Joplin tragedy prompts increased safety precautions

Kaitlyn Marsh

The barren lands of Joplin after the deadly tornado struck. Photo by Kaitlyn Marsh.
When the air suddenly turns chilly, the wind picks up and the clouds start dancing in circles, Mother Nature is hinting that it could be time to duck and cover. The severity and danger of rotating winds is overlooked sometimes. The damage caused is mind-boggling. Who could fathom the force of these winds, which tear structures from their foundations and fling semis hundreds of yards?

There isn’t much warning either. I’ve witnessed suspicious clouds develop into a vortex of insanity within minutes.
Before a tornado, you can usually notice the winds pick up and trees strain as the gusts push them parallel with their roots; the clouds sometimes reflect a greenish hue. A funnel cloud, where the clouds spin and wispy fingers extend toward the ground, is often present.
But different tornadoes embrace different habits, sometimes even striking out of blue skies. A few years ago when I lived in Neosho, my family was eating dinner on the screened-in porch, watching the sunset and paying no mind to the clouds in the distance.
Out of nowhere blasts of wind pushed in from the west side, pelting us with rain and flinging our plates off the table in a chaotic mess while Mom shouted “Save the pork steaks!” as we all grabbed plates of food and scrambled into the house.

Even though sometimes sudden, possible tornadoes are commonly easy to see coming. In unusually warm weather, like the kind we are experiencing, tornadoes multiply from a simple cold front from the north. Being 20 degrees above the average temperature in March, if winds from Canada decide to share their cool with us, our tropical temperatures will not leave without a fight.
Of course, as often as these traits of budding tornadoes occur in southern Missouri, battening down the hatches wasn’t a term taken seriously enough as it should have been before the Joplin tragedy. Most people wait out a tornado or even sit near windows to watch – not a good idea.
My sister and I were lucky that my parents are light sleepers. With the tornadoes usually occurring at night, Briana and I would be sound asleep when our parents raced into our rooms and assembly lined us down the basement steps along with our pets.

Although our family took tornadoes seriously, most didn’t, and thanks to the Joplin tornado, many people are more informed about tornado safety. Just seeing those reports and pictures or visiting the destruction, residents all over the country suddenly took interest in buying storm shelters and taking shelter in basements or bathrooms when storm sirens sound. Tornadoes can happen anywhere and at any time. Without warning cities are leveled and graves are dug.

At any sign of a tornado, don’t learn things the hard way or think it couldn’t happen to you because that is exactly what Joplin residents thought until this tragedy changed their lives. These natural disasters are not something to take lightly. Taking simple safety precautions can be a difference of life and death in this situation, and not taking twisters seriously can be a deadly mistake. This time of year is prime for nasty weather, and if and EF5 tornado ripped through Columbia at this moment, would you be prepared?

By Kaitlyn Marsh