Tornados in January?

I had spoken on the phone with my mother the night before. She had said the weatherman recommended securing patio furniture and taking the more portable items into the garage or the house as they were forecasting 70 mph winds and a tornado watch for the following day. The weather was supposed to be the worst by late afternoon. I thought, “Really? Tornados in January?” It just didn’t seem likely. It was winter. Tornados were for the spring. I checked both weather apps on my phone and listened to the radio report for weather in the hill country. There were varying reports but all agreed we’d get about 2 hours of rain with 15 to 20 mph winds. Nothing to worry about. No 70 mph winds forecasted and no tornado watches mentioned. I decided that they must be getting the brunt of it where my mother was and that it wasn’t going to extend far enough down to reach the homestead. I broke my cardinal rule; never trust a weatherman. I don’t know why i did it. Perhaps i was lazy. Perhaps i was distracted. Perhaps it was January and i just couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that we were going to have a storm…in January.

So i went to work as usual. I didn’t hurry or rush or check the weather radar every 30 minutes. I just did my work and drove home. I was actually chatting with my mother on the phone, checking on her weather, when i turned off the highway into my little town. She asked, “Is it raining there?” And i had said, “what here? No. I was calling to see about your wind. Did you guys get the 70 mph winds?” Just then i went down the hill and around the bend, losing cell phone coverage as i always did and i had to wait until i was at the homestead to dial again and finish the call. As i drove i noticed some dark clouds gathered together. They appeared to be dropping rain in sheets somewhere nearby as the dark gray just melted from the clouds into the ground, as if bleeding water color all over a painting canvas. As i stepped out of the car to unchain the gate i noticed a few drops of water falling around me. I pulled the car through and chained the gate back. I parked in front of the house and quickly let the dogs out in the dog run, filling their bowl with water. I wanted to give them a chance to potty before the rain arrived. They had been out for only about 4 minutes when i heard the rain began to speckle the tin roof. I flung the door open and raced around the house in the ever-increasing intensity of the rain. I pulled the gate open and said, “house, house, to the house!” Both dogs made a beeline for the porch steps and waited for me at the front door as i latched the gate. I ran up the steps and opened the door, letting them into the dry warm house. I called my mother back and told her the rain had arrived. As i squeezed the water from my hair i recognized a familiar sound. It was hailing. At first the hail was only pea sized. I didn’t think a thing about it. But, as the seconds ticked on the hail began to get bigger. By the time i was staring at marble sized hail i was chanting “oh shit, oh shit!” As the ceaseless pelting and pinging of ice competed with the roar of the water being dumped from the sky onto our roof. My mother suggested i move the car under the cover of the oak trees near the gate as i usually did when expecting a spring or summer storm. I argued that it wasnt that simple because i couldnt just leave the dogs in the house alone; cashew would rip up all the electric cords, and i wasnt wearing shoes. I noticed one piece of ice larger than a marble hit the ground and bounce up onto one of the wooden porch steps. The hail was going to get bigger. I realized she was right. It was imperative i move the car now, before the hail was big enough to cause me injury running to the car; before it was too late. I wrangled the dogs into their crate, grabbed my keys, and ran through the yard in my socks. I had realized i still had my phone in my hand as i ran down the porch steps and it had quickly been tucked under my shirt. I made it to the car and put the key in the ignition. As i did so the hail picked up and ice balls began pinging off the hood of the car. I threw it in reverse, all the while spouting some sort of reflexive involuntary chant “oh shit, oh shit!” I drove as fast as i could without dipping the tires into the really muddy areas and tucked the car quickly up under the tall oak trees near the gate. To my horror, i realized it was winter. The branches of the trees didn’t have the leaf cover they would have during spring or summer. The branches were slowing the ice balls down, but they certainly were not protecting the hood or the windshield of the car. The noise of the hail making contact with the metal of the car became louder. The little balls of ice began hitting and bouncing off the windshield and hood of the car before my eyes. I realized that some of the ice balls in the yard were the size of quarters. My “oh shit”’s became louder. My mother, still on the phone, asked, “Do you have a blanket or something in the car you can put over your head if the windshield breaks?” My socks were caked in mud. I took them off and left them next to the brake pedal. I climbed over the center console and into the middle of the back seat. I pulled a jacket over my head and waited out the rest of the hail storm from beneath it. I would survey the damage once the weather passed. Eventually the hail did stop. After all that commotion i wasn’t especially eager to get out there in the open where those ice balls could conk me on the head. However, i now had a new problem. All the rain that had been dumped on the dry parched ground…rather than being absorbed, it had just sat on top. It was as if the ground had said, “nope, too much too quickly…the workers have given up, punched out, and gone home.” I now had ankle deep water to wade through if i wanted to get back to the house and i wasn’t the only one that had been caught off guard by the intensity of the storm. There were thousands of little angry ants floating in the ankle deep water. I decided to wait a bit for the water to go down before making my way back to the house, in an attempt to avoid the ants. The dogs were safely locked in the crates. I had the time to spare. Amazingly, neither the windshield not the hood of the car seemed to be damaged by the hail. I would later learn some of my friends caught driving in the same storm were not so lucky. I thank the Lord and the nearly bare oak trees for watching over our only car. Also, thanks mum. Moving the car was a stellar idea!

