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Storm Chaser

Michelle Terry • /> April 11, 2014 •  <img src=Personal-Growth •

Storm Chasers

I can hear your whisper and distant mutter.

I can smell your damp on the breeze and in the sky I see the halo of your violence.

Storm I know you are coming.

~ Robert Fanney

I noticed the weary smile tugging at the corners of your chapped lips. The fever on your brow is evident and brought on by too many months inside your cabin. You’ve gotten tangled up in the blanket of a winter that has managed to smother the entire country in a year where even the warm climates couldn’t escape the ultimate rule of Mother Nature.

You’re not alone, my friend.

This winter has managed to wrestle me to the ground a few times, too and I’ve even seen happy, typically grateful folks flip the bird at fourteen inches of snow and feed gratitude to the wood chipper.

Where are my beloved Spring thunderstorms? The kind of storms that fill the sky with brooding clouds and the air with an electricity that’s palpable.  Brutal months of January and February make me crave the April landscapes of citrine green and neon blue that only a thunderboomer can produce and a camera can’t capture.

Time spent with my dad learning about weather patterns and forecasting were also hours spent learning about the man who built his life and made a living in spite of the forces he would never be able to control.

“That wind just switched. Been blowing out of the south all day.”

The strain in his eyes mirrored the stormy skies, so I asked him, “Is that good?”

Just depends. We need rain, but this feels like hail.”

“How do you know that, Daddy?”

“Because I have to know. Our livelihood depends on it.”

That day’s storm-soaked smell and the conversation with my dad started an involuntary and sometimes extreme journey that hovered around a love-hate relationship with the weather and life’s associated symbols.

As Dad had predicted, the storm brought wind and hail and shredded most of the wheat crop two weeks before it was to be harvested. It was one of many storms that changed harvest plans, landscapes and lives.

As I watched he and Mom pace in what I called the “worry porch,” I wondered how they would take care of us. The stress bounced off their shoulders straight into my little brain. Booming, boisterous thunderstorms used to terrify me as a child and the ultimate fear was nights without electricity as the seven of us hovered in the damp cellar around a lone hurricane lamp. Even after power was restored, the lingering smell of musty kerosene and the visual of Daddy’s worried eyes stayed long after sleep should have come.

Back up a few years to when my parents were on their honeymoon in Arizona and New Mexico. It was during that time that they received the news that Topeka, KS had been partially flattened by an F5 tornado–they often tell me that I was conceived that same weekend. The seed was planted and fate determined that I would always be a child/girl/woman fascinated with weather and gravely respectful of natural disasters.

Once I gained the experience that comes with living in Tornado Alley, terror was replaced by fascination and I became the less-than-wise girl sitting on the rooftop trying to get a good view (or photograph) of the funnels. During one extra active storm,  hubby finally had to drag me down into the basement reminding me that those tails drop without notice and that it’d snatch me out the door given the chance.

Little did I know that the funnel cloud I was chasing was also being photographed by my good friend about two miles away. Her photos show the tail right over our home–this same storm continued on its path and flattened Joplin, MO a few hours later.

It’s not without guilt when I remember how giddy with excitement I was finally having caught a twister on my camera. I knew people who lost their homes that day and it was the shame that made me delete the pictures.

Something inside me craves the storm. A deep, sensual, irrational desire to be within the vortex, feel the power at its source and live to take pictures and tell the story with my whole heart.

For me, tornadoes are an allegory for temptation–the lure of the unknown something on the other side. A cyclone wild and unharnessed that urges me to come in.  A seduction that excites and entices only to wreck or change a person if  the obvious warning signs of destruction and calamity are disregarded.

Which brings me to the day I completely ignored a blatant forewarning I should have been smart enough to recognize. On July 20, 2004 I was struck by lightning while walking into a hospital next to Kansas State University campus. Fortunately for me, the direct strike was to the crane I was standing under. The amperage of the strike knocked out power to the ICU and me on my back.

I was indirectly hit just a few feet away from the same spot where a woman had lost her life just five years before. A woman who died while jogging in a lightning storm. She perished and I escaped with barely a scratch.  Nurses who witnessed the whole thing ushered me inside, checked for burns and diagnosed me with good health even though my burnt hair smell horrendous and my short-term memory was a little suspect.

The woman and I were presented with the same environment, five years apart with decidedly different results even though we both made poor decisions to “weather the storm” in the first place.  I couldn’t be late for my meeting and she needed to do her training run.  Alike in that she could have been going to a meeting and I could have been the one running. Alike in that we both had children, spouses and people who loved us.

Different in that I lived and she didn’t.

It triggers a bigger question around why God takes some people and leaves others? Why did I get to stay instead of her? Is life really that random or did it mean something?  My family (and co-workers who saw it) still laugh about it today, but everyone knows without voicing it that I was darned lucky…or blessed.

A person could run out of fingers and toes when counting the weather metaphors we use as second language:

  • Into each life, some rain must fall
  • You are the sunshine of my life
  • The winds of change are upon us
  • Grey skies are gonna clear up

Experience has taught me that the inducement to be swept up by the gusts should be tempered or trumped by the reliable storm warnings. The smart woman tells me my beautiful life is mine because of weather-wise decisions. The rebellious girl pushes me to go out in the rain without an umbrella and ride the monsoon in fancy cowboy boots.

The two fight incessantly.

To me, weathering storms is all about appreciating the oxymoron and irony life brings us and using our inner voice to make wise decisions. Knowing when to take cover as well as determining when to stick it out.

There are the times we need DO to sit on the rooftops. That tail doesn’t always drop and the storm might be just a little squall that washes off the streets and puts the smell of Spring in the air or renews your spirit. Think of the calm peace and blue skies that appear only moments after a tornado leaves its mark.

Those blue skies always come. Always.


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