On the road from Oklahoma to Kansas to Nebraska to South Dakota to Colorado to New Mexico to Texas, Erik travels through the heartland of America—a.k.a “Tornado Alley”—in search of tornadoes with the storm chasing team at Tempest Tours.  The hi-jinks that ensue is a tale of lightning bolts (that strike twice or more in the same place!), tornadic funnels, kitschy roadside attractions, and a whole lot of beef jerky.

TRAVEL DISPATCHES (in chronological order)

The Calm Before The Storm

Posted: May 19, 2007

So it’s been a whole eight months since my last adventure, not including quick mini trips to go snowboarding and snowmobiling in Colorado, or to drive to Miami for a quick jaunt before helping escort my friend Jack‘s iguana to his new apartment in New Jersey, or to visit King Tut at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’s super fun science museum.  During the past eight months I’ve more or less stayed put in New York City, still working at a youthful interactive advertising agency where we drink beer and forward YouTube links to each other all day.  But while living in New York is grand — especially on the days you run into Mr. T or Gary Coleman — it’s still nice to get away from it all and see the world.

Many fans and friends have bugged me over the past eight months, asking the same burning question:  “So, where’s your next trip?”  (I believe I’ve heard it about a million times.)  Well, as it is, I’m gearing up for the next trip, leaving this week on May 26th in fact, to a destination that only a few privileged people know about.  If you were take three guesses, you probably wouldn’t guess where since it’s a complete departure from my usual sort of places — in fact, it’s (gasp) domestic.  But if in your three guesses you were to say, “Oklahoma!” you’d be correct — after of which you’d ask the next burning question, “Why the hell are you going there?” 

The answer is best summed up in one word:  tornadoes.

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Weather Nerds

Posted: May 27, 2007

DAY 1:  “Welcome to Tornado Alley.  I’m Bill Reid, tour director for Tempest Tours,” said the man leading the orientation of Tempest Tours’ third tour of the season in Meeting Room A of the Wingate Inn in Oklahoma City.  I had arrived there after seven hours in transit from New York City — and I was the last one to arrive since mostly everyone else in the tornado chasing tour group had spent the night in OKC.  Orientation was a lot like one on the first day of class:  new faces (some already taking notes), a lecture, and room brimming with enthusiastic curiosity for the times ahead.

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The Thrill Of The Chase

Posted: May 28, 2007

DAY 2:  “I forgot it’s Memorial Day Weekend,” I realized outloud to Leisa and Rob at the breakfast table — Super 8’s complimentary fare included cold cereal and Eggo waffles.  The Weather Channel was on the corner TV, reporting the beach forecast for the American east coast for the long weekend — Jones Beach, NY, 81 degrees and sunny — but in Nebraska, we were hoping for a completely opposite kind of forecast: thunderstorms.  So far, the predictions were looking good for us.

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The Vacation From Our Vacation

Posted: May 29, 2007

DAY 3:  “This place is great,” I told Luciana, the Dutch woman across the breakfast table.

“Yeah, it’s really American,” she said.  We were in the local restaurant next to the Best Western, a place decorated with old 45’s, vintage lunch boxes, and other Route 66-esque paraphernalia — even the booths’ upholstery had Route 66 signs on them. 

“This is what other places [back home] try to be, but it’s all faux,” I told Stacy, sitting at my side.

“Yeah, it’s not faux; it’s fo’ real!” she said.

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The Perfect Storm

Posted: May 30, 2007

DAY 4: “I don’t quite care for talk of politics,” 18-year-old James from Manchester, UK said to me as I prepared a breakfast of coffee and corn flakes with bananas at the Days Inn in North Platte, NE.  “It bores me.”

In the dining area, his aunt Mel was having a discussion with Leisa, and Londoners Chris and Katie about health care, politics, and other adult sort of things.  James moseyed on out of the area, knowing well aware he was in the States for the first time not to discuss politics, but to chase tornadoes.

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Into The Southwest

Posted: May 31, 2007

DAY 5:  Little did I know when I woke up that morning at the less-than-stellar La Junta Inn and Suites in La Junta, CO, that I’d be typing commands into a DOS prompt:

C:> ipconfig /release

C:> ipconfig /renew

I was only doing so because I had suggested “releasing the DNS” in our morning briefing, when tour leader Bill’s laptop couldn’t get online to get the latest weather data.

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A Game Of Chess

Posted: June 03, 2007

DAY 6: “The juice is flowing.  We have good sheer,” tour leader Bill said in our morning briefing, standing in front of the projected weather map.  “[I see some rotation.]”  For the first time on our trip, the SPC declared a “moderate risk” of tornadoes — all this time it had only been “slight.”

“I’d say our chances of a tornado, F2 or stronger, are I guess fifty-fifty.”  There was a wave of gasps in the room.  Groggy, sleepy eyes suddenly lit up.

“It’s probably going to be a big day,” Bill concluded.

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Posted: 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.

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The Calm After The Storm

Posted: June 05, 2007

DAY 8:  Peter, the older but youthful Englishman, was the last one to casually stroll over to the meeting place in front of the office of the Irish Inn in Shamrock, TX that final morning.  He was wearing yellow shorts, a souvenir Colorado t-shirt, and baseball cap, with a duffel bag strapped over his shoulder and a plastic bag in hand.

“You can almost pass an American tourist,” I told him.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

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TWISTED (in chronological order):


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