Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 21, 2006

Storm warning system

Just as the Keats tornado siren began blaring, 17-year-old Nadja came flying through the front door.

"Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh!" she exclaimed. "I'm freaking out!"

Track practice had been let out early because of various storm warnings in the area, and her friends had dropped her off on their way home. I could tell she was genuinely frightened.

This weather is new to Nadja, who has been with our family for nearly nine months.

"We have thunderstorms in Germany, but I've only been around small ones," she said.

In her e-mails to us before she came to live here, she asked how many times our home had been destroyed by tornadoes. It seems our Land of Oz has quite a reputation around the world. Art tried to reassure her by telling her that not only had we never had to rebuild our home, but he had never even seen a tornado, although one had struck a mile to the west of our home 13 years ago.

So now, along with adjusting to a new family, school, language and customs, Nadja has "tornado season" to add to her repertoire of experiences.

I called to her to come downstairs. Art's 96-year-old mother, Katie and I had already gone to the basement, prepared to take cover in the storage area under the steps if necessary. We were watching weather reports on the TV and we knew that some places had already been hit with 80-mile-an-hour winds and large hail.

While watching the weather reports earlier, the meteorologist said if we had relatives or friends in Salina, we should advise them of the potential for damaging winds and hail. I called my brother Dave, who was still at his office in downtown Salina.

"Well, it's hailing right now," he said. "Can you hear it on my roof?"

He didn't need to ask because I could hear what sounded like marbles beating on it. The number of hailstones increased and seemed to get larger because I could no longer hear Dave.

"I'm going to hang up now. You'd better take cover," I told him.

After I got off the phone, I gathered up items - a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, a chair for Art's Mom, pillows, a blanket, my cell phone. Our girls pretty well know the drill, too. They have backpacks full of their "treasures" stored under the steps in case a storm blows the rest of the house away.

Although Katie was only seven months old when the 1993 tornadoes came through Keats and Manhattan, Mariya, who was nearly 7, remembers it clearly. Those storms severely damaged neighbors' homes about a mile away. Although it only took a few shingles off our roof, it made a big enough impression that I don't take storm warnings lightly.

Now, the Doppler radar the meteorologists depend on is so precise that they can pinpoint almost to the intersection where the storm will hit next. After watching awhile longer, it appeared we would escape the worst of it this time. In the end, we had some rain, a bit of hail and wind, but the brunt of the damage was further north.

Nadja was relieved. But when she made her weekly call to her family in Germany, they told her they had been concerned when they heard the news about our recent storms in Kansas.

"Oh, don't worry about them," Nadja's brother-in-law Matthias reassured them. "They have their own storm warning system."

He remembered, from his spring 1998 stay with our family, that whenever a storm approached, our cat sought refuge under our bed.

Maybe we should have chosen another name for her. Instead of Cookie, we should have named her Doppler!

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