With all the recent tornadoes near Oklahoma City, it reminded me of my closest brush with life-threatening weather. What I remember most vividly was mocking the radio when the first severe thunderstorm warning was announced.
It was July 23, 1987. My family and I lived in Maple Grove, Minn., at the time, but on this day I was at the Valleyfair amusement park in Shakopee with the youth group from the Osseo Church of the Nazarene. Shakopee is in the southwest part of the suburbs surrounding the Twin Cities. Maple Grove is in the northwest part of the suburbs.
At Valleyfair, music was playing over speakers. This was interrupted by the National Weather Service announcing a severe thunderstorm warning. I mockingly said “Oh, no. A severe thunderstorm warning,” and then laughed about it.
Approaching Storm Forces Amusement Park to Close
My attitude soon changed when Valleyfair began announcing it was closing due to the severe weather that was on its way. I headed out of the park with everyone else, but I was worried about finding my older sister, who had driven me and several other teens to the park. I was 16 and she was 18. We had several carloads of teens at Valleyfair that day.
Since this was before the advent of cell phones, I just had to head toward our parents’ car she had driven and hope that I would find her there or on the way. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to find her, but we couldn’t find some of the teens that had ridden with us.
While we were waiting for them, big drops of rain started to fall. We could see lightning and hear thunder as the storm approached. The wind was starting to pick up as well.
My sister went to look for the teens we were waiting for while the rest of us waited at the car. My sister came back and told us that the workers at Valleyfair were herding people into the public restrooms just outside the park to get them out of the storm. This was when I first realized that this was no ordinary storm.
We all crowded into the restrooms and listened to the storm. The rain was coming down in sheets and the thunder was getting loud and could be heard over and over. After about an hour, the storm seemed to be letting up.
An employee of the park came into the restroom and told us that we were at a break in the storm, but another one was coming. If we were going to leave, now would be the best time. So, we headed back to the car.
We Try to Drive Home in the Superstorm and Get Lost
Not knowing what else to do, we exited the parking lot and headed for the freeway as the rain started to pick up again. As we were driving, you could see the storm all the way around us. Lightning was continuously lighting up the sky all around us.
We began to hear radio reports of a tornado in Maple Grove. We weren’t even sure if we had a house to go home to.
We then heard that the freeway we were on was flooded just after the next exit. We had to get off and find a different way in an unfamiliar part of the Twin Cities.
We got onto a residential street and my sister remembered the name of it. A pastor we knew from a different church lived on it. However, we didn’t know the address and the street went for miles in either direction, so we decided to keep going north in the general direction of our house until we came to something we recognized.
Rising Waters in Street Stall Out Our Car
Unfortunately, the rain was coming down so hard the street was starting to flood. We tried to turn around at one point, but the side street we did a U-turn on had such deep water that it stalled the car. All of us boys then got out of the car to push it off to the side of the road. The water was almost up to our knees.
A woman with an umbrella came out of the house we had stopped in front of and was offering to let us seek shelter in her house. Just then, I heard excited yelling from my sister. She recognized the house next door as the house of the pastor we knew. Our car had stalled almost directly in front of it.
Not immediately recognizing the improbability of this, I thanked the woman and told her we knew her neighbors and would be going there instead. We were warmly greeted and were able to make phone calls to parents. We eventually were able to direct the rest of our youth group to the same house.
My sister called our house and found out that our brother, who was home from college for the summer, was the only person home. He and our cat hid in the basement when the tornado sirens went off. It hit about a mile from our house, which was undamaged.
He had heard from our parents, who were at meetings at a church in Minneapolis. They were in the church’s basement and were going to stay there for the night.
We were able to get home safely the next morning. We heard that this was being called the Minnesota Superstorm. Parts of the Twin Cities had received 10 inches of rain or more in six hours, which was a record. The storm front had stalled directly over the Twin Cities, which was why it had lasted so long and brought so much rain.
I learned to have a great respect for Mother Nature after that night. I would never again mock a weather alert.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional writer since 1997 . He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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