A True Story: Driving Out The Storm

Hail+ On The Highway

What To Do & Not To Do If Caught In Tornado While Driving

As a professional paintless dent repair & auto hail repair blogger, I have always assumed I would know exactly the steps to take if caught driving in a hail storm, let alone a deadly Tornado. But when it happened, nothing I had read during my research prepared me for a real-life severe weather situation. I hope my story can help others if a similar even happens to you.

I70 West-Bound

I70W KS to CO
1 HW – 605 MILES

Colorado has always been my families destination of choice for vacationing. Usually, our vacation theme involves snow and mountains but that year – we decided it was time to visit the mountains in the springtime.

We packed up the Jeep, the 3 kids, and the family dog and headed westward. If you have ever taken the trip from Kansas City to Colorado, I don’t have to tell you how boring this drive can be. Outside of the Flint Hills, the worlds largest ball of twine, the interestingly creepy Garden of Eden in Lucas, KS, and some other rather odd roadside attractions you can explore HERE – the only thing to look forward to is tumbleweed and endless games of “ISPY.”

In other words, we were not looking forward to another boring 9-hour drive to Denver.

Stormy Skies Ahead

Stormy Skies Ahead
Stormy Skies Ahead

We had been driving for approximately 4 hours, nearly halfway there. It was nearing time to stop for lunch and switch-out driving duty. The kids were becoming restless due to the cramped conditions, hunger, and the storm that was brewing on the horizon.

Just to be safe, we tuned into local radio stations to check for severe weather alerts. As expected, we could only find country music and religious radio. We also checked in on our Wunderground weather APP and didn’t see anything that appeared to be too dangerous.

In a matter of a few minutes, they skies ahead became darker and angrier looking.

For those who have never experienced a midwest early-spring thunderstorm, these are the facts you need to know.

  1. Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming make up Hail Alley. These states are also card-carrying members of Tornado Alley.
  2. Early spring is when most hail storms and tornados happen.
  3. If you live in Tornado / Hail Alley, you should always be prepared for the virulent midwestern weather and NEVER underestimate the power of Mother Nature.
  4. Storms can become serious in minutes.

According to our Google maps APP, we were about 5 miles outside of  Abilene, KS.

Wind, Lightning, and Hail

Within what seemed to be seconds, the wind picked up, the sky opened up and was dumping buckets of rain on the Jeep. Visibility became nothing. We nearly ran right into the back of a vehicle that was slowed down to a snails speed ahead. The only indication we had of the complete slow-down of traffic ahead of us was the blur of red taillights that smeared ahead.

Semi Overturned By High-Wind Speeds
Semi Overturned By High-Wind Speeds

The kids were in a panic and I was frantically looking for severe weather alerts on my cell phone. Still, nothing.

I jumped when my daughter let out a squeal and pointed to what appeared to be a wreak about 4 car lengths ahead. We could barely make out the semi that we later found out had been blown right off the highway due to the high wind speeds.

Then the hail came bulleting out of the angry clouds. It sounded like a continual blasting of bullets hitting the windshield and metal panels. We told the kids to duck down and put their arms over their heads. I threw the blanket that one of them had brought over their crouching bodies.

The hail fell for about 45 seconds. I just knew we had hail damage. There was no way we couldn’t have. Then, just as fast as it started, it stopped and everything seemed to come to a complete standstill. The rain, wind, and hail had all stopped.

The Calm Before The Storm

Everyone has heard about “the calm before the storm.” If you haven’t, I can describe it to you exactly as we saw it. The sky looked an eerie greenish color and very dark, almost like pea soup. I didn’t need a weather alert to tell me we were about to get hit by a tornado.

Instinctually, we began looking around for shelter. Luckily, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I grew up in Hiawatha, KS, a small town notorious for frequent tornados. I knew a ditch was NOT the best option for protection and neither was the highway overpass that looked to be about a half mile ahead.

A few of our gridlocked neighbors had the same idea. My husband got out of the Jeep and had a brief conversation with the Tacoma that sat beside us.

We decided to start driving in the opposite direction of the dark skies just ahead. We told the kids to stay down and to keep their seatbelts fastened.

Full Speed Behind

My husband quickly and efficiently turned the Jeep around and crossed the grassy terrain between the highway to the other side. I kept vigilant watch of the sky behind and we drove. Many of the vehicles that were around us followed suit.  We drove as fast as we could go in the opposite direction.

We found the town of Abilene, KS quickly. We took the exit ramp and headed to the nearest gas station – luckily right off the exit.

We could hear the sirens blaring as we quickly jumped out of the hail-battered Jeep and joined the others already gathered in the walk-in cooler.

Later, we found the above footage of the tornado we had been party to. The video clip was provided by Tony Laubach/Tornadoes Kick Media, LLC.

No Tornado Watch, No Tornado Warning

As mentioned earlier in the story, we were never notified of a Tornado watch nor warning. I write this story in hopes of teaching others what to do if you are traveling and end up in the direct path of a tornado.

Our decision to “out-run” the tornado is NOT advisable. We got lucky. We knew the closest form of shelter was 5 minutes behind us and as a family, decided to take our chances.

What To Do In Tornado While Traveling

If you are on the highway, as we were, and find yourself sharing the road with one of Mother Nature’s most dangerous weather occurrences, remember the following points.

  1. Do NOT see shelter under an overpass. Weather.com says, “It’s understandable that motorists would feel safest under a sturdy structure like an overpass, but winds are actually higher in these openings, and debris is just as likely to harm you there.”
  2. If you can see the tornado in the distance, NOAA recommends changing course and driving toward a sturdy shelter as soon as you are able. They recommend truck stops, convenience stores, restaurants, and even walk-in coolers. Once you are inside, go to the basement, a cellar, or a hallway or room without windows in the center of the house. – also from the Weather.com website.
  3. If you see a tornado developing where you are driving, the best thing to do is to pull over and evacuate your vehicle. Seek shelter in the nearest sturdy building or storm shelter; do not hide under your car. The wind could potentially roll your car over. If there is no available shelter, find the nearest ditch or low-lying area and crouch low to the ground covering your head with your arms. From www.accuweather.com.
  4. Trust your instincts. If you see tell-tale signs of a tornado, find shelter immediately. High-speed winds, lightning, hail, green skies, and wall clouds are all indicators of potential Tornadic activity.

After The Storm

If your vehicle has been damaged by flying debris or hail, don’t worry about it until you know you and your loved ones are safe. After the storm, contact The Hail Shop USA for a free hail damage estimate. We have locations across the United States.

If you do not find a location near you, look for a reputable paintless dent repair shop near you.