Social Media, Tornadoes, and Sirens

I admit I’m particularly freaky about thunderstorms, and when the tornado sirens go off, my blood pressure tends to rise precipitously as the barometric pressure falls.

I was raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas in the 1960s and `70s. That was during the time that CB radios were the rage and Jonesboro was referred to as “Tornado Alley.” As in, “Yeahhh, I’m headed up ‘ere to Tornaduh Alley to git some dinner.” Not everyone in Arkansas talks like that, but some do. And most of them used CB radios in the `70s.

Jonesboro Tornado 1968

So one night — it was May 15, 1968, the weather got really bad. I mean bad. And in 1968 in Jonesboro, there were no tornado sirens. We knew it was storming, but there was no Dave Brown, no polygon, radar, or sirens. But my daddy had taken flying lessons and from that, he knew enough about the weather to know that when the lightning is constant, it’s time to hit the basement.

So we did. I remember how loud the wind and the thunder were, and how scary. I had read in my Encylopaedia Britannica that you should be in the southwest corner of the basement, so I was nervous that we were in the wrong corner. Mostly I was just scared out of my 10-year-old wits. I knew if Daddy was scared, then it was really, really bad.

It seemed like we were in the basement forever. The next day, Daddy and I drove around town and I saw houses completely gone, with nothing but the foundation left. I saw weird things, like one roof sitting on top of the neighbor’s house, or a house with nothing left but the front steps and a toilet, and I couldn’t believe the devastation. Then I heard that 34 people had been killed. From that time on, I was terrified of thunder and lightning.

Again in 1973

It happened again in 1973. There were three people killed this time and even more property damage than in 1968. It completely destroyed the high school, so when I started high school, it was at the fairgrounds in a portable building. The band and choir met at a local church, and everyone drove back and forth. It was my junior year when the new high school was finally finished and we left what had come to be called “Heifer High.”

social media and tornadoes

Our high school, destroyed. Photo: Jonesboro Sun, 1973

I guess the images and the memories stuck with me, as I tried to protect my girls when the sirens blared. They have spent entire evenings in our small half bathroom (our only inside room). I tried not to scare them, even as they complained about being in the bathroom, but I wanted them to be safe.

Still today, I text them when there’s a weather warning, just to be sure they are watching and that they are on the ground floor somewhere.

Experiences like tornadoes shape us forever. I’ll never forget our friends who lost their house. And the fact that if their son had been home in bed, he’d have probably been killed, as his room was blown to pieces. I’ll never hear thunder that I don’t jump, or a tornado siren that I don’t have the impulse to take cover, even if it’s not a real threat.

Perhaps irrationally at times, fear persists in the absence of a real threat, because of the memory of the threat. It has abated a bit through the years, but it’s still with me. I can’t go to sleep until I see on the radar that the storm has passed and only rain remains.

Thank Goodness for Social Media

So I thank God for Twitter’s #memstorm hashtag, which makes me feel like I’m not alone when I’m crouched in the half bath. For the social media community that cracks jokes, sends updates about the weather in other parts of town, and just generally comforts me.

Thanks, Twitter for being there for this neurotic, storm-phobic old lady. And always, always respect the polygon, y’all.

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