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A tornado touches down in oil country

It was pretty clear by late afternoon yesterday that a big storm would be moving through.

I had spent the morning on an oil rig (more on oil encounters in the next post), and had joined a rancher who was planting durum. He was loading his hauling trucks with more seed and fertilizer and hoped to get back out in the fields.

But by five o’clock the plan had changed: We hustled to get vehicles under cover of sheds, as a hail warning had gone out.

This was the view looking west.

The rancher, Donny, his wife, Rena, and I pulled up three chairs and a cooler of beer and watched the weather from an open garage door.

Rena began working the phone, and Donny’s mom, who lives in Watford City, 36 miles west, reported golf ball-sized hail. Troy, a son-in-law, called from the cab of a seeder to say that things were still dry on the high ground he was planting. But he could see both lightning and sunshine. Troy called back a few minutes later to say he heard there was a tornado near Watford. Rena called her daughter, Troy’s wife, and told her to bring the grandkids and head for the ranch house, which had a basement. (The young couple’s modular home did not.) Donny called his mom and told her to head for her basement.

Soon Troy and family arrived at the ranch house from different directions. In an unrelated development, Donny and Rena’s freezer broke, so there were steaks and burgers that needed to be grilled.

After Rena cooked up a hefty platter, we all went in to eat and watch the local news. The tornado, rare in western North Dakota this time of year, had swept through a trailer park five miles south of Watford City that is home to workers who have come for the oil boom. Eight trailers were torn up, and nine people injured, one badly.

When I set off on foot from Donny and Rena’s this morning, hoping to cover another 12 miles toward Watford City, there was steady wind and high, dark clouds. Forecasts called for a chance of thunderstorms throughout the morning. But it is sunny as I type, leaning against my backpack at an abandoned farm.


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Renee Ciulla #

    Quite an adventure already! Great writing Tom and super inspirational–love it! I’d like to know more details about the “abandoned” farm. Should I move there and start a CSA? 🙂

    May 28, 2014
    • Tom #

      Thanks, Renee. Well, more an abandoned farm house, sheds, etc. Fields all around are planted, or pasture, or oil pads. (Lots of consolidation out here over the decades. Fewer families farming more land.) That said, even the old forgotten homesteads have plenty of room for growing. And this is rich soil – getting a fresh rain this morning. So come on out and plant away! Though you might be bidding against an oil company to lease the land…

      May 28, 2014

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