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My tornado survival story 1
United States, a place of extreme weather, where the summers are hot and humid and the winters
bitter cold and the springs are dangerously stormy. Nebraska is in tornado alley.
May 22, 2004, approximately at 12:30 in the afternoon, my mother-in-law Martha,
my brother-in-law Nelson Jr., his girlfriend Katie, my wife Griselda and I,
Hardy, were on our way to Omaha in my mother-in-law’s 1999 Honda Odyssey.
We were to be there at 3:00 p.m. or shortly thereafter to pick up my father-in-law Nelson Sr. and my other brother-in-law Amauris who were arriving from Brooklyn, NY to be here for Nelson Jr.’s graduation from the Lexington Nebraska High School.
Before leaving I checked the weather on the Weather Channel website and noticed that “Violent Storms” were predicted for that evening in our area. You see, I love the weather and think I missed my calling as I’m always checking the weather, get pretty excited when I see storms building up and yet work as a translator.
As we were leaving Lexington and driving on Hwy 283 South to take Interstate 80, I quickly scanned the horizon from the Southwest to the Northwest. I could see this massive line of white clouds headed our direction. I told everyone in the car, “It’s going to get ugly today. We’re going to get caught in a bad storm on the way back.”
Something that has happened to me before, which I no longer believe is just something coincidental is that throughout the day in which violent storms are predicted it seems as if my cars run hotter than normal. That was the case with the Honda Odyssey minivan that we were driving that day. This normally does not happen to this van on a regular day. I think the warmth and humidity had much to do with the hotter running temperature.
Nonetheless, we kept moving forward, stopped once at a rest area, and arrived at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, about 25 to 30 minutes after my in-laws had landed. Having lived in New York City most of their lives, they have not experienced the “Violent Storms” of Midwest.
After picking them up and loading their luggage in the van we decided to take advantage of the day and go to a few shopping places in Omaha. Nelson Sr. wanted to see what the prices were on a certain model of BMWs and Amauris wanted to look at Acuras. Therefore, I took them to both dealerships in Omaha. After that we became hungry. Since we were already in the most western part of Omaha, we decided to continue West into Lincoln to eat at the Olive Garden restaurant.
By the time we made it to Lincoln at around 6:45or so, it was pretty obvious that something nasty was coming from the West. When we started eating, it got very, very dark in Lincoln. Shortly thereafter it started lightning and thundering loudly, but it wasn’t raining, yet.
When we finished eating we all got in the van and headed for home. Normally there is still plenty of daylight left at that time of the day, but it was pretty dark. We were driving west on O street to take the ramp to I-80. As we were leaving Lincoln, it started to rain and I remember saying, “we’re going right into the mouth of it.” The rain was very gentle but after every mile for the next 10 miles or so, the rain was slowly increasing its intensity. All the while, for about 8 to 10 miles, things had not gotten too bad. We had the radio on and could hear that there were tornado and thunderstorms warnings all over the place.
As it got darker I kept telling everyone that perhaps it would be better if we stayed somewhere safe. I had been in storms like these before and they could be pretty scary. Katie, Nelson Jr.’s girlfriend, who was born and raised in Nebraska was also recommending that we get off the Interstate and seek shelter somewhere. Nelson Sr. kept asking me what I though and the rest were pushing the drive on.
I knew better than to drive on, but kept going. The danger of doing that is that you reach a point of no return. That’s what happened to us.
As we moved forward, I could see a cloud that was very low and different from the rest of the clouds above or in the background. This cloud was pitch black, very long and about 2 miles wide. It extended as far as I could see to the South and as far as I could see to the North. The cloud was about 1 or 2 miles away. But it wasn’t until I was closer to it that I could see what it was doing. The cloud was rotating from east to west in an upwardly fashion and moving south at the same time. Meanwhile, approximately ¼ to ½ mile away to the north a triangular shape black cloud was coming down from the same black cloud. That was when we were at a point of no return and I started freaking out. That cloud was moving directly into the direction that we were heading in a North to South fashion.
About that time my father-in-law noticed that I was freaking out. I was going about 85 miles per hour and pushed it to about 90 in order to try to beat the cloud that was forming and moving south. However, the faster I went, the more it looked as if I wasn’t going to make it. I just kept thinking that if I had momentum my chances would be better than staying on the road.
Fearing that we might hydroplane, I didn’t dare increase the speed any more than that. Suddenly, we were hit by a strong wind draft and rain on the passenger side. I remember telling everyone, “You wanted me to keep going? Now look at what’s happening”. Then everybody started saying things like, “Go, go, go, go”, “Oh my god”, “Go fast”, “Go slower”, “Let’s go back”. I was thinking, “Help me God, Help me God, Help me God.”
In my mind I had to keep going and get away from under that cloud. When we reached the other side of the cloud, we got hit by another draft of strong wind and rain, this time on the driver’s side of the van.
After we passed that cloud, there was somewhat of a relief, however things were still pretty bad ahead. About that time, we were listening on the radio that two massive storms were colliding with each around Crete. That’s exactly where we were.
I decided to stop at the next overpass crossing, but my wife said that we should keep going because if what we left behind was a tornado it might come up behind us. Then I remembered watching on TV that it’s not safe to be under an overpass as the winds of a tornado can actually intensify or become worse under there. So I moved on.
Thankfully, although there were moments of strong rain, it was obvious that we were out of danger and the rest of the way home wasn’t too bad.
After some time, we couldn’t help but to start laughing at each and every one of our reactions during the moment of truth. We also laughed about the fact that Nebraska gave my in-laws a rude welcome.
Unfortunately, we found out next morning that a tornado had destroyed the small town of Hallam, Nebraska that night. Hallam is very near to the area where we got caught in the storm.
The funny thing is that
exactly one week later on May 29th, we were caught in another very bad storm
after dropping my in-laws off at the airport. Only this time we were
After having reached Gretna, we returned back to Omaha and stayed at a nice comfortable hotel. I’m glad we did. That night all of Nebraska was under severe weather warnings and watches, and a very powerful thunderstorm hit Omaha at night.
I've included some pictures of the tornado damage in Hallam, Nebraska.