We knew when we woke up that they expected severe storms today. The possibility of tornadoes blasted on the news and across social media. Some people joked about it, because destructive tornadoes are, thankfully, rare here. Others talked about evacuation plans, emergency places to hide for those without basements. Thunderstorms, sometimes with damaging winds and hail, aren’t unusual here, but we are close enough to the mountains that they don’t always build up the power and rotation to produce tornadoes. A big storm like this generates excitement and fear.
We could see the thunderhead looming from the southwest as we headed for the library. I would have skipped the trip, but I’d promised the children we would go if they cleaned the car and the bathroom well. Thunderhead or not, we had to check out new books! We only stayed at the library for 15 or 20 minutes (a very short visit for us), but the sky rumbled and poured on us the whole way home. Before we reached home, my husband called to see if we were safe.
We had barely unloaded when the tornado warning came. We’ve done this before–the scramble to the basement because that warning means a tornado has been sighted. It could be miles away or right on top of us. The alert doesn’t say. So I grabbed Little Bird, flashlights (in case of a blackout), and the dog. The Ballerina loaded her guinea pigs into a basket and the Engineer carried a kitten in each hand. Miss Bug brought her library book. Priorities, you know. Little Mr. Curlytop realized, after about 10 minutes, that his favorite toy screwdriver was upstairs, but upstairs it had to stay.
Tornadoes are fearful things. We’ve probably all seen footage of the massive, black monsters that tear up Oklahoma and other parts of Tornado Alley. I don’t know how they go to sleep some nights, knowing that such sudden natural violence may be visited upon them. My three oldest huddled tense and somber close to me as I pulled up live satellite of the storm cell . We could track the worst parts of the storm as they brushed past us and rushed east over town. That was not the most frightening part. We were, after all, together in a basement in an area of town that is neither very high, nor very low. As far as “safe” goes during tornado, we were safe. But we watched as the worst part of the cell intensified over our little airport and moved steadily and directly toward my husband’s workplace northeast of town.
Prayer comes naturally during tornadoes. It comes even more naturally when the wrath of nature is bearing down on hundreds of local friends, and Daddy, working in massive steel buildings full of machinery and potential for explosions. I couldn’t see or know where the tornado might be, but the violent magenta on the weather map hung squarely above the power plant. The rosary and its prayers, dedicated to the safety of all in the path of the storm, slipped through our fingers. For the first time, I think the Ballerina and the Engineer put their whole hearts into their prayers. Their eyes followed the weather map as it refreshed every minute. My phone stayed stubbornly silent–no message from Daddy.
Even as the worst of it hovered right there, the text message came in, Everyone is fine. And in the end, though heavy winds and torrential rains battered the power plant, the hail had already petered off. Hardly any fell at all, and only pea size. The 4-inch hail that ripped through town never fell there. The tornadoes–two of them in the space of 30 minutes–touched down in lonely country far from houses and structures. The advantage of a low population density: we aren’t in nature’s way so as often. There are plenty of empty spaces for tornadoes and wildfires to destroy.
Someone will say that the tornadoes and storm would have passed through with little destruction and no death even if we hadn’t prayed in those desperate moments. We’ll never know what might have been. We can’t rewind and try a different way. But I am thankful beyond measure that all the worries and fears were, in the end, for naught. The town, the county, and all of us, were safe and well.