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Final STATEments

Storm on the planes near Lincoln, Nebraska by John P. MonteverdiPhoto by John P. Monteverdi

How does it feel to chase a storm? -- Professor of Meteorology John P. Monteverdi

I wake up a bit disoriented. Where am I? Then I remember -- some generic La Quinta in Lincoln, Nebraska. Suddenly, a sense of excitement begins to enfold me. This is likely to be a big day. The setup is almost perfect for tornadic supercell thunderstorms.

Three hours later, in the library at Beatrice, Nebraska. My chase partner Thom Trimble and I join our companions Chuck and Vickie Doswell. Huddled around our laptop screens, looking for the telltale signs on satellite images of cumulus clouds developing somewhere southeast of Hastings. That was our forecast. So we poise … waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Then, in a blink of an eye, cumulus clouds begin to explode on satellite -- just where we thought they would. In a flash, we are on the road, driving west. Then, there, in the distance, we see it -- the telltale lowered base, hanging ponderously from the parent cumulonimbus, which had drifted southeastward from its birthplace, after expanding three times its area in one hour.

Just as quickly … there is a tornadic whirl at its base; our forecast was good. We're here to witness its formation.

Things happen so quickly. In five minutes we have a fully grown tornado. I drop my camera, and have to fumble around to get it on a tripod again. I look up and the tornado has a brother. And, in another five minutes, a sister.

A quick look around. Do we have exit roads at right angles to the tornadoes' paths? Can we escape, if need be? In that second, the first tornado becomes a monster. Fortunately, it passes to the other side of a small cluster of distant farm buildings.

The first part of the task is complete; to forecast that a pattern favorable for tornadic storms would develop, and to put ourselves in a position to document their formation and evolution.

The next part of the task is to stay with the storm. And stay with the storm we did, over nearly 300 km of roads in Nebraska and Kansas, during which time the storm produced, and we documented, 11 tornadoes.

How does it feel to chase a storm? While I am doing it, I couldn't tell you. It's a constant rush of adrenaline, a constant state of enhanced concentration with barely enough time to think about strategy and safety, let alone one's emotional state.

But I know one thing: It's addictive.


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