It was nine o’clock in the morning, and already it felt like one of those days -- the air was dead calm and felt heavy with anticipation. A milky haze coated the sky, and the humidity made it hard to breathe.
At 11:30, the weather radio sounded an alert about a tornado watch.
The first rumble of thunder came about 2:30, and the western sky had turned charcoal gray.
A short time later the weather radio sounded again, but with greater urgency – a tornado on the ground, still 30 miles away but headed in our direction.
Within minutes the sky had become dark enough to trigger the streetlights.
It was 93 degrees, and I had goosebumps.
“Hey, Steven. Let’s go into the basement.”
He didn’t ask why or complain that he was going to miss “Curious George,” and for a 4-year old, that was unusual. I think he felt it, too.
The basement was clammy cool, which did nothing to ease my goosebumps. I pulled a quilt off the bed and dragged it into the bathroom. It was the most reinforced room in the house, and just before closing the door behind us I glanced out the window.
The sky had taken on a greenish tint.
Somewhere in the distance, the wail of a siren struggled to be heard over the shrieking wind.
I sat on the bathroom floor, lifted Steven onto my lap and pulled the quilt up around our necks.
When he finally spoke, Steven’s voice was barely more than a whisper: “What’s happening, dad?”
“We’ve got some pretty bad weather coming,” I said, hoping I sounded calmer than I felt.
“Why did we come into the bathroom?”
“Well, sometimes storms can be strong enough to damage your house, so you need to be somewhere you’re protected, like in a basement and away from windows.”
A ribbon of white light flared from under the door, followed by a peal of thunder that shook the house.
Wrapped in the quilt, we both flinched. Steven’s voice quivered: “I’m scared.”
I am, too, I thought.
“Are we going to be alright?”
“We’re in the safest place we can be,” I said, answering his question as best I could.
Through the bathroom door I could hear the sound of hailstones beating a tattoo on the side of the house.
I offered a silent prayer for protection. There are only a few irreplaceable things in my life, and I was huddled in a basement bathroom with one of them.
We waited until the sounds of the storm had ended, then eased out of our saferoom to find the lawn littered with leaves and branches and hailstones the size of pennies.
But we were safe.
“Dad! Look!” Steven said, pointing to the east. His voice had regained its usual excitement: “A rainbow!”
Forever, the sign of God's promise.
I’m glad I grabbed a quilt large enough for the three of us.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.