This blog entry about the events of Thursday, May 31, 2007 was originally posted on June 04, 2007.

DAY 7: “I’m the president, Martin Lisius, of Tempest Tours,” the bearded man introduced himself at the morning briefing.  “And today’s your final chase day.”  The founder of the tour company, a man we’d only heard of or read about, was finally in our midsts.  Martin had led storm chasing tours in the early years of the company, but had since settled with his family, passing the baton to his more-than-competent staff.  However, whenever the tour ended up around his home area in the Texas panhandle, he was happy to join up.

Martin started the briefing that morning using a paper map of Texas held up and provided by Rob, a.k.a. Many Cameras (and perhaps “Many Maps”).  Like an old wise man, Martin did a forecast without the internet — the PC couldn’t get on-line yet.

“If the morning convection clears up, you’ll have a good day,” he concluded.  We hoped for the best — on our final day of chasing — where the risk of tornadoes was “moderate” again. 

“You know the great thing about this trip?” Leisa said.  “It’s built up.”

“I know, we have to see one today!” I concurred.  It would be poetic to see a tornado on this last day, I thought, after all the build up in our story (and this blog).  There has to be some sort of climax or catharsis.

THERE WAS A DEBATE as to when the action would begin; usually a tornado doesn’t form until after 3 p.m.  “Rule Number Four in the Tempest Rule Book:  Thou shall not chase morning convection,” Keith joked.  However, the most recent weather data that day implied that maybe it could form earlier — Bill said it wasn’t unheard of; his earliest sighting was around 1:30 p.m. in Iowa.

The debate was an issue because we could either head west into New Mexico right away in the event of an early touchdown, or go to the Amarillo, Texas institution, the Big Texan restaurant for lunch, since it was nearby.

“[This is your chase vacation,]” Martin said.  “[I leave it up to you.  Go to the Big Texan, or start chasing.]”

“Well, if we have to choose between eating and seeing something, I want to see something,” Leisa stated her opinion to the class — much to the chagrin of some; there were diabetics amongst us.

Brian’s PC finally got on-line with the latest weather developments, indicating a later-than-sooner touchdown.  “[The Big Texan] usually gets us in and out pretty fast,” Brian said, being diplomatic.  “Let’s do that.  Let’s do both.”

“Your heads are going to explode with the kitsch!” Jenna told me as we parked at the ultra-kitschy restaurant — an “official Route 66 attraction” — designated by a Big Texan sign and a car-sized cow outside.  The Big Texan’s claim to fame was that a 72 oz. steak was free!* (*if you could eat it in an hour).  We didn’t have time to attempt such a feat, and I settled on a buttery, tender prime rib instead.

There was still enough time to wander the establishment though.  “Howdy,” I said, lowering my Short Round Yankees baseball cap to a waiter in full cowboy gear.  The dining hall was decorated with buck heads, antlers, fur skins, and wagon wheels.  Outside was a gift shop, a shooting gallery, slot machines, and a big oversized Texan chair for cheesy tourist photo opps.  Everyone jumped at the opportunity:  Dan, Stacy and me, Rob and Leisa, and Doug, sporting his newly bought cowboy hatSacramento James couldn’t resist and got one as well.  As for homestater Texan Ruban, he bought everyone a rattlesnake egg prank (don’t spoil it if you know what it is), which Mel really got a kick out of

“This is Howey,” Jenna told me, showing me a new ring with a Native American chief, next to her skull.  “He’s going to get us a tornado today.”

“Okay, looks like there’s a supercell developing west of Amarillo,” Bob announced on the radios as we left the parking lot.  And so, our caravan — newly-crowned cowboys included — headed into the old west…

CATTLE RANCHES CAME ONE after the other through Hereford, TX, “Beef Capital of The World.”  We drove casually; there was no rush or threat of tornadic activity yet — but it could come at any time.

“Okay, Martin called,” Bill told us.  “We’re in a tornado watch box.”

No tornado was forming though, and we waited again, staying in the vicinity on call, like a fire station ready for immediate action.  We stopped by a big field of hay bails, just southwest of Hereford, to stretch our legs and watch the trains go by.  It wasn’t so relaxing though; the Texan sun beat down on us so hot you could see the shadows of the heat rising.

“It’s hot,” Peter said, stating the obvious, lighting a cigarette.  One question in my mind resonated:  Should I get ice cream?

I answered the call at a Fast Stop in Friona, TX, where a ladybug landed on my shirt — a pleasant departure from the creepy bugs we’d noticed since we entered the Lone Star State.  “Those are good luck,” Leisa told me.

“Then we’ll keep it.”  It flew away though — with it good or bad luck was not yet revealed.

A big guy in a cowboy hat saw us loitering outside the convenience store.  “What are y’all ready to fire up?” he asked.  “[I saw you guys in there.  Where’s it coming from?]”

“Somewhere around here,” Doug the West Virginian answered.  “The experts are looking [in there],” he continued, pointing to the guides discussing tactics in the Kitschmobile with Brian’s laptop.

