This happens every spring. I’m outdoors minding my own business, maybe feeling happy about all the blooming flowers. The promise of warmth and growth is everywhere. For a few glorious moments, nothing is wrong. Until I walk through my front door. I turn on the Weather Channel. Kapow! I see that face.
It’s Greg Forbes, severe storms guru, coiner of the dreaded TOR:CON Index, aficionado of the Doppler radar hook echo. This guy never shows up to remind folks about sunscreen or pollen counts. We all know way too well that whenever other meteorologists toss to ol’ Forbesy, something is brewing along the Interstate 35 corridor. And it’s not a dainty pot of tea.
All I can do this time of year is keep an eye on national weather to get the bigger picture, because both of my sons are attending college at different spots within this large, multi-state swath of Tornado Alley. I’m never sure if they’re paying attention, so I’m a self-appointed weather watcher. When I see projected cones of destruction aiming at my sons’ campuses, I go into full telecommunication dispatch mode.
To layer on more worry, one kid attends a university in a part of severe storm country where there are no basements. I don’t understand this. I have been told it has to do with soil, but come on. Dig a hole, pour some concrete, people. Curiously, there are scattered basements beneath the big old sturdy campus buildings. How did that happen? Imported dirt?
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Regardless, token basements don’t help when tornados tend to occur in the evening, and my child lives in an off-campus matchstick-framed apartment complex. The only subterranean world anywhere near this kid is an ant farm below some cracked asphalt by the sketchy neighborhood 7-Eleven. (This particular convenience store is a worry I reserve for blue-sky days.)
So on that recent evening I found Forbes frowning across my TV screen; it was Ground-Level-Boy who was under threat. Spotters confirmed a tornado. I had to make sure he knew meteorologists were drawing pixelated arrows of doom all over his ZIP code.
Quick thinking ensued. I opted to rapid-fire text the kid instead of call. I have learned 19-year-olds never answer ring tones, no matter what. For his generation, real-time voices are too old-timey and way more intrusive than straight line winds. So click, click, click, with lightning fingers I checked to make sure he knew about the serious warning. I wrapped it with a “Pay attention!!!”
Punctuating a text is so uncool, and there I was, using three exclamation points, the equivalent of cloaking words in layers of mom jeans and galoshes. But I had to. He was above ground, probably listening to Imagine Dragons on his earbuds and microwaving dinner in his balsa wood kitchen. Fortunately, he knew about the approaching storm, due to a university alert.
He replied, ever so casually and unpunctuated:
“Yeah, sirens went off at the apartment”
I shot back with a bunch more words and multiple question marks about his plan of action. He replied with more yeahs and yups. The more nonchalant he seemed, the more I pummeled him with golf-ball-sized punctuation. My husband began chiming in at that point. We encouraged our son to go to the lowest interior room armed with pillows/mattress/helmet/shoes/etc. We reminded him that next storm, he should stay on his basement-y campus should there be a future TOR:CON situation. Linger there during high-threat days, kid! Be a token-basement loiterer.
“Yup. Yup. Yup.”
Take heed, parents. This whole panic session serves as a reminder that all college kids, no matter where they live, need to pack solid emergency plans along with their beanbag chairs.
Luckily, for us, the storm fizzled before it reached anywhere near our son’s apartment and that sketchy neighborhood 7-Eleven. The vortex was sucked back into the clouds, as if God had a large Slurpee straw.
Oh, thank heaven.
Denise Snodell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at email@example.com. On Twitter: @DeniseSnodell