Before I headed out on my little road trip from Joplin to Oklahoma City, my husband, the Nattering Nabob of Negativity, expressed some concern about the weather. It's tornado season here in what is known as Tornado Alley (the fifth anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that destroyed one-third of Joplin was just two days ago), so he was by no means out of line to suggest that I pay attention to the weather, especially since a tornado touched down in northwestern Oklahoma just yesterday afternoon. But I also ever so slightly took offense at the implication that I wouldn't be on top of the weather forecast, because I'm not an IDIOT, after all....
I checked the weather again before I left the house, took the turnpike to Tulsa, took another turnpike to Oklahoma City, took ANOTHER turnpike to Hasty's home, where Lizzi was staying (more on the turnpike story later this week). The sky was blue, there were a few puffy clouds in the sky, and it was windy, of course, because it's ALWAYS windy in Oklahoma (prairie thing).
Lizzi and I had our bear-free picnic on Hasty's patio, we took a walk around a nearby lake, we talked and talked, and then it was 4:15 and I needed to hit the road, as I had made a bet with my husband that I would be home by 8:00, and he didn't believe I could do it, so I had something else to prove, along with me being right that there was no severe weather forecast for the area.
|Photo credit goes to Hasty Words|
I was toodling along the Turner Turnpike from Oklahoma City to Tulsa and was nearing the halfway point when I saw some dark clouds brewing to the northeast. Hmmm. The gas gauge showed I had a little more than a quarter of a tank, and if rain was in my future, I sure didn't want to be filling the gas tank in it. The bad news about turnpikes is exits and services are few and far between; the good news was I was almost to the toll both at the halfway-to-Tulsa mark, and there was a gas station/truck stop where I didn't have to exit the turnpike (another hint about the turnpike story to come later this week).
As the sky grew darker, I filled the tank, availed myself of the facilities, got a diet coke, and then went back to my car. By this time, the clouds had become threatening, and I opened the weather app on my phone and checked the radar and learned a severe thunderstorm warning had been issued. Severe thunderstorms may include strong winds, dangerous lightning, hail, and, quite possibly, a tornado. I left the gas station and got back on the turnpike (kicking myself over and over for THAT move), thinking I would get off at the nearest exit if it got bad (refer back to the previous paragraph about turnpike exits being few and far between and see how really stupid I was about this whole thing; I've done a lot of stupid things in my life, but this move was, by far, the stupidest).
I changed from satellite radio to a Tulsa news station right as they broke in with a bulletin from the National Weather Service issuing a tornado warning for the area and saying to stay off of the Turner Turnpike from mile marker 182 through 215, and if you were in the town of Bristow to take cover immediately (I had never heard of Bristow, and I had no idea where it was, but I knew I didn't want to be there right now). Moments later, I arrived at the toll plaza. As I paid my toll, I asked the attendant where the next exit was, and he said it was the Bristow exit at 196. I immediately pulled over to the side of the road, along with about a dozen other cars and trucks, and waited.
The radio station reported rotation in the clouds (this is bad), and that it was most likely a rain-wrapped tornado (this is REALLY bad; the Joplin tornado was rain-wrapped, and this makes them nearly impossible to see until they are right on top of you). There were no buildings at the toll plaza except for the flimsy little toll booths, and there wasn't even a ditch to lie down in; the land was flat, flat, flat. I had my purse zipped up and ready to throw around my neck if I needed to bail out of the car (never, never, NEVER stay inside the car in a tornado), contemplated sending a group text to my family telling them I loved them, prayed, and then alternated between crying hysterically and hyperventilating, all the while thinking my husband could write "I told her so" on my headstone IF they found my body. My Red Cross tornado app went off repeatedly (tornado siren sound effect, which did nothing to soothe my jangled nerves) and the only positive thing I could come up with was thank GOD I had peed at the gas station a few minutes earlier or I would have either wet my pants or been trying to figure out how to pee into an empty styrofoam cup. Wind buffeted the car, hailstones larger than peas started falling, cloud to ground lightning was crashing all around, and the rain was blinding. The radio reports said radar indicated there was debris in the clouds, proof that it was, indeed, a tornado and had touched down.
I sat there for 45 minutes.
Finally, the slow moving storm headed on across the turnpike and towards the southern Tulsa area, the tornado warning was canceled, and I started driving again. There were reports of damage at the Bristow exit and south into the town. As I passed the exit a few minutes later, although it wasn't easy to see through all the rain falling, I didn't see evidence of the damage.
And through all of this, the sky to the northwest of me was clear and the sun was shining, and once I got past Tulsa, there were clear skies and no more rain at all, although I could still see the dark clouds moving towards the southeast, still see flashes of lightning in the distance.
And then I saw this:
I don't know what guardian angel was watching over this little sparrow and kept me on this side of the rainbow, but I do know if I had left Oklahoma City fifteen minutes earlier than I did, as I had meant to do, I would have been at the Bristow exit at the same time the tornado was. Same if I hadn't pulled over and sat on the side of the turnpike at the toll plaza. That poor angel TRIED to get me to stay at the service station by whispering in my ear, but she's apparently learned that I have to be hit over the head with a baseball bat (or have a tornado app blare a siren sound over and over) before I really listen.
Thank you, angel, whoever you are. I owe you one.