It always gets your attention when someone calls and blurts, “Are you watching the news?” I got that call Wednesday afternoon about 5 o’clock, and I turned on the television to watch a giant tornado plow through Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Live. It was a sight I won’t forget. It was that familiar sensation all over, the fascinating horror I felt watching aerial footage of the tsunami roll through those Japanese fishing villages a little over a month ago, but this was happening in real time, as television viewers watched. All those storm chasers, all the phone-video correspondents, all the movie-makers, all the weathermen, all those in the not inconsiderable tornado-catching field were punked by a virtually inanimate “tower cam.” For many minutes, the camera tracked a huge funnel cloud, unobscured by rain, as it moved in what seemed like slow motion across the southern length of the city. It is unfortunate the word “awesome” has become so debased.
Of course, it wasn’t just Tuscaloosa. Several smaller towns in Mississippi and Alabama had been destroyed by tornadoes earlier that afternoon and citizens killed, and death and destruction would continue into the night, but the power of the abundant imagery from Tuscaloosa made it the epicenter of the storms in the public consciousness, which inarguably it was. Remember, though, the damage, was far and wide.
I suppose I’m trying to share my “experience” of the storm with you, which mercifully involved watching it on televison. I’m groping for something to say, something between all that’s been said already, and “Wow!”