Around the time the first tornado was skirting the edge of Ark City last night, I was driving up to Wichita for Cowley College’s baseball team’s championship game. Moderately heavy rain and the occasional loud clunk on the roof of the car were the only apparent effects on my particular route. I was just east of Oxford when the alarm sounded on my cell phone. I checked the weather service information for storm location. It verified what the sky seemed to suggest already: the severe weather was located south and east of me at Geuda Springs. I was headed north and west. I kept going.
Somewhere about the top of the fifth or sixth inning, the game was delayed by lightning in the vicinity. After taking a look at the weather radar, I took a look off to the south. Although I didn’t see any vivid spikes, it was a virtual light show. Constant flashes and flickerings lit up the dark clouds from west to east. This was the north edge of a long line of intense activity, a band of green-fringed red on the weather map. Squarely between me and home.
As I drove south on I-35, I was relieved that the rain was lighter than I expected. Just out of Haysville, that relief ended. For the next twenty miles, I drove through the most sustained and intense rain I’ve ever encountered. At times, all I could see were the taillights of the tanker truck in front of me. At times, even those blurred and were briefly blanked out by the vertical river. A line of trucks driven by saner folks turned into the service center at Belle Plaine. Just past that, in the most intense part of the downpour, a few cars had pulled over onto the shoulder.
I was concerned, among other things, that I would not be able to see the exit sign for my turn. About four or five miles south of that service center, the rain let up a bit. Just in time for me to see the sign “Wellington, 1 mile.” In the lightening rain, the tanker driver pushed back up toward the speed limit and I watched his lights fade into the night.
I turned toward Winfield, grateful for the blessing of safe travel and improved visibility. Just fifteen minutes from home, I heard another alarm sounding on my cell phone. Another tornado warning for Cowley County. This one was just over twenty miles east of Ark City, south of Dexter.
In the season of storms, we hope for safety, that we and our property are spared. Driving through the red zones, we think of home and pray that it will be still be there, that those we love are safe within its walls. And that we will soon be with them once again.