Weather Story 1 – Tornado, Sulfur and Hail, Oh My!

When my daughter, Tara, was 6, we drove from our Flushing Township home to get groceries at the Meijer’s store that was approximately 7 miles away. It was a very hot and muggy August day but I didn’t know our area was under a tornado watch at that time. My mother was pulling weeds out in the garden when we said goodbye to her and because the skies were blue with fluffy white clouds when we left, I never gave the weather another thought.

After a few miles though I watched as some nasty-looking dark clouds began to pile up to the north of us so I told Tara that we might have to hurry through the store and quickly get our groceries before the storm hit. There probably would not be our traditional trek through the toy and pet departments to look at the new toys and the fishies, the hamsters and the gerbils. But I promised Tara that before we left the store, she would get to ride “Sandy”, the mechanical horse, so she was happy she could at least do that.

When we entered the store, one of the clerks told us that we were under a tornado watch so we did hurry to get our groceries. While I was checking out, I gave pennies to Tara so she could ride Sandy that was directly across from me and the cashier. I could see through the doors and windows that there were torrential rains now pouring down and the sky was turning a weird greeny-black. Just then someone announced on the P.A. system that we were under a tornado warning and then the store lights flickered and went out.

Tara came running up to me, so scared her eyes were like blue robin’s eggs in her little face. I told her “Don’t worry, Honey-Bunny, we will be fine”, although the cashiers and the store manager were trying to herd the customers to the back of the store. I thought of my mom, outside in the garden unaware of the tornado warning, and I had this over-powering need to get us back home just to make sure she was okay. For some reason the store did not seem to be a safe place.

So I asked Tara if she would be too scared to stay with the grocery cart if she stood right next to Sandy while I got the car and drove it up to the doors. I told her that I wanted to go home and make sure grandma was okay and that I would be back in just a quick minute. She said yes, she would be okay because she wanted to go home too and I reassured her again that I would be right back and that she could watch for me through the doors.

So I ran out into that downpour and the rain was coming down so fast and hard and the wind was so strong, I couldn’t see anything in front of me at all while I stumbled around, desperately trying to find my car. There was also this weirdly strong odor of sulfur, like someone had simultaneously lit up a thousand matches.

I had parked very close to the entrance but the rain was coming down so fierce that I literally bumped into the side of my car before I saw it. I quickly jumped into it, drove it up to the entrance and helped a frightened Tara get buckled in. Then I threw the groceries into the trunk of the car as fast as I could. That over-powering sense that I had to get the two of us out of there, away from the store, was urging me almost to the point of pure panic. Then large balls of hail began pelting down all around us and that increased even more that need to get out of there as fast as we could.

My wipers on their fastest speed were no help at all and the roads were so clogged with the massive amounts of rain pouring down, I couldn’t drive faster than 10 or 15 miles an hour. There were quite a few places I had to drive right down the middle of the road at its highest point because the sides and shoulders of the road were so flooded with water. I was afraid the brakes would flood out and I did have to pump them dry a few times but we made slow but steady progress through the storm.

When we were just a few miles from our house, the skies suddenly changed from dark and green to sunny and blue. Tara and I were so astonished at the sudden change that I stopped the car and we both got out and looked around. It was like someone had drawn a distinct line between two completely different worlds. Behind us, the skies were stormy and the road was wet and flooded but the skies in front of us were so bright blue and pretty and the road was absolutely dry. It was the strangest sight!

When we had driven into the garage, my mom was still in the garden and I called for her to come into the house. I immediately turned on the T.V. to find out what had happened and while Tara and I stood there dripping rain water, looking like 2 bedraggled and drowned cats, my mom came in, looked at us and asked, “What happened to the two of you? Did you drive through a car wash with the windows down?”

And I said, “No, I think we just came through a tornado.” And she didn’t believe me, even as she followed us into the bathroom and watched us peel off our completely soaked clothing, wrung them out, and dumped out our shoes that were full of rain water into the tub while I explained to her what had happened. She kept saying that I was trying to pull her leg, that there had not been any rain or any dark skies the whole time she had been outside since we had left.

My mom finally believed us when the weatherman said that there had been a tornado that had been spotted in the air at the Coldwater Road intersection with the I-75 expressway. The tornado had gone straight down the expressway to the south where it touched down at Corunna Road and the expressway and had caused quite a bit of damage to businesses and homes in that area. The Meijer’s store where we had been is right next to the expressway in between the Coldwater and Corunna Roads exits. So that meant that the tornado had been right over our heads while we were there trying to leave.

That was what had made the sky such a sickly green color, and apparently was also the cause of that strong sulfur smell. My uncle Dean, who had been through that Beecher tornado, told me a few years afterwards when I was telling him about our experience, that a strong sulfur smell usually occurs when a tornado is passing right over your head.

After she recovered from her scare, Tara was quite impressed that she had been under a tornado and ever since then she has always had a love for bad storms. I swear sometimes that she would love to actually go up to a tornado and shake its hand if she could.

So after that whenever we were in the basement with our cats and emergency supplies during other tornado warnings, she would sneak upstairs and go out in the backyard to try and get a better look at another tornado. And her brush with another tornado a few years later didn’t dim this desire of hers, it only enhanced it.

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