Fearsome weather

Recent destructive weather in the Midwest causes Bruce Van Dyke to reminisce about his own tornado adventure.

Fearsome weatherRemember that scene in Fantasia when the sylphs and satyrs and humans are all frolicking about to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, and then Zeus shows up on a huge black thunderhead and starts firing lightning bolts trying to kill everybody? I was reminded of that scene last week as Zeus pitched a royal fit in the Midwest, killing dozens of folks with some of the nastiest weather in history.

There is no place on Earth quite like the central United States. That is, of course, because of the twisters. Last week, Zeus or Thor or Cyclonicus, whoever it is who’s in charge of tornadoes, outdid himself. The repeated collisions of hot and cold air masses during the first seven days of May resulted in 225 tornadoes touching down in the central United States, smashing the old record for that period by 73. And you thought we were having a crummy spring.

When I lived in Colorado, I once headed out east from Denver into the rolling country known as the plains, country famed for farmin’ and stormin’. This was on a Saturday in May, and the motive was simple: to experience the lashing fury of Midwestern thunderstorms and tornadoes.

As it turned out, I picked a day that was a bit too ripe with turbulent power. About 60 miles out of town, at 5 p.m., a scenario developed out in that great wide open, one which took me by surprise. I had failed to envision the possibility of being surrounded by tornadic thunder cells, a blunder that could be written off as an honest rookie mistake. Immediately, I suspected the always-active Mr. Murphy was on the scene, whipping up another one of his mischievous little laws.

Murphy wasn’t the only force whippin’ things up. The sky was visibly seething, and I’d never seen clouds like those directly overhead. Very, very dark, with regions in their roiling black bellies that were beginning to sag. Ancient intuitive knowledge began to inform me that this was somehow not a good thing, and that my chances for continued breathing were suddenly headed in a downward direction.

Off to the right, maybe two miles away, one of the sagging spots in the clouds began to stretch towards the ground. And then to my left, another funnel began to reach for the ground. Well, OK. This is what I came out here for, right? I suddenly wanted to be in Tucson.

Just then, Fear jumped into my car and said “Howdy. You don’t mind if I ride shotgun for a while, do you?” He looked like me, but there was something weird about his face, like it had been sorta stretched out.

I said nothing. He said, “Listen to me. Drive away from the funnels. Now. And fast.” Yes, I thought. Fear is right. He is my friend.

And that’s how I came to know this important lesson: The best place to watch a tornado is on the Weather Channel.