The Sun, The Rain, The Palm Tree And The Storm Chaser, Up Close And Personal By Michell Dyer

Heat fills the air as haze covers the expanse of the Tuesday afternoon, summer time, Southwestern Florida sky. Over time, a growing row of heaping cotton ball like cloud formations line up along the distant horizon. Not to long after this, the sun winds up being completely overtaken by a thick cloud canopy. Once the clouds begin covering it over like a heavy blanket, the smoggy sky is no longer visible either.

Eventually the heat gives way to a cool refreshing breeze that gets stronger with each passing moment. Spits of rain fill the air as the clouds darken even more. The more the clouds would build, the harder the wind would blow.

The gathering storm stands as a backdrop to someone waiting poised in the foreground. A brown haired man, wearing a white buttoned up, short sleved shirt and dark blue jeans, with an average build, stands next to a white full size traveling van. He wants to enjoy the sight, but the weather grows too unsafe to stand out in the midst of the action.

“Just a few snapshots, and then I will head inside”, The man says to himself. “Wow! This is better than I thought!” He says out loud as the sky gets swollowed up in a dark shroud of deep blackness. “No time to jot in the notebook, got to get to safety!” he states out loud as the storm grows larger.

Once inside his house, the man continues watching the sky, waiting with bated breath for something more to happen. Then in comes the storm like a frait train, causing both the pine and palm trees in his backyard to double over to the right. “There she is, the seabreeze boundary formation I’ve been waiting for to arrive!” He says aloud to the world, all the while still watching out the window with his brown eyes fixed on the storm brewing outside.

Then, without warning, the storm stawker comes alive in him as he reaches for his trusty digital camera. “Two more pics, that’s all I need!” He thought to himself. Then, as he grabs his last swig of iced tea, he sees a familiar sight.

To his wonder, he spots a long and twisted ropelike image dangling over his backyard like a carrot hanging suspended in front of a rabbit. “Oh Wow! A Tornado!” He shouted while perched in his livingroom chair. He grabs his video camera this time and heads back outside his house. “It’s better to snag moving photography for this instead of taking still pics!” He tells himself.

Just as he begins filming this latest subject, it disappears as fast as it arrives. He wishes it could stay longer, but he knows that the neighbors wouldn’t feel the same. “What a strange dilemma!” He thought to himself.

The silence, that fills the air after the storm’s passage, is broken up by the sound of kids crying loudly. He turns his head to the sounds and witnesses a blond haired woman wearing a yellow sun-suit walking around surveying what the storm did to her home. Hee sees the same distruction that this tornado brought forth to them.

Upon seeing this situation at hand, he goes to the sobbing woman to offer his support. She turns and sees he has a video camera in his left hand. She gets rather upset and yells at him to leave them alone. “What are you! One of those nutty storm chasers? If you are, then I want you away from me! You people are monsters! You prey off of other people’s sufferings!” She exclaimes loudlly.

Our Storm Chaser friend defends his position by stating, “Ma’am, I won’t lie to you, In spite of all this, I still enjoy being a storm chaser. I’ve been through these myself, and I know what they can do. My goal is to educate people on what happens when tornados hit.” He states calmly.

In spite of his attempts to comfort her, she didn’t want to listen. All she wanted to do was sob. She hangs her head and walks away from him. After this, he walks back inside his house to upload his catch of the day to his handy laptop.

Storm Chaser Becomes Hurricane Stawker For A Day

The summer storms are long over and boardom has settled in upon our storm chaser pal like a heavy mist over the land. Hope seems all but lost until one day this same gentleman hears about something that awakens him deep inside his soul. He writes in his journal, “There’s a large hurricane nearby, and I’m going Hurricane Hunting with the NHC!” He goes onto write, “Yes, the long hot summer is over and now it’s time to focus on what the fall has for us!” He states with much excitement.

Finally, that day arrives! He hops onboard a large jumbo airplane, a military style bomber craft. The ride starts out being smooth like silk. “Is this the life or what?” He says as he and crew enter the monster from the deep. “Whoo-Hoo!” He exclaims.

He, along with the NHC crew, fly up and down through the storm. They move around and from side to side through the monster cyclone. After a while, the ride winds up becoming turbulant and bumpy as they move deeper into the storm’s center.

He states on his video recording, “We’re hitting large updrafts as we approach the hurricane’s narrow eye-wall area. Now we are flying through the storm’s calm eye. What an incredible stadium look to this eye-wall structure! There’s a part of me that’s wishing I could push it away from Florida’s mainland, and yet I wish this storm would hit our area hard at the same time. Even if the storm never hits land, I’ll at least have the memory of the event forever in my mind.”

