Thursday, April 30, 2009

Temple Trip Tornado

We went to the temple on the last Saturday of the month. We can add this one to the string of disasters that seem imminent on the last Saturday of each month. I wrote a short story about this one because it was a shocker. Yes, I realize we should have been huddling in a storm shelter instead of cruising the interstate, but in our defense after more than three hours in the car we just wanted to get home.

Thunder grumbled louder and deeper as we whizzed past a roadside marker that read “Wyandotte county line.” The overcast sky varied from deep purple to greenish gray. The NPR disc jockey’s voice boomed on our car speakers.

“I repeat,” the announcer paused, “there is a tornado warning in effect in western Wyandotte County. At least one tornado touch down has been confirmed in the area. If you are in your homes, go to your storm shelters, or safe area, the basement, or the lowest level of the house. Avoid windows and cover your head with a mattress,” his voice directed as the rain pounded our roof and windshield. “If you are in a mobile home or a vehicle, abandon it and go to the nearest safe place—a stable building or storm shelter. Lay flat in a ditch or culvert as a last resort.”

I looked at my husband. His eyelids strained wider than usual, the result of trying to see the road through the hammering downpour, and the announcement on the radio. My heart began knocking on my ribs to the beat of the windshield wipers.

“The tornado warning remains in effect until 7:30 p.m.,” the radio announced. The clock showed 7:19.

“Hon, I’m scared,” Ryan husband admitted. “We are in western Wyandotte, and there aren’t any near by buildings to go to. Should we pull over?” No off ramps or stable buildings were in view. I scanned the countryside to my right for a promising ditch or culvert we could lay in. They looked wet. I pondered the improbability of another tornado touching down exactly where we were driving, and the probability that getting drenched in a ditch for the next ten minutes would be in vain. A soggy ride home with a cold one-year-old didn’t appeal to me.

“No, I think we should just keep going. We’ll be home in almost fifteen minutes.” The windshield wipers twitched across the windshield on high, but still couldn’t clear the water streaming down the glass, blurring the lane lines ahead of us. Besides, we would be out of western Wyandotte and into Leavenworth by the time the tornado warning expired.

“A tornado warning is also in effect for Leavenworth,” the radio announced, and the man reiterated instructions to go to a safe place for another five minutes. The purple clouds above us swirled like a heavenly whirlpool and sagged close to the earth as we entered Leavenworth. We urged our tiny car down the watery roadways. Ours was the only vehicle on the southbound freeway, even though it was early Saturday evening. Ryan’s grip on the steering wheel squeezed the blood from his fingers. Bella slumbered motionless in her car seat in the back. I laughed, imagining my tornado-phoebe brother-in-law in the back seat too.

I debated mentally whether we were doing the right thing. “God will protect us on the way home from the temple,” I thought. And then I remembered our last few temple trips, sliding off the frozen freeway, Ryan forgetting his suit and having to buy a new one, a rock breaking our windshield, and moments after that the windshield wipers broke in the first big snow storm of the season. “But, that was on the way to the temple. We are on our way home from the temple,” I retorted. And then I realized that God expects us to do the best we can and He’ll do the rest. We aren’t doing the best we can to protect ourselves right now.

My heartbeat increased to a gallop when we noticed the string of police cars and trucks lining the frontage road. A barn torn into a heap with just one, red, freshly painted wall still standing. I cast my eyes about and found metal roof pieces dangling in the treetops, and cars parked on their hoods instead of their wheels. Several roadside trees were cloven in two.

“Woa! Did you see that house?” Ryan pointed to a place now hidden behind a hill. I didn’t need to ask what he saw. “We are almost home. Just a few minutes left.” But then the announcer’s voice interrupted the music once again.

“We have reports of a tornado touch down in the Leavenworth area within the last ten to fifteen minutes. A barn was damaged, as well as nearby houses and a few overturned cars…” Ryan and I gaped at each other.

“I’m glad we stopped at McDonald’s, or we might have driven right into it,” Ryan said with his eyes still wide. I didn’t say anything. I only thought about how trivial a damp car ride would be compared to the damage we could have sustained if we met a tornado in a ’97 Nissan Sentra. I reached back and felt Bella’s tiny fingers without waking her, grateful that a tornado hadn’t disrupted her sleep.

“Does Texas have tornadoes?” I ask him before we climb out of the car in our apartment parking lot. We reached Lawrence in time for severe thunderstorm warnings and a tornado watch in our city.

“I don’t know, but Houston has hurricanes.”

*Next time we are aware of a tornado warning we will seek shelter, even if we’re in the car. We’ll lay in a culvert for hours if we have to.

This link has a video that surveys the damages from this tornado that I thought was pretty impressive.

Also, I nabbed these photos from the Lawrence Journalworld website.


Melanie and Jake said...

I think somebody is really really trying to get you to stop going to the temple! Good thing you'll have one closer in Houston! Glad you are safe! That is scary!

Sunset Stanley said...

Oh Celia! You must have had angels making sure you got home from the temple safely! I'm so glad you are safe!