I was shopping at a west Wichita store Sunday afternoon when I brought my purchases to the counter for checkout. While waiting for a gift to be wrapped, I overheard employees talking as they looked out store windows at the sky.
“That one looks scary,” one of them said, nodding toward a cumulus cloud billowing east of Wichita.
Tornado season could start soon, another said, and as the employees talked I could tell at least a couple of them had read my Sunday story about that very topic. I held my tongue – at least until what I heard next.
“It’s a good thing we have the Keeper,” a female employee said.
I couldn’t help myself.
“I presume you mean the Keeper of the Plains, and the myth that it protects Wichita from tornadoes,” I said.
“Yes – Wichita has never been hit by a tornado because of it,” she said.
“Actually, that’s not true,” I said. “Wichita was hit in 1991, 1999, and….I want to say 1993. The Keeper of the Plains does not protect Wichita from tornadoes. That’s a myth.”
“She meant her house hasn’t been hit by a tornado,” another employee interjected.
That was a matter of good fortune, I told them, and they needed to take appropriate precautions and shelter if tornado warnings are issued.
I was thinking of the Labor Day weekend tornado that hit along Kellogg and other parts of Wichita when I said 1993. It turns out I was off by a year; it was 1992. But my point was valid: Wichita isn’t immune from tornadoes, even though it has the Keeper of the Plains watching over it.
I thought of people who died in Arkansas during the Super Tuesday outbreak a few years ago because relatives had told them their small valley was immune from tornadoes – so they didn’t seek appropriate shelter.
I wonder how many Wichitans may die in a future tornado because they cling to myths?
Even if it’s just one, that’s too many.