When about half of the standing water had been soaked into the ground i decided to emerge from the car. I didn’t think there would be any remnant left of the hail to photograph and kicked myself for not getting out of the car sooner to snap a photo but i found two survivors clinging to life in the warm temperatures on the floor boards of the porch. I had put my socks back on to give an added layer of protection against rocks and twigs and ants encountered under the water. I then locked the car and trudged across the yard to the house.

I had thought that was the end of it but unbeknownst to me the storm was just getting warmed up. It would hail 3 more times in the next couple of hours (thankfully all pea or marble sized…no more quarter sized hail). It would rain ceaselessly for 2 hours, turning my property first into a pond and then a river, carrying my top soil down the driveway and into the street. I cringed at the sight of it but what was there to do? Luckily, my mother had suggested moving the car under the oak trees to shield it from hail damage. The sellers had left a mulch pile under those trees which lifted the area higher than the surrounding terrain.

As the river of water made its way down the dirt driveway i realized, if my mother hadn’t suggested moving the car, it would be in the middle of the river. The water would probably have eroded the dirt from around the wheels, causing it to sink into the mud and making it very difficult to drive it to work in the morning. Instead, the kia was safely up on the mulch pile next to the treeline, the only thing above water as the rain continued to overwhelm the ground.

More hail arrived. I realized i’d gotten lazy with preparation for this weather. I needed to get on my game. January or not, i should have known better.

My property was covered in water and it had come up to the porch steps now. I was glad the house was raised up on cinder blocks. it was a disconcerting feeling being in the middle of water. The eerie thing was the sheer amount of darkness. It was daylight. It was not night time. The sun had not set, but the clouds were so thick and so dark, you would have thought it had.

I could barely see across the yard but when there was a break in the clouds i could see blue sky. It was the strangest thing. It might as well have been past sun down because the storm stayed until 10. I kept thinking i was going to feed the dogs dinner and let them out to potty and go out and check the baby fruit trees…see how they weathered the hail. I would nap for an hour, having set my alarm, and then wake up only to find we were having another torrent of rain or more pea sized hail. I didn’t get to feed and potty the dogs until 10 and i didn’t check the fruit trees until the following afternoon. I skipped supper, went to bed at 11, and woke up for work at 2:30 am. The January storm had really wreaked havoc on the property. All the soil was pushed around where the water had traveled and i had to clear it away from the front gate to open it to get the car out, but, it could have been worse. No structures were flooded. No windshields were broken. No people or dogs were conked on the head by ice balls from the sky. We had much to be thankful for. Next time someone mentioned a summer storm coming in January, i would pay attention.

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  1. you write incredibly well. Your descriptions just sucked me in and wouldn’t let me stop reading until the end. I used to live in the Texas hill country and you vividly described what we had lived through several times over 20+ years. Great job!

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