Disclaimer: Storm chasing is not a joke and it is not like the movie Twister. Also, tornadoes may be very pretty but they also kill people, so proper respect must be shown for these most dangerous of weather phenomena.
In the town of Tuttle, Oklahoma (population just over 6,000) we stop at a gas station and I grab a stack of neon orange leaflets titled 'Are You Ready For a Tornado?' Giggling, I hand them out to my fellow storm chasers, thinking about how clever I am. Haha, of course we are ready. We're here on a 10 day storm chasing tour. We're with an expert. We know the drill - we've all seen Twister. The wind starts whipping through our hair really fast, we all hang out of the windows of the truck and start yelling 'tornado on the ground!' while taking photos and not smudging our make up or getting dirt on our Helen-Hunt-Perfect white vests. It's going to be EPIC. *
Two days later there actually is a tornado on the ground, and we are speeding along a road in northern Texas trying to get a good view of it. I am in the front seat, sinking lower and lower, trying to make myself completely invisible, in the hope that this will stop from happening the thing that I know is about to happen. They didn't mention this in Twister and there is also no help to be found in the leaflet, which is stowed safely under the folded sun visor in front of me. Are YOU Ready For a Tornado? it asks. And the answer is no. No I'm not. I thought I would be, and I have tried to be all badass about this moment, picturing how it would be when I saw my first angry wedge tornado spinning away in the distance, and how I would be ready for it and not do or say anything stupid. But I'm not ready. Because I am about to wet myself. And I am very angry with Helen Hunt for not portraying this reality when she was flicking her perfect hair over her shoulder and getting ready to shower at her aunts house in Wakita. NOWHERE in that scene did she go to the toilet seven times in the space of three minutes because it might be the last time she saw a toilet all day. Because THAT is the reality of storm chasing, and right now, I am about 27 seconds away from forcing my entire tour to screech to a halt on the side of a dirt road, in the pouring rain so I can run into a bush and squat in the presence of a real twister, and hope the driving wind doesn't cause me to wee in my own face.
We will miss this tornado. There will be two more today, but this one is a nice stovepipe shape and others will get pictures of it and post them to all the storm chasing groups on Facebook. We will look on in envy and tell ourselves we were on the wrong side of the storm, it was obscured by rain, we would never have got close enough and we had to let it go, yadda yadda. But the reality is that we will miss it because I am weeing, for the seventieth time today, seriously wondering if I have some kind of infection, because really exciting, weather related things are happening out there, and I have paid several thousand pounds to be standing here right now, and my bladder is RUINING it for everyone.
Chasing storms is a serious business. Weather can happen suddenly and move quickly, and in order to stay on top of it (or in this case - behind or to the side of it) you have to be alert and ready to move at a moments notice. There is not always time to be faffing around in the toilet queue, which is a shame, because on severe weather days, the plains are crammed with every Tom, Dick and Helen trying to pursue extreme weather, meaning that the line for the loo at every gas station is bladder-achingly long. Tom and Dick are alright, they can nip behind the toilet building and do what they need to do, having a conveniently shaped appendage for weeing on the hop in the middle of a field. Helen on the other hand - Helen is screwed. If Helen wants a slash, and there are no actual toilets available, she will have to squat down glamorously behind the last chase car in the line, and hope that nothing else is coming down the road - because they will see Helen's bum. And sod's law, halfway through the wee, the chase leader will decide it's time to MOVE MOVE MOVE and everyone will leap back in the cars and drive off. Meanwhile. Helen is still trying to drip dry and get her shorts up without falling sideways into a ditch.
I mean - people - this is NOT EASY. They should really send you on a course before you are allowed to do this sort of thing. Many people have said to me, both in the run up to my storm chasing trip and in the aftermath - 'isn't it SCARY?' and the answer is yes. Yes it is. The storms aren't scary - I couldn't give a stuff about those attempting to kill me because I've got bigger things to worry about. What if someone catches me with my pants down on the side of the highway? Now THAT'S terrifying. At least, it's terrifying at the start of the trip. By the end, every girl on the tour will just be lining up in broad daylight and letting it all out without fear of anything or anyone. Because after a while - after 10 days of roughing it out there in the middle of nowhere, where the earth is so flat that you can SEE it curving, being pelted with lemon sized hail and zapped with sixteen bolts of lightning a second, covered in dirt during a sixty mile an hour dust storm that just WILL not come out of your ears, and having scary fog and darkness descend on you in the middle of the day where only seconds earlier there was bright sunshine - you just DON'T care anymore.
And that's when you know that you can sincerely answer the question on the front of the leaflet with an affirmative. YES, I am ready for a tornado. I have squatted down behind seven cars, including Reed Timmer's, a nodding donkey in an oil field and a line of gas tanks with Peanuts characters on them. I have squatted down behind a mobile phone mast, down the side of a rural railway track and behind the First Bank of Oklahoma. I have squatted down while people were walking past, and while a Tornado was raging on the ground 5 miles away, in my field of vision. I have wee'd on my shoes and that time when outflow winds came out of nowhere at just the wrong moment, on my own neck. Everyone on this tour is annoyed with me for needing to wee more than a camel with a full hump and a UTI. And yesterday, while squatting for the millionth time, during a violent lightning storm, I let out a little fart that I tried to pass off as thunder (nobody bought it). So YES. I am ready. I am ready for extreme weather. Bring it on.
Ps next time, please remind me to invest in a She Wee.
*In all seriousness, it was a very good leaflet and it's important to prepare yourself for extreme weather out there. Well done Tuttle, for being so community minded and safety conscious.
All photographs in this post Copyright Christina Owen 2017.