Today marks the end of Severe Weather Awareness Week, and I hope you have been severely aware of the weather. There's still time to go outside and really rip into the weather in a loud voice: I am conscious of your existence! Don't think you can slip a tornado past me, bub.
Of course, severe weather is no joke (serious voice, solemn face).
Some hints and tips to keep in mind:
•If you are driving and see a tornado, do not head into the hellish vortex while taking movies with your cellphone. Yes, you could be a YouTube hit. But "Awesome Footage of guy thrown through a grain elevator" is probably not the title you have in mind. Get out of the car and get into the ditch. If the car is already in the ditch, go to the other ditch. If no ditch is available, lay flat and lie still; tornados, like velociraptors, track prey by movement. If trapped in an open field, spin counter-clockwise, which is the opposite direction tornados use; it confuses them. Or is that clockwise? Well, try both, see what works.
•Have a home emergency kit ready. This should include: candles, wine, a CD player with mood music. Make a romantic night of it! Buy a portable electric lamp, make sure it has fresh batteries; wait two years, take half the batteries because your kid needs a flashlight for camp, and leave the other two batteries to bleed white acid. Did you ever taste that stuff as a kid? It's tangy. It's like the flavor version of the feeling you got when aluminum touched a tooth filling. Keep a first-aid kit handy, because everyone feels better if there's a box in the corner with a red cross on the side, like a doctor will jump out and hand out Vicodin. Really, it's just Band-Aids. But the gauze and tape can be used to muffle your screams when you see a tree limb through your new TV. Pull the limb out with a quick motion; apply pressure.
•Get an emergency weather radio. I have one that's powered by winding it up. I always expect it to play messages to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel." The twister's heading through your town / it's already trashed the bait shop / A Cat-5 twister's on your front lawn / Off goes your rooftop! I know what you're thinking: in this modern world, you can get alerts via the Internet. Well, Mr. Cyber-Future From the Year 2100 AD, there might not be an Internet. So preload your iPod with alerts covering every possible situation, and make sure it's charged.
•When you hear the sirens, wander outside and look at the sky. Holy Crow, that's ... some kind of purple-green, like a bruise on the third day. If the clouds appear to be unique in any way, shout "Hey, get my camera," because you're probably the first person to see such a thing. When the wind suddenly comes up and you see Target shopping carts flying overhead, go inside and turn on the TV. Stand there for a while; channel surf to see who has the best-looking graphics. Looks pretty sweet in HD, doesn't it? Look down at the crawl and ask yourself if you really know where those counties are, anyway. Sherburne? Where is that? Then go outside and take some video.
No, seriously, take shelter, but that's what most of us do, isn't it?
•Terms to remember: "Tornadic activity." Look, it's a tornado or it's not. Do we call hail a "spherical high-velocity projectile-delivery interlude?" No. "Straight-line winds." No one knows what this means, except it's bad. Basically, it's a downburst -- a column of air sinks, hits the ground, and, whammo, goes out in all directions. Other names for the phenomenon, according to Wikipedia: "Thundergusts," or "Hurricanes of the Prairie." Tell me which would make you head to the cellar: "We have tornadic activity with straight-line winds," or "We have tornados and thundergusts." I rest my case.
Obligatory disclaimer for the literal-minded: SEVERE WEATHER IS BAD AND NOT A LAUGHING MATTER. But admit it: Thunderstorms are thrilling. Blizzards send us inside; the snow is a shovelful of dirt on the coffin lid. When you stand outside and hear the ripe rolling peal of thunder and see the towering clouds approach, it's a sign the world has come alive again. Spring can be an angry, restless beast.
Take care, yes -- but there's a certain pleasure in hearing it growl again.