Winter’s Pain With Hidden Bliss

Now that summer’s long gone, and the temps are much more bearable, the weather will be less active right? Wrong! Our storm chaser friend has been scanning the weather service forecast data for more possible action. “A storm chaser’s work is never done, even if you’re sitting in your home office with the windows open and a nice breeze blowing in off the Gulf of Mexico.” He states.

While scanning the weather information, he spots something that catches his attention. “Woo! Looks as if North Florida will be seeing some convective action in the next day or so. If I start early, I can be there in time.” He says with great assurance.

After carrying out his scanning duties, he decides to begin the doting task of packing. He grabs plastic storage containers that are filled with video discs and places them in the back seat of his van. Then it’s off to the closet to pack some essentials. Once the travel bag had been closed up, now it was time to gather up things like the digital camera, movie camera, laptop computer, portable GPS tracker, Doppler radar scope and weather scanner. “Looks like we have a date with destiny!” He thought.

After a bit of time on his traveling journey, our storm chaser fellow is beginning to take notice of the surrounding area. He thinks to himself, “It’s early evening in mid February, and The sun is slowly setting behind a thin cap of high clouds. The air is unusually warm and moist as well.” After noticing this, he pulls over to the side of the road to jot notes in his log.

He writes, “Rising deep level moisture, Giving way to uppper level cold top layers, Marked by high Cirrus, with lower strato-cumulus undercasting. Southwesterly low level wind, with reports of upper level Northwesterly winds from approaching cold front. Southeasterly shear at mid levels… Looks like all conditions are just right for quite a severe weather situation.”

After writing in his journal, he starts off to the main location of greatest concern. Upon arriving to where the Storm Prediction Center indicates the heart of convection, he decides to stop off somewhere for dinner. “I’ll take another look at the map data once I get inside the diner.” He says to himself.

A tiny, dimly lit eating area sits quietly on the street corner close to the main highway. This nearly empty diner’s interior was bathed in shades of tans and browns. The only people there, other than a young teenage waiter, were a family of six. A Mother, Father and four children. This family reminded him of the families he’s grown up with while living in the Mid West.

This young waiter brings our storm chaser friend a menu. While he’s taking the order down, he stares glumly as he watches this storm chaser looking constantly at his radar scanner. Meanwhile, our storm chaser friend winds up reminiscing about a past long ago left behind as he carries out his tasks. “Nothing showing up yet, but it will be soon.. After all, the heavier cloud bank is now rolling in from the northwest.” He thought.

As the waiter is taking his order, a loud, blaring sound could be heard from somewhere in the back of the diner. The young fellow quickly grabs his notepad and leaves the dining area. At this point, our storm chaser friend is jotting down more notes in his log. “Is that a NOAA radio I hear? Yes, because the NWS is speaking something! Also, the signal going off, it came from a NOAA weather alert radio!”The waiter returns with some water and iced tea on his carrying tray. “Sir, we are under a Tornado Watch until 1:00 a.m. local time.” Said the waiter frantically.

Our Storm Chaser buddy states the following, “I just saw that on my NWS tracker. I’m a storm chaser, storm spotter and meteorologist, and new this was coming. I’ve been following these storms, especially tornados, for quite a long time now. It looks like trouble, so I’d stay up on the weather if I were you.” The conversation abruptly ends when the waiter looks at him with a blank stair, and then walks off to check on his meal.

A Chance Incounter

While he, that is our storm chaser pal, awaits the arrival of his meal, he sits watching this young family of six. He’s also thinking about how his inspiration to follow after storms came from a lecture he’d heard in school as a child. He jots in his journal, “I’m sitting here in this diner, and while I wait for dinner to arrive, I’m looking at this beautiful family sitting across the room from me. They seem to be so wrapped up in their own little world, that I don’t think they know about the bad weather to come. Perhaps I should warn them!”

Before the waiter brings along the meal, our storm chaser friend decides to go over and introduce himself. “Hello there!” He states with a friendly voice.

This fine family stops their conversation to return the salutation. “Why hello to you too! Are you from around here?”

Well, I’m from the Tampa Bay area, but I’m originally from Saint Louis, Missouri. My name is Andrew and I am a storm chaser and spotter.”

They chat for a time until Andrew’s meal arrives. He walks away, but not without sheding a tear. He thinks, “Oh, that poor fellow! I wonder if he still thinks about his family?”

