Beautiful

Storm chasing.  A  phenomenal opportunity, unforgettable adventure, and life-changing experience. I started this trip hungry for adventure, intrigued by the power and design of tornadoes, and excited for the chance to see them in person. I wanted to see God’s design revealed in His creation, focusing on tornadoes as that creation, and secretly having high hopes of a constant daily interaction with them. Crazy expectations? Absolutely. Aside from the fact that having one ‘good day’ in the week is a significant success, I entered in with expectations far too narrow-minded. God was quick to wake me up.

Did I see a tornado? Not a single one. Did i see God’s power and design through His creation? More than i could ever have imagined. From day one, i was having the time of my life interacting with people from a completely different culture than I have grown up in here in Alabama. Then i had the chance to experience Carlsbad Caverns, the Guadalupe Mountains, the salt flats, sand dunes, and Odessa meteor crater. Before ever seeing the first hint of a storm, God had already revealed himself to me through His creation in so many more ways than i anticipated. From massive geological formations to a small, intricate meteor fragment, I began to hear God whispering, ‘Wake up, open you eyes. You are surrounded by my power and glory, and you don’t even realize it.’

The most beautiful and powerful display of God’s power during this trip was witnessing and being a part of my own personal transformation, and the transformation of my team members. We all embarked on this journey as individuals, strangers for the most part. Experiencing God’s presence in such a beautiful way together, we left the trip with relationships that will last a life time. We all signed up for this trip with our own unique agendas and expectations, but I can clearly see now that God had different plans for us. He changed me and my mindset. He woke me up to see His glory surrounding me, even in the smallest detail.

Would it have made the week more exciting to see a tornado? Of course. But if i could, i would not change a single thing about last week. I think, given the circumstances, maybe we needed to not see a tornado, because thats the one thing we all went to see. I think, just maybe, God used this week to shake us up and broaden our horizons a little bit. He doesn’t need a tornado to show us his unspeakable power and beauty, and i don’t need a tornado to see it.

In closing, i want to give a special thanks to Mr. Todd with Storm Chasing Adventure Tours for allowing us to tag along for the week. Thanks to the University of Mobile for the opportunity to study something like this, and providing the means to communicate our experiences via these blogs. A very special shout out goes to Mr. Carey. I have learned so much from you this week, and have really been blessed to get to know you. Your passion and excitement about creation is inspiring and challenging to me. Thanks for taking a group of crazy college kids and making us feel like family.

Wrapping Up the Week

Today (Friday, May 20) was the last day of the trip. After an absolutely phenomenal chase last night, the pace today was a little more relaxing. We did chase a couple of storms that looked promising, but in the end, conditions were just not right for any good formation. So, after spending a little time in Dodge City, Kansas, tapping into Mr. Carey’s knowledge about the history of the town, we hit the road headed to Amarillo.

It was an incredibly long drive, but i don’t regret a moment of it. It was a really nice time to share and reflect on the trip as a whole, and just fellowship with the rest of the group, continuing to strengthen the bond’s that have formed between us all as a result of this trip. We made it official and adopted Mr. Carey as ‘Papaw’ with an honorary key chain from a gift shop back in Dodge City. From then on out, as we slowly slipped out of consciousness due to lack of sleep, we talked, laughed, and sang the night away all the way to Amarillo. I think i can speak for all of us students when i say it was  an incredible day, and one to remember.

Terrified and Captivated

Unbelievable day. We started the day off with a briefing from Ryan on the weather conditions for the day. Everything was in place for some crazy weather, but we needed to wait a while for that Cirrus shield to burn out. We all loaded up and went out breakfast-hunting, and found ourselves at this little rinky-dink, almost sketchy looking restaurant. Most of us accepted at that point that breakfast might not be the best we’ve ever had, but food is food right? Boy was i blown away. It was quite possibly one of the best breakfasts I have EVER eaten. And that’s all there is to say about that.

