Although I lack the skills to predict and forecast where to be and and at what time, I sure know how to ride in a van and provide the occasional sassy comment or joke! In all seriousness, I loved doing this thing, this completely “crazy” thing. Chasing storms has been a dream of mine since I can remember. Although I would sleep in my parent’s room when a storm would roll in, I would always sleep right by the window so I could watch the show until the end or until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. This was a show like no other and I was WIDE AWAKE even though I was going off very little sleep during my 4.5 day trip.
I arrived in Denver on Thursday after receiving and email on Wednesday that things were a “go.” I chose to be on Silver Lining Tours’ On-Call list vs. the normal 6-10 day tours set for specific dates, so that’s the reason for such short notice. I flew in during the morning so I had much of Thursday to do what I wanted even though I was feeling like a zombie. I decided to make the most of my stay since I had never been to Denver before and Red Rocks was only 40 minutes from where I was staying. I had to go. So I rented a car and drove out to the park where I had a lovely lunch with an awesome view.
Eldorado Elk Sliders with crispy onions, whole grain dijon, and a mustard demi-glaze on house baked slider buns. This was as good as the food got…a chaser’s diet consist of fast food and more fast food. I tried to gets salads and rely on my Kind granola bars (which are really good) here and there, but it was kind of tough getting away from eating so much of that kind of food.
I didn’t have a ton of time since my rental needed to be back before they closed, so I drove around and took photos. I was sitting in my car packing things up when I looked up to see this.
It was magic. A gift from God. They appeared out of thin air. I took photos, of course, but I also had to put down my camera and enjoy the moment. I often notice my memories of things that I was present for don’t really exist because I was viewing it from behind a camera. I try to make a conscious effort to step away and let myself have a few moments to really experience and appreciate where I am. My photos won’t mean anything if I can’t take something other than digital files with me. I always want to remember the feeling, the emotion, the thankfulness for how full my heart felt at that moment.
Thursday was filled with anxiousness…I couldn’t wait to start my adventure, but I was also nervous about not knowing anyone and being stuck with them for 1-3 days. Fortunately, I had no reason to be anxious. They were like me in so many ways. The passion, love, excitement for what we were about to see had brought all of us together. My face was smiling a good deal of the time, but when it wasn’t my soul still was. These people became MY people. My storm people. I made a few friends who I hope to keep in touch with and see again at some point, another chase perhaps (insert big toothy grin).
Friday morning. 8am. All 11 passengers, plus Roger and Caryn Hill, and Ryan Shepard ( background info. to come). I rode in the first van with Caryn and Roger on day one, second row back, sitting alongside Steph. This was Steph’s second time out chasing with SLT (Silver Lining Tours). Over time, we exchanged stories of what brought us out to chase, where we came from (she hails from Chicago), and bonded over the love of natural disaster movies…such as, oh I don’t know…TWISTER!! One of my all-time favorite movies. I have watched it countless times and can pretty much quote the entire thing from beginning to end. The best part was that as we were talking about this, I embarrassingly admitted that I had the soundtrack on my iPod. I thought she would laugh at me, but she instead said she had the theme song on hers to get pumped up. Kindred spirit. Right. There.
So we started out in Denver and had to get down to Amarillo, TX by 2-3 pm. You don’t want to be late for the show, as Roger said. He employed his wife to get us down there within the time frame, using her size 20 lead foot (it’s a joke, they’re not really lead. LOL. I’m sure I’m the only one laughing right now). Here’s a little background on Roger and Caryn…I have grown up watching Roger on T.V. He has been featured on NatGeo, The Weather Channel, Nova, The Discovery Channel…he holds the Guinness World Record for witnessing the most tornadoes, EVER. By anyone in the HISTORY of mankind. He is a fountain of knowledge and his passion is infectious. I love that he is exactly the person he is on television. It was great. Caryn came across as a straight shooter. Her confidence, experience, and passion allow her to get amazing photographs under some tough circumstances. Both of them were inspiring and I hope to chase with them again, so if this kind of experience interests you, I HIGHLY recommend SLT. They are the best out there!!
Anyway, I love road trips, so this part was fun for me, too. The majority of it was very flat. Oklahoma was really beautiful, more hills than I would have imagined and some rock formations here and there. The roads in OK-LA-HO-MA, Oklahooooooooo-ma…Yeah!! (Twister reference, I love you if you know what I’m talking about)…anyway, the roads aren’t great, especially if you have a full bladder. I did. On the way home, and I had to hold it for a good 20 minutes through non-stop bumps. TMI? Sorry.
Wooooo doggy! Texas is super flat. Big, huge sky to look at, and it was glorious! After having lunch in Dumas, TX (insert snickering), we headed in the direction we had just come because that’s were the storms were forming. Typical of chasing. Going back and forth quite a bit to find good position and the storm that will become the tornado producing super cell storm. It took about 3 hours for things to get organized and generate enough energy to become this beautiful and magnificent beast. We watched storms grow, suck the life from others, and die themselves.
I was getting nervous we weren’t going to see it (photograph it) before the light was gone…it was around 6:30/7pm and I knew sunset was at about 7:30pm. And then it happened. The first was a beautiful elephant trunk tornado that touched down briefly. I couldn’t believe my eyes…we were actually witnessing a real, live tornado. I literally chased after a dream and caught it. We then jumped into the vans to get better position. In front of us for just a second, was a giant wedge tornado. It was almost too hard to see because of how dark it and the sky behind it was, but I promise you it was there. It then became rain-wrapped, so off we went racing down another road to no-where.
This whole time the winds feeding this storm were crazy. As we were driving down 95 , just north of Eva, OK the winds that had been coming from the right side of the van suddenly switched and came from the left. It was eerie. I know a modest amount of information about tornadoes, and I knew enough to believe that this could potentially be dangerous (but again, who was I to even think I was right-more about this later). Our driver, Caryn, slowed for a second, and then we were out of there. Another tornado started to form and it was magnificent. We got out of the van and watched as as a rope tornado, evolving into a tube, and at one point becoming sister tornadoes. It was a spectacular first day of chasing that has made such a mark on my memory. I don’t think I will soon forget the sights, the sounds, or the feelings.
That day was a glass half full kind of day…or maybe more like my cup runneth over. Yeah, that’s more like it.
More to come!