Billings Oklahoma Tornado Enforcement
May 2nd, 2012 | Back to Blog Listing
Over the past few days I have been helping my good friend Dave G. move his life from Houston to Kansas City. After loading his rental truck in Houston, we took I-45 north to Dallas and jumped onto I-35 for the remainder of the trip. It's not the fastest route, but we figured it would be easier to stay on the interstates with a U-haul (technically a Penske).

An image of the massive cell that developed in about 2 hours time. The blue line on the right of the cell is I-35. We were in the immediate path of this system.
We stopped in Norman, Oklahoma around 7pm to grab some dinner and started noticing a rather large cell forming towards Wichita, KS. We figured it would pass before we got that far north. Continuing north on I-35, we started noticing a storm forming in the distance; computer radar confirmed the storm was rapidly expanding to the south. After we saw an actual "StormChaser" vehicle fly past us, we figured there was a pretty legitimate system up ahead. We would later be proven very correct.

As it turns out, an enormous system formed about an hour west of I-35 just south of the Oklahoma and Kansas border. The lightning started getting to the point where there were no breaks in it and the wind was picking up. We turned on a local weather station and evidently EF-2 tornadoes were touching down 20-30 miles northwest of us in the town of Medford. It seemed like a prudent time to pull over. We stopped at a Conoco Station on the SE corner of I-35 and Acre Road, mostly thinking the storm would move due east. Unfortunately the storms soon turned and started heading directly for us. We fueled up and left the truck at the pump to wait out the storm. Dave even adjusted the vehicle so that it was more likely to take the wind head on.

A view from the back of the storm shelter where about 30 of us were packed into a small hallway.
About 30 minutes into this, the place had really started to fill up with people seeking shelter. When the storms finally landed, the attendants started frantically yelling for everyone to get inside and to the storm shelter (really just bathrooms, showers, and storage space). Eventually the first wave of weather ripped over us and produced some of the strongest rain and winds I've ever seen. It was at this point that a Billings police officer walked into the store.

The officer was an older gentleman, probably in his early 60s and a little heavy. Although the rain was coming in sideways and there were reports of tornadoes all around us, he did not seem particularly concerned with anyone's safety. In fact, he started telling everyone in the store that this was a private business and that cars could not be left at the pumps. He said he had no way to gas up his cruiser (despite the outer pumps being vacant). He even went so far as to tell the crowd that if the cars weren't moved, he was going to start calling in license plates. I think most of the people in the store at this point were just dumbfounded. Best we could tell, nobody from the store had made this request; the gas station attendants had been trying to corral people into safety.

I turned to Dave and jokingly said, "Dave, I'd love to say something to this guy. I'd love to put my hand on his shoulder, look him right in the eyes, smile at him and ask, 'Hey, you know how people sometimes think cops are dickheads? Well this is why.' And then just walk away".

When the cop finally went outside, we assumed he was taking off. But in reality, he started slowly driving across the parking lot stopping in front of parked vehicles. I assume he was actually taking down plate numbers, but I have no idea what he could have possibly been doing with them. Dave was concerned about the truck and decided to move it. We spent the remainder of the storm sitting in a giant moving vehicle in front of the store. Fortunately no tornadoes came our way.

Special thanks to the officer in Billings, Oklahoma for reinforcing why I should not trust law enforcement, even in the most disastrous of conditions.