If you haven’t heard the news, we here in Southern California are finally starting to see the effects of the massive, gargantuan El Nino the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes. And I think it’s going to be ugly.
Every time we deal with a natural disaster, everyone runs out and gives people tips for preparing and being ready and most people do one or two things but the reality is, there’s only so much time in the day and so many disasters one can prepare for without going full on survivalist. At some point you have to get on with your day and hope you’re not separated from your family when the Big One hits.
The more likely you are to suffer a disaster, the more likely you are to prepare for that particular situation. All Californians know what to do in an earthquake; it’s drilled into us starting with kindergarten (as were nuclear meltdown drills in the 80s when I lived by the San Onofre plant, but in retrospect I’m not sure what good hiding under a desk would have done, really.) The beach roads by my house are helpfully marked with convenient evacuation routes for tsunamis. And after last year, when my kids were whisked out of school while a massive wildfire bore down on my neighborhood, I also revised my wildfire plan.
I figured since I knew what to do for earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, floods, and nuclear core meltdowns, I had all my bases covered and could relax and enjoy the thunder a little without worrying too much, right?
But no one ever taught me what to do about a tornado.
Around noon yesterday, I got a call from my kids’ school that due to the thunder and lightning, they were not letting kids walk out to their parents like they usually do and each of us would have to individually pick up our kids in the car pickup line or park and go into the school. Fine, I thought, and showed up 45 minutes early to get a spot in line.
About 10 minutes after that, I get a panicked text from my daughter that one of her counselors received a tornado warning on her cell phone.
“Don’t worry,” I texted back. “She probably lives out in the boonies somewhere.”
“SHE LIVES HERE,” she texted back, followed by 10 crying emojis.
Then my phone buzzed. “Tornado warning until 3:45 in your area,” it said. “Seek cover immediately.”
Now by this point all the parents in the parking lot are grabbing their buzzing phones like a scene out of a Steven King movie, looking at each other with a quizzical “What the heck does this mean” look. What’s a warning? Does that mean it’s a little windy? Or does it mean an F-3 is bearing down on our little line of cars?
Meanwhile, my daughter- who has been studying geology in school and has a deep and abiding fear of all natural disasters including tsunamis, super volcanos, and the San Andreas fault, is calling me in tears because she got the text as well and now she’s convinced we are all going to die, and I am trying to reassure her everything is fine while a small part of me started thinking about tying myself to the flagpole with a slip lead.
Being the cautious type, I pulled out of the pickup line and parked the car so I could go inside the sturdy concrete environs of the school and join a teeming mass of alarmed parents, none of whom knew what a tornado warning actually meant. A smaller but hardier number remained stubbornly in the parking lot, because in the Southern California school jungle, The Wicked Witch of the East fate is an acceptable risk when it comes to giving up a prime spot in the pickup line.
My daughter requests that we not leave the school grounds until the tornado warning expires, which happens about half an hour later. Most people do not wait, rolling their eyes at the National Weather Services’ overabundance of caution and running off into the winds, umbrellas inside out. I learn later that most of the county schools were ordered to shelter in place, but not us. Fortunately for all involved no tornado actually materialized, because it probably would have eaten up the vast majority of minivans in the region, leaving no one standing but the school principal and us, while my daughter says, “Told you so.”
On the way home, my phone buzzed again. FLASH FLOOD WARNING, it said. STAY INSIDE. There at least was something I knew what to do with. Avoid creeks.
I came home to find poor Brody curled in our laundry room, the only windowless room in the house. My friends in the midwest reassure me that a tornado warning is a big deal and instead of playing Bejeweled in the car one is supposed to run to the center of the house- in my case, our laundry room- and pull a mattress over your head.
My point in all of this is, you can prepare all you want but there’s still always going to be something you just never thought you needed to be able to handle, and that’s probably what is going to get you. And when that happens-
If that happens-
Look to your dog for guidance. He’s the only one with any sense.