August 18, 2004

The Power of Thunderstorms

One of my favorite things is a thunderstorm - a big, nasty, butt-kicking thunderstorm. I've always been fascinated by them. They are, to me, Mother Nature's performance art. It is when she displays her authority, her wrath, her power.

I love to go out in a thunderstorm and watch it. I am so enthralled by the dark, swirling clouds that hang low and churn around. It is so thrilling to watch when some clouds are going one way and they are crashing into or passing below other clouds that are going another way. One time I stood out in a field on a hill top as a nasty storm was brewing. I looked straight up into the black clouds and they were so low, swirling around me, that I felt like I could reach right up and touch them. I tried, reaching up, up, up as high as I could and it felt like they were going to fall on top of me. I felt their power - their pent up rage which was about to boil over. It was a very thrilling and moving experience.

In the midwestern USA, thunderstorms are a part of our lives. They can be quite nasty, and often tend to spawn tornadoes. We have had over 100 tornadoes in Iowa so far this summer. Luckily, they usually hit out in the country in sparsely populated areas so losses are minimal. Occasionally, though, they hit towns. I remember several years ago when two small communities near my home town were completely wiped out by a tornado. There was simply nothing left. One of them rebuilt, the other one did not and no longer exists as a town.

I have chased four tornadoes - three knowingly and one unknowingly. One tornado that I and a friend chased was a pretty good sized one that was ripping up trees and barns in the country outside of town. We jumped in his bronco and roared out there, just to see it get sucked back up in the cloud. The other two I chased with the same friend. They were together, coming out of the same storm cloud side by side. They weren't very big, and were jumping from hilltop to hilltop, not doing much damage at all. Still fascinating to watch, however. They went off into an area that was inaccessible by vehicle, so we watched them jump away.

Tornadoes are not always easy to spot and identify - there are so many different types. There are stovepipes, ropes, cones, multiple vortex, elephant trunks, and wedges. Wedges are the ones, in my opinion, that can be hard to identify.

One rainy afternoon, Chris and I were driving South on Highway 71 between Kansas City and Joplin, Missouri. There was a rain storm we were following over to the Southeast and it was moving away from us. We noticed a section of the storm that was very white and it extended all the way to the ground. It looked a lot like how rain looks when you see it from the side coming down out of a cloud, but it looked very peculiar. We kept commenting on how wierd it looked as we followed it. It slowly crept away from us to the East as we traveled South. When we arrived at our destination, the people who were waiting for us asked if we saw the tornado that was very close to where we came through. It all became clear then - that funny looking white thing was not rain. It was a wedge tornado. It was a little frightening that we didn't realize what we were following.

I can't wait until the next thunderstorm. They are forcasted for tonight. We'll see...

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