The wail of the whistle pierced her ears, cutting off anything else Justice might have said. A deep guttural rumble in the distance followed the shrill echo. A rumble which overshadowed the heavy thumps of the locomotive. Shielding her eyes, she looked to the western sky. In typical Kansas fashion, the sun shone high and hot while bright, white clouds bubbled like suds in a washtub. A storm was brewing. If it got too hot, the clouds too high, a monster wind was sure to funnel down from the sky and rip to shreds everything in its path.
I am such a weather geek. I love watching all kinds of weather. Most of the time I'm glued to The Weather Channel. People often call me to ask what the weather is going to do, like I'm a human barometer, right?
I didn't always used to be a weather geek. When I was little it didn't take much more than a rumble of thunder to send my under the table. Now I can at least handle a little bit of thunder and lightning.
It still doesn't take much to send me into hiding when severe weather approaches. In fact, by the time this posts I'll be packing our to-go bags and heading for the safety of my parents (or at least a safer place than my home).
You see, all the elements necessary for large, long-track tornadoes are converging in our atmosphere. Of course, weather changes from moment to moment and all it takes is one element not measuring up to the rest for a tornado not to occur, but the probability is high. And I'm all about being prepared, especially in light of the recent devastation.
But that's not why I'm writing this particular blog. Since I'm working on Love At Twenty Paces, and it has its fair share of thunderstorms and even a tornado, it got me to thinking about how fortunate we are when it comes to weather forecasting. I can remember witnessing tornadoes as a kid. Communities were warned minutes, sometimes seconds in advance. And, unfortunately, sometimes the warnings came too late for the folks beneath the funnels.
There are still a few occassions where a tornado defies science and pops up without warning, but for the most part meterology science has advance enough in the last 30 years to give communities up to thirty minutes advance warning. And the technological advances in forecasting can even give us a few days notice to prepare for tornado outbreaks.
Back in the 1800s that wasn't the case. It rained, it thundered and lightninged and tornadoes ripped through. Folks didn't hit their shelters, if they made it, until a tornado was bearing down on them with a vegeance. I know there are tales of Native Americans predicting the weather by looking at the light, wispy clouds called mare's tails. There are also stories of them using tree branches as a barometer. One of my characters in Love At Twenty Paces is a human barometer. Another, a Native American, watches nature as he's been taught by his ancestors.
I've seen my fare share of tornadoes. I stood outside back in '82 as two tore through Topeka. It's an experience I'll never forget. Since we've lived in our current home we've had several funnels pass too close for comfort, at least one every year for the last three years. And more recently . . .
I'm thankful that nobody in Topeka was seriously injured on Saturday, which wasn't the case in Reading, a small town nearby. And it wasn't the case on Sunday when a massive tornado ripped through Joplin.
I felt quite ill as the images from Joplin came through. I have several friends in the area and was, as you can imagine, sick with worry. Mostly, I felt humbled since we were spared from the horrible devastation.
It sounds like tomorrow could be another trecherous day across the U.S. I pray each one of you and your families will be safe.