Tornado Sirens in the Dark

April 29, 2012

Here is another weather oriented tale.  This one is from Days Remembered by the way.


One of the things that make living in Texas interesting is the weather, especially the storms that arise to lash us in the spring.  With each passing storm front, you are  given a show full of nature’s fireworks and surprises.  Each performance is different; each has something new to show.  And one night, there was something fresh to see  or hear, I might say.

That early spring night was like many others.  It was humid and cloudy, and the storms were coming towards us.  A strong squall line was tracking in from the west where storms are usually born.  The Weather Service had posted numerous warnings and watches for severe thunderstorms and some tornadoes as well.  I went in and listened to the NOAA Weather Radio to hear the storm reports and new warnings, which inched their way to Tarrant County and Fort Worth.  As my dad once said, “Someone was going to catch some hell that night.” It appeared we were next.

You weren’t there when this was happening; you had a function at school.  I had spoken to you before it started and told you about what was coming from the west.   As the evening wore on, your program ended, and you called to tell me you were on your way home.  You were just in time for the storms to sweep across our part of the world.  And that they did.

Storms are not unusual in North Texas; but sometimes, some of the events that are around them are a bit different, and this was one such night.  Like a scene in some movie, it became calm and still outside.  There was no wind, and the clouds overhead streaked from the southwest at high speed.  In the distance to the west, one could hear the low, rolling growl of thunder sweeping across the rolling prairies and hills to the west.  Sometimes, a sheet of lighting would be seen illuminating the cloud deck above the quickly fleeing scud clouds below.  The calm was the most noticeable; you always heard that if it was calm before a storm, something bad was on its way. A tornado was near, the old timers would tell you.

That old tale was about to become true, it seemed, when I first heard the tornado sirens fire off far to the west.  Usually, you heard the siren in the neighborhood on the top of hill one half mile way, but not this time.  The sounds in the distance were being blown to the threshold of hearing by the wind coming from the west, which had picked up again.  The wind and the siren’s wale made you think that people miles away were in the path of destruction and doom.

The sounds grew louder as another belt of sirens nearer to the house, but still not the ones nearby, were set off by Fort Worth Emergency Preparedness.  The mental image in my mind was that the storm’s edge, or the violent swirl of a large tornado, was inching its way eastward towards us—the sirens being sounded as this angry weather woe approached.

I called you again to tell you this and to see where you were.  You were not far from the house; you could see the storm with its large bolts of lightning very clearly just to the west of I-35W. The rain was not far behind it.  You beat the storm to the house, and the final interesting event took place.  That is, the local siren finally went off.  You could no longer hear the ones in the distance, just the one up the street from the house wailing and accompanied by loud cracks of thunder.  It seemed that the meteorological monster was about to stomp its way to our very door.  The high tide of the storm’s wave was due to strike at any time.

Not much longer after that, you drove up to the house, and the rain started.  You were safely home; and in the end, the storm was not so bad.  Indeed, there was a lot of thunder, lightning, wind, and rain; but no tornadoes were actually seen near us.  The storm was not as severe at our home as it was west of there.  Thus, the sirens were sounded for not it seemed, their cries of warning heralded not the thing they were supposed to advise us about.  But that was okay. No one was hurt, and the show itself was ghostly, fearful, exciting, and  magnificent all at the same time.  The waves of tornado sirens going off and the wave of storms provided another night of free entertainment to those people willing to watch its performance and notice how unique weather can sometimes be even when set on a stage of what is familiar and expected.


My First And Only Storm Chase

April 27, 2012

Do you remember what you were doing on April 3, 2012?  The day of the tornado outbreak?  Here is what I did. 

April  3, 2012 will be remembered by many people here in DFW for the local tornado outbreak that took place rather unexpectedly.  After it happened the weathermen said an outflow boundary not detected by the many computer models provided the final factor needed to form twisters. Regardless of the amount of wind shear, CAPE, or the dew point the tornados that were spawned got the attention of just about  everyone, including me, since I am somewhat of a “weather nut”.  Yes a weather nut but not a spotter or a storm chaser.  But that changed a little that day since I went on a short, impromptu chase.

As I said I am a weather nut and I look at the National Weather Service (NWS) and other sites like every day.   I look at more than just the forecast and also examine the Forecast Discussion and satellite images plus more exotic things like the Storm Prediction Center’s Convective Outlooks and Mesoscale Discussions.  I won’t bore you with what all of these things are, we weather nuts know their content, but suffice to say there is a huge amount of publically available weather data on the internet.  More than you can read in fact. Looking at the data on April 3, one saw there was a slight risk of severe weather in the morning with separate, discrete storms followed by a linear squall line forecast.  By mid morning one could see the storms appearing to the west that would later form the line plus some individual cells too to the south and west of DFW.  So far reality was matching the forecast. But then that changed.

