Chasing Tornadoes Is All I Have

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Chasing Tornadoes Is All I Have

I chase tornadoes. That's what I do. I've tried to have a normal life—wife, kids—but it wasn't for me.

Huddling in a basement listening to an emergency radio frequency, hoarding flashlight bulbs, fearing for the safety of loved ones while the whirling world outside passes me by—that's all I'll ever love.

The only time I ever truly feel at home is in a van filled with meteorological equipment barreling toward a funnel cloud at 90 miles per hour, with the wind in my hair, the roar of nature's wrath in my ears, and a passion for taking precise measurements of windspeed and barometric pressure in my heart.

That's who I am.

But now that the tornado season is over for another year, I'm left feeling… nothing. An empty shell. Just a hollow emotional blank space where the deadliest localized weather systems on Earth used to be.

Sometimes, it feels like the reassuring sound of prefab Midwestern housing developments being ripped from their foundations and hurtled half a mile through the air will never come again.

I sit here, looking at the doppler radar screen, and what do I see? Nothing. Not a blip. I can hope and pray all I want, but nothing's going to change the awful truth: those destructive columns of air and dust aren't coming back until March.

I take solace in wonderful dreams, dreams in which house after house, silo after silo is reduced to kindling in a blissful, whirling blur every time I close my eyes.

I don't blame Judy for taking off with that real-estate agent while I was cruising the Great Planes for the umpteenth day in a row. There are only so many times you can tell the kids that daddy's not coming home tonight because he's somewhere outside of Tulsa hot on the tail of an F4 with a mile-wide base.

They're better off without me, anyway. I was fooling myself and them by thinking I could change. Even when I was there, I really wasn't, my mind always wandering to some back-country dirt road littered with downed power lines and destroyed farm-equipment.

Besides, the only time that house ever felt like a home to me was after Judy and the boys were long gone and a huge cyclone blew through and turned it into matchsticks. Luckily, I was already living out of the van, and I caught the whole thing on tape. I guess it was a sign. I chased after that storm and I never looked back.

It just seems so cruel. What kind of a God, I ask, could allow such placid, safe atmospheric conditions to prevail, for so long, year after year?

I do my best to keep busy. I polish the shatterproof glass of the monitors. I carefully fold and refold each precious nylon windsock. But by the end of the day, I'm passed out blind drunk on the couch, watching my old videotapes—many of which I've seen a hundred times before.

Somewhere, there's a low-pressure system just waiting build up to a twister so powerful that the closer I get to it the more it feels like it's sucking the air right out of my lungs.

Only then can I breathe again.