What it Feels like in a Tornado Shelter

When the tornado sirens began to whine, I was shaving. Stupidly, I made a decision to finish shaving, which took about two minutes. On the last day of May 2013, we watched on TV a line of deadly thunder cells stretched out along a north-east direction. It was crawling eastward toward southeast Kansas where we were staying.

This happens every year in May or June, when the jet stream lies along this concourse and meets warm air from the gulf. It happened on three consecutive days while I was there. My business partner warned me about this on the first day of the storms: “Do not be out driving later in the day” he spoke gravely. “You may die”. He was not kidding.

Meredith was grabbing frantically some basic clothes and a purse when I yelled “Do you have your meds?” Although she had planned ahead of time to escape to a neighbor’s storm cellar, she felt anxious because she had not planned exactly what to take with her.
“Can you grab the leashes” Meredith shouted. “Hey, let’s leave the dogs here” I protested. “The odds are that they will be alright, but it’s you and me we have to worry about”.
“I am not leaving without the dogs” Meredith added firmly. “I would never forgive myself if they died”.

Tornado bearing down on farm houses. Click on the image to enlarge it, or to reference the source.

I connected the leashes, with stammering fingers, and the dogs started to bound away. I grabbed the leash that Meredith was holding, because she had on a neck brace, which the surgeon ordered her to wear at all times following a fusion of three cervical vertebrae.

The last thing she wanted was to be yanked over by a dog in the rush of our escape. After stumbling with the dogs into the SUV, I stupidly raced back for an umbrella. We had lost fifteen minutes.

Meredith was shaking as she turned to look at me, and she whispered that she was scared. And she had a right to be scared because only eleven days before, on May 20, a similar line of cells under the same atmospheric conditions spawned an EF5 tornado which pumped ripping winds at 210 mph.

This immensity had blasted Moore, Oklahoma, a bit south of Oklahoma City, resulting in 24 deaths, seven of whom were children huddling in a school that was flattened. When an EF5 hits, you are perfectly safe in one place only……a storm cellar.

I drove like a maniac for about 100 yards up the street to pick up a single lady friend, who was peering from a hoodie raincoat through the light rain. The sirens were still blaring. Mavis had a small dog also. Across the street we scrambled to the door of the storm cellar, and guided the three dogs down the steps. I knew that we had lost twenty minutes by the time we entered the storm cellar. That was a dangerously long time. The EF5 tornado in Moore on May 20 allowed the fleeing inhabitants only sixteen minutes to find shelter.

A tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma, on 31 May 2013. Click on the image to enlarge it or to reference the source.

The cellar was as large as a small bedroom, but was packed with clothes since the family were planning to move. Hiding amongst the piles of clothes were two other dogs. They were Scottish terriers. I spent most of my time holding Chanelle up at arm’s length to help her behave. My other eye was glued to the TV watching the huge thunderstorm cells approach.

Viewers less than 30 miles from us were urged by the tornado forecaster to get to safety as that cell had rotation. A tornado was forming. We felt very safe in the cellar, and were grateful to the couple who allowed us to stay there while the wild weather approached.

Although no tornado appeared in our area, an EF5 tornado did hit El Reno just west of Oklahoma City. We were focused on the weather channel. In fact 22 people died, including three storm-chasers. This EF5 was the widest tornado ever recorded. 2.6 miles wide with winds up to 296 mph.  One tragic story, which ended in death, was told by a man who tried to outrun the tornado in his truck.

While huddling in the storm cellar I was reminded of the Biblical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And the escape of Lot, his wife, and three daughters. This is universally recognized by the Christian faith as God’s judgement. Why so? Because the inhabitants were rich, arrogant, neglected the poor, and engaged in sexual travesty (pederasty or homosexual abduction).

A thought came to my mind. Were the El Reno and Moore tornadoes God’s judgement? An EF5 is sometimes referred to as the finger of God. I do not think so. As a scientist, I recognize that the universe has built-in variability. An Act of God is regarded as one of nature’s statistical outliers. The same weather conditions that explode into a tornado in the evening can create a spectacular golden sunrise the next morning.

Asteroids orbit our solar system, and small ones enter the earth’s atmosphere all the time. Occasionally larger ones plunge to earth or break up before hitting. Like the one in Russia this past February, which injured a thousand people but caused no deaths. And very rare are the huge asteroids. Similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It landed where the Gulf of Mexico is now.

Jesus himself admitted it was a statistical universe. He stressed that the tower which fell and killed eighteen people when He walked on the earth was NOT because those folks were extraordinary sinners. Within Christian history, we live in a period of grace, not judgement. Although, God’s judgement will come eventually.

Grace means God loves us just as we are, and we do not have to do a single thing to earn salvation, because it is free. We just have to ask Him to forgive us, and to invite Christ into our life. After that we try to stay on the straight and narrow, but if we stumble (as we do from time to time), the grace of God restores our relationship with Him. It is quite a contrast to performance-based living, which often seeps into our Christian thinking, with uncertainty and guilt dripping like a leaky faucet. Grace takes away the worry/guilt/shame and the doubt about whether we are good enough or doing enough. The grace approach almost seems too simple, but test it and you will find it is very liberating.

El Reno, Oklahoma tornado is now the widest tornado ever recorded in the United States at 2.6 miles wide. Click on the image to enlarge it or to reference the source.

The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke chapter 13).

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