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Making Peace with Storms in Tornado Country


A weekend storm killed at least 10 people in the Midwest and shut down the University of Kansas. Commentator Laura Lorson lives near there and explains life in a tornado zone.

LAURA LORSON reporting:

I got out of bed Sunday morning at 7:45 to answer the phone. It was my mother- in-law. You're about to get a serious hailstorm, just thought you should know. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with this information, so I walked over to the picture window in our living window and took a look. It looked dark, but fine. I let the dog out. I let the dog in. And when I shut the door, I heard the sound of 10,000 marbles being dropped onto our roof.

Now, usually hail comes and goes pretty quickly, but we had hail for a solid 15 minutes. The ground looked like it was covered in snow, very round, very hard snow. My husband and I looked at each other. This looks bad, he said. I should go to work, I said. So we loaded the dog in the car and drove to Lawrence so that I could report the news and so he could check for damage at the record store that he owns.

Things looked fine until we got to the city limits of Lawrence. No power we could see anywhere. Giant pieces of metal stripped from roofs and strip malls and billboards and signs. We imagined them flying at us at 70 miles an hour. We speeded up. The weather service said that what hit the city was not a tornado, it was a severe microburst. Great, I thought, just what I need, one more meteorological thing to worry about.

Here in Kansas, the weather is a very real and tangible part of your life. The one story anyone knows about Kansas involves a little girl, a tornado and the wicked witch of the West. And I was thinking about this thing that we live with here in Kansas, this sword of Damocles. We live in Kansas, and in Kansas you get spectacular thunderstorms and tornadoes. And what's more, if a tornado does come to where you are, it passes through, it does what it does, it's usually a very concentrated area of damage, and then it's gone.

As far as I can tell, the odds are that you will never actually see one. My husband, a native Kansan, has never actually seen a tornado, except on television or in the movies. When I hear all the people of New Orleans saying that they lived with the threat of hurricanes and floods, and they're okay with that, I can understand what they're saying, even all the way up here in the middle of the continent.

There is no such thing as completely safe in this world. There are risks that you take anywhere you live. You take precautions, you buy insurance, you make up an emergency plan and you go about the business of living your life. Maybe you live in a place because you were born there and you don't know anything else. Or maybe financially you feel like you don't have the choice to move. Maybe you live there because of your job, or your family or just because you like it. The thing is, any place you live has its share of dangers, whether its tornadoes, or floods or earthquakes.

You don't have to live in fear, but you do have to live with respect.

NORRIS: Commentator Laura Lorson lives in Perry, Kansas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Lorson
Laura Lorson is a native of Louisville, Kentucky. It was there that she learned how to read, write, and make the occasional decent piece of fried chicken. A complicated set of family moves eventually led her to Kansas, which is how she ended up graduating from the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1989. She began working in radio in 1990 and worked for NPR in Washington throughout most of the 1990s as a director, producer, and editor for Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and the former NPR show Anthem.