For days in advance, the weather forecasters had been advising folks to be prepared for volatile weather that was to come our way nearly two weeks ago on a Saturday night. It was unusual to have the threat of strong winds, hail, and tornadoes in October, but here in Oklahoma it did not surprise me, as we had been having very warm temperatures lately. Each time I thought I might finally be finished mowing grass for the year, a little rain would come, along with a lot of sunshine, and rejuvenate the plant life back to green and tall. Even both of my gardens had sprung back into production. Bell peppers, spaghetti and acorn squash, hot peppers, and all of my herbs were producing again. In a way though, I did not care if wind or hail took out the gardens. After all, the chickens were getting some of the surplus, and I was too tired to keep up with more produce by this time of the year.
When that volatile evening arrived, I had dinner timed just right. The smoker had been working on burger patties for two hours, and I had corn on the cob ready to put on the grill while I cranked up the heat to finish grilling the burgers. As I placed the corn on the grill, I noticed storm clouds were building and could hear thunder rolling in the distance. Hopefully, I could get the grill cooled down and covered before the rain hit. Our pellet grill had been a pricey splurge, and I was quite protective about taking good care of it.
Soon the burgers and corn were ready, and I shut the grill down for cooling. Reaching the kitchen, I checked the online radar from my iPad. FD was monitoring the weather situation from his laptop in the living room. He works for a generation and transmission electric cooperative, so storms almost always have some kind of impact on his company’s system, which covers three-quarters of our state.
As we usually do, we sat down to eat dinner at our TV tables. Besides, the OU football game was on, and things were not going so well. And, knowing FD’s passion for OU football, I was sure the weather was secondary to the game. While I was thinking about whether the grill had cooled off enough to get it covered, FD was muttering about the game and pacing in front of the TV.
By the time we finished our burgers, the OU game had become very intense. I rushed outside to roll the grill to a more protected area and quickly cinched the cover over top. Lightning was close now and thunder boomed loudly. I was excited to see just what kind of storm this was going to be. Already the Lawton area, an hour south of here, had seen some tornado potential, and tennis ball-sized hail was reported in some areas. Now, local TV channels were interrupting programming to report on the weather. And before long, we lost our satellite signal completely. FD was upset of course… the OU ballgame was in the last minutes of play!
Watching the weather radar from my iPad, I suddenly got a text from a young friend who lives near the next town east of us. She knew we had no satellite at the time, so she alerted us that a tornado had touched down just south of town! And only seconds later, both FD’s and my cell phones blared the alert to take shelter! FD threw on his house slippers, retrieved his cell from the living room and grabbed Oscar. I grabbed my iPad which I wrapped in a towel, stuffed my cell phone in my back pocket, and hefted up Mr. T, who is just under twenty pounds. FD headed out first, as he would open the shelter door and I would follow. FD was well ahead of me, and I was trying to juggle the iPad and hold on to Mr. T. Not being able to look down to see where I was going, I faltered getting down the five steps to the ground level and fortunately caught myself! At that point, it dawned on me that we had forgotten to take the good, high-beam flashlight with us. As I made my way off the patio tiles and onto the short grassy area leading to our shelter, I stepped into water! Already the rain had poured down so hard that water was standing everywhere. As I quickly entered the door to the shelter, FD followed and put Oscar down so that he could run back to get the flashlight. Unfortunately, Oscar bolted from the shelter before FD could close the door. I don’t know if Oscar was scared and just ran blind into the rain, or if he was trying to follow FD, but FD had quite a time catching him. When he finally did, he tossed the now soaked Oscar in the shelter and slammed the door. Quickly he came back with the flashlight, but he was completely drenched.
Oddly, there was a cozy quiet to this sanctuary of safety. Through the roof vents, we could hear the wind, rain, and hail outside, but inside was dry and comfortable with plenty of room to move about. We had folding chairs and Mr. T and Oscar had a nice rug to lay on. Still getting a strong wi-fi signal from the house, I watched the weather radar on my iPad . FD watched the last of the OU football game on his cell phone via ESPN’s Gamecast, which is, to me, nothing even close to viewing the actual game. Strangely, our electronic devices created a soothing glow to the darkness of the storm shelter and, other than to light the way to the shelter, our flashlight really was not needed.
While we waited out the storm, it was good to know Mr. T was calm and stayed settled on the rug on the floor of the shelter. Perhaps being nearly blind now actually helped to keep him relaxed. Oscar, on the other hand, was scared and crammed himself next to Mr. T the entire fifteen-minute duration until the storm passed. At one point during those moments, there was a strange, quiet celebration of OU’s win and, as soon as the all clear signal was given, we loaded up and headed back to the house in the same fashion as we had ventured out to the shelter. Our feet were immersed in water for those first steps to the patio pavers, and then took careful steps up to the back porch in the dark.
Exhilarated, from the excitement of the evening and the now cool air as the front moved through, we entered the warmth of the house and immediately discussed a better plan for next time. This was our first tornado warning alert since we had the shelter installed in June 2016. Since that time, I kept a small plastic tub in the shelter with bottles of water, snack items, a couple of old jackets, dog snacks and a water bowl. But now we realized we could make a few improvements. If weather looks to be threatening, I will have a harness on Oscar and a leash handy for easy leading to the shelter with no chance of running off. We will make sure to flip on the back porch lighting, (we generally keep that motion light off because wildlife sets it off all night long), and we will remember to take our high-beam flashlight in case we have to leave the house in another night storm. And sometime in the coming months, before the spring storms arrive, we plan to put more walkway pavers down to keep a clean and clear path to the shelter. No more soaked feet!
It is always good to have a plan. And, most of the time, I find that even the best laid-out plans can use a little tweaking! This autumn storm gave us the opportunity to see what improvements we could make so that we can be better prepared when the real volatile storms arrive next spring!
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