There are may things you think about when moving to the other side of the world; but what you tend to forget, or better: ignore, is the bad sides of the weather. You cannot comprehend things you have not experienced so you tend to minimize or blow them totally out of proportion.
For me, living in north/central Texas, one of these things are tornado’s. I did not really think about it, since last year I did not have any tornado warning or even a watch; or not that I was aware of anyway. I did see the effects of a baseball-size hail storm, but you tend to simply ignore it. What you remember is the sunny weekends at the pool, the warm water of the Gulf and the occasional refreshing rain.
Last week however, we had the tornado siren going off in my county and this is the story of that evening.
The story begins early evening. I was going out for dinner with another Belgian couple that is visiting Dallas. (FYI you can find their blog in the new ‘other blogs‘ section of this page). I invited them for dinner at a BBQ place just south of of Dallas, they serve huge cow ribs on Wednesday which is kind of a cool tings to see for a Belgian. They were picking me up at my apartment. By the time they were here, the weather seemed a bit weird and I suggested we should go for the great Mexican place just a block away. We have seen what bad weather does with the roads around here, so it just seemed like a good move.
We went to ‘Janviers’ restaurant, had a good meal, good time. Suddenly an insane storm started outside. The rain poored down and cars were parking on the streets due to lack of sight. Lighting every 1.something seconds and thunder. People in the restaurant started looking outside and it was very silent for a couple of seconds. If the locals are silent because of the weather, you know something is wrong.
Because of the bad weather, we decided to have a desert too. Probably the best desert I had in Dallas; pancakes with ice cream and some kind of caramel syrup. Very nice.
Anyhow, once the rain was getting less bad (it still rained), we decided to go back to my place. There was no traffic whatsoever, and when I got out of the car I heard a siren going… While I watched my friends drive out of the gate, I couldn’t really tell what kind of siren this was… was it a firetruck called to help after a flooding due to the rain or going to a fire caused by lightning? No, this was a different type of siren… An ambulance, maybe? No, those are different… what could this be… And then it hit me. It’s a TORNADO SIREN!!! Oh FUCK! I was totally panicked, ran into my apartment (second floor) and tried to find something on the TV. And yes, there it confirmed what I thought: there is a tornado watch in my county. I send a text to my friends they really shouldn’t be driving, but should get inside immediately and turn on the weather channel. The tv said some people died south of Dallas (80 miles south) in a tornado earlier that day and I am supposed to take cover on the first floor. Oh, crap. Issue; I have an apartment on the second floor and really do not know anyone on the first floor yet. I have no clue what to expect, so I decide to go down and look for an apartment with lights on at the first floor and just knock at their door.
So I go down, it is weirdly quiet outside, almost no wind, little rain, nothing like just an hour ago, but the siren is still going whoooooooooooooooh whoooooooooooooooh whoooooooooooooooh. I knock on the first door with lights, but nobody answers. This is now starting to scare me a bit, why would nobody answer the door when they are cleary home? I knock again, a bit harder. Still nothing. Now I am really scared. I knock again. And some guy opens the door, hiding behind the door. He is totally naked, which only seems weird to me now, but back then I was just panicked. I tell this guy that the siren is going off, I just moved here and never had anything like this; what does this mean and what am I supposed to do? Guy tells me, “I should not worry’, the thing is down south (where we originally planned to eat out) and should just go back to my apartment and stay in doors away from windows. The fact I live on the second floor is ‘not a big deal, nothing is going to happen’. He tells me ‘I wouldn’t be taking a shower if I was worried’ (which explains him not answering the door and being nacked when opening it). I’m still a bit panicked, and walk/run back to my apartment. While I run 10 foot between the buildings, I see people walking their dogs. … people are walking their dogs during a TORNADO siren??? Are they brave, naive or just plain nuts? The siren went on for another 20 min, then stopped. The weather channel now said the chance for a tornado was near zero, but a huge storm with potential base-ball size hail was going over my region. It indeed did. The hail was not that bad, but I saw the street turn into a small river, lighting thunder, nothing like Belgium has ever seen. I’m starting to get used to thunder storms here, we have them all the time, but this one was slightly different and more scary. Nothing happened, and by 12.30 AM everything was fine again and I went to bed and slept. No tornado actually emerged.
Back at work the next day, my colleagues were mocking me for being scared and made fun of the other Belgians for the same reason. Most of them grew up here in Dallas, or up north in Oklahoma where tornado’s are even more common. That same day an F-5 tornado hit the city of Moore in Oklahoma, destroying everything in its path. Suddenly, I seemed like everyone took tornado’s serious again. It seemed to be a wake-up call for everyone. Not just the colleagues, but everyone around here. Many people living here in the Dallas region have friends and family living up north in Oklahoma. Many of them knew people who’s houses were destroyed, or lived very close to the destruction path (like 1-2 miles) and everyone suddenly seemed to have a story about family, friends or themselves experiencing a tornado, hurricane or other potential deadly weather events.
We’ve had another tornado watch this week again. Expecting very bad weather and everyone seemed to take it very seriously. It ended up to be a lot of rain and some local thunder and lightning. A little hail too. But no tornado’s have been spotted. It is weird, it is scary. It is something you wonder why people choose to live in a region where things like this emerge. But once you sit by the pool after work, or in the weekend, and it feels like being on holiday, you wonder why people don’t all want to live here. I guess in the end it is give and take. There is also no point in focusing on tornado’s. More people die in car accidents or gun shootings around here than people dying from weather events. And floods probably kill more people than tornado’s do too. Next to that there are the snakes, Nile-virus mosquito’s and the poisonous spiders. It is better just not to think about it and enjoy the good parts of the weather, which is exactly what I will do.