Geoff Folsom

Geoff Folsom

The Winter Wonderland Parade started out as a pleasant night Dec. 10 but devolved into a roller coaster ride.

With forecasts calling for severe weather starting around 6 p.m., the same time as the parade, I was a bit nervous. But the parade went great, with lots more floats taking part with the return to the format that crossed downtown, after being a stationary “reverse parade” around City Lake in 2020.

The overcast, muggy weather earlier in the day seemed better suited for a haunted house than a Christmas parade, but the sky partly cleared and the nice weather was nice enough while the floats made their way through the streets.

It didn’t last long.

After the parade, I moved over to the City Auditorium for the Children’s Christmas Party. A line formed outside, with kids patiently waiting to get in. Once they did, things were orderly.

But then the weather turned.

I got the first tornado warning on my phone at 7:30 p.m., about 45 minutes after people started filing into the auditorium. Then I heard the warning sirens.

Everyone was told to either leave or go to the basement. I took a short video of people walking out on my phone and posted it to my Twitter. Within minutes, I got a request from a St. Louis TV station and another news outfit I hadn’t heard of, wanting to use the video.

I was honored they were interested but more concerned about whether everyone was safe.

I joined many others in the basement. While it was a good place to be in a storm, having hundreds of people in tight quarters made me worry about COVID-19. But, being triple-vaccinated, I figured I’d be OK on that front.

People sang Christmas carols and caught up with friends while in the basement. Everyone made the best of the situation, though you couldn’t help but wonder what was going on outside. It was hard to get an accurate picture trying to look at the weather radar on my phone.

Finally, we got the all clear and headed upstairs. I don’t know if anyone realized there was going to be a second line of storms or how bad the system was across the Midwest into Kentucky.

After a brief rush to the gift line, the line quickly dissipated. While it was clear many people left during the tornado warning and didn’t come back, there were still lots of people in line for the face painter and balloon artists.

Then a man from St. Louis who was visiting friends in Union came up to me. I’d hoped he wanted to talk about the scare we just had or even Highway 47 construction. Instead, he started talking about conspiracy-filled apocalyptic YouTube videos he watches. Then he started asking me personal question that I only answer in my column, when I’m getting paid for it.

I don’t want to be too hard on the man, because I don’t know what issues he is dealing with that would lead him to trust these “news” sources.

But the fact is, we just sheltered because of a tornado warning in December, a situation that could have been much worse for us. We should be worried about icy roads and snow this time of year instead of tornadoes. A woman just 18 miles away in Defiance died and, as of this writing, 78 people died in Kentucky.

There’s no need to go looking for conspiracy theories on YouTube or the dark corners of Facebook, because something really scary is happening to us now.

If you haven’t figured it out, it’s called climate change. It’s leading to more intense tornadoes and flooding around here and wildfires out west. When I moved to the Pacific Northwest nine years ago, Seattle, Washington, had the most beautiful summers. In 2018, the last time I went there in summer, you couldn’t see Mt. Rainier because of the smoke.

I’m planning to spend Christmas with my family near Fort Worth, Texas, where it is supposed to be 81 degrees on Christmas Day —­ the coolest of the three days I will be there. While an occasional 80-degree day was possible in December when I was in high school in Texas, it is becoming more normal.

I’m not sure if it is too late to reverse climate change. But local governments should start preparing for the effects of it.

The Union R-XI School District is looking at building more storm shelters at schools. No one likes spending public money, but that seems well worth it. Bridges are being built higher to deal with potential flood waters.

Let’s hope more governments use some of the infrastructure and stimulus funding they are getting to handle the more constant climate-related threats we are likely to see.

I get there are many other problems out there, but it’s important to keep an eye on the greatest long-term threat.