Cyclone Road


Sunday, July 31, 2005

I updated the May 12 chase report last night with a location for our second tornado, which was associated with the meso that produced the famous hail monster tornado as seen on Shane Adams' website here.

I learned my teaching schedule for the semester: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9:00, 10:00, and 11:00 AM, three sections of Freshman Composition. Not a terrible chase schedule as it's confined to the mornings and only three days per week. I'll lobby for a Tuesday/Thursday lineup in the spring but considering I blew into town needing a job right away, I count myself lucky.

Tomorrow my furniture comes. They originally told me they would deliver on the 28th, then changed it to Monday the 1st. The driver called again Friday and asked if he could deliver on Sunday. I said sure thing and he promised to call back and confirm when he lined up some help. Yesterday morning he called and said we were back to Monday because he couldn't find anybody and then this afternoon he called to reverse himself yet again, suggesting he could unload the truck alone. Well, I was already planning to have lunch with an old friend of mine and wasn't keen on seeing the driver handle my furniture without help (I would have ended up being the help, of course), so I told him it would have to be Monday. Moving is always a circus.

With a house full of boxes I'll attend a new employee orientation on Tuesday and return home to start what I estimate will be three days of unpacking. I want to finish by Friday in time for garbage pickup.

Maybe by next weekend, I'll be settled enough to start writing again. I have story idea brewing and am waiting for a respected friend to finish looking over Remedy Wheel. I would like to have another draft by Christmas.

I've enjoyed seeing several of my old friends in the last week. Managed to hang out with Eric Nguyen, David and Daphne VanHooser, Robert Hall, Clete Estes (who should be engaged by now, congratulations, dude), Bobby Ritchey, Aaron Leis, Darin Bradley, Mike McConnel, Barb Rodman and a few others. It's easy to be popular the first week.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I've neglected the blog in the chaos of moving, but all is well. The house is fine, although my landlord was confused about the day I was coming and he lacks about a week's work on the guest bathroom and a few other places--nothing I can't live or work around.

My furniture was due on the 28th but I knew that was too good to be true. The new delivery date is August 1st, at the end of their promised "spread." That's the way it works. On the positive side, my cost is $400 lower than they had told me because the load weighed less than estimated. Fair enough.

I have a deck chair from Wal-Mart (for which I was mistakenly charged $3) and Eric Nguyen brought me a small mattress yesterday, an inestimable kindness since my back was barking after three night on the floor. I'm not twenty years old anymore, I continue to re-discover.

I'm working on a piece of writing due to a magazine yesterday, and I have to finish tonight no matter what. So I'm in a coffee shop and don't plan to leave for a while. More later.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The movers cleared my apartment this morning and all I have now are the items I'm packing in the truck and a plastic deck chair, which I'm using now. My broadband is active until the lease expires, so with my laptop and network card I still have high speed internet for another twelve hours or so. It's not easy to knock a stormchaser off the internet.

I've been packing and cleaning this morning and already feel tired enough to nap. I hope I can wear myself out a little more and try to catch several hours of sleep starting around 8:00 PM tonight. If I can pull that off, I'll get up around 4:00 AM and try to get rolling by 6:00 AM. It would be great to make Denton by 10:30 or 11:00 PM tomorrow night. The sooner the better. Sitting around doesn't agree with me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I posted a little farewell to soutern Indiana on Stormtrack earlier this morning:

"I'm happy to report I'll be relocating to Denton, Texas this weekend after three years in southern Indiana.

Outside of the coldest parts of winter and a few too many slate-gray overcast days, I really enjoyed Bloomington and would enthusiastically recommend it to people. There are many who think this is the best college town in America and I think it would at least make any top five list. This part of Indiana, what Scott Russell Sanders called the "wooded hill country of the White River Valley," is as beautiful as that description. Most days of the year the temperatures are mild and the air is crisp so you can spend the whole day outside comfortably.

