Tornado Season in Golden City, Missouri
On Memorial weekend last year, I treated the girls to a mommies’ day out. We ordered lunch at Cookies, a local Mom and Pop diner, then corralled the great-grandkids by seating each one between an adult. A joke around town was:
“What do you do for fun in Golden City?”
“Eat pie at Cookies.”
Lunch was a success of controlled chaos. Granddaughters, Summer, Katy, and Megan, caught me up on the latest family scandals. My girls had a wicked sense of humor, inherited from ‘GMA’ my alias on the internet.
“G Ma, you’re older than dirt,” Megan teased me.
We lingered over pie. “Yep, when I read ‘2000’ as a sci-fi nut, I thought the millennium was an eternity away.”
“I’m a millennium baby,” said Megan who was born in 2000.
“My grandma Helen, a 1900 millennium child, and flapper danced up a storm. Charleston, Black Bottom, Twenty-three skiddo, and the cat’s meow. She had bobbed hair, and wore knee-length dresses,” I recalled.
Baby Millie had fallen asleep, and the other toddlers nodded off with full tummies. Connor, the daredevil, Memphis, the car guy, and dinosaur expert Aiden had pooped out from their busy day at the park.
While the moms strapped the kids in the SUV, I paid the bill. How did they control two kids each and the laborious task of buckling up car seats? I had six kids B.C., before car seats. Remembering my children, a new baby, a one-year-old, the three-year-old twins, a five-year-old, and an eleven-year-old made me tired. How did anyone with a big family manage a trip?
When we got home, the girls unbuckled the children and carried tired bodies into the house. I grabbed the purses, diaper bags, Sippy cups, blankets, and shoes. Taking four young children out for an occasion was like preparing for a camping adventure.
As I shooed the family into the house, four cell phones blared at once. I grabbed my phone. Tornado watch meant to prepare for tornadoes and an emergency coming from the southwest. Lamar was twenty minutes away from Golden City. I inspected the radar map sprinkled with blotches of green and angry orange/red swirls. The hooks told me of an impending tornado on the ground. NOAA* sends a warning which gives people 24 minutes to seek shelter. We had a 50/50 chance of the tornado being an F3, the average for Missouri.
“Where are the tornado shelters?” I asked.
“Across the street. At the school,” Summer pointed.
“Let’s go. Grab the kids. Hurry, the weather looks intense.”
We ran out the front door. Black clouds roiled in the Southwest, lightning flashed. We made it to the schools’ double doors.
A sign read ‘push intercom.’ I pushed and then rattled the locked doors and heard no answer from inside the building. Tornado season sirens blasted my ears.
“Where is the person in charge?” I peered into the windows. A red farm truck drove up to the school.
“Why is it locked?” I grilled the driver.
“Head for home. They’re gone this weekend, and the only ones with keys,” he said.
Cold air from Canada and warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico spawn tornados. They range from summer dust devils to a massive 30-mile long and a mile wide killing machine. No state is safe, but Missouri tops the list for the most violent tornados. I was not ignoring this warning.
We dashed back across the street. The tornado sirens screamed. The beast was imminent. My phone flashed red: warning a tornado sighted. Only 15 minutes left to get my family to safety. Children wailed. Phones blared. We rushed into the house. The sturdy brick one-story ranch house had no basement only a narrow crawl space.
“Summer, put the babies in the bathtub. Megan, snatch Aiden’s mattress and bedding. Katy, grab their bicycle helmets from the toy box.” I said.
Then I ran to my bedroom and stripped my bed of heavy winter quilts. Only 10 minutes left when my little dog Tyler ran under the bed as I lunged for him.
“Okay, dog you’re on your own,” I thought.
I pulled my large office chair through the hall to the windowless bathroom. The kids and babies piled into the tub. Megan held Connor; Katy cradled Millie in a carrier; Summer squished Memphis and Aiden beneath her. The dual bathtub/shower stall and sturdy interior walls protected them. No room left for me. Besides, I was older than dirt, had lived a long life, and needed to save my children. Three generations sheltered in my home.
Our enormous black dog panted and slobbered. Rex’s tail beat on the sink vanity when he squeezed himself behind the toilet. I locked the bathroom door and braced it with the heavy-duty furniture. No time left. I resigned myself to the office chair pulling a quilt over my head.
A siren warned. I waited for hours, but my cell phone indicated 15 minutes passed. Trouble found us, a 50/50 chance of an F3. Winds moaned. Screen doors slammed. Glass shattered. Trees outside groaned. Things battered the siding. The siren died. When I examined my cell phone, the hook had gone west of us past Lockwood.
My family survived the tornado. Katy cradled Millie while Summer, Megan, and I emerged from our bathroom mama bears’ den. Toddlers trailed behind us. Strong winds tore off a strip of siding from the garage and shingles from the barn roof. Toys tossed. Neighbors rolled our trampoline home from its airborne flight over three fields. Lawn chairs scattered like fallen dominoes. Swings tipped on their side. The screen door hung by a single screw No cars dented. The trashcans ended up behind the barn.
Weather reports stated the tornado missed Golden City, Lamar, and Lockwood. Because it had gone on a crooked path through open fields, it rated an F0, with no significant damage to buildings.
Tornadoes are similar to a paper towel roll. A storm front revolves in a horizontal direction, the colder upper air forces itself over lower warm moist air. When one end tips vertical to the ground the cloud becomes dangerous. Rotation builds up speed, spinning the monster faster.
When I was a girl in Wisconsin, my terrified mother watched out the southwest kitchen window for a tornado. The radio kept a constant chatter. Two brothers, sister, and I lodged on the stairs waiting to duck into the basement. Later my father drove us around town, and I gawped at the sight of a large yacht sitting atop a gas station. The memory has never left me.
Damage from an average tornado in Missouri is F3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. F0: ripped gutters, siding, shingles, open fields. F1:broken tree branches, power poles, flying debris. F2:mobile homes flipped. F3: trains tossed, roofs destroyed. F4:houses leveled, cars air borne. F5: schools, houses, churches, malls, leveled, Hospitals blasted in Joplin on graduation day May 22, 5:41 pm.
If you find yourself at Cookies when tornado-warning sirens sound, go straight to the church across from Dollar General, or the one by the fire station. Proven reliable in an emergency backup people will have keys to the shelters.
*National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration see www.NOAA.gov