by Chantel Smith '20
Living in tornado central out in the Midwest region of the U.S. can be really scary during the summer months during the tornado season, for the most part. Unless you studied the defiant rulers of the skies like we all did. Watching the blue sky vanish, waiting for the first sign of a storm system. We are a group of storm chasers capturing the research necessary develop better forecasts and distinguish any changes in these storm systems before anyone gets hurt.
Day after day of traveling through windy roads we finally have one, of course my newest member manages to capture this fast one right on Doppler and only a few miles South of Moore, Oklahoma by the looks of it, it was going to be big and quite deadly. As we reached the destination the CAP had already broken and strength began to increase. The dew point temperature reached the crucial number for the big surface based storm beginning to develop.
Our driver floored all the way to our destination, just as we pulled up we clambered out of the vehicles with our smart phones out, because, sadly, we realized we forgot our cameras at NSSL. Once we got out we were just in time to see the sky grow dark, filled with shadows of the dark cumulonimbus base of the supercell storm system, while the wall cloud descended down towards the surface, followed by sheets of precipitation.
Just as we were all very experienced storm chasers, despite one of us being new, watched innocent civilians lives flash before their eyes, hypnotized by stormy skies, under ruler’s fury. We did our best to get the people to safety, but the storm held everyone captive by the large rotating vortex. I watched the storm increasing wind speed with my anemometer in my hand ready with my calculations.
I was all ears and my eyes following, alerted. I could sense the tornadoes forming, however, we just could not locate the funnels. The warning sirens were screaming, get to shelter! Panicked civilians ran frantically after hearing the official warning, radios at high volume, the weather channel blasted through windows of every house in the field. Frightened, at the same time keeping my cool, took off down that Oklahoma road in search of the location of this monster, only soon to get an update from the NSSL saying, “this is a rain-wrapped tornado, repeat rain-wrapped tornado, keep your distance”. Imagine that’s the first thing you hear in an afternoon.
After careful consideration, there wasn’t any other way to go about locating this twister other than to alert everyone about the news of what our tactic was going to have to be. I have no regrets when it comes to protection, however this job may be about gathering data, but it’s also protecting thousands of innocent lives. Some people may have tried bringing me down countless times, but that doesn’t stop me from saving an enemy’s life. I want to see everyone live a long life people can be happy about. I vowed to protect civilians from deadly storms such as these. Once I thought for awhile, I immediately told my research crew the only way in locating this beast is to core-punch. Though I tried to keep my cool, lying to myself wasn’t an option I wanted to go for, but it needed to be.
Fighting our way through the core, even if it’s not your typical battle zone. Despite the strength of the storm, I proved to myself how strong I really am. If a storm can’t bring me down, nothing can. Why could’t I see that in my young self, or maybe I refused to because of everyone I saw around me. In deep thought I realized who I truly was, a fighter, one true characteristic nobody can change about me. Loud voices interrupted my concentration when I heard debris pummeling my vehicle, and the muffled sound of blurred voices in the background telling me to watch out! Our driver took a wrong turn and was headed right towards the big ugly face of the monster staring directly at us. As we accelerated, the winds slowly engulfed us, I knew we were going to either die, or survive with critical injuries. The last thing my colleague remembered in that moment was that she watched my eyes slowly close with a last breath of no regrets because she knew I did what I loved. Seven of us lived despite debilitating injuries however the lead chaser, Dr. died after a landing, from falling after being thrown into thousands of feet into the air. Once my purpose had been served, I never felt so alive and was happy to just be tossed to the wind. One of us may have died for a breakthrough of trying to figure out why tornadoes are now shifting to the east in the meteorological wold, today. However it’s the risks who define us. Maybe now we can inspire people to follow in our footsteps.