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Piece of Mind: Tornado warnings bring back scary memories for Jill Summerhayes

Columnist Jill Summerhayes has had her brushes with nature's fury in the past
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The recent weather changes, heat, strong winds and rain mixed with Tornado warnings, remind me of past experiences.

I take the warnings seriously and think through how to prepare for ultimate safety. The latest bout of bad weather did more damage in Kitchener than Cambridge, but I was prepared.

If driving I watch carefully, prepared to leave the car and get low down in the ditch if a funnel cloud is spotted. If at home a quick trip to the basement is in order.  The only time I have encountered a Tornado, I was not in a car nor at home. 

The first one, years ago, was visiting Aberfoyle Antique Market. Suddenly threatening dark clouds accompanied by strong winds and torrential rain appeared. Tents and stalls blew over, priceless antiques crashed to the ground; the noise was deafening. Hundreds of us ran for our lives toward the main cement barn. It was very scary.

Beside me was my husband’s 87-year-old mother who had often said “I wish I were dead.” She kept up with me every step, death was the last thing on her mind.  Safely in the barn I told her never again tell me she wished for death; she had missed her opportunity! She grinned.

The more recent Tornado was in Austin, Texas. When in the elevator the intercom message was “this hotel is in the path of a Tornado and will be hit within 15 mins;” I had to react fast. Two floors to go to our room. Remembering “stay away from the windows, go to the bathroom.” But if this were my final day on earth, I wanted to be with David. He was at a conference in the basement ballroom. 

I grabbed our passports, tickets and money from the safe, my iPad, David’s medication, two rain jackets, a sweater and rushed to the still operating elevator.  My heart was beating rapidly as I arrived shaking in the ballroom. David saw me and brought me coffee.

The tornado missed the hotel, it touched down a mile away. Once it abated, we looked outside where the day before we watched rowers, paddle boarders, water- craft, people enjoying their leisure. 

Now the fast-flowing river was angry with white caps, several feet higher still rising, flooding the nearby paths and gardens. Uprooted trees, chairs, outdoor tables, and other debris floated swiftly past.

We had flown from Waterloo to Chicago, caught a sleeper train from Chicago. We received email telling us the rail track was washed out. The airport was closed for 24 hours. Folk were trying to find other ways home, car and mini- van rentals were quickly booked, even though many roads were washed out. 

The following day we managed a flight to Chicago, and just caught our connection to Waterloo. On arrival were surprised to see our luggage had made the connection too. So, experiences have taught me to be mindful of severe weather, think smartly and stay safe.

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Jill Summerhayes

About the Author: Jill Summerhayes

A respected business entrepreneur, author, and weekly columnist for over 25 years in a variety of publications, Jill is a well known arts activist and leader in the community which she loves.
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