I kind of looked at him, because what it said was TORNADOES SLAM UPSTATE.*
Note this part in particular:
Trained weather spotters reported the first tornado on the ground in Clemson at 2:54 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. The tornado "came across the stadium and the intramural field and took out a couple of light poles and then blew over trees in front of the ESSO Club moving into town," said Marvin Carmichael, Clemson’s director of Financial Aid. Tornado sirens at Clemson University were activated and the CU Safe Alert text-messaging system warned people to seek shelter, said Clemson spokeswoman Robin Denny.I would not want to disagree with Robin Denny, who makes it all sound so smooth, but I need to add a couple of amendments.
You see, this CU Safe Alert system has had some issues. For a while, they had it set so that the sirens went every time there was lightning "in the area." Last spring break, when I was at the beach, I got a series of 10 text messages telling me to seek shelter from Clemson lightning.
And let me describe the siren: it is a regulation siren that goes for a while, leaving you to wonder what the disaster is. (This is a siren that was put in place after the VA Tech shootings.) Then a scary recorded voice identifies the disaster and uniformly advises everyone to "seek shelter immediately." That voice, however, is not at the same volume as the siren, which means that in (say) a classroom, you can hear the siren, but not the explanation.
I note this because, in fact, I was teaching at 2:54 p.m., when the storm and sirens came. We were (surprise) discussing a poem when the sirens went, and I realized to my dismay that I had no idea what to do. My first thought:
+ Is this yet another lightning warning, so we should do nothing?
Then when a student checked for a text message and learned of the tornado warning, I thought:
+ Does the university have a plan for serious weather that I did not know about?
+ Should we use the stairs to go downstairs (my classroom was on the fourth of four floors)--stairs that are outdoors and exposed to those same elements from which we were supposed to be seeking shelter?
+ Should we line up in the hallways with our heads between our knees, or should we seek shelter under our desks, like if there was nuclear fallout on the way?
+ Will something horrible befall my students if I make the wrong choice?
Looking around to see what other classes on the hall were doing and seeing that they were continuing, I decided to go ahead with class, but I could see the anxiety on my students' faces and frankly the discussion sucked.
Afterwards, I learned that most of my colleagues who were not in class at the time were huddled in the office of the person with the best view of the tornado as it ripped across the stadium and the intramural fields, checking out the view. At some point, it apparently occurred to them that perhaps the 8th floor of an 8-story building--and by a window--might not be the place to be, so everyone took the double-helix stairs down to the basement.
And after that, I learned about the damage on campus and in the neighborhoods around campus.
But me and my students, we were still talking about Yeats.
Back in my office, I saw the "all clear" signal, which had come through at about 3:10. So I went ahead and convened my 3:30 class. During that class my students were seriously spooked, since they (unlike my first class) knew that there had been a tornado, and were on the lookout for more. "That tree is horizontal," one of them said at one point, looking out the window. "There is debris flying in a circle." It was also raining and windy as all get out, and I figured the likelihood of another tornado was small, so we kept going.
But after that class, I went back to my office to find another "all clear" signal given at 4:10. There had been no additional siren, no additional text messages warning of danger. So were we not really all clear at 3:10? Had the system malfunctioned?
This morning in my inbox was a message received at 7:49 p.m. but date-stamped at 3:50 p.m., reading, "Tornado Warning: Seek shelter and tune to local media for information." That would explain the 4:10 "all clear"--but why had this message not come through at the time?
Frustrating. And a little scary. I suppose they are working the kinks out, but I hope someone is paying attention.
* You are going to have to trust me on that one, because the online headline does not match the print headline.