Dumeril's Ruby Slippers

Ridin' the storm out
I've had a fear/fascination with tornadoes since I was a child. To this day, I still have dreams about them occasionally. But after 25 years of living in Texas, I'd grown to accept them as part of the deal with living there. During my time in Texas, I spent a few evenings in the closet under the stairway waiting out a tornado warning. I watched from a high rise office building as the storm that produced the F5 that obliterated Jerrell came roiling into downtown Austin. My boss and I foolishly drove into a really nasty looking cumulonimbus while driving a rental car to Austin after our flight was diverted to Abilene due to storms. Within a minute of driving into that black cloud, all hell broke loose but at least there wasn't a tornado although that storm produced several that day. I finally got to see a tornado with my own eyes north of Austin about 16 years ago.

Here's my latest tornado tale. It happened yesterday while trying to return to Raleigh from Kansas City.

If you've been paying attention to the Weather Channel the last few days you know that the Midwest is currently getting pummeled with storms. My flight was scheduled for 6PM but I arrived at the airport early at about 3:30. It was already looking pretty ominous when I returned my rental car and I'd mentally accepted the possibility that my flight might get delayed or canceled. I went through the security line, bought some snacks, then settled into a seat to work on my laptop.

About 30 minutes later, the emergency sirens went off. A person on the airport intercom announced that a tornado in Platte county triggered the sirens, but it wasn't close to the airport and that everything was okay for the time being.

I watched the storm through the big terminal windows. It was coming down in sheets by that time. Fierce wind. A few minutes later, they came back on the intercom to tell us what we were to do if we did need to evacuate - exit the gate area, proceed to the ticketing area, and go down the stairs to the tunnel hallway that leads to the lower level parking garage.

Another 10 minutes and we got to put those contingency instructions to use. They announced that a tornado had been sighted near the airport and we were to evacuate to the storm shelter.

People were remarkably calm. I guess living in Kansas will do that to you. No pushing, no panicking. People calmly but efficiently proceeded to the ticketing area and down the staircase. A lot of people stopped at the foot of the stairs and kind of block progress for a little while (not realizing how many people were going to be coming down those stairs) but an admonition from security cleared that up quickly. They piled about 400 people into that tunnel. I went most of the way to the end of the tunnel where there were glass doors leading to the parking garage. I didn't get too close to the doors because, you know, glass. But I could see through them to the area beyond where you could see the effects of the storm. It was clearly a violent storm, with tons of rain blowing sideways.

I chatted up some people near me and saw a guy wearing a T-shirt advertising a Harley dealer in Las Cruces. It's not often that I see fellow New Mexicans, but I didn't get a chance to talk with him.

After about a half hour, the storm settled down a bit and they let us go back upstairs. So we didn't get blown to Oz.

Unfortunately everybody had to go through security again, which really sucked. I stood in a line with several hundred people and TSA didn't ease up on their screening process in order to expedite things. It took awhile, but I made it.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, my flight ended up being canceled. There was yet another huge line at ticketing to re-book flights, so I decided to just check into a hotel and re-book from there over the phone.

So I write this from my room at the Four Points Marriott near the airport in Kansas City. It things go to plan, and it's not clear they will, I'll get on the same flight 24 hours later to get back home. Wish me luck!


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