So the kid picks a TOR:CON 5 day to drive home from college.
In case you don’t know, the Weather Channel’s TOR:CON Index is a fancy term for “ruh-roh.” Say you’re in the red blob on the TV map, and it’s a TOR:CON 5 day. This means you have a 50 percent chance of being within 50 miles of a tornado. The higher the number, the higher the risk. I assume a TOR CON 10 means you’re wearing a gingham dress and your name is Dorothy.
Now, imagine the following elements.
Son hitting the road.
Severe weather danger.
As they say in meteorology circles: What a set-up.
Two weeks ago, my son’s last final was on one of those days when the professional storm chasers were glomming onto his route, the Interstate-35 corridor. I began pacing the floors 48 hours ahead, because even then the TV weather gurus were getting all OCD about our particular swath of America.
I told my son to consider driving another day. Nope. He had his plan set. Morning exam. Pack the car. Go. He takes after his father in the stick-to-it-iveness department, which is usually a blessing. Unless the dew points are messed up.
To cope with my child’s stubbornness and my own anxiety, I sent him a list of all the possible designated tornado shelters along the turnpike. Yeah. I did that. (There are 27.) Then, when I was sure the kid threw down his pencil for that last final, I texted him updated results of my multi-sourced Doppler research: DO NOT LEAVE AFTER 2:00.
He left at 2:45.
The moment you give birth to your children, you lose control. One minute they’re safe inside your skin, the next you’re in the delivery room handing them to people you’ve never met before so you can sleep for one lousy hour. And that’s just the beginning of launching your child into this world. If I knew back then that 19 years later I’d be relying on The Weather Channel’s Dr. Forbes to help me triangulate fronts and hook echoes with my baby’s moving car, I would have snorted all the epidural medication in the hospital.
I didn’t know where my child was for most of his drive. I just knew he rolled out later than he should have. I also knew, via another parent, the kids in the dorm HE HAD JUST CHECKED OUT OF were huddled together on the lower floor hallways. I paced around the house a zillion times while Dr. Forbes took potty breaks.
At one point my son messaged me, but I didn’t realize my phone had dinged until 20 minutes after the fact. I was too busy doing TOR:CON laps around my kitchen island. The text read, “Taking a break now. At the first rest stop.”
I was desperate for his GPS coordinates. I never thought this would happen, but I finally got to employ THAT math problem, the “useless” one: If a car is traveling north at 75 miles per hour, and a twister is moving northeast at…
My calculations landed him somewhere near Wichita, where there was chatter about a tornado on the ground.
And here’s how it all shook out. The entire trip, my son surfed barely ahead of every pop-up supercell that was gunning for the interstate. Because, as we all know, tornadoes are hell-bent on crossing I-35. They love I-35. These twisters are bowling for mile markers. And it’s why one crossed the interstate that very afternoon in his highway-hugging college town. It probably sucked up the particulate rubber my son’s tires had shed an hour or two earlier.
He later told me when he made that one quick stop, he smashed fries in his face while he ran back to the car. He knew he was on some kind of precipice: “The whole way, the road ahead of me was bright, and the rearview mirror was pitch black.”
I can relate, kid.
Freelancer Denise Snodell writes twice monthly.