A few weeks ago on a Monday night shortly before midnight, both Marla and I’s phones went off, vibrating and ringing with an intensity that I didn’t recognize. I grabbed mine and a message was flashing on the screen that said “Extreme alert! Tornado Warning in this area till 12:30 AM. Take shelter now!”
This, of course, didn’t happen here locally in the peaceful Mid-Columbia Basin, but in Fairborn, Ohio. Our family was back there to attend a church conference and our nephew’s high school graduation. Monday at conference is a day filled with worship services, the last one ending at 8:30 in the evening.
A light snack was served outside, and as we were standing in line, I noticed I had received a weather alert saying tornados were possible that night. I mentioned it to someone and commented that it felt like the weather could breed them as it was very muggy and a bit oppressive feeling. However, in chatting with friends and the tiredness of the day, we soon forgot all about it. By 9:30, we were ready to call it a day and all headed back to our hotel along with Terrance’s friend Rhett.
Everyone was soon asleep after their big day, but for some reason Marla and I were doing the roll, toss, turn act. We were both extremely tired, but sleep wasn’t coming. We weren’t worried about the tornado. In fact, we weren’t even thinking about it. Growing up in Eastern Kansas, I remember lots of tornado warnings and watches, but there was only one time that we had to go somewhere and seek shelter. So, when our phones erupted from the nightstand, I jumped up and headed to the window to look out.
Of course, all I could see was lightning and clouds.
Marla asked, “What should we do?” I was awake, but not exactly thinking real clear. But I did know that if the tornado was close, leaving would be much more dangerous than staying put. I decided to call the front desk. Isn’t that what you do if you need anything in a hotel?
The lady that answered sounded stressed, which didn’t seem like a good thing. From a conversation our first night there with the manager, I knew this was her first week on the job, so I didn’t worry about that. “Do you have an emergency plan for tornadoes?” I asked. She wasn’t sure and said that she would need to call her manager, but suggested we go to our bathroom since there was a tornado on the ground and heading our way!
That got my attention! We woke up the kids and hurried them all into the bathroom, although our youngest steadfastly refused to wake up, so we just picked her up, blankets and all. Marla sat and held her on the one seat and the rest of us stood and listened, half nervous and half feeling silly. Terrance’s friend Rhett, also from Kansas and used to tornado warnings, was thinking we were crazy to be interrupting his sleep for this. My personal emergency plan finally came to mind and we had a prayer for safety.
After a few minutes of bathroom camaraderie, the hotel phone rang and the lady at the front desk informed us that the bathroom was the only emergency plan so we should stay in there. About the time I hung up, we heard a loud rushing wind, so, of course, I went to the window to look out. The smaller trees were bending sideways and rain was sheeting down in a way that you can’t imagine and never see in the Mid-Columbia.
Then the wind shifted directions and some very large hail came pounding at the window. Then it was over just like that and the wind calmed back down again. I and the boys headed out to look things over and saw some strange hailstones larger than a quarter and kind of flat. Some were shaped like a donut with a hole in the middle.
By this time tornado sirens were going off along with emergency vehicle sirens and some car alarms. There was continual lightning that kept the sky lit up. We went back in to report to the girls our findings. Rhett declared that even Kansas doesn’t get hail that big! While they were moderately impressed, Marla and Paige were both ready to join Kenedee, who was still peacefully sleeping. I decided to stay up and keep an eye on things. The sirens finally shut off at 1 a.m. and I crawled in bed for a few hours of sleep.
The next morning on our way back to the conference, we had to detour as one of the tornadoes had lain down two power poles and several trees across the road. Some friends said they had been driving on I-70 when their alert went off so they found a Meijer (store like Fred Meyer here) where multiple people went to the back of the store and rode out the storm for a couple hours. Other friends that live in the area lost roofs and trees. One family’s brick house totally collapsed while they were in it, but thankfully, they survived. After hearing these stories and witnessing a bit of the destruction, I was extremely thankful that our emergency plan provided safe harbor!
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