Monday, September 01, 2008

You know you're a Midwesterner when. . . .

You know, after long years in the Great White Nawth, you finally have become a Midwesterner when you're horrified by a TV station's lack of alarm at a tornado warning.

You've got to understand. I live in Omaha, Neb., on the northern end of "Tornado Alley." A large slice through the heart of my city was
leveled by an EF-4 monster in 1975.

Several smaller twisters have taken chunks out of Omaha neighborhoods this spring, and the whole place got knocked silly by a late-June thunderstorm that acted like a short-lived Category 2 hurricane.

NEBRASKANS -- Omahans -- don't mess with tornadoes, just like New Orleanians no longer mess around with hurricanes in Katrina's wake. And at Omaha television and radio stations, it's all hands on deck and wall cloud-to-wall cloud coverage every time the sirens go off.

Reporters are chasing the storm and calling in with blow by blow reports. Meteorologists are plotting storm paths and arrival times on their Doppler radar displays.

Viewers are E-mailing in digital pictures of snaking funnel clouds.

And storm-wary Omaha folk are heading for "safe shelter" in our basements.

WHERE I'M ORIGINALLY FROM, though, this concept unfortunately doesn't exist. If Baton Rouge's creaky old air-raid sirens sounded for a tornado warning, locals would think it was either the Russkies or the Luftwaffe about to blow them up good.

I think this might be why so many Southerners end up getting themselves killed when tornadoes fall upon them from a black, stormy sky.

That is because, in the opinion of we Midwestern twister veterans, lukewarm Southerners are quite insane.

This was my first thought, when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning as I was watching Hurricane Gustav coverage on WAFB in Baton Rouge. Frankly, Channel 9 didn't seem that excited that potential death was threatening to snake out of Gustav's outer bands.

The station didn't find it necessary to break away from news reports about Gustav's impending arrival. Or from commercials, for that matter.

When the Channel 9 weatherman did come on screen, he casually mentioned rotation in a storm over Livingston Parish and headed fast for the capital city. It might be a good idea to take shelter in an interior room or hallway.

I thought I might be watching
Al Sleet. "Heyyyyyyyyyyy! Que pasaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

NO. NOT QUE PASA. I am from Omaha.

We. Know. Tornadoes.

The proper response, Baton Rouge, is
"AAAIIIIEEEE!!! SEEK SAFE SHELTER NOW!!! Joe Schmoe in the field is right behind this supercell -- Joe, what are you seeing now?"

Three Omaha TV stations and several radio stations
were caught asleep at the switch at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning when a couple of twisters touched down in suburban Omaha. There was hell to pay. Particularly for the station caught airing a rerun of The Wild, Wild West.

And the one TV station with a meteorologist at the switch . . . the one station sounding the alarm before the storms touched down -- and before the storm sirens could go off -- now is The Station of Tornado Heroes.

Channel 9's "Heyyyyyy! Que pasaaaaaa!" act wouldn't fly in Omaha, by God, Nebraska. Omaha, by God, Nebraska, is not an Al Sleet kind of media market.

What hurricanes are to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, tornadoes are to Omaha and the Midwest. And while lots of Omahans might not know a storm surge from a storm cellar, they'd know what to do when one of them twisters dropped out of a feeder band.

Uh huh, yes we would.

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