Severe Weather: More Stories

Teacher’s Classroom Remodeled

During a 28-year teaching career, I had six different classrooms. However, when I think of “my classroom,” it is always the little room on the third floor of an old school in Sutherland, Iowa.

The room was too small, and the closet and storage spaces were inadequate, but the row of windows made it special. The windows were the large kind designed to let in plenty of light, and there were three on the east wall and four on the north.

Directly outside the north windows was a huge maple tree. In the spring, my students and I watched the birds and butterflies land and/or flit through the branches and squirrels scamper through the limbs. As fall approached, we watched the leaves turn to shades of red, gold and brown. Snow and frost would decorate the skeletal branches in winter, but even on dreary days, the sight was beautiful.

For most of the 16 years I occupied that room, those north windows allowed the outdoors to come into the room.

One day, however, I had to draw the shades on the north windows. The breezes that often made the branches tap or slide across the windowpanes changed from a welcome sound to a frightening sound. Because of gale force winds, I feared the glass could break and threaten my students. I had just closed the shades when the tornado siren ripped through the building.

We descended three flights of stairs to take shelter. As I looked around at all the students, I knew we were in the safest place possible, but I couldn’t help thinking that a three-story brick building was above us, and I wondered if any place was really safe.

When the danger passed, we returned to the classroom only to learn that while no one had been injured, some of the farms just outside of town had been damaged or destroyed.

At the next school board meeting, a decision was made that it was necessary to remove my beloved maple tree for safety reasons. A few years later, another decision brought about the removal of the large windows, which were replaced with smaller, more heat efficient models.

After the remodeling, my classroom was decidedly safer and warmer, but if my students or I wanted to gaze out the windows, all we could see was sky and clouds.

Betty – Hartley, Iowa

Snowstorm Made Her Rethink Christmas

A winter storm caused Christmas 2009 to be spent differently than usual.

Normally on Christmas Eve, our family drives some 60 miles to attend mass with the rest of the family, then gathers at my aunt’s house and enjoys the company of the countless relatives on my mother’s side. It’s always a night full of children on sugar highs, adults laughing, and the passing around of a larger-than-life stocking filled with chocolates and traditional beef jerky.

This particular Christmas was spent differently though. Far from family, we were snowed in. Instead of celebrating the holiday, we plowed our long driveway and made a small feast while watching the snowflakes pile up outside. It was cold and miserable.

It seemed St. Joseph, Missouri, had gotten the bad end of the stick that winter, undergoing both ice and snowstorms. We’d lost power several times and had rigged up a generator in the basement. We waited out the days, listening to the ice-covered trees exploding outside and reading by lamp light. That Christmas was a continuation of the horrible weather we’d already encountered, and I couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t really Christmas at all.

As the already cloudy sky darkened that evening, and I curled up on the couch next to my mom and watched a black-and-white movie, I realized it was OK. Christmas didn’t always have to be celebrated with big parties and loud voices. It could be a quiet day spent at home with a small group of people you love.

Jessica – St. Joseph, Missouri

Stays Safe Inside Home

One day when I was a child, I was at home with an older sister while my parents were away, and a bad storm came up. From inside our sturdy log house, built in 1837, we watched the tall trees in the yard become uprooted and blown down. Soon nothing remained standing on our property except the log cabin. I don’t remember being afraid, though. I always felted protected within the cabin’s log walls.

I still have the pleasure of living in that house, the house where I was born. Although it’s been modernized and added to, it’s still much the same as it was then.

Should we be out and about when a report for bad weather is announced, we try, if at all possible, to return home before it hits. Since the house has weathered many a storm and has always come through strong and mostly unscathed, we always feel safe, protected and secure within its strong walls.

I guess everyone feels safer at home, but for me, home has an extra special meaning.

Alma – Monrovia, Indiana

Plans For Severe Weather

Back in the early 1930s, my grandparents lived in a little country town in New York. They were immigrants who, along with their son (my father) and daughter, worked hard to make a living. Grandma was a fireball when it came to providing for protecting her family.

When my dad took a job in Niagara Falls, the family moved there. After my parents got married, Mom moved into my grandparents’ home as well. A year later, I came along.

As I grew up, Grandma and Mom cooked, canned and cured meats. They did whatever had to be done to make sure the family was nourished and nurtured. Grandpa was not well, but he helped in whatever way he could.

The family knew of the cold weather and snowstorms prevalent to the area, so that first summer in the big, old house, Grandma and Mom stocked the shelves in the cellar with canned peaches, pears and cherries, pickled zucchini, green tomatoes and more.

As the weather cooled, Grandma made sausages and stored them in crocks of lard. And she always thought of sweets, too. I remember her filling a bushel basket with pizzelle, my favorite cookie. She’d let me eat my fill, then she’d store the rest in tall tin cans and, with a wink, would say, “For a stormy day.”

Grandma and Mom made sure there were more than enough candles in the house should a power failure occur, and plenty of water was kept in the cellar in a cool place should we need it in an emergency.

Our comfy, but old, house had a coal furnace then, and there was a large coal bin in the corner of the cellar, which was always stacked. I loved that cellar. It was cozy and smelled so good. Mom kept books and toys in the cellar, too, to keep me (and my sisters once they came along) busy should we have to spend considerable time there.

I know we had many snowstorms in Niagara Falls back then, but I don’t recall being threatened by severe weather. Many years later, though, in 1977, we had one of the most severe snowstorms ever. My family and I stayed comfortably in our home for three days before it let up. Thanks to my mom and grandma, I, now the lady of the house, was prepared and knew exactly what to do to protect and provide for my family.

Elinor – Niagara Falls, New York

Preparation Is Key

In 1965, at the tender age of 7, I learned well how to prepare for severe weather.

The weather was especially wild the evening of May 6, with tornado outbreaks all over southern Minnesota. My older brother had darted outside to snatch a couple of softball-sized hailstones for the freezer when my dad spotted a tornado across the fields from our country home.

We all fled to the basement, huddled together in a corner and prayed. The wind was so strong, I thought it would blow the roof off. Thankfully we made it through the storm without any major damage.

On that story evening nearly 46 years ago, I learned that one had better be prepared for severe weather. Your life may depend on it.

Weather radars today are much improved, to where tornadoes can be pinpointed in a specific area, and the severe weather warning systems have improved as well. In addition, small weather radios have made a huge difference for many.

Today, if it appears severe storms are imminent, I put a couple of heavy quilts, a flashlight and a portable radio in the basement, just in case. We keep canned food and bottled water on hand, as well as other food that we keep in the pantry, which is located in the basement, so food is not a worry. If we have to go to the basement, we also bring our outside dog, Sam, inside to be with us. I’m sure it’s much safer for him in the basement than in his doghouse.

It may seem strange, but I find a strong spirituality when these wicked storms hit. I always keep blessed candles and other items nearby, as well as a prayer card. When we’re gathered in the basement waiting out the storm, we find solace in praying the Rosary together, not just for ourselves but for the safety of all.

I suppose this “nudge” to invoke the Lord’s protection on us comes from my having just made my First Holy Communion a few days before that terrible evening of May 6, 1965. I really learned what heartfelt prayer – and thankfulness – is about that day! I also learned to be prepared both physically and spiritually for severe weather. After all, God Himself controls the elements.

Helen – Belle Plaine, Minnesota