Okay! I made it through the last one. Tomorrow is shaping up to be Another One of Those Days, though.

Last Wednesday was actually one of the scariest days of my life, or, at least, it had a handful of individual moments that definitely qualify for the top 10 scariest individual moments of my adult life. I won’t go into too much detail on those, but the big one occurred at the precise instant I looked at my phone at a stop light when I realized it was issuing an alert, shortly after I had sheltered in a fortified basement while an earlier pair of tornado warnings cleared up, and immediately after I had closely monitored the weather radar and made the decision to head to my car, having seen that there was about a half-hour’s-worth of non-storm activity moving through, to pick up my partner and transport both of us to a safer location and seeing that: the alert on my phone was a third tornado warning. Wow! Well, anyway, I lived. There wasn’t even a tornado attached to that third warning, but it’s impossible to know that when your only up-to-date information sources are: a screaming message on your phone that reads “TAKE SHELTER IMMEDIATELY” and a frantic, constant scanning of the horizon for an oncoming tornado. To be clear, a motor vehicle is literally the last place you want to be while tornadic activity is nearby; even being on foot can give you a better shot at finding actual shelter. 

The rest of that day was a mess of quiet anxiety and moments of Real Confusion and Actual Fear. I awoke the next morning bleary and sleepy and anxious but Alive. No one else died from the weather that day, either, it turned out. A few people were injured. A lot of people lost their homes. It’s beautiful to me that no one died, considering the magnitude of the forecast. That was only the first big severe weather event of the season.

In that last post, there were a few things I touched on that I have way more thoughts about than I could fit into a post I was only allowing myself an hour to write. So, with a similar threat on the way tomorrow, I figure now is a great time to go into somewhat greater detail on at least one of those. Also, of course, the (probably inscrutable) caveats listed at the start of that last post generally apply here (mainly: if this is the last post on this blog, it could mean, but does not guarantee, that I have literally died).

The way people who’ve lived in this part of the country (southeastern USA) for a long time handle these weather events, and weather in general, is truly alien to me. Almost everyone, even those who take severe weather and preparedness seriously, are unfazed by all but the most intense of forecasts. There’s a common sentiment that this is just how it is, and while there are some measures you can take, if The Lord decides it’s your time, then so be it. However, there seems to be sweeping ignorance (maybe willful, though likely otherwise) of the fact that these events are gradually getting worse over time. Each year isn’t necessarily worse than the last (2020 in particular was relatively calm, at least in my area), but the general trend has shown an increase in significant severe weather events in the deep south. The area traditionally considered “tornado alley” has gradually shifted from the Oklahoma-Kansas-etc. region toward the gulf coast. 

I’m not sure why long-time residents of this area don’t seem to notice this increasing intensity, but I’m guessing the ever-presence of tornado warnings and the very low likelihood of a tornado hitting any one area have obscured it somewhat (see also: the parable about a frog in boiling water). Maybe the fact that this season is already shaping up to be unusually terrible will alert some locals to this shift.

Actually, the days preceding and of last week’s event was the first time I saw a few of my coworkers express anything resembling concern. Today, not coincidentally, was the second time.

My own thoughts on this, as both a person extremely afraid of my own mortality and as someone relatively new to this way of living, could not be further from ‘this is just how it is.’ The “wrong-place/wrong-time” aspect of getting killed by one of these suckers is probably the scariest weather-related thing I can think of. Tornadoes are small. Earthquakes, sandstorms, blizzards, floods, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, or hurricanes all affect huge areas. An individual’s likelihood of survival in any of those disasters is of course also dependent on their physical location and the nature of their surroundings at the moment of impact. But if a high-end tornado hits, general preparedness and a “good” shelter will often not be enough. Instead, survival is dependent primarily on how close the tornado itself happens to get to your location. While we can predict the storms that are likely to generate tornadoes, the tornadoes themselves are impossible to predict individually, and, once they’re on the ground, their direction of travel and duration can only be generally anticipated.

Instead, it all comes down to where you are on the map. A point and a line. Dying in a tornado is both random and avoidable. How do you deal (psychologically, and logistically) with something like that?

Well, I think I said as much in the last post, but the answer is to not live somewhere like this. Abandoning a community because it faces a perceived crisis (even one as abstract as this) feels selfish and indirectly cruel to me, but I’m not sure how much more of this I can psychologically handle (I do know how much I can physically handle (one tornado)). The weather won’t be the only reason for our decision, but, should we survive this season, my partner and I will probably leave. Living here has not been the worst part of my life, but the only thing I really have to tie me to this place is a job.

Hmmm… maybe I’ll write a bit more about what “life in the southeastern USA for someone not from the southeastern USA” is like, down the road. Maybe not! I don’t want to turn this into a personal blog. I hope to do some actual media criticism or analysis pretty soon, and maybe publicize the existence of this blog at some point. Maybe these “weather reports” can be the personal posts, for now. They’ll get the fewest clicks if there are any other posts up, at least.