A tornado in North Dallas, Texas, October 20, 2019. (Philip Ellis/Social media via Reuters)
A tornado tore through Dallas not too far from where I live last night. I slept through it.
A Home Depot got leveled, and there was a fair amount of damage to houses and other structures, but as of this writing there is no report of death or much in the way of serious injury. This is not to minimize the loss of a home or other property, of course, but only to call attention to one of those many blessings we overlook: the great blessing of all the things that might have happened but didn’t.
These events make me think of my mother, who had a charming habit of calling me to tell me about the weather. She’d sit at home a thousand miles away in Texas, watching the Weather Channel (a Winston in one hand and a Dr Pepper in the other), and see that snow was expected in Philadelphia. And then we’d have a telephone conversation that went, roughly:
“It’s going to snow in Philadelphia tomorrow. Did you know that?”
“Yes. I live in Philadelphia.”
“But I didn’t know if you were paying attention to the news. You don’t even have a television.”
“I’m the editor of the local newspaper. I have my sources. One of them is the weather report in the newspaper, which I read regularly as part of my duties as its editor.”
“You don’t have to be such a know-it-all.”
In 1970, a couple of tornados tore through my hometown, Lubbock, Texas, and obliterated about a quarter of the city, including much of the downtown business district. Thirty-one people died. In 1979, a truly bonkers event known as the Red River Valley Tornado Outbreak saw 59 separate tornados descend on the same day, mostly on and around Wichita Falls, Texas. Fifty-eight people died, most of them in Wichita Falls but others in Oklahoma and as far away as Indiana.
I’ve been around a lot of tornados (they call rednecks “tornado bait” for a reason), and the thing is that, unlike a blizzard or a hurricane, you don’t get a lot of warning with tornados. When Hurricane Sandy flooded my neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, I wasn’t there for it. We’d been warned days in advance — the phrase “super storm” was used — and like anybody else in possession of a credit card and a will to live, I was on the other side of the country, sitting by a pool in Palm Springs, when the lights went out.
But not everybody is that lucky, and some trouble cannot be foreseen or escaped. (Or bargained away, or dealt with by means of a credit card.) And so we call our loved ones to tell them what they already know, just in case. Just in case.