After having a wonderful, but filling dinner, our storm chaser buddy is off to chase the skies of north Florida. “Let’s see what we can find! I think we’ll find much because much will happen!”

After darkness settles in for the night, Andrew steps into his van and scans the portable Doppler for precipitation echos. Sure enough, he finds them. The bad news is they’ve been gathering up in an area that is south of his current location.

He then says to himself, “I’ve gotta step on it so I can get to those storms before they pass me by!” “Maybe there will be a large tornado that I can study this time. No, but I just hope it stays away from towns along the way.” He says.

Just in front of him, in a baby blue SUV, rides the family that had been in the diner with him. They were seemingly heading in the same direction as himself. He thinks that to be rather interesting. Oh, but of course, he keeps thinking about that fellow that spoke at his Saint Louis grade school, wondering all the while how this fellow is holding up these days.

Hitting The Jackpot!

While this is taking place, he’s listening to his NOAA radio scanner for updates. He’s driving south, in the hopes of staying ahead of the approaching squall line. Instead, he discovers that the line is moving faster than he is.

Before he knows it, splotches of water start forming on his windshield. As time went along, the rain began to get heavier. Then, out of the blue, a flash of pink lightning splits the darkness of the night sky. “Wow! Looks like the storm’s on it’s way!” He thought.

He pulls over to the side of the road to check his Doppler radar scope. Looking down, he sees a large and growing mass of deepening convection. He pulls out his notebook and begins jotting down more information.

He writes, “Deepening storm cell just to the southwest of my current location…Looking at Doppler radar and seeing supercell growth with a growing spiral like circulation. That cell is certain to have a tornado at it’s southern portion for sure!”

At this point, he steps on the gas and heads southwest to meat up with the approaching storm. As he does, the rain gets heavier. Small pellits of hail begin pelting the van, creating a tinging sound as they hit. More flashes of bright lightning begin to happen in more frequent spirts, busting through the night like darts of fiery white light.

Beyond the lightning, and all the rain, something rare pops up in the sky justin front of him. His brown eyes darken as he watches this strange sight. “Oh boy! It’s a Wall Cloud! We’re in business now!” He exclaimes.

It seems like, but for just a moment, that things were calming down a tad. He knows though, this is just the beginning of things to come. “It’s only a matter of time before a tornado touches down!” He thought.

He stops the van and steps out to begin his surveying of the situation. Then suddenly, he begins noticing several things. First, he takes note of the utter calmness around himself. Secondly, his eyes were fixated on how the lightning had changed from a cloud-to-ground form, to a “streaking within the clouds” pattern. Then last, but not least, he begins feeling super heated air rising up around himself. He jumps backward from it, knowing what that means, and what would happen next.

Sure enough, there formed in front of him, a spiraling dustcloud. This time, instead of reaching for his notebook, he grabs his video camera. While he’s filming this, a swirling gust of wind pushes him against his van. Unphased by this minor setback, he continues filming this vortex as it slowly gathers strength.

He stands by and watches as the funnel gets larger. As it does, smaller funnels break away from the larger structure. Then it begins moving northeast inside the squall line, which has otherwise thinned out in other locations.

Tracking this was rather easy for him. Just another typical supercell storm. He travels northeast, following the tornado as it tears up the ground beneeth it. “The travel time of this tornado was nearly 5 minutes! Wow!” He thought. While following this massive storm, he calls in to report to the NWS what was happening.

After a while, he lost track of it. This was due to it’s jumping over the roadway and reforming away from his present location. He’d have to run after it and try to catch up with it on foot, which would be an impossibility. All he could do at this point is take what he had and head home.

The Lesson From The Journey

The next morning, he awakens to learn that ten souls were lost in the very tornado he had been chasing. The words shoot from his four speaker audio system stereo like daggers stabbing him in his heart. Tears wind up running down his face as the announcer speaks.

He thinks to himself, “I am a storm chaser, but I’m not a heartless monster like my nextdoor neighbor thinks I am. I just want to help educate folks, not hurt them. I do more than chase storms anyways! Besides, I’m doing this for the man that spoke at my school. Well, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, no matter what!”

After arriving back home later on that day, he uploads all the pics and video shots to his laptop. He crops, records and saves all the footage, carefully preserving every detail. All the while thinking about those ten souls that parished in the storm, the family from the diner and the fellow that spoke before his grade school science class.

So, as he always does, he dedicates his DVD to those that were lost to the very tornado he chased after. All the while hoping that other lives would be saved in the future.

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