The Storm Whisperer
18 years ago, I founded Tempest Tours Storm Chasing Expeditions with friends William Reid and Dr. Charles Doswell. It came about due to requests from folks wanting to go storm chasing with us as individuals.
Since then, I have met and visited with many of our guests who travel from around the world just to see our local storms. Most of them come to see a tornado, that relatively rare and short-lived phenomenon they have witnessed only in photos and video. They soon realize that vast possibilities exist beyond the twister on the wide open plains and the big sky above it.
Tornado Alley. By our definition, it is the plains region that stretches from Texas to the Dakotas. It is called that because the unique balance of ingredients necessary to make a tornado, wind shear and atmospheric instability, come together more often here than any place on the planet. Warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico is siphoned onto the flat, smooth plains by strong southerly low level winds. That element is twisted by wind shear and lifted by a trigger to create rotating storms 10-miles tall called "supercells." This is what we forecast and track. They are the world's most prolific producer of giant hail and significant tornadoes, and produce spectacular lightning shows, an ineffable palette of colors, and sweet, fresh, rain-cooled air. Our guests are enveloped by the magnificent Tornado Alley sky day after day. It's like a massive, concave movie screen wit an continuous showing of new footage. It assures them that nature remains pristine here, and the ground we stand on is only half of what we see.
The Great Plains. To us, they are indeed great. Big and roomy. They offer our guests an opportunity to spread their wings. The views are practically infinite, and during the spring the plains are lush green and covered with wildflowers, wheat and corn. The topography ranges from the complete flatness of the Texas caprock farm country to the native grass covered dunes of the remote Nebraska sand hills. And, the people of the plains are some of the nicest folks we've ever known. Always available to tell us their tornado stories, like the time Grandma managed to herd the chickens into the storm cellar just in time to avoid disaster. Agriculture, conservation and wind energy are the primary industries. And the food. Some of the finest barbecue, chicken fried steak, Tex-Mex and home cooking exists here. As time allows, we stop to let our guests savor some of these delicacies. It is usually only during the lunch hour. However, because by mid-afternoon, tall, white towering cumulus clouds begin to grow on the horizon and we are off for another storm intercept.
By the time each expedition ends, our guest have a new found appreciation for our dynamic atmosphere and love for the plains. It quickly consumes them and they return for another revitalizing shot of our grand and glorious sky.