Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hell Hath No Fury Like A....

...planet whose weather is disrupted.  Last night, the mid-section of the country got to experience one of the increasingly severe weather events that seem to coming so frequently these days.  Living smack dab in the middle of said mid-section, Greg and I were along for the ride.

For only the second time in history, the weather forecasters had predicted a severe outbreak of tornadic activity almost 2 full days before it was due to occur.  TV, newspapers, radio, the internet - there was talk of the forecasted severe weather everywhere.  Schools rescheduled their proms, many community activities were cancelled.  By late afternoon, it seemed like all eyes were on the sky and on the radar images filling the television and computer screens. 

Trained weather spotters were out in droves.  (Some of the best video and still images are their work.)  These weather spotters provide the important visual confirmations of what the meteorologists are seeing on the radar screens.  They are trained to understand what they are seeing, and to keep themselves safe.  But in tornadic storms, "safe" is a relative term.  Weather spotting can be a very dangerous business, despite all their training.

The clouds and the winds lived up to expectations.  It was an edge-of-the-seat sort of day, an even edgier sort of night.  Storms formed, strengthened, weakened, and strengthened again.  Several paths across the state seemed to favored, with storm after storm "training" along the same trajectory.  Wedge tornadoes, the most destructive type and supposedly only 2% of all tornadoes, seemed common.  Tornado tracks were wide and long - the tornado that hit Wichita was well formed (by radar signature) for about 6 hours, travelling along the trailing edge of its parent storm from north central Oklahoma clear into the eastern central part of Kansas before finally weakening and fading away.

Not too long after full dark, as that particular half-mile wide, long-lived monster crossed over into our home county of Sedgwick from the south, the tornado's predicted path went directly over our local community and, shortly afterwards, over our little 10 acres' specific location.  It was due to arrive in about 25 minutes time. 

We have a basement - with windows - but no safe room.  We decided that staying to "protect" our home wasn't likely to impress the storm, so we made the quick decision to hightail it up to one of our parents' homes in Wichita, where we would have the benefit of a safe room as well as the advantage of being out of this particular tornado's predicted path.  Five minutes later we were on our way, dogs in the car, riding the north edge of the storm cell for much of the way.

Shortly after we arrived at the folks' home, the local TV station reported that the hooked tail of the storm (the radar signature of the tornado) was directly over Clearwater.  We thought of all our friends and their families there, wondering what they were experiencing. 

It wasn't too long, though, before the Sheriff's office reported that the tornado appeared to have lifted and skipped over Clearwater.  The town was safe, and we heaved a sigh of relief.  Presumably the people of the town were safe too.  We still had no idea about our own home, though.

We waited and watched for another hour or so, watching as the tornado continued up into Wichita, tracking across the south and southeastern parts of the city.  Besides trying to figure out how badly Wichita had been hit, we were trying to assure ourselves that another supercell wasn't forming in the wake of the one we'd been running away from.  Certainly that exact scenario had been happening all evening in other areas of Kansas; it seemed stupid to head home, only to have to turn around and run away again.

But the storms forming were lining up in a huge squall line, stretching from Kansas, across Oklahoma, deep down into Texas.  The meteorologists were assuring everyone that the energy of a squall line was very different from that of the supercells.  We should expect hail, high winds, and maybe even small tornadoes, but massive mega-tornadoes rarely formed in such a set-up.

So we headed home around midnight.  With each mile, we looked ahead and tried to see lights.  Yes, there was a farm light ahead...and someone's kitchen light.  There didn't seem to be debris in the road and, in the dark, we couldn't see any obvious damage anywhere.  We passed an electrical truck about 2 miles north of home, but the porch light was steadily on when we pulled into the driveway.  The house and even the yard appeared to be fine.  Going inside, we realized that the electricity had been restored just 2 or 3 minutes before.

The night wasn't over for us, yet.  The huge squall line was slowly advancing on us, with severe thunderstorm warnings and some isolated tornado reports.  Greg and I tried to stay awake to watch, but we both kept drifting off into sleep in front of the TV.  Finally, around 2 a.m., as the line was going through, Greg woke up enough to watch the radar and determine that there were no tornadoes in our vicinity, so we both dragged ourselves up to bed.

Our sleep wasn't terribly restful, but at least the weather threat was finally done.

We drove around this morning, trying to see where the tornado had gone through.  There was less damage than even a normal summer thunderstorm was likely to produce.  Obviously the funnel had retreated well up into the clouds when it went over our area, sparing us from so much damage and heartache.  We were SO lucky.  Our heart goes out to those whose luck was not as favorable as ours' yesterday....

The wind has been strong and gusty all day today, but the sun came out and the air feels bright and crisp.   The sense of threat is gone.  As soon as Greg and I recharge our personal batteries, life will be back to normal activities.  The changeable prairie weather has stormed itself out...for now.  This spring is certainly challenging our flexibility and our ability to react to change.


Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

So glad you are well and your little piece of the prairie is intact. Seems like I've spent most of the day checking in with family and friends. When you wrote that you packed up and left the path of the storm, I thought of other friends of our who lost their home in the Hoisington tornado. The next time they were in the path of a tornado, they did exactly the same thing. Time to help those who were affected and marvel at mother nature's power. So glad you are safe. Take care.

Gaia Gardener: said...

It felt odd to leave like that. For so many years, the advice has been to stay put and take cover. But, with modern radar, it seemed silly to stay put when we could obviously get ahead of the storm and out of the way of danger.

Perhaps it was easier to think about leaving, though, after going through a hurricane or two down in Mobile. There is NOTHING you can do, once the storm hits, and you have plenty of time (in that instance) as the storm is rocking your house around to wonder what, on Earth, you thought you could accomplish by staying put!

Hope all your friends and family were (are) safe....

ProfessorRoush said...

Glad you're okay Gaia, and that your place was skipped. I watched those same storms go just west, just east, and then had one coming right at us at midnight, but all three faded out as they crossed I-70. Only ended up with 0.2 inches of rain and very little wind.

Melanie said...

Glad you and your home are intact and well!! It was SOOO nice to meet you yesterday, even if only briefly in a windy parking lot!! The Monarda was looking very good by the time we got home last night near 10pm ;-) Hoping to get it in the ground tonight. I will be anxious to hear about where the sunflower goes in your yard and how beautiful it will be in the fall!! Have a great week!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Prof, I am so glad that you were spared as well, although I could certainly wish you'd received a bit more rain. You guys and the Salina area got the worst of the training effect, I think.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, It was wonderful to meet you, too! I know exactly where I'm going to put the sunflower and I have plenty of room there. I'll be getting out to put it in as soon as I have a stout pair of clean jeans to work in. (Sometimes the daily chores just HAVE to take precedence, even over gardening!) Glad you got home safely.

greggo said...

Wasn't that a weekend?