Tag Archives: weather

Not a cloud in sight.

Lauren’s severe weather post reminded me immediately of my own inner struggles with Iowa weather and meteorology. I can definitively second her description of the weather maps as an endless sea of undifferentiated potentially severe but maybe it’ll be just fine and the soccer game won’t be cancelled weather. One of my favorite features of the forecast was the weekly weather coaster, which featured an animated graphic of a roller coaster car with a local celebrity’s head photoshopped in riding the bumps of the 7 day forecast. Like Lauren says: weather does not appear to be particularly serious business in Iowa.

I spent most of my grad student years living in what can only be described as a shack. I say that lovingly: it was a tiny house at the end of a driveway/alley in a neighborhood of large older homes. and when I say tiny, I don’t mean cute 1 bedroom bungalow: I mean, the only door was a pocket door to the bathroom. It might have been 20 feet by 20 feet on the outside. It was the perfect space for a single grad student: walking distance from campus, cute little deck to read/drink wine in the evening, fireflies. It made no sense for us to stay there after T moved in but we did anyway, because I loved it so much, and so the shack eventually held not just the two of us but also a cat and a dog.

The shack would have offered absolutely no shelter from a tornado. None. But it was impossible to gauge the likelihood of actual, life threatening severe weather. If there was a tornado watch anywhere in the viewing area, normal mindless tv would be preempted for hours of mindless weather coverage, the meteorologist talking over endless loops of radar. When I lived alone,I found myself absolutely unable to turn it off. Not because it was so informative or engaging, but because it seemed like at any moment, the tornado could turn out to be in my neighborhood, bearing down on the elementary school soccer field.

The day the sirens went off was clear and sunny. I didn’t see a tornado; I didn’t even see clouds. But I completely panicked. All those hours of late night anxiety had built up to this moment. I stood in the yard for a couple minutes looking around. I sat in my bathtub, the center of my house, for about half a second before I decided that I was not going to die in the shack. I grabbed my bag and my keys and walked up the alley and across the street to the house of a faculty member from my department. The sirens were not as loud as I would have expected.

I knocked on the door and she was clearly surprised to see me. I hadn’t thought about what I would say. “I don’t want to die in the shack,” seemed a touch melodramatic given the clear skies. Instead, I stated the obvious, “The tornado sirens are going off.” She invited me in, though she still seemed confused: why was I there.

The tv was not on: no blaring nonstop weather emergency updates. There was no indication that we were going to the basement. She poured me a glass of wine, and I sat awkwardly in the kitchen while she and her partner argued over whether the Weight Watchers meeting would be cancelled because of the sirens going off.

How long is it appropriate or necessary to sit in someone else’s kitchen once you know you have completely overreacted in a moment of panic? I drank some wine. They decided not to go to Weight Watchers. The sirens stopped. I thanked them, slipped out the door, walked back to the shack, made dinner. Not a cloud in sight.

Stormchaser: A Tulsa Memoir Part 1

Between the early spring and a few severe storms lately, but I’ve been thinking a lot about and missing my home state of Oklahoma. We’ve been watching Stormchasers with the girls, one of the few shows they’ll watch that we all enjoy – and I mostly enjoy it for the scenery. I’ve been calling it “Norman Porn” because one of the chasing teams is based out of Norman OK, where we attended college. It’s weird how the wide, wild skies, that red dirt, and the scrubby grass in highway ditches gets me feeling all nostalgic.

Oklahoma: Land of Perpetual Road Work

There was a time in my life when I’d have recoiled in horror at a description of the Sooner state as my home or a place I’d consider myself “from,” but since moving to Iowa eight years ago, that’s how I’ve ended up responding to any question about my origins. I wasn’t born in Oklahoma, and I lived in several Midwestern states before we moved to Tulsa, a large city in the northwestern corner of the state, when I was 11 years old. I never loved it; I never felt like I belonged there. I moved away from Oklahoma when I was 23, just months after getting married, in August 2004. What is home, anyway? When I’ve lived less than 12 years in any given state in my short life, is it where I was born? Where my family originated? Where I became myself? I don’t know. But Oklahoma became a part of me.

Oklahoma has two seasons: brown and tornado. Christmas in Tulsa isn’t remotely close to a wonderland of any kind. If it snows more than about ½ inch, the entire city shuts down and cars carom through the streets in utter panic. Sure, it gets cold, and ice storms can and do wreak occasional havoc on homes and lives. My sister and brother-in-law once had to camp out and take showers at a friend’s house for weeks while waiting for their electricity to be restored after an ice storm. But it’s kind of hard to get into the Christmas spirit when the average high temperature is nearly 50 degrees. Oklahoma weather tends to vacillate wildly from one extreme to another: one January day it can be nearly 60 degrees, the next 20, then a week of mid-40s, then the cycle starts all over again.

