Not a weather girl


For my sec­ond ca­reer, as a weather an­chor, I worked on the Cana­dian prairie, which is the sec­ond-best place to chase se­vere weather, af­ter Tor­nado Al­ley. I was also study­ing for a cer­tifi­cate in me­te­o­rol­ogy so I could in­ter­pret weather data and make my own fore­casts. I didn’t want to be looked at as some ditz who didn’t know what she was talk­ing about. Around that time, a pho­tog­ra­pher friend in­vited me to chase with him in the Al­ley for a month. I said sure; I wanted to learn ev­ery­thing I could. I loved it so much that I went back again and again.

Dur­ing my sec­ond round in 2013, I got to see the largest tor­nado in recorded his­tory—on the very last day of the chase sea­son. We were wait­ing in this dingy gas-sta­tion park­ing lot in El Reno, Ok­la­homa. Chasers do that a lot. We sit around wait­ing, play­ing hacky sack, and eat­ing junk food. The fore­cast called it a high-risk day. Those can go ei­ther way, but if a storm hits, you know it’s go­ing to be a big one. This one rolled in around 5:30 p.m.

It started out as a lit­tle cu­mu­lus cloud on the hori­zon. Then this lit­tle baby puff turned into a 60,000-foot thun­der­storm in maybe 20 min­utes. It just hap­pened. We jumped in our car and raced to­ward it. A few min­utes later I was look­ing out the win­dow, film­ing this mas­sive wall of what seemed like rain. We thought the tor­nado was hid­den inside. But then I saw it tak­ing shape and felt it suck­ing in wind. That’s when I re­al­ized that wall was the tor­nado it­self. It be­came a wedge—as wide as it was tall— around 2.6 miles across with winds nearly 300 miles per hour. It was—and this is a real me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal term—ex­plo­sive.

We hauled butt to get out of there. For some rea­son, a TV weather an­chor had told peo­ple to evac­u­ate, even though you should take shel­ter dur­ing a tor­nado. Cars packed the roads. All we could see were brake lights. We feared we’d be stuck. But in a few min­utes, it was over.

Three storm chasers died that day, just up the road from where we’d been stuck. That had never hap­pened be­fore. So yeah, I won­dered why I would risk go­ing out again. But then the next chase sea­son called me back.

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