Have you ever experienced a gut feeling about an upcoming decision or event that you couldn’t seem to override with your mind? Even if it seems to be a rather inconsequential decision? This was more or less my experience when I chose to forego seeing the hilarious band Psychostick in concert in Oklahoma City and instead head back northeast without a definite reason.
After two months of living in a friend’s extra bedroom in Oklahoma, I returned to Indiana on the evening of June 23rd, 2014. Man, this place was not how I remembered. The difference in plant life and general scenery between Indiana and Oklahoma is actually quite significant.
Oklahoma’s landscape consisted of small, dry, semi-arid looking plants and very few trees. The grass, if there was any to be seen, was very short, rough, and dry looking. Most of all, there was a lot of red dirt. If there is one thing you’ll remember about Oklahoma’s natural landscape, it’s the red dirt. Comparatively speaking, Indiana seemed like a rainforest as I was driving on the final stretches of Interstate 70 before reaching home. The grass was very tall and green, and soft! There was an abundance of trees, relatively speaking, the leaves on them were much larger, and tall corn filled all of the large fields around. The air seemed much more humid as well.
I woke up very early the following morning at noon, and glanced out the window to find the sky to be a dull gray overcast. I made some grumbling noise, still exhausted from driving overnight, and looked at the radar on my phone. There was a rather interesting looking storm cell about 40 miles to my west southwest.
I decided to have a closer look on the computer. The details revealed on radar made the storm look even healthier, and the storm had a considerable amount of lightning. I went downstairs and sucked down some shitty processed food that I would never consume while thinking rationally. The cell started looking even more impressive, and after glancing at the velocity radar image, there came that gut feeling.
On some burst of intuition, I was convinced that this ordinary garden variety pop-up storm was destined to produce a tornado, which was a completely laughable thought at the time. For starters, there was a zero percent overall risk for severe weather in the area that day, meaning the Storm Prediction had not forecasted any strong storms.
Naturally, I quickly began growling and stumbling around while attempting to find my video in order to verify it was ready, still somewhat asleep. No shit, the memory card was full and the camera battery was completely dead.
As I was performing the finale of a brief session of cursing, a loud squealing and squelching sound occurred from across the room and scared the shit out of me. Oh yes, it was the weather radio, boasting to me that a Severe Thunderstorm Warning had been issued for the southern portion of Hendricks county, a fifteen minute drive from my location.
Nature has a bitchy, yet adorable way of playing these circumstances out for your convenience. “Oh, this is the most inconvenient time for you? Allow me to sneak in a storm while you sleep.”
I jammed the SD camera card into the computer’s floppy drive while spewing additional profanity, asked myself why the hell I still had a floppy drive, and randomly made what space I could with the short time allotted. I put the card back into the camera backwards, screamed, then put it back in the correct way before stumbling into my flip flops and falling down the stairs.I ran out the door and at the Honda as fast as possible, jumping onto the hood and running up the windshield to the roof. Slamming my skull through the sunroof glass, I fell right into the driver’s seat.
This may not have been as efficient as I envisioned but there was no time to waste. I started to haul ass out of the neighborhood, unaware that I likely almost took out a few small children. It was an incredibly grueling 7 mile drive to my target, but thanks to Mother Nature’s surprises, and perhaps also aided by the fact that I didn’t leave Oklahoma until 11pm the previous night, preparation was not my friend that day.
Only having driven one mile south of my house, my phone had a seizure. It screamed, flickered and vibrated across and off the center console table while attempting to inform me of a Tornado Warning.
I was pulling up to a four-way stop as the phone was squawking it’s screen off, and as I was about to continue, an oncoming car blew through the stop sign and turned left in front of me without signaling. (It was extremely rare to see such an occurrence when I lived in Indiana. Florida, on the other hand, actually requires you to have your turn signal lever removed before you are allowed to register your car in state. The subtle differences discovered from inter-state traveling are endless.)
I was momentarily filled with rage and hatred at that moment, although looking back I wonder if the driver of the other car had received word of the tornado warning and was hurrying home. I would love to think so, but years of seeing people wait in line for their pizza or continue playing outside during tornado warnings leads me to believe otherwise.
The next intersection was a roundabout, which the car nearly slid into the side of while attacking it at maximum throttle. Somehow, the car made it to US 36 in Avon where I crossed in the middle of the yellow light thus avoiding a 15 minute delay waiting for the next green, which has never happened before. Sometimes luck is on your side.
Now I was fully awake. I slid through the next roundabouts even worse. While driving between Avon and Plainfield, I glanced down at my speedometer and noticed it read 67mph, and the speed limit was 40mph. Completely acceptable speed in Florida; this is enough to get you tazed into a coma in Indiana. At least there were no cars around and I was driving through farmland, so hopefully no harm done.
When I finally reached the most optimal location to get a chance of seeing what the sky was planning, which was just west of old downtown Plainfield, I found an empty church parking lot where I parked the car, leaned the seat back and watched. Great location, however it did not seem that there was anything to be seen.
The sky was a solid bland overcast, about as uninteresting as could be and seemingly non-conducive to any sort of severe weather. The tornado warning had apparently cancelled three minutes prior to this. “Whatever, I sit on my ass and wait” was the subconscious decision of the moment. Only another two minutes had passed before there was a noticeably stark difference in the sky.
A defined lowering in the clouds had formed, which continued to move closer. It passed directly overhead and off towards the northeast, and started to gain some poorly organized but noteworthy motion. If you were to compare this side by side to a typical Oklahoma or Kansas supercell, this storm would not even be worthy of a subtle glance. Everything always seems much more subtle the farther east you go, due to many factors including lower contrast in the clouds due to higher overall humidity levels, but primarily because of a greater amount of ground obstructions.
