Jen's World: Night of camping ends in nine minutes

Editor's note: This column originally ran on June 12, 2013.

It may not be the smartest decision we've ever made.

About a week and a half ago — that weekend when thunderstorms were predicted over most of our area — my husband and I loaded up the car to go tenting near Whitewater State Park.

We're not complete idiots. The forecast for Lazy D Campground was spotty — rain, some wind, potentially a thunderstorm — and we decided we were willing to take the chance. We were meeting five other families, and we figured if they were up for it, so were we.

It was sprinkling when we arrived on Friday afternoon, but what's a little rain between friends? As the evening wore on, we put up our new tent. Jay sealed his reputation as "one-match Koski" by building a fire in a sodden pit. We made some seriously high-skill S'mores.


It was all going so well, in fact, that we'd forgotten about the weather reports. Until: "I just got a call from my mom," Brook said, wide eyed. "A thunderstorm with hail and 60 mph winds is heading our way. It's supposed to hit us at 9:56."

"What time is it now?" I asked.


I stared at her as I processed this.

"We have nine minutes."

I looked around to see our friends vigorously tearing up their campsites, throwing lawn chairs in minivans, whipping soggy graham crackers into bags. I looked at our tent. I looked at our EZ Up. I looked for my kids. A gust of wind sent tree branches whooshing over us.

"Jay's in the bathroom!" I yelled, finally reacting. "Jay's in the bathroom!"

This changed nothing. So I grabbed three camping chairs and threw them in my car. I grabbed two fishing rods and threw them in my car. I grabbed four marshmallow sticks and threw them in my car. I didn't know who these things belonged to, but I didn't care.


The wind was picking up. We had, what? Four minutes left?

I zipped the tent closed. Because, apparently, when those 60 mph winds came through, I thought that was going to matter.

The gusts were really blowing now. I was being pelted by sharp rain. "Let's go!" I yelled to the only child of mine I could find, and we jogged toward the bathroom. Around the corner, Jay and our youngest ambled down the path. I greeted them with, "Two minutes until the big storm hits! Two minutes!"

Jay headed for our tent, while the rest of us hunkered down in the bathroom — our makeshift storm shelter. Feeling safer away from the elements, we let down our guards and made jokes about claiming stalls and staying all night. "It's an adventure!" we said to the kids.

Our newfound high lasted about five minutes. That's when a panicked Brook ran in to say, "They've issued a tornado warning. It's coming this way."

The tragedy in Oklahoma was too close for any rational decision-making. All I could think was: Is it safe to stay? No. Is it safe to drive? No.

We drove. The trees bent in the wind. The rain assaulted the windshield. The constant zig-zagging of lightning made the night sky look like day. I turned on the radio for the latest weather report. Nothing but static. I tried to access the weather on Jay's smartphone. No signal.

"We should not be out in this," I muttered, staring into the sky.


And then, we saw it: The Whitewater visitor center. I'd never been so happy for state funding in all my life. The building was brimming with displaced Boy Scouts and families and backpackers and even a dog or two. A nice ranger told us that we could use the basement if the tornado siren went off. Until then, he said, sit tight and wait it out. He'd let us know when it was safe to leave.

And, just like that, all was right with the world. We played Crazy 8s. I showed off a clapping game I learned in grade school. We finally got the radar up on Missie's iPad, and saw that we weren't going anywhere for awhile.

Which was OK with us. We were having our adventure, after all.

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