Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tornado Alley

I'm in Amarillo, Texas, watching a thunderhead back-build just to the east of me. I'm traveling from California to Florida, where I will now be living. I've been on the road since last Monday, driving myself and the dogs across the country.

And now I see a tornado cloud. Routine for those of you who live here, but not so routine for me.

I first saw the cloud this morning, when I left New Mexico. I was on the phone with my father, checking in as I passed Tucumcari. Couple of good clouds ahead, I told him. I didn't tell him that I've been suffering a tornado neurosis ever since I decided to drive myself across America. Best to leave out that the soles of my feet were already sweating, because I knew those clouds were stalling over Amarillo, even from 100 miles west.

When I got to the hotel, I pulled up the NOAA Storm Prediction Center for some information. At about 2.45 PM, when I checked in, Amarillo was at the bottom of a slight risk area. My friend Kimberly up in Indiana was in a moderate risk area. Her power went out, and I returned to the NOAA site at 3.15. Now, there was a mesoscale discussion for Amarillo and surrounding areas.

That fast? I'd been studying the weather for six weeks or so, and now I was learning that things indeed move quickly. A watch, they said, was probable. Not a warning, nothing on the ground, but a watch.

I dared myself to go outside and look. My cloud had grown an anvil. The anvil appears to be hanging just south of downtown Amarillo and just east of me. I snapped some pictures that I'll upload when I get to Florida later this week. It's a bright and beautiful blue sky out there, and it's hot, hotter than I like, and people are going about their business as normal. Cars are driving on the highway, passing underneath the cloud, and other cars are going into a shopping center and people are getting out of them and doing normal, everyday things.

But not I. I'm up on the sixth floor of the hotel, watching this thing back-build. There's another, smaller cloud just behind it. It's as if there is an invisible wall that stops the clouds from traveling and pushes them skywards. There is everywhere for it to go--away from here, for a suggestion, but it is taking its lazy time if it intends to move at all.

Sitting in the lobby, I can overhear talk. Wheat prices, some cattle, a quarterhorse, and people going somewhere, just like me. For a week, I've been part of the great moving band that plies the highways, stopping for a quick night's rest, hoping that the room is worth the price or at least doesn't--as happened this morning in Albuquerque--have hookers working out of a broken-down car in the parking lot.

I am going to my car to remove my important papers and I'm going to move the car to the west side of the building. I knew for six weeks I'd run into this very situation, I bothered my friends (including the lovely and generous enc of Observation Mode) about this, and now it's here and I'm here and I hope I don't run into any rattlers when it all blows by me.

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