March 31, We Make a New Iowa Friend
I had mentioned an Iowa friend on my birthday. Karla and I had decided to drive to Iowa to see Morgan on her birthday, March 31. We knew there was the possibility of severe weather in Iowa, so we planned to keep our eye out for any storms.
Something I had wanted to do for a long time was to visit Arkoe in northern Missouri, the little town my grandfather was born in. He was born in January 1909, and unfortunately, his father and my great grandfather died in Arkoe in September 1909. I knew nothing of the old Arkoe remains in today's Arkoe, but I still needed to visit his birth location.
Leaving Arkoe, we made the short drive to Miriam Cemetary in Maryville, Missouri, the location of my great grandfather's grave. It is a good size cemetery, and we had no idea of the location of his grave. Driving the pathways feeling like finding the grave was impossible, we decided to return to where we entered the cemetery and be more methodical in our search. This method paid off as Karla spotted his grave near the entrance after a few minutes. The sky was rumbling, and raindrops began falling as we photographed the headstone.
This side trip concerns what happened later that afternoon: how decisions affect the timing of events. Seconds make all the difference in being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I learned that lesson when Karla's mother died in an accident caused by a drunk driver on a lonely highway in West Texas. Decisions made in the days leading up to that fateful day and decisions made the morning they left our house for home in New Mexico put her and her passengers on a literal collision course with the drunk driver.
After leaving Maryville, we looked at the time and concluded we had time to drive the backroads and meander towards Tiffin, Iowa, where Morgans lives in her apartment. The afternoon was spent enjoying the scenery and dodging thunderstorms. That is until we drove towards Sigourney, Iowa, on Hwy92.
We drove past the junction of Hwy92 and Hwy21. After passing the intersection, Karla informed me we should have turned north on Hwy21. I pointed to my phone, which directed us to continue straight on Hwy92. We discovered we were using two different maps and routes at that moment. Unbeknownst to us, I had been following a route programmed in Apple Maps, and Karla was guiding me using a route programmed in Google Maps.
We looked at the maps and decided to continue on Hwy92 until we reached the interstate highway that would take us to Tiffin. Little did we know that decision was leading us towards potentially catastrophic trouble. So we continued toward the town of Sigourney. We were reaching the edge of town as we drove into a thunderstorm.
About halfway through the town, tornado sirens began to sound. Shocked, we pulled off the highway and into a restaurant parking lot. While trying to decide our next move, Karla noticed on her phone a family friend, Tyler, had tried reaching us. Tyler is a storm chaser, who I had asked before our trip to keep us informed if any bad weather should happen on our way.
Karla called him to see what was up. Not knowing where we were in Iowa, Tyler informed us there was a tornado on the ground in Iowa. Karla told him we were in Sigourney traveling east on Hwy92. He told us not to proceed and that the tornado was just east of us, about to cross Hwy92. We sat in the parking lot until Tyler told us the tornado had crossed the highway. He also informed us the tornado was on a path that aligned with Morgan. It was a rather sobering moment for us as we realized how close we came to driving into it. Even more sobering was the path of the tornado.
Tornado crossing Hwy92
Morgan's work had let out earlier in the day because of the threat of tornadic weather, so she was back at her apartment. Her apartment is on the top floor of a two-story apartment building, and her bathroom is the only place of barely there shelter from a tornado. While we were experiencing our close call, she was under a tornado watch and getting very nervous. In Iowa, they sound the tornado sirens countywide if there is a warning. Not long after the tornado crossed Hwy92, it entered her county, so her sirens started sounding.
Working it's way towards Tiffin
Turning north out of Sigourney, we started our high speed drive on Iowa's back roads, trying to get to Morgan. We flew down the road well above posted speed limits for about forty minutes. Not long into the new route, Tyler informed us of the tornado's progress. During the mad dash, Karla constantly communicated with Morgan and Tyler. I made every effort to be as close as possible in case the tornado hit her apartment. I did not want to be blocked by "first responders" from getting to her. At one point, my mother called, and Karla told her what was happening, but I do not think she could understand the gravity of the situation.
Crossing Hwy22 at Wellman
Red Original Route Yellow Tornado Blue Alternate Route
About ten minutes from Morgan, Tyler told us the tornado would hit Coralville, a suburb just next to where Morgan lives. When we exited the highway and turned onto the road that would take us to Morgan's apartment, we could see to the left the flashing lights where the tornado had hit. We turned right toward her apartment. We most likely would have had the tornado in view on our mad dash if we had not been busy driving and communicating.
I did a lot of studying when we got home because I wanted to know the timeline of what had happened. Using Google Maps and storm spotter video, I was able to piece it all together. Karla started talking to Tyler at 4:04 in Sigourney. The tornado crossed Hwy92 at 4:12, ten miles from us. Our video with the tornados is at 4:15. We got to Morgan at about 5:15. It is 48 miles cross-country from where it crossed Hwy92 to Tiffin and Morgan. It crossed Hwy22 at approx 4:30, between five and ten minutes ahead of us, just on the edge of Wellman. The tornado hit Coralville, three miles or less from Morgan. We were always seven or eight minutes behind it, even though we had to follow the roads.
Alls well that ends well
I was ground zero for the March 13, 1990, Hesston tornado. For years afterward, keeping an eye on the sky was normal during thunderstorms. The tornado left nightmares of being caught out in the open with a tornado approaching. As the years passed, memories faded, and the concern over tornadoes moved into the background. Until now!