Part of growing up in Arkansas is dealing with the swings in the weather. Spring time brings the warmer weather highs followed by the cool fronts brought in by storms. While many of us welcome the warmer days, we know what comes with the collision of those two very different temperatures, tornadoes. They can be utterly devastating in every way and residents are often encouraged to be prepared.
For children, the concept of what a tornado is like can be confusing and is quite frankly terrifying. Truth be told, it is for adults alike! As a part of our homeschool studies, we decided to take the children to learn a little more about tornadoes at the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock. There you find a permanent home to the Tornado Alley Theater.
The Tornado Alley Theater is a seven-minute experience where you are given the chance to relive the tornado that devastated the Governor’s Mansion district area of downtown Little Rock in January 1999.
We walked into what looked like a recreated basement with two windows looking outside. It is lined with a wooden bench on one side. All my children piled on the bench, tightly clinched to each other, a little nervous before it even began. We assured them it was just a recreation, nothing was real at that moment, but it sure does feel that way.
The television plays footage of the events as they were broadcast that evening on THV in 1999. As you hear the stories told from the ones who were in that recreated home, you feel as if you were there. You hear the sounds of the storm and even feel the rumble as the tornado passes over. The lights go out and a lantern comes on, much as you would truly expect to happen.
Then the television plays clips of the footage shown of the devastation. It is heartbreaking. Those affected are interviewed and share the moment their life was forever changed.
The experience is startling and still scary, even though you know you are safely tucked in an exhibit but it is eye-opening in many ways. The tornadoes that devastated that region in Little Rock in 1999 had the tornado warning lifted just shortly before everything came crashing down.
There were casualties and massive amounts of destruction, but one thing that truly struck a chord, the fact that the devastation caused the neighbors to come together. In the video, one of those interviewed stated it caused them to get out and meet many of their neighbors they had never met previously. It wasn’t just about the rebuilding of a home after the tornado, it became the rebuilding of a community.
The truth is, my family has seen what tornadoes can do first hand. The little town we are from was hit by a tornado on February 5th, 2008. It is a night I will never forget because my first son was born shortly after the tornado ripped through our hometown. We watched on the television as the tornadoes popped up all over the state that evening. While we were safely in a hospital several hours from home, we were not able to reach our loved ones.
Building were flattened. Roofs were torn off. The hospital was damaged. The fire house was gone. It changed the shape of the town permanently. Power was out in parts of our county for weeks. In the weeks and months that followed, the community did indeed come together to support one another.
What did my children learn from the Tornado Alley Theater in the Museum of Discovery? While tornadoes can be utterly devastating, Arkansans don’t allow anything, even tornadoes to keep them down! Life is bigger and about more than just oneself, we are a community.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to visit the Tornado Alley Theater, I would highly encourage you to do so!