Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I am a storm chaser...

I stand in front of my truck, feel the warm, moist wind at my back. I gaze at the ominous looking clouds off to my west. I see heavy rain off to my northwest and then look to the left of the rain shaft. I see a wall of white cascading to the ground. Hail shaft. I wonder if there are golfballs or something larger falling from it. My eyes are delighted to see a single, long cloud that looks to be feeding into the monstrosity, a Beaver’s Tail. Then, to the left of the hail shaft, I see a pronounced lowering of the cloud base-my excitement escalates as I snap picture after picture of this beast. This lowering looks to be rotating with condensation clouds rising upwards into it. Lightning strikes very near to me-I jerk back from my tripod and hunker down as the crash of the thunder surrounds me. The wind at my back grows stronger now, to about 35-40 miles per hour! I see dust and dirt being absorbed into this “inflow” as I watch the wall cloud spin away. Suddenly, a bowl-shaped cloud drops down from this twisting mass of black clouds. I take my eyes off of the funnel and take in the whole storm. The anvil is high in the sky. The whole storm looks alive as it churns across the western Oklahoma prairie. I see what weather geeks call the overshooting top, a mass of cauliflower looking clouds sprouting out of the top of the storm. I gotta get closer. I explore my road options and head west, drawn magically by some force that I cannot describe towards the heart of the beast.

As I get closer to the wall cloud, I hear a ping….ping…hail! As the pings grow into loud crashing thumps, I think briefly of my vehicle and hope that it will survive what is about to happen. Suddenly the hail stops and I get out and view the beast. The inflow is stronger; it is hard to keep my balance now. The wall cloud has now been trying to let down a funnel-it is about ½ way to the ground as I see swirls of freshly plowed dirt beneath the now thinning funnel. TORNADO! I shout as I snap photo after photo. I watch nature’s most violent and most beautiful spectacle dance across the farmland. The tornado grows to a large “elephant trunk” as it spins perilously close to this farmhouse. I pray for the people that may be in the house as the now large and violent tornado misses the house and plows into the hillside, shredding many trees. I have to reposition north and east to continue to view the behemoth.

I drive parallel to the track of the tornado, feeling as if I am racing it. The “tube” continues to grow larger and larger, now it is a “wedge”. A wedge is defined as a tornado that is wider than it is tall. You can just imagine it must have been a mile wide at this time! As I get ahead of it, I stop for more shots. I suddenly see swirling clouds directly above me-I realize that I am under the mesocyclone! The “meso” has grown to two or three miles across and is churning rapidly. I realize that I am in trouble! I peer around and see the obvious wedge and see another tornado! Satellite tornadoes! I see another, and another! I gotta get out of here! The wedge grows to larger than a mile across and I race east to get away! My heart is pounding; adrenaline is rushing as the engine in my truck screams, fishtailing in the dirt roads, jumping over railroad tracks. Suddenly I see a satellite tornado cross the road right in front of me! I slam on the brakes, sliding to a stop. Heart racing, I wonder why I do this. I drive east another ½ mile or so. Whew! That was close! As I watch the storm roll on, the satellite tornadoes disappear and the wedge begins to “rope out”. I gaze with wonder at the dying storm. The tornado then disappears after dancing on the field as it shrank into nonexistence. The beauty, the wonder, the excitement, the fierceness all in one bundle.

I am a storm chaser