Humor, The 100-Day Challenge, Writing

The Iowa Tornado


Dorothy had it wrong. When driving in the middle of nowhere with a sky that looks like this and tornado warnings everywhere, there’s no place like shelter of any kind.

Avoid being under these if you can.
Avoid being under these if you can.

A good tornado safety lesson is this: When you pass what are obviously storm chasers or spotters, you might want to stay on the sunny side of their location.

The Tornado Timeline

2:16 p.m.

First, Carrie and I say goodbye to Tom and Betsy and head northeast out of Mason City, Iowa. We were aware of the storms around us, but they were all north in Minnesota. It was 87 degrees and sunny where we were so we load up the dogs and then head home. It all seems very logical and not remotely thrill-seeking.

2:26 p.m.

Heading east, we look to the north. We see ominous darkness. So we look to the south and see sun.

“I wish we were heading south,” I said as I turned left.  

Tornado Safety Lesson #2

Instead of “wishing” you weren’t driving into terrible weather, you can realize you’re in control of the car and then stop yourself from doing that.

"It reminds me of Twister," should not be an invitation to continue.
“It reminds me of Twister,” should not be an invitation to continue.

2:27 p.m.

We start up a hill. Temperature is now 64. Carrie takes out her camera before remarking, “It reminds me of Twister.”  

“Look out for flying cows,” I joke.  

We giggle.  Notice that we did not stop.  It’s like we were high.

2:28 p.m.

We then turn right onto a county road thinking we could “stay underneath it.” County road does not provide comfort nor does it seem like it is going to end up on any other main drag.  

We turn around.

Later we learn that tornado #1 originated on said county road.

2:29 p.m.

We continue north and have stopped joking around quite so much as we pass by more spotters. While I drove, I have a small thought, ‘As long as there are other cars on the road, it can’t be that bad.’  

Tornado Safety Lesson #3

In Twister, you are not the Bill Paxton. You are now Cary Elwes. Don’t do this.

What I realized later was that every single person who has ever died in their car during a tornado probably relied on the thought that they would “just drive through it.”

2:31 p.m.

Next came the hail followed quickly by perfectly perpendicular sideways wind. The sky is circling and as a result, it is also getting lower.

Carrie’s phone begins shrieking with emergency warning sounds. Her phone reads:


Later, we will consider what this alert should have actually said.  More helpful alternatives include:

  4. Hey, Kelly, remember when you were little and your worst nightmare was being trapped in a tornado and/or being attacked by clowns?  Welcome to your nightmare and look out for Bozo.

2:33 p.m.

“We need to pull over. Go into a driveway or something,” Carrie states, panicked. Now we’re dealing with more hail and, subsequently, my poor little hamster car begins shaking. I pull into the first driveway I can still see.

Tornado Safety Lesson #4

Not all driveways are created equal, but during a tornado in Iowa, go ahead and roll the dice.

2:34:12 p.m.

“There’s a woman on the porch! Pull up!” Carrie exclaims.

Woman in a shorty robe signals for us to come closer.

2:34:16 p.m.

Carrie rolls down her window.  

Woman shouts, “Would you like to come in the house?”

2:34:18 p.m.

I yell, “We have two dogs!”

2:34:19 p.m.

“Bring them on in. We have a German shepherd. We like dogs,” she screams back. In my head, I think, ‘Wait. You have a GERMAN SHEPHERD?!?”

2:34:20 p.m.

In one swift movement, Carrie grabs Lefty and abandons the car, sprinting up the stairs and into the house.

2:34:21 p.m.

I put the car in park and turn it off and then look at Slider. He looks at me. “In case you’re wondering where we stand,” I say.

2:34:24 p.m.

I grab Slider and sprint through the standing water in my flip flops, ignoring the hail pelting my head, and fly into the house.

2:34:32 p.m.

Woman – still in a shorty robe – immediately states, “Can I use your phone?”

Wait what? She doesn’t have a phone?  

“I can’t find mine and my husband is out in this.”

2:35 p.m.

We spend a good minute and a half attempting to dial both of our phones, which is hard to do with a stranger in the middle of a tornado. There is no answer by her husband, and her phone is neither ringing nor vibrating that we can hear.

2:35:30 p.m.

