Yesterday evening turned out to be very scary, and had I listened to my gut, I wouldn’t have been so surprised…
Out of curiosity yesterday morning, and because I knew the forecast was for storms here on Friday, I did some tornado history research for this area. There have been several touchdowns in this county in the last 5 years, but none in the heart of town, and all occurred during the month of April. I also checked with the Storm Prediction Center, and no severe weather was anticipated in the U.S. over the next several days. We ate a quick lunch in the parking lot of Wendy’s before heading out to the cemetery to look for requested graves (I’ve already gotten a very nice thank you email from the family of the WWII vet whose grave we found). While eating with the windows rolled down, the tornado sirens sounded at noon, for their monthly test. It was an unusually long test (longer than ours in Denver), as if it were waiting for some sort of affirmation. It was sunny, warm, and very humid. We were both soaked with sweat by the time we’d finished at the cemetery. I checked the weather again when we got back to the rig, and the forecast had not changed (just a chance of light showers overnight). The cold front from Denver was on its way here.
After supper when we walked the dogs along our favorite evening trail, I noticed the strong wind shear. The surface winds were coming from a distinctly different direction than the clouds. This is one element of severe weather (rotation). I checked my mobile radar and saw that some storms were developing NW of us, but were still a ways away. When we got back to the rig, it was sunset, and the skies were oddly colored with pinks, reds and yellows. The cap was off, meaning the clouds were developing height. I ran out and took a quick pic with my iPad. All the signs were there, but I ignored them (sometimes I am too trusting of the NWS, and not enough of my gut). Less than an hour later, I could see the lightning approaching us. We decided to take the dogs out for another quick walk (just here in the lot) before we got wet. That’s when my phone weather alarms (yes, I have multiple) went off. There was a tornado warning for our county. It was radar-indicated rotation, meaning the rotation was happening within the storm cell, but radar cannot see if there is a funnel or a tornado coming out of a cloud (that’s why the NWS needs trained storm spotters). Among my arsenal of weather apps, I found one last spring that can identify the exact location of rotation (just like what the NWS sees) – so cool! The rotation in this storm was about 20 miles NW of us, moving SE (towards us). Not good! By now, it was getting dark, so spotting anything visually was hopeless. The other wrinkle in this storm is that baseball sized hail was also likely. Cloud tops were over 35k feet! And heading for us! To say our adrenaline was pumping was a gross understatement. The rig is parked in the lot in such a way that the office is right in front of it, so it would provide a little shield from the storm (given the direction it was coming from). We thought of where to go to be safe. There is no storm shelter here. The garage and office were locked up. There is a hospital nearby, but no sheltered parking for the car, and we’d have to leave the dogs, as I’m sure the hospital wouldn’t allow them inside. Bill moved the car under the eaves of the garage. We haven’t had much luck getting local stations here, but we were able to watch a Little Rock station, which had cut into programing for the severe weather outbreak. I wasn’t as worried about the tornado as I was about the baseball sized hail, and what it would do to the new windshield and to the rest of the rig. I guess if it’s going to happen to you, you might as well be in the lot of a body shop! The irony! There were 3 other rigs here with us, and we were all sitting ducks. Then, the miracle happened. The nucleus of the storm changed direction slightly, from heading SE to ESE, and it was enough to miss us by just a few miles. All we saw was the lightning and wind. WHEW! We then had garden-variety storms throughout the night. And still no leaks inside! WooHoo!
Lee gave us an update on the rig. He hopes to pull the rig into the paint bay next Wednesday. He has decided to leave us out here while he does the high-up sanding. I appreciate him minimizing our inconvenience. We are forecast to have rain tomorrow morning, which may delay us again. Lee is out sanding the back end as I write this, while Bill is inside cussing at a project he’s tinkering with. All’s well.