I’m from Iowa and understandably concerned—and a little curious—about the goings-on there. Plus, I have experienced tornado warnings, straight-line winds, and dealt with the aftermath of the destructive force of wind when I wasConroy tornado a kid.

This particular tornado was captured July 11 near Conroy, Iowa, in east central Iowa. My first reaction seeing it was, “What is the idiot doing videoing a tornado RIPPING THROUGH HIS FIELD? HIT THE BASEMENT, MAN!” Sure, he’s not in the path of the tornado, but when debris from a farmstead down the road flies through the air as a building and trees are leveled, I questioned his sanity. Storm chasers should hire him.

Tornado Terrain

The north central part of Iowa where I grew up was flat and dotted with trees, farmsteads and small towns, which is perfect terrain for tornadoes to pummel everything in their paths. Farmhouses have basements, mostly for storage and furnaces (or the man cave), but also as storm shelters. Our house had a basement accessible from the back porch and outside. The porch access was blocked as it had become a storage closet. Once I opened the door to get a paper bag off a stand and a mouse stared at me, its eyes as wide open as mine.

Thus, the outsbasement door backgroundide entrance to the basement was the best access. It had the typical slanted wood horizontal door almost flush with the ground under which were steep narrow steps leading to another door. (The door is in the upper left corner. That’s my birthday party in June 1968. Can you pick me out?*) A hanging string turned on a single light bulb. The furnace and water softener sat on the dirt floor. Shelves lined the walls. Inhabitants included spiders, crickets, bats, that little mouse’s extended family, and maybe a cat enjoying the rodent smorgasbord.

I ABSOLUTELY hated the basement. The idea of taking shelter from a tornado was almost as bad as facing the tornado itself. Would I make it to the basement before being sucked up in the vortex? However, if a tornado did blow off the house, at least the basement would see the light of day and not be so intimidating. I remember taking shelter there a few times, determined to stand in the doorway, not daring to venture more than a foot inside.

Traumatized Tot

My fear about tornadoes was rational for a seven-year-old kid who sat in the backseat of a car as her parents took a site-seeing trip just days after an EF-5 (the worst) ripped apart Charles City, Iowa, in 1968. I was born in the hospital there and our farm was 30 miles away. We had family who barely escaped being carried off.

Then came 1972 when I dealt with the aftermath of nature’s destructive force. The school we attended housed the sixth grade class in a mobile unit—apparently the district was having growing pains. I had looked forward to being in such a unique classroom, but the experience was short-lived when what was probably a semi-mighty wind easily toppled the flimsy structure just weeks after school started. To me it was a tornado, which fed fuel to my fears.AB mobile classroom

The storm and tornado warnings that interrupted regular TV programming in the spring and summer over the years didn’t help abate my qualms. Neither did the time my father spotted a small funnel cloud off in the distance. It was slowly moving away from the farm, but I was terrified it would turn around and head straight for us. I once again found refuge in the basement doorway.

After I left home, another semi-mighty wind scattered an old rusted out crumbling shed across the field. It was just one-sided with a roof that sheltered miscellaneous farming odds-and-ends. Dad was glad the winds took the feeble structure to save him the trouble of tearing it down. All he had to do was gather the rubble in the field: problem solved.

Tornado Worries

My fear of tornadoes abated with age. The fact I live in the city, where tornadoes are rare, has helped. Mostly I worry about family and friends in tornado country. Such was the case in May 2008 when a half- mile-wide EF-5 decimated the small community of Parkersburg, Iowa, located 25 miles from where I grew up. Numerous friends lived there.

Pburg tornadoAt the end of what had been a tornado-spawning hot and humid day, Mom called me and stated plainly. “Parkersburg is gone.” She quickly explained and within seconds I was on the internet checking out the story. Over the next weeks, incredible raw footage captured during and after the tornado flooded the internet. One video, taken from security cameras in a bank, showed the monster as it slammed into the building.

As I watched the funnel this week etch its way across the lush green fields, I marveled at its force, yet was awed by its beauty. God sure exercised His creativity in nature. Much like snowflakes, each funnel or tornado is one of a kind—the kind you want to stay away from, not chase.

I shan’t submit my resume to Storm Chasers. Storm Cowards, yes. I’m sure I’d get the job.

*Second from the right with unruly curly hair.





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