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dispatches: May 2007

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A gathering of Cavalier King Charles spaniels (our two are on the left) on May 26 in Cocoa, Florida

Artist Rick Piper with "...When a Cloud Fell From the Sky"; click for bigger version
27 MAY 2007
Cloudy brain: It's a holiday weekend, and even though I'm working part of it, I feel lazy and hot. Well, the hot is because it's Florida, but it's not what it should be - no real rain, and definitely no storms. Just because I'm not chasing storms right now doesn't mean that I'm not obsessing about them. So when we went to Rick Piper's art show opening in Cocoa Beach on Friday, I was so struck by his painting "...When a Cloud Fell From the Sky" that I really wanted to have it. So we actually Bought Art. (Given all our Kridlers, as we jokingly refer to my numerous storm photographs, and our relatively few empty walls, it's always kind of a big deal for us to buy art.) Anyway, it's a very cool painting that shows a big cloud, pregnant with rain, lying across a rural road. Two people stand before it, in front of their little red pickup truck, pointing at it. It's kind of a topsy-turvy storm chase, with the cloud coming right to them. Rick said he was thinking about those tremendous downpours one gets in the St. Johns River valley when it feels as if the cloud has fallen upon you. It's actually somewhat different from his other fantastical work, which has a dreamy, swept-away feeling to it, with its elements of water and sky and tropical colors and convoluted perspectives, smoothly executed. This feels more raw. I love all of it.

The day before, our dogs got to meet a whole lot of other Cavalier King Charles spaniels. That's the photo, above. (I've beheaded the owners, because I wasn't sure they wanted to be on the Web site.)

Rainbow in Cocoa, Florida, 24 May 2007
24 MAY 2007
Weather or not: I saw a rainbow tonight, near my home on Florida's east coast. "Rainbow" implies rain, of which there was very little, but a shower is a waterfall in the desert, or the drought. Meanwhile, it's been an active week in the Plains, where there were chaseable storms and tornadoes. It's hard not to be there, and I'm not sure if I'll get to go back this season, or if the season will cooperate. The long-term models drive me crazy. In a span of 12 hours, the GFS will predict a ridge (no storms) or a trough (lots of storms) for the same time period. Meanwhile, I'm supposed to schedule my life and my job, because that's what responsible people do. I'm a little tired of being responsible people.

I was sad to learn tonight that Miss Snark's blog is no more. It was comforting, in a way, to hear a funny, human voice coming from a literary agent. For those of us who are pitching novels into the void, it's easy to get cynical about who's on the other side of the rejection letters. I've had a few pleasant, personal exchanges - one recently, despite it being followed by a rejection - but Miss Snark made the interaction seem more real - sometimes bleak, sometimes hopeful, but real. Of course, she's still out there, looking at manuscripts under her real name, whatever that is. I'd like to meet her sometime.

12 MAY 2007
Rotation: I've ended what I hope is only the first phase of my Tornado Alley chase. I feel as if I have unfinished business, because even though the trip wrapped up with a nice, rotating, tornado-warned supercell in Texas, I didn't see the tornado I wanted to see on this trip. I still saw some good storms, and compared with the non-action of 2006, it was great - just not ultimately satisfying. I love being in the Plains, anyway. It's beautiful country, and the towns have so much character. The freedom of driving from place to place, following the weather, is unparalleled. I would like to live a life like that every day. Maybe I need to buy more lottery tickets.

Today's the anniversary of two big chase events:

Rotating storm with wall cloud near Throckmorton, Texas, on May 9
the Attica tornadoes of 2004 and the South Plains/Lone Star tornado/monster hail event of 2005. (Both reports and videos are currently linked from the home page.) This year, I spent the big day napping with the dogs and going to dinner with my husband back in Florida, because my chase is on hold. May 9 was the last chase day. It started in Abilene, like the day before, only this time, I waited around with my friends for what we hoped was an isolated storm. When a shower formed in front of the line and strengthened, we headed off and punched through it. Our group saw a skinny funnel as we came out the other side, and then we saw persistent rotation and wall clouds. The rotation and the storm's movement were slow; the latter was a relief after the speed-demon storms of the weekend. And the rotation was enough to inspire a warning. A tornado report followed as the storm neared Throckmorton, but our eyes were glued on this thing at the time, and none of us saw contact with the ground, despite ominous features. I'd like to see photographic evidence of the alleged tornado. Our group got a bit separated, but we all chose to stair-step northeast on a farm road that started paved and soon became gravelly pudding. It's a miracle the Element made it through, and there were some unwelcome thrills on the way. After that, I was glad to stay on paved roads ahead of the storm. It looked linear again, and then, as it approached Wichita Falls, appeared to have new rotation. Amazing. There was a pronounced inflow tail and beautiful structure, but it just wasn't going to do it. As darkness fell, it washed over town and started the process of washing the red Texas mud off my car.

