Sit and Tuck - 07.03.99

During this last week at my workplace, we had our first tornado drill of the year. Actually, it usually only happens once a year or less, and when the alarm first started going off, everyone just sat around wondering if they were testing the alarms in the building. I wasn't sure myself until I stepped out into the main hallway (I work in an inner room, known as the "cave") and saw that a wall cloud had blacked-out the sky and rain was coming down so hard it obscured vision beyond a couple of yards.

I joined in the ants marching line and filed into the sub-basement with the rest of the building. Nearly 30 feet underground, the mood was suprisingly light, and I was glad that I had brought a yo-yo when I heard someone mention that the warning would be lasting for another 30 minutes or so.

While I was down there, it reminded me of possibly the most scary night I had ever witnessed regarding weather. It happened when I was about 11 years old, and although we didn't live in tornado alley, it was the only time I really thought that a tornado might sweep up my house and take it to Oz.

The night in question wasn't really that sinister looking early on. It was in the middle of the summer and I had been out swimming in the afternoon with some friends and then biking around when I came home for dinner. My mom told me that we were supposed to get some storms that evening, so I should probably stay fairly close to home if I went out on my bike again after eating.

I didn't even get the chance, though, as the clouds rolled in and it started to rain while we were eating. My brother and I looked outside with interest while my mom and dad tried to listen as intently as possible to the weathermen and just what exactly was supposed to happen. As the evening progressed, the storm went through varying degrees of rain and wind and then around 8:30 or so PM, everything just seemed to die off.

The television and radio were both saying that our county was in a tornado watch, but it was almost completely calm outside and when I opened the door and looked around, I could see my neighbors mulling around out in their yards and looking at the sky, wondering just what was happening. My whole family went out on the porch and my mom and dad went over to talk to a neighbor who was pointing out some interesting cloud formations to the north of our home in the sky.

As I stood there with my little brother, the weather seemed completely unsure what it wanted to do. The wind would blow from one direction and it would feel cold, then it would completely stop for a moment and come in warm from the other way. I looked up at the sky where my neighbor was pointing and could see about three different layers of clouds moving over and about one another. The whispy layer closest to me was sliding by underneath heavier and darker clouds that seemed to almost be sitting still.

I walked out into the lawn in front of our house, and within less than a minute, a blaring siren started going off. I'd heard it only a few times before, but I knew what it meant. As soon as the noise began, my parents conversation with the neighbor ended and they went there seperate ways. There was only one place that we could be headed when that noise went off, and that was the basement.

The basement in our house was almost a completely different part of our house. All the walls were still straight concrete blocks and it was really more of a cellar than anything. We had the clothes washer and dryer down there and used the back part of it for storage. Also near the back area was a staircase that went directly into the ceiling left over from when the place had been remodeled sometime in its 75 year lifespan. It was on these steps that we'd sit whenever there was a weather emergency, and I clammored to the top of them while everyone got situated and listened to the radio.

The weather report announced that our county had been upgraded to a tornado warning, and almost as soon as those words had been spoken I heard the trees outside our house groaning in the strong wind. Somewhere on the second story, a branch was scraping against the side of the house and making a horrifically terrible noise, putting quite a fright into both my brother and myself. Mixed in with the noise were huge claps of thunder and the steady driving of rain.

Just about this time, all the lights went out and I got really scared. My brother was starting to freak out a little bit more even though the flashlight was now on. I wasn't sure which was worse, though, the basement in the complete dark where you couldn't see anything, or the basement in low, shaky light where you thought you could see all kinds of things. With the backdrop of the vicious storm outside, my imagination was even more cranked-up.

Just about this time, another flashlight went on and my dad ran upstairs to grab something and take a look outside. Of course, I didn't really want him to leave with how bad it sounded, but he was back within just over a minute and he had brought a box of crayons with him. Since the basement wasn't finished and both my brother and I were getting kind of restless, they told us we could go ahead and draw on the wall around where we were sitting.

We started slowly by writing the date and a bit about what was taking place, but soon both my brother and I were going full-tilt, drawing pictures of tornados and flying debris. It was a good time, and it got our minds off the situation.

About 30 minutes later, the lights came back on in the house and 20 more after that we were upgraded into only a tornado watch. We put the crayons away and went upstairs to look outside.

In almost every yard, there were branches laying about, and the street was still almost completely filled with water. The rain had dropped-off into a sprinkle and people were again starting to come out of their houses. There were small trickles of water coming through a few spots in the ceiling of one room and we put out ice cream buckets to catch the runoff.

Over time, I'd sometimes remember those crayon drawings when I was down in the basement doing laundry. The standard side-to-side scribbling of the tornado in black crayon was still there as strong as ever, and my best shot at cursive handwriting still showed up even though years and years had passed.

If only they would have let us do the same at my work.