If I had my druthers, I wouldn't be in a grocery store checking out at 8:15pm. But that's the only chance I had to go this week, and we were down to slim-pickin's in the pantry. So as soon as the pork tenderloin was done and I had eaten, I grabbed my list and headed to my Cedar Park HEB.
It wasn't until half of my loot was scanned and bagged that the lights flickered and I overheard "tornado warning" from somewhere nearby. Huh? My cashier nodded, continued scanning, and told me "a tornado had been spotted heading our way, sirens had sounded, clouds were twirling directly overhead, it was pouring down rain...oh, now it was hailing..." and sure enough, I could hear it roaring down on the roof right above me.
Immediately, I pictured the intersection of highways 183 and 1431, just outside of HEB, the way it looked on the afternoon of May 27, 1997, after a tornado passed through. Traffic lights dangled, signs were smashed, debris littered the roads, and the Albertson's across the street from HEB was demolished. The kids and I had been to the movies, stopped by a pet store (cheap entertainment for little kids), and I planned to stop at HEB on my way home. We heard there was a tornado warning, but I wasn't very worried. I mean, it's not like we live in Kansas or anything.
Back on 183, the black sky dropped low, the rain started and suddenly we were in a traffic jam. "I want to see a tornado!" Tommy said, searching the sky through the window. Be careful what you wish for, right? A tornado appeared on our left, swirling through a neighborhood - we could see the debris twisting and twirling as it got sucked up into the clouds. Tommy said "cool" but I reminded him that what we were seeing were bits and pieces of people's houses and belongings. I hoped that was all, anyway.
It seemed to angle closer and closer to us, but there was no where to go! I was stuck in traffic, just inching along - no where looked like a safe place to take cover. I still had it in my mind to stop by the grocery store - I didn't want to have to come back to town the next day! And HEB seemed a lot safer than any of the places we were passing.
But one look at the intersection and Albertson's convinced me to head home. Wind, rain and lightning followed us the whole way - at one point the sky turned green and hail peppered us - but we made it home safely. I flipped on the television and a gigantic tornado filled the screen - it had just crossed through Jarrell, a small town just up highway 183 from Cedar Park where it's so wide open and flat it's easy to believe you're in Kansas, wiping out a good portion of the town. It just scraped some areas clear, as if the homes had never even existed.
So last night, driving home in the wind and rain, with the light show flashing all around me, I had an eerie feeling of deja vu. But I thanked God that this time the television screen didn't fill with an image of a huge tornado and a destroyed town. It was just another wild night in Central Texas.
I wonder if Tom will get me another "Tornado Chasin' Barb" bumper sticker?