Although this messy dancing cloud was certainly nothing super special, I still knew it had enough potential to produce severe weather, so I pulled open an app on my phone which allowed me to report a rotating wall cloud to the National Weather Service in Indianapolis. I switched on the radio and started casually following the rotating wall cloud to the north east, the direction that would eventually lead me back to my house anyways.
While slowly driving east on US Highway 40 through Plainfield in an area that is essentially a five mile long continuous stretch of strip malls and fast food joints, I peered over my left shoulder and thought I saw some birds flying around in circles. “Hell, that don’t make no sense” is the best summary of my subconscious in the spilt second.
Well no it didn’t, and upon looking closer, reality indicated that those birds were actually pieces of some roofs and there were trees being ripped apart.
The tornado was occurring just less than 300 yards north of my location, impacting buildings and a neighborhood I had seen on a daily basis for nearly 15 years. I rapidly fumbled for my phone and called the National Weather Service’s storm report phone number.
Continuing down the highway and constantly glancing to the left, I frantically opened Facebook on my phone and voice commanded a quick status about the tornado, knowing someone who would likely read the post could easily be in the immediate path of the occurring tornado. There was zero time to waste, let alone for spelling out all of the details.
Somehow, for the first time in recorded history, the speech-to-text feature on my phone actually worked and spelled out the entire sentence correctly, instead of writing something such as “Tomatoes on the ground shake butter immediately!”
I adjusted my camera while trying to stay on the road, and kept driving east. The light I was approaching had just turned red. Admittedly, the video I obtained is a shaky and blurry piece of crap compared to what you could see in person. I held the camera fairly steady though considering I usually have hands of a 400 year old man. (Please donate to hand jitteriness link)
If you looked closely enough, the tornado unmistakably appeared to have multiple vortices (multi-vortex tornado). It was very hard to tell as it was fairly obstructed by rain and quite a thick condensation cloud that extended fully from the cloud to the ground. Some say all tornadoes are multi-vortex, but that’s a little too technical for this story, and I digress.
Despite the relatively poor visibility due to the rainfall as well as the dense tree and building obstructions, along with the pitiful camera handling, I was fortunate to get just a few seconds of the base of the tornado with debris inside of the circulation. This was one of those surreal moments that had visited both dreams and nightmares of mine since I was younger than seven years old, and I could hardly believe the materializing reality.
You could only feel like you were alive and completely in tune with your physical surroundings of the moment. It’s so easy to become continuously distracted by all of our electronic gadgets and especially our own thoughts that we don’t even know what the hell is going on in the reality around us. Being distracted was impossible in this moment, in fact, you would feel more connected to reality that ever before. The sheer excitement of witnessing violent nature so personally, coupled with the terror and worry that overcame you as it was striking what was practically your backyard, was a riveting combination.
When that damn traffic light at Ronald Regan Parkway and US 40 finally turned green, I made a left turn and started flying north on the parkway attempting to close back in to the tornado, which had just crossed the north and south running road, heading off towards the east. I mainly wanted to see if there had been any serious damage in the immediate wake of the tornado, while still being able to follow it.
I did not come across any noteworthy damage while perpendicularly crossing the path the tornado had just made, other than some trees blown down, so I continued north with the intent of turning back east to catch back up as soon as possible. The tornado had been fairly weak, but a tornado is still a tornado. I did my best to catch back up with the storm, but the efforts were futile, which was the obvious to be expected in the situation.
You aren’t going to catch back up to a tornado moving at over 45mph, when you are stuck in a dense city sprawl with 35mph speed limits and two dozen traffic lights per mile of roadway. It would be fairly difficult to accomplish even if I had a siren, flashing lights, and the pure animosity to run every light, and disgracefully there are people that would.
I continued against my better judgment until I was almost to the suburb of Fishers, which was on the complete opposite side of the city. Now on the far north-northeast side of Indianapolis, I had originally started on the far west-southwest side.
Sitting in slow I-69 traffic heading northeast, a tornado warning had been in effect for nearly twenty minutes. At this point I had somehow managed to get myself back in what would be the hook echo of the storm, the most ideal location I could be in for witnessing a tornado.
The storm was much weaker at this point, and it was pretty clear it was not going to be producing another tornado. Adding this to the fact my phone was melting to the console from requests for the video of the tornado, I scrambled back to 465, looped around Indianapolis and headed back to my house and computer, where I could get a more reasonable grasp on whatever the hell just happened.
After going back to Plainfield, it was relieving to find that the vast majority of damage was nothing more than a few dozen shingles stripped off of roofs, siding stripped off of houses, and general yard disturbances, such as basketball hoops and decks blown apart. One unfortunate family had their camper tossed onto their house, which caused significant damage to the entre roof structure.
While this was nothing at all compared to what I had witnessed in southern Indiana a couple of years ago, the Moore tornado from the previous year, and even damage from other less violent tornadoes, it was still a tornado. It was still going to be quite a mess for the people directly affected to clean up, but thankfully none of them lost their lives. In fact, there were no serious injuries reported.
The worst of the damage occurred at the Adessa car auction facility, where nearly 200 cars were damaged in some way or another. The facility was located about 100 yards north off of US 40, just a few hundred before I stopped at the red light and hastily held the camera.
Several months later, I came across a young man who told me he had been working outside at the Adessa car facility when the tornado struck and created a panic. He told of seeing car parts and trees flying right behind him and over top of him, and while mostly a terrifying story, I was quite jealous of him.
It was this day that I received my first payday from a tornado video, and it was a significant one at that. The irony of driving all around and across the United States and coming up empty handed money wise, only to have this incredibly random day happen just ten minutes from my house.
Only thing that can be said is: That’s just how life works, that ironic bitch.
Have you ever chased a goal around the country or world, only to have it show up in your backyard while you were asleep?