Straight Ahead Providence

There are two kinds of winds that come out of thunderstorms: tornados and derechos. We know that we don’t want to be in the first; this trip gave us to opportunity to learn we also don’t want to be in the second.

The original plan, the one that involved “seeing” Montana in four days (ha ha), had us leaving Livingston on August 8, which would put us crossing Nebraska and Iowa on August 9th and 10th. That would have been a bad thing. On the night of August 9th, a derecho, which is an area of straight-line winds blasting out from a line of thunderstorms (from the Spanish word meaning “right” or “straight”), blew across the Midwest. This particular storm, incredibly, was a line of severe thunderstorms 600 miles long. Ahead of that fearsome monster were straight-line winds of at least 58 mph across essentially the entire front, and winds clocked in Iowa in excess of 110 mph. All across the area, roofs were torn off of buildings, trees were uprooted, semi tractor trailers were blown over, grain elevators were toppled, and thousands of acres of corn fields were flattened. At one point, power had been knocked out to nearly one million homes. The effect was essentially an inland Category 2 hurricane, spreading the same kind of destruction, except that unlike a hurricane, this one didn’t lose force over land, it gained it. Our route would have put us right in the middle of all this on the very night it happened.

We didn’t think to capture a screenshot at the moment the storm passed over where we would have been, but this gives you the idea: the dark red/purple blob passed almost directly over Grand Island, NE, where we had spent the previous night.

But, as it turns out, we were miles away. Since we decided we are basically morons for thinking we’d see Montana in four days, and having resolved to come back to Montana for a month next year, we realized we might as well get a head start on the trip home and leave on August 7th. That meant, instead of spending the night of August 9-10 in Nebraska, in the middle of unimaginable destruction, we were 300 miles southeast, watching on network news the devastation occurring in where we would have been had we left per our original schedule.

I assume that, had we been in the jaws of this beast when it hit, we would have taken shelter in the campground bathroom building, or some other suitable shelter, but the RV likely would have been damaged, maybe totaled. Instead, it’s just a story of what might have been. We’re pretty much devoted Presbyterians, so we don’t believe in luck or coincidence. But whatever you call it, providence or luck, but for a spontaneous decision to leave a day early, this would have been an entirely different post.