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.