Passing by my wife’s computer at breakfast I noticed it was already set for the live radar feed for Oklahoma from the National Weather Service. “Old habits die hard, I guess,” she said without a smile.
Before we moved to Maine, we lived in Tornado Alley, tornado spotting from a house on high ground in a sea of corn and soybeans dotted with high-risk communities. We knew that ours might be the first and only warning some people had, that even a few seconds could make a difference in the death toll. For two years, day or night, for hours at a time, my wife scanned the radar imagery while my son and I scanned the skies, desperately trying to predict the unpredictable. We were out to do the impossible – to beat the odds – because we had to.
She was good. She could predict high risk areas hours in advance of NWS severe weather warnings. After a while, she could give me 15 minutes warning for when and where to expect funnel clouds. She was seldom wrong.
She stayed on the computer all day, watching what to her must have seemed the inevitable play out in the suburbs of Oklahoma City. My sixteen year old son returned from Search and Rescue training not long after the Plaza Towers effort switched to recovery, went into his room and shut his door. My wife said nothing to me as she went to bed later than usual, having watched the live news stream well into the night. I have roused her from two nightmares already, and I know my son is still awake even though it’s 3:00 AM. There’s no use telling him to go to bed. There will be no sleep here, no rest. Not tonight.
We all remember Parkersburg. We were covering counties to the south.
The restless vigil we hold here will pull no survivors from the rubble, it cannot comfort the children who have forever lost a sense of safety most of us take for granted. It cannot rebuild homes and restore lives. It is, I guess, an apology and a penance: we were not on the high ground, at the right time, to make a difference.