Way back in 7th grade, around Halloween, my English class was assigned to write a story beginning with the words “It was a dark and stormy night”. Most kids used it to preface scary or gory tales worthy of Halloween (you know, as the assignment intended), but I decided to use the dark and stormy night to frame a cutesy story about an old mouse telling his grandchildren stories of his adventurous youth by the fireside on a dark and stormy night. Cutesy was really more my speed, and for me, dark and stormy nights always produced a cozy and safe feeling as I listened to rain and thunder from the comfort of my parents’ house. Clearly, I had never experienced a tornado watch in an RV.
The weather was overcast but mild when we left Florida and drove through a small portion of Alabama. We didn’t stop or camp in Alabama, so we aren’t really counting that as a state we’ve visited on the trip. We did have some views of a battleship and the RSA Battle House Tower as we drove around Mobile before entering Mississippi, the 9th state of our journey.
We camped for the night at Lake Perry State Park in Beaumont, MS. It was located in a beautiful pine forest with a scenic lake. A nature trail near the campground had signs identifying different species of trees, and the whole place smelled like pine. At dusk we heard the sounds of spring peepers.
The campground had water and electric, but it was probably the most rustic and no-frills amenities we’ve seen. Loki made friends with a black lab at a nearby campsite and loved chasing it in and out of the water as it fetched toys its owner threw in the lake.
George chatted with the lab’s owners about our trip and mentioned that we needed to bring our camper to an RV service center for a new battery and to repair a leak that had been causing water to come in through the window by the bed every time it rained.
As we traveled, we had heard some information on the radio about strong storms with hail and possible tornados the following night, so we specifically wanted to get the leak taken care of and were looking ahead to where we would be staying. The campers with the lab suggested we look for an RV dealer/service in the town of Hattiesburg, and I used my Weather Underground weather app to see the forecasts for various towns. The weather reports for towns west of Hattiesburg did not show the possibility of tornados, so I figured that we would miss the worst of the weather if we headed far enough west. I found and made reservations at an RV park just outside of Natchez, MS, on the Louisiana border, and on the way we brought the camper to Country Creek RV & Marine in Hattiesburg to fix the leak and to install a new battery.
The RV place was able to take the camper in for the repairs right away without an appointment, but it still took hours before we were back on the road because the caulking on the roof seam took time to cure. It began raining steadily as we waited, and it didn’t let up by the time we were on the road.
We arrived at the RV park in Natchez after dark. The site was nestled in a hollow between two tall hills, which was lucky, because the approaching storms were much more intense than we anticipated. I had initially thought that the worst of the storms were coming from the south and would bypass us by moving northeast, but there was actually a solid wall of storms coming from west of us and heading east. It stretched all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, so there was no chance of driving out of it.
I was nervous about what might happen, so I found it hard to sleep. I woke up to silence in the middle of the night and then again at about 5am. When I checked my phone at 5, it revealed that there was a tornado watch for our county. That meant that conditions were favorable for tornados, but they weren’t imminent, and I spent the rest of the morning watching the radar screen as we rode out the storm.
A particularly loud thunderclap right above us had announced the beginning of the severe storms, but nothing after that quite matched its intensity. I thought about how if I were back home, in a house with a basement, I would have welcomed the steady pounding rain and deep rumbles of thunder. I remembered standing in a doorway back in New Jersey watching as lightening streaked across the sky above the fields around the house and seeing storms light the sky like light shows off in the distance.
As the red line on the radar screen was directly over us, I noted that although this was the worst of it, it hadn’t really seemed much different than those storms I loved watching and listening to at home. I had expected to be rocked by strong winds and pummeled by tree debris, but besides the camper swaying here or there with a gust, we were surprisingly protected in our little hollow.
Around 8:20am, the severe storms passed, and we were left with some continuing rain and the relief of being safe.
I found out later that tragically, at least 11 people died in those storms from falling trees, demolished mobile homes, and flash floods. I am so thankful that we came out of it safely with no damage to ourselves, our camper, or our truck. Luck was certainly on our side.
This area of the country is experiencing more and more severe weather, so storms like what we experienced are a challenge that residents face regularly.
That dark and stormy night has given me new respect for the places we visit – not just for their beautiful or impressive sights, but for the unique challenges that each place poses to people, plants, and animals who live there. It can be scary out there, and it’s amazing to see how people adapt and thrive in such varied landscapes.
P.S. – The camper repairs were a success! Not only did we stay perfectly dry in that night’s storms, but we haven’t had any more roof issues since then. Also, we didn’t have any mold growth because our camper is made from aluminum instead of more common camper materials like wood or pressboard.