During a cross country road trip last summer my better half and I stopped for dinner in the town of Dickenson, North Dakota. Like Fargo, a college town. Restaurants few and understaffed. School was out. After dinner, we drove back onto I-94 and headed west.
The area is flat with some rolling hills. The temperature hovered in the mid-90’s. Few overpasses on the freeway.
The National Weather Service issued a severe weather alert. A severe storm split at Dickenson and headed west and south. Right on top of us.
The National Weather Service warned all residents in trailer parks to seek underground shelter, survival would not be possible in a mobile home.
There is something about the “death is imminent” warning that made my skin crawl with centipedes.
My better half increased our speed to 85 m.p.h..
We could only go in one direction—no off-ramps. Twenty minutes later, a tornado formed about two miles to the north of us, heading our direction.
No other cars on the road. No side roads. No shelter.
The dark gray cloud formed a wide circle. It’s center filled with sunlight. A portion of the cloud stretched a tentacle toward the prairie. A long pointy shaft thrust itself out of the swirling column and touched the ground.
Debris filled the air.
I stopped taking pictures of the tornado, which bee lined for us, to wipe the sweat from my forehead. I death-gripped the arm rest on the passenger door. Refuse pelted the car. It sounded like tin cans crunched, our roof. Another crunch, our windshield cracked.
Our speed reached 90 m.p.h.. My better half clenching the steering wheel. Sweat dripping from his hair.
The air electrified.
The hair on my arms and head stood up.
The tornado climbed over a short hill through a pasture. It followed our car, determined to pluck us from the ground. The car rocked with the wind but hugged the road. The highway rounded a small hill, putting it between us and the tornado.
When we reached the other side of the hill, the tornado—less than two football field lengths away from us.
As suddenly as it dropped, it evaporated.
Wisps of tornado remnants suctioned up into the clouds. The former funnel resembling a giant vat of cotton candy at the fair.
We needed to pee.
We emptied our bladders, bought bottled water, and filled up the car at the Flying J gas station in Beach, North Dakota.
The next tornado formed to the east of us. A giant black cloud on one side, a rainbow on the other, the tornado split the difference. Grit pelted our skin. Wind threw the garbage cans, rolled the dumpster. Trash danced in the air like wild puppets.
Our hearts went from 0 to 60 in first gear. Not again.
We flew before the “J” did.
The storm shifted south when we reached Hysham, Montana. The clouds broke and genuine sunshine covered the hills.
We are not storm chasers, the storm chased us. And we out-drove the tornado.
Our hearts stopped pounding in our ears.
We arrived home the next day and watched the movie, Twister, that evening. It morphed into a completely different movie experience.
For the record, I agree with Dorothy, “There’s no place like home.”