“Oh well,” the woman says. “I just opened a bottle of wine. Would you like some?”

2:35:38 p.m.

For the first time in my life, I turn down wine and look around for the German shepherd.

“Oh he’s in the garage,” she states. “I just finished gardening and got out of the shower.” She proceeded to elaborate about her gardening.

2:37 p.m.

Carrie asks, “Should we go to the basement?”  

[Editor’s note: On the first Wednesday of every month at 1 p.m., Winona tests its sirens.  Carrie has trained the dogs to immediately head to the basement when this happens.  When we set the boys down in the house, they immediately went to the top of the basement stairs and looked at us.  “Time to put the plan into action, Mommies!”]

2:37:30 p.m.

“I’d take you to the basement, but I have a shopping problem,” the woman responds.

Tornado Safety Lesson #5

When in a stranger’s home in an emergency, do not inquire as to what a “shopping problem” entails. Smile and nod.

2:38 p.m.

“I’m going to go put on some clothes,” she says as she begins taking off her robe before she’s fully out of the room. “I’ll be back.  Are you sure you don’t want some wine?”

2:38:30 p.m.

Tom calls. “WHERE ARE YOU GUYS?!? YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF THERE!” he calmly shouts at me.

2:39 p.m.

Next, Tom puts out a call for prayers on Twitter. #blessed

2:40 p.m.

The lady returns. “We don’t have cable, but we can turn on the TV.”

The TV blips on and continuously blinks and goes fuzzy, just like the TV in Twister.  “According to the radio, there are just a bunch of little tornadoes,” she says nonchalantly, “but they said one was 6.5 miles east of Manly and I’m 7 miles east so…”

She pauses and then looks around. “I can never remember if you’re supposed to leave your windows opened or closed during these things so I’ll just leave them open.”

2:40:30 p.m.

The wind, hail, and rain continue unabated. I begin to listen for the sound of a freight train because when I was young and watching Cubs games on WGN, they would always run commercials for a tornado documentary called “It Sounded Like A Freight Train.” If you have 22 minutes, you can climb right inside my brain.

2:45 p.m.

Woman’s husband pulls in with a truck and trailer. Meanwhile, our boys are as anxious as we’ve ever seen them curled up on our laps. “You really can let them run around,” she says. “I have a cleaning lady who comes on Thursdays.”  

She continues talking to us as though we are literally friends that she hasn’t seen in awhile. She caught us up on her kids and what she does for fun, how she has remodeled her house, how they have housed many stranded travelers over the years including one guy who had to stay over.

Later, Carrie will tell me that when the woman told us this, she wondered if his body was in the basement we couldn’t go into.

2:50 p.m.

Husband comes in. She introduces us as her friends and then says, “I haven’t even asked your names!”

3:05 p.m.

We head out now that the majority of the hail has passed and the tornado warning has expired. Our phones have stopped making threats against our lives so we go back to Tom’s house and settle in for a good hour and a half.

I do not turn down wine this time.

4:30 p.m.

Next we head to my parents’ house because it was (a) south, (b) sunny, (c) across the street from a man who makes excellent margaritas, and (d) has a basement.

Tornado Safety Tip #7

Though they would have been devastated if something happened to you, expect a fair amount of needling from your parents because you lived.

6:00 p.m.

We walk in the front door of my parents’ house. My mom – aka “the woman who writes that we should “Be sky aware” every time there is a cloud in the sky” – aka “the woman who worries about everything weather-related” – aka “the woman who gets concerned about flurries, sprinkles, and breezes” – that mom – is watching “Twister” on television.

“Your ordeal put me in the mood,” she offers.

6:00:10 p.m.

We feel the love and concern and then we head out for margaritas.

7:30 p.m.

We all sit down to watch “Twister” together while Carrie and I point out all of our experiences that mimicked the movie.

Dad informs us they’re making “Twister 2.”  

“You should send them your story,” he says. “They could work it in.”

7:30:10 p.m.

We feel the love and concern again.

10:30 p.m.

We go to bed. As we begin to drift off to sleep, Carrie says, “When that woman was going to change and started taking her robe off, I saw side boob.”

And that’s how the Sharbys do tornado safety.

To see how the Sharbys do other things, check out our page.

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