Tag Archives: natural disaster

Opening Windows in a Tornado

“Whenever there’s a tornado, you’re supposed to open up all of the windows in your house… which scientifically does not make sense, but you’re supposed to do it… you’re supposed to do it to balance out the anger of – the supposed anger of the storm… it’s thought that if you’re inviting it in, it will be less hostile to you…”

Background: The informant was raised in the lower midwestern region of the United States, specifically Kansas, and now goes to college in California.  He learned of this custom from his elementary school librarian.

Context: I was told about this tradition in USC’s Annenberg Hall during a quick interview.

It was interesting to sit down and hear about unique experiences of natural phenomena, especially as someone raised in a tropical country and subsequently California.  I have never needed to consider the stories and beliefs that people may hold who come from a different region in the United States who have to live through different natural disasters such as tornadoes.  The thought processes for “inviting” a tornado in to minimize its damage is compelling, and would definitely be unique to an area that experiences such weather often.

California breaking off

My mom, who grew up in Los Angeles, recalls a folk belief from her childhood that California would break off from the US and float away:

“So when I was growing up there would be these periodic panics or rumors that on a certain day, California was gonna break off and float out into the ocean. And I remember being- it would’ve been the year that um, the Elton John song ‘Crocodile Rock’ was out because I can remember listening to that song with [my cousin] Robert–maybe 1971 or something?–and being terrified, knowing that it probably wasn’t going to happen but just having a fear in the back of my mind that maybe there was some truth to this rumor…”

I asked if she remembered where she had heard the rumor first. She said, “well that’s a good question. It certainly wasn’t in the newspaper, it wasn’t like fake news and it wouldn’t have been- we didn’t have the internet, so how did that spread? And it seemed like it was mostly kids who knew it, i mean it wasn’t- adults weren’t, y’know, propagating this rumor. So where it came from, I have no idea. That’s always fascinating to me.”

This piece of folklore falls somewhere between the genres of folk belief and legend. It concerns something frightening that could happen, as many legends do, but it is not a narrative, and is believed to be occurring in the future, rather than the past. It could thus be classified as a “folk rumor” in the same category as conspiracy theories. This folk rumor likely stemmed from the reality of the San Andreas fault and the resulting frequency of earthquakes in Southern California. It spread, particularly among kids, because it seemed plausible and because it fed off of fears about natural disaster.