Friday, June 18, 2010

Welcome to Tornado Alley

We are parked on a city street in Cooperstown, North Dakota, adjacent to the Coachman Inn steak house, lounge, and motel (map). We had dinner there, which was quite good, and asked about parking here. The main streets are posted no parking 2am-6am, but not these side streets, and we were undisturbed.

Our first stop in this town was actually the city park, a few blocks north, where our guide said there were several camp sites with hookups for $10. Sure enough, there were perhaps ten sites, but half of them had just been constructed and were a muddy mess -- I don't think you could have put a truck camper in them without getting stuck. The other half were mostly full of rigs that looked to be there long-term. There was one space we might have squeezed into with a great deal of effort, but our shoes made enough of an impression in the ground that we decided against even trying; we could just imagine our 12-ton drive axle sinking in several inches.

By the time we arrived here we were pretty much done. We had hoped for quarters at the free city park half an hour west, in Glenfield, but that place was also a muddy mess after yesterday's weather, and between that, the low trees and the narrow access road, we decided not to risk entry. Widespread flooding throughout the region pretty much meant we should stick to paved or well-graveled roads, at least until things dry out.

Even before we had left Minot, our weather radio had started alerting every fifteen minutes or so with severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches. We brought the radio down to the cockpit with us for the drive, and as we continued southeast, watches all around us were turning into warnings, meaning actual tornadoes were being spotted or picked up on radar. Every time the radio went off, Louise furiously pawed through the maps to see where we were in relation to the warnings, and while we did drive through the watch area, our presence in any given county never coincided with a warning there.

That said, as we drove merrily along, the crosswind suddenly picked up to 50-60 knots or so in driving rain, and a darkening sky in front of us with low descending and fast moving clouds had us scanning the roadside for tornado shelters. I had to slow to 45mph and fight the wheel with both hands to stay on the road, and we pulled off at the next gas station we found. Fifteen minutes later it was all over, and we pulled around to the pumps to fuel, realizing that, by chance, this station had the lowest diesel price we'd seen in many miles.

While inside paying I heard on the radio about damage in a town still ahead of us, and a couple that had been heading the other way mentioned an overturned grain silo. Sure enough, as we rolled past Fessenden, we spotted the silo, which looked to have been nearly brand new, almost upside down, and well crumpled. This was one of the short squat ones, perhaps 50' across and again as tall, with a conical top. By the time we passed the silo, the sun was shining and the wind had mostly abated.

Half an hour later we passed through the small town of Carrington, one of our stopping options. The county fair looked to be in full swing, and it seemed a bit early to stop, so instead of turning southeast on US-281 we continued east on ND-200, heading for Glenfield. Perhaps a mile out of town we rolled up to a sheriff's deputy standing in the road, his cruiser on the shoulder with lights blazing. After waving us to a stop he told us to proceeded slowly past the fire trucks.

As we approached the scene, we could see the power poles along both sides of the road had been pushed over toward the north; the lines south of the road were intact, but a pole on the north side had snapped and the lines were down. We figured the fire department was there for that reason. But as we got closer we could see that the roof of Wholesale AG Products had been ripped completely off, and pieces of the building and much of the inventory was spread out in a tight fan across the fields north of the building. That's when we knew that a tornado had touched down just south of the road, moved across the road from south to north, sliced through the middle of the building like a giant Dremel tool, deposited its evil spoils in the crops, and then dissipated.

Based on when we heard the warnings for that county, we surmised the tornado preceded us on this section of the road by perhaps 90 minutes. A sobering reminder that we are not only in Tornado Alley, but also in tornado season. All's well that ends well, and while the 60-knot sideways torrential rain drove some water into the bus, we dodged a bullet and were glad to stop for the night where we could get a nice meal and a glass of wine, and not have to be towed out of the mud in the morning by an enormous wrecker.

In a few minutes we will drive the three miles north to the decommissioned Minuteman silo (North Dakota is full of them) that is now a museum. We'll come right back through town and continue east on 200, then stair-step our way southeast to Fargo.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!