storm

Earth & sky

Earth & sky

Gallery: Stormchasing >>

Few things could dislodge me from watching the World Cup; stormchasing is emphatically one of them. 

Stormchasing. It has multiple meanings. Mostly, of course, we associate it with the semi-crazies who take risks – some greater, some lesser – in their quest to see a tornado. But as a veteran of three chase weekends over the past 7 years (ie not a veteran at all), I have to observe that much time is spent being chased by the storm, and not the other way around...

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Deep breath

Damn, I know this picture so well. It’s probably my biggest “ooh, aah” picture. For obvious reasons. FIrst, it’s: Were you there? Were you scared? What did it sound like? How far away were you? And then:  It’s so...phallic. Look at the blue sky. The light is amazing. 

Sorry - was I just having your reactions for you?

It’s now almost six years since I “dropped everything”, following Anton’s instructions, and hopped on a plane for Boulder. He promised a great day of storm-chasing - and he should know, having driven about 50,000 miles the previous three summers in pursuit of tornados on the plains with our friend Carsten. For once in my life I listened to my brother and flew out. He and his girlfriend (now wife) Tracie picked me up in their battered white van, bristling with the latest high-tech radar systems...not. Actually, just an old MacBook and a cell phone, and a lot of balls.

So we drove, and looked at the sky a lot, and I had the ineffable pleasure of watching Anton firing on all cylinders. Sure enough, we steered in a direction that all the other chasers that day neglected, and hit pay dirt (they all did, eventually - for about a thousand miles down into the Texas panhandle, that day had incredible tornados. This just happened to be the first). 

Standing next to the van on a dirt farm road, clumps of tumbleweed the size of VWs hurtling by from left to right, and then a few minutes later, the same clumps hurtling in the opposite direction. We were by that  clump of trees directly on the lower edge of the funnel. Anton suggested that we hop back in the van because “something is going to happen”. So we raced to where the picture was taken, and stood out there watching as the cloud began to bulge down, and the earth began to spin up, and then then suddenly they were connected, and for 18 minutes we stood and watched and filmed, and I cursed a lot because I was pretty much pissing in my pants petrified. I am not brave.

Eventually the funnel disappeared stage right, into that nasty blackish-purple blodge. At which point Anton said “let’s go”; we piled back into the van - and drove straight into the murk. It started to hail, really, really hard. We debated the size of the hailstones. Golf ball sized? Tennis ball? Softball? Anton reached back, and grabbed a metal helmet and a stuff sack filled with balls! Like I said. He raced off and returned seconds later with a few prize specimens. We were a shade off baseball.

Why am I writing this anyway? It’s a pretty good story, I guess, and some sort of artifact of my having witnessed something, having existed in that place and that realm for even a moment. Exactly half my life ago, about a year before she died, a very dear friend of mine, Jenny Rubin, gave me a little card in the Japonais style, in which she’d written a favorite quote in her exquisite hand, in blue ink. It was from Absalom Absalom:

"And so maybe if you could go to someone, the stranger the better, and give them something--a scrap of paper--something, anything, it not to mean anything in itself and them not even to read it or keep it, not even bother to throw it away or destroy it, at least it would be something just because it happened, be remembered even if only from passing from one hand to another, one mind to another, and it would be at least a scratch, something, something that might make a mark on something that was once for the reason that it can die someday"

What does this have to do with a tornado in Minotare? 

Somehow, just about everything.