How to Survive Severe Weather

It started with a dark sky and an email with the subject line, Tornado and Storm Safety.

Should the tornado warning sirens sound, please:

–          Stay OFF the elevator in case the power goes out

–          Head to the breakroom away from the windows

–          If danger seems imminent, go to the stairs

I look out at the dark sky to consider the email. How would you know if danger is imminent? Are the stairs really the place to go during imminent danger? After all, the breakroom has snacks. Checking the radar, I see a line of red and purple storms. The weather site has messages with red exclamation marks, storm warnings. Then… the worst sign of them all that imminent danger is nigh… a text from my mom. “Have the storms hit?” she asks, “Are you safe?” That’s it. We are all going to die. I go to my co-worker’s office, Deb, to announce our doom and get preferences if we should die in the breakroom or on the stairs.

Deb has her purse and car keys out. “Schools are about to dismiss.” She tells me, “I’m going to go pick up my kids.” At that moment, my brain spins. This is no longer about whether to hunker down with the sodas or the stairs. This is about being separated from my child during a potential disaster. The shit could very well be hitting the fan and I am going to be across town in some stairwell with absolutely no idea of whether or not he is okay…. not acceptable. Deb and I make a pact that if the sirens go off, we are headed not to the stairs or the breakroom, but to the parking lot.

I go back to my desk and look at radar maps. I text my mom that the storm has not hit yet and I am okay. I look out the window. The dark sky is eerily green. Then, the sirens sound. Subtle at first, then gaining momentum, they whoop through the air, filling it with intensity and dread. I grab my purse and keys. My cubicle-mate is reading with his ear plugs, apparently undisturbed by the commotion. I get his attention and tell him to go to the breakroom. I’ll be damned if I am going to spend all week training this guy to bring me Diet Coke only to have him get blown away in a tornado. Deb meets me in the hall. As everyone moves to the breakroom, we scurry downstairs.

We hit the lobby where people are looking out the windows at the weather. Apparently, they haven’t gotten any memos and seem a bit confused. All the people in the lobby are wandering in a daze, except the security guard. A hefty black woman with facial piercings, this woman, no one to be trifled with, is moving to the front doors with keys. It suddenly occurs to me they might lock down the building. “Come on!” I tell Deb, and we pick up the pace into a half walk/run that I hope won’t look too much like a mad dash for the exit. We make it through the front doors out into the parking lot. Under the ominous sky the sirens blare loud. Wind pushes spots of rain sideways through the air. Deb and I give each other high-fives over our grand escape. “Good luck!” I yell, and we move quickly in opposite directions toward our cars.

Once in the car, the sound of the sirens becomes intrusive and frankly, a bit terrifying. I turn on the radio to the shrieking blasts of a message from the emergency broadcast system.  Forget that… time for loud music. Slacker Radio, full blast, drowns out all sounds of imminent danger as I make the 15 minute drive to my son’s school.

I arrive at the school to see parents parking their cars and running to the building. I decide that is what I shall do as well. I park the car and text my husband that I am picking up our son. He texts back, “Did you call the school?” Call the school??? I’m AT the school. Just then I notice the crossing guard running to the school with his yellow slicker and stop sign. That guy looks like he has been through a couple of wars. If he is running, it is time to get inside. When I get to the building, they tell me the school is in lock down and that parents can take shelter inside the cafeteria. This is fine with me. I am in the same building as my son, this is now acceptable.

Eventually, there is somewhat of a lull in the storm because the sirens die down. Someone with a walkie-talkie announces they are going to start releasing kids and to form a line. He gestures to a side of the room. I start heading over there, but then I realize I have aimed for the wrong direction. I went to directly to the starting of the place. When I got to the actual line, it had already formed in the opposite direction. By the time I make it to the end, I will never get my kid. This calls for some anti-social behavior. I examine the first section of the line to see who will let me cut ahead. There is a lady who looks like she doesn’t speak English holding a baby. She wouldn’t stop me from cutting ahead. But, not speaking English and carrying around a baby means she already has enough problems without me cutting in front of her. After all, this isn’t Lord of the Flies.

Behind the lady who probably doesn’t speak English holding a baby is a slightly overweight dad in sweats and a stained t-shirt. Bingo. He agrees to let me cut in front of him with a nod. When someone lets you cut in front of them, there is the implied agreement that there will be small talk. I’m a civilized person, so I held up my required level of participation.

