That time my vacation was hit by a tornado

Jason Wolverton
Jul 1, 2015 · 5 min read

One day during my recent vacation extravaganza I looked down at my phone to check the Weather Channel app and noticed we were under a Tornado Watch. Apparently this time of year the entire state of South Dakota is rife with severe weather and conditions were right for a good ole’ spinning cloud of death.

“Oh don’t worry,” my mother-in-law says. “It looks like it’s going to head north of here.”

Apparently she used her extensive training in meteorology to determine that.

Ironically, a few hours later we find ourselves in our Best Western motel room watching some show about tornados on the Weather Channel when my son asks, “Are tornados real?”

Turns out he was about to learn just how real they are.

My phone buzzes not too long later and I look down. It’s one of those mass Emergency Alert text messages that says there is a tornado warning for our area and to take shelter immediately. Thirty seconds after that, the emergency alert comes on over the television. Another 30 seconds after that, my wife’s phone goes off. And then 30 seconds after that, my mother-in-law’s phone does nothing because I think it’s an original iPhone and probably doesn’t even have a calculator app.

I love how the Weather Channel App felt the need to put that picture in the background as if I would be confused by what a tornado looked like.

So now my son is freaking out a little, which is understandable. We tell him to calm down but that goes out the shitter when the emergency siren in Wall, South Dakota goes off. I head back into the bedroom and flip to a local channel just in time to hear some TV weatherman say, “This is an incredibly powerful storm with a very large tornado and it’s heading straight for the Wall area. If you’re in that area, take shelter in a basement immediately.”

Figures. Not only was the room we were staying in non-smoking, but it was non-basementing, too.

I call the front desk to ask what to do and she says she recommends all guests head down to the four way stop and take a left. Just down the road there are two churches people are going to.

“Churches?” I ask. “Are you telling me to go there for safety or because we’re going to need Jesus to get through this alive?”

My wife asks if she thinks we should go to the church and I respond by pointing out that the church is only safe provided this giant tornado doesn’t hit the church. When you see pictures of tornado damage it’s rarely ever a church left standing. It’s some weird thing like a refrigerator in the middle of the rubble. Again we’re out of luck because our fridge is one of those small dorm-room style ones and I sure as shit ain’t fitting in there.

Instead the six of us settle on the bathroom. We have a suite-style room where a middle bathroom separates two bedrooms. We tuck the kids under the counter, my in-laws go sit on the tub, and Amanda and I get under a table I dragged in from the other room. The one bit of humor in this whole thing is my father-in-law was actually sitting on the toilet seat itself with his pants on and not the lid because it was one of those flimsy lids that felt like it would break.

My wife and kids preparing to try not to die.

But that’s when the power goes out. I don’t use R-rated language in this blog very often, but the only thought in my head was:

Oh. Fuck.

You want to talk about creepy, imagine being in a jet black South Dakota motel room that’s about 90 degrees with no sound other than the panicked cries of tourists clammering around in the parking lot trying to figure out how not to die.

I get up and walk outside and it’s creepy. I mean, real creepy. There is no wind and the lightning is filling up the sky, only without thunder. With each flash I can see the clouds moving in, looking like a great big meteorological monster. This is an appropriate analogy because my daughter yells out from her shelter under the sink:

This is probably why they wanted us to go to the church.

“Mom, is dad going to get eaten by the nordato?”

Aww, so cute, even when facing almost certain death.

I pull out my phone again and try to bring up the radar. Obviously the Wi-Fi is out given there is no power (which doesn’t matter anyways since I’m pretty sure the Internet there was still on dial up.) and in South Dakota 4G is as much of an urban legend as the Loch Ness Monster. Every few seconds I’m able to pull up a choppy radar that basically shows a hooky purple thing about ready to blow through. I think to pull up Twitter and search “South Dakota Tornado” and I get a bunch of screen shots of radar where people are basically saying, “This is a huge Tornado! People gonna die!”

Oh. Fuck. Again.

Not too long after that the hail started. Our room was outfitted with one of those state-of-the-art central air systems that dangle out the window and drip freeon all over the ground. The sound of the ice balls smacking against it was deafning, especially when you factor in they were also pelting 50 cars in the parking lot at the same time.

It was about this point where I figured I’d written my last blog and I was overcome by this sort of poetic irony that the cross country vacation road trip I had been dreading for so long was going to kill me via tornado. And here my buddies had bet I’d be gored by a Bison.

Here’s a picture I found off Twitter of the tornado that went through the area. The next day we counted five semi trucks tipped over on the expressway and 10,000 billboards for Wall Drug destroyed.

But then something weird happened: We didn’t die. After the hail stopped, it rained a lot and there was thunder but no tornado ever bit me. The power stayed off all night and it was hotter than hell trying to sleep.

Then again, a night of restless sleep is way better than eternal sleep. So I guess it turned out for the best.

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Jason Wolverton

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I write a funny blog and wrote a book about poop you can find here:

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