KIMBALL, Neb. – On Saturday, July 28, the weather forecast called for a slightly cooler day (mid-80’s) and a 70 percent chance of afternoon and evening thunderstorms. I looked forward to the cooler day but I was skeptical about the chance of rain. We’d seen a similar forecast for each of the five preceding days, and had watched heavy storm clouds building in the west and charging straight toward us by late afternoon. On each of those days, however, the rain bearing clouds split a few miles to the west and flowed by us to the north and south. There had been plenty of rain in the area, but none of it fell on us. We were starting to dry out a bit, and July precipitation was close to two inches shy of the long-term average. As Saturday dawned I hoped the forecast rain would actually materialize, but as I said, I was skeptical.
While the gathering clouds played their day-long game of charging toward us before splitting and flowing by on the north and south, Mom decided she wanted a lesson on driving the big weed mower. This mower is a Poulan zero turn radius mower with a 54-inch deck. It’s the kind of rig I’d call a “hydrostat,” but I’d probably be at least partly incorrect. Like the hydrostatic drive swathers of old, it has two main drive wheels, left and right, and each wheel is independently controlled by a left and right steering handle. When driving the mower, you control forward, reverse, and turning with the two levers. When the levers are centered in the neutral position the wheels don’t turn. Push the levers forward to move forward and pull them back to move back. Left handle forward and right handle back makes the mower pivot to the right, and opposite input will pivot the machine to the left. You get the picture.
I showed Mom how to start up and shut down, how to engage and disengage the deck drive, and demonstrated how to control the thing by mowing a few swaths in the big lot west of the house. When it was Mom’s turn to try she climbed aboard, fired up the engine, and engaged the deck drive. I stepped back out of the way and she set off.
And immediately turned and charged directly at me. I instantly knew that I’d picked a terrible place to stand, with my back to a fence and no room to dodge. All I could do in the brief moment before the mower hit me was reach for the steering arms and try to keep my feet out from under the deck. Fortunately, I was able to halt the machine’s forward progress by pushing the steering arms back and I somehow kept my feet away from the whirling blades. The front frame of the mower did give me a mighty whack across the shins, quite a painful blow, but a couple of bruises were the extent of my injury.
Both Mom and I were shocked by the sudden “turn” of events, but within seconds we were both laughing uproariously. I don’t know what it is about such events that we humans find so amusing, but in the famous words of Larry the Cable Guy, “I don’t care who you are, that’s funny right there!” Mom decided to postpone her mowing instruction and practice, and I saw no need to try to change her mind.
A couple of hours later a very dark and threatening cloud formation roared up from the west. My brother and I watched it come closer and closer, speculating all the while whether it would flow over us or go around. Sure enough, it began to split and flow around. Nona the Wonder Dog, who is terrified of thunder, didn’t like the situation one bit and let us know her disfavor. I decided to take her home so she could face the storm from the comfort of her palatial doghouse.
Nona and I hopped into the pickup and I headed for home. As I drove east on the county road I noticed the part of the storm that had gone north had done something surprising. It had turned 90 degrees and was bearing down on us once again. This time it looked deadly serious. It had formed a wall cloud and was fairly racing toward us. The base of the wall cloud was clearly dumping a lot of rain and hail as it moved along. I turned north on the highway, hoping to get home before the deluge engulfed me. It wasn’t even close.
I turned on my lights and emergency flashers and flipped the windshield wipers to high. When the rain and hail struck I couldn’t believe how heavy the downpour was. The wipers made no difference at all and my visibility went from something to absolutely nothing in a heartbeat. All I could do was stop where I was and hope that no one would plow into me.
After no more than a couple of minutes – quite noisy and tense minutes – the deluge ended as quickly as it had begun. Nearly an inch of rain and a good bit of golf ball-sized hail had come down in the span of no more than 150 seconds, a rate of close to 30 inches per hour. Amazing.
As the rain let up the sun came out and stormy twilight became full daylight, dazzling my eyes and revealing a soaked landscape with inches-deep water flowing madly downhill everywhere I looked. Talk about a cloudburst!
I delivered Nona to her home and headed back to the ranch to see how everyone had fared. About that time my phone alerted me to the presence of a tornado – confirmed by spotters – on the ground three miles south and one mile west of Kimball. The exact location of the ranch house.
From a mile away, I could see all the ranch buildings were still standing and appeared undamaged. Sure enough, everything was fine. My brother was a bit excited, though, having watched the tornado roar directly overhead.
Well, a miss is a miss, and much better than a hit. Heck of a good story, though.
Today (Tuesday, Aug. 7) as I write this there are more storm clouds building in the west. The forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of rain later. We’ll see what happens.
I took an hour and change to go for a power walk. It was a warm day, but not too warm. As I stode along a six-mile course the warm air felt good and sunshine seemed to rain down in a constant wash of wonderful. All around me the prairie was lush and green and glowing with good health. It felt good to clomp along at a 15 minutes per mile pace. My muscles worked smoothly, my legs felt good, my heart ticked along between 110-130 beats per minute, the air flowed in and out of my lungs with ease.
We’ve each of us only a finite quantity of moments in time while we live our mortal lives. On a day like today I can’t help but feel like I’m particularly blessed.