Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Sound of the South

It’s spring and with it comes the annual sound of baseballs popping in gloves, the cracks of the bats and the ballpark vendors hawking expensive beer and meat byproduct hot dogs.

But here in the south another sound vies for our attention as the trees begin budding and the temperatures climb. It’s the sound of the wailing tornado sirens. Not that I’m rooting for them, but we should hear their cries this spring in Arkansas. 

We had an off year last year with only a few twisters. Meteorologists blame it on the drought; the dry conditions kept storm systems from strengthening over the state and producing the tornadoes. We had only 17 reported in the Natural State in 2012.

This year, though, the drought has improved and forecasters expect at least 50 tornadoes. And with the increase in storms, it means I’ll be heading out more to the various towns that get hit by the winds. One of my duties at the newspaper where I work is to cover weather.

I’ve seen a lot of tornado damage in my years here. In 2008, I drove through a storm cell that produced the longest on-the-ground twister in the state’s history. When I punched through the system, my car was covered in splotched mud and straw.

Once I had the rubber stripping along my car door frame blown off during a storm.  After that, whenever I drove over 50 mph, the wind would blow across the gap and make a whistling noise.

I’ve driven over the remains of a house scattered across a road and dodged downed trees. In 2007, I had to drive through a bumpy cotton field to get to a town that was decimated by a twister because the roads were closed with debris.

And once I covered a tornado in a small eastern Arkansas town that killed two people. Officials set up an area for storm victims in a school gymnasium and posted a large sign “No Media.” While I was there, a second tornado formed and bore down on the school. Police rushed everyone into the gymnasium for shelter, creating a dilemma. As a reporter, do I heed the sign and stay outside, or do I take cover? I took cover.

In 1999, the sirens blared near our home and my wife and I scrambled into a closet under the staircase. She got important papers and photographs to preserve and took them with her; I grabbed my 1998 APBA baseball season set. Priorities, you know.

This year, as we prepare for the storm system here in the south, I’m ready. I have all my APBA seasons already stored in a walk-in closet that, if I were inclined to, I would hunker down during tornado warnings. 

I’ve said here before that in APBA, I never have rain outs. Every team plays its full slate of games in all the replays I’ve done. But, as the winds begin howling and the sirens go off, there may be a few games delayed while I seek shelter and then track down where the damage occurred so I can report on it.

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