Twistered.

It was in the spring when I was in sixth grade that I developed this weird obsession with tornadoes. Some might call it “morbid”, but I didn’t think about the death and destruction caused by tornadoes, and even though I really wanted to see one I would have preferred that it not cause any damage. Maybe if one could touch down near enough to get us out of math class I’d be okay with that. It was prompted by one of the teachers showing us the same scratchy old film about tornadoes that we’d all been shown since kindergarten because they thought information that was at least a decade old should be reviewed annually, or maybe it was just a chance for the teachers to skip down to the lounge and have a smoke and a drink before math class and films were a good way to keep us occupied which is why I could recite most of The Lorax, but that’s another story. I didn’t think of tornadoes as destructive natural occurrences but rather really, really, really cool natural occurrences. The film we watched made tornadoes seem fascinating, mysterious, and only dangerous in a completely abstract sense, like Donald Sutherland. My Boy Scout handbook also had instructions for dealing with tornadoes if we were out camping that included getting into a low-lying ditch or, if at all possible, moving to the side to get out of the oncoming tornado’s path, and, interestingly, it had the exact same instructions for dealing with Donald Sutherland.

For a while this obsession even had me thinking I might like to be a meteorologist, to study tornadoes to try and figure out what really powered and caused them. All the film really told me was that tornadoes formed when a cold front and a warm front came together, so sometimes I’d stand out on the playground and try to see if I could feel cold air on one side of my body and warm air on the other, the sure sign of a tornado. I was also intrigued by different kinds of tornadoes including water spouts—tornadoes that form over water—and especially dust devils, which are like miniature tornadoes, but not as intense. Dust devils became a spin-off obsession because while I knew it would be dangerous to get close to a bona fide tornado I thought a dust devil would be safer, that I could get up close and personal with it and study it closely.

And one day while I was out walking around in the vacant lots near my house I thought I saw one. It didn’t last long enough for me to get close but I saw a few scattered leaves rise up, move in a circular formation, then drift back to the ground. I was so excited the next day at school I told my friends who mostly didn’t care but quietly feigned interest, probably in the hopes that if they went along with it I’d shut up about tornadoes. They all agreed that, yes, I probably had seen a dust devil, but Matt had to disagree.

Matt and I weren’t friends. We just had a large circle of mutual friends. Somehow we’d made the same friends over the years but he and I didn’t meet until sixth grade and for some reason we just took an instant dislike to each other. I don’t remember our first meeting or anything about why we disliked each other, and with my friends Matt seemed like a decent guy. The fact that my friends were also his friends says something, so maybe it was me that was responsible for this nebulous animosity between us.

Anyway Matt vehemently disagreed that I’d seen a dust devil because it was leaves. He didn’t deny that I’d seen something that sounded a lot like a miniature tornado but a “dust devil” would be mostly dust. And also strictly speaking in the United States they’re primarily found in the southwest, and what I’d seen was so small and so short-lived there’s probably not really a term for it. And yet this somehow spawned an argument with some of our friends leaning on way and some leaning the other but mostly they were divided over who could care less about the whole thing.

Later that same spring I’d see a real tornado, or at least the beginnings of one, during a wave of storms that swept through the area one weekend. There’d been tornado warnings I was in the basement with my parents, prepared to run for the enclosed space at the back, but of course we were staring out the windows. There were brief hard rain showers, then a few minutes of tiny hailstones like pearls, and then everything got very quiet and still. Over the hills in the distance a line of clouds pressed down, its bottom edge so straight it looked like a piece of black paper, and below that the sky was bright whitish green. I saw a line twisting down from the clouds, mostly solid but dissipating at its end, and then, as though it had touched something foul, it drew back. The sky cleared and after that I didn’t have any more interest in tornadoes.

7 Comments

  1. Gilly Maddison

    Don’t think I have ever seen a tornado in real life, even from a distance. The strong gales we sometimes get in the UK in winter scare the hell out of me so even the threat of a full blown tornado would probably give me a heart attack. I have been known to cry during strong gales (and in extreme thunder storms). Yes – what a baby! Thanks for this interesting little tale – I always enjoy your posts whenever I show up.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’ve heard that Britain is too temperate. Tornadoes are a peculiar mix of extremes which is part of what makes them so frightening. And Tennessee is right in a region known as “tornado alley”, that stretches across the continent. Still they can apparently strike almost anywhere. Well, there’s a comforting thought for you. But they can also pass right through an area and do very little damage.

      Reply
  2. Arionis

    As fearless as I was about most things when I was a kid, tornados scared the shit out of me. I lived in Tornado Alley so I was constantly freaking out about even the slightest possibility of a twister forming. My parents tried to comfort me but I could tell that my constant worrying about it frustrated them. One night during some bad storms, I woke up about 3 AM and heard what I thought was a freight train passing by my bedroom window. I ran to my parents room and woke them up. Dad was not at all pleased and told me to stop worrying and go back to bed. The next morning when I went outside I saw a deep furrow track in the pasture behind our house that ran to the other side of the field where a mobile home was destroyed. It was confirmed later on that a tornado had indeed touched down right behind our house. My parents profusely apologized for my dismissal and I took some pleasure in knowing I was right to worry. That, however, was little comfort to the two women in the mobile home. Thankfully they escaped with nothing more than a few scratches.

    Reply
    1. Arionis

      I think you jinxed us Chris. Currently have several tornadoes moving through our area. If I never comment again…

      Reply
    2. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Holy mackerel. That’s quite an experience. And it also shows how freaky tornadoes are. They can cut a path right through an area and leave the houses untouched. And I heard a story about a tornado that picked up a house in Kansas and carried it thousands of miles. The girl inside and her little dog were fine but when it came down it landed on some woman. Weird.

      Reply
  3. Ann Koplow

    I have this weird obsession with your blog, Chris. Is that twistered?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That just might make you a twistered sister, if you’re not going to take it and want to rock.

      Reply

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