“Good luck, y’all!”  The big cowboy waved goodbye and left us to wait for something again, somewhere around there. 

“Something will rear its ugly head,” Dr. Bob said.

We drove to Bovina, TX — where “the only thing knocking is opportunity” — and waited some more as the Texan sun continued to scorch the earth — a favorable thing since heat was an element needed for a tornado to form in a supercell.  The temperature was not favorable for us; many just stayed in the air-conditioned comfort of the vans.

“Do we know where we’re going?” I asked everyone in the van.

“It’s brewing,” Brett said.  “Pot’s cookin’.  Kettle’s cookin’.”

We waited for the tornado to cook and I started to get a little impatient — it was our last day after all and we had to end with a big finish.  I passed the time in the sunny heat with short naps — still with my mouth open — but when I woke up, I discovered we were back in New Mexico.  We stopped again to wait.  Marcia the photographer killed time by doing a photoshoot of the Tempest Tour Team for her assignment.

Back on the road, things started looking up.  “We’ve gone yellow!” I announced, looking at Brian’s display — our county was on tornado watch.  We stopped again on the side of the road for another storm watch.  Soon, hard-hitting precip fell from the sky.



“We’ve got hail!”

“Ow!  OW!!!!”

“They’re like BB gun pellets!” I yelled, running for cover.  The icy bullets, most the size of garbanzo beans and some as big as strawberries, pelted me in the back, the head — all over my body.  Hail bounced up from hitting the ground with such a force.  Popping sounds filled our ears as the hail pellets hit the vehicles.

“We have a hail injury in here,” Bob announced on the radio.  Londoner Katie had been pelted in the face, which turned her cheek red.  It wasn’t the worst that could happen though.

“Last year one went right through the window,” Brian told us.

We drove out of the hail, stopping to watch the developing storm ahead, running for cover when the precip got too painful.  The storm was strengthening with widening rainshafts; all the elements of a classic textbook supercell were coming into alignment again. 

The county was still in the yellow as we drove a little farther through the countryside.  “We’re gonna stop here,” Bill told us.  “Careful, there’s a lightning threat.”  Hmm… could it be because of the power lines? I wondered.  We stayed close to the vans as incredible CGs struck before us (picture above).  And then suddenly, there was a loud boom of thunder followed by a CG repeater.


“The sirens,” I whispered, hearing the alert in the distance.

“The sirens,” Mel reiterated.  We all knew what that meant.

“Looks like [the county] is tornado warned after all,” Dr. Bob told us.

We drove off to a safer area and a better vantage point.  “That looks pretty sweet to the north, boys and girls,” Bill told us as we stopped again.  “Stay close.” 

The supercell finally arrived and it loomed ahead of us — we felt a tornado was imminent.  “It’s only getting stronger,” Brian said.  “It’s getting its act together.”

A black eerie mist consumed the lower atmosphere, creeping slowly to our right like a plague about to smite the first born.  “It’s scary,” Stacy said, looking out the window.  The clouds above were starting to dance in an ominous way.  “It’s twisting,” I noticed.  The funnel was forming and starting its descent.

“Looks like it’s coming down,” Stacy alerted us.  The guides got into escape positions with the supercell’s latest chess move.

“Should we get to the east area?” Bill asked his team. 

“That’s a good idea,” Dr. Bob said. 

“Yeah, I like that too,” Brian seconded.  We got into position as red dust started to assemble from an RFD.  All the elements are coming into play, I thought, excited and hopeful.  Poetry in motion.

The road led us through the dust storm though, which got so thick at times that we couldn’t see the van ahead of us.  “That is so freaky,” Leisa said.

“Tornado warned,” Brian announced.

“Yeah baby!” Stacy cheered.

“We’ve gone red,” I said.

“It’s moving southeast,” Dr. Bob chimed in.

We tailed it and stopped for a look, cheering it to come down to earth — provided it didn’t hit a town.  We stared at what was before us, mouths gaped, hearts racing again.  “That is amazing,” I whispered to myself in awe.

“It’s beautiful,” Mel said.

“Look at the light,” Jenna said.  “It’s like the eye of God.”

The funnel hadn’t touched down just yet.  “Just needs time and a little juice,” Jenna said, who knew her stuff as storm chasing was the subject of her next novel.  The caravan moved on, mindful of vantage points and escape routes, as the winds really started to pick up speed — and any loose objects on the ground.  Tumbleweeds swept by us by the power of the wind. 

“We’ve got debris,” Stacy announced as unnatural objects flew by us.  There was a loud roar coming from a big gust of wind.  “It just feels so ominous.”  We drove out a little farther out to stop and take another look.

“Hold onto your hats,” Brian said — the wind was getting really bad out there.  The supercell had gotten stronger and hadn’t stopped doing so.  A CG touched down.  The precip really started coming down in buckets — it was both a mix of rain and hail.  The wipers went a mile a minute.  The pelting sounds of ice hitting metal echoed above our heads.  It was what I think meteorologists might call chaos.

