There’s nothing like eating your continental hotel breakfast of generic fruit loops and hard-boiled egg while hearing the morning “crapvection” spitting rain all over your hopes for the day. Not that I am entirely without hope, or I’d be at home, given that essentially all storm-chasing is about gambling time and gas money against a few moments of reward. But this morning, what it comes down to is that this big shield of clouds and rain is going to have to get out of the way in order for sunshine – and thus heat and destabilization – to occur to fuel severe storms later. How all that will play out is up to Mother Nature. In addition, there are multiple potential target areas. Northern Kansas? Oklahoma-Kansas border? Mars? Rather than rush out to chase the rain, I’ll do a little more analysis before I give up my wi-fi.
At least, the storm driving has begun. I started Friday afternoon in Florida, and now I’m in Norman, Oklahoma, missing my dogs and hubby but enjoying the Mexican food.
I should admit that I’m a little bit obsessive. If I want to get something done, I’ll dive in until it’s done. If I want to get to storms in northern Nebraska, I’m willing to get up before dawn to drive there. And it looks like that’s what I’ll have to do to get into play, possibly near the South Dakota border, in time to catch whatever might fire. And, as always, I hope whatever fires gets into the juicier air before dark. A lot of ifs, as usual.
I’ve already had a lot of alone time in the car and caught up on some of my “This American Life” podcasts and listened to Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” a funny, quirky memoir that convinces me I have a lot of her neuroses and southeast Pennsylvania background, minus the mostly gay theater camp, but only 1 percent of her success. I also came up with some ideas for the novel I’m writing and took some audio notes. But I can’t really write that way. I need a chauffeur so I can write while he is driving. Meanwhile, I’ll stockpile ideas and hope I still have the inspiration when I have more than five minutes to sit down and write.
My friend Steve Sponsler spotted this video on YouTube. Give it a minute. The tornado emerges between the buildings, and its power and speed are incredible. I’m not just talking about the wind speed … the land speed is stunning. This thing was racing across the city.
I could only watch in horror and amazement yesterday (April 27) as tornadoes ripped through the South – particularly Alabama – on TV and on the ABC 33/40 station’s live stream. This is one of the more stunning videos to come out of yesterday, posted by ‘jason835a’ on YouTube. It was shot from the University Mall parking lot in Tuscaloosa – and it is an ample demonstration of the point that if you see a tornado apparently sitting still and getting larger, it is coming right for you. Incredible stuff. I have a feeling I’d be freaking out just as much as the driver here.
I can’t emphasize enough that everyone needs to have a plan for where to go for shelter, and a weather radio. Have the radio on whenever there is a potential for severe weather. There was a fair amount of warning for the killer Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado, but many lives were lost. I’m sure that’s partly because shelter was inadequate in some cases – this is the kind of tornado that will destroy anything above ground – but it’s so essential to get those warnings. They give people time to find shelter. My thoughts are with the victims and their families today.
I am disturbed and amazed at the wave of tornado onslaughts … and now flooding, too … all in the same area. People keep asking me why I’m not there. Many chasers are seeking and finding the storms, but many tornadoes are occurring in what is referred to as “the jungle,” because of the hills and trees. In other words, visibilty is low, making it extra hard to track the storms. And of course, the people who live there can’t see them coming, either. If you are in the danger zone, leave your weather radio on. It will give you the best and fastest warning.
Much wiser storm chasers than I have said, “Live by the models, die by the models.” But one must live a little by the computer models in order to figure out when to make the (ideally) two-day drive out to Tornado Alley. I’d much prefer chasing storms in the lovely, flat, empty expanses of the Alley than in the trees and hills and populated areas where tornadoes have been wreaking havoc for the past few days. When I live as far away as I do, it becomes somewhat of an expedition to get all the gear ready, load up the car, and get the heck outta Dodge. Or to Dodge – I’ve passed through Dodge City, Kansas, almost every year of chasing, it seems. It smells like cows.
That said, I’ve ordered a rental cell modem so I can get data while mobile. It’s a long way from the days when I had to plug into a phone jack at a truck stop and sign on to the Internet that way to get data – and that was awesome. Granted, you can’t get mobile data everywhere, but it’s amazing where you can get it.
Anyway, I’m starting to get everything ready. I’m working my last few days as a full-time newspaper reporter this week, as I begin a freelance career. And I’m trying to find a missing camera battery. You haven’t seen it, have you?
I drove slightly out of my way this evening to get about 10 raindrops on my windshield as a front pushed through the area. I was hoping for a little more excitement, especially after I saw some, you know, clouds. I talked with my friend Steve Sponsler, who writes a great forecasting blog that focuses on Florida. He feels his forecast verified, because, after all, there was rain.
This time of year, it’s easy for storm chasers to obsess about the weather. I haven’t been, because I’ve been busy trying to finish up things at my job so I can start working for myself. But the obsession is about to begin, since storm chasing is just a few weeks away. I have a lot to do in terms of getting gear in order, and just getting in the mode of daily forecasting, too.
Well, tonight’s “chase” was rewarded at home, when this ambitious little turkey tower, complete with a few mammatus, pushed east overhead at sunset. It wasn’t powerful, but it was pretty.