Friday, April 29, 2011

Dodging Tornadoes

It started in Paul's Valley, OK. I remember Paul's Valley quite well, having spent 4 days trapped there by a winter blast that had blown down from the Rockies and swept eastward across the country, dumping as much as 27 inches of snow in a matter of hours. I rode that wave from Denver all the way to Oklahoma City, following the taillights before me until the snow became ice and the roads became glaciers. I then skidded, bounced, slid and worried my way another sixty miles to Paul's Valley where I parked for 4 days, waiting for the roads to clear.

Then, a week ago, parked in Paul's Valley, the weather hit again. Another wave stretching from Texas to Canada was sweeping across the country. This wave was torrential downpours, electrical storms, and tornadoes. Hail hammered my truck while severe gusts threatened to blast me off the road. Rain and mist cut visibility down to 100 feet. Vehicles slid into the median and ditches, and tree limbs littered the interstate, providing attention-grabbing obstacles (though where they came from, I have no clue since there were no trees in sight).

I got confirmation that there were indeed tornadoes in the area, crisscrossing the land, tearing up whatever they could find. I kept moving, intent on driving out of the destruction. I figured I was harder to hit as a moving target.

I slept in Russellville, Arkansas and listened to Emergency Broadcast System warnings about tornadoes in a half dozen counties. That night, the violent winds shook my truck, rocking me to sleep as rain and hail slammed the roof.

In West Memphis, Arkansas, just as the sun was rising above the trees and struggling to pierce the dense clouds, another driver informed me that a massive tornado had carved a 2 mile wide path of destruction out of the Little Rock area a couple hours earlier… as I was driving through Little Rock. No wonder my truck had almost been blown off I-40 several times.

The winds had calmed so I thought it was over, but that afternoon I was proven wrong. While hooking to a trailer in West Memphis, a tornado struck. In an instant, the calm air was a turbulent, chaotic monster. My truck, weighing in at 78,500 lbs. felt as if it were being rammed by another truck. So violent were the gusts that it knocked my coffee mug from the cup holder. I sprinted inside the building, almost losing my footing to the winds, and took shelter inside. A couple parked trailers were overturned and a smaller trailer suddenly went sliding. It traveled a few hundred feet before crashing into a parked truck. The winds calmed a bit, only to return a half hour later. This went on in waves for several hours. By the time I left the next morning, part of the building's roof was gone.

Coming out of Northern Alabama in the afternoon was just as bad. Violent winds sprang from nowhere, slamming my truck about. The skies behind me, erratic clouds and frequent lightning, looked worse than the sky before me. So I drove on, weaving down state highways, dodging fallen trees and debris for several hours. My pulse was racing, my nerves were shot, and my hands ached from gripping the steering wheel. It was like driving through a hurricane… something I have experience doing.

I made it to the interstate and tore south, arriving safely in Saraland (where I was once assaulted by crackheads while on Walkabout). My training told me I should have stopped when the weather got that bad, but my instincts had been screaming for me to keep going. My instincts were proven right when I learned that a mile-wide tornado had ripped apart the area between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. I had been on the edge of that storm, fleeing. Had I stopped, I may very well have been part of those statistics.

Now, I'm safe in Florida. Another day of storms followed the Birmingham tornado, but I made it through that unscathed even though a truck parked 5 spaces down from me was overturned during the night. This bad weather seems to be following me. I've surfed the waves of three blizzards, two flood-inducing storm systems and now tornadoes. Every two weeks another wave of severe weather washes down from the Rockies and crosses the country. I've never heard of weather like this. Wonder what I'll see next month.

1 comment:

Newanderthal said...

290 confirmed dead from this one storm wave.