We continued driving as the precip got heavier and heavier, so much that our visibility was almost nil — again, we could barely see the vans in front of us.  Even if a tornado was descending to earth, we couldn’t see it — or if it was coming at us for that matter.  Chaos.  Confusion.  The wrath of Mother Nature at its finest.  The worst thing that could happen to us is if we got a flat tire, I thought.

We sped down the road, which only led us back towards the storm it seemed.  The howls of wind gusts came from our left — one particular one whirring close to us.  The van slowed down.  Brett pulled to the side of the road.  The whirring was not of wind, but of rubber.

“We have a flat.”

“Oh shit,” I said.  “I was just thinking that’s the worst that could happen to us right now.”

We were stuck.  I didn’t see the other vans.  Our Kitschmobile, which was a rental, apparently didn’t have a spare tire — and even if it did, the hail was coming down so hard, it would have beat down on anyone trying to install it, let alone on everyone else who had to get out while the van got jacked up.  As for an escape route, it didn’t matter; we couldn’t move.  There was no escape, no way out.  The supercell had won.


Stacy and I both admit the moment was a bit scary, but tried to remain calm; we knew the others would eventually come back for us.  I just hoped that the tornado we were tracking didn’t descend upon us.  It was the poetic climax after all, the irony:  all this time we wanted to see a tornado touchdown, and now, stranded, we didn’t.  What our fate was, I didn’t know.

“Well, you got something good for your blog,” Leisa said, remaining positive.

Outside the window, chaos continued.  On the radar screen, the strong purple core of the supercell gained on us, and eventually swallowed us whole.

“We’re in the core,” I said, dramatically like Bill Paxton in Twister.  Some refer to driving into a storm core as “core punching,” but it looked like it was the core that was punching us.

I was confused, and briefly feared the worst.  I figured I should probably call some loved ones — luckily I had decent cell phone reception amidst all the meteorological madness.  First I called my girlfriend — voice mail.  Then my parents — answering machine.  And then suddenly, I got a text response from my friend Terence, saying “That is hilarious”; he had just received my cell phone picture from the day before of me at the beef jerky store with the Seinfeld-inspired message, “The jerk store called me.”  I gave him a buzz and explained my predicament.

“[If you’re stuck in a storm and there’s a tornado coming… what the hell are you calling me for?]”

Eventually the lead white van came back for us and together, we waited out the storm.  A rescue mission was planned; when the storm cleared up, the white van would take our flat tire to a repair shop or the nearby Walmart, fortunately just seven or eight miles away.

“Maybe they have Chinese food,” I said to Stacy.  Even in the middle of a storm, there’s always room for a comic relieving wisecrack.

EVENTUALLY THE STORM LET UP, and Brett took our flat tire offliterally a flat one, possibly caused by flying debris.  Stacy and Leisa went off with the white van to get the tire fixed, leaving the men to wait it out with our ride.  On the radar, the county was still in the red.

Nothing happened though; in fact the only thing that touched down from the clouds was a beautiful rainbow.  The tornado warning had been lifted.  Birds started chirping.  Two friendly locals came to our aid and offered us shelter and tools if we needed them.

“[If you need anything, I’m right over there in that house,]” a friendly old woman offered us.

“[I got a compressor if you need,]” offered a friendly UPS delivery man on his route.

We were finally okay though, waiting for the white van, watching the sky clear up, making phone calls, and admiring the setting sun

“We got the best that storm had to offer,” Brian told us.

LATER THAT NIGHT we regrouped at a combination A&W/Long John Silvers for dinner.  Jenna commented, “You guys were lucky there wasn’t another tornado on the other side of the core.”  Later we discovered that there was no tornado that touched down during the entire ordeal at all, so our lives weren’t really in danger — although at the time, I didn’t know what to expect.  I guess, all things considered, at the end of such a frightening experience, the clouds had a silver lining after all — or in this particular case, a pink one.

Next entry: The Calm After The Storm

Previous entry: A Game Of Chess

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Checkmate.”

  • Erik - This is definitely one of my favorite blogs of yours.  Glad you are safe n sound.  smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  03:59 PM

  • sounds more like a rainbow connection chasing tour..haha..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  04:29 PM

  • this blog episode is still more exciting than any episode of last season’s 24

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  05:07 PM

  • you forgot the rabbits didn’t you?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  06:05 PM

  • Good job Erik. I’m glad I wasn’t awol of this one.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  06:27 PM

  • Another nailbiting entry.  Excellent stuff, man!  Possibly for the best that there were no tornados though.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/04  at  08:06 PM

  • you look absolutely ridiculous and outof place in that big texan chair.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/05  at  06:40 AM

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This blog post is one of nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Twisted," which chronicled a tornado chasing tour of the American midwest in the late spring of 2007.

Next entry:
The Calm After The Storm

Previous entry:
A Game Of Chess


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

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Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

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1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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