Coming from a state in the southwest, the only extreme weather I’m used to is quarter-sized hail. My only knowledge of tornados is what I’ve seen in the news and what I’ve seen in the Wizard of Oz. Now thankfully, unlike Dorothy, I was not swept away to the land of Oz, but rather ended up in Buntrock tornado shelter.
Before any of this happened it seemed like a normal cloudy day. I joined my friends for dinner at Stav like usual, but once we sat down everyone’s phones started loudly buzzing and beeping. When I looked at my phone it said there was a tornado warning for the Rice County area until 7:00 pm. I immediately felt my heart pounding in my chest. I was ready to run out of the cafeteria and find better shelter. However as I looked around me, I noticed that no one else was panicking.
“This happens all the time,” my friend said. “We get warnings all the time but it’s not like anything actually happens.”
I figured since no one else was freaking out I shouldn’t either, yet I could still feel my heart beating throughout dinner. Just as I was beginning to convince myself that there was nothing to worry about, the staff at Stav started evacuating people and telling them to go down stairs. I followed the crowd down the stairs, taking my food with me, unwilling to let the tornado completely ruin my dinner. As I made my way down the stairs I noticed how many people there were, trying to cram themselves in the tornado shelter.
As the line slowly proceeded into the shelter, staff started yelling that the tornado had already touched down and we needed to move as far into the hallway as we could. At this point I was terrified. The sky had darkened since I last looked outside and the trees were thrashing about, letting the wind take the branches wherever it wanted. The line was still moving slowly no matter how much the staff urged us to move faster. There were so many people crammed inside such a small space it was hard to keep moving forward without stepping or tripping on someone. I finally made it to the back of the shelter and realized there was only one thing I could do: wait.
I sat down ready to make use of my time when I realized I had no computer and my phone had died. I sat there for hours with only my thoughts and the other several hundred people who were also stuck. I didn’t know when I was going to be able to get out. The lights flickered occasionally and I wondered what was happening outside. Was everyone ok? Did any trees or houses fall down? As soon as that question popped into my head I thought about St. Olaf, wondering if all the buildings were strong enough to withstand a tornado. I tried to push down my fear that something bad would happen to the campus. Just as the girls across from me started to talk about rationing the water they collected in their water bottles from the leak in the ceiling, the people in front of us were moving.
The weight in my chest lifted. The tornado was over and I was getting out of there alive! With each step I was getting closer to freedom. I didn’t need magical ruby red slippers to get myself out of this. As I stepped out into the cool fresh air of Buntrock I realized I had just gone through and survived my first tornado. As I walked back to my dorm I had a feeling I’m not in New Mexico anymore.