We had a great morning. Beautiful weather on a laid back Sunday morning, eating breakfast outside in almost 70 degree sunrise. Slowly cleaning up from a weekend of “Sabbath” with a small group of our teenagers. Once we were all packed up, we gathered down by the beach for a few words and final moments of silence before getting on the road. Some clouds began to move in, but we were thankful for a peace-filled morning…
Then we loaded onto the bus. I was excited to be making great time. We’d be back to the church parking lot with enough time for me to clean off the bus before my family was even out of worship. It was beginning to sprinkle, and there were some clouds to the south…along with some gusty winds…but nothing we haven’t seen before.
Then it happened. Something you don’t want to happen when you’re driving a tall 25-passenger wind-blown bus full of teenagers in the middle of Illinois. An alert went off on several phones at the same time:
All of a sudden, the gusts of wind and darkening clouds all seem a bit more dangerous. A bit more “real”. Driving through small-town Illinois, surrounded by cornfields and farmhouses. There was a split-second chance to stop at a church, but gone before I realized it. Finally, I saw a sign for a “Rest Stop”, and decided to pull over. The bus was getting tugged at pretty good. It was much smaller than I thought it might be, but as we unloaded the bus and piled into the building full of vending machines, I felt I’d made a good decision. (Even as the maintenance gnome came out of his closet to see what the noise was & laughed at our fears.)
We waited for 20 minutes or so, until the “Tornado Warning” was downgraded to a “Watch”. Things looked like they’d settled down a bit, and we headed back out. Only 30 minutes from home. A few minutes out on the highway, we noticed a rainbow on the left. It was a cool moment. Until we looked on our right and saw the coming storm. Around this time, a new alert hit all the smart-phones:
Awesome. By this point, we were truly in the middle of nowhere. Nothing but cornfields on the right and left for many miles. The next exit was 5 miles away, and there was nothing there to seek shelter in. Here the wind was not simply gusting….it was a wall of force, pushing the bus to the left every few moments. Water began to come in sideways through the closed door. I asked someone to locate the nearest….anything. A gas station was located at the next exit, but was a few miles off the highway. We finally made it to the exit, but turning right into town meant turning directly IN to the storm. Still, the exit was incredibly high ground, and I couldn’t stay where I was. So off we went, toward what definitely seemed to be a mass of clouds that wanted to make contact with the ground.
White knuckles gripped the steering wheel in prayer so filled with adrenaline, I was shaking when we finally stopped at a gas station, under a shelter not much more than the bus itself. But still, it felt safer to be on low ground, surrounded by structures. We waited the storm seemed to pass around us. I breathed slow. We were all obviously relieved just to be what felt like “out of harms way”.
After 20 minutes or so…we heard reports that the threat had passed. Blue sky was beginning to appear, and rain was sparse. We got back on the highway, and by this point I’d pretty much decided to go as slow as legally allowed. So driving about 45 MPH, we entered our county around 11:58am, when these alerts hit all the phones:
Thankfully, it was almost 12 Noon. The weather looked incredibly ominous still, but the rain had stopped and we had visibility. We were almost home. I took the first exit, deciding to drive through the city instead of around it on the corn-field surrounded highway. We finally made it home around 12:30 as the sun broke through on the rest of the day. We hugged our families, so very thankful to have made it.
As we watched updates on areas impacted as the storm continued to travel northeast…our thankfulness continued to grow. We were shaken, for sure. But we join in prayer for those areas hit so much harder than we were…