Thursday, March 17, 2011

Miami Memories: Tornado alley

In my wanderings this morning I was playing with words and rhymes. The sun barely breached the horizon and cast a golden red glow in my room causing an old rhyme to echo, "Red sky in the morning sailors take warning." "This is the green day," I mumble to the world, "Top of the Morning to all of you and Happy St. Patrick's Day." My mind casually ambled playing with green rhymes (while the chicken boiled over!):

Green clouds brewing
Tornadoes building
Sirens blowing
Dead man walking
Run for shelter.

With that last line I was taken back to Roosevelt School on Gst. Northeast, Miami, Oklahoma, and my fifth grade classroom with Miss Garman. We had tornado sirens starting that year I entered fifth grade; we had KGLC broadcasting music, sports, and weather; and we had one basement in the block, next door to us, at the Broderick's. It's purpose mainly was to store canned goods. The wet cement walls were lined with shelves and one window well gave light from the West. (I would have preferred the Searle's basement which was a cleanly lite apartment, but it was a block away. Fear and torrents of rain usually kept us near home.) I don't know which scared me the worst, the cold damp dark basement, the threat of tornadoes, or my imagination that snakes would slither out of the walls.

Several times that spring we all found ourselves running for cover and standing face to face dripping wet and shaking in that basement. As much as tornadoes frightened me, clouds and weather patterns fascinated me. Because we were often outside playing golf and just playing my dad taught me what to watch for when the weather began to change. On the playground that spring day I felt static in the air, as I swung back and forth watching the green clouds boil and build in the Southwest sky. I noticed the teachers eyes were watching the skies, I thought with the same fascination. Inside our flat blond brick building the radio blared from the office and Miss Garman, our teacher, had placed her radio by the window to listen for any warnings.

Our fifth grade windows faced the East and tornadoes generally battered us from the Southwest, so I would not be able to watch and warn people. I walked up to Miss Garman's desk and spoke quietly in her ear, "If you will let me go out to the playground I can watch for the storm and warn everyone." She smiled and said, "No, don't worry. We'll send you kids home who live nearby if it gets bad." I thought that was a great idea since the school had windows on all sides and no real shelter.

Within minutes the winds began to whip up the dust and tangle the trees. KGLC announced that a tornado was on the ground in Welch, Ok., and for residents to be prepared to take cover. Nervous excitement built in the classroom. At some point Miss Hamilton, our principal, walked room to room with her high heels clicking telling us if sirens blew that those of us who lived nearby and had basements close would be sent home. Then with her beady eyes and shaking finger she pointed at us (we knew who we were) saying, "You are to go directly home to your parents first, then go take shelter. The rest of us will take shelter in the kitchen."

In an instant, sirens rang. Ivan Lee, the neighborhood bully, fled from his 6th grade room screaming while the rest of us, David, Diane, the two Jeanne's and myself ran in giggly delight. The blowing torrents of rain had hit just as we left the building. The two Jeanne's were the first ones home, we turned to run up the alley with Ivan Lee already out of sight. I was running so hard one of my moccasins flew off. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, I was so scared. My mother, holding my little sister's hand, met me in the backyard near the alley. We immediately dashed over to the Broderick's basement. Off and on siren warnings blared that afternoon and evening. Each time frightened eyes stood and faced each other while mother's tried to calm us. We learned that tornadoes had touched down out by the fairgrounds and then East of town, but not near us.

I knew we were all scared that day, even the bully, Ivan Lee had shown fear in his banshee scream and tears. What I didn't know was that there would be another spring day, soon, when the skies turned green, and Ivan Lee and I would come face to face with our fears.


  1. One spring day I believe in '73, I was coaching a young girls softball team. We were deep into practice at the Will Rogers field just east of Nichols Elementary when the tornado sirens started screaming! That in turn caused all the girls to scream and run for their bikes. I immediately rounded all of them up and crowded all of them into my car. Needless to say we were three deep. I headed west to H street to go north to my home just a few block away as we had a storm shelter. Just past the Goodrich plant a clear view to the west presented a huge funnel that was as black as nite. A loud shriek sounded throughout the car just as I turned on 16th to our shelter. All the girls jumped out just as I slowed and ran into the shelter crowding in with all the neighbors. I stayed out side long enough to see softball sized hail and hay from the barns it hit west of Miami falling from the sky. It lifted just as it approached the Neosho river west of Miami, only to drop again and hit Neosho Missouri. I have a great respect for storms, but find them so beautiful. Oh, and by the way, the parents of the girls I coached were very happy to find out I had a shelter. The hail alone could have done some severe damage.

  2. Letty, How ESP-ish !!! My husband and I went out to eat tonight and were discussing the clouds on the way home. I have been facinated by Tornados all of my life and a Tornado chaser for many years. When it looks like "weather" is approaching, he always asks me about "what's coming" because I just have a feel for it. Not 30 minutes ago I was telling him of the day we spent in fear at Roosevelt School. I remember it like it was yesterday. I also remember Broderick's basement, the whole layout, etc. My Dad finally built our own cellar in our back yard...loved it!! It was mostly used for neighborhood slumber parties, wonderful times. Oh yes......My neighborhood here in Missouri was hit by an F3 in 2003 and again by an F4 in 2006....we barely made it to the basement across the street before it hit with an awsome force ! It's something you will never forget as long as you live. The devistation was incredible, some homes have never been built back. Anyway....I'm still chasin' !!!