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The Perfect Disaster
It was almost nine o' clock when I woke up to the sound of thunder rolling in the distance. Normally, I would sleep in on days that I didn't have to work, but this thunder was so tempting. As a meteorologist and storm chaser, I had to be on high alert in the springtime. The time period for catching tornados was so small that you couldn't pass any slight possibility of storms up. I pulled my laptop off of my nightstand and checked the weather radar. The storms in Norman, where I lived, probably weren't going to be severe, but I noticed that a big storm system would be moving through Eufaula. This was the day I'd been waiting for all season.
I called my chasing partner, Jason. "Hello?" He said after a couple of rings.
"There's a big storm system going through Eufaula today, and I think we should check it out."
He sighed. "It's our first day off in the past two weeks. We can chase tomorrow."
Storm chasers hardly ever got a break. Since we had a limited time and there were always storms somewhere, we were always on the road. "I know, but look on your radar."
I heard him clicking on his keyboard. He sighed again. "You're right this does look pretty good. About what time do you think the storm will hit?"
I looked at the weather maps on the computer screen again. "Well, from the looks of it right now, I'd have to say around three or four."
"That's what I was thinking. So do you want to leave around eleven?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'll come pick you up so we only have to take one truck. I'll see you later."
We hung up and I took a shower and ate breakfast. Then, I went to the garage to put the probes in my truck. Probes are instruments used to collect data from tornadoes, such as: wind speeds, temperature, air pressure, and humidity. This was the main reason Jason and I chased storms. These probes collected data that was extremely important to our research. I made sure each one was in perfect working condition before loading them in the truck. There were only two, but they each weighed about eighty pounds, so it took me a while to load them by myself.
Once they were loaded, I headed towards Jason's house. I watched the sky as I drove. The clouds from this morning had become even thicker and it was sprinkling. A few minutes later, I pulled into Jason's driveway and honked my horn. He came outside with his hair crazy as usual. He was holding two cups of coffee.
"Hey, Kelly," he said climbing into the truck and handing me one of the cups.
"Thanks," I said, taking a big gulp. It was refreshing. "So, I really think this is going to be the storm of the season."
"It better be, since you woke me up at the most ungodly hour in the morning."
"It was only nine-fifteen," I said.
Jason and I had met in college at OU. We were both there taking a meteorology course. I didn't know anybody in the class and neither did he. We sat next to each other and joked about all the different people in the class. He became my best friend. Even after we graduated, we were still really close. Somehow, we managed to work together and become chasing partners.
I was looking at a map when Jason's phone rang. "Hey, Mom...Sorry, I can't. There's a storm that Kelly and I are chasing today...I know...I promise we'll be careful. I love you...bye."
I looked at him. "You're mom still doesn't want you chasing, does she?"
He shook his head no. "Every time I'm at her house, she always makes a point to bring up some statistic of how many people die chasing, or some other crazy point."
"Well, you're not the only one," I say. "My father is the exact same way." When my father found out I wanted to be a storm chaser, he tried to do everything in his power to keep me away from it. I know that chasing is dangerous, but I also know how to be safe.
As we drove, we talked about our families. I was so lost in the conversation that I almost missed the turn that took us straight to Eufaula. After we turned, my stomach growled. I looked at the clock on the dashboard. No wonder.
"Do you want to stop for a late lunch?" I asked Jason, who was nibbling on his fingernails in the passenger seat.
He dropped his hand. "Sounds good to me."
A few minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of a little cafe on the side of the road. We went inside and a waitress showed us to a small booth in a corner of the restaurant. As we ordered our food, I noticed a little TV mounted on the wall was showing the local weather. They already had tornado watches issued for the area. I looked out the window. The sky was dark with clouds. The wind was blowing at a normal speed for a thunderstorm. But I knew that would change in a little bit. After we had finished eating, the sky was noticeably darker. Jason paid for our food while I went outside and prepped the probes and made sure they were ready to go. The air was calmer than it was when we went inside.
"Are we ready to roll?" Jason said, walking out the door.
"Yep, we better hurry though." I looked around a little bit. "The calm before the storm. It's about to go down."
A smile spread across Jason's face. "Well, let's go!" he said, jumping in the driver's seat. I got in the passenger side and pulled up the Doppler radar on my laptop.
"Okay," I said. "We're headed in the right direction, but you need to turn right after about a mile." The main part of the developing supercell was in that area. I watched the sky some more. I could see where the clouds were thicker. The wind began to pick up. I rolled down the window and poked my camera out. I described the weather conditions as I filmed. Jason turned, and I looked at the radar again. Nothing new. This part was the easiest and the hardest. We had to wait to see where funnel clouds were forming so we knew where to set out our probes.
We pulled to the side of the road and watched. I stood up and stuck my body out of the window so that my legs against the door were the only things supporting my weight. My hair whipped around my face as I scanned the area. From the corner of my eye, I saw it.
"Kelly, It's over there! Get in." Jason called. I shoved myself back into the passenger seat, and we raced to get ahead of the funnel. When we were far enough ahead, we decided to set out a probe in the twister’s path. We pulled over, but before we were stopped, I was out of the car and opening the tailgate. Jason rushed to the back. We grabbed the sides of the probe.
