Three-Day Storm Travel Saga Through Joplin Tornado-Stricken Areas

Severe thunderstorms and tornados ripped through the midwestern U.S. these past few days. We picked Sunday through Tuesday to drive cross country. To say the trip was stressful is the understatement of the week. Thank god we all had travel pillows because that ride hurt. Our hookup was travelcollectivegroup they helped us with some great pillows!

Where’s the good weather?

The start of our cross country drive west to the Rockies from the East Coast would wait for good weather. It never came. In a deceivingly short span of sunshine on Sunday morning, May 22, we departed. The weather turned from bad to really bad slowly but steadily from Pennsylvania to Kentucky. We put up for the night in a Frankfort motel, just west of Lexington, Kentucky.

First thing to happen in any motel room of mine is to turn on the TV. Having none at home, it’s first on when I’m away.

May 22: Joplin tornado

First thing on TV was Mike Bettes of Weather Channel showing the destruction in Joplin. A tornado hit that heartland town hard the night before. He was among the first on the scene, standing before total destruction as his backdrop. It was later in the broadcast that Bettes broke down. He witnessed dead bodies among the wreckage. The storm killed 117 there and still counting.

It was 5:34 in the morning when that same tornadic activity reached us in our Frankfort motel. Having traveled east and dissipated a bit, the tornado manifest merely as a severe thunderstorm with hail, dangerous lightning, and flooding rains. I wanted desperately to sleep more, but the jolting lightning and big boomers wouldn’t allow it. Did I mention we wanted desperately not to see our new car dented with hail? Later but still early morning, the weather blessedly cleared a bit as we departed on Day 2 of the trip.

May 23: St. Louis tornado watch

The calm after that storm was short-lived indeed. By noontime, another severe thunderstorm warning turned to tornado watch for St. Louis. That announcement put an end to a barbecue stop we anticipated with stoked appetites. The 17th Street Grille in O’Fallon, Illinois, besides having the best spare ribs in the state, was on the trajectory of a storm cell piping up Interstate 44.

Still in Missouri, the storm was headed northeast to exactly where we contemplated lunch. We’ll have to postpone the pork and make a run for it past the arch in St. Louis. Unfortunately, the storm intersected us west of St. Louis. Fortunately, it settled down into a mere severe thunderstorm with damaging lightning and flooding rains. It left the tornadic development and the prospect of BBQ pork for another day and place.

There was good news in the wet sprint west through St. Louis. It put us farther west than anticipated and unexpectedly well positioned for an early supper. Arthur Bryant’s is legend for cholesterol clogging barbecue brisket in Kansas City. Not stopping there is not in the cards when passing through. And, I was feeling that a gastronomic reward was due for having missed it in O’Fallon for a freakin’ tornado that we managed to outrun on the road.

Our heads hit the pillow in Salina, Kansas. The tornadic activity was petering out in the state that makes them famous. Central Kansas was calm compared to the rest of the stormy region, with which we were on a collision course for the whole trip.

May 24: Good morning, Salina!

The morning gave rise to an early departure, given the hour we gained and unexpectedly good weather for Kansas. I punched on the TV to see Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams. “A severe storm cell in Russell is moving east along I-70. Salina, it’s heading for you!”

Oh, swell. Stephanie Abrams was speaking to me, good weather and all that it was in Salina at that moment. Dopler radar and the lovably toothy Weather Gal got my attention. We must divert from our westward I-70 route lest we hit severe weather head-on. Heaven forbid it should turn tornadic. Go south, people. Gotta go!

By now, I’m getting the idea that Mother Nature is purposefully putting up storms in our path. Divert we must. We have no interest in an interstate interlude with a tornado. The skirt was successful with nary a hailstone, dangerous lightning, nor flooding rains en route. Although, the skies did not give up their gray grudge all the way west through Kansas and into flatter-than-flat eastern Colorado.

“We’re getting out of tornado territory now,” my husband proclaimed confidently. Xanax had reinstituted some confidence in me earlier. It’s true. You never hear of a tornado in the Rockies. Funnel clouds don’t form this close to the mountains, choosing rather to repeatedly frazzle the people of the plains.

“Then why is it so black over there,” I wondered, fighting frazzle, and pointing in the direction of our intended route. This road goes directly between Nowhere A and Nowhere B along a 63-mile stretch of absolutely nothing. It gets you where you need to be to proceed west, however. We had been on this starkly spooky road several times before. And just when we thought it was safe, another black terror appeared in the skies where nothing ever like it was ever seen before.

Another diversion, taking us 33 miles–at least–out of our way. But out of the way of that storm it was, making for yet another safe–if not frazzling–passage through the funneled fingers of fate.

May 25: Here

We got where we were going. But’s that’s about all I can say for the trip.

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