So if you attended my talk at Eastercon I probably answered this for a lot of you, but for those of you who were unable to make it, I wanted to answer a question I get asked a lot. How do I become a storm chaser?
On one hand it’s a pretty simple answer, but delving a bit deeper requires a more detailed explanation.
Let’s start with the basics first: It’s a bit like writing: there’s no exams, no secret initiation. If you want to be a storm chaser, then all you need to do is chase storms. Yeah, you can go and do the NWS Storm Spotter training, even if you aren’t based in the US, but it’s not required.
The more detailed answer is about safety.
It’s hard to write about something like Worldcon. The multi-day, 10,000 plus attendee event seemed like it lasted a pleasant lifetime for people who were there and we’ve all emerged a little shell-shocked.
In many ways, it was no different to other conventions where the usual suspects meet up, go to panels, drink beer and swap gossip… but on a Galactus world-eating scale. However, I think the thing I’ll take away from Worldcon was how intimate it felt.
I’ve been feeling a bit frazzled lately. My friend and fellow writer, Stephen Aryan, suggested that I needed a good convention and perhaps he was right. I’ve been working incredibly hard this year and have become a little frayed around the edges. Couple this with day job stress, trying to buy a house and ongoing recuperation; I could really do with getting away from my desk to recharge a little.
This was my first Nine Worlds convention. A lot of friends had gone to it last year and had great time so I was expecting a lot. And to be honest, it delivered.
I’ve been so incredibly busy, what with novels being both written and edited, BFS Award judging, house buying, and the like, I realise it’s been a few weeks since I updated the blog. It’s always the way when the most is going on that I update the least!
However, if you to see me in person, I will be at a couple of conventions this month.
The first is Nine Worlds this weekend in Heathrow, followed by Loncon3 in London the following week. I’m not participating in any panels so you’ll mostly find me in or around the bar; but feel free to come up and say hello. As always I have a convention game to play. so be sure to ask me the rules! This one could be a lot of fun!
Hope to see some of you there!
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I really enjoyed my storm chasing trip this year. So much so, that I decided to go ahead and book again for next year! In the meantime I’ve got a huge amount of video and photos from this year’s trip that I plan to share over the course of the next 12 months.
This was my first Tornado, near Bazemore, Alabama. We’d set off from Oklahoma City at 5am to catch up with a storm system that only the night before had destroyed the communities near Mayflower. Indeed, one of our guides was late because he’d been in Arkansas until the late hours helping with search and rescue. We had a long drive ahead of us with a good chance of seeing tornadoes on our first day. The only downsides were that A) It was a long way away. B) We’d be chasing in Dixie Alley, an area with a lot of hills and trees making it difficult to see tornadoes.
As a stark reminder of the dark side of tornadoes we drove through the damage path of the previous night’s Mayflower tornado. It’s hard to describe the damage. It just looks like someone has scattered indiscriminate rubbish everywhere until you see a single brick wall standing and realise that this was once a community of homes. Not ten miles down the road, in Bebe, one of our vans had a slight prang. Everyone was OK but the wing was bent enough that it might not be safe to drive.
What struck me was how friendly everyone was. In a community probably not that different to Mayflower, the man living opposite opened his house to us for bathroom breaks, the garage nearby helped get the van out the ditch, and the salon over the road offered us somewhere to sit out of the sun. They were so nice I joked it was for some nefarious means (especially after I found out that Bebe has been the location of birds dropping dead in their thousands on a couple of occasions) but it really drove home how these tornadoes destroy not only lives but communities as well.
We quickly sourced a replacement van and continued on, but by now we were way, way behind. The area we had been targeting, Tupelo, got hit by a pretty bad tornado and we thought our chances were over.
But we were determined and we caught up with the storms a little south as we entered into Alabama.
The video shows us as we race towards our first storm. There’s a hush in the van. We’re chasing in Dixie Alley at night. That’s dangerous (as we later found out). We’re excited and nervous. I mean, we’re actually driving as fast as we legally can towards a tornado warned storm. As our phones send out automated alerts, it’s quite creepy, and then, as you can see, we spot something. We stay calm and quiet because we want our guides to be able to do what they need to do, but inside we’re all racing with adrenaline. You have this image in your head of what constitutes a tornado and so when you spot something that is even slightly outside of that, you question the reality of the situation (It’s probably just a storm cloud, I’m not sure I did see a funnel, etc.)
The downside of the GoPro is that it’s all about wide vistas. Often spotting a tornado seems to be about just making out a line of color differentiation in the clouds some way off. I proved good at doing it, others just can’t see it. We could only see our tornado when it was lit by lightning, and I’ve taken a few screengrabs, zoomed them in, and put them together to give you an idea of what our first tornado looked like. You can just make it out to the right of the lightning. In reality, it was about that difficult to spot. Is that it, you might think? We certainly thought that… until we ran into the damage path!