"One, two, three!" I said heaving the weight of the probe out of the truck. Jason and I carried it next to the road. "Right here's good!" I hollered over the sound of the wind. We set the probe down. I turned everything on as Jason raced back to the truck. I got back in the vehicle, and we raced away from the storm. Hail was beating down on us now, so we were extra careful to protect ourselves with glasses and helmets. We pulled over to watch the storm, but all I saw was the tornado slowly retreating back into the sky. I sighed. Hopefully it at least hit the probe. Jason muttered a few curse words next to me, and we drove back to the sight of the probe. From the way everything looked, I didn't get the feeling that it was hit.
"Surely we can get another one," I said, after we had loaded the probe into the back of the truck. I checked my computer. I saw a small storm that probably wouldn't produce a tornado, but decided to try it anyway.
We sat in the area we had predicted it would hit for about ten minutes. The sky was growing darker as the sun began to set. "Kelly, I think we should just give up. Nothing's going to happen."
I was about to agree with him when I felt it. That eerie calm. "Hold on," I said, as I got out of the truck. I looked at the sky around me. Nothing. I was confused because I could feel it. I just knew that there had to be something more. Suddenly, I became very frightened. I looked up. There it was. The twister that we had been waiting for was right above our heads and about to descend right on top of us.
I threw myself in the truck. "Go!" I yelled.
"What?" Jason said, confused.
"Just go," I snarled. He threw the truck in drive and lurched forward. I looked behind us to see what was going on. We would barely make it out of the way, if we did get away.
Jason must've seen the tornado, because he suddenly began to drive even faster. "Oh my God," he said.
We were no longer the ones chasing the storm; we were the ones being chased. The debris was flying around everywhere, and I could feel the wind steer the truck a little bit. I began to panic.
"Jason, I really think we should pull over," I said in a shaky voice. "You know the number one rule. Never try to outrun the storm."
"Kelly, we can make it," He said, looking in the rearview mirror. I looked as well. There was no way we could make it. The twister was gaining on us. I finally understood what our parents were so worried about. I held on to the seat for dear life. I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer. A tree branch hit the passenger window and it shattered. I screamed.
"Kelly!" Jason yelled looking at me. That was the final straw.
"Pull over now," I said with a mixture of anger and fear in my voice. He pulled over when he saw a large ditch. I threw myself out of the car and into the ditch. Jason was next to me, half of his body on top of mine. I lay face down with my hands covering my head so I wouldn't be hit with debris. I could hear the tornado coming. It was the loudest sound I had ever heard, like a train only fifty times louder. Then there was the wind. I couldn't tell if I was shaking out of fear, or if it was just the wind. I hoped to God that we wouldn't be sucked up. Especially Jason. I had practically begged him to come out here.
Then, I felt the suction. I fought to stay on the ground. I moved my hands from my head to the ground. I dug my fingers into the moist ground so that I could hold myself down. Jason was putting more weight on me in an effort to keep us both from being sucked up into the storm. The rain was beating down on us, and I could feel gravel from the road pelting my face. I couldn't imagine what debris Jason was being hit with. I felt a sick feeling in my stomach as though I was going to throw up. My whole body was tense as I waited for the tornado to retreat.
We waited what seemed like half an hour before it became quiet. I was shaking and I could hear myself whimpering. I no longer felt Jason's weight and began to worry that he was gone. I rolled over and saw him wiping blood from his face next to me.
"Oh my gosh. Jason, are you okay?" I said, taking off my jacket to wipe the blood from his face.
"Yeah, I think I got hit by a rock." He said. I could see the gash above his right eyebrow. When examining it more closely, I discovered it wasn't too bad, Although it would probably need stitches. We both stood up slowly, examining our bodies to make sure nothing more was wrong with us.
I pulled out my phone. I was surprised that it was still in my pocket. I called one of my friends that lived close by, so she could give us a ride to the local hospital. After that, I called both of our parents to tell them we were okay. We both walked to the truck. Shockingly, it was still on all four wheels. However, all of the windows were smashed and the front of it was ruined. Both of the probes were still in the back. I noticed a small, flashing, red light.
"Huh," I said looking more closely.
"What?" Jason said from the other side of the truck.
All I could do was laugh. Jason gave me a bizarre look. "The probe was still on." I said, grinning like an idiot. "We got direct information from right inside that tornado!"
Jason smiled too. "What do you know? All we had to do was run from a tornado to intercept one." We both just stood there, looking at all the destruction around us. Trees were completely uprooted and there was a barn in the distance that was missing the top half.
I started to comb my fingers through my hair, but it was too tangled. I checked out my reflection in the side view mirror. One side of my face was dotted with red from where the gravel had hit me. I looked at Jason again. "Well, don't we just look beautiful?" His blonde hair was disheveled and all of our clothes were covered in dirt and grass stains.
"I think we look pretty good for just surviving a tornado," he said, laughing.
We retrieved what few belongings we had left from the truck. My laptop was cracked, but probably still worked. I grabbed a bandage from a first-aid kit under the seat to put on Jason's eye. When he was all patched up, we sat on the tailgate of the truck.
"I can't believe I dragged you into this. I'm so sorry," I said to Jason.
"Hey, you didn't know this was going to happen. I didn't even have to come."
"If I hadn't begged you, you wouldn't have," I said.
"I couldn't let you chase alone," he laughed. "Besides now we'll both have crazy stories to tell our grandkids."
In my mind, I could picture myself sitting on a couch telling my grandchildren about how I survived the perfect disaster.