Given The Choice, I'd Prefer A Hurricane

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Nature's fury has shown itself in killer tornadoes that have swept the Midwest and the South. Now comes hurricane season, which officially begins on Wednesday. Essayist Diane Roberts has seen both kinds of storm and knows which she'd rather deal with.


Nature's fury has also been in evident in the killer tornadoes that have swept the Midwest and the South. Now comes hurricane season, which officially begins on Wednesday. Essayist Diane Roberts has seen both kinds of storms and she'd rather deal with only one.

DIANE ROBERTS: I used to live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Every spring, the sirens would go off, and I'd cower in the downstairs hall of my old, old house, waiting for the roaring of the wind that signified the end of the world. I was lucky - the tornadoes always tore through somewhere else, some neighborhood across the river or a little to the south.

I saw one once from my back porch. It was at least mile away, coiling, thick and dark against an ash-colored sky. To me, it looked as malevolent as a pit viper.

In 2006, I came home to Florida, home to stockpiling bottled water and windows crisscrossed with masking tape, home to hurricanes. I look at the pictures of Tuscaloosa in the moments and hours after a tornado whipped through on April 27th. It is hardly recognizable. Many of my familiar places are gone. And the trees. Tuscaloosa is called the Druid City because of the old oaks that line the streets and shade everybody's yard. Now too many of them are just leaf-bare splinters.

Give me a hurricane any day. They can be deadly, of course, but compared to tornadoes, hurricanes play by gentlemanly rules. They proceed at a stately pace. You have time to pack the insurance papers and put the photo albums in the car, grab the cat and the kids and drive inland. Tornadoes are not so sporting.

They're born in the cloud world, angry stepchildren of the thunderstorm. Tornadoes are anarchic - you don't know where they're going. You can't outrun them. We have tornadoes in Florida sometimes, but it's hurricanes we're supposed to fear. For thousands of years, they have cut islands in half, made and remade beaches, pushed water up hills and turned forests into lakes.

Yet the advent of hurricane season is a battle against willful amnesia. Too many Floridians don't remember Andrew or Ivan, much less Donna, the 1960 'cane that decimated the citrus crop, or the nameless monster that hit Okeechobee in 1928, killing 2,000 people. Maybe it's because half the state just moved here -to paradise.

Who needs bottled water and evacuation route maps in paradise? We insist life is a beach, even as images of Joplin and Tuscaloosa flit like ghosts across our screens.

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