Tuesday’s coffee was interrupted by a television report that schools all over south Louisiana were closed today in fear of the coming rain, hail, high winds, and probable tornadoes. I checked the Google to see how far we would have to pull to insure safety, assuming we could leave soon enough to outrun the weather. The nearest location outside the extreme weather map was my home town, Mooringsport. That’s 320 miles northwest of Madisonville. That’s when the park ranger came knocking on doors with news that the park would close in an hour; evacuation was optional, but not mandatory. This is not a drill.
With only 90 minutes to prepare for its first wave, we chose to ride out the storm.
We took down the TV antenna, chained the bikes to a steel picnic table, tarped and bungeed the firewood, retracted all our awnings, and tanked up on water. Kat made another pot of coffee to go with biscuits and honey, and then we settled in to watch its progress on the tube, on our laptops, and outside … up close and personal. The first waves were just rain and a little wind. Tornadoes were sighted here by local TV networks, and there with a couple of waterspouts strutting their stuff across Lake Ponchartrain. The lake is too close for comfort, but we did not see funnel clouds nor hear that train that runs without tracks.
By 3:00 p.m. we were beginning to think we’d seen the storm’s worst. Half an hour later stress in the voices of the weather people told us stuff is about to get real. A tornado, on the ground, was marching our way on the double-quick, around 30 mph. It changed course directly toward us, then away, then lined up its course for Kat’s Cradle once again. By now the tornado was about to cross the lake, only 20 miles out. Kat noticed a crowd (campers who live in rolling tornado magnets) growing on the porch of the campground’s shower house. It was considered the sturdiest structure around. “Sturdy” is a relative term: the bath house was nothing more than vinyl siding over a lumber frame. The shelter was a couple of hundred yards away to the northwest, and a direct hit on it would bring many fatalities. If a tornado kisses your Airstream and you’re in it, that’s the final curtain on your play. But if the twister chose the shower house, it would have to double back for us; we might ride it out safely. We three fools decided to stay put.
Six miles out that bad cyclone changed its mind again and turned to the southeast of us. Had we been in Fontainebleau in Mandeville, it would have come close enough to hear. But it did little damage, and the only fatality came from a poor soul in her car, trying to outrun it.
After the storm those little red maple seed helicopters were everywhere. Add a tornado to seed helicopters and you know Spring is here. The time has come for us to travel!