Last week, flying home from visiting my sister in Dallas, I had an entirely new, unpleasant flying experience: tornadoes. Tornadoes are rare where I’m from, and so while I can tell you what to do in the event of an earthquake (we had drills when I was in elementary school — and then again when I started working in a skyscraper in downtown Seattle), the first things that come to mind for me with tornadoes are Joplin, Missouri, and The Wizard of Oz.
The day I left, the skies were darkening and rain was definitely on the way as I arrived at the airport to fly home. My sister had warned me that in Dallas the airlines frequently will do their best to get you off the ground ahead of the storm – boarding as quickly as possible and so forth. I am one hundred percent in favor of this plan, so I boarded promptly and was sitting, seatbelt fastened, looking out the window, watching the rain, when I saw lightning.
I believe it is against regulation to take off or land when there is lightning in the area, but my sister had told me that these storms come up quickly and breeze right through, usually, not lingering long in any location. I sat in my window seat in the second-to-last row of the plane, hopefully gazing out the window and waiting for the storm to pass.
Pretty soon after we were all boarded, stowed, and seat-belted, the captain announced that we were going to be sitting for a few minutes and he would have more information for us shortly. A few minutes later, he announced that we would be deplaning due to tornado sightings in the area. “Take with you everything you’ll need,” he said; “basically, just take everything with you.”
Deplaning started with the unaccompanied minors. Last week seemed to be spring break for many school districts across the United States, so there were quite a few unaccompanied minors on the plane. Then the general deplaning process began.
Pretty soon the hail started. A man in my row on the other side of the plane had his computer out and was watching the news. “Tornado just picked up a semi trailer,” he said. At this point, I started to get scared. Unfortunately I’m one of those people who puts on a brave face if I am with people I know (unless the situation involves creatures that creep or dart) – for instance, if my sister had been with me, I would have stayed as calm as possible for her sake. But something in my reaction system changes when I am by myself, and all I could think was, “If it picked up a semi trailer it could probably snap this plane in half.”
Deplaning seemed to be taking an unreasonably long length of time; and I don’t think it was just my fear making me more impatient than usual, because soon the flight crew announced, “Please hurry, deplane as quickly as possible; there is a tornado at the airport.” At this point I started to shake a little.
A minute or two later the hail was literally the size of golf balls, and it sounded like golf balls hitting the airplane. By the time there were only three rows ahead of me left to deplane the plane had started shaking from the wind, and there was an enormous clap of thunder. And then at last we were moving, off the plane, into the terminal. Airport police were going up and down the terminal, moving people back from the windows. I had no idea where to go – I know the bathroom entrances at DFW are tornado shelters, as at most other airports, but they had told us to stick close by our gate in the event the storm passed quickly so that we would be able to hear announcements. (If ever there was an airport in need of a PA system upgrade, it would be DFW. I can’t hear a darned thing from their gate agents, and I’ve been in and out of that airport quite a few times now.)
So I wandered for a bit – the sky was as dark as I’ve ever seen a sky in the daytime. Most people didn’t seem to be terribly worried – but I, having no experience with tornadoes, had no gauge. And then, in the midst of my wandering, I passed a man who was sitting on the floor singing “This is the day that the Lord has made”. I didn’t recognize the song, but I recognized those words. They’re from one of the Psalms:
This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
I wish I had stopped right there – to rejoice and be glad in my own quiet way. Instead I kept wandering. I made a teary phone call to my dad, feeling that at least one of my parental units ought to know what was going on. My dad reminded me that we knew the One who is in control. Eventually I situated myself in between two half-walls, and a woman came to stand next to me. She had been visiting her sister also, and I asked her if she was used to tornadoes. She told me, “You know, we just have to trust the Lord.”
I was reminded three times to turn to the Lord, the only real source of comfort I know, in this moment of distress. To my shame, it took all three reminders before I did so.
See the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind…Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm.
O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever.