darkskiesPart 4 – Our very own Storm Chaser, Fran Capo aka Travel Adventure Mom, continues her journal entries as she battles one of natures scariest events…in her Tornado Chasing adventure.

Day Two- Monday, May 17, 2010:
Signs, but no storms We had already put about 550 miles on the van, good thing it wasn’t a leased vehicle. We were heading to Wichita Falls, Texas. As we entered Texas, we decided to stop and take a picture of the state sign, that’s when we noticed a very strange site…an alien.

At the border of Texas
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As soon as Colin rejoined our group we continued on. Not much was happening.  We wound up in New Mexico, took pictures of that sign and then drove on.  We had a moment of adrenaline when a storm started, teased us, and then fizzled out. We stayed in Lovett Texas at night.  I did some wash and ran into the other driver, Mike Theiss (the guy who took the fire eating picture of George). Mike also does hurricane chasing.  I figured by the washing machine was a good as place as any, to get gain some knowledge.

“So Mike is there an eye of a tornado, like there is an eye of a hurricane?”

‘Yeah.  The eye just means the area that is circulating around; in both hurricanes and tornados they move counterclockwise. But here’s the difference. Hurricanes are much bigger than tornado’s. Hurricane’s can be several miles wide, so the eye of a hurricane can be as much as 50 miles in diameter. The center of a hurricane can be very calm. Now with a tornado, the eye is only a few yards or feet in diameter. The center of a tornado is very chaotic, I mean theoretically the eye of the tornado has a wind speed of zero…but it so small you would not notice it. I’ve been inside the eye of a hurricane, not a tornado.” We talked a bit more.

That night I dreamed I was riding a cow in the eye of a tornado and pirates were chasing me, and my son kept yelling…where’s the buried treasure.”

Day Three- Tuesday, May 18, 2010 – Storm Chasers love moderate!

George explains storm development we are seeing
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The Storm Prediction Center issued a moderate risk. Now most moderate things in life are boring. However we found out that in this case, moderate is the second highest risk level that they classify for storms. (Who knew!)  In fact, storm chasers like this moderate risk better than high risk. The reason being that high risk storms are too overpowering, and you can’t get a good photographic tornado. And lord knows we were foaming at the mouth to get one to pose, not some cutesy little wimpy pose, but a full, “OMG did you see that thing” beauty shot. We did wind up seeing another Super cell and a small tornado in the Texas Panhandle near Dumas, Texas. I kept thinking who would want to live in a town with that name?  It wasn’t till the third time they said the name that I realized they were not saying, “Dumas” not “Dumb Ass.” (It’s all in the regional accents, hell they couldn’t understand half the things I was saying with my heavy New Yawker accent.)

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Truck stops – the lobby for storm chasers

Anyway, we hung around in the usual meeting spot for storm chasers…the roadside truck stops, home of the junk food addicts. We were just waiting to get word of where the storm would hit so we occupied ourselves by trying to convince our British and Australian contingency to try such American delicacies as Twinkies and Krispy Kreme donuts, you know to send them into insulin shock. Anything to pass the time.

We convinced some takers…lucky for them too much time didn’t pas before we were on the road again or we’d have to wheel barrel them into the van.

fran_angieAnge was the first to spot a tornado…she was so proud she wanted us to name the tornado after her.  (Not sure if the weather center was willing, but we complied.)

On the beauty stage of tornado’s our first siting wasn’t the winner we were looking for, but it still would count in our list of tornado watching.

Then we got word…there was a gathering. We quickly drove to an area where all storm chasers and the weather channel vehicles were converging. We couldn’t stay long…but we knew we were in the right place…truck after storm-chasing truck, were pulling in as if it were a convention.

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Storm chasing trucks pulling in.

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Mike Theiss behind the camera explains what is happening

Ange and I were getting such a kick that we felt the power of the storm that we got into a hysterical laughing fit…just loving life and the tornados.  We started to act silly on camera, like some star dazzled kids. But in this world, the tornados were the stars and we wanted to walk on their red carpet.

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Loving it!

Our giggling quickly stopped when we had a quick awakening,  Charles yelled, “The storm is getting to close…back in the vans…now!”   I ran as fast as my little feet could carry me. This was no Wizard of Oz set.

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We run to the van

We drove for a while and quickly made a pit stop in a town, the storm  was three miles away.  The sirens were blasting…the people in the store seemed unfazed; I asked them, “Are you scared?” The woman sneered, , “Heck when it gets closer we’ll just go in the basement. Want a beer?” I just smiled.  Gotta love it!

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Sirens in town

As the storm drew closer, there was a chilling feeling in the air. A very ominous feeling, like in a horror movie when people desert the town and you know there just has to be some kind of Jason killer roaming around. The old WII sirens,(that are now used as storm warning sirens) were still blaring. Sirens never have a calming effect.  We knew we were safe, but the unsettling little thing with tornado’s is, unlike with hurricane’s, there is no time to pack up and evacuate town.  You’re told a tornado is coming and then you only have a few minutes to get to your shelter, that’s it. No discussion.

The Police had some roads blocked off to prevent those un-experienced people who like to challenge nature on pure bravado from entering dirt roads where they could get stuck.   Meanwhile, three-inch hail balls were raining down, smashing people’s windshields in some parts of town behind us. The storm was catching up and unfortunately we were stuck in a line of   traffic as far as the eye could see… not a good place to be since the storm was coming in.

trafficOf course, we were loving it (on a pure adrenaline level.)  And what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t let my son share in the experience. So I decided since we were waiting anyway in traffic why not call him on his cell phone and leave a message, “Hey Spence this is what the sirens sound like when a tornado is coming!”  I  also let him hear the radio announcements telling people to go to their shelters.  I received a big bold text. “RUN MA, RUN!” Later he told me he thought that was really creepy because those same sirens are in his war video game, “Nazi Zombies” and all he could think of was me being captured. He did keep the recording though and played it for all his friends.  I decided I have to stop scaring my kid or he was going to find a way to cash in that will before I ever returned home.

bigtexanThat night we followed an age-old tornado tradition; when you see a tornado that night  you can eat steak. And if you are going to eat a steak, you want to do it right. So cloud9tours.com took us out to the famous “Big Texan” restaurant. A place where they serve the mother of all steaks. A 72-ounce doozie. It was like sticking the cow on your plate.  The place has been featured on numerous TV shows. They have a running challenge to patrons, if you can eat the 72 ounce steak plus all the side dishes that go with it in under and hour…its free. (Tums not included.)

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Inside the Big Texan

Of course, there is always a taker to any challenge and that night was no different. One guy was on stage trying to down the behemoth dead meat, with the digital clock counting down the time above his head. He was intense. For safety purposes there was also a vomit bucket by his side. (Ain’t that attractive!)  Unfortunately his time ran out, and his bloated belly could handle no more. So he had dig into his wallet and cough up the $72 bucks for the steak he couldn’t finish.  Thank goodness he didn’t cough up anything else.

chocolatecakeMeanwhile we had our own contest going. Ange, Collin, and random people from our group were trying to finish one giant slice of chocolate indulgence, a humongous slice of black forest cake, the size of a watermelon.  Okay, maybe not that big, but it was almost the size of my face.

Between that and a shot of cranberry juice I had a sugar high that had me seeing room spins and laughing like a lunatic all night long. I was ready to take on another tornado. 

To be continued…