Last Wednesday, I dropped Kiddo#1 off at Ten Miles Away and had to drive back to Angelborough for Kiddo#3’s soccer practice. No, there’s no margin for error in terms of the timing. Fortunately the traffic was light and although overcast, it hadn’t begun to rain, and the Kiddos enjoyed their Weird Al playlist while we came home.

At some point, I realized the kids weren’t listening to Weird Al, and Kiddo#4 had fallen asleep, so I turned on the radio, and two minutes later we got the “this-is-a-test” thing, except this time it wasn’t a test. This time, the recorded voice told us, there was a tornado warning.

My Patient Husband grew up in tornado country, but I didn’t. I wasn’t sure whether this warning meant there was an actual tornado, or that there was bad weather. But we were close to home, and given the light rain and the fact that soccer practice has been canceled more often than not, I turned in at the house and left the kids in the car, inside the garage. I turned on the computer and then called my Patient Husband, still at work in Ten Miles Away.  Did he know about this?

Yes, he did. He said: forget soccer practice, put the kids in the basement, and stay down there. Listen for something that sounds like a freight train.

Ah. That’s what the warning meant.

Kiddo#3 was terrified. He had to go upstairs, tearful, and get his two favorite stuffed animals. Kiddo#2 went to get hers. I gathered bottled water, granola bars, etc.  Kiddo#2 cleared out the space beneath the staircase. And then I got the other essentials: our computers; the cell phone; two cats; my violin; my box of Emily’s keepsakes.

And we watched on the computer, both the national weather service and on Twitter, as this thing blew over our heads. The kids and I prayed the rosary, something Kiddo#3 said he didn’t want to do but then did it louder than the rest of us. But they were calm, and practical. And Kiddo#4 enjoyed his little picnic in the basement.

While cleaning out under the steps, Kiddo#2 found a band-aid that had fallen out of one of the suitcases. She handed it to me, saying, “If the tornado hits, you might need to use this for one of us.”

Kiddo#3 wanted, desperately wanted, to call one of his friends to make sure she knew to go into the basement. And afterward, Kiddo#2 did get on the phone and call hers to make sure they were all right.

My “favorite” moment? When the NWS bulletin said there was an especially bad storm cell located about two miles west of the town that’s two miles east of us. I told you Angelborough was small: even the NWS couldn’t figure out where we are.

And the most puzzling moment: a tornado reported to be on the town line of two towns directly west of us, heading directly east, and then never reported again. That one scared me.

I’ve since spent a lot of time reading about tornado safety, even though it only happens here about once every fifteen years. Hurricanes and blizzards I know how to deal with, but this felt bigger to me, more random and more destructive if it hit. And us, in three different locations when it all happened.


  1. Normandie

    Jane, I grew up in Alexandria, VA, where, for some reason, tornado warnings came fairly often. Our house was mostly glass, with opening clerestory windows. We were told to open these and get in the middle of the house (no basement) where there were no windows. A basement, Internet connection, and snacks might have been fun when I was a child. A bathtub area shared with my parents, brother, and sister — with no toys and no snacks — was not.

    1. philangelus

      The new recommendation is not to open the windows. I think either way it doesn’t matter because if a tornado hits your house, it’s going to laugh at the windows (which will probably break anyhow in the swirling debris) and then blow off the roof. 🙁

      Keeping the kids in the empty tub would have been a trick. 🙁 One of the four people who died in this tornado was a mom who shielded her son in the tub with her body. I believe the son survived.

      The internet connection was definitely a blessing. What I ought to do is get a battery-powered radio in case the power cuts off.

  2. Mary333

    I can sooo relate to your post! We had a tornado warning too. Picture this – my daughter crying her head off because she just found her hamster dead and I’m trying to console her while the TV is making that blasted warning noise! What a stressful day. My husband is from tornado alley, too, but he was at work and there was a cell headed right toward us which veered south at the last minute. I was panicky before it veered south because I had just watched the news about the tornadoes that touched down in Massachusetts. I didn’t realize that you had these warnings too. Scary stuff! I’m glad everything turned out alright for you.

    1. philangelus

      Man, between the hamster and the tornado warning, it’s a wonder you kept her calm. My Kiddos were mentioning people in NH after we finished the rosary and I realized I had stopped listening after they mentioned our county and hadn’t kept listening to realize NH was getting tornado warnings too. 🙁 Glad you guys are all right.

  3. diinzumo

    I have a weather radio that goes off in a shrieking frenzy every time there’s a tornado in the county. Which, now that it’s hurricane/rainy season, is nearly every day. The first thing I do is listen for the portion of the county, then check the news channel to pinpoint where they found the “hook” signature on the radar. In many cases, the tornado never touches down, but radar conditions are favorable, ergo, tornado warning.

    That being said, we’ve already had tornado excitement here. In April, one passed directly over my office building (as the news team on the third floor reported it) and tore up the airport a mile away, tipped over a truck on the bridge, blew down highway signs and destroyed aircraft that had arrived for the Sun n Fun Fly-in about 50 miles away. I hope this is not a sign of things to come.

    Glad you and your family are safe.

    1. philangelus

      So you’ve got a whole system down for it. I didn’t realize that happened so often where you are. 🙁

      Between the mosquito plague and then the tornado, I was wondering if it was a sign of the apocalypse. 🙂 In hindsight I can laugh about it, but at the time, it was scary.