JOPLIN, Mo. – The day after the rapture didn’t happen, Tammy Cady’s home and belongings were sucked up in a twister of Old Testament-style proportions.

An undamaged cross rises above the rubble of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Joplin a day after a tornado ripped through the southwest Missouri town.

Cady is a communications director at College Heights Christian Church in Joplin. Like many, she was never convinced May 21 was going to be the beginning of the end, even though doomsday preacher Harold Camping was sure Jesus was coming back that day.

But she also doesn’t think the crazy weather lately is just a coincidence, and she wonders whether God’s trying to tell us something.

The “earthquake, tsunamis, tornadoes — it seems like one thing after another,” Cady said.

She’s among a majority of white evangelicals — 59 percent to be exact — who say they think natural disasters are a sign from God. That’s according to a survey the Public Religion Research Institute and Religious News Service conducted after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. The poll also found, though, only about 38 percent of the population in general blames God when Mother Nature is in a bad mood.


Disasters and end-of-the-world fears seem to go hand in hand, making doomsday predictions especially conversation-worthy in 2011.

The year began with reports of red-winged blackbirds dropping dead from the skies over Arkansas, Louisiana and Sweden.

February brought blizzards that crippled the country. Then the disasters struck Japan, and floodwaters rose across the United States, followed by the outbreak that has made this year among the deadliest tornado seasons.

A recent study warned cellphone signals are killing off honeybees. Because the insects are responsible for pollinating most of our food crops, it has been suggested that when the bees die off, so do we.

There’s even a plague of locusts invading the Midwest. OK, they’re actually cicadas, but early colonists not familiar with this particular variety thought they were the biblical bugs.

Oh, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently posted on its public health blog instructions for dealing with a zombie apocalypse — which happen to be the same tips for preparing for any emergency. But the image of a wild-eyed zombie on the official CDC website is a little unnerving.

So what’s going on?

The latter, of course, was nothing more than a clever marketing campaign to get young people to read an emergency preparedness pamphlet. As for the periodical cicadas, they come every 13 years. And state officials in January had logical explanations for the dead birds. In Arkansas, for instance, the red-winged blackbirds were apparently sleeping when a loud noise startled them, and they freaked out.

No doubt the Bible is full of some nasty weather forecasts for mankind’s final days, but the world has seen these storm patterns before.


Weather is simply more volatile than in recent years. We’ve spent the past few decades enjoying fairly mild weather, making recent occurrences seem rare, said Tony Lupo, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Missouri. Globally, though, the climate goes through periods of change, so from a historical standpoint, it’s not unusual.

“Is this going to continue, or is this an isolated few years?” Lupo said. “My guess is we’ll see weather that’s wilder. Studies have shown weather of the 1800s and before was kind of wild like it is today.”

Although that volatility could mean an active hurricane season, there’s no relationship between tornado activity and hurricanes or between the storms and other disasters, such as earthquakes or volcanoes, said Pat Guinan, an associate professor of climatology at MU.

As for the tornado activities this year, blame Old Man Winter.

“Basically what you’re seeing this year is that we had an unusually cold winter with a lot of snow, and that atmospheric pattern has continued well into the spring season,” Lupo said.

And when the cold air from the north meets moist air from the south in the middle of a strong jet stream, “bam.”

Apocalyptic predictions are nothing new. The Bible records Jesus telling his disciples he’d be back for them before their generation passed away.

Early Christians then figured Jan. 1, 1000, sounded like a logical date for a rapture. A preacher named William Miller predicted Jesus would return March 21, 1843, and when it didn’t happen, he decided Oct. 22, 1844, was a better guess.

Edgar Whisenant was a former NASA engineer who could list 88 reasons why the world was going to end in 1988.

And who could forget Y2K, when not God but ill-programmed computers were going to destroy the world as we knew it at the stroke of midnight?


Camping has been wrong before, too. He first said the world was going to end back in 1994 but later explained he’d miscalculated.

His May 21 rapture prediction had a different feel, though. While Camping was airing the prediction over his Christian radio program and his followers were splattering the warning on billboards across the country, social media gave the no-show rapture unprecedented press.

Twitter was abuzz with invitations to rapture parties and lists of songs that should be on everyone’s final playlist.

Jen Reeves, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, was watching for Facebook posts from a friend overseas as the supposed 6 p.m. doomsday deadline came and went across the globe.

“It was a fun thing to talk about,” said Reeves, who co-founded the Columbia chapter of the Social Media Club. “It was a social event instead of a news event.”

Reeves wonders whether the same hoopla will surround the next supposed apocalypse. Camping now claims the world ends Oct. 21.

Then, if Oct. 22 rolls around and we’re here to tweet about it, we still have another doomsday deadline, thanks to ancient Mayans who forgot to add a footnote to their calendar explaining why it ends Dec. 21, 2012.

For Cady, faith isn’t about calculating possible rapture dates but instead is a foundation that’s getting her through the tough times.

“God has it under control,” she said. “Things do happen for a reason.”