Wednesday, I started this post with the idea that I would be writing about our recent visit to our daughter and granddaughter in Utah. When I write these blog posts though, I often begin them at mid-morning or so, and write them in spits and spurts over the next few hours, fitting them between chores around the house, writing on my books, and various other bits of the day. In this case, time’s progression changed the day’s priorities. I’ll leave the beginning as it was written, because we really DID have a great time on vacation. It’s unfortunate that Wednesday took the frightening turn that it did, and sucked the emphasis from a fun vacation, to a frightening natural disaster.
So here it goes. First, “…the best of times…” as started yesterday morning.
Last week we got away for a while, visiting our eldest daughter and granddaughter in Salt Lake City. It was a blast, getting to see some great friends and family that we haven’t seen in a few years. Our only real concern was the fact that we had to board Bella and Cricket while we were gone, and they had never been left alone for that long. In fact, before this month, they had never been boarded at all. And as sweet as our girls are around us, they’re very pack oriented dogs, and they don’t do well with strangers or other dogs.
Hoping to prepare them for the idea that we could leave them with someone else for a time and still come back to them, we boarded them overnight for just one night during the week before. When I went to pick them up the next day, I was tickled to find that they had done really well, and didn’t seem to be the least bit afraid of the workers there. I guess it’s a matter of “hey, they fed us so they must be okay, right?”
That little experiment did us a lot of good, too. It served to let us know that they were more adaptable than I had feared, and were going to be just fine with the kennel.
By the way, the kennel we took them to was fantastic. Great facilities, and a caring staff that took wonderful care of our babies while we were gone. We’ll definitely be using them again if we need to leave town and can’t take the girls with us.
So we took them in for their more extended stay, and flew the friendly skies to sunny Utah.
Except it wasn’t. Sunny, that is…
The flight was nice enough… until we got ready to land. At that point, we hit some nasty turbulence, and dropped into a layer of clouds so thick that we were actually surprised when we touched down. And when we got out we were greeted by the sight of a sudden winter storm that had just preceded us by a few hours, coating everything in several inches of that white frozen stuff that made driving and navigating so much fun.
But it stopped soon enough, and while the drive from the airport to the hotel was a little nerve-wracking, the snow didn’t last. In fact, by that night had pretty much stopped. And as it tends to do, the sun came out, the snow melted, and the next several days were beautiful.
While we were there, we got to reconnect with family and friends we haven’t seen in too many years. Some had new kiddos, others had new significant others in their lives, and all were great additions to the clan. And since my granddaughter has an upcoming birthday, we had the perfect excuse to take her shopping (as if grandparents really need an excuse, right?)
And Rev? If your mom reads this to you, make sure to keep a list of books that you want. As soon as you finish the ones we got, just let Pops know what you’d like to read next and we’ll make that happen.
And here’s where the day turned into “…the worst of times…”
As you can see, the post was pretty much finished. I could have wound things up, talked about our return, picking up the girls from the kennel, and posted it. But the weather was getting ugly. MBH texted me throughout the day, checking to see if it was raining at the house. She works near the Tulsa airport, and they were getting hammered. Yet here at home, it was bright and calm. I could see the storm in the distance, but it wasn’t too concerning.
In fact, we joked about the weather app on our phones being so wrong. According to Accuweather, it was storming at the house. But though the sky was overcast, I still hadn’t had any rain to speak of. And at the end of her workday, MBH came home and it still had only rained a little bit, and that was only for a few minutes. So we went about our business, making dinner, eating, unwinding…
Then we heard the sirens.
I think I’ve posted about them before. The town of Claremore has a severe weather system that they test once a month or so. and we’re just outside town. The first time I heard those sirens, I knew what it was (I went to school in the 60s and seventies, and went through everything from fire drills to air raid drills), but it confused the crap out of me because they were going off on a bright, clear, sunny afternoon. That was when one of the neighbors explained to me that they were testing the system.
