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Siren tests just part of spring ritual

By Dennis Minich

I can’t remember exactly what day of the week, maybe it’s Monday, maybe Tuesday, but whatever day of the week it is, once a month on that day at some time, maybe 11 a.m., maybe noon, maybe 1 p.m., I am not sure, the local emergency services organizations test the tornado sirens.

I don’t remember exactly when they are because, like most everyone else, I ignore them. I know when the sun is shining and there’s a gentle breeze whisking across my face, chances are there aren’t any tornadoes in the area. But I do wonder, what would they do it the weather was really bad and there was a chance of tornadoes, do they blow them as scheduled, or not blow them?

Actually, when I hear tornado sirens, I do what any good, midwestern born and raised guy does, I go to the front door and look out to see what it looks like. They say you are supposed to take cover, but I sometimes think that’s just a joke we pull on the East or West Coast people who happen to move to our little part of the world. I’ve seen some pretty tough-looking East Coasters turn pretty jelly kneed when the sirens started to blow.

I give a little chortle at those folks, but I am sure it would be much the same difference if I was in the path of a hurricane or was out and about when an earthquake hit. I am sure I would not handle it well if the ground started shaking around me. But tornadoes, we just accept as part of our life.

Here’s an absolutely true story (unlike many of my supposedly true stories), in the summer of 1986, I took a vacation to the East Coast. One of the stops on my trip was to Newport, Rhode Island, where we toured some of the spectacular summer homes of the rich and famous of the early 20th century. Heading into one of the mansions, the tour guide asked where everyone was from. Most of the answers were Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York. She complained there was never anyone from someplace else.

I informed her I was from Kansas City. Her immediate response was, “Why would anyone live there, aren’t you afraid of tornadoes?” I first informed her that not every day is the Midwest is like the storm scene in “The Wizard of Oz,” but then told her, “I am just as afraid of tornadoes in Rhode Island as I am at home. If one’s going to hit, it’s going to hit.”

Since the weather was lousy, we took the rest of the sightseeing day off and went home and napped. When I woke up in time for the evening news, there was an on-the-scene reporter showing some damage in Providence, Rhode Island, caused by the first tornado to hit the city in 190 years. I really wanted to go back to Newport and look the tour guide up.

Growing up, tornado drills were part of life. We also had fire drills and civil defense drills, which were preparing us for incoming nukes. Looking back on it, I really doubt sitting under our school desks was going to be much help if Russia had decided to drop the big one.

I’ve seen three tornadoes in real life, one when I was in grade school, another when I was in college and the third a few years ago when driving between Butler and Adrian. At that one, it was more interesting watching the people take pictures of the tornado than the tornado itself.

I will admit that while I act nonchalant about the whole tornado thing, I am in reality, scared to death of the darn things. In addition to having seen some storms, I helped relatives clean up after a tornado in Topeka, Kansas, in 1966. Seeing what the winds could do should make a believer out of anyone. That’s why I am glad we have things like weather radios and tornado sirens. I am glad there are folks making preparations for what happens in those what if situations.

I would say taking cover when a tornado is about to hit is just plain common sense, like wearing a mask when threatened by a global pandemic, but maybe I am wrong. As a final note, I have not been back to Rhode Island since 1986 and I don’t think they have had a tornado since. Coincidence?

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