Last night, as I was flipping between American Idol, Soft Drinks Unwrapped, and The E! True Hollywood Story of Uma Thurman, my TV watching was interrupted. The screen of every channel went gray, showing, in place of my trashy programs, an upsetting message. It said: Tornado Warning in effect for Cook/Lake/DuPage counties. Continues until 8:32 pm. A robotic voice spoke over the words, announcing the same information. Then, after the message had been delivered, my programs returned. I was shocked. I was appalled. Tornado? Where? When? Where is it going? Where is its thunderstorm going? Should I go hide in my basement? But there were no answers forthcoming. So, this is an open letter to Chicago: You call that shit a storm warning?
I grew up in Indiana. Every spring, as the weather warmed and green buds began to appear on the trees, I greeted it with a mix of delight and apprehension. Delight because, you know, spring is cool. Apprehension because spring in Indiana means you'll be spending a speck of time hiding in your basement. From March until July, you could be pretty certain that there'd be a strong storm once every two weeks or so. In addition to that certainty, you could also rely upon the fact that during at least one of those storms your TV would implore you to retreat to an interior room of your home, preferably underground (if not, a bathroom will do), making sure that you open up all the windows in your house on the way. Take a flashlight and fresh water and pillows and blankets with you, just in case. There you wait with a radio, or small tv, or some person brave enough to run out and get storm updates from the big tv, until the storm has passed. Which can take a while if it's a big one. Then, finally, you come out and see what the wind has done to your mom's flowers, and go on a quest with your brother to find the trash cans.
Point is, I'm familiar with the tornado warnings. They freak the crap out of me, but I know the routine. That's why the Chicago way of announcing the storm made me wonder. Back in Indiana, updates are given regularly. Like, there would have been an icon in the corner of my TV screen from 4pm on, letting me know that there was a Severe Thunderstorm Watch. This means that thunderstorms are rolling across Iowa and Illinois and when they get to us, they’re probably gonna be some kind of tough. Fine. But there aren't any actual storms yet, so we don't worry. We go outside and play.
Then, a bit later, if the storms that show up are actually severe, they would throw up the Severe Thunderstorm Warning icon. Now, this means that there is a severe storm, so you have to stop playing and come inside. Also, you can be sure you're gonna have to go looking for your trash cans and lawn furniture in the morning. So, maybe some trees get knocked down and you have hail marks on your car: not too bad.
However, sometimes the Severe Thunderstorm really thinks it’s the shit. Then, those ever-vigilant meteorologists throw a Tornado Watch on top the Severe Thunderstorm Warning. That’s double tough. This means, as you can probably guess, that there's a good chance of a tornado occurring. Now you take notice of whatever building you're in, figuring where you're gonna hide if the shit goes down.
Say the shit goes down, and someone notices a Tornado somewhere. Then they throw up the Tornado Warning. This means that someone has spotted a funnel cloud. And you need to get your ass to the basement. At this point, the weather man has taken over your TV completely. . He’s telling where they're reporting hail, where they're getting lightning strikes and, most important, telling you where the tornados are and where they its going to be next. Then they cut away to the lesser weather man, who's being forced to stand outside in the storm and report on it while it's in the process of kicking his ass. And then they tell you to no, seriously, you really should hide right now. Especially if you hear something that sounds like a freight train. And then you freak out.
And so it goes--gradual icon upgrades, until the weather man takes over your TV completely and tells you to hide for your life.
So you can imagine my surprise at the way Chicago handled the situation. No updates all day long. No icons on the screen. Just a single report that there may be a tornado somewhere, and then back to your programs. I guess they just don't get as many bad storms here or something. Or maybe they figure that the skyscrapers and the lake keep them all away all of the time. And I suspect that's the case, but come on. Where's the pageantry? Where's the guy in a rain slicker broadcasting from under an overpass while wind whips his hair around? Where's the sure and steady weather man, in the studio, promising to broadcast all night long if that's what it takes, not even flinching when the lights in the studio flicker and almost go out? I'm just saying. It could have been better. Indiana-style.