By Morgan Kinniry
Today was the inaugural day of the BelleBats summer research project! Dr. Kloepper, Felix and I met at the BatMobile at 4AM South Bend time to get a head start on our long journey. We wanted to get a good start to the first half of the journey before stopping at a hotel in Texas for the night.
Severe weather was a concern as we began to drive into tornado alley, and Dr. Kloepper kept a close eye on the radar as we drove into Oklahoma. For the majority of the day, we had managed to dodge cells of severe weather seamlessly. At this point, we were making great time and hoped to stop for the night earlier than originally planned. Shortly after passing the border of Oklahoma, we began to drive into a rain storm. I was driving the gargantuan Chevy Suburban BatMobile while Felix and Dr. Kloepper navigated. The rain storm then began to escalate quickly. Severe Weather alarms began blaring over the radio and our iPhones were notified that there was a Tornado Warning Issued by the National Weather Service.
And for good reason:
We were unsure if we should keep driving down the interstate to pass through the storm cell, or if we should exit and seek shelter. The radio warnings were terribly confusing for us because they listed counties and towns that the tornado was expected to hit. But, being travelers we were not sure exactly where we were in relation to those places. Clarity finally came with the warnings when the announcer reported that a tornado was predicted to hit the exact stretch of interstate mile markers we were driving on. We then attempted to exit the interstate as soon as possible. Remaining calm, we pulled off at the nearest exit hoping that the predicted “quarter-sized hail” would not bruise the BatMobile. Dr. Kloepper and Felix scoured their maps for a nearby gas station with an over hang that we could park under for refuge, but had no luck.
After driving down a road for several miles with rain falling down in heavy sheets, the only shelter in sight was a steel yard. The steel yard was a fenced in property that seemed bizarrely abandoned yet welcoming at the same time. Steel beams and rigs sat around the barns and parked cars presumably belonging to employees were parked outside. About half a dozen pole barns sat with open gates and wide open sliding doors. After pulling into the garage for shelter, we saw more long, circular steel beams sitting on truck beds. Strangely, inside the structure we were parked in, some sort of water source had steam rolling off it. There was not a person in sight at this point, but we were just thankful to have found shelter.
After watching the rain fall from safety and thankfully not seeing any funnel clouds forming, some steel workers appeared and told us that they had been in a shelter. They let us know that an all clear had been issued and that the storm was headed in the opposite direction of our travels. We were good to head back onto the interstate!
For the rest of the day’s drive, we saw plenty more ominous skies and had our fair share of heavy rainfall and some lightning. Luckily, no tornado warnings or watches were issued again. We even saw a rainbow!
We made it to Amarillo, Texas where we stopped to enjoy some Indian food before turning in to rest for the night.