Sound of sirens

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Last night I put three kids, two dogs and one highly annoyed cat into a small closet under the stairs in our house. Then Tom and I stood a few feet away by the television, glancing nervously out the windows while also watching the local weather report. Outside, tornado sirens blared a warning.

While the TV meteorologist talked about the storm’s “rotation” and a possible funnel cloud spotting in the area, we stood ready to scramble into that storm closet with the kids and pets. The skies had grown dark and a driving rain mixed with small pieces of hail pelted the windows.

Suddenly the weatherman went mute. His lips were moving but we heard nothing. A minute later, a message appeared at the bottom of the screen. “Station hit by lightning. No audio available.” We changed the channel from the pantomiming weatherman to one whose microphone still worked. The lightning strike made it clear the threat was upon us.

A severe storm has a way of humbling anyone, reminding us how small we are in the grand scheme of things. The low rumbles of thunder sound like God clearing his throat, as if He’s about to make an important announcement. It’s a frightening reminder that – despite our advancements and technology – we are at the mercy of wind, water and energy. Storms blow away any illusion we have about controlling what may or may not happen at any given moment.hurricane tornado

Having grown up in the part of the country known as Tornado Alley, I should be used to the uneasy feeling storms bring with them. When I was a little kid and staying with my older brother after school, there were times when a tornado warning drove me into the closet under the stairs where we stashed toys, winter coats and the vacuum cleaner. I remember sitting against the wood-paneled wall, holding my dog and reassuring her (and myself) that everything would be okay.

My brother was far too interested in the storm’s special effects to hide from it in the closet. If it was out there, he wanted to see it. He’d stand at the sliding glass door peering out at the horizon, watching for one of the menacing black funnels he’d seen in movies. He assured me he’d dive into the closet with me and the dog if it got too close.

Waiting for the storm to pass was always the worst part. I’d heard on news reports that tornadoes often sound like a train coming, so I always listened intently for that warning whistle. One day, I heard it – the tell-tale train whistle mixed with the sound of furious rain and howling winds.

Panicked, I opened the closet door and called out to my brother. “Greg! It sounds like a train! Get in the closet! It’s coming!”

train locomotive“That’s not a tornado, you dope. It’s an actual train. We live two blocks away from the train tracks, remember?” Annoyed, he went back to his storm-spotting position by the window.

After that, I remembered to pay attention to whether a train-sound during a storm sounded like an intermittent “choo-choo” or a constant, building wail of impending doom. Apparently, there’s a big difference.

Thankfully, my big brother never did spot a black funnel cloud while we were growing up. And although last night’s storm brought a threatening, swirling black cloud that hovered overhead just minutes from our house, it never dropped the twister we feared. When the TV weatherman said the danger had dissipated, we let the kids, dogs and cat out of the closet. Life quickly went back to normal – making dinner, doing homework, nagging kids to go to sleep for crying out loud.

The storm settled into a steady rain that made the house feel even more cozy as Tom and I climbed into bed later that night, thankful for what was only a close call instead of a call for help.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.

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