I recall seeing the first tornado warning on the NWS site.  Then there were more than one and I knew something was cooking above my head. The storms were tracking to the northeast and were south of me hence I was not  the direct line of fire.  Not much later the civil defense sirens went off for the first time – they would sound two or three more times in my neck of the woods.  Seeing the constant streams of warning on the screen and coming over my NOAA weather radio it was obvious we were seeing a local outbreak of severe and tornadic weather.  At that point I decided to do something I had never done: chase a storm.

Well not much of a chase but having listened to chasers, read their books, and watched their DVDs I knew how they approached a chase and followed their methodology in my little search for a storm.  I first assessed the movement of the storms replaying the NWS radar loop and saw that the discrete storms would miss me but the linear squall line would arrive in maybe 30 minutes.  I next planned my route.  I would go south on Park Vista into Haltom City and park on a hill where I had a clear view to the west and the south to see if conditions changed or a twister brewed  up near me.  If one did I had two escape routes: back north on Park Vista or west on Western Center depending on storm motion.  So I left the house and all the while I had my car radio on Keller’s rebroadcast of the local NOAA  All Hazards radio frequency to hear new warnings or statements.  So I parked my car perched on the hill on which resides the Watauga Presbyterian Church and gazed at the sky with my digital camera and binocculars in hand.  And what did I see?  Not much at all really.

There was a lot of high cloudiness and no sun breaking through and the only distinct feature I could see was part of the updraft column on the back of the storm that spawned the twister that went through Kennedale and Arlington that day. It was impressive and large but a twister I did not see.  I watched it for a bit and then realized my safe window of  time was about to close so I quickly returned home and pulled my car into the garage in case there was hail later on.

When I walked into the house I heard something I did not expect: there were TWO tornado emergency warnings going at the same time, one each for Tarrant and Dallas Counties.  Issuing even one of those was a rare event – picture the 1999 Moore OK F5 – so I imagined the worst and turned on the TV to see how the TV stations were covering the destruction I saw in my mind.  I turned on the TV and saw the now infamous shots of the truck trailers swirling around and watched the events unfold for the next couple of hours –  like a true weather nut would of course.  Then it was over, as was my first little chase.   And it didn’t even hail at my house much less get hit by a twister as many more unfortunate people did.  I saw just some heavy rain and thunder, plus some gusts of wind.  At least there were no deaths and the damage was not that bad when compared to other Tornado Emergency events.

As I said above I am not a chaser or a spotter but I got a little taste of what the chasers experience and feel that day.  A bit of prudent planning to guide where I went, plotting where I could escape to, ingesting a lot of weather warnings and information, feeling the thrill of being “out there” with the storm, and most realistically I must say, seeing nothing of great interest or importance from a meteorological point of view.    Just like what the real chasers will tell you about doing an actual chase.

So perhaps that qualifies me to be a chaser of sorts but I know that is an entire world unto itself and there is much left for me to learn if I ever want to really do a chase.  So I guess I better start re-reading all of the weather and chasing books I have and begin to prepare…….

A Baby Doll For Jane

April 22, 2012

A dad talking about a baby doll?  Well yes, a very important baby doll my daughter had.

To Jane…..

All little girls love baby dolls and you were no different.  From when you were a baby to your pre-teens you had an army of dolls, and later Barbie’s, that filled your closets.  And still do I might add seeing the box filled with Barbie’s in your room at my house.  These little likenesses of kids, babies, and moms came from many stores but one of them came from a store that was more than a cookie cutter Toys R Us or discount store.  Instead the source of it was a magical little doll store near our old house on Monterrey Drive in the Handley area.

On a stretch of Lancaster a few old buildings had been restored and were filled with small businesses.  One of them was Enchanted Dolls.  I do not know how we found out about it but I took you there to look a few times.  We would drive down Handley, swing onto Lancaster, go past the Red Rooster lumber yard your granddad Tom liked to shop at, and park in front of the store.  We would go inside and would be in a different world.  That world was one of fine custom made dolls and not the ones that were made by the millions overseas that flooded the look-alike stores.  These dolls were sometimes very expensive.  Being little the price was not your care, but the huge array of these sometimes lifelike dolls was.  You walked around the store in wide-eyed silence tugging at their clothes, stroking their hair, and holding them too.  The lady that ran the store was obviously enthralled by your interest, of course she wanted to sell some dolls, and helped you try to find the perfect baby doll.