Dad in sweats and stained t-shirt, “Crazy day isn’t it?”

Me, “Uh-huh.”

Required small talk accomplished, I suddenly realize everyone is holding these purple cards with numbers on them. These are the purple cards they gave everyone to put in their car windows during afternoon pickup. My son goes to afterschool care, so I don’t know where our purple card even is.

I text my husband, “I don’t have that damn purple card.” He responds, “Surely they won’t hold you to that today.” I text back, “You don’t understand. It is Lord of the Flies over here. People are CUTTING IN LINE!”

As it turns out, they aren’t using the purple card system today. You are meant to tell the name of your child and the grade to a person with a walkie-talkie who will announce for the teacher to send them out. As it turns out, the lady ahead of me indeed does not speak English. She and a confused person with a walkie-talkie struggle to break their communication barrier and get across the names and grades of all her children. It seems to be taking inordinately long. In the meantime, the sirens once again begin to wail. Terrified girls in backpacks tearfully run into the arms of waiting parents.  The lady without English has given up with talking and begins writing children’s names and grade level numbers on the back of her purple card.

Just as I resign myself to living this surreal scene for all eternity, the school secretary approaches me. This is the same school secretary who has NEVER laughed at any of my jokes. She always regards me with what I perceive as particularly annoyed indifference. Her eyes are dead, like a shark’s eyes, eyes that have seen too many tardy students and irresponsible parents to mess with me and my tom-foolery. Now at this crucial moment in time, she stands before me, regards me grimly with her shark-dead eyes, and says, “Have they called for your son yet?” Astounded, I shake my head no and she straightaway calls out his name on her walkie-talkie.  Before I can thank her, she is gone.

Then, the moment I have waited for suddenly happens. I see my little boy. He walks calmly through the chaos of crying little girls, anxious parents, staff members yelling into walkie-talkies, and wailing sirens. Then, he looks at me and says, “You picked me up early today.”

I grab his hand and we head out. On the sidewalk in front of the school, a guy in a dress shirt is walking nonchalantly with two little girls. Obviously just out for an afternoon stroll in a little severe weather, this guy has it all together. He says not to worry too much about the sirens because they are set to go off not at signs of rotation, but merely at 60 mile an hour winds. He barely finishes this statement as the sky finally lets loose and a torrent of rain pours down. He and each of his girls immediately pop open umbrellas. My son looks at me accusingly because we have no umbrella. In turn, I give him a look that I hope says, “I just drove across town in a tornado to rescue you and NO I didn’t bring any umbrellas so just hurry and get yourself in the car.“ Which, he does.

To sum up a long story, we spend the rest of the afternoon hunkered down in the bathroom with our dog and a weather radio. The storms hit all around us, tossing tractor trailers back and forth like a child’s game, but we were safe. I don’t even know why we live here in tornado alley. It seems inherently like a bad idea.

If you do happen to live in tornado alley, remember to go to the stairs during imminent danger. I’m not sure how you will tell if the danger is imminent. My mom always calls to let me know. In case my mom forgets to call you, here is a t-shirt.

Because it is important to know when to head for the stairs.

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About lgalaviz
All of this hardly seems necessary.

32 Responses to How to Survive Severe Weather

  1. Wow, that sounds really dramatic! Like one of those television dramas Based On A True Story. Usually featuring a semi-celebrity or two.

    Anyway, I’m glad you and your family didn’t blow away. I would have missed you terribly.

    And sorry about that tornado – I did have words, but as I suspected, the Universe don’t pay any attention to me anymore. I miss the good old days..

  2. I’d fuss at you for being in your car during a tornado warning (really bad idea, Lisa!) but know I’d do exactly the same thing. How do I know? Because I did it back when we lived in Alabama. I ended up standing squished in a utility closet with a dozen infants, but dammit, I had my son in my arms so it was all good.

    Glad you made it out okay!

    • lgalaviz says:

      I was worried there might be real damage and I would be stuck across town not even knowing if he was okay. Awful thought. Being squished in a small closet with infants is a small price to pay.

  3. zippy219 says:

    Can I send your Mom my phone number just in case? Does she look for immenent danger in other cities or states? I think this would be helpful.

