My First Tornado

I was driving to the ICE detention facility in Aurora today when looking off to the left, I saw what I assumed was a fire. I considered for a brief second it could be a tornado, but it wasn't raining and it didn't seem to be twirling, it just looked like dirty smoke. So I kept going.

Within a minute there was lightening. Then I could hear a little bit of hail fall on the roof of my car, then a siren went off in my car (my cell phone was plugged into the stereo, and the siren was as loud as the radio when the volume is turned up really high. I didn't even have the radio on, let alone set at high volume.) It was an emergency alert -- which I hadn't signed up for but appreciated -- telling me to get out the area, a tornado had been spotted "in rotation" on radar. I had no idea what "in rotation" meant, but I understood I should get out of the area.

Within seconds, I was in the midst of a torrential downpour and the streets were flooded. By now I was only about 5 blocks from the jail, but the jail was in the direction of the brown blob of smoke I had seen, which was not a fire, but a tornado that had touched down. [More...]

So what to do? There was no safe place to wait it out, and I didn't want my car sitting outside the jail in a tornado zone where it might get destroyed. Also, this particular jail only has street parking because the lot in front is reserved for employees. So it would be a long run from the street -- over a walking bridge and past the parking lot -- to the front door, during which my files would get wet and I'd look like a mess.

I decided to turn around and go back to Denver. The rain didn't let up and my Jeep sloshed through the water. There was almost zero visibility. And then, in an instant, there was no rain. It didn't taper off, there just wasn't any... the streets were dry. Nothing was wet. It was like going into an alternate universe. How can there be a torrential downpour, and 5 seconds away, dry streets, no rain and nothing to show it had just rained?

I turned on AM radio and got a local station. For the next 20 minutes, I listened to caller after caller describe just what I saw. It was pretty bizarre.

The ICE facility in Aurora is a private GEO facility. On one side are ICE detainees. In a separate area, it has contracted with the U.S. Marshals to hold federal detainees in criminal cases who are denied bond -- having nothing to do with immigration status. Anyone can get assigned there, it's a space issue, not a citizenship issue. The nice thing about the federal side of the facility is that you can call your detained client on the telephone. They will put you on hold and go get him. That's pretty unheard of for jails, in my experience.

So when I got home, I got to call my client and tell him why I was a no-show. Otherwise I would have felt bad all night that he must have thought I stood him up. Of course, he already knew all about the tornado since they were in the middle of it, but he appreciated the call.

I hope I never see another tornado, but at least if I do, I won't blow it off as being a fire.

Anyone else have any weather stories? Tornado or otherwise?

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  • Display: Sort:
    Amazing (none / 0) (#1)
    by CaptHowdy on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 08:50:02 PM EST
    I was in one tornado when I was a baby.  To young to remember.  Probably just as well supposedly my father threw me in a ditch an lay on top of me.

    Wow (none / 0) (#2)
    by squeaky on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 09:08:06 PM EST
    Glad you made it out to tell the tale...  Hope I miss out on experiencing one in my lifetime..

    You should have... (none / 0) (#3)
    by desertswine on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 09:25:05 PM EST
    thrown a lasso around it and rode it till you tamed it.  You know, like Pecos Bill.

    Wow (none / 0) (#4)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 09:54:03 PM EST
    Years ago I was going around 470 going home from DIA. The weather had been stormy but not a bad flight in. I stopped at the last toll booth before I25 to pay the toll. The lady in the booth was acting strange. She kept waving her arms. Finally bent forward screamed "Tornado!. I looked up and to my right there was a funnel cloud. I watched it jump the road and go through an apartment construction area off Parker Rd (I think.

    Then it just disappeared. Strange and deadly.

    That sort of weather phenomenon .. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 10:38:38 PM EST
    Jeralyn: "How can there be a torrential downpour, and 5 seconds away, dry streets, no rain and nothing to show it had just rained?"

    ... is call a microburst, and they're fairly common out here in the islands. Basically, it's a column of sinking air caused by an intense localized downdraft, and they're usually no more than a couple miles in diameter, tops. But microbursts also contain violent wind shears, and they can occasionally spawn tornadoes (or out here, waterspouts) as you experienced today.

    And microbursts always pose a direct threat to ascending or descending aircraft, even if there is no accompanying tornado. The technology that spots and tracks them was only recently developed in the past 25 years or so, in the wake of the 1985 crash of Delta Airlines 191 on approach to Dallas Ft. Worth Int'l Airport, which was caused by a microburst and killed 137 people.

    Glad to hear that you made it back to home base. It's always better to be safe than sorry, because you never want to get caught in the open during a violent storm like that.