This will be my seventh year to chase storms, but this season I am more excited than ever. I can remember the first year I chased, driving a 1996 Pontiac Sunfire and not knowing a thing about chasing. I would wait till a tornado warning flashed across the T.V. screen hop in my car and race towards this fast moving supercell thunderstorm across the vast Texas Panhandle plains. Of course once I caught up to these fast moving storms they were usually already dying down and any tornados that did form were already gone. I would be so frustrated. I decided after that first season I would dedicate my free time to learning all about supercells, how they formed, what conditions they thrive in and of course how to pursue them more efficiently.
Here we are seven years later, having chased hundreds of storms, reading books, going to the local National Weather Service asking questions and chasing with my friend and meteorologist Chris Kimble… I finally have become a seasoned vet. Let me tell you right now, there is no feeling in the world that can even come close to that of going on a big chase.
It starts out by me reading data from a web site predicting severe weather a day or two out from the chase. My excitement starts then, seeing what could form and where. My heart starts to beat, joy and adrenaline fills my body. That feeling of anticipation of knowing I am about to embark on an exciting journey. Perhaps with friends or even my favorite chase partner, my wife Leslee. Finally the big day arrives, the chase begins. I will confess to you right now I am not what you would call a “multi-tasker”, but when I am on a chase I become one. I will also confess that I don’t always over prepare for situations, but as a chaser, I do. So when its time to chase I can just hop in the car and fly.
The chase begins, I get in the car, smiling from ear to ear, my movements frantic, my mind in a complete state of focus. I know that storm is going to form and I cant wait hunt it down. I drive, the white lines of the road and the cars that they encompass all become blurred as I fly towards this great atmospheric opportunity. Then, after driving miles and miles I see it. Its anvil touching the atmosphere sometimes 9 miles high, the storm it self moving sometimes 60 plus miles per an hour, it awaits before me. I am ready. I know already the roads that surround it. I can see its path on radar, there is no stopping me now. The storms white glowing appearance gets darker as I get closer. I see its belly, dark churning of clouds, the wall cloud, its inflow where its pulling warm moist air inside, I can see its outflow and shelf cloud where it’s pushing cold air out. It’s literally a moving, breathing atmospheric phenomenon. My emotions cycle through many stages, from awe, to anticipation, to fear. Not a fear that keeps me from pursuing, but a fearful state of curiosity. I think you must always tap into this state to always be aware what nature can do and safely respect what it will do. This will always keep me aware of the safety of my fellow passengers.
So the moment arrives. I am haunted by its dark beauty. Its winds raging, its hail falling and its lighting crashing. It can only be described as natures rock show and I am its loyal roadie. Its funnel begins to peek down from is pronounced wall cloud, teasing me behind its light skirt of rain. Like hormonal adolescent my veins surge, I want more. I want the satisfaction of watching it in its seductive dance across the warm grassy grounds of the plains. Finally in this climatic state, the most rare thing happens, she dances, her twirling tail touches the ground. The grace of her movements and precision of her determined path pulls up dirt, flattens the soft grass and churns the once mighty trees across the landscape. Moments pass and as quickly as she began, she is gone. Roping out and fleeing the dark skies. I see this once mighty storm begin to thin out and slowly vanish across the plains.
I am left with the humbling satisfaction of knowing that I saw the birth of this once small cumulous cloud grow in a giant supercell only to eventually fade like a ghostly apparition across the dawn of the plains. It leaves behind only its puddles for me to ponder and its memories of the journey it bestowed onto me on this single spring day.
People ask me why I chase. Its simple, it’s because of the journey these storms take me on. Maybe its towns I’ve never seen, conversations i’ve never had or even seeing the atmosphere create something that only happens a few times a year in just a small area of the world. Simply put, every chase matures me a little more, leaving my respect for life a little greater and bonds with friends a little tighter. Thats why I chase.
So with a new season approaching, I can only wait with anticipation as I know the good times that await, the memories that will be made chances that will be taken and this will all take place in one great destination… beneath the anvil.