You mom took you there too and on at least one Christmas you got a fine doll from there.  It was not cheap, nor was it the most expensive, and looked like a real baby girl in appearance.  You named “her” Alice and she became your favorite doll.   You dearly loved and adored Alice and played with her so much MeeMaw had to sow her back together at least once.

Like all of your dolls you treated Alice like a real child when it was in your little arms.  You would play like she was getting a bottle and tried to make her burp. Or sing her a lullaby.  These simple actions imitated life and time went on around these playful times as you got older.  And get older you did and finally stopped playing with your dolls having outgrown them for sports and boys.

Since Alice from Enchanted Dolls is not at my house I assume she is at your mom’s in a box or maybe standing in a corner staring at your now empty room.  Regardless of where she and your other dolls now lie they are an allegory of life in a way.  As I said above, you played like you fed and cared for Alice and her fellow doll-mates and that play taught you how to care for a real baby of your own.  Maybe that is why girls are more natural with babies than boys sometimes.  The boys play sports or army but not with dolls when they are little.  Of course what boys play with teaches them other things that are just as important and valuable too – things a man shows a boy to be a good man.  But the doll play, again, shows a little girl what to do with an infant when she is a mom.  Hence that little doll named Alice from Enchanted Dolls cast a magical spell on you, one that will make you a better mom simply by having cared for it like a child so innocently and lovingly now so long ago.

Easter Egg Hunts With The Calhouns

April 8, 2012

Many of you will be going on Easter eggs hunts today with little ones.  Here is one I did with my two kids and part of our extended family.

To Roger and Jane…

Most if not all little kids love the Easter Bunny tales and the attendant Easter Egg hunts. Baskets filled with candy and brightly colored eggs found on a field of grass always bring smiles and happiness to the little ones around.  And you were no different.  Easter was always something fun and exciting to you.

One thing that made that so was the big egg hunts we had with our relatives, the Calhoun’s, on the Turner side of the clan.  Some of them farmed and had spots on their land where the pasture was mowed and some trees were around.  At such pastoral places near Valley View and Gainesville we had many hunts when you two were young.  On Easter Sunday we would drive north up I-35 from Fort Worth and gather at one of those places with the ever growing Calhoun bunch.  My Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Billy Mac had four kids who also had kids so when assembled we had quite a crowd. And some of those kids had kids thus increasing the extended family’s size. So many second cousins (and now third) I have trouble keeping all of their names straight – MeeMaw can so when needed I have to ask her who’s who in Calhoun Land.

Getting back to the hunts, we gathered early in the morning at one of the pastures and made ready for the crowd.  Our cars and pickups would be scattered around some of the trees.  Each separate family had its brood with baskets in tow.  Some of the adults would lay out the treasures, eggs and candy galore, around plants, trees, or rocks.  We avoided using cactus for camouflage of course but it was there too.  When the goodies were concealed you kids would be turned loose.  Seeing the energy spent by all of you one can picture images of the “The Sooners” crossing into Oklahoma in search for the best land.  You youngsters were the same.  You sped into the area and quickly scoured it until nothing remained except the dirt and plants that were there e before. The baskets were full and the smiles were bigger still, all in about ten minutes at the most.

After that we sometimes had a picnic lunch under the trees.  Tables were set up and filled with traditional fare like fried chicken, potato salad, and tea.  A typically Texan feast was had by all.  That was the adult’s reward, besides seeing your smiles, for hiding the eggs and sweets.

This ritual went on for a few years and then we stopped having them or had other things to do.  Families grow and change over time which is why these things cease. The kids begat kids who begat their own kids. Thus each nuclear family becomes its own clan and the parade of generations marches down the long road of time.  That is a natural thing to see and is nothing to fear.  You will miss not being around your cousins, aunts, and uncles but when you grow up and have kids plus nephews and nieces to boot it’s your turn to set up and run the Easter egg hunts and show the younger ones how it is done.  By doing that you will find your own Easter Eggs to treasure hidden in some pasture on happy Easters yet to come.


Birthday Cakes I Should Not Have Baked

April 3, 2012

I may be a pretty good cook but one thing I can’t cook are cakes.  Here is one funny example of such a kitchen disaster.

To Roger…

As you know, I am a pretty good cook. I can whip up a good meal just about any time and cook just about any type of cuisine you could want.  But the one area of the culinary arts I am not so good at is deserts. A perfect example of this woeful shortcoming was when I tried to bake you one of MeeMaw’s “Billie Sue Chocolate Cakes”.