9 MAY 2007
Car wash: We chased a squall line Tuesday, May 8, or it chased us. It was messy but kinda pretty. The rain was incredibly intense. An isolated storm would be nice. With the computer models the way they are, forecasting a shutdown of stormy weather, this chase could easily end with a whimper. I'll have to see how today goes.
See the photos: May 8

8 MAY 2007
Storm chasing pictures! I am finally caught up, for now ... see photos from the chase so far. Monday was a bust. We'll try again Tuesday.
See the photos: May 7

A line of storms threatens Vici, Oklahoma, on May 6.
7 MAY 2007
Waiting: This feels more like a chase day - I'm waiting around with friends in Aspermont, Texas, waiting to see where to go to chase a marginal chance of decent storms today. In one car are Dave Lewison and Scott McPartland; in another, Mike Theiss and Brad Riley. We were thinking west. Now maybe a little east. Right now, we're checking satellite and surface observations and waiting. The last few days have been nothing but driving, it seems, so I welcome a break. Yesterday, May 6, was a line chase, as cells merged and produced photogenic but not very powerful storms, at least in southwest Oklahoma. I'm working on my pictures and will post them soon; meanwhile, above is a little taste.
See the photos: May 6

5 MAY 2007
Happy with a little: This was another crazy chase day. I was chasing for, I think, about 12 hours. TWELVE. Usually, the real chase starts in mid- to late afternoon and ends at dark, but the Storm Prediction Center's high risk Armageddon forecast and the anticipated speed of the storms made me seek to get into position early. Jim Leonard's advice was to go west, not north, and I started at Buffalo, Oklahoma, which I drove through about twenty times today. I followed one of the very first storms of the day up into Kansas, but the early storms bunched together and weren't much to write home about, so I decided to go back south to the dryline. I was rewarded with photogenic storm after storm, but the stupid things were all speeding north at 45 mph in an area with few roads. More than once, I gave up pursuit, and they tornadoed among chaser traffic jams in Kansas. I saw a little funnel (shear funnel, I think) on one, and it later produced tornadoes in Kansas. Other tornadoes were reported today, but you really had to be in the right place at the right time. I thought I had my storm when a gorgeous thing south of Buffalo produced a big rotating wall cloud. It didn't produce, but it sooo wanted to. A couple of chasers got amazing video of a tornado crossing I-40 and later hitting Sweetwater, way south of where I was. Wow. I was a little down after seeing that, because I had considered zooming down to I-40 and taking my chances. But today was all chances. Though there were tons of storms, they were not easy to catch unless you were ahead of them. Then, as it got dark, storms started dropping big wedge tornadoes, again, terrorizing residents who had Greensburg on their minds. I just tried to stay out of the way at that point. I'm still baffled by chasers who go after this stuff at night, but maybe they have the radar in their cars. I haven't spent the big bucks for that yet, so I did my whole chase today with nothing but weather radio to keep me informed (bravo, National Weather Service). Considering the circumstances, I was pretty pleased with that storm with the wall cloud, and I got a lot of other photos I think will come out very nicely of various storms. I'll post them later - again, I'm too tired. It's 1 a.m. in Enid, Oklahoma, technically May 6, no matter what the date above says.
See the photos: May 5

4 MAY 2007

The Element hit 100,000 miles May 3.
Epic quest: A beast is stalking Kansas tonight. In the morning, we'll see horrendous footage of damage and hear terrible tales of injuries or worse in Greensburg. I didn't see the tornado, though it hit in my general target area for the day. The thing is, it hit at or after dark, and I had already moved on to a storm I could actually see before sunset. (Ironically, I think I saw the genesis of the storm when it was a paltry split from an earlier cell, north of the one my friends and I went to see.) Several chasers apparently stuck with the cell, a dangerous thing to do at night, hence the image on KOTV's Web page. There are amazing reports of 60 percent or more of Greensburg being destroyed and of a damage path that could be a couple of miles wide. There's a tremendous radar hook on the storm, which put down at least a wedge with a rope satellite, according to storm reports. At least so far, there haven't been a lot of tornadoes today; I and a couple of friends caught up with one storm after it had already spun out a twister. At least its corkscrewing towers were pretty against the sunset. All in all, it probably was a chase not worth 34 hours of almost constant driving from Florida through a full chase day, with 1.5 hours of naps. And I certainly didn't drive that marathon to watch nice little towns be destroyed. Like other storm chasers, I always hope that if there's a tornado, it occurs in an abandoned field. The reports are eerie, though, and reminiscent of a fictional scenario in my yet-to-be published novel about storm chasers.

Tonight, I won't post my photos. I need sleep. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow, which is also supposed to be stormy.
See the photos: May 4

Chaser's crossing (photo available at iStockphoto)
1 MAY 2007
Making the crossing: It's a luxury to be able to decide at the last minute whether to go storm chasing, but for me, the last minute is actually two days in advance. At least. That's because, unless I'm chasing here in Florida, I have to drive out to Tornado Alley. The e-mails are flying right now about what looks like a massive storm system barreling into the Alley by the weekend, according to the models. There are questions of speed and quality. Will I get there in time? Will there be tornadoes or a squall line? And will I see the stuff anyway? That suspense is part of the frustration and the fun. One of my friends compared chasing to a gambling addiction, or the kind of psychological study that intermittently gives rodents food when they press a button, making them especially obsessed with their quest. That's what driving thousands of miles with ridiculous amounts of equipment is all about: tornadoes as the ultimate kibble.