Here’s a slide show that looks back at this year’s dramatic skies through photography.
One of the reasons I moved to Florida in 1999 was to enjoy the lightning storms. I was living in the mid-Atlantic and had gotten into chasing storms in Tornado Alley two years earlier. I looked into moving to Oklahoma, but career and geography conspired to bring me to Florida. The one thing I didn’t realize was that so few of the lightning storms in the Sunshine State are at night. Most happen during the day. And getting to a storm an hour away in Florida is not nearly as easy as getting to one in Tornado Alley. Why? It’s not just because of the traffic and road network. It’s because Florida storms tend to be short-lived; by the time you hit the road to catch that storm 45 miles away, it’s faded to a misty memory.This past week was par for the course – and the one night a little lightning hung on after dark on the east coast, where I live, I didn’t get to it until it was nearly gone. But I’ve had a crazy smorgasbord of storms upon which to feast, yielding a nice photo or two almost every day. Florida has amazing striated shelf clouds, formed by cool air pushing out from thunderstorms. And boundary collisions tend to cause quick funnels and tornadoes; I was at a small get-together at a friend’s house when a funnel cloud (not a tornado, because it didn’t connect with the ground, at least that we saw) formed beyond their neighbors’ houses. My camera got soaking wet as I ran out in the rain in my bathing suit to try to shoot photos. What a week!
Meanwhile, I’ve been working late on revisions and editing of “Zap Bang,” the final novel in the Storm Seekers trilogy. I’m thrilled to be wrapping up the story and heartbroken to be leaving these characters. It’s coming very soon!
A note for e-mail subscribers: I am phasing out the Feedburner e-mail service, since Google no longer supports it and I can no longer access it. Please use the link to the right on my site to sign up for the new e-mail list; if you get two copies, please unsubscribe from the Feedburner e-mail. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but I’m at the mercy of the vagaries of the mega-corporation.
Midland makes several models of weather radio and sent me its ER300 for review. This portable radio’s multiple functionality appeals to my love of gadgets. First, it’s light (just a pound) and fairly small, with a handle, though it won’t fit in most pockets. It’s a natural companion for the beach or any outdoor activity as well as for emergencies.The ER300 can be powered by AA batteries or its lithium ion battery, which can be charged via the included mini USB cable or — handy in a power outage — via its built-in solar panel or by turning the fold-out crank. Midland sells an AC adapter for the USB cable for $19.99, but these days, you can get a similar adapter just about anywhere if you don’t already have one. Once charged, the radio offers up to 25 hours of use. (By the way, the quick-start instructions say to plug in the battery, and that’s meant literally — the battery’s attached wire must be plugged into the receptacle in the battery compartment. I realized this after a fair amount of pointless cranking, but hey, it was good exercise.)
There are more goodies: a built-in LED flashlight with a dim, bright or flashing SOS setting, AM/FM radio in addition to weather radio, a clock display, and an ultrasonic dog whistle. The latter didn’t get a blink from my lazy Cavaliers, but it could theoretically help alert search and rescue dogs in the worst kind of emergency. There’s a headphone jack, too. (Addendum 2/27: I got to hear the weather alert during our state tornado drill, and there’s no way you can miss it! It sounds like a series of incoming torpedoes.)
Once the radio is charged, the USB ports can be used to power your tablet or cell phone — again, a handy feature if your power is out for a while. We could’ve used something like this in the onslaught of 2004 hurricanes, when our electricity was out for days.
