Outwitting a force of nature

Published 10:02 am Thursday, March 3, 2016

You can double-check me on this — but when Phil Harris recorded “That’s What I Like About The South,” he never once made mention of tornadoes.

That’s my way of introducing the fact that the tornado-chasing operation that inspired the 1996 movie “Twister” is getting a reboot. According to USA Today, 40 scientists from up to 20 organizations will fan out across the Southeast, for the first time focusing on the so-called Dixie Alley (a region with four times more annual tornado fatalities than the famed Texas/Oklahoma/Kansas “Tornado Alley”).

We in the South have gotten quite used to stockpiling batteries and water, enduring radio announcer lectures on the distinction between a “tornado watch” and a “tornado warning,” listening for a sound like a freight train and seeking appropriate shelter.

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Unfortunately, the move toward “the Internet of things” and “smart houses” will make for confusing times in the future. (“You think THIS is the sturdiest part of the house? Ha! You should’ve seen the joint the carpenter was smoking the day he installed these joists of mine!”)

We’ve already gotten away from our roots enough as it is. I remember Grandpa Tyree had a storm cellar that could be used for storing preserved foods or for keeping family members safe. Now homes are more likely to have a “man cave” — where NOTHING is safe. (“Cheetos in the game console? A little Bud should wash that out. Hey, you still haven’t pulled my finger…”)

I’ve had all the close shaves with twisters that I care to think about. During the “super outbreak” of April 3, 1974, a tornado ripped through my family’s front yard, throwing my mother’s rail fence into the street and twisting the tin roofs of outbuildings around utility poles. Yes, twisters could toss around garbage cans, cars — anything lighter than those &^%$# clunky platform shoes we thought we had to wear in ‘74.

To be fair, tornadoes have served as a sort of rudimentary GPS in small southern towns. (“You’ll want to take a left where the tornado tore up the Piggly Wiggly in ‘02, then a right where Mrs. Luna’s house burned down in ‘64 and a left where Stovalls’ Garage used to be and…”)

Of course any discussion of tornadoes will elicit comments about mobile homes and their propensity for being demolished. There’s probably a reason that trailer parks were not the main meeting place for the grassroots movement that resulted in major gains for the gay rights movement. (“We’re queer, we’re here and we’re not going awaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy…”)

Congress has allocated $5 million for the project. It seems to be money well spent, if you compare it to the $5 million report “The Effect Of The War of 1813 On The Musical Tastes of Transylvanian Dung Beetles — Oh, Wait — There Wasn’t A War of 1813, So I Guess We’d Better Settle For $4 Million.”

We are bravely trying to outwit a Force of Nature. I know of another couple of guys trying that. (“Marco and I challenge you to release your tax returns. Here are ours. And our Permanent School Records. And some tear-stained old ‘Dear John’ letters. And a picture of those irregularly shaped moles. And our DMV photos and…Aw, come on!”)

I hope everyone will cooperate with the vital research. But skeptics abound.

“Now if these fellers were figuring out a way to DEEP-FRY tornadoes…”


Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at tyreetyrades.com and visits to his Facebook fan page, “Tyree’s Tyrades.”