Midwestern storms are just as dynamic as the weather itself. In less than hour a sunny blue sky can become dark, violent, throw down some hail and perhaps a tornado or two, and then become clear (though now a bit damp and drippy) once more.
Tornado storms always warn of their approach by tingeing the air an eerie shade of green, as if the world has stepped inside an ancient photo album. Chattering birds and squirrels become silent. And soon after the tornado sirens, wailing holdovers from World War II, confirm the atmospheric intimations.
|The chartreuse (or is it sepia?) before the storm|
The proper safety procedure during a tornado warning is to retreat to the basement or other enclosed area of your house, where you will be most protected from flying glass or debris. My mother, who is terrified of thunderstorms, always puts on her shoes, grabs her purse, and troops the family down into our basement as soon as the warning has been issued.
However, most Minnesotans (including me) are not nearly so cautious. A single tornado can form within seconds and rarely lasts more than a few minutes. Warnings are issued for any storm with the capability of producing tornadoes, whether or not any have actually formed, with the result that most of us have experienced countless warnings in our lifetimes with no ill effects. The local news stations, each vying for ratings, exacerbate the situation by instantly broadcasting any photo, story, or video of the storm submitted by brave viewers.
And let's face it: thunderstorms are cool.
This perhaps explains why, 15 minutes after the tornado warning had been issued, half of the neighborhood was out in the hail-peppered streets, gazing at the sky.
|Nickel-sized hail from the backyard|
The violent core of this sleek and compact storm had passed less than two miles north of us. So, while my mom stood in the doorway shouting the location of the nearest spotted funnel cloud, my neighbors and I stared with joy at the sight of the the sunset reflecting off the back of a thunderhead, which rose out of the treetops in a capricious mountain of steam.
|Thunderhead at Sunset|
Ten minutes later, it was nearly gone.