Neighboring Brown County is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen in October and November when the leaves turn. People in the upper Midwest looking for a quiet and relaxing Fall vacation weekend should seriously consider the area around Nashville, Indiana for scenes like this:

And the campus of Indiana University is pretty spectacular too because of the area's preeminence in limestone, which means many of the structures look like this:

It's hard to compete with Indiana limetone for the building material of a campus nestled in a rolling forest. IU is easily the most attractive university landscape I've ever seen.

This part of Indiana isn't much for stormchasing, obviously, with the hills and trees. And for a plains chaser it was often a little claustrophobic, but I understand why people are ferociously loyal to a place where the seasons and cycles of nature are everywhere. In early autumn, it is not uncommon to drive down any street in Bloomington through a light shower of orange, red, and yellow leaves.

But Texas is home, where I've lived twenty-three of my thirty-five years, and Denton is a pretty cool little burg itself, still resisting the approaching megalopolis of box stores and parking lots. Hopefully it can hold out a little while longer. It isn't the most productive corner of Tornado Alley, but with easy access to 380 going west, 287 toward the panhandle, and I-35 north, it's not a bad place to start. I like a drive to the target anyway, and Denton is a great place to come home to.

I'm excited to once again live three hours from CDS, and only five from ICT or AMA. Lawton is right around the corner! No more chase decisions thirty-six hours prior to initiation, or waking up in a motel on Day 1 after a long drive west to find the ETA was out to lunch on the speed or orientation of the trough. Now I'll get that bad news while having my morning coffee at my own desk. That will be very nice.

I've moved far away twice now since I've been chasing, and I think the best part about leaving Tornado Alley is how good it feels to return.

So long, southern Indiana. Go Big Red."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Scratch that. Movers called and we're back to the original plan of loading Friday. Too many pointless details to divulge, but the worst part is that I'll have to call my new landlord, who has so far been fantastic, and reverse what I told him yesterday. He's going to think I'm a nut.

Salvation Army sent two worker bees for the couch and loveseat today. I sent the ten speed with them too. One of the guys was wearing a monitoring device on his ankle, and I don't think this was something from the K-Mart Martha Stewart line of Gangsta fashions. He didn't look like a murderer or anything. I'm sure he dealing weed or stole a car or something. He was cool and he and his friend finished their business quickly.

Those couches were the last vestiges (except for one coffee table) of my very first furniture purchase in 1995, when Randy Keylor put me in charge of American Telemarketing Specialists for $25,000 a year, which I thought was the lottery prize back in those days. I bought all that stuff at Montgomery Ward's and have carried it from Denton to Fort Lauderdale to Denton to Bloomington over the last ten years. But it's covered in cat hair, faded, and frankly, ugly as hell. Time for an upgrade. The new place is going to look like an adult lives there. No more cinder blocks for speaker stands or ratty posters on the wall.

You may have noticed a new link on the sidebar to Shane Adams' blog. Shane is a long-time chaser pal of mine and he's really found his form with blogging. He's a good writer technically, but more importantly his work has the power of being starkly honest. Since Shane's opinions are anything but bland, it makes for good reading and I recommend it highly.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Well, a few hours after my last entry the movers called and said they'd like to pick up my stuff on Thursday if possible. So....maybe I'll take off on Friday morning instead. Can't think of any reason that would be a problem. It might be better to get there late Friday, set things up on Saturday, get some sleep on Sunday before Monday hits and I begin making the rounds at UNT and other spots.

The end of my Bloomington adventure is rapidly approaching. Today I meet with Samrat Upadhyay, a member of my thesis committee, to discuss his feedback on my novel. This is something one would ordinarily do before graduation, but between the deadlines and stormchasing, I had to ask him to sign off on my thesis before we had met. After Samrat, I am waiting to hear from an editor on the east coast before I start the next revision in Denton.

The week unfolds pretty simply. Wednesday I plan what little is coming with me, mainly clothes and cats, for the 'safe room.' Thursday I pack and have the goodbye party at Bear's; Friday the movers come and take my stuff; and Saturday morning around 7:00 AM, I'll take my cokes and go home.

