Rerun of Twister TV

By Jeffery Robichaud

I was saddened just like most of you to see the footage from yesterday’s events in Moore, Oklahoma.  Several years ago I posted this article on EPA’s main Greenversations Blog.  Two years ago our Region experienced our own devastation to the south in Joplin, Missouri.  Tornadoes are serious stuff.  Make sure you and your family are prepared especially if you live east of the Rockies as they can hit most anywhere (great visualization from John Nelson of


EPA has a broad and powerful mission to protect human health and the environment. We often think of this in the context of human impacts on the environment, but sometimes it is the other way around.

In Kansas City, a threat to our well-being rears its head every spring. I could tell it arrived the other night when I flipped on the TV to watch LOST and the screen lit up with red and green splotches over a map. It was storm season again and meteorologists had pre-empted Must-see TV for Twister TV with the fervor of election-night coverage or the latest celebrity car chase.

photo of a home demolished by a twisterIt was our first warning of the season, and my wife and I scooped up the kids and raced down into the basement. The all clear came, but another siren sounded an hour or so later. We repeated the drill (this time with sleeping children) and trudged to bed after another all clear. Not until the morning did we learn that two twisters touched down next to our local drug store. Five years prior a tornado ripped through Kansas City just a mile south of our house (my wife ever the wiser of the pair dragged me inside reminding me that I was now a dad). Sadly this was reinforced two years ago when our good friends lost their home in Springfield, Missouri to a twister. They had a newborn, which, as my friend told me, was the only reason they got off the couch and ran to the closet that saved their life.

Last year (edit: 6 years ago now) was a rough one for natural disasters in our Region. Everyone remembers the devastation that occurred in Greensburg, Kansas. At EPA, we get called in to assist with public health and environmental problems in the aftermath of events like the tornado in Greensburg or the flooding that struck Coffeyville, Kansas. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of our neighbors, especially the occasional ones who ignored warnings.

Yes, newscasters tend towards exaggeration and embellishment to ensure rapt audiences, but don’t let that overwhelm the importance of heeding the underlying message. Next time you are faced with a flood, fire, hurricane, or tornado warning make sure you get yourself and family to a safe place instead of watching TV. And if anybody in Kansas City needs to know what happened on LOST let me know… I DVR’d the re-broadcast.


Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Horse of a Different Color

By Cynthia Cassel

Well, it’s getting close to that special season again; when our view of the world around us goes from sepia to brilliant color and little flowers sing a welcome to us when we step out the door.  Oh, wait, either I’m having those annoying delusions again or I’m confusing real life with a certain movie.

Either way, I’m pretty happy that when twister season begins we can see it happen in all its powerful glory.  You may think I’m crazy (having delusions was kind of a hint), but I love to watch storms and particularly ones that portend a tornado.   Our tornado drill earlier this week also brought this to mind, although it was a bit strange to look out the window at fields of snow as sirens blared. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.  When the sirens beckon, I reluctantly take my snarling cat and my purring husband down to our safe place in the basement.  Maybe I got that last sentence backward, but you get my drift.

But before I head downstairs, I love to sit on the back porch and watch the sky.  The towering cotton balls of cloud standing in bas relief against a deep grey sky signal the beginning.  As the sky darkens, I’m always transfixed by how many shades of purple-slate nature’s ceiling can take on.  The best of all is when everything turns that bilious yellow-green like a dragon about to heave his last meal.  It’s scary and wondrous all at the same time.

And I watch with utter fascination as a line across the sky sends tendrils of cloud downward toward the earth.  I watch the bottom line of those clouds carefully and patiently to see which of those tiny tendrils might descend and grow, heralding the beginning of another anxious season.  I always feel a thrill when before my very eyes I witness the birth and death of a tornado as a tendril forms, descends, then is sucked back into its mother-cloud.

What makes twister season so enthralling to me is the overwhelming power of it all.  The simple fact that a cool breeze becomes a strong wind then becomes a force of such great destruction that it flattens whole towns.  I’m always gob-smacked by that feeling of breathlessness when suddenly the wind stops dead; the air becoming thick and heavy.  The humbling effect of clouds that are so very beautiful to behold can become so alarmingly black that street lights come on in a display of confusion.  How a lovely sunny day turns into an angry hissing mess that makes adults run to hide like little children. 

We are forced to take cover, and yet, there is a longing deep in my heart to watch it all play out.  My husband thinks I should have chosen meteorology as my career path.  I have no desire to stand in a TV studio blathering on about the weather-I want to watch as it unfolds.  If I had to watch a screen I probably would watch the beautiful site Casey shared last year, where you can literally watch the wind from your computer.

Don’t even get me started about our booming Kansas summer thunderstorms.  I get up in the middle of the night to traipse out to the back porch and just sit in amazement at the show.  It helps that Mother Nature hasn’t included any obnoxious commercials with this fabulous production.

So, my friends come join me sometime while I watch and listen to one of the most amazing and terrifying events that our atmosphere has to offer.  I’ll put on a pot of coffee and you bring the cookies.  To really appreciate what’s happening you have to be willing to sit patiently for a while.  There’s plenty of room on my back porch and I’d welcome your observations in the “Merry Old Land of Oz”, home to over 3,700 tornados.

Cynthia Cassel is a SEE Grantee where, for 3-1/2 years, she has worked with the Wetland and Streams team in the Water branch.  Cynthia received her BS from Park University and lives in Overland Park where she regularly carries a bag of rocks so as to remain safely earthbound.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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