We visited Greensberg, Kansas for a while. If you don’t know anything about Greensberg, it’s a town that got demolished by an EF5 tornado on May 9, 2007. The tornado was 1.7 miles wide, and was on the ground for about a half hour, traveling 20 miles. It came right through Greensberg, and then did something peculiar: it wrapped back around and made another run through the town. 95% of the town was completely destroyed. Afterwards, they decided to rebuild the town using the best of the best environmentally friendly technology, and ‘Go Green’ to the max. Today they have newly designed storm-proof buildings, and windmills all over the place. We had really sweet lady open up the museum for us with just a few pictures on the wall of the damage from the storm. She shared with us how the town pulled together and overcame any pride one might have had so they could clean up and start a new life. She was the first person that I have ever met who challenged us to find the good that comes after a disaster like this. She had found it. It was such a humbling experience. We take for granted all that we have, and are usually not content with it. Here in this little town that is still recovering from a disaster 4 years ago, i saw a picture of what it means to have faith, and to truly look past the physical destruction to find the opportunity to start again.

The chase is on now. We head Northward following the radar to where we think our best chances will be of intercepting a Supercell. I’m realizing just how much waiting is involved in storm chasing, as we drive to a location, and wait to see what happens, then pick up and head somewhere else as the storms develop on the radar. We followed a storm as it began to form, but nothing came of it. Then we found the big one.

It was one of the most terrifying, thrilling, and really indescribably experiences of my life. The entire sky just rolling with grey/black clouds. We had the chance to get out and get some photos before the rain hit us like a brick wall. It’s just simply unbelievable. We got the ‘let’s go’ warning from Ryan, so we ran back to the van and hit the road flying. We got hammered with rain, and dive-bombed by a pheasant, making it an intense ride beneath the menacing looking cloud-cover.

About an hour later, after the rain had stopped, we got out and got some more pictures. The storm above us had pulled closer together, with a remarkably sharp outline. It was so gorgeous, captivating, and menacing to stand there in wind that could knock you off your feet, watching the storm swirl around above us like a fluid. We hopped back in the van and started heading South again after 30 minutes or so, and got swamped with another downpour. The rain blocked out what little sun was left; the cloud’s above us were now black as night, only visible when lightning would light up the sky. We had the lightning show of a lifetime. Just an almost constant flash, all around us, while speeding down the highway in the pounding rain. Again, it was incredibly intimidating, and yet so captivating.

We stopped in Dodge City, Kansas for the night, and grabbed some dinner at Applebee’s around 10:30 pm. Apparently every other chaser in Kansas joined us there as well as the parking lot was full of chaser vehicles with everything from barometers to make-shift hail shielded windows. It was a fantastic end to an even more fantastic day.

A Good Practice Day

We were so close today to seeing some severe weather, but not close enough it seems. We started out in Childress, Texas, heading north. I never realized how much waiting was involved in storm chasing. We would drive for a half hour or so, then pull over and simply wait and see what would happen. Obviously there was a more scientific side to this for Ryan and the others with the computers in the van, but for the most part we just spent time talking and playing frisbee until Mr. Carey told us to pile back in the van and head off to our next destination.

We crossed through the Oklahoma panhandle, which is where we saw the most ‘action.’ It was such a cool sight to watch how quickly these storms develop, and to be able to recognize some characteristics of the structure. We followed one in particular for about an hour that looked phenomenal, but the development was put to a halt by an upper level cirrus cloud shield, and the storm quickly dissipated. Frustrating? Oh yes. I think it was a good introduction time for tomorrow though. We saw the basic levels of formation, snapped some pictures, had some practice loading and unloading the van in ‘chase mode,’ and will be, i feel, better prepared for the real deal tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, it looks pretty awesome. We are staying in Kansas right now, right in tomorrow’s hot zone. All the elements needed to see some superb supercells are in place, and our hopes are high.

I am growing more and more in my amazement and admiration for God’s creation, specifically the sky. I’m so drawn in by absolutely gorgeous cloud formations with the pristine, deep blue back drop. I love being able to watch as the air currents swiftly catch the clouds, swap them around, and create an endless myriad in the sky. God is SO good, SO beautiful, and continually exceeds all my expectations and imaginations. Ephesians 3:20-21 says “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or imagine…to Him be the glory.” I’m realizing ever more the truth in that scripture as i witness first hand the glory of God in his creation this week.