Merry Christmas from Tulsa!!

In the Midwest (and please don’t get into a debate with me about whether or not Tulsa is in the south or the Midwest. It’s the south. Deal.), you measure life by seasonal touchstones. Birthday: autumn, brisk, crunchy leaves, apple orchards, hay mazes. Christmas: cold, snowy, dark, crèche in the town square, cocoa, ice scrapers, mittens. Easter: thaw, chilly, wet, egg hunts in dresses and parkas, open windows, crossed fingers. Anniversary: summer, warm, sunny, beach, farmer’s market, asparagus, splash pad.

In Oklahoma, you lose those touchstones. Everything sort of runs together in “coldish and brown” or “greenish and fucking hot” with no transition. Leaves go from green straight to dead: sometime in late October a switch flips. Similarly, it feels springish about half the time in February (the other half it’s just nasty) and by April the sirens are being tested and you’re making sure the batteries in your weather radio are still working.

Severe weather terrified me: things could turn on a dime and a day could go from bright and pleasant to a boiling green sky and fearing for your life. Live in Oklahoma long enough and you become resistant to weather scares, even though every other night from mid-April to late September, So You Think You Can Dance is pre-empted so Gary England can make sure you don’t die. My husband’s first instinct is still to walk outside and take a look when a siren goes off: he’s a millionth generation Oklahoman. My instinct is to carry everyone and everything we love into the basement and hide under a mattress for four hours. (OK: experience has mitigated that somewhat, but I’m still edgy until things clear up.)

This tornado touched down in Oklahoma less than a week ago.

To illustrate the difference between the corner of tornado alley where we currently live and the heart of tornado alley in Oklahoma, all you have to do is compare the weather reports.

In Oklahoma, if there is severe weather, you have information down to the street number about that storm’s location. All colors of the rainbow will alert you to the temperature, precipitation, lightning strikes, wind speed and direction of this particular storm system. A squadron of pro storm chasers fan out over the area to provide up-to-the-second info on hail location and size, damage, what the cows are doing, etc etc. An extremely serious and kind white man will offer you calm and reassuring information so you know exactly how likely it is that your trailer park will be obliterated. He will let you know that there is a tornado on Main Street in Purcell moving northeast (which is the direction all the tornados go in Oklahoma: they all follow the path of I-44) at fifty miles per hour: this storm is wrapped in rain so it’s very difficult to see and if you’re in that immediate area, take cover now in a central room of your house with no windows (amusingly, Oklahoma houses do not have basements, they have all been “built on the slab”). The night before Brian graduated from college, a huge storm system moved through the Oklahoma City area and the TV station was hit by a tornado. They evacuated quietly while the storm visibly shook the building (on camera!), and then returned immediately to work when it had passed. Oklahoma weather is serious and smart.

In Iowa, there’s just one color on your TV screen: scary red, and it’s spread over a huge area on the map because they aren’t exactly sure what county the tornado is in? Probably, like, southern Linn county, which is only 100 miles or so wide, so if you’re there, maybe you should hide? We’re just going to set off all the sirens, just in case. My cousin Fred called from his Ford Focus and he says that there’s some dark clouds in the general Marion area? So if you’re there, look out for those… clouds?

Last night, our county had a wind advisory. No storm watches or warnings, but the description of the weather said something like, “There might be some strong storms, and a tornado could possibly form.” Well, which the fuck is it? If there’s a possibility, why don’t you put us under a watch? If there’s not a possibility, please don’t use the T word! I am sort of grateful that I live in a place where tornadoes are rare enough that they don’t warrant an investment in technology or serious training, just like snow is rare enough in Tulsa that it doesn’t warrant investment in plows. But the confusion of bad meteorology is just as unnecessarily chaotic and potentially destructive as unplowed streets. People overreact; people underreact.

I was so relieved to escape scary spring weather when we moved to Iowa, but two years after moving here, a storm struck the heart of our college town, passing less than a mile from our apartment building. Ironically, after years in the center of tornado alley, that was the closest I’d ever come to actually being struck by a tornado. We crouched in the laundry room with our cats in carriers and the sirens going off over and over and over again. I hated the shitty meteorology that night: the uncertainty, the messiness of it, the fact that no one took it seriously so a bunch of fools were just wandering around downtown right beneath the storm, and then thousands of students flocked to streets filled with debris and downed power lines because it was just exciting (Idiots Out Wandering Around, fulfilled). No one respected the weather, because they didn’t have to.

Iowa had always felt like a huge upgrade from Oklahoma: everyone around us generally applauded the fact that we’d finally made it, that we got out. But that experience was the beginning of the end of our honeymoon with Iowa. Iowa is great, don’t get me wrong, but it ain’t perfect. No place is. So, what makes a home? Why are we here? Is this it, for life? In a series of upcoming  posts, I will talk about growing up in Oklahoma, my amusing juvenile romanticizing of the Midwest, what it was like to get here, and why we might leave.

