This year was a year of firsts. Firsts for me, as a relatively new chaser (only 5 years under my belt), and firsts for the three men that I spent two incredible and horrifying weeks chasing with.
For the first time, I had a distinct sense of my own mortality and that of the people I was with. On the night of April 30th, my sister went to the emergency room complaining of a headache. She was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation with an associated aneurysm that was bleeding. My parents and I rushed to Dayton, OH to be by her side as she underwent surgery to repair what they could. It was the hardest week of my life. I'm happy to say that she is now well on her way to a full recovery. This obviously left an enormous impression on me as I left for chasing this year. I, for the first time, was very aware of the fragility of life and how vulnerable we are to things that are out of our control.
This vulnerability became even more evident while observing the Moore Tornado, and in its aftermath. This was the first time that I'd ever seen a tornado do damage. It was Keith's and my first EF5 (and subsequently second with the El Reno Tornado). It was the first violent tornado that we all saw go through a major metropolitan area. It was the first time that I watched a tornado and cried instead of celebrated. It was the first time that I've experienced pieces of people's lives falling around me.
My own mortality became even more pronounced immediately after Moore when we had our first major close call when the storm we were driving through became much more severe and tornado warned right over our heads. Our second close call was the when the roof hit our car in Texas. Our third was the hailstone. I'd never even had one close call before, let alone 3 or 4.
This year also marked my first and second wedge tornadoes. The Bennington Wedge was joyous, exhilarating, emotional, and relatively safe. I loved that day. It was like Mother Nature knew I needed a pick-me-up, and obliged. She's a cruel bitch though. My second wedge almost ended up being our undoing. We didn't even know it was really a wedge until later, though I'm fairly certain that I saw it from a distance once we escaped its path.
The El Reno Tornado also ended up being the first tornado to claim the lives of storm chasers.
I'm alternately haunted and elated by images from this year's chasing trip. Elated by the incredible beauty of the plains, by supercells in South Dakota and Nebraska, by some of the most incredible lightning I've ever seen; by the nearly stationary wedge in Bennington; by my amazing photo shoot of abandoned buildings in Salina. There was so much that was positive about this trip including the incredible camaraderie and love between those of us in our car. We laughed and laughed and laughed. That’s a huge part of what I’ll take away from this year’s trip. Yet every time I close my eyes I see flashes of some of the scenes of horror that we witnessed. The tornado going through a subdivision on May 20th. The roof hitting our car on May 21st. The damage path of Moore along Interstate 35. El Reno. That's the one that I can't stop seeing. I can't stop seeing the house or barn being sucked into the tornadic circulation. I can't stop seeing the image of the cars that were rolled, tossed, and crushed. I need to stop reading about it. I'm driving myself crazy. I will stop. Eventually. I guess I'm not ready to let it go after all.
Even with all of that, I'm not ready to call it quits on storm chasing, there's too much beauty and good in the hobby. Especially since I keep telling Dave and Keith that they shouldn't quit. I am ready, however, to seriously think about our responsibility and obligation to the public good in all of this.