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OPINION: When it comes to tornadoes: Take cover

by Robert Box, Columnist | June 8, 2022 at 5:25 a.m.

Recently, when we were travelling across Kansas via Highway 70, we encountered a high wind storm. Since Kansas is known for some strong winds, we were not overly worried, although we did notice that the semi-trucks were having difficulty driving in a straight line. However, when we got to Colby, Kan., and got out of the car, we suddenly discovered some 70- to 80-mile-per-hour wind. We could hardly get our car doors open and had to hold on to one another to keep from blowing away. My wife lost her sunglasses and they are probably up north by now, perhaps in Nebraska.

When we attempted to get back on the highway, we noticed that the road had been closed. A helpful highway patrolman informed us that there was a significant dust storm down the road and that the wind had overturned several semi-trucks blocking the road and it would be some time before the road would be open. Being advised by local people and our children, we found a motel and settled in for the night. Two hours later, we had a rather significant hailstorm which settled the dust and covered our car with mud. Then, at 12:15 a.m., we were warned that a tornado was heading our way and to take shelter. No tornado alert, no tornado warning, just take cover. Lucky for us, the tornado dissipated about four miles south of us.

If you think that might have been scary, we were informed that the people living south of Colby and somewhat to the east had been through a lot more. Tornadoes had struck several homes and the hailstorm there produced baseball size hail. We did a lot of thanking God for His protection.

About 30 years ago, we were living in Augusta, Kan., which is just east of Andover, when a major tornado struck Andover and just about leveled the city. Since I was a chaplain for the Augusta Police Department, I responded and assisted the county coroner working the disaster area. I watched the firemen dig through three homes mangled together looking for a couple believed to be in there, and rejoiced with them when they found a live cat under a lot of debris. They later found a bird in a cage completely buried under the homes, with the bird alive and well, but not quite singing. And, I watched as emergency responders had to turn away home owners who were seeking things of memory from their destroyed homes, because it was too dangerous for them to return quickly.

Two of my church members hunkered down in the lowest place of their home as the tornado went by. When they stood up, the only thing standing was their television set. Since the man was the treasurer of our church, it was interesting that they found some of our checks in upper Iowa. On a brighter side, they found his computer three blocks away in a muddy ditch, cleaned it up, and it worked, restoring all of our church's financial data.

All of this is simply to say that tornadoes are rough and have no feelings about hurting people. Thirty years ago in Andover, 17 people were killed. Recently, a tornado hit Andover again, uprooting trees, heaving cars and trucks into buildings and ditches, knocking down power lines and blowing away homes. Thankfully, no one was killed this time, but the scars created by the tornado will last a long time.

Along with this tornado, it was reported that there was a hailstorm with softball sized hail. Now, that's serious hail. Hail is very hard, solid ice, and it doesn't care about whom or what it hits. Anyone caught outside in such a hailstorm would most surely have been killed. Cars would have been destroyed, and, in fact, so would most houses and other buildings. I've been hit by nickel-size hail, and they hurt. I have no desire to encounter anything larger. In fact, I don't even want to think about hail the size of baseballs and softballs.

We get a lot of information these days from our warning systems in northwest Arkansas, so much sometime that it becomes a nuisance, but let me assure you that if you are warned of impending danger, take cover. It's not like the open prairies of Kansas where you can see weather danger coming; dangerous storms in our area sneak up on you. Learn where the safe places are in your home and use them when danger comes. Stay safe.

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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 29 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.

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