Nothing to fear but the weather itself

Stunning cloud formations in Saskatchewan.
Stunning cloud formations in Saskatchewan.

My fear of tornadoes goes back to Grade 6.

It was the mid-’80s and we were living in The Beaches in Toronto. Our house was quite close to the water, on a street with the most wonderful name: Kippendavie Avenue. My school was less than a block away.

During class one spring afternoon, the secretary (could have been the principal, might have been the vice-principal, but someone in authority in any case) came on the loudspeaker to tell us there was a tornado warning for the area. She then went on – since she had the damn mike anyway – to explain to us exactly what a tornado was and the sort of damage it could do.

She then told us to go home.

I can still remember that horrible, shaking, cold-sweat fear. It was less than a block, sure, but there were tornadoes out there! I could die!

My sister worked in the school daycare, so I ran to her. She let me stay for a while, but she was working and wasn’t the type to get all panicked about, well, about anything. Cool Sue. She gave me a hug, but she sent me home, too. It was less than a block and our mom was always home. She was just always there; we could count on that.

Oh, stop getting ahead of me, you know where this is going. Of course she wasn’t home.

I don’t know how long I spent in the basement. I’m pretty sure I aged 10 years. My dad saw a water spout over Lake Ontario that day from his Toronto Star office and said he thought it was neat. I have been terrified – terrified – of tornadoes ever since.

And that is why I am fascinated with John Monteverdi’s Storm Chasing blog. I’ve been following his chase trips for years now. I guess the key to managing my fear is to try to understand the storm, and Monteverdi’s pretty damn good helping me do that. This year’s chase started May 16 and runs to June 1.

And if you’re so inclined, you can read my Montreal Gazette article, The Bluffer’s Guide: Everything You Need to Know for a Dinner Conversation About Storm Chasing.


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