Why We Should Name the Storm

No Telling
Oldest known photograph of a tornado – August 28, 1884. South Dakota.

Yes, it’s hurricane season. I’ve been watching reports lately about that feisty Jimena, the one who threatens to ugly-up the Baja peninsula. Odd are she’ll wrap herself up once inland and head right straight through Arkansas. They always do, and even though these hurricanes are watered down by the time they visit us, there’s usually plenty of rain and a few fiery storms to make things interesting. We’ll have an errant tornado or three.

The tornadoes we’re stomped with have no names, at least nothing as swanky as “Jimena.” It must be because hurricanes are measured by what devilry they may bring, while tornadoes are only measured afterwards. All storms have numbers – category 4, F-3, that sort of thing – but only hurricanes have names.

So why can’t we name our tornadoes? I think we need a frame of historical reference at the very least. Here’s an example:

“That twister back in ’93 was a demon. ‘Member it?”

“That one that took Mr. Hightower’s fence and made a necklace of it over to the water tower?”

“Naw, I’m talkin’ about the one in the fall, the one that sliced the Chevron station in half. Found that ‘Pay Inside’ sign – remember? -stuck in the front glass of daddy’s Ford. You was there.”

“Damn. I thought it was that one closer to Christmas when we found all them dead fish from the waterspout. Them filleted ones.”

“Naw, now, that was the Chevron twister. Picked up the whole stockpond and shook it like a hound.”

“Ohhh, yeah. You’re right. I was there.”

You see my point. Our disasters need naming just like anyone else’s. Probably even more so, because we can’t rally ’round a good storm story if everyone’s confused.

I realize the National Weather Service (NOAA) has a lot on its plate just now, what with all the hurricane naming and warnings and projected paths and such. I hate to give them more work than they can comfortably handle. They’re performing a vital service and I’m sure many of their employees are working long days.

So here’s my proposal, NOAA: You name the tornadoes whenever you feel it’s warranted, and I’ll do the gruntwork necessary to supply the names. Gratis. In fact, I’ll start out with a few right now. Feel free to use them as you see fit and let me know if you need any more. I found these in the local phone book and there are scads more where these came from.

Tornado Names: Female

Anaverle, Beulah, Cozetta, Dymple, Elva, Flodine, Georgia, Halogene, Iva, Jo Nell, Kitty, Lurleen, Mavis, Nevetta, Otha, Pearlene, Queenie, Rowleena, Sissy, Twanette, Una, Vernice, Wanda, and Zelma.

Tornado names: Male

Ace, Buford, Clyde, Dax, Elmore, Finis, Garrett, Harvenious, Israel, Junior, Kimbro, Lester, Millard, Noble, O’Dell, Percy, Rusty, Skeeter, Twig, Ulis, Vester, Windle, and Zeke.

I left a few letters out, mainly because I’m not partial to names beginning with Q, X or Y. Makes no difference. What’s important is that we give each tornado a distinct identity. Simply calling a twister an “F-2” is hardly personal, and believe me, nothing is more personal than finding your car twisted around the uprights at the local ballfield.

Besides, using local names gives the storm a regional flavor. Retelling the storm would be much easier, and dire warnings more effective.

“Get the kids in the cellar, honey! This’n makes Skeeter look like a soft breeze!”


By the numbers…


This particular funnel cloud ravaged parts of Conway County four days ago and killed two people. When the worst was over, Arkansas counted between 11 and 13 tornadoes on May 2nd that took a total of seven lives.

A lot of numbers. There is YouTube footage of several tornadoes taken by some storm chasers from out of state. I’m not including a link here because the running commentary on the video proves a startling disconnect between viewing storm-as-art and the reality of people – children – dying as a consequence of the storm. It’s in extremely poor taste.

I can’t stop thinking of Ed Buckner, KTHV meteorologist. After the storms moved east and all those numbers started rising, he looked like a man who’d been hit by one of the uprooted trees. Clearly, Ed hoped he could transmit safety and people died anyway. I imagine it’s a terrible thing to predict acts of God for a living, and even worse when the predictions are accurate, the warnings go out, and things still turn out badly. There are limits.

There aren’t any hard numbers for how many people were saved, and that’s a shame. There are near-miss stories everywhere, though, and some of them are too difficult for me to think about.

Let’s hope this is the end of the worst of it, at least for this year. I’m not sure our hearts can take any more just now.

Storm Chasing


I knew it would happen. I wrote tornado stories for four days and I conjured one. Maybe more. Dammit.

We’re used to tornado watches around here, so that’s not much of a scare. I generally don’t grab my purse until the sirens actually go off, and only because I have my daughter and grandson here. If I were alone, you can bet I’d be out on the porch right now watching for funnel clouds between lightning flashes. My daughter – normally a rock – tends to get a little anxious about my standing outside during tornado weather. She’s never quite shared my fascination.

Maybe in twent-um, thirty years when I reach retirement age, instead of volunteering at the hospital or making people crazy by driving 15 miles per hour down Donaghey Street, maybe I’ll become a storm chaser. Imagine! I could load up the Avalon with a thermos of iced tea, my makeup bag, and some binoculars. Off I’d go. I could take pictures of the twisters on my cell phone and send them off instantly to CNN, because I figure in thirty years I may actually know how to work a damn cell phone. The Perfect Grandson and all his friends would mention me in hushed, reverent tones imagining me to be the coolest Grammie alive.

“Let’s go over to Levi’s house and watch his Grammie chase tornadoes on CNN!”

You have to agree that beats the hell out of greeting pre-surgery patients in the hospital lobby. Wearing a smock, no less.

Enough daydreaming. Since it looks like I’m going to be up half the night waiting for watches and warnings to pass, I might as well get to work on the tornado stories. Besides, I left Chesaleen clinging frantically to the underside of a horsehair divan, and I suspect someone needs to come extricate her.

Weather Report


It’s sleeting outside this very minute. I’m serious.
Please understand that yesterday afternoon as I cruised into the typewriter shop, it was 75 wind-whipping degrees. It was January 29th and I had to turn on my AC both in the car and at my house. The wind galloped so frantically that power went out all over town and two people out in the county died from wind-related deaths. If the sky hadn’t been so clear we all would have listened for tornado sirens and stood on our front porches. I know that’s not proper Severe Weather Protocol, but that’s how we do it here in Arkansas. A tornado watch means nothing here because we’re always under one. We have to see that bad-boy touch the ground before we take cover.
That was yesterday. This morning it was an icy 26 degrees and now it’s sleeting. No one’s had a chance to run to Kroger for bread and milk, and that’s bad news. While we don’t generally panic during tornadoes, we go full-tilt when it snows or ices. All over town it’s Quick honey! Run to Wal-Mart before we’re snowed in. We get a little frantic because this is the land of 110 degree summers. There’s not a snowplow in the whole state and no one – NO ONE – knows how to drive on snow or ice.
Bread or no bread, I’m done for the night. As long as the plunkety-plunk I hear on the roof is sleet instead of hail, we’re golden. The Weather Channel says it’s supposed to be in the 60’s by the weekend. That figures.