Friday, April 13, 2012

High Risk...

Apparently, many of us here in Oklahoma (and farther north into Nebraska) will be swept off the face of the planet tomorrow, but some of us may get lucky enough to be swept off the face of the planet a little sooner if storms fire up this evening.

Here's the Day Two Outlook from the Storm Prediction Center in Ye Olde Home Town of Norman, Oklahoma...

And this little blurb from the AP...

The Storm Prediction Center says fierce storms are likely Saturday in a band running through the middle of the nation from Texas north to Minnesota. Forecasters at the center in Norman, Okla., said Friday the worst weather is expected between Oklahoma City and Salina, Kan., but other areas also could see severe storms with baseball-sized hail and winds of up to 70 mph.

The severe storms are expected to strike Saturday afternoon and evening, and the Storm Prediction Center says the outbreak could be a "high-end, life-threatening event."

The SPC doesn't issue high risk designations very often, and back when I was a fairly active chaser, this would be one of those days for which I'd clear the calendar. Now that I rarely chase storms, I'll probably still clear the calendar, but for matters relating to rod and/or gun rather than twisting funnels of death. Age and its resulting mellowness will do that to you, but I'll keep one eye on the sky and I'll have a camera in the truck. Just in case. Because springtime on the southern plains is an interesting time, indeed...

From a little essay I penned for the February 2007 issue of Oklahoma Today

If there's anything finer or more spirit renewing than a warm sun-drenched spring afternoon in Oklahoma, this admittedly parochial native hasn't yet experienced it. Winter's gray and dreary yoke has finally been thrown off, replaced with a dazzling palette of fresh color and light borne to us on a whispering southern breeze.

On such a day, it seems, the possibilities are limitless. On such a day, under a brilliantly clear azure sky, trouble seems a million miles away.

As most Oklahomans know, however, trouble may be forming, unseen, right over our heads.

When we see the tiny little multi-colored state map in the corner of the television screen or hear that disembodied computer voice on the radio we know the day, however beautiful, just got tarnished with the slightest tinge of anxiety.

There is perhaps no more apt metaphor for the wildly bipolar nature of our state's weather than the tornado watch. In essence, it tells us that on some of the most achingly beautiful, carefree days of the year, we are routinely expected to be on the lookout for weather that can and will rip and tear asunder virtually everything we hold dear, up to and including our very lives.

No wonder some people think living in Oklahoma should come with a warning label.

The official definition goes something along the lines of  "a tornado watch means that conditions are favorable in the next few hours for the development of tornadoes within the watch area."

But anyone who has spent more than a season in Oklahoma knows what that really means is "Don't worry; chances are absolutely nothing is going to happen today, unless, of course, it does."

Zen Buddhism as weather forecast.

Truth is, most Oklahomans are nonchalant about the issuance of a tornado watch because, statistically speaking, they can be. There's a world of difference between possible and probable, and  as we know through experience the majority of tornado watches don't produce tornadoes.

In reality, however, there's an element of whistling past the graveyard in such nonchalance, and only the truly moronic among us completely disregard the tornado watch., even when most of them fizzle into nothing. At the picnic, on the lake, at the game, wherever we are and whatever we're doing, there's always that little kernel of information that colors every decision on those certain days the air just feels different somehow, an oppressively palpable texture of frightening possibility.

This peculiar precognizance we experience does of course beg the question of whether Oklahomans, by reason of geography and experience, can just tell when bad weather is imminent.

Scientists will, of course, say no. If the collective brilliance of thousands of our brightest minds and most powerful supercomputers still can't fully explain and predict the incredibly complex and mysterious dynamics of tornado development, then there's no compelling reason to believe that John or Jane Doe Sooner can step outside, peer into the sky and say with any degree of authority that today's tornado watch is different, more menacing, somehow more real.

And in truth, they'd be right. I for one would rather put my faith in trained meteorologists, Doppler radar and sophisticated computer models than in Uncle Leroy's weather-predicting rheumatic joints.

But still, if there's one thing Oklahomans should be intrinsically tuned in to, it's the weather. Perhaps over the course of the last century we've developed some deeper, subconscious connection to the subtle atmospheric markers that initiate tornado development and the tornado watch is merely the empiric confirmation of that sixth sense. Or not. Who knows? Just remember to act calm and relaxed when the New Jersey relatives are here next spring and the season's first tornado watch is issued. We've got a reputation to maintain, you know. 


  1. Sit tight; we're thinking good thoughts for you over here.

  2. Not to mention the fact that if it is a nighttime event, which it happens to be in Norman tonight, the lack of sleep!