| || |
May 26, 2011 - Stephen Browne
(Oops! My colleague Karin just pointed out it wasn't Spielberg who directed "Twister" but Jan de Bont. Where'd I get the idea it was Spielberg?")
Recently tornadoes ripped through Alabama, Missouri, and Oklahoma taking over a hundred lives and causing millions of dollars in property damage.
I'm from Oklahoma (well as much as I'm from anywhere,) right in the middle of "Tornado Alley," and while I've never seen the funnel of a tornado I've seen what they can do. The only time I've been near enough to one, it was late at night when it was too dark to see. I did however, see lightning strike the tower of a local Presbyterian church, sheering off a stone spire.
Times like this we are reminded we are not masters of nature after all.
Tornadoes are not just terribly destructive, they're bizarre. The don't just destroy things, they destroy things in weird patterns. There have been cases where a tornado destroys all the houses on one side of a street, leaving the houses across the street relatively undamaged. There are known cases where a tornado destroyed every other house on a street, like jumping checkers. I once heard of a baby in a crib blown away by a tornado, later found unharmed miles away.
Because they're so random, of course we have superstitions about tornadoes. Bronislaw Malinowski, one of the founders of modern anthropology, pointed out superstitions and magical beliefs are all about things we have no control over.
My long-time home Norman, Oklahoma, is also home to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, obviously because it's conveniently located to observe lively weather. However Norman itself has never been hit by a twister. There is the obligatory legend about an old Indian shaman's prediction, but a more prosaic explanation has to do with Norman being located in a wide shallow bowl-shaped depression.
Or maybe it's just dumb luck and Norman will get plastered in the fullness of time.
Steven Spielberg made a movie in Oklahoma, "Twister," about teams of tornado chasers and their attempt to get an instrument package into a funnel. I was living and teaching in Sofia, Bulgaria when it came out. My students knew I was from Oklahoma and they all wanted to know if tornadoes were really like that.
I told them that's Oklahoma all right, I've traveled on some of those roads in the movie. And yes, tornadoes do all those things you see in the movie - flying cows and all. What wasn't realistic was how they were able to rush about getting close to several tornadoes in a single day, with a break for dinner.
One of my students said, "I realize that, but what was so wonderful was the comradeship, the solidarity of the team. We don't have that here."
I can't speak for the storm chaser teams, though I can well believe it's true, but it's a perfect symbol for how our people handle the aftermath of disasters in the towns and cities of Tornado Alley.
No comments posted for this article.
Post a Comment
News, Blogs & Events Web