Saturday Six #30: Extreme Weather

I have always been obsessed with weather.

I can remember a tornado warning one day after school. I was probably in 1st or 2nd grade, and the sky was greenish-gray while my friend’s mom picked her up from our house. And I remember another tornado warning when my mom ushered my brother and me to the basement, but my (crazy) dad stayed upstairs to watch the storm from our dining room sliding door.

This interest turned into one of my earliest career aspirations, to become a meteorologist. In the thick of those years, the movie Twister was released, and it quickly became a favorite. (It still is, though as an adult, I can appreciate its sheer terribleness!) When I wrote a novella in high school, my creative writing teacher commented on how well I used weather in the narrative, and my finished novel and my work-in-progress are both weather-related. To this day, I am addicted to checking the weather forecast, watching hurricane coverage, and wearing my Weather Channel pajama shirt. I know. Nerd.

I’ve also had some fun (scary?) firsthand weather experiences. They got my adrenaline pumping and were sort of a thrill, even though a couple were legitimately dangerous situations. Rest assured, it was always our intent to put ourselves in the safest position possible to “ride out” these events.

1992 Hurricane Andrew. Admittedly, I didn’t actually experience the hurricane. We lived in central Florida at the time, so school was shut down the day of predicted landfall, in case the buildings needed to be used as shelters. While the storm was expected to cross a good portion of the peninsula, it skirted the southernmost tip early in the morning. Homestead was devastated, but eerily enough, it was one of the most beautiful weather days we had in our 2 ½ years in the Sunshine State.

1996 Gettysburg Flood. In 8th grade, our class trip was to Gettysburg, and I loved it so much, I convinced my parents to take us there on the first leg of our family vacation that summer. It was our first camping trip with a pop-up camper instead of a tent. While there are several “interesting” stories to tell about that excursion, the craziest was the rainstorm on our last night. It started to sprinkle around dinnertime, and then the heavens opened and dropped ELEVEN INCHES of rain. Overnight. Gettysburg was underwater, and had we not been east of town, we would have had trouble getting to our next destination. We still talk about the full-immersion baptism of that poor pop-up, and we still thank Dad’s bad back for not wanting to sleep on the ground in a tent anymore!

1996 Fraser Funnel. The night before our summer family reunion, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about tornadoes, and I was suddenly very frightened about the prospect of one hitting near our house. When we got home from the reunion the next day, we heard reports that a funnel cloud had passed within a mile of our house. For me, there was an obvious sign it had been tornadic: three houses down, a huge tree lay uprooted, but in our backyard, my brother’s batting helmet sat unmoved on top of our pop-up camper. I still think my sleepless night was a sort of intuition about what would happen the next day.

1998 Michigan/Ohio Snowstorm. Between Christmas and New Year’s, six of us drove to Maryland to visit with extended family, and we were having such a good time, my brother and I begged my mom to stay an extra day. She relented. On the way home, though, we ended up driving through a significant snowstorm. Cars were off the road at every exit, and we drove through foot-deep ruts on the freeway, crawling at 20 miles an hour. We probably still owe Mom big for that one!

2004 Hurricane Charley. We were in Florida for a week, and by Tuesday, we started hearing reports of a potential hurricane; as the week wore on, it looked more and more certain it would make landfall in the Tampa Bay area, where we were staying. One night, we ate at a hotel restaurant, and the only other group there was the Weather Channel crew! Mandatory evacuations began Friday morning at 8am, and we planned to leave then. But Thursday at midnight, I essentially had a panic attack, so we ended up evacuating that night and going a couple hours inland. In the end, the storm made a sharp right and hit Punta Gorda before crossing the state. The eye passed within 30 miles of where we had evacuated to, and the storm was still a Category 2 at that point. Witnessing the power of the storm was incredible, but ironically, had we stayed at our condo, where evacuations were mandatory, we would have only experienced the very outer edges.

Mom & Me: Our ironic picture after Hurricane Charley

2019 Dayton Tornadoes. The day before Memorial Day, we went up to Toledo, OH, so I could do research for my novel at the National Museum of the Great Lakes. On the way home, my mom’s neighbor texted her to say we were under a tornado watch, and by the time we arrived, we could see storm clouds and lightning gathering to the west. I’ll never forget that lighting because it was pink. As the kids brushed teeth for bedtime, my middle daughter asked if we could read bedtime stories in the basement, but I assured her everything was okay. Turns out, she had a sixth sense. A couple hours later, we hauled four sleeping kids to the basement as the sirens wailed and the power cut. A weak tornado touched down about a mile away, but a stronger EF-3 hit a city about 20 minutes to our west. Even more devastating was the EF-4 that tore through North Dayton and left so much destruction, crews had to use snowplows to clear debris from I-75. We actually drove through the area the next day due to a previously planned trip. Traffic crawled, and chills erupted across my entire body as we drove on the road where the tornado had crossed.

Weather demands a massive amount of respect. No matter how “predictable” we think it is these days, with advanced radar and satellite and other technologies, Mother Nature will always do what she pleases. In all these experiences, I’m beyond thankful for my safety, knowing many, many others were not so lucky. Sometimes I still wonder how my life would have turned out had I pursued meteorology, but I am perfectly content to maintain an amateur obsession and allow it to influence my writing.

Have you lived through a major weather event? Share your story in the comments!

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