(In the wake of recent tornadoes, this post has gotten a lot of traffic. There is nothing too useful below on surviving or coping with surviving a tornado – just my own scary experience last year. However – here is a great article on how to help yourself survive a tornado. But if you’re interested in my funky adventures in Iowa, please read on, and many thanks for doing so.)
Waterloo, Iowa. I’m here for a day. Less, even. So excited for the wedding I’m attending tonight. In Iowa City I indulged in “pie milkshakes,” drank a good deal of wine in a bookstore-wine-bar, and ate deliciously at the Motley Cow. But I’m wiped out. So wiped out. For good friggin reason:
Living in the mid-west has its downfalls. Tornadoes are a biggie. I have never spent any time during tornado season in rural areas prone to these twisters. Last night, foolish and paranoid as it was, I feared for my life. A tornado isn’t a car accident. It isn’t a disease. It isn’t even a random accident. There is no possibility in high heaven that a person can be saved when one shows up and comes straight at their house. As agnostic as my tendencies, this is truly an act of god. This is a beautiful land. But I would find it difficult to live here myself with this natural danger looming for several months every year.
So I spent most of the night awake. A big thunderstorm over much of northwest Iowa dominated my night. It was pretty bad over Iowa City where I was staying in an old wooden house on the second floor, all windows, no interior rooms. I stayed glued to the weather service website for several hours, about midnight to 3 am. Earlier in the day when I was showering I heard the town siren go off. I jumped out of the shower, soap still clinging, got dressed in 20 seconds, and then stood there shaking and not knowing what to do. I peered outside, saw blue skies, and remembered that it usually took a storm or at least high winds to produce a tornado. The siren must have been an exercise or for something else. Not that night when it blew for about 20 minutes at 1am. The winds picked up so quickly, within about 5 minutes it went from a calm, balmy summer night, to where things in the apartment were blowing off shelves, curtains whipping dangerously, and rain thrashing inside.
I knew vaguely from watching the Wizard of Oz and from school drills (Chicago is mid-west, a would-be prime twister area were it not for our giant lake, and therefore completely different wind and climate region. Still, we had annual tornado drills) that you’re supposed to go below ground or to a place without windows and crouch and cover your head. There was no way I could do this. None at all. I debated waking the downstairs neighbors but politeness somehow still came over me when it came to this decision. Should I drive to a safe location? Would I have time? Would being outside in a ditch be safer than staying in a house whose age and debris would certainly be a serious danger.
Instead, I got smart. Dressed, shoes and all, cell phone in pocket, wallet in hand. Plugged in the computer and found every website I could locate with up-to-the-minute info, Doppler radar, satellite imaging, etc. I learned that the only tornado watch was a few counties over. First, I had to figure out which county I was in (Johnson), and which counties surrounded it. We had a flash flood warning, a dangerous weather advisory, and something else. I eased up after a while when I learned this and watched an episode of Lie To Me, a show I adore and that we’re a season behind in Israel, while I waited for the 3 am all-clear to come. I slept on the sofa, in my clothes, in front of the laptop. The cats I was sitting joined me.
Now Waterloo. And Cedar Falls, its twin town. Can’t call these places cities, although in some books, they might qualify. There are farming museums, a one-room schoolhouse, a historical society. I’m too tired, I think. Too behind on some work projects. Instead, tomorrow after the wedding hoopla is over, I’m going to treat myself to an excursion to a famous Frank Lloyd Wright house in Cedar Rock. It will delay my return to Chicago by several hours, but I feel that it’s a shame to visit a region without seeing at least something it is proud of, something native, something natural and important.