APRIL 1ST AND 2ND, 2017 – TORNADO TURMOIL
Total miles traveled on Dive and Drive USA in eight days: 1,578 miles
The first of April seemed like a less-than-funny April Fool’s prank. It started out with a bright sunny morning at Fontaine Bleau State Park. We made breakfast, packed up, and left to find a Starbucks or other internet filled coffee house. We found a good WiFi connection and set down to do a morning of work. We finished up some writing and planned the next few days of our journey. Holly Beach tonight and diving in Houston the next day! We were going to get underwater at Lake 288 with the Gigglin Marlin, a PADI dive shop in Houston. The Gigglin Marlin had been super supportive and offered advice on dive locations and even to let us use their tanks and weights! We couldn’t wait!
We left the coffee shop and headed west! We planned on camping on Holly Beach, Louisiana. The beach is long, sandy, scenic, and offers free beach camping with few amenities. It sounded perfect and it was in the right price range! The trip to Holly Beach was pretty uneventful, just some beautiful driving through the Louisiana Bayou country!
As we got close to the beach, we noticed all the grass land moving… a lot! The wind was whipping across these flat, tree-less waterways. The tall grass and canals suddenly gave way to stilted houses and sandy beaches. It was beautiful! And SO VERY windy! The waves were crashing and the wind was throwing sand everywhere!
We paused and thought about our options. We decided to cook supper and then sleep in the back of the car. We unloaded the back, set up a “wind-proof kitchen” and made some beef stew. While we sat in the car and ate, the best restaurant ever, we realized the wind was actually picking up. This wasn’t going to work. There was a storm coming and the beach was very exposed.
Just after sunset we pulled off the beach and drove through the dark, headed for Texas! Our highway led strait into Port Arthur so that’s where we went. In the dark, on the horizon, Port Arthur looks like a sprawling city with bright, lite-up high rises everywhere! It looked like we were pulling into a major city with plenty of places to stay out of the storm. As we got closer, Christine wondered out-loud why several of the “tall buildings” were flaming? What were we really looking at? Refineries! Huge, sprawling refineries all coved in yellow lights and flaming towers. They looked like medieval castles in the dark! What we thought was a big city, was just empty oil refineries. Somehow our rout took us away from the town and all hotels and straight through the industrial district. All this oil and gas and we couldn’t even find a gas station!
After searching each turn off, we ran across an intersection with a tiny hotel on one corner and a filling station on the other. We pulled into the station and filled up and then stopped at the hotel to “borrow” WiFi in the parking lot. Exhausted from battling wind and searching for civilization, we fell asleep for the night.
Christine woke up at 4am, I can sleep through anything, to the car rocking violently and pounding rain! A huge storm hit hard. She was pretty concerned and did some weather searching online. While she was discovering we were about to be in the middle of major thunderstorms and tornados, I sulked in the driver seat and wondered why she was rocking the car so much, I was oblivious to the rain. I may owe her an apology for some angry words about going back to sleep and to stop shaking the car. Oopps.
While I finished getting my beauty sleep, Christine planned how to avoid death by twister. We had two options, run through the face of the storm and hunker down in Houston or go north as fast as we can to outrun the storm by getting to Shreveport, Louisiana by 2pm. Either way we had to leave Port Arthur because it was due to flood! By the time I finished sleeping in at 7, the 1st storm was over and we could see black clouds rolling in for round two. Christine gave me the options, I chose Shreveport.
We loaded up on coffee and ran north, being chased by angry black clouds the entire way. We passed in and out of pouring rain and lighting. It was dark and windy with the radio blasting watches and warnings! We had no idea what county we were in so warnings for this county and that county really meant nothing to us, each warning was surly directed at us!
Shreveport was cloudy with no rain when we pulled in. We checked into our first hotel since Crystal River, went up to our room, turned on our TV and watched the weather forecast point out that the worst of the storm was headed right to Shreveport! We drove straight into the path of the worst section of the thunderstorm!
We grabbed some food, packed a go-bag, and dressed in our best Twister-ready clothes. We watched the weatherman announce minute by minute as the storm gained strength, produced tornado after tornado, and moved straight at us! The sky opened up with rain and lightning. Then, as the weather man was about to tell us the next county to be hit by this storm of the century, the station went fuzzy and the TV went out! That’s not good! Christine and I made an emergency plan, discussed what to do in the worst case scenario, and waited. Outside was black and wet with all sorts of foreboding noises! We had nothing to do but wait.
We waited and waited. The storm got worse, then better, then worse again. Finally the rain began to slack off, the sky lightened up and the TV came back on. We had passed the worst, the storm was moving on. On the weather map it showed sunny skies in Port Arthur and Houston. All they got was a bunch of rain. I chose poorly!
By trying to outrun the storm, we missed our next dive in Houston and the hospitality of Gigglin Marlin. Oh well, all that rain would make the visibility pretty poor anyway. That was dive four that was missed!
We breathed a sigh of relief, ate some microwave dinners, and enjoyed a comfortable night in a hotel room. We will be back to camping tomorrow night.