Friday, July 15, 2005

I stopped packing boxes this morning and decided to call utility companies. This isn't quite so labor-intensive as I can cancel electric and water service with my feet propped up on my desk and with loud jazz and southern rock playing on my computer speakers. The problem is that it doesn't take very long either, and now I have to pack more boxes.

I have lately been fascinated with this song "Help Somebody" by Van Zant. This duo is Johnny and Donnie Van Zant, the two younger brothers of legendary Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynryd fame who died in a plane crash in 1978. Johnny is now the Skynyrd singer and Donnie fronts the southern rock-pop band 38 Special. The Van Zants are considered the first family of Southern Rock and they are, without question, uniquely talented. The tragedies that have befallen them (the two brothers have lost both parents, brother Ronnie, and their sister too) ascribes a bitter sort of integrity. Their new release is a country album but only in the sense that country music has moved closer to their southern rock roots, and this song "Help Somebody" has engaged me for days.

Let me say right off the bat that it's not a great song. It is some anonymous Nashville songwriter's best Ronnie Van Zant rip-off, with an edgy melody and run-on lyrical phrasing (and even a little falsetto yodel a la "Don't Ask Me Questions" and "Simple Man"). It uses the format of the latter tune, describing advise given the narrator by mythically drawn, salt-of-the-earth grandparents. The music is as bland as Nashville session players can be, and it's filled to the brim with gingoistic, religious, and sentimental references that would have made Ronnie Van Zant take his two little bros and conk their heads together until they passed out.

However, there is some weird vibe that comes through, almost as if despite a hugely-flaw vessel the Van Zant brothers still channel the spirit of the original Skynyrd tone, independent and defiant. Nobody can question the sincerity of what the brothers are singing even if they didn't pen the words and despite those words forming the shape of every conceivable country music cliche' of the last ten years. Perhaps it's that the Van Zant brothers are survivors, and even a thick Nashville radio glaze can't obscure this rare trait.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

I'm working my way through the chase reports though I confess that it hasn't taken much effort yet. I am mainly using the text and photos that have already appeared in this space. This is because the chases I'm reporting so far were relatively minor. Of course I will review all my imagery to see if there's something I shuld add, and when I begin capturing video I'll also scan through some of the non-tornado days and continue to update these reports. However unless it was a serious structure day--like May 10th in Nebraska or June 2nd in Colorado--I don't spend much time.

The reason is that the June chases will be time-consuming. Many of my tornadoes are only on video, including some serious events such as June 9, 11, and 12. I have to sift through video and GPS logs to coordinate times and locations with various tornadoes and this isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds. I'm not complaining about seeing tornadoes, don't misunderstand me, but my standard for documentation is pretty high and takes work. As I've written before, I hope to finish by December.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Chaser Jeff Wear 1978-2005
Photo courtesty Mike Deason

Norman, Oklahoma chaser Jeff Wear died in a car accident Monday morning returning from Hurricane Dennis. I met Jeff a handful of times while chasing and he was always cheerful and obviously delighted to be under the deep and wide plains sky. Chase on, friend.

Photos from Jeff Wear's website,

©2004 Jeff Wear

©2004 Jeff Wear

I also found a section on Jeff's blog that I thought was a great chase story and want to reproduce it here:

"Storm put down a pretty nice wall cloud, but it looked like it was gettin undercut by cool air. Then all the sudden the storm kicks into second gear and cranks out a big ass tornado. It was fuckin huge. A bunch of rain started wrappin round it though, so I started losin sight of it. Just as this was happenin, these crazy old dudes drove up. They were drunk off their asses. They was pretty old too - had to be well in their 60s, maybe even 70s. So the driver asks me what I was lookin at, and I said "TORNADO!", and the dude says "that what they call em here in Kansas? Man out here we don't even run from them!" Then another dude in the back seat says "My grandpa said back in his day they chased them off with pitchforks!" Then the driver asked me where I was from, and when I told him the flat red dirt, he said "what the fuck you doin up here?" So we all kept talkin for a while, then they told me they was goin to this one bar in Hill City to have some beer, even invited me to come along. I'm really amazed they kept on goin that way with that big ass tornado headed towards Hill City."

