Mother Nature 1, Sprinters 0

Since moving to Kansas, the third or fourth Friday of April has invariably found me in Osborne for the Kaser Relays. This was the very first track meet I covered for Main Street Media in 2006, and frankly, I had no idea what to do. I didn’t have nearly the camera equipment i do now, and while I knew what the event were, I had no clue where to position myself and what to look for.

Osborne’s meet is one of four I covered every year during my first nine seasons in Kansas. The others are the Russell Relays, which are in two weeks; the Mid-Continent League meet; and the state championships at Wichita. I did not cover a regional in 2013, and I didn’t begin covering the meets at Smith Center and Plainville until 2007.

Today, I had one eye on the events, but one eye on my iPhone.

The forecast since Sunday had called for severe weather today, and by time I arrived at Osborne at 2:20, it looked the sky was beginning to stir. The sun would poke out from the clouds, but mostly it was overcast.

I could feel the bad weather coming. It was unusually humid for western Kansas in late April. The dewpoint was 60 degrees, about 25 degrees above where it should be for this time of year. It wasn’t a question of if the rain was coming, but when.

Kenny Ubelaker, Osborne’s track coach from 2007 through 2014, joked with me that if it waited until 5 to rain, it would be fine with him, since he would be wrapped up with the boys javelin, the event he was managing. Rex Johnston, the public address announcer for the meet, said it would wait until 10 to rain.

When I checked the radar on my phone at 4, I knew Kenny would be right.

The weather to the southwest of Osborne was beginning to stir, and a line of thunderstorms was between Wakeeney and Hays. Twenty minutes later, it got much worse.

A tornado warning was issued for Ellis County. A tornado had been spotted just north of Interstate 70 and looked like it might scrape the northern portion of Hays. Fortunately, the twister did not touch down anywhere within the Hays city limits, but it slowly made its way east across US 183, just south of K-18.

Of course, Russell County is the next county east from Ellis.

Just after 4, I made the decision to leave the meet following the completion of preliminary heats in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and high hurdles. I was in communication with my supervisor, Frank Mercer, who was in Russell. He was supposed to cover the Broncos’ baseball and softball games vs. Ellis at Russell, but those were postponed to May 14 due to the forecast.

As the 4×800-meter relays were run, the skies began to darken, and I noticed the rain shield inching closer to Osborne on my phone. I figured it was a good time to leave and see if I could get to K-18 before the bad weather arrived.

Good plan, but Mother Nature had her own ideas.

About halfway between Osborne and Luray, where US 281 meets K-18 for an eight mile jog west, a tornado warning was issued for northern Russell County. Any further driving south would put me in harm’s way.

I turned around and headed north, back towards Osborne. Just past the city limits, I turned right onto a county road which I knew would take me east to K-181. I would then get on K-181 and head south towards Sylvan Grove.

I had forgotten just how many twists and turns K-181 has. It was a roller coaster ride up and down the hills, with a couple of very sharp curves, curves I wasn’t totally prepared for. I was going too fast, trying to outrun the storm.

I did outrun the storm. I got to I-70, and finally home, without a drop. Just as I pulled into my garage, it appeared as if it would rain hard in Russell, but it stopped almost right away.

It turns out the meet was suspended only minutes after I departed. It never restarted.

Until today, it had been seven years since I covered a meet which was called off early.

The 2008 Russell Relays were terminated following the completion of the field events due to ridiculously high wind, wind which gusting in excess of 60 miles per hour at times. Only three schools–Beloit, Concordia and Russell–wanted to continue the meet.

In 2012, the Beloit Relays were suspended for three hours by severe thunderstorms. That meet ended up resuming, but not completed until after 10 p.m. I left at 1 and went down to Wichita.

I’m beat. That’s all for now.

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on April 24, 2015, in Main Street Media, Track and Field, Weather and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Whew! Although I hate to miss a meet, I’m glad I was in North Carolina!!!

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