From the mini-recorder: "We are headed south now into Vinita Oklahoma. We just saw a nice tower go up right along the cold front. Went up, started to precip [rain] and got blown apart, but put some good rain back to our west. So now we think that the cold front will continue to kick up convection as it moves southeast, so were gonna try to follow it southeast. We actually felt the front come through: 6:26 on June 3 and uh, about 15 minutes ago we were sweating our asses off and now the temperature has dropped at least 10 or 15you guys think 10? [Agreement from passengers] 10 to 12 degrees, all of a sudden it just plummeted and its actually very pleasant now. So, the chase is on!"
LOOKING FOR AUNT MEG'S
Roaring through Northeast Oklahoma, I thought back to the movie that had inspired so many people to do this. "That movie," many chasers call it. Twister, no one can doubt, was a wildly unrealistic and scientifically flawed portrayal of storm chasing. Thats not why veteran chasers derided it, however. They hated the movie because it threw the curtain off a hobby and passion that was shared, until that point, by a small group of peoplesome professional meteorologists, some weather hobbyists who had taught themselves the intricacies of the atmosphere and enjoyed an exercise that gave them both scientific and spiritual satisfaction. Almost universally, they love the great plains of the United States, which is an endless carpet of crops and dirt and grass as far as the eye can see. Storm chasing is a contemplative endeavor, with hundreds, even thousands of miles of driving to remote locations and places that one hopes will yield the prize: the chance to witness and track severe storms. The excitement and thrills are brief and perfunctory. Completely beside the point. Seeing a tornado is another rare treat but hardly the only goal of the mission.
Now "that movie" mobilized an army of "yahoos," many of whom chased recklessly and with little understanding of the forces around them or their origins. They were dangerous, darting from their homes into their cars with video camera in hand, racing to the spot of the last reported tornado warning, stopping the middle of the road, driving through fields. Raping mothers. Killing babies.
Most of the new chasers that I knew did not fit this description. They were learning, teaching themselves as much as they could, listening intently to the advise of the veteran chasers, taking care to do homage to the hobby, or whatever it is. "Twister" awakened something inside me that I was only vaguely aware of before. There was an energy and amazement at severe weather that was always there, but only "that movie" gave it definition and purpose. Over two years later, I still think of little else.
There were many more chasers now, and the roads and trails around the majestic mountains of air and water were often crowded. The solitude of chasing in the past is mostly gone. I regret it too, for the veterans and even for myself.
At a campground near the Arkansas border, entering the foothills of the Ozark mountains, we watched the last small storm move into Clinton country. The sun was sinking into the water of a lake behind us, and we wanted nothing to do with the hills to our east. We looked around the park, marveled at the density of the insects pasted to the windshield, and turned back towards Tulsa Oklahoma.