One of the tornados of the 1974 super outbreak
Last night was an incredibly stormy affair in my part of Ohio. Gale force winds, torrential rain, and hail. A tornado touched down north of Cincinnati.
I checked the local weather on my phone at 3:41 a.m.: The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for my part of the Cincinnati area. We were advised to take cover.
The storms continue as I type this. There are more tornado warnings; and I am hoping that the electricity doesn't go out.
I have long had a dread of severe thunderstorms and tornados. I was six years old in 1974, when the super outbreak of that year produced 148 tornados in a 24-hour period, in a vast swath of the country stretching from northern Georgia to southern Michigan. Thirty of these tornados were of the highly destructive F4/F5 category.
I was in Louisville with my parents during the outbreak. My mother and I were accompanying my father on one of his sales trips.
I distinctly remember my parents watching the sky from the doorway of our room at the Holiday Inn. They let me look, briefly. I barely understood the concept of tornados then; but some primeval instinct, perhaps, told me that the condition of the skies was very dangerous, indeed. We actually saw a funnel cloud. But we were lucky: The tornado skipped over us.
A few days later, I was with my parents as they drove through Xenia, Ohio, which was devastated by one of the outbreak’s more powerful tornados. Xenia looked like a war zone. There were shattered buildings and rubble everywhere.
We have a lot of confidence in ourselves as rational, innovative human beings, and not without justification, perhaps. But it takes little more than a really bad storm—a killer storm (319 people died as a result of the 1974 super outbreak)—to remind us how fragile we really are.
It takes so little to kill one of us—to kill a large number of us, in fact.
This realization may or may not make you turn to spiritual reflection; but it should humble you, at the very least. It certainly humbles me. I have an iPhone in my pocket that enables me to watch video feeds from China, to send emails, and to measure how many steps I take in a day. Yet my vulnerability to the raw power of nature is not much different than it might have been had I been born a hundred years earlier.
Death can still, quite plausibly, come from the skies—for any of us. And I’m not talking about something as high-tech and exotic as a nuclear missile attack. I’m talking about something as primitive and mundane as the weather.