CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. --
Whipping wind cuts through the crops, searing across your cheeks. The frame of a home lies solitary on the dusty grounds of an Iowa farm. Trying to keep calm while nestled within the four walls in your innermost room of your home, fright chills you, because only four walls are what’s left of your home – sound a lot like the plot to Twister or an episode of Tornado Chasers? For one 45th Space Wing Airman, this wasn’t a cinematic adventure, these were true occurrences that would change his life.
Capt. Matthew Walter, 45th Weather Squadron Airfield and Range Weather Operations flight commander, attributes his passion for severe weather to his experiences growing up on his family’s Iowa farm.
“Growing up in a farming family means having a close relationship with your local weather channel,” said Walter. “Almost all farm work is done with weather conditions in mind. My first experience with severe weather really shaped my growing fascination with it.”
Walter recalled when he was a little kid, his family farm was hit by a tornado. “My own home, as well as my grandparent’s and great-grandmother’s home, was ripped apart,” said Walter.
“I don’t remember the storm itself, but I remember a lot of the aftermath,” said Walter. Walter remembers his father yanking on his shoes, grabbing a flashlight and running across the farm to his grandparent’s house after getting a call that their garage had blown away. He recalls his grandfather’s shed had flown almost a mile down the road because of the wind’s ferocious blows.
As Walter talked through this story, the sound in his voice echoed how frightening that moment was he was reliving. He went on and said it sounded like a freight train barreling through his farm. His grandmother walked out of the room she was sheltered in to find that everything disappeared.
“My great-grandmother’s house was completely ripped from the foundation and we found my grandmother sitting in the bathroom with the walls ripped out from the bottom from the sheer force of the storm,” said Walter. “I’ll never forget that.”
Because of what he experienced as a child, Walter pursued a career in meteorology. Once joining the military, he became a weather officer and continued to follow his interest in all things severe weather related – especially weather awareness and preparedness.
“The main thing I always ask others, especially because of what I’ve dealt with regarding severe weather is – are you storm ready?” Walter said. “If you hear a tornado siren, what do you do? On base, you hear lightning warnings, how do you respond? When hurricane season comes, is your kit ready?”
His biggest passion is educating those around him about severe weather. His family didn’t have a plan when they were hit by the tornado, other than go into a room in their house they felt safe in. This stuck with him.
“You can’t really combat the weather, but if you have a plan, it makes weathering the storm easier for you and your family.” said Walter.
Whether you live in a place like Tornado Alley, or the exact opposite, having a plan and keeping those around you educated can save lives.
Walter admitted his family definitely pays more attention to the weather and put more thought into their plans. Plus, he stated his family rebuilt the blown-away family garage.