Today was absolutely mind-blowing. We went back to Carlsbad Caverns and hiked down through the caves to start the day. I struggle to describe it. It was so huge and beautiful and intricate. I felt so small as I walked through. Seeing the way the structures form and hearing the distant pitter patter of water dropping. Crystal clear water pools and huge pits, too dark to see the bottom. There was evidence left over from early explorers; makeshift ladders, matches, etc. It was such a humbling experience, and really was the start of a change in perspective for me. Sitting there in the main cavern, surrounded by unspeakable beauty and power, enjoying the pristine silence, God started to open my eyes to a phenomenal truth.

He continued that opening when we went to the Guadalupe mountain range in Texas. We hiked a 2 mile trail through the desert brush til we reached the top, only to find a lush, thriving oasis. From that oasis, I had a breathtaking view out over the vast flat desert planes. As far as the eye can see, just flat desert. I’m sure some of the others thought i was crazy for taking as many pictures as i did, but I couldn’t help it. The sky was so perfectly deep blue with a few cumulus clouds scattered around.

Creation resembles the Creator by design. It has been so enriching and refreshing to realize that all of this beauty that surrounds me was created to be enjoyed by me and you. These massive caves that run for miles and miles under the surface are designed for us to explore. It’s like God is calling me, saying ‘Come here, look at this creation I designed, I know you are going to love it.’ And when I finally saw it, experienced it, i saw God’s power and glory revealed through it. That’s the purpose of creation: using physical beauty to reveal the glory of a non-physical God.

It’s crazy to think that, as a storm chaser, it’s been a blessing to have clear weather. I came on this trip for the storms, but I’m realizing that God brought me here for so much more. I could leave today back to Mobile and be satisfied, in all honesty. But I’m excited that the excitement isn’t over yet. Storms should be rolling in tomorrow, so the anticipation is building. More updates to come.

Carlsbad Caverns, NM

Intelligent Conversation and Relaxation

Today was really mellow and relaxing. We stopped in briefly to look at the sand dunes in Texas, and visited the Odessa Meteor Crater. Both of these were easily enjoyed (no hiking, long walks, etc.). The rest of the day we were traveling from place to place, and ultimately to Childress, Texas where we’re staying tonight. It was a nice change of pace, and a good time to recuperate and just enjoy some intelligent conversation with each other in the van.

The weather is starting to look more favorable for storms. We are still a little short on moisture, but it is rolling in slowly, so hopefully tomorrow we will see the beginnings of an eventful week. For now, I’m enjoying the free night to rest up and get ready for an awesome rest of the trip.

More to come soon,

From Roswell to the Bat Cave

After a good night sleep, and an amazing continental breakfast (I definitely ate a waffle shaped like Texas), we went to Walmart to stock up on some snack food and other necessities, and then hit the road. Destination? Roswell, New Mexico. The drive was about 5 hours or so through flat, desert terrain. It was hard to really grasp the idea of so much open space as far as the eye can see in any direction. A few trees would pop up here and there, but for the most part, it was just miles and miles of desert. It was more entertaining than it may sound. Mr. Carey had several tidbits of random information about the ecology and geology of the plains, offering a really enjoyable and interesting ride.

We arrive in Roswell and go to the UFO Museum. There was nothing too special about the museum, in my opinion, but at the same time there’s something about the alien debate that entertains me. The whole idea of aliens almost creates its own culture. There is rarely any halfhearted debaters. I enjoy seeing people argue passionately for both sides, completely convinced that their idea is the only real truth. A waste of time? Yea, probably. But I’m just fascinated at the way we take ideas and form our lives around them.

After Roswell, we drove over to Carlsbad and went to the Carlsbad Caverns. We were late getting there so we could not go in the caves, but we did get there in time to see a pretty cool phenomenon. Every night, starting in May and lasting through September, there is a particular cave that houses thousands upon thousands of bats. At sunset, when it gets dark enough, they all come flying out of the cave, going to eat. It was pretty cool too see. We are going back in the morning to actually hike down in the caves as well.

It’s been a good, long day. God is good as always, and I continue to be amazed and blessed by His creation all around me, and the many places and phenomena that this trip is allowing me to experience and witness.