Nothing makes one feel quite as helpless as witnessing the powers of nature at their worst.
I've lived all my life in the American South. To the uninitiated, this means I've spent a lot of time huddled in basements during spring, the tornado season. You'd think I'd have a healthy respect for those particular storms, and, theoretically, I do. But I've flown for cover at the weatherman's command to "seek shelter" so often that I've grown a bit cavalier.
This is not to say I've never been close to one. They've zipped around my environs, destroying houses, snapping trees like toothpicks, and harming people -- ruining lives -- my entire life. But you know what they say about familiarity breeding contempt.
Until last night.
Himself, the girls, I, and my parents who were visiting huddled around the TV anxiously watching the Weather Channel last night. Footage of the massive tornado that slammed Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and was on its way to Birmingham made me hold my breath and clasp my hands. I wondered, Did the pillar of cloud that the Hebrews followed on their exodus from Egypt look anything like this?
4-27-11 Tornado Tuscaloosa, Al from Crimson Tide Productions on Vimeo.
I hope you noticed some things: the debris swirling around the outside of the vortex; the size of the tornado compared to the buildings on the left side of the screen; the strange, whirling sound of the winds; and the heavy, panicked breathing of whoever shot the footage from his/her car. If you didn't, watch it again. It's that powerful. And there are more out there to watch, too; I've viewed several. They make me feel slightly nauseated.
The thing was on the ground for hours, and, instead of losing strength as typically happens, it gained strength as it moved northeast from Birmingham and out of Alabama, leaving more than 100 people dead -- and the death count continues to rise -- into Georgia, where it nearly demolished the town of Ringgold. More people died there. Then it was on to Tennessee.
Another tornado/storm system farther south in Alabama also crossed the Georgia line. It came across Georgia south of Atlanta. Thus this major metropolitan area was largely spared immense damage.
At our house, we suffered only thunder, lightning, winds, and some rain. The girls and my mom slept in the basement anyway. I myself slept upstairs, but lightly, one ear tuned for the tornado sirens. The Weather Channel may do its best to track the path of tornadoes, but last I checked, they are not under our domain and tend to go where they please.
The death toll for the more than 100 tornadoes that spanned five southern states on Thursday is now more than 200. They are saying this may be an historic tornado season. "Historic" does not always mean something good.
It's impossible for me to be nonchalant any longer. I don't think I'll ever be able to rid my mind of those images.