They knew it was coming, a Derecho, a widespread straight line of wind storms associated with a group of thunderstorms. They can cause hurricane force winds, tornadoes, heavy rain and flooding and worst of all for people in airplanes, wind shear.
Wind shear means the wind is blowing straight down quickly. When it occurs as your airplane is landing, it can cause a crash.
We were on our way back from a wedding in Seattle. They wouldn’t even let us take off. We waited on the ground for three hours until they thought it was safe to take off to Chicago. The sun set behind us as flew east. Then the plane seemed to slow down as I looked out the window at the small towns below. I guessed they were in Iowa. Then I noticed the last glow of the sunset off to the right. It wasn’t supposed to be there, it was supposed to be behind us.
Then the sunset started to move to the bottom of the window. We were in a slow turn that you couldn’t perceive if the sunset didn’t give you a perspective. A few minutes later, an ever more faint sunset appeared at my window. We were circling. We must have done this about twenty times before the pilot announced that that we might have to divert to Indianapolis. A group of thirty or so Purdue University women soccer players were delighted as that would actually shorten their trip home.
A couple circles later, he said we might have to go to Minneapolis. The soccer girls groaned. Then he interrupted himself and said he got the go ahead to try for O’Hare. That got cheers.
Then our adventure began. The sunset was gone, so there was no way to tell which way we were going. It seemed like we were going one way then another. Lightning flashed all around us. The one giant scary cloud to ground bolt appeared in my window, just off the right side and not too far ahead. Wind shook the plane like it was a toy. It was the worst turbulence I’d ever experienced. We kept wandering around. I could see the suburban streets clearly now. They were empty except for a few fire trucks going to different emergencies.
More wandering around, then I recognized a road near one of my favorite golf courses and I could tell we were not far. By now, it was midnight and the rain started drenching the plane as we approached the runway. The landing was surprisingly smooth, considering what was going on outside my window.
The flight attendant said, “We have landed in Chicago, thank God!” You know you had a rough flight when the flight attendants sound nervous.
“Good Job, fellas!” I called into the cockpit as I got off the plane. “Thanks” came their cool reply. But I got the impression they were taking a series of deep breaths.
The next day’s newspaper reported eight tornadoes sighted well south of the airport. That’s still too close. As happy as I was to be home, I think one of the alternative airports would have been a safer choice. But I think that decision is made at United Airlines headquarters and not the pilots. But what do I know? I’m just glad to be on the ground.