Four Bad Omens

1. I got an email from the faceless bureaucracy of my institution that I’ve been listed for “termination” from my TAship starting May 11, so unless I email them and change everything, my university life will end in six weeks. And obviously I knew that would happen, but seeing it in black and white felt strange and sad. I feel like my departure is an unremarkable event: my students don’t understand that I won’t be back in their program next year, that a new teacher will teach their future teammates and friends. Every summer means a shuffle in the TA offices, so who knows if my officemates will realize or care that I’m gone (except R, my office BFF. Shout out!). The regular rhythm of school life means people won’t notice I’m gone until next year. But for me? This is it, and it’s big, and it’s scary. Lately, I feel like I’m in the middle of a dream and I’m about to wake up to some brutal reality.

2. That would be true if I had a chance to dream, but sleep has been a precious commodity in our house. My kids have never been good sleepers. They both nightwake long past whatever fool age bullshit websites say they should, no matter what advice book we follow, and my 2yo is an early bird (which is why MN is often updated at 6 am). After our 2nd was born, we did a divide and conquer thing that has been mostly good, but lately we’ve had a hankering to sleep in the same bed at the same time, so we launched a big “YAY LET’S SLEEP IN YOUR BIG GIRL BUNKBEDS PLEASE GOD” campaign and it went fine until it did not go fine and the past four nights I can’t sleep away from them because I’m not used to it, and I can’t sleep with them. I end up on the bottom bunk with my 2yo, then my 4yo starts crying and leaves to find her Dad. So we essentially end up in the same configuration we have been all along, in different, smaller, shittier beds. Please don’t offer me advice or admonish me for our choices: I am so beyond the capacity for polite disagreement right now. Truth is, I don’t want to sleep with anyone, ever again. I want to mummify my torso in duct tape and sleep in a dark, quiet place for 8 hours. PAST 5:30 AM.

Me & Holly at 6am

3. Typically, March is a blustery and sunny month in Iowa, but it’s been downright summery for weeks now. My yard is full of daffodils in bloom, and the hydrangeas and rose bushes are greening up. Last night, the girls and I walked around collecting magnolia petals, pinecones, and rocks. I went to my local garden center and bought packets of seeds to try and fill in the weird gaps and, ya know, parts of the yard I don’t want to mow, but the guy there warned be that this is just a phase, it’s bound to turn bad, it’s bound to snow and snap and frost and nip all this new life in its bud. So instead of enjoying this, I keep wondering, when will it change? When will it go bad?

4. This strange sense of paranoia reached new heights when my in-laws emailed us to ask if it would be all right if they arranged a place for us in the country in case of the apocalypse. They watched this History Channel documentary that connects what we feel are legitimate concerns about fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and general American idiocy to other, less legitimate, more insane worries about artificial intelligence and terrorism. Basically, the film posits that very soon, we’ll run out of gas, our water supply will become so overpolluted that we can’t drink, and people will still be wandering around wanting their grande lattes, and then everyone’s HOUSE ROBOTS will take over the planet at the same time some terrorist decides to finally shoot off that nuclear warhead he’s been sitting on all these years. Just like the collapse of the Roman Empire.

In the most respectful way, they would like to “dialogue” with us about this because they have been, and are, “concerned about the world situation.” I just don’t know how to respond to this. These are people who prepared for Y2K by purchasing gold coins, a flourmill, and a generator. They’re serious. They mean it. And my first reaction is: absolutely not. Predictions of the world’s demise have been wrong 100% of the time. Is the country really the best place to be at the end of the world? It sounds lonely and hungry to me. Stay in town? Forage, loot, and squat? Plus by most peoples’ definition, we already live in the country, in a farm town of less than 2k. Is this country spot in Oklahoma (where they live) or Iowa (where we live)? It’s such an outrageously expensive way to show their love. Couldn’t they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the girls’ education? Investing in a hope for their future, rather than the fear of Armageddon?

Yet I hesitate to reject it outright. I’m feeling rather desperate for a lifeline myself, and if you consider the way we’re squirreling away money “just in case” I don’t get work, lying awake at night doing mental math, and eating PB&Js at the office instead of Bread Garden or Thai Spice, our outlook is just as bleak, perhaps on an exponentially smaller scale. How can we refuse their offer to survive the end of the world, especially when it feels like everything that’s going right, right now, feels like it’s about to go terribly wrong (except sleep which is already at end-times misery levels)? At least they seem to care whether or not we’re sticking around.

If you’re interested in radical, beautiful plans for the apocalypse, consider backing The People’s Apocalypse, an anthology project by Ariel Gore and Jenny Forrester. It shall be superfun and there are rewards for every level of contribution.