Tornadoes and Comics

The clouds started forming at five o'clock pm
The funnel clouds touched down
five miles north of Russellville
Sirens were blowing, clouds spat rain
As the thing came through,
I swear it sounded like a train
-- Drive-By Truckers, "Tornadoes"

A massive F3 tornado came through my hometown of Park Falls, Wisconsin in the summer of 1985. My family and I were spending the night at my grandparent's cabin 20 miles away riding out what we thought was a typical summer storm. Mostly all I remember was reading comics at the cabin and the usual fights I had with my uncle (he is only three years older than me). I kept my comics at the cabin, but after this tornado I got into reading them more. I put them in boxes and I would have to hide them in the basement with each passing summer storm.

In the morning my dad went to survey the damage of the storm. We used to have big, sheltering trees in the front yard and these were gone now. They had been toppled over by the winds. One had fallen on our house and done some minor damage. Our doghouse had blown away; it landed a half a mile away and was beyond repair.  I imagined that Snoopy had perhaps taken it for a spin, even though no dog would have survived that.

This tornado meant business. A whole block was leveled several blocks west of my house and for
years there were cosmetic scars on the remaining houses and land. I've only seen such damage since on nightly news reports. Many of the larger trees were gone and people were busy landscaping and replanting.

Although the 1985 tornado seems fresh in my memory, a little research has clarified the magnitude of the storm. 42 people were injured and 2 died. I remember the devastation, but don't recall these details. It was the worst tornado in the history of the city, which has been placed in the Moderate Risk category due to destruction that has occurred within 30 miles. F3 tornadoes are not the most intense, yet it is hard to imagine the fear that comes with any of these major storms. I was scared enough where I was, and can't imagine cowering in the basement while the tornado barreled through.

According to How Stuff Works, they have wind speeds of 158 to 206 miles and cause severe damage. Forests can be completely destroyed as trees are ripped from the ground. Walls and roofs can be torn off. Even trains can be derailed. Over F3, of course, tornadoes get worse; cars can be lifted and thrown and houses can be practically obliterated. These tornadoes have extreme wind speeds of between 207 and 318 miles per hour.

The potential magnitude of wind scared me as a boy -- now I practically revel in the rain and wish that we had more summer storms. Tornadoes are a different story and I still vacillate between saving my things or running straight to the basement, cowering between boxes and broken furniture, when the sirens go off. I feel like the adult me cares more about my life than my possessions, and I would be less likely to haul boxes into the basement during a storm.

When I watch destruction footage on the nightly news, I still often wonder what goes through the minds of most people when a tornado is bearing down. Usually we don't think that much about the forces of nature, but there are times when they come to bear with extreme and unexpected results.

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