We recently purchased a camper, and for the first time ever, we went camping down at Fort Lincoln State Park with some friends.
All week, we’ve been warned to expect severe thunderstorms on Friday evening. Like most times, I wasn’t too concerned. Thunderstorms are by their nature are difficult to predict.
There have been many a time when no storms are predicted, and one pops up seemingly out of nowhere. Other times, meteorologists proclaim high probability, and either nothing happens, or the storms turn or split off and we get nothing but blue skies.
Still, I kept an eye on the radar all afternoon, because being down in an open campground with nowhere to go was a bit concerning. Especially since we have yet to insure our camper.
Around 7pm, I noticed a massive storm develop west of Dickinson, and for the next two hours watched as it moved at easily 50mph, swirled, grew and headed right for us. I considered moving my car near the western edge of the campground, because it’s full of shorter trees, bushes and a steep hill. I figured there it would have at least some protection from hail, since that was my main concern.
Wind never crossed my mind.
The sky grew darker, and large drops of rain started about 8:30, so we moved all the chairs under the campers along with anything else we didn’t want to see get wet.
At 9:20 pm is when things started to get interesting.
The rain came, and at first it wasn’t all that much, so a few of us decided to sit under our friend, Bill’s awning. We didn’t have the awning down for more than five minutes when the wind hit. An impressive and more than a little scary wind. Bill, managed to stow it quickly enough the wind didn’t tear it off the camper. The rest of us piled into his camper to talk, play games and watch the rain fall, praying every second the rain wouldn’t bring hail with it.
To the west toward the hill, nothing much of interest was going on, as the hill and thick trees held much of the wind back.
Toward the east and the Missouri River, however, I watched the tall cottonwoods bend in the intense wind and not for the first time wondered how any tree could withstand such a beating and not break. After about ten minutes of those trees getting a beating, the power went out, and the camper switched to battery power.
I thought losing power was a bit odd, but we all figured because of the wind and rain, the power cord loosened from the outlet outside.
During the 30 minutes or so as the storm passed, I could feel an occasional gust, and wondered if the pattering of the rain was hail, which there was none. None was needed, because after it was all said and done, I don’t know if hail could have added to the resulting destruction.
When I saw blue skies at about 9:45, I told Tom it was time for bed. Not only was he tired, but I noticed the sky was starting to look quite lovely, and I wanted to take pictures. He went out first, and as I approached our with camper with camera in hand, I saw a man standing at the door. I recognized him as a neighboring camper, who is also a member of the church I go to, Derek. He saw me and asked if we were okay.
A little surprised by the concern I said, “Yes. We’re fine. We waited out the storm in our friend’s camper.”
“Oh, good,” he said. “Have you seen the playground?”
“Um, no,” I said. “Why?”
And then I looked:
What was even more shocking is the camper next to the playground:
I told Tom to stay in the camper, because I wanted to make sure everyone was okay, and I also wanted to get pictures. As we approached the devastation, I saw the lights of firetrucks and other first responders. I thought, “Wow, that was fast.”
Either that, or the trees fell close to the initial burst of the storm, and for at least a half an hour, we at the west side of the campground were completely oblivious to the destruction of the storm.
When Derek and I reached the camper that sustained the worst of the damage, Derek asked if anyone was hurt.
“No,” the man said. “God was watching over us, and I can’t tell you how thankful we are.”
“Indeed,” I thought. I can’t imagine what they thought when that tree crashed into their camper and rose one side up at least three feet.
I pulled out my camera and asked if I could take pictures.
“Go ahead,” he said, “It’s not as though I can’t do anything about the damage.”
I came back a few minutes later and noticed Tom standing inside the camper with the door open a few inches. I came in and let him see the photos. While he did that, I went to Bill’s camper, opened the door and said, “You guys have no idea how lucky we are.” I then explained what I saw. It wasn’t long before the entire campground population was outside to check on the damage and take pictures with their cell phones.
Selfishly, I thought, “Dang it. Because of their cellphones, all their pictures are going to be plastered all over Facebook before I even have a chance to download mine!”
On my way back, I talked to a few other people to ask how well they fared, and to take pictures of a fiery sky:
Tom had finished looking at the pictures and pointed out his favorite was the one with the tipped picnic table.
He sat at the table and said, “All that damage makes me a little sad.”
As large tears fell, I hugged him close and reassured him that everyone was okay. He really didn’t like to see all that destruction, poor little guy. From his perspective, that had to be beyond scary. It was his first glimpse into the power of nature, and how powerless we can be in the face of it.
After Tom calmed down, a bunch of us went out to survey the damage. I decided Tom should come with. He saw everyone was indeed unhurt, and how the first responders and others were helping those who’s campers had either been damaged or had been pushed off their jacks. Not ten minutes later, he was his normal, happy self.