Archive for May 10th, 2010


Playing Chess In A House Of Cards

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

You know the announcement that television networks always seem to use when they break into a show to report some sort of news event? It goes something like, “We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for a special report from XYZ News.” I was about to do something similar tonight with this blog, only it would have gone more like, “I interrupt posting my regularly scheduled blog entry tonight due to a possible tornado bearing down on my house.”

The region of north Texas where I live (along with the region of southern Oklahoma just across the river from my home) is nicknamed “Tornado Alley.” It didn’t get that name by accident. This is a well-known area for having violent storms in the springtime, including a fair number of tornadoes. There have been small storms that popped up seemingly out of nowhere and destroyed one or two buildings, and huge storms like the one that practically wiped out an entire town up in Oklahoma just over a year ago.

A line of storms blew through the area throughout the afternoon and into the late evening. Whenever that happens, I’m usually tuning in to the local news channel to get the latest weather reports and to find out if we need to prepare for the worst. For years, I’ve been doing the same thing – watching, waiting, wondering, and praying. Fortunately, the worst that has ever happened to us has been catching some strong winds (over 50 miles per hour) and getting some small hail that wasn’t enough to cause any significant damage.

When these storms come up, the rest of the family gets excited and somewhat anxious, and the questions inevitably come: “Are we going to be hit by a tornado?” “How will we protect ourselves when the tornado comes?” “Will the animals outside be okay?” I’ve learned to take them all in stride, as most parents do; I try to maintain a calm voice as I answer each one for the umpteenth time, and explain in plain language what the meteorologist is saying. That usually maintains order about the house, and everyone gets through the event fairly calmly.

But, just because I sound calm about what’s going on doesn’t mean that I am calm about it. No, it’s usually quite the contrary: I may look the vision of confidence on the outside, but inside I’m shaking like a leaf. I get just as anxious as the rest of my family does when storms approach, and wonder in my mind if I will make the right decisions at the right times to keep them safe from harm.

The scene is almost like playing a macabre chess game in the middle of a house of cards. I study the radar images on the screen with as much intent as the meteorologists, trying to follow the storm tracks and projecting where each one goes, as well as interpreting the changes in intensity to determine whether or not a particular storm heading toward us is going to be troublesome. All the while I maintain my cool, providing updates to everyone in that same calm and steady voice, knowing that if I make the wrong move and they sense me starting to panic they will panic as well, and the entire household would collapse into chaos. I can usually get everyone to follow their normal routines and even have them turn in for the night, safe in knowing that I’m keeping an eye on the weather for them. What they don’t see is how I stay transfixed to the screen long after they’re asleep, sometimes watching until the wee hours of the morning to make sure we’re not in the bull’s-eye for a storm.

I have always felt I had no other choice but to keep my fears hidden from everyone, lest they cause a general panic through the house. Now that the kids are older and can understand more, I show them how to read the screens and draw their own conclusions from what they see; they still get anxious about it sometimes, and in my mind that’s okay because I do too! I’ve just had more practice in keeping it hidden from view.

Tonight’s storms were no different. By late evening the major cells had mostly broken up, and for a while it looked like we were going to be in the clear. Then, just before the last storm cell was due to pass through the area, a funnel cloud (possible tornado) was spotted forming along one edge of it about seven to eight miles to the west of our house.  The radar track showed that while part of the cell would pass directly over the house, the funnel cloud was most likely to pass to the south. Watching and waiting, I got even more nervous as the radar slowly updated, showing the movement of the storm. Luckily for us, it did exactly what it was expected to do; it roared through the area to the south, missing us by 10 miles. We had a spectacular thunder and lightning show and a heavy dousing of rain, but no damage. I breathed a sigh of relief, and all is now calm again, both in body and mind.

All calm, that is, until the next storm comes along…