This cake, a childhood favorite of mine, and one you also liked, was an old fashioned recipe MeeMaw made me and others when I was a kid. That cake used cooked icing made with Hershey’s coco to produce a rich, dark milk chocolate desert that when done right was perhaps a “food of the gods”. But let me repeat myself, when done right is most important thing to remember. When not done right the result was a kitchen tragedy to behold.  And yes this is about a time when I did not do it the way it should have been.

You may now ask what my mistake was. It was a simple thing I did wrong caused by my tendency to not precisely measure things when I cook. I usually “wing” things like the amount of spices and the like. The outcome while usually good was not consistent every time. And the ingredient of the cake I did not exactly gauge was the one I should have measured exactly to be sure. That ingredient was the cocoa powder that went into the batter of the cake.

Instead of using what MeeMaw’s recipe called for I added an amount of cocoa that could have made a bunch of cakes not just one. I scooped out more and more cocoa into the bowl and I mixed it up. The batter was very dark indeed but I thought nothing of it at the time. What could be wrong with more cocoa? Next I poured the batter into my cake bans and in the oven they went. After a while they came out, cooled, and I iced up what looked like a normal Billie Sue cake. But appearances were not the problem; it was the God-awful taste.  I had used so much cocoa the flavor was beyond strong to say the least. Horrible is better word to use I must say. It was really bad and we all knew it with our very first bite.

Therefore that cake did not get consumed with glee like a Billie Sue cake should have been. I think it ended up in the trash since it was so outright wretched tasting to the tongue. And who knew what the reason was in the blink of an eye?

It was MeeMaw of course, the Queen of the Baking And Cooking. Having made many of these cakes over the years she asked how much cocoa had I used. I did not know for sure, so I just said “a lot”. The result was a brief lecture by her on always exactly measuring the ingredients of a desert.  If you don’t a disaster is what you will get.

Since that day I have taken her advice to heart, but I can’t say that I have applied it either since I have never baked another cake.  Instead I have left that birthday chore to others who follow the baker’s art.  Most thankfully for those eating the cakes I am sure you will agree.

The New Park

April 1, 2012

Most of us remember a favorite park we played in as kids.  Here is the one me and my kids loved the most.

To Roger and Jane…

At the old house on Monterrey one could climb over the back fence and walk into the park on Sandy Lane if you wanted to.  And while we did not get to the park that way I took you two kids there many times.  That park however began to show its age and sometimes less than law abiding citizens went there.  Thus, over time we went there less and less.

We stopped going there almost entirely when the city built a new park at the end of Morrison north of I-30.  It was new indeed and we started calling it “The New Park”, the Sandy Lane Park became “The Old Park” as a result.  The New Park has a name too, Cobble Stone Trail Park, but we never called it that.  Over the years “The New Park” name stuck to that pleasant piece of earth not so far from the old house.

The New Park was a fun place for you each time we were there.  Unlike older parks which had just swings and a slide, this one also had wooden structures kids could climb on, all nestled up against a small forest of post and blackjack oak trees that was part of the Cross Timbers that draped Fort Worth’s east side.

I would push you on the swings and you would climb over the wooden jungle gyms that were there.  Jane being more coordinated sometimes amazed me by seeing where she would climb when she was little.  Roger, you were more conventional but you enjoyed the stuff just as much.  And sometimes I would take your bicycles there and you would peddle up and down the long and curved sidewalk, going back and forth until you got tired. In fact many of your bike riding lessons took place there.

Besides the exercise we got, sometimes we took a picnic lunch and ate it on the picnic tables underneath the big trees by the sidewalk.   I took some cold beer with me too on a hot day in the summer – bought at Best Mart of course.

Since the park adjoined someone’s horse farm we petted the horses too.  We would go up to the fence and the horses wondered over.  You would reach up and pet their noses and we fed them carrots or sugar cubes.  At first you were afraid the horses would bite you but when you saw me do it and tried it yourselves those fears went away. The New Park was more than just a playground because of things like that – you learned something new.

That little park was full of things to do that built many memories of how you were when you were little.  But of course you both grew up, moved away, I moved too, and we did not go there anymore.  But that is not totally true either.  As I got older I sometimes stopped by there on the way home.  I would pull into the parking lot and would get out and walk around with the memories of us flooding back into the present time.  I could see you running around and having fun like you were little again.  Even though you were not with me you were there in a sense.  It was as if the echoes of your childhood – yes I’ve used that phrase before – were still around the swings and the jungle gym.  I was transported back in time and felt I was home again and not as old.

The New Park will remain with me always.  A place filled with many cherished recollections of your young and little years – memories of many good, fun, and exciting times spent together under its shady trees.  It is a place that is pleasant, comforting, and filled only with good.  All of the parks in our lives should forever be that way unlike the trying playgrounds we see so often in our lives.