I found the push-button controls fairly easy to use, though you’ll want to read at least the quick-start guide. The retractable antenna should be extended for best reception. The radio retails for $79.99. If cost is a concern, you can get a weather radio for a lot less (e.g. Midland’s HH50 Pocket Weather Alert Radio for $24.99). It’s worth it. It can save your life.The details
What: ER300 Emergency Crank Weather Alert Radio
Features: Weather radio with alert; AM/FM radio; multiple ways to power it, including crank, solar, USB and AA batteries; LED light/beacon; supersonic dog whistle; clock; headphone jack
In the box: radio with rechargeable battery; USB charging cable; owner’s manual
Retail cost: $79.99
This is not a book-review blog, as a rule, but when the folks at Simon & Schuster asked if I’d like to take a peek at Michael Farris Smith’s novel of meteorological calamity, “Rivers,” I couldn’t resist. I’m sure they didn’t ask me because of my brilliant literary insights. I’d guess it’s because I’m a storm chaser and weather geek. But before I talk about the weather, I have to address the story — especially because the storms are really secondary to the characters.
“Rivers” follows in the steps of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” if incrementally less grim and less spare. In a near future when the United States government has written off the Gulf Coast as a hurricane-blasted wasteland, Cohen is a builder who’s decided to stay behind among the survivalists, the desperate, and the treasure hunters digging for troves of cash they think were buried by the fleeing casinos. We soon find out why: He’s still dealing with a storm-precipitated personal tragedy, and his home is the last vestige of his happy life.
Cohen lives an isolated existence made less lonely by a stray dog and horse and punctuated only by supply runs. But what’s left below The Line is certainly no Walden Pond, no place for quiet contemplation as nature reclaims the land. It’s more like the zombie apocalypse without the zombies. It’s a place of redneck primitivism, woman-enslaving cults and mercenaries who shoot first and ask questions later as one devastating storm after another rakes the tattered lowlands. When a generous impulse jeopardizes Cohen’s bulwarks against the chaos, he’s forced to confront the worst elements of this world and his own demons, choose alliances and try to find his way out.
Smith’s sentences stretch out like Cohen’s dreary days, in a loping, run-on, hypnotic rhythm. The author shifts point of view between characters with a sometimes irritating fluidity. His flashbacks feel more conventional, with more orderly paragraphs that reflect Cohen’s then-contented days at home and on an enchanting vacation in Venice with his wife among the “rivers” there.
Smith writes of one of Cohen’s moments of despair:
He felt as if he were sitting at the end of the world, in a place that the light had long ago abandoned and undiscovered creatures moved about in the black using their instincts to feed off one another. Somewhere unknown to man and unsafe for man and forgotten by the one who had created it. He was going to die in this place and it wrecked his spirit at first but then this became an apathetic notion. He didn’t know what there was to live for. And he didn’t know what there was to die for. Only that he would die in this forgotten place and be a part of its unaccounted history.
The water ran down his head and face and arms and legs. Under his skin. In his bones.
The “rivers” on the Gulf Coast seem ever-expanding in this apparent global-warming-caused disaster, though climate change is merely implied by the fact of the storms. The storms themselves seem to be, technically speaking, hurricanes that come every few days, though their behavior is at times unusual for tropical systems (pardon me while the weather geek has her say). Warm-core tropical systems rarely leave people cold or bombard them with massive hailstones. But maybe this crazy weather is beyond our ken as we try to foresee a future that eludes even the climate scientists.
What’s more important in the confines of the novel is that the untamed and relentless storms are reflected in the ragtag, ruthless humans living in their domain, and it will take an extraordinary person to rise above the madness. The plot is almost as unruly as the weather, but in the last fifty pages it presses the accelerator and drives hard to the end.
Will you like “Rivers”? “Like” isn’t really the term one applies to apocalyptic novels, but readers drawn to desperate, poignant survival literature may admire it. If you’re looking for a story about meteorological carnage, “Rivers” is a lot more, and a lot less in the weather department, as the storms only set the stage for the human drama. This isn’t storm porn. And on a personal note, I never like seeing animals in peril, even in a “literary” novel.
That said, I found the novel interesting and ultimately compelling, particularly in its forceful climax. I appreciated that, like the weather, it kept me guessing. Like a brutal storm, “Rivers” will test you — and it might make you think twice about buying waterfront property.