So when we heard those same sirens yesterday evening, we had our first indication that things weren’t simply “business as usual”. We stepped out back and saw that super cell off to the west. I wasn’t too concerned yet. In fact, it was actually kind of pretty. Until MBH said she thought she saw a funnel.
I didn’t see it, but a lot of the cell was hidden behind trees and structures to the west, so I walked out to the back part of the property. Even when I saw them, I wasn’t too concerned. In fact, I have to admit, I was more fascinated than anything. I had never seen real funnel clouds before. I once saw some water spouts on Lake Pontchartrain, and took shelter when a small “bouncer” tornado skipped through our old neighborhood in Texas, but I had never seen actual funnel clouds over land.
Yet here they were. One would drop down a bit, then go back up, then another would drop and withdraw. Like I said… fascinating. But I got a crash course in just how quickly things can escalate with a tornado in Oklahoma.
We could see the cell beginning to shift slightly toward us, so we thought it would be a good idea to move the patio furniture, and several other loose (read that as “potential shrapnel”) items out of the open and into the garage. And it was none too soon. About five minutes later the rain and hail started. A neighbor called us and offered room in their storm shelter if we thought we would need it, but I still didn’t think it was going to get that bad. And even if it did, I figured we would have enough time to react to changing conditions. (Yeah, right!)
Even then, I still had it in my head that it wasn’t going to really impact us much. But shortly after that, from the shelter of our back patio, it became pretty obvious that the cell was either getting bigger, or shifting toward us. To make matters worse, the funnels morphed into a full-blown tornado, touching down to our southwest and sending up a very visible debris cloud.
Finally, I started to really get concerned. Conditions were changing much quicker than I had anticipated. I called the neighbor to let her know we were on our way, but the call went straight to voice mail. I assumed that she had no signal in the shelter, so we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, grabbed the girls, grabbed a bug out bag, and ran out to the car. By this time, the hail was about the size of golf balls, big enough that it looked like it could be painful if it hit. Luckily, none of us was hurt going to the car. We pulled out of the driveway, drove the short distance to the private road to our friend’s home, and found that the gate was closed.
At that point, it was too dark to see the tornado, and that just made things worse. With no other plan of action, we drove back home. All told, we were on the road for maybe three minutes. And as we pulled back up to our house, lightning showed us that the twister had already gone past us. It had traveled from the southwest of our home, to the southeast, about a mile or so to the south of us… all in the time it took us to drive about a quarter of a mile. It was both a relief, and a frightening eye-opener. That thing moved so fast!
And as I reflected on all that I had done in the face of a potential disaster, I have to admit that my preparations were barely adequate. Looking back on what we did, what we packed, how we bugged out… there are a lot of holes in our process. None of them are likely to have been fatal, but I can think of so many things that I should have done differently.
So I’ll be working out some lists. Our lives have changed now that we live here in Oklahoma. The old preps and procedures that I had for Houston hurricane seasons aren’t right for Oklahoma tornadoes. I need to reevaluate and adjust. The only thing that worked pretty smoothly, was my blackout kit. When the power went out, we were still set. We had light, communications, emergency backups for our critical power needs, and I was comfortable knowing we had long-term power if electricity wasn’t restored in a reasonable amount of time. I mean, whether the blackout is due to a hurricane, flood, earthquake, or tornado doesn’t matter. A blackout is a blackout.
MBH and I have talked about what we should have done… what we missed… what we forgot. All in all, this was a good dry run – a good test under stress. And one thing I didn’t account for is the amount of stress a quickly devolving situation like that can put on you. Thinking straight under stress is hard to do. Fight or flight keeps swimming to the top, and all those things you have in mind can’t compete with the imperative to get the hell out of Dodge.
But next time (if there is a next time), we’ll do better.
And as I say it this week, I find it takes on a new, deeper, and more heartfelt meaning. Please stay safe out there.
I’ll talk to you again next week.