I was born in Joplin, but I am not a local. Since my parents divorced and left when I was three, I’ve lived in Tulsa, the Hague, Immokalee (Florida), Albuquerque, New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Santa Fe, Asheville, Oakland, and China. My worldview is not like most Joplinites. I’ve long since renounced any belief in theism or supernatural determinism, and don’t believe that tornadoes or anything else for that matter are acts of God, unless you mean it metaphorically. I see twisters as the result of extreme meteorological forces that are due in part to intensifying human causes like industrialization—and Joplin and Tornado Alley are firmly in their path.
People who aren’t from this area have no reason to know of the almost supernatural beauty of the skies and the intricate cloud formations produced here by a collision of cool air from the north, warm moist air from the south, and dry air from the Rocky Mountains. As I approached the town in the morning, there was exquisite light play through several different types of clouds.
Empire Electric saw its load drop by over a third in seconds as transmission lines and substations vanished from the grid… Veterans said it really looked like a bomb went off; it was like a mower went through it, chewing everything up.
—From June 2011 Joplin-area news accounts
On roughly the two-year anniversary of the Joplin tornado, an even larger tornado, estimated to be a mile-and-a-half wide and to have stayed on the ground for an hour, hit and devastated large parts of Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City.