"Make sure your gear is stowed away properly, boys, because there are some storms rattling around and we might get a little wind."
I would rue those words but for now all was calm as a clam. Low clouds were moving around and there were some flashes of lightning on the horizon, but nothing unusual. No indication that we were camped in the center lane of Thunderstorm Highway, Tornado Alley or Sleet Street.
The Scouts shuffled off to their tents and soon all was still save for the ghostly green of flashlights being waved around in tents and low murmurs of kids in quiet conversation punctuated by the occasional exaggerated fart noise.
"Do you think we should take the tarp down?" someone asked.
"Nah. It's staked down well and, besides, we'd have to move all this gear somewhere. Let's pick up the loose stuff and the rest will be OK."
More famous last words.
I made one more circuit of the camp and all was quiet. I checked the weather. Dew was dropping out and the lightning had moved to the north. The storms were moving around us. Should be a quiet night.
I was just settling into my sleeping bag when a flash of lightning lit up the tent. I counted...5...10...15...rumble. OK, the storm's about 3 miles away. A few minutes later another flash. I counted...5...10...12...rumble. Hmmmm, it's moving closer. We'll probably get some rain.
On cue I heard the first drops of rain hit the tent. Minutes later the rain was becoming steady and the wind had picked up a little. I had never had my new tent in a decent storm. Mostly gentle rains or a little wind. It's name, Kelty Vortex Webforce, implied that it could take a beating and I secretly hoped for a little test.
Lightning flash. I counted...5...7...Ka BANG! I might get my wish. A storm was on top of us and moving in fast. The wind had picked up considerably and it felt as if someone was kicking the tent. Instinctively, I felt around the tent to double-check my gear: keys, cell phone, pants, light, socks. Yep, all in order. Maybe I'll get some sleep.
Lightning flash. I counted...KA POW!! Right overhead! I felt the force of the thunderclap as the side of my tent pushed in on me. This was a little more than I had counted on. The rain started coming down in a torrent. The wind buffeted the tent from side to side, trying to lift it. The stakes held. I reached for the cell phone and called home.
"Hey, it's me! What's the weather doing? We're getting battered out here!"
I could scarcely hear the reply through the storm. "Tornado warning...Brazoria County...Needville. Where...camping?"
Needville? Tornado? That's about four miles away! Too close.
About that moment I heard the roar. Normally storms don't roar, unless they're carrying a tornado. Uh, oh. This was not good. And with that thought there was a crash of wind and my tent frame broke. With a loud snap my tent had transformed itself from a shelter into a kite.
I had to get the hell out of here.
I grabbed my boots and did a quick lace; no socks, just the basics. I grabbed my keys, cell phone and rain jacket. I fumbled for the zipper pulls that would open the tent on the opposite side to the wind. Where's the zip? Where's the freaking zip? Just as I thought I'd make a new door with my Benchmark Gripzilla folding knife, I found the pull and was literally born into the storm. I tumbled out of the womb of my tent into a harrowing, hostile environment.
The rain was coming in horizontally, possibly with hail. In the black sky the clouds roiled. Vivid lightning flashes lit up the area in monochrome freezing the rain in a stroboscopic effect. The noise was deafening. There was a tornado nearby but I couldn't see it. A brilliant arc of lightning lit up the campground for several seconds, enough that I could get my bearings, and survey that all the tents were flattened, the main tarp a twisted wreck (but still staked down!), it's poles bent at bizarre angles.
The roaring of the storm was fading and it appeared that the main part of the storm had moved to the northeast. Still, it was a dangerous situation and all of the boy's tents had collapsed. I had to get them to shelter.
Using my rain jacket to shield my face from the stinging rain I moved from tent to tent, rousted everybody out and hustled everyone to the trucks and vans parked on the edge of the camp. The storm pounded us but the roaring was moving off into the distance. Within 30 minutes the storm had passed, the clouds cleared and we passed the night under a brilliant canopy of stars. The boys were safe but cold. The adults were shaken but relieved. We spent the night watching the creek rise 10 feet but not breach its banks.
The next morning, a clear and sunny day, we picked up the camp, gathered all the broken gear and told our personal stories about the storm. On the way home we surveyed the storm damage along the road to Needville harboring a secret pride that we weathered the beast in tents. More or less.
Later we found out that an arc of thunderstorms had formed during the night delivering 60 mile per hour winds and a tornado that touched down four miles from our campsite. At home, spending the evening with Google, I found out that 60 miles per hour is about the limit for a Kelty Vortex Webforce tent. Or any tent, for that matter.
At least I got a little wind.