It was nearing midnight on a rainy night, and I was in the trailer checking samples. We were drilling along at a depth of 2631 feet at the last sample. I looked up from the samples when I heard a far away rumbling. Over the next several seconds, it grew to a dull roar. I went to the door for a look outside, but when I tried to open it, it was like somebody was pushing back from the other side. As I struggled against the door, the roar grew even louder. I thought "train" because of the railroad tracks not far away but, a moment later, my mind made the connection: "tornado!"
Adrenaline enabled me to fight the door open far enough to look out. Wind hammered against my face and grit blew in my eyes. When I squinted them open, a flash of lightning revealed a thin gray rope dangling from the clouds, undulating in a hypnotic sort of dance. It was maybe a quarter mile away. I was transfixed by the sight, and in the brilliant flashes of lightning, the twirling rope turned blue-green, and a swirling cloud of debris rose from its base. Somehow, my mind regained control and I looked over at the rig. The crew was on the rig floor to make a connection of drill pipe. The diesel engines on the rig were apparently louder than the tornado, and they didn't realize what was coming.
A close lightning strike and thunder clap got their attention, however, and they began pointing toward the oncoming tornado. I yelled for them to shut down the rotary table, only to discover I couldn't even hear my own shouts. Fortunately, they knew exactly what to do, and all four scrambled to shut down the engine, except the mud pump and light plant. We had prepared for this in pre-drilling safety meetings, but it's a whole different situation when the real thing is bearing down on you, wind whipping at you, lightning and flying dirt blinding you, and thunder along with a roaring beast of nature deafening you.
As I watched the crew, the trailer was suddenly engulfed by a blast of wind that lifted it up on two wheels. I scrambled to the high side for counter-balance; it seemed like a good idea at the time. As suddenly as it rose up, the trailer dropped back down and I was startled by a silence that, by contrast, was as "loud" as the roaring. I was hit by the thought my eardrums had burst from the air pressure, but then I heard the droning of the lone diesel on the mud pump. My ears were starting to adjust to the relative quiet of normal sounds.
We all ambled to a spot halfway between the rig and the trailer to recount our observations. Everyone had a slightly different experience, but we all agreed lady luck had smiled on us, regardless of whether the Schwab 6 hit oil or was a dry hole. It wasn't luck, though, the way this excellent crew from Three Rivers Drilling kept cool heads and acted quickly to protect the well site. Good work, guys!
— Jim Pryor