I’ve driven into and out of some bad weather since, for some reason that’s still a mystery to me, my parents allowed me to get a driver’s license. I’ve skidded backward on ice; hydroplaned across a busy highway; was engulfed by a dust storm; strained my eyes trying to see through fog dense enough to slice; and performed white-knuckle maneuvers through snow and rain so thick the road disappeared.
But none of those hair-raising escapades come close to the thrill of riding out the torrential hail storm I ran into in Jacksboro, Texas, last Friday (Oct. 10).
The drive home from Lubbock is typically uneventful. I stop in Seymour for relief, gas and caffeine, and then cruise through mostly farm and ranch land until I get close to the Dallas Metro area where traffic picks up enough to cause delays.
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Friday, someone at my regular rest stop in Seymour commented on the rain spots on a car parked outside the convenience store.
“Sure hope we get some here,” he said.
“Y’all still dry?” I asked, affirming the obvious.
He allowed as how it was remarkably dry and had been for going on four years now. Seymour remains part of the shrinking band of dark brown on the weekly Texas Drought Monitor Map, indicating exceptional drought.
“We’re still in stage five,” the customer said, “the worst there is.”
I left with the comment that I hoped they would get some much-needed rain soon. Perhaps they did. Less than 45 minutes east of Seymour rain began to fall. I was hoping it would get wet enough at least to wash away the bug innards that had collected on my windshield over the past three days.
It did. It rained hard enough to require the windshield wipers to run full throttle. Bug remains disappeared.
As I came into Jacksboro, the intensity of the rain escalated, and I began to hear something that sounded like small pebbles hitting the top of my truck, but which seemed to diminish as I drove through downtown.
Just past the square, however, the small pebbles returned, along with bigger ones. The intensity increased. Hailstones bounced off the hood, the windshield and the top of my pickup. The wind intensified. I hoped either to drive through just a small storm pocket or for the hail to just stop.
It got worse, so I looked for a safe place to find “shelter from the storm.” I could barely see, but found a parking space far enough off the road to avoid drivers who opted to press on through the deluge. Several pulled in behind me; one truck, with building materials strapped to the bed, parked in front of me, just off the road.
Wind blew and hail flew
The storm strengthened. Hailstones grew larger and fell harder. I felt like Han Solo maneuvering the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid belt. The hail fell so heavy and with such force I feared my windshield would crack. I worried about the damage all those hailstones were doing to my pickup.
The hail became of secondary importance, however, as the wind shook my truck from side to side. The building material strapped on the bed of the truck in front of me ripped off and flew across the highway. Tornado? I wondered. Hail damage could be the least of my worries.
The tempest probably persisted for about 15 minutes; at the time, it seemed longer, much longer. The clouds finally blew past; the sun shone through; and the largest and most brilliant rainbow I have ever seen appeared to the north.
I eased back onto the highway, noting the ice-covered pavement and the accumulation of hailstones in the median and along the roadside. The scene was more like a cold day in February than what began as a warm one in early October. On the outskirts of town a Sheriff’s deputy had stopped by a pasture to check on three or four horses that had found no shelter. From a distance, they seemed to be OK.
I headed home, watching the vivid rainbow, which seemed to touch the earth just off the highway, perhaps a hopeful omen. It was not. About two miles further along, the storm hit again, hailstones pelting the truck, winds pushing hail and heavy rain across the highway limiting visibility. Fortunately, that downpour was brief and the final act in this natural spectacle. On the other side of this cloud, the sun was shining, the sky was clear and storm danger no longer an issue.
The rest of the way home I occasionally and warily observed—mostly through my rear-view mirror and once from the roadside as I got out to take a photo—a large, funnel-shaped cloud, but horizontal to the ground instead of vertical, with blazing rays of sunlight shimmering above and below the darkness. That, I thought, could be an omen. And the further away I got from it, the more promising it became.