Used to be a phrase among my particular hippie circle: “That almost was an almost was.”
That is to say, it was a close call.
This line of storms that has caused all sorts of mayhem, from strings of tornados to floods to blizzards, has been washing over western North Carolina, where I am stuck at a campground waiting for a service appointment on Wednesday.
Yesterday I was studying the sky, watching a wall cloud slowly rotating and thinking, why, that could develop into a tornado if there was more wind shear. I was glad it was going away from where I was, in case things progressed in a bad way.
So imagine my surprise when my mother called, just as I was leaving the vet’s office in Asheville.
As usual, no matter where I am when she calls, she screamed,
“WHERE ARE YOU???”
“I’m in Asheville, why?”
“Can’t you hear the radio???” She always has the radio on. Always.
I couldn’t hear the radio, but I could hear the unmistakable National Weather Service robot voice gravely announcing something or other.
“What’s happening, Mom? Why is there a weather alert?”
“WHERE ARE YOU??”
“I’m in Asheville, why?”
“You stay there. You just stay there. Do you have a strong building you can take shelter in?”
Then I knew what the alert was: tornado.
“Is it a watch or a warning?”
“CAN’T YOU HEAR THE RADIO??”
“No, I can’t. Tell me what it says.”
Finally she calmed down enough to repeat verbatim what the alert message said. The tornadic radar signal showed significant rotation, moving north at 30 mph (!!!), with the campground where I’ve been staying directly in its path. I thought of all those people in their campers, motor coaches, and especially a young family in a flimsy pop-up, all out in an open field.
“Is it on the ground?”
No, not yet.
“Well, I’ll just stay here in Asheville tonight. One or another of the stores will let me stay in their parking lot.”
Mom was relieved.
I had to replenish my supply of canned nutrients, so I went to the nearest grocery store and stocked up. The manager kindly gave me permission to park my camper overnight.
I got on my NOAA weather app, and sonofabitch, there it was, the characteristic bright red “hook” signature of a developing tornado. My weather warnings app gave the usual urgent instructions for taking shelter, getting as low as possible with as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible.
I thought ruefully of the photos of the aftermath of the F4 tornado that hit East Texas the day before yesterday. No walls left to protect anyone. Amazing that only…I think 12 or 14…people were killed, although there are still some missing.
This is the same storm front that spawned that string of 11 tornados, in December, for crying out loud.
I don’t care what people say the cause is…when it’s 70 degrees in December, and the weather has gone crazy, it’s global warming.
I’ve been studying tornados ever since I lived in the Mysterious Midwest and had run-ins with several. One was huge and threw a good deal of Toledo, Ohio into Lake Erie. One went over our heads after I convinced my then-husband to please stop watching it and jump in this handy ditch with our infant son.
And one buzzed through my yard at night and snatched the kids’ trampoline. It ended up in a soybean field several miles away. I found that out when the farmer showed up with our crumpled trampoline in the back of his truck.
The kids dragged it out of his truck, took it apart and put it back together again. It was fine. They launched each other off of it until one of them broke his arm, then I took it apart and hauled it to the dump.
My son grew phobic about tornados. In the spring, the sky was full of rotating cells.
His step-brother used to torment him: Look! A tornado! There’s another one!
My son leaned over and threw up in the manure spreader. For years after that, every time the sky looked threatening, he got sick.
When I heard there was a potential tornado heading for Marion, of course I wanted to jump in my van and go chase it…But it was getting dark, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a tornado in the dark. Maybe a tsunami.
So here I sit in the grocery store parking lot. Atina’s head rests on my knee. She snores, oblivious to the fierce wind and rain.
The radar shows a nasty squall line, but nothing to get excited about.
But when it comes to weather, you never really know.