If I had to do it all over again, I might become a television meteorologist. When storms hit, I’m awake all night anyway. I might as well be doing something useful.
Thinking back, it could have happened, but reporting other types of news was of greater interest when those decisions were being made.
During the months after high school graduation, I volunteered with another friend in the communications department of New Mexico State University. Summer classes were underway but the number of enrolled students was not adequate to cover all the bases for the closed-circuit campus radio and television stations.
My friend and I were quickly ushered into the radio studio, where we reached the conclusion that the professors didn’t think we had the faces for television. In retrospect, it was probably because we were so inexperienced, and television would be too much to ask.
However, I was later told I didn’t have a voice for radio, either. At least, that’s what I decided after applying for a paying job, and hearing someone back in the manager’s office telling the receptionist, “Tell him we have enough no-talent DJs already.”
As a result, I directed my focus to print media, and here I am.
Perhaps the reason I was not as fascinated with weather broadcasting was that I had not yet lived in a part of the country where weather was as crucial to the lives of residents as it is in Texas. I understand that everywhere you, farmers need rain on a timely basis, parents need to know when to send their children to school with a heavy coat, and vacationers need to be prepared for what’s going to happen. It’s that way in Texas, but more so.
Weather conditions can go to extremes wherever people live. But in Texas, as in much of the Great Plains, things are much more intense, and even more variable. The weather forecast then becomes the most anticipated part of the late news.
Take Tuesday night for example. Around and just after sunset, the counties north of Brownwood were dealing with high winds and twisters. Three storm-chasers died near Spur in a two-vehicle collision while trying to determine what was happening so others could protect their lives and property. Hurricane-force straight-line winds and two tornadoes left severe damage in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Radar showed a solid line of thunderstorms stretching from Mexico to Kansas, and it was expected to blast through our area a little after midnight.
It was a wild, and costly, weather event.
Even though Brown County was fortunate to dodge the worst of it, I was awake for much of the night. The winds were already strong before it was time for lights-out at our household. Even our two cats sought shelter indoors. I fell asleep briefly, but the wind and rain were too much. I was awake around 12:15.
As is usually the case, I probably got more sleep than I realized. Still, the last time I looked at the clock was around 3:30. Since I hadn’t heard a tree fall on top of the house, I decided I could stand down.
“Tornado alley” is not specifically defined, so online sources show different boundaries. If Brownwood is not part of this “alley,” we are so close to its southern tip we can probably see it from the top of Bangs Hill.
An office discussion of past violent storms in our area, something prompted by questions from some newer residents, led to a trip down memory lane for many of us who have lived here for decades.
I remembered a tornado that destroyed airplanes at Brownwood Regional Airport, although it was still called “municipal” then. There was also the 1975 tornado in Coleman that resulted in two deaths and a handful of serious injuries. That’s just to name a few from long ago.
Then there was the evening when a funnel cloud dipped out of stormy clouds over the hospital area, not far from where we live, and my wife and I decided the prudent thing would be to pull our young daughter out of bed, and for us all to take shelter in the closet of the master bedroom. It’s near the center of our home, and has no windows. We took a few toys and a transistor radio into the closet with us, and we were grateful the funnel cloud never touched down.
The next day, our daughter asked if we were going to play in the closet again that night. That was a while back, because our daughter has a preschooler of her own now.
I should have known from the beginning such situations should be expected in Central Texas. The first time I visited Brownwood was to tour the college where I would graduate four years later. I stayed two nights in Ballinger with associates of church friends in New Mexico. I visited in late May, and my hosts anxiously watched television weather reports that night, because storm clouds where gathering. I drove to Brownwood the next morning, where I learned several lake homes had been damaged.
While driving back to Ballinger that afternoon, I saw rotating clouds near the horizon in my rear-view mirror as I left Santa Anna. I was taught in high school it’s best to observe speed limits, and I still do, but I found out that evening exactly how much gallop my new “pony car” had.
Violent storms can happen at any time of the year, but ‘tis the season. Let’s be careful out there.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.