Channel 19

Todd Dills

Driver rides out Joplin tornado at Flying J

| May 23, 2011

You’ve probably seen the pictures from the horrific tornado that rammed through Joplin, Mo., hitting the Pilot Flying J off I-44 at U.S. 71 yesterday. Ozark Mountain Leasing driver Todd Arnold, who lives far northeast in Maine, just weeks after missing the Glade Spring, Va., tornado that devastated the Petro Stopping Centers location there by three hours, was sitting in the Joplin Flying J’s restaurant with his wife, Jamie, just as the storm was bearing down on the area. The Weather Channel app on his iPhone, as well as notifications from the Trucker Weather Watch Facebook page, alerted him to a NOAA severe weather report on his area.

He and Jamie walked out to the truck to see the dark clouds on the horizon. “When we got into the truck, we sat there for about five minutes. Nothing was moving, it was quiet,” says Arnold, who noted reporting on his phone that a tornado was on the ground just two miles away. “Get in the bunk,” he told his wife, then joined her there hunkered between the bed and seats. “The wind completely stopped,” he says, “then all hell broke loose. Debris started hitting the truck.”

The pictures of the aftermath here tell the tale, the first one above through the windshield the Arnolds’ first indication of what had taken place. “We said, ‘That’s not too bad, just one truck,'” says Arnold. “Then we looked around and it was like, ‘Holy cow.'” Trucks to either side of the Arnolds’ 2012 Freightliner Cascadia had rolled, likewise the rigs at their rear. “The rolled trucks protected us,” he says, paradoxically or perhaps unbelievably. “I really don’t know how it missed us.” The Arnolds were parked well right of the rolled Kenworth in the right of the frame in this picture.

It’s heartening at least, despite all the property damage, to hear reports of no very serious injuries among the drivers parked there or the Flying J staff, as Arnold told it. “We were one of only about five or six trucks there that were still drivable,” says Arnold, and fire, rescue and police personnel on the scene had Arnold and the other drivers with operable rigs move next-door to the truck wash. “There was diesel all over the parking lot, a propane tank leaking, nothing really that we could do.” The Arnolds headed out of Joplin this morning to Mountain View, Mo., to Ozark Mountain’s garage to get repairs to the busted headlight and bunk windows they’d suffered in the storm.

Arnold’s experience holds lessons for anyone with the potential get stuck in unfamiliar surroundings in severe weather. The app on his phone is the first such lesson — if you’re packing a GPS-enabled phone there’s likely such an app with push notification of NOAA Severe Weather Reports. The Weather Channel app is available for most such phones.

And Arnold’s awareness of potential danger has been heightened ever since working as a civilian consultant to haulers in Iraq in 2005, an awareness he says helped him here. “I just knew it was coming,” he says, being attuned to what was going on outside the cab as they awaited the storm’s arrival.

The proud parents of two grown daughters, he and Jamie have been on the road together now for just a month or so, he says. She joined him for the first time for this run. “First time out with me and we get stuck in a tornado,” he says. “She said, ‘This is not what I signed up for.’ I said, ‘This is trucking, you better get used to it.'”

I hope all other drivers affected by the storms, as well as all my Missouri friends, have fared well. We wish Joplin the best in recovering. Find community resources/organizations participating in search and rescue and relief efforts via the Joplin Globe newspaper.

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