The genesis for this month’s “Weather Why?” feature came about last summer during a lull in activity at a photo shoot. I was visiting with a recent transplant to Oklahoma after a spate of bad weather events in the metro, and we were discussing the most recent storms (what can I say? Weather is what we talk about here – and we never lack for conversation!) In the course of our exchange, the newcomer revealed that a lot of the fear and anxiety he experienced when first arriving had to do with how completely unpredictable our severe weather seemed to be and how he didn’t know much about it, except that it was very dangerous. Why all the tornadoes? When did they occur most? What’s the best survival plan? He took it upon himself to research and study our weather patterns to familiarize and prepare, which calmed a lot of his apprehension, but said he’d really wished there was a way to get this kind of information more easily.
Just like that, the seed of an idea was planted. Writer Sean Becker, another recent transplant, lends his fresh perspective with a great primer on our state’s hottest topic on page 52.
I consider myself a born and bred Okie – though I was an Army brat and moved around before returning to Oklahoma – and I wonder if our outlook is instinctive. Sometimes you can feel the air changing down in your bones. If I ever consciously learned that a particular shade of yellowish-green sky meant it was time to get into the closet, I don’t recall doing so, but I feel like I know it when I see it. Of course, I only know the color because half the time I am standing out in my driveway looking up (also an Okie characteristic, I find). While I am the first to admit this isn’t the smartest place to be during severe weather, I stay close to my house and stream a severe weather app on my smartphone, which is a definite improvement in technology over my forebears.
My earliest storm-related memory was when I was preschool age, and a severe storm was passing over our house in Edmond, hopscotching from one side of town to the other with brief lowerings or touchdowns, then turning and coming back over before lowering again. There were six kids in the house, and we rode it out barricaded in the cushions of the couch while most of the grown-ups stood on the porch to count how many times the circulation passed over us. After it cleared, we ran outside and splashed through the lingering rain in a ragtag parade down the street.
When I think back on the events that day – and the other tall stack of storm stories each of us totes around in our memories – I wonder if we all were astonishingly naive, or simply reckless. Scientists cannot say with certainty if our storms have gotten more frequent or severe, and technology has changed the basis of comparison so much it’s impossible to give a definitive answer. Has our increasingly connected world only opened our eyes to dangers that were always there?
Perhaps it is part of our cultural heritage to take a pragmatic view. After all, this is the land we live in, and the weather is part and parcel of that. Our big skies can be breathtaking in their beauty and terrifying in their ferocity. And there are so many good things about living in Oklahoma that make it worthwhile, in spite of the potential for danger. We should do all we can to be prepared, minimize our risks, strive for safety and draw together in times of adversity with the same fortitude that led our ancestors out into the vast prairie, planting the seeds of future generations.