We had two near-misses today.
We stopped at the Wal-Mart in Morehead City, NC, because our ferry reservation from Cedar Key to Ocracoke is for 2:00 pm on Monday. Nothing to do for a few hours but hang out, which I was really looking forward to after driving about 280 miles from Santee SC today.
One thing I had wanted to do for a while was install the Doran 360RV tire pressure monitoring system we obtained last week in Florida. Yes, after all those tire failures and flats, we are finally doing something about it. While I can’t stop the nails and screws from puncturing our tires, at least I can know we’ve got one before a tire blows out.
The 360RV consists of four pressure sensors which screw onto the tire stems (with locking collars so they don’t come off), and a monitor for the truck. John Irwin had emailed me a few days ago to say he, too, had gotten a Doran unit, and today he wrote that the installation was “absolutely child’s play.” That was enough to encourage me to open the box and put the sensors on.
The first sensor I installed, on the left rear wheel, immediately caused the monitor to start beeping an alarm. It showed 32 psi in the tire, which is painfully low. I thought, “Darned thing … already giving me bad information,” and then I noticed the tire did look low. So I checked it with my digital gauge. Yep, 32 psi when it should have been at least 60 psi.
So I started my relationship with the Doran 360RV by owing it an apology. It was right to be alarmed about the state of that tire.
“Bob,” a motorhome owner who was parked next to us, lent me his air compressor and a power connection to his generator. (I do have a 12v compressor but it is rather slow.) I pumped all the tires up to exactly 65 psi, and then checked the suspicious one for what I knew had to be there.
And there it was: a screw, deeply embedded in the tread, right on the edge of the sidewall where it can’t be patched. Another $150 tire gone. That’s the fifth tire this year, and it’s only May.
So let me just get this off my chest now. ALL YOU PEOPLE WITH SCREWS: PLEASE KEEP THEM OFF THE ROADS!
This was the first near-miss. I say that because if I hadn’t been installing the Doran 360RV, I probably would not have noticed that tire until later, and it could have shredded on the road. Did I need further evidence that we needed a tire pressure monitor?
A few minutes later, Eleanor came out to say there was a tornado warning for the area. I watched the radar loop on TV and the weatherman was talking about three “hook echoes” in the radar. Hook echoes are the signature of tornados. Tornados make RVs and virtually everything else go flying. Plus, the storms had the potential for 65 MPH winds and nickel-sized hail. I wanted to drive away, but trapped between a line of heavy thunderstorms and the coast, we had no place to go.
So I came to the conclusion that we needed to evacuate the Airstream for the safety of the concrete block Wal-Mart. We packed up the dinner we were about to eat, grabbed our rain jackets, and went inside. I also took the precaution of shutting off the propane at the tanks, in case the worst-case scenario happened.
Now, if I had thought about it some more, I would have taken a couple of other things, too. Our walkie-talkies would have been handy if we were separated. Our cell phones worked but the cell phone tower was right next to the Airstream, so if one went, the other probably would too. I also would have grabbed a flashlight, in case the power went out in the Wal-Mart.
This was our second near-miss. For about 20 minutes, we had just rain and a spectacular lightning show. Eleanor wandered into the store to ask about tires, and then suddenly, “it” hit. The parking lot disappeared in black rain, the windows began to shake, and I heard a rumble like a freight train. I remembered that people often describe the arrival of a tornado sounding like that. I grabbed Emma by the jacket and we went to a spot I’d previously picked out inside the store, where two cinder-block walls formed an L and where there were tables to duck under.
I have to admit that it was terrifying for a minute or two. People were starting to panic, while others were obliviously trying to exit the store into the vortex. We heard several loud bangs, and then the sliding doors in front of the store blew outward. The managers secured the doors and locked them while we hung back in our safe spot wondering if it was time to duck under the table yet.
I was worried about Bob and his wife, parked out there by our Airstream, but in the midst of this, I saw Bob fire up his motorhome and drive over to Lowes. He parked under their pick-up area’s awning, safe from hail and mostly in the lee of the wind.
When it was over, I surveyed the parking lot. A lot of carts got loose and damaged cars, but the worst happened to a different motorhome parked about 300 yards from our Airstream. It was blown over, and slid down a shallow embankment to come to rest in the Lowes parking lot. When I got there the police were already on the scene and the occupants had exited by breaking through the windshield.
I’m pretty sure they got hit by at least a strong downburst, if not a bit of tornadic activity. The motorhome was facing into the prevailing wind, whereas the Airstream got it directly broadside. The Airstream survived just fine (as far as I can tell in the dark), but the motorhome took it hard. Was it the aerodynamic advantage of the Airstream, or just luck?
Tomorrow we will recover from all of this. I’ll go shopping for a tire and install it on the trailer, and inspect the Airstream for damage on the windward side. With luck it will be a bright sunny day and this little nightmare will be behind us. But two near-misses in one day … it makes me think.