Tornado Alley – 2001
“This is not good” I said to my dog, Lupis. Looking out the large glass windscreen of my Suburban, I could see that it was dark. Very dark.
The day had started out with nice, sunny skies just outside of Denton Texas. There was no sign of storms as we passed through Oklahoma. Then everything changed.
I was Just outside of Wichita, Kansas. Out of nowhere, wind blew viciously across the highway. The big, blue truck swayed in the wind, and I had to constantly correct it’s direction otherwise I’d have been blown right off the road. Small pieces of debris had taken flight and were carried across the highway like small fighter aircraft.
As with most of my long distance trips, Tori was resting in the back seat of the truck. She had sat up to see why the truck was swaying so badly. “If it gets too bad, just pull into a rest area” she said. I nodded silently, keeping my attention on driving.
Small wispy white clouds started form into little streams. Most of them high in the sky, they stood out from the dark blue background.
I decided to turn on the radio – static. I pushed the scan button to try and lock onto a local radio station. Nothing. I listened to channel 19 on the CB radio – also nothing. There was only one or two cars on the road, mostly because of the vicious storm.
“Breaker one-nine” I said into the CB Radio. “Anyone out there?” No response.
Electricity filled the air from the violent storm. I could feel it passing right through me. It made me feel a little nervous and on edge. It felt like a constant shiver up my spine. Coupled with the flying debris and black clouds, it was not the most pleasant experience.
Out of nowhere I heard a loud sound inside the truck which made me jump. The radio had picked up a local station and locked onto it. I quickly stopped it from continuing to search for a station.
The strange sound, like a high pitch hum I had heard in the past, but had difficulty remembering where from. Pondering the strange sound, a voice broke in and said “Tornado warning, seek shelter immediately” a stern voice said. The tone was part of the Emergency Broadcasting system which I remember hearing on television in my youth during Doctor Who re-runs on channel 17.
WHUMP! I heard over the sound of the radio broadcast. I felt a gentle rocking of the truck. It had felt like someone kicked the truck while it was cruising up the road. Looking in my mirrors, I tried to see what happened. As near as I could tell the truck was hit by a piece of flying debris. Hopefully I didn’t get damaged too badly.
Cruising up the road beside me, I could see a strange sight. The flat bottomed cloud started to get a small funnel shaped dip in it. I watched as carefully while driving. The little funnel shaped dip got longer and longer, and started to twist around. The hairs on the back of my neck started to stand up as I realised I was watching the formation of a tornado! Shortly after, the twisting and pulsating mass touched the ground. “You’d better sit up and look at this” yelled to Tori.
“What!” she snapped back at me as she rose from the long bench seat of the truck. Her brown eyes widened as she looked out the window.
Lupis, Tori and I watched in amazement as a large white funnel cloud kept speed with us on the road at around 80 kilometres per hour. Tori snapped a photo. The tornado dissipated less than a minute after it started. Thankfully it didn’t change direction and head for the road.
My attention turned back to the road ahead of me where it was now starting to rain heavily. I slowed the truck down to about 60 kilometres per hour to ensure I could maintain safe control of the big, heavy GMC Suburban.
Ahead of me dark blue clouds started to form. As I approached, I was surprised to see a white cargo van on the road. Possibly storm chasers. I hit the brakes and slowed down. Now battered by wind, rain, and the odd piece of debris which had taken flight and made its way across the road.
The wiper blades made a rhythmic thump-thump-thump as they tried in vein to remove the torrential downpour from the windscreen.
The dark clouds started to separate. Wispy, light grey clouds started to form under the dense dark blue. Wispy clouds started to form a spiral – directly in my path. I snapped a photograph, just incase I didn’t survive this trip.
I had a really bad feeling about those clouds. It didn’t take long before the wispy white clouds started to spin and form into a massive tornado. Shortly before the tornado touched the ground, the van ahead of me disappeared down a side road. I stopped the truck and pulled off to the side of the empty road.
People say that tornadoes sound like a freight train. Although I had seen them on television before – nothing could prepare me for the sight of a giant, massive tornado. They do indeed sound like a freight train. Tornadoes are miracles of nature which demand respect.
Sitting at the side of the road with my hazard lights on, I watched large pieces of barn board, shingles, scrap metal and other debris fly through the air like leaves on an autumn day.
A kilometre or so up the road, the massive tornado dominated the otherwise flat landscape. With a ground-shaking rumble, The tornado changed course. It made its way over the road and through the countryside off into the distance. A large path of uprooted trees and debris lay behind it.
The sight of a giant, towering tornado crossing the road and heading towards me really shook me up. I couldn’t wait to find a rest area to wait for the storm to pass through.
I put the truck into Drive, and headed up the road. Fighting gallantly against the wind and rain, the truck cruised up the empty highway with its engine whining. Off in the distance, a small set of white blocks came into view. Approaching the blocks, I could see it was a rest area. The white blocks were the swaying trailers of tractor-trailers huddled together.
Pulling into the rest area, away from the tractor-trailers, the wind howled as it blew the Suburban around. The wind was so strong it felt like it would push the truck over. Whirling around was also debris from houses and barns destroyed by tornadoes.
Surveying the parking lot, I noticed a space between two of the swaying big trucks. I drove the Suburban between the two tractor-trailers for some protection from the wind, rain and flying debris.
Stretching out across the bench seat in the Suburban, I took a deep breath. I hoped that none of us would need to goto the bathroom until the storm passed, as it may be dangerous to be out in the open with the raging storm.
Safe and secure I huddled in my sleeping bag, and listened to the howling wind outside. Even with the protection of two large trailers on each side, the Suburban was blown around in the wind. I truly love being out in bad weather. Tornadoes, however were a new and challenging experience for me. I closed my eyes and drifted of to sleep.