Another storm chasing season has begun, and in just a few days I’ll be heading to Amarillo, Texas for two weeks of long hours on the road, horrible fast food, and inflated gas prices all in an effort to see what most sane people hope not to. I’m hunting for monsters. Not the make-believe kind that hide under your bed, but real monsters that reach from heaven to earth and feed on anything or anyone unfortunate to be in their path. Why? What is it about severe weather and tornadoes that fascinates me so? Trust me, I’ve asked myself that question many times. Even now, after my adopted state of Alabama was raked by killer tornadoes less than two weeks ago, I ask that question. Even now, as friends of mine were lucky to have escaped with their lives as their house disintegrated around them, I ask that question. I have no ready answer, but partial insight came when I uncovered a letter written by an aunt many years ago when I was barely out of the toddler stage. In the letter, she describes a powerful storm that drove my family into the basement and resulted in damage to our neighbor’s homes across the street from us (one neighbor’s garage became a detached garage and landed in our backyard). As I read her letter, the memories (long suppressed) came flooding back. I recalled my mother’s anxiety as the television screamed out one tornado warning after another. I recalled being carried into the basement by my father. I recalled the damage to our neighbor’s homes. I didn’t remember my mother cooking meals for our neighbors for three days because she was the only person with a gas stove…electric ranges are useless when the power lines are down. I think then is when my fascination with severe weather and tornadoes began. I think it was then that I knew monsters were real.
For me this chase season is a very special one. For a week beginning on May 14, 2011, I will be accompanied by nine of my students from the University of Mobile who will be completing the field component of an Honors Course I’m teaching called Super Storms of the Midwest. Each of them will prepare daily blogs which can be read here, and I am looking forward to their perspectives and accounts of their experiences. Also, my youngest brother will be joining us, and I am happy to get the chance to spend time with him as we travel from one end of Tornado Alley to the other. We will be traveling with Storm Chasing Adventure Tours, one of the country’s premiere storm chasing tour companies for which I serve as a driver and guide. Storm Chasing Adventure Tours has been most generous in helping us make arrangements for this tour and without their assistance, my class would not be able spend a week in the field. Also, I must thank the Mobile (Alabama) Rock and Gem Society for providing funding for student scholarships which help make an honors course like this possible. In addition to learning about severe weather and tornadoes, the class will also learn about the geology of the Great Plains and environmental issues facing the region. And because of my interest in history, they will get a good introduction to the history of the Great Plains as well.
I invite you come along with us by reading the daily blogs posted here. Every day has the promise of real adventure, and you have the added benefit of avoiding the horrible fast food.