Tornado Shelter

TAKE SHELTER IMMEDIATELY, the weather alert tells me, so I am safely ensconced in my windowless bedroom with a nervous dog, while the cat, surly and intractable as ever, hides in a nearby closet.

There are currently multiple tornado warnings in effect for my little town, whose weather system is being affected by Tropical Storm Fay, the storm that refuses to die.  If you live in a tornado-free place (how boring for you!), you may be wondering how there could be multiple tornado warnings in effect.  I would have wondered the same thing before I lived here, too.

Here’s how this works: if conditions are such that a tornado could form, they call it a tornado watch.  Then, they watch and see if a tornado does form.  If one does, and it’s been spotted, it’s moved up from a watch to a warning.  Therefore, for each tornado that’s been seen, we have a warning.  When they issue the warnings, they usually tell you where it was seen and how fast it was moving and in which direction, offering predictions of which areas or town it will be near over the next few minutes. This is science.

In our case, over the last hour and a half or so, at least three different ones were spotted in our area, and their projected paths either included my town or came right near it.  Or near-ish, anyway.  When they list the names of towns the storm might hit, I’m usually just kind of like, “Huh.  Yeah.  I don’t really know where that little hamlet is.”  I should be more familiar with the area after a year, but, sadly, I am not.

Here’s what the Wordsmith Campus Alert tells us: “UPDATE –  TORNADO WARNING on Wordsmith campus until 7:30 pm.  TAKE SHELTER IMMEDIATELY.  NOTE:  Theses [sic] storms keep approaching the area and could result in more tornado warnings.  A Tornado Warning means that a Tornado has been spotted either on radar or by a storm spotter.  Please pay close attention to the weather.  These storms come fast and may be on the ground before the warning is issued.”

As my friend S. says, though, the college’s alert system is completely worthless.  Sometimes I hear from them via email, sometimes via text message or voicemail, but it happens almost universally long after the tornado sirens and TV or internet weather alert services have done their jobs. Thirty minutes after my violent, slow death, that alert message isn’t really going to help me, is it?  Thanks, campus alert; your inefficiency dazzles me.

At this point, though, everything seems relatively calm, and I’m not terribly worried.  We are hiding out in here with the internet and my phone at the ready, and everything is fully charged.  I still have power right now, but the New Wye Electric Company has been on my shit list all year because the power randomly goes off about once a week, storm or not, so I’m not counting any electrical chickens here, see.  I, with my year’s supply of candles purchased recently at IKEA, am ready for anything.

These warnings are among the only occasions when I am happy for the bizarre floor plan of my apartment that allows for a bedroom tucked away inside with no windows.  The other occasions are hungover weekend mornings when any sunlight seeping in would seriously disturb my late-slumbering mojo — which means that today, on both counts, I have been grateful for this cave of a bedroom.

UPDATE: As of posting this, the warnings in effect have expired, and we are down to flash flood warnings, significant weather alert (how specific!), and wind advisories.  The dog and cat and I are all fine!  Catch y’all on the flip!


  1. i’ve never understood this system…i mean, if they are thinking that there could possibly be a tornado, that seems like when you issue a “warning.” then, when an actual tornado occurs, they want you indoors while they “watch” the tornado for you so you don’t have to endanger yourself by trying to watch it. they are “watching” the tornado in progress. terminology as they use it seems backward to me.

    glad you didn’t blow away. and your little dog too. cat, meh.


  2. well, i can honestly tell you i’ve been there, and it’s not any fun. but glad your warnings have expired. i believe a good stiff drink could help you relax.


  3. I live in Missouri and have been lucky enough to not have my house torn apart by a tornado. I can tell you that I feel safer to have the warnings posted when there is a chance for a tornado. I have had a tornado coming down the highway that I live off of and listen to the TV and radio and watching the clouds swirling just behind my house. We have multiple warnings, including flash flood, high wind, fog. There is also the occasional ice storm, snow storm and winter weather advisory. I pay attention to all of them.


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