Strong Storms Come and Go
The Sirens Interrupt...
The children laughed and played. Some were carefully examining cicadas with gentle fingers and an expression of fascination. Others were playing a healthy game of tag, and still others were sailing through the air on the swingsets. But instantly all that changed when a wailing alarm rang out.
They had heard this alarm before. Always glances had questioned me, and I had instructed them to continue playing, explaining that it was "just a test." Outdoor emergency sirens are tested once a month.
This time all young eyes were on me, as usual, but instead of reassuring them to continue playing, I blew the whistle and pointed to the door.
Some were so frightened by this sudden change in policy that they began to cry, but all listened and ran to the door, forming a single file line. They were met at the door by another worker who escorted them to the safe room.
I clicked the dial on the radio. Keeping excited kids in a small room is on my list of Things I'd Rather Not Do. They have nothing to do in there except worry, chatter, giggle, and eventually take out their frustrations on each other in rowdy misbehavior. Understandably I was relieved when the radio said that the tornado was not in our city, nor even in our county, nor even headed for our county. The alarm had sounded because a funnel had been spotted on the ground two cities away from us. The sun shone peacefully on a few harmless clouds scattered outside, which added to my annoyance. Those kids should be out playing, I thought. Still, we had to follow protocol. Since no one announced an "all clear" we would have to keep them there until the storm warning expired, just to be on the safe side.
And Then, The Rain
It took an hour to reach us, but the edge of the same storm brought torrential rains, tree bending winds, and tiny pieces of driven hail. Dust and leaves were scooped up and driven fitfully, unpredictably, sporadically down the street and over the rooftops of nearby houses. Sticks from the woods landed on the playground, thump, thump, thump. Then the storm grew ominously quiet. We watched the clouds very closely, but they traveled on past without taking our roof or (anyone else's). The kids were soothed by singing songs and munching snacks as they hunkered down in a nest of coats and blankets. When the sunlight forced its way past the hoopla they emerged, none the worse.
The twister that touched down two cities away from us was part of a larger system that became internationally known as the Joplin Tornado. I conjecture that the reason we were told to go inside and were not notified of an "all clear" could be because the people who work within the emergency warning system were overtaxed, their attention diverted to the very real threat that landed elsewhere.