Thursday, February 11, 2010

Earthquake or Tornado: Pick Your Poison

As earthquakes go, it wasn’t much of a shaker – but the quake that hit northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin about 4 AM Wednesday morning was enough to rouse me, and cause the dog to come briefly to attention. My wife slept through it. It was first reported as a 4.3 quake, but after the scientists had a few cups of coffee and checked all the data, they decided it was actually a 3.8. It was centered in a rural area about 50 miles northwest of Chicago.

Having lived in southern California for many years, I’ve been through some far, far nastier quakes. I was at work in Madison a few years ago on that April morning when a small quake hit, but I didn’t feel that one. Lots of listeners did, and called in to report.

The local TV and radio stations made mention of the quake on their morning shows, and lots of viewers and listeners weighed in. About as many reported not feeling it, as did. The social media like Facebook and Twitter were alive with “did you feel it at your house” posts Wednesday morning.

I’ve learned that I sleep deepest in the early part of the night, and since I spent 20-odd years getting up to go to work at 2:30 AM, once it gets to be that hour of the morning I’m prone to waking up at the slightest disturbance. I felt the house shake gently, and knew immediately it was an earthquake. I heard our Collie, who was sleeping at the foot of the bed, rouse and dig her claws into the carpet. It was over in a few seconds, and I went right back to sleep.

A lot of folks who were posting on social media early in the morning thought it felt like a heavy-duty plow had gone by their house. One Facebook friend of mine who’s a video production goddess said at first she thought the guy with the big plow had dropped his blade on the pavement right in front of their garage, because the house shook. She got up to investigate and then figured it was a quake. Another friend said there was a ruckus in her house because her birds all flew off their perches when the quake hit.

Another media friend, who lives atop a ridgeline near Mount Horeb, posted that it felt like the “big plow” had just made a pass past the house. Another Facebook friend who teaches at WCATY (Wisconsin Center For Academically Talented Youth) said she slept through it, but one of her friends posted under her comment that it felt like a huge snow plow had dropped a giant blade on the pavement.

I was visiting a pal in Pacoima (CA) on a February morning in 1971 when the 6.5 Sylmar quake hit, just a few miles away. We’d partied pretty hearty the night before and I’d passed out on his couch. I was literally thrown off the couch at the stroke of 6 AM when the quake hit, and that baby packed a punch. 65 people lost their lives in that quake.

In October of ’87 I was living in Palmdale (CA) when the Whittier Narrows 5.8 quake shook the entire L-A metro area. I was in bed and the house started to shake pretty hard. Dishes fell off shelves in the kitchen and I was headed outside (you don’t want to be inside if the house falls apart) when the rockin’ and rollin’ ended. The motion stopped, and I turned on TV. The guys on KNBC-TV were pretty shaken, but trying to hold it together, when the first aftershock hit, and the two anchors literally went under their desk for cover.

Lots of ‘sconnies have asked me “which is more terrifying, an earthquake or a tornado?” – and my answer is tornado, by far. In an earthquake, the terror is over in seconds. In a mild one like yesterday’s, there’s no terror at all. But a tornado – no thanks. The terror and uncertainty can seemingly last for hours. And usually, the TV weather folks spend hours ginning up fear of tornados every time we get a heavy thunderstorm.

Gimme an earthquake any time. But then, I’ve been lucky…….I’ve lived to tell about them.

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