California Bichons: We Didn’t Die in a Tornado!

Since I know a lot of family members and loved ones read this blog, and might be a bit concerned by that post title, let me begin by sharing a photo of a beautiful rainbow which appeared after we safely drove by a tornado yesterday.

Lovely, right? And here’s a nice one of the dogs, cheerfully sitting together in the back seat, several miles north of the EF1 tornado that we drove by yesterday.

Ah, and a nice shot of us all eating dinner at a great place called the Burger Barn in Dunsmuir, California, which happens to be more than 100 miles from Willows, California, where the tornado that we drove by yesterday touched down.

And here is Amy with the dogs this morning. You’ll notice that there are no tornados at all in this picture.

So yes, all is well. But as you may have picked up on by now, we did, in fact, drive by a tornado yesterday.

The day began normally enough. We worked until the afternoon, and then got in a rental car and started driving north towards Ashland, Oregon. I am working on a client project, and I needed to go to Ashland to visit with one of the participants, so we decided to stick around for a day or two after my meeting and make a weekend of it. Ashland is home of the Shakespeare Festival, and is supposed to have great walking opportunities, so we were looking forward to checking it out.

Ashland is about a 5 hour drive from San Francisco, straight through the rural parts of Northern California. We got on the i5, and had been driving for a couple hours when I saw an extremely ominous, dark funnel-like cloud just to the West of the highway, hanging a couple hundred feet over the ground.

We weren’t crazy enough to stop and snap a photo, but someone on the Internet was! This is what the cloud looked like when we saw it.

“Huh” I thought, “That looks a lot like a funnel cloud from a tornadic thunderstorm. But we don’t get those in California!” As we drove by it, Amy asked why I kept glancing at the cloud. Then it began to hail. People were pulling over and hiding under highway overpasses.

We checked our cellphone, and it had a big red message (which we assume Google/the government put there somehow) reading “Tornado Warning. Take shelter immediately. If you are driving, do not stop under highway overpasses.”

The cloud seemed to be just kind of hanging there, so we did what any reasonable person would do under the circumstances; booked it out of there as fast as our rented Chevy Malibu could take us. There was a Mustang driving in front of us, and I’m pretty sure we passed it.

The dogs were confused by the hail, but otherwise nonplussed. No one even did a Toto impression.

We’re not in Kansas anymore. Nor were we ever.

As we put distance between us and the storm, the sky lightened up, and we saw a very nice rainbow off to the side of the highway.

Another one of the rainbow

Since we were focused on getting out of there, we didn’t bother to stop and look behind us. But if we had, we may well have seen this, which someone else graciously stopped to film and put on Youtube.

Yup, that’s our tornado. It touched down at 5:35 in Willows CA, by which point we were a solid 30 miles away. It didn’t hurt anyone, and didn’t cause any serious damage, aside from ruining some unlucky person’s walnut orchard. By NWS standards, it was just a baby tornado (1 on a scale from 0 to 5).

Our friends from the Plains states are probably laughing at us just as much as our West Coast friends laughed about the Great East Coast Earthquake of ’11.  I’m sure they drive past tornados all the time. But for us (and most Californians, by the way–tornados here are vanishingly rare) it was quite a thing!

After our tornado encounter, we drove safely on to Ashland, by way of Dunsmuir. As I mentioned, there was a very nice restaurant there called the Burger Barn, where we had a burger, shake and surprisingly authentic Philly Cheesesteak.

A view in the window of the Burger Barn, since the dogs couldn’t go in.

It’s chilly up here in tornado-free Southern Oregon, but everyone is very friendly, and we are looking forward to seeing the area this evening and tomorrow.

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