--Jeff Wear

Monday, July 11, 2005

Sonny won't be so happy on July 23rd
when we start our 16 hour drive to Texas

The remains of former Hurricane Dennis arrived in Bloomington this afternoon in the form of small raindrops carried by the northernmost bands of convection. Dennis is still an impressive cyclone on the visible satellite image this afternoon, with relatively symmetrical structure and a clear center of circulation in western Tennessee. There's nothing to chase, but it's interesting to note when a system that has created so much havoc (and unfortunately deaths) appears locally.

My Toyota 4Runner is restored and ready for whatever other violence I visit upon it. Hopefully I can go twelve months without seeing a body shop.

I'm growing more anxious for the move so I can start working on my novel again (last round of revision coming up) and prepare for the teaching gig. Two good friends of mine are also moving into the area and that's a cool bonus. Eric Nguyen, my long-time chase pal, is moving with his family to extreme northern Tarrant County, and David VanHooser, a friend since high school, is moving to a new development in Justin, probably less than a mile from Eric. Both Eric and David plan graduate work at UNT. It can be strange returning to a place when many people you knew before are gone, so this will give Denton a new vibe (though David [kneeling front] lived in Denton the *first* time I was there from 1989 to 1996).

As usual, I don't expect to stay in Denton more than three years or so. I have some specific goals for my time there. I want to send Remedy Wheel to agents by the end of 2005. I'd like to have a solid draft of my second novel by the time I get ready to pack up again. Finally, I want to get three years of college-level teaching experience under my belt. I still have a strong desire to live in four other cities before I "settle down" (whatever that means): New York, New Orleans, Florence, and Rome. I want to do these things while I'm young and have the energy and flexibility (pre-family, career instability). So once again, Denton is a waypoint. But maybe I'll buy a house and leave my stuff there this time!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Decided to call the next DVD "In The Path" and anticipate releasing it by March 1 of next year. That's a long time from now, but I'm slow at these things and hope to do a better job this time. The footage from this year deserves a careful rendering since I have a quality camcorder now.

I should say thanks to my pal Tony Laubach for this hilarious sendup which reminded me I could at least think of a title for my next release, always the easiest step of the process.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My first step in creating final chase reports is the season summary, which I posted a moment ago. Beneath that I list the chases for which I'll complete reports, slowly turning each bulleted chase-day title into links. Here's the page, and here's what I wrote:

This was a tale of two chase seasons, no question. Or maybe even three, considering April was so productive before a meager first half of May sent me home for a long vigil of watching computer model data and hoping the pattern would change. When it did, I returned to the plains for the most incredible two weeks of chasing in my life, including a grand finale of five consecutive chase days with tornadoes on June 6, 7, 9, 11, and 12. During those five days I witnessed approximately eighteen tornadoes. This is a stretch of success and unrivaled luck I would never have imagined and don't anticipate again. What can I say? 2005 was my finest chase season by virtue of the prolific conclusion and I'll produce a new DVD over the winter with highlights from both 2004 and these recent catches. Another few notes about the bizarre chase year: Oklahoma recorded zero tornadoes in May, and there were zero tornado deaths in the USA during April, May, and June. Either of these facts alone would be extraordinary; together they astound and will likely inspire a fresh round of anthropocentric speculation about what human beings are doing (or failing to do) to anger or please larger cosmic forces.

I intend to complete these reports one at a time between August and December, so please check back for updates. My preliminary thought on a DVD release is March 1.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

I spent the last few days in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area finalizing my plans for a late July move. The tentative date is July 23rd and I'm pretty excited about the chance to return to Denton and continue working on my novel and start another while scrounging up a teaching gig here or there.

I'm renting a great house at 1901 Jasmine Street. It's a two bedroom with an office and it's the perfect size for me. The neighborhood could not be more convenient to UNT and other areas of downtown, as well as the interstate, yet it's tucked away so well that it's actually tricky to find. No major roads go through the neighborhood and traffic is amazingly light. Here's some images of the house.

Above is my favorite room in the house, the office/library with a wet bar!

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