I’m excited to note “Tornado Pinball” is already available in paperback, on Kindle and on Nook, with more formats pending. I’d marked Feb. 28 as my launch day, and a cool Storm Seekers prize pack giveaway ends at midnight Thursday night. So enter now! It’s free to enter, no obligation, and so on and so forth. Enter on my FUNNEL VISION Facebook page, and happy chasing!
The giveaways continue with five free copies up for grab on Goodreads – and you have until March 22 to enter the Goodreads “Tornado Pinball” giveaway. Come on over and say hi.
This year was a year of subtleties for me when it came to storm and sky photography. A late storm-chasing season meant less time in Tornado Alley than I would have liked. I saw only one “good” tornado, and my video of it was better than my stills. Lightning wasn’t so great this summer in Florida, either. But I still managed to see a variety of atmospheric spectacles, and I’ve put together several photos in a slide show that looks back on the year. You can find it here.
I’m taking advantage of the weather with an outdoor book signing of “Funnel Vision” Friday. I’ll join Karlene Conroy and Mia Crews, authors of “The Don Quixote Girls,” among the other artists and vendors at First Friday in Eau Gallie – specifically EGAD, or the Eau Gallie Arts District. Look for us near the intersection of Eau Gallie Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The event, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., should be a blast, and you can always get started on your holiday shopping.
Saturday was a good warmup. That’s when Jim Leonard played host to a storm chaser gathering in Boynton Beach, Florida. There was good food, lots of good storm video, and lots of tale-telling, of course. Enhancing the experience were some pretty little storms that rolled through.
I posted a few photos on my sister site, SkyDiary.com, where a lot of my old chase logs live. You’ll notice a lot of cross-linking, and this blog feeds to ChrisKridler.com and SkyDiary.com. But I’ll still post chase photos from day to day at the Sky Diary site while blogging in both places, come May. May, when a girl’s thoughts turn to tornadoes.
There are a lot of storm chasers tearing their hair out tonight on Facebook as they see media coverage of the San Antonio tornado – and all the other tornadoes that have struck in the past couple of days. This is even worse than the “There was no warning!” cliche that showed up on ABC after a recent outbreak, when there was lots of warning, relatively speaking. In this case, as noted by chaser Scott McPartland, a TV station in San Antonio was telling people to send in their tornado photos in the middle of the event, when its audience was in imminent danger, instead of telling people in the path of the storm to seek shelter.This kind of coverage is wrong on a number of levels, but just for starters, it’s encouraging untrained people to risk their lives for a photo. The request for images, especially during the event, subtly minimizes the danger by implying that it’s perfectly OK to stand outside in a tornado and take photos. Storm chasers do this kind of thing all the time, but we have some idea of how the storm will behave, in what direction it’s moving, and when to get out of the way. When “news” people take the same path as sensationalistic reality shows, which tend to present chasing as an amusement-park ride, they are sending a message that somehow holding a camera will prevent you from getting killed.
There’s another side effect of this crowdsourcing of severe weather events: Photos of tornadoes from OTHER days and storms are being sent in and put on TV as part of the current event. This hoaxing is becoming widespread, and TV stations and other media outlets (print/online included), eager for free and dramatic content, are posting them without checking the facts. Not only are they treading on someone else’s copyright, like that of my friends at Cloud 9 Tours, but they are obfuscating the truth and making themselves look silly in the process.
I’m not into media-bashing. I still work for various media outlets as a freelancer. But news people have a job here, and it isn’t getting hot ratings. While many on-air meteorologists and journalists do a fantastic job of warning the public during severe weather, irresponsible coverage will only incur more criticism and damage journalists’ credibility. The first concern in a life-threatening situation should be to pass on warnings to the public, not get the “extreme” shot. And a little verification of all those nice, free reports from citizen journalists wouldn’t hurt. At some point, immediacy ceases to be an excuse.
It’s about the less hospitable weather months here, though those of us who love storms and the lush vegetation of summer dig it year-round.
I can’t embed the video, but check it out on About’s site.