Prologue- Summer 1996
“C’mon Dad, Wake up,” I screamed, “It’s coming.” Another peal of thunder as loud as an atomic bomb made him shoot straight up, it even drowned out the weather radio. He had just fallen asleep for a mid-afternoon nap.
“Hurry, Jimmy,” he said frantically, “Grab the equipment!” I already had. He jumped up, grabbed the keys, and we ran to the truck. We jumped in, and he sped off just as I got the computer booted up. I looked at the radar. The image on the screen was the biggest hook echo I had ever seen. The screen shut off. “Damn it,” I yelled.
My dad didn’t even acknowledge me. I flipped on the CB radio, and was glad to hear my good friend Bobby and his dad Ronnie. I picked up the transmitter and said, “Bobby, our computer went black. Do you see the tornado?”
He replied, “Yeah Jimmy we got it. It’s on a north-easterly path, heading up Oklahoma 44. Do you copy?”
“Copy that,” I said relieved. I looked out the window to catch a glimpse of a road sign up ahead, and screamed.
“What,” my dad asked while slamming on the breaks. I pointed to the sign not 200 feet from our car. It read “Oklahoma State Route 44 North.”
I screamed, “FLOOR IT!” and he slammed the petal down. We sped into the town of Wakita, Oklahoma just as the Tornado Sirens were going off. The tornado was about 2 miles behind us, and gaining.
“Bobby! We are on Oklahoma 44 in Wakita! It’s coming straight for us! You have to track it,” I all but screamed into the transmitter.
“I got it,” he said “It’s shifting! It’s shifting to a more north-westerly path. It will miss Wakita!”
“Thank god,” I replied, relieved. The storm started to ease up as we got into the heart of town. Bobby and his dad pulled up next to us outside of the local grocery storm. Me and Bobby watched the tornado begin to break-apart about a mile away from Wakita. As thunder rumbled in the distance, I realized that these people just survived a really close call.
* * *
The air was hot and sticky as I cut the grass outside of my house in Pittsburgh, PA. I went inside my little 2-bedroom house and listened to the news in the Living Room. Lately, we have had a lot of severe weather. An F5 tornado recently leveled parts of the northern suburbs of the city, especially where my cousin Alex lives. His neighbor lost his dad in that storm and hearing about it on the news makes me think of my dad. I looked at the clock, 2:34. My daughter, Carly would be done with school soon. I went out back, and put away the lawn mower, and jumped in the shower. When I got out, the phone rang.
“Hello,” I answered.
“Jimmy Ecklemayer,” A familiar voice said. It was my best friend Bobby Richton from my childhood in Oak Grove, Oklahoma. I moved to Pittsburgh for college, and after I met my wife, I never went back. It wasn’t until I heard Carly scream “Dad, I’m Home,” that I realized it was 3:15. I hung up with Bobby, and ran downstairs. I heard a very distant rumble of thunder as I started cooking dinner”
As I was cooking, Carly asked me to come to her, and she asked me if the sky looked right. It didn’t. We walked outside in our backyard, and I heard another rumble of thunder, much closer this time. I looked up. The clouds had turned a greenish color. I knew what this meant. I took her inside, and told her to run to the basement. I grabbed our weather radio just as it went off. As me and our dog ran downstairs, the new tornado sirens went off. We huddled in the corner of the basement, and we heard hail hit the window that is level with the outside. We heard things hit the house. The thunder became louder and louder. The roar of the winds was deafening, but I didn’t hear anything from upstairs. This lasted about a half a minute. I told her to flip the master power breaker to the off position. When she did the power shut off. I ran upstairs, and opened the door. It missed our house. It was pretty damaged, but not significantly.
We walked outside, and saw that the tornado hit about a block away, and some houses were flattened. I told her to stay put, and call her mother. I ran down the street and looked for anyone that needed help. I called 911. It was only seconds before we heard the sirens from the police and fire trucks. I ran back home, and found that Carly was shaken up. “Shh,” I told her, “It’s going to be ok.”
My wife got home about an hour later, and after seeing the house still intact, she was relieved. Although our lives and home were spared, there are others who were less fortunate today. In the eyes of Mother Nature, your life is a spin of the wheel, or a roll of the dice, so when the Thunder rumbles, always be prepared, and never be scared.