  4. Julie says:

    Lisa, I’m glad you’re safe! Tornadoes are quite dangerous & unpredictable. I understand your desire to be with your son during a storm, but that was a very dangerous trip you took. Do you know what to do if a tornado approaches you in a car? Please learn before you need to use that knowledge. (I’m a Red Cross disaster relief volunteer; I’ve seen pictures & heard awful stories of the aftermath of storms.) Better safe than sorry. Glad you still kept your sense of humor through it all!

  5. Lisa says:

    Aren’t you in Austin? I don’t remember ever, as long as I’ve lived around here, ever hearing a tornado siren. I worked downtown during the Jarrell tornado and while we weren’t allowed to leave there were no sirens. I assume if there were sirens around we would hear them being tested once in a while. This has been on my mind ever since the tornadoes up in Dallas.

  6. debihen says:

    I’ve only heard the emergency broadcast system go off twice in my lifetime. Once when Mt Saint Helen blew in 1980 and on Sept 11, 2001 (because my tiny town in the middle of Washington State was clearly, the next target of terrorists) so I admire your sensibility And calm. I would have been headed to the door at first hun of impending disaster, screaming. Well done.

  7. Imminent danger is probably perspective based. Fish probably don’t consider flooding to be dangerous, for example. You could probably argue that someone loudly humming out of tune was imminently dangerous (to them) and you could leave then. This is the problem with vague language.

    YAY for everyone making it through OK! Well, out of the people I know. Someone could have tripped going down the stairs in an office building I don’t know about.

    Why hasn’t anyone invented weather control yet? Can’t you just use a giant blow dryer to reverse the tornado or something? Or a missile! Has anyone ever tried blowing up a tornado?! I think this needs to be explored. You should start a Kickstarter (I would but I’m not allowed to own SAMs)

    • lgalaviz says:

      Imminent danger is perspective based. Excellent point!

      I was thinking about the hairdryer idea. The problem with that is you would have to have it plugged in and the tornados are usually outside. Other than that, I am sure it would work.

  8. DogsDontPurr says:

    OMG….this made me cry. I’ve never been through a tornado, but I have survived 3 hurricanes, through unlikely odds. Add that in to the fact that I now work as a nanny, and I was right there with you! Sooo glad you are safe! Stay safe!!!

  9. Gigi says:

    The green sky is always a dead giveaway, it’s the one thing I remember. I’m so glad you got to your son – I remember feeling the same way on 9/11 – even though neither one of us was in imminent danger. You just need to have your baby with you. I’m glad you are safe – I was thinking about you when I heard the news.

  10. I didn’t know this all came so close to you. I would have worried more actively about you.

    I’m so glad you’re alright. You’re one of my favorite people. Please don’t die or get sucked off to Oz. I don’t think they have internet in Oz. Only creepy munchkin people.

  11. a says:

    We live in tornado alley, but there are no trailer parks nearby, so we’re usually safe. What I recommend is getting a basement. 🙂

    Our storm sirens go off several times a year. The funny thing is, I can’t hear the ones from our town and we’re about 1.5 miles from the city hall and police station and fire station and stuff. We’re about 5 miles from the downtown area of the next town over, and I hear their sirens like they’re just down the street. Of course, there are trailer parks in that town, so they probably need better sirens.

    Glad to hear you all survived the major storms. Don’t have any more! 🙂

  12. Mr. POSSLQ (my housemate) took a picture of a descending funnel cloud that was across the parking lot from where he works. I went up and down the stairs THREE TIMES as the afternoon went on and they herded us to the “safe spot” (because, at least if you’re IN the bathroom you don’t spend the afternoon wondering what will happen if you need to USE the bathroom… it’s RIGHT THERE!

    I think your I should probably get your mom to put me on her speed dial or at least txt me because my mom just sends me emails after the fact asking if I am still alive (to be fair, she’s in Arizona so she doesn’t even know until the news shows the tractor trailers being strewn about…)

    I’ve figured out that we are all going to die if there is ever a tornado or terrorist attack on the first Wednesday of the month at 1PM (when they test the sirens) because everyone will just brush it off as “just a test”.

  13. lahikmajoe says:

    Lisa: photos of your tornados made the front page of the local paper here in Munich. Am so glad you’re ok.

    As always, a very funny post and the t-shirt is quite functional.

    Glad to see you blogging.

  14. I’m glad you’re okay. This sounds beyond frightening to me.

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