Oliver: Tornadoes put scary twist on return trip

Maybe it had something to do with having been in West Liberty, Ky., that made us turn the car around Sunday afternoon.

My husband and I had just started our eight-hour drive back to McHenry after a weekend visit with friends there when my cellphone rang.

On the other end was another friend of ours who happens to be a storm chaser.

“Have you started driving home?” he asked.

“Yes, why?” I responded.

He proceeded to tell me about a severe line of storms that was blowing through Illinois and heading toward Indiana, right through the area where we would be driving.

As if to underscore the weight of his words, he mentioned that the National Weather Service had issued a PDS notice – a “particularly dangerous situation” warning for that system. The last time he had seen one of those was when a storm system full of tornadoes ripped through the central portion of the United States … and leveled West Liberty.

In that storm on March 2, 2012, an EF3 tornado cut a swath of destruction through the town and the surrounding area. Six people were killed in Morgan County, where West Liberty is located, though none in the town itself.

Traces of the storm remain even now, although the residents have gotten the town mostly back to normal.

His advice was to turn around and wait a few hours back in West Liberty until it was safe to try to make the trek. We decided to heed the warning and retraced our path, thinking that we would be heading out again in a few hours.

As we monitored the storm’s path, it became abundantly clear that our storm chaser friend had been right. These storms were powerful and plentiful – and we would have been right in their path.

On Sunday, the National Weather Service recorded 76 reports of tornadoes, 451 reports of high wind and wind damage, and 42 reports of large hail. All of these were preliminary reports and all of them have to be confirmed, particularly the reports of tornadoes.

But one need only see the heartbreaking photos from Washington, Ill., to see the violent and deadly nature of this line of storms. Similar destruction took place in Kokomo, Lebanon and Lafayette, Ind., as well as in other places in Illinois.

According to the National Weather Service, Sunday was the first time more than one killer tornado has struck Illinois in a single day in November. It also was the first time that an EF4 tornado has hit the state in November and passed Nov. 9, 1864, as the deadliest November tornado day in Illinois history.

By the time the tornado watches finally were lifted, the sun had long since set, meaning that the drive would be made in the darkness. Normally that wouldn’t have posed a problem.

Yet the final decision was made after seeing a report on Twitter from the Indianapolis Star that reported a portion of Interstate 465 was underwater and that traffic was being diverted.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather deal with detours when I can see where I am.

In the light of Monday, the path was clear and the sun was shining brightly.

But the pieces of metal sheeting on either side of the road in Jasper County, Ind., seemed to be additional confirmation that we had been right to wait it out.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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