They call it “tornado alley” for a reason. In the spring, cooler air flows over the Rockies and collides with warmer air flowing up from the Gulf. When these two systems collide; watch out.
I grew up in “tornado alley”.
My mother and I lived in two upstairs rooms. The only way down was via an outside stairway. Mother would wait until the storm was blowing down trees and lightening was splitting the air before she would yell, “run”. The chase was on as we headed for a neighbor’s basement. I always wondered why we couldn’t go there a little sooner.
One time my sister, her husband, my brother, my fiancé and I went to a race in Topeka, Kansas. Home was about 90 miles to the southeast down the turnpike. My fiancé, brother and I were in one car headed home. There were lightening strikes all around us and the wind was buffeting the car from side to side.
Then the car began to sputter like it was going to stop running. We managed to get under an overpass before it totally died. Along came a highway patrolman.
“There are tornadoes all around this area”, he said. “If you see one coming, climb right up there”, and he pointed to the area where the ground met the overpass. We were to lie down and cover our heads.
The car shook as the wind blew. Hail was pounding on the front windshield…and my heart was pounding in my chest. Suddenly there was an instant calm. Then the assault came from the back side of the car. Something had passed over us.
My brother and fiancé wanted to stay with the car, but they flagged down a motorist and asked if I could hitch a ride to the nearest toll booth. I mentally voted “no” to that idea, but the car door came open and I was ushered into the car of strangers.
Would I ever see my family again?
I’m not really sure that being left in a toll booth on the turnpike was exactly a wonderfully safe place for me to be. But I did have a ringside seat for the lightening and funnel clouds.
A few minutes later my sister and her husband came along. My brother had flagged them down and told them to stop and pick me up.
My fiancé and I were married the next February. We moved from Kansas to Oklahoma. It was Easter time and we were going home for our first visit. It was a beautiful spring afternoon when we left Bethany, Oklahoma. As I had sewn my own Easter dress, I needed to get the hem in it before I could wear it.
Head down, intent on my sewing, I never saw the wall of clouds that we had driven into until it suddenly turned dark. Looking up, I could tell we were going to be in trouble. The clouds were ripe for a tornado.
Just after we crossed the state line from Oklahoma into Kansas, I watched a funnel begin to form a little to the left of the turnpike. As it moved across the ground, I could see trees being uprooted and objects flying through the air.
“Please turn around”, I said meekly. I NEVER told him what to do.
“You can’t turn around on a turnpike”, was his reply. He kept driving straight for the funnel.
I asked again. Same answer. But up ahead we could see the lights of cars that were dipping down into the median and heading back the way we had come…trying to out run the funnel.
We turned around.
The first building we came to was a little restaurant aptly named “The Failing Café”. It would not be much protection, as it truly appeared to be “failing”. Since we had skipped supper to get on the road, my fiancé ordered a hamburger. Just as his food was placed in front of him, the electricity went out. He ate in the dark.
Many people who lived in “tornado alley” had some kind of a radio that didn’t need electricity and would still give you the tornado warnings. Sitting in the dark, I listened as we were told the funnel was gaining in size and speed…and headed for us.
It passed a little to the east and we survived. When the “all clear” was given, we climbed in the car and headed north again.
I love the springtime living miles away from “tornado alley”.
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