Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Natural Disasters

The air was still as we sat close together in the hallway of the school building. An eerie draft blew through the open doors as the sound of the sirens began to wail. The wind kicked up and with it came what sounded like a freight train. I strained my neck around the corner to see if I could see the monster that was barreling towards the school but was pulled gently back against the wall by my teacher. The wind howled louder and the train sound rang in all of our ears. Many of the kids were crying or clinging onto their teachers for solace.

The sound of shattering glass resounded over the wind and even I clasped my hands over my ears to block out the sound. The lights went out and the other kids' screams were drowned out by the train barreling over us. There was a green tint to the air around us as the monster train quickly passed over us. The sound soon subsided, the howling wind turned back to a light breeze, and everything grew lighter around us. Once again I attempted to go look out of the windows but was once again scolded by the teacher.
That story happened back when I was in second grade and a tornado passed through the town in Maryland where my elementary school was. Living through that experience is the reason I became so fascinated with natural disasters, such as tornadoes. We were lucky that the tornado didn't do as much damage as it could have. There are a lot of people who aren't so lucky, like what we just saw in OK on Monday. Natural disasters bring about death and destruction where ever they go but there is something about them that fascinates me.

After my experience in second grade I vowed to research and find out everything I could about tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, and the like. I checked out pretty much every weather book in the local library and spent my afternoons surrounded by them. The Magic School Bus at this time had all different weather and other disaster episodes and I officially became obsessed. I went through different phases of which I like more. First it was tornadoes and I wanted to be a tornado chaser when I grew up. Then it was simply thunderstorms so I wanted to be a meteorologist. Last it was earthquakes and volcanoes so I wanted to be a seismologist. Eventually though the volcano obsession lead to a Pompeii obsession which ultimately lead to me wanting to study archaeology and dead bodies (read my post "Dead and Buried" from last December to learn more about this transition).

Living in Maryland, we only experience the occasional tornado and the edges of some hurricanes. That is until almost two years ago when I experienced my first earthquake. It was back when I was working both at Radius and at the museum. I had gone home to grab a quick lunch after work and then head to the museum. I was sitting in my house (I still lived with my parents at the time) in the basement, against the wall that face the hill. There was this loud rumbling and then the house literally starting rocking back and forth. Immediately all that research I had done as a kid kicked in and I went to the sturdiest doorway in the house.

Experiencing the earthquake jolted my fascination for earthquakes and volcanoes back and I went into research mode again. My first project for my Grad Program I even designed a way to predict the future impact of existing active/dormant volcanoes by using Mount St. Helen's as a model. This fascination with natural disasters though is of course also sympathetic to the fact that many of these natural disasters decimate lives. They're called disasters for a reason. Still there is something about the power behind these monsters and the process that forms them that has always left me in awe.


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