Friday, 8 May 2015

I'm not sleeping...

When we first moved here, Michael and I were both terrified about the prospect of being in Tornado Alley, in the middle of tornado season. It didn't seem to matter that people kept trying to reassure us with statements like "I've lived in Manhattan for nearly 30 years and the only tornado to come through here was the one in 2008". Michael and I still created a small stockpile of food and used empty milk bottles to store emergency water, I even put together an evacuation pack with nappies and spare clothes and our passports.

And every night that it stormed I would wake up and stay awake until the storm passed. I would listen to the thunder as it rolled over the hills, around the town, and through the sky. I would watch Michael sleeping and prepare myself to wake him and scoop Jimmy up into my arms and run for the storm shelter.

Between that, the mugginess that resulted from having to close the windows, and a little boy who had returned to breastfeeding like a 3 month old baby, I wasn't sleeping very much.

The thunder here has a different timber, a different quality, to thunder in Brisbane. It might resemble the thunder that once rolled over the Darling Downs, way back in the late 80s, when summer storms would roll in from the southwest. The thunder here is long and rolling, and I found it a little terrifying.

Why was it a little terrifying? Because tornadoes need storms before they can start. Strong winds and moisture in the air. Or so the Discovery Center's Wild Weather displays would have me believe.

In our first few weeks here I was chatting with one of our neighbours about tornadoes. (I say "chatting" but there was very little about the discussion that was lighthearted or 'chatty'.) She told me what it was like for her husband when a tornado ripped through his home town in Nebraska, way back in the 70s. She told me about the storm and how the air pressure changes and that a tornado can be felt in the ears before it can be seen by the eyes. She expressed her dissatisfaction with the storm shelter for our apartments. And she said that if a tornado did hit, we, the newly arrived Australians, would probably not want to venture out into the storm to reach the shelter because there would be so much stuff flying around.

Reassuring? No. But I did move the contents of our evacuation pack into our big wet/dry bag before returning it to the original backpack. And then I would stay awake during storms and make sure that my ears were ok. I was still laying awake during the storms.

Spring and tornado season passed without incident, just lots of wind and rain battering our bedroom windows. Summer was followed by autumn fall, which was followed by a reluctant winter. And now it is spring and tornado season again.

And I stopped sleeping... again.

Well, only on the night of the first spring storm*. I will admit that I haven't made up an evacuation pack. We no longer have an emergency supply of water, and our small stockpile of food is very, very small. So, perhaps we are less terrified than we were last year. Perhaps we trust the Flint Hills to prevent tornadoes more than we did last year**. And perhaps we are more familiar with the weather warning systems that are in place, and we feel like we might have enough warning to take cover before a tornado hits.

The thunder still sounds like Kansas thunder. The humidity and rain battering against the closed windows still results in a muggy bedroom, even with the ceiling fan on. All three of us are still in the same bed.

On the evening of the second storm of the season I checked the internet weather stations for tornado warnings - let's just say that after the March test of the tornado warning siren went off on the wrong day, at the wrong time, I am no longer going to rely on it to tell me that a tornado was coming. So I checked. I looked for tornado watches and warning. Nothing. No watches, no warning, at least for Kansas.

I think I actually went to sleep listening to the storm. After a years exposure to US weather warning, all of which err on the side of caution, sometimes extreme caution, I guess I figured it was safe to sleep even with a storm raging outside.

And I think I might just be able to sleep through every storm this season, so long as I make sure there are no tornado watches in place for northern Kansas and southern Nebraska. And as long as the wind isn't howling.

Currently, Manhattan, KS, is experiencing rainy, stormy conditions, but at least it's not raining constantly, it's not stormy all the time, and so far there hasn't been a single tornado watch or warning issued for our area. Fingers crossed we have the same number of tornadoes as last spring: zero. Otherwise I might never sleep through a storm, ever again.

* I took the photo (the one at the top of the page) the morning after the first spring storm, as another storm rolled north of Manhattan while we were eating our breakfast.
**The hills around here prevent the wind from picking up as much speed as it can in the very flat areas of tornado alley, they also interrupt the foot of a tornado as the land disappears into a valley. It's still really windy, even with the hills.

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