In my world, this is the season for watching the sky and our favorite weather broadcasters. A couple of weeks ago, we used our tornado shelter for the first time since last year. The severe weather was of short duration, about 30 minutes in the shelter and several hours of tracking the storms as they passed through. It was relatively painless – the most difficult part was exiting up the narrow metal steps of the shelter and keeping my dignity as I pulled myself out, rear-end first, in view of our neighbors across the street. Tonight, another round of storms is in the making. Such is life in Central Oklahoma.
I am not complaining. Friends, neighbors, acquaintances, co-workers, those who alert and protect us and those who pray for us – we are all in this together as we cope with the reality of the weather here. Most of us have family and friends in other states who frequently deal with tornadoes – I track the severe weather from Texas to Arkansas and Missouri, to Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia all the way to the coast, willing the tornadoes that threaten my loved ones to lift and disappear. (I confess that I sometimes hope for a change in direction if a twister is bearing down on one of the communities where my family or friends reside, conveniently forgetting that it will put others in the storm’s path.)
The “weather” days follow certain patterns. We are usually alerted several days ahead that storms are on the way and that the system could last for one to three days. We look at our calendars and see how it will affect our plans. Tom checks the shelter for any unwanted insect visitors and checks to see that our water and toilet paper supplies are adequate. (I won’t describe our toilet accommodations.) We go over our mental checklist of things we’ll take to the shelter with us, if the occasion should arise. We tell Malone (our Shih Tzu) that everything will be all right. He doesn’t argue with us.
On the day before our severe weather forecast, we check the conditions in the Ft. Worth area, where Tom’s parents and my brother live. Whatever is coming our way often hammers them first, and we are watchful on their behalf.
The first day of our forecast, we keep the television on and check our phones frequently to observe the fronts, how far away from us they are and how quickly they are moving. We watch the Oklahoma City area closely because we have family there. I am mentally calculating where family members are (at work, home, or traveling) throughout the day. We might see that they are in the path of circulation and try notifying them (knowing that they are most likely watching the same thing we are). We know that they will do the same for us.
We also finish our prep for going down to the cellar. I put all of my portable technology (iPad, Kindle, external hard drive, chargers, etc.) in a bag next to the back door. Tom gets the flashlights, stuff for Malone, and other supplies. We tell Malone that everything will be all right. He still doesn’t argue but his trembling tells us he’s not certain we know what we’re doing.
If and when we hear a siren, see an alert on television, or get a text from a family member, we go down into the cellar. And sit. And wait.
When we get the all-clear, we exit (refer to the exercise in embarrassment from the first paragraph). We say a prayer of thanks and “spread out”, literally and figuratively. Round two can arrive here at home (another front or tornadoes popping up to the west) or we might spend a day or two tracking the storms east, where other friends and family live.
These are probably the most anxious times of the year for me. I am an anxious person by nature and have found it a necessity to fall into a calming routine, as much as possible, during the one, two, or three days of severe weather outbreaks. I put a hold on other activities and allow myself plenty of reading time while tracking, preparing for, and hunkering down during the storms. It works for me (as much as anything can) and releases me from some of the dread and fear the season brings. Here’s why:
- Reading is a natural sedative for me at any time. I look forward to “book breaks” during non-weather days and I find that those sweet times with books calm me and give me the fortitude to continue with any task I meet, distasteful or not. I have always taken a book with me to the doctor’s office and can also use them to “take me away” when the storms are coming.
- I can match my selection to my level of anxiety. I don’t actually have a shelf filled with “books to read while waiting for the tornado”, but since I’m usually reading several books at a time, I can give myself permission to choose the one that I’m finding most absorbing.
- A book is forgiving of interruption. In our town, we may quickly go from “just something to be aware of” to dangerous storm. Or we may be all clear and notice that other family members are in danger. I can easily put my book down and go back to it when everything is calm. It’s not so easy to stop watching television – especially when we’re at a cliff-hanging moment in the program. It’s too easy to keep watching, thinking we have plenty of time. (We’ve learned here that the concept of “plenty of time” is relative and dangerous.)
- We don’t actually expect to watch normal network television at all during severe weather. Our local weather takes precedence over other regular programming, for hours on end. I can keep our favorite channel on, muted or with the volume down and still read while tracking the weather.
- I can continue reading even while in the storm shelter. We might be there for 30 minutes to an hour and it’s nice to distract myself by reading my Kindle or by flashlight. I can also listen during cellar time to audiobooks that I’ve downloaded.
Okay, it’s true that tornado season isn’t a vacation and we can’t underestimate the importance of planning, preparing and taking the necessary steps when we are under a warning. But these times become a little less a nightmare when I have books and reading to occupy my mind when anxiety peaks.
Here are a few recommendations for reading during tornado weather:
The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman – I will confess that I haven’t finished reading this one, but it is an enchanting story of three women – a mother, daughter, and granddaughter – who reconnect and come to greater understanding and appreciation of each other through the charms that are symbolic to their lives. I am happy to know that the author has written several other novels, which I look forward to reading.
Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird – If you are a fan of the PBS series about Queen Victoria, you will probably enjoy this biography. The narrative follows the series closely and the author writes about Victoria’s life with the authority that reflects extensive research. (This is one that might take you completely through the storm season.)
No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin – The beloved and acclaimed author of many award-winning books passed away recently and I was happy that she left us one last book, a collection of essays on aging and living life completely and honestly. I especially enjoy passages about her cat’s behavior and an essay comparing the merits of The Immortal Life of Henryetta Lacks and The Help and then making the point that she appreciated them both as a reader, as I did.
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Engels Wilder by Caroline Fraser – An opportunity to learn more about the life of the author of the beloved Little House on the Prairie books. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography reveals the backstory of Wilder and her life beginning 150 years ago in the middle of a country still experiencing growing pains. It is unvarnished and includes descriptions of the troubled relationship between the author and her daughter, journalist Rose Wilder Lane. The narrative of Wilder’s childhood is familiar territory for most of us, but we realize as we read this comprehensive biography, that there is much more to her story.
Barbara Bush: A Memoir – I am listening to this audiobook and have found it delightful and reassuring that there are still people in the world like Barbara Bush. It is read by the author and is a further comfort to hear her voice – so unassuming, tender and humorous – as she tells the story of her life and family (including their pets) and an honest assessment of the events and relationships of powerful people she encountered. I would recommend this one especially for taking into a storm shelter – it wouldn’t mean adding anything to your bug-out bag, since you could listen on your smart phone, and it’s somewhat like hearing the voice of a beloved friend or family member.