The Storm Whisperer Blog

The Lure of the Extreme

Posted on by Mary Shafer

Here’s a video I found today of the massive, multi-vortex beast of a tornado that roared through Henryville, Indiana last Friday during the March 1st outbreak. LANGUAGE ALERT — the guy who shot this vid was clearly “blown away” (okay, pun intended) by what he was witnessing, and he expresses his awe in a not unexpected way.

Fact of the matter is, though, that many of us have this tendency to be mesmerized by nature’s extremes. Heaven knows I am! And you — you likely wouldn’t be here reading this if you weren’t one of us.

So what is it about screaming wind, pounding hail, torrential rain, blinding snow, raging floods and tempest-tossed seas that get us going? Is it the violence? The uncertainty? The sheer power? Or just plain adrenaline rush-inducing qualities? For many of us, it’s not any one but usually a combination of all of the foregoing. And it’s likely been so since the first time our prehistoric forebears witnessed the first bolt of lighting snake its jaggedy way down from the heavens to spark a grass fire or split a tree in half as it exploded into fire.

But it’s only been recently that it’s become acceptable — cool, even — to admit that we’re weather geeks, or weather weenies or storm freaks or even storm chasers. Most of us who’ve gone through the training wear our orange-and-black SkyWarn colors with pride, but until very recently, most people had never even heard of the spotter program, much less known what it’s all about. And we’ve almost all had the experience to one degree or another, of being dismissed as a joke at best or a having our sanity called into question at worst, if we had the temerity to come out of the closet as a severe weather aficionado. And for that reason, we have mostly kept to ourselves.

Oh, sure — we could find each other online in some rather obscure discussion forums and listservs, or on some lame message boards frequented by pre-adolescents who are learning the fascination but don’t yet have the understanding or vocabulary to hold a truly interesting conversation about things meteorological without reverting to giggly froth. But then individual storm chasers began to take on paying passengers, and storm tour companies were launched. These groups and many individuals started meeting annually at conventions. The Weather Channel began leveraging its footage archive and user-submissions with offerings such as Storm Stories and Weather Caught on Camera. Storm chasing shows appeared on TV, and a more mainstream extreme weather conversation started. Then Facebook and Twitter and blogging took off, and there became more ways to find each other.

And now, finally, authors are writing books about extreme weather. Not just nonfiction as they always have, but really good fiction. I enjoyed Jenna Blum’s The Storm Chasers this past summer, and am just about to start Landstrike! from Ken Bass. These aren’t goofy stories with no basis in reality, but completely plausible tales built around accepted meteorological tenets, with a strong drama line thrown in. I’m thankful for these titles and look forward to more, but — with apologies to Bono — I still haven’t found what I’m lookin’ for.

One of the first rules a young writer learns is “Write what you know.” Later on, when that writer realizes what a limitation this is, s/he learns to research so s/he can know more, and consequently, write more. Then, eventually, the writer begins to feel frustrated, because s/he has some very specific kinds of things s/he wants to read about, but those particular books don’t exist. And so the rule that more mature writers finally hear when they complain about this is, “Write what you want to read and wish you could find.”

And that’s why I’m writing The Storm Diaries.

I’m what used to be referred to as a jack-of-all-trades: competent at many things, master of none. These days, it’s referred to as ADD. I just think I get bored easily and can get a little bit obsessive at times about stuff that really interests me. And I want to read about someone kind of like me: Someone who’s interested in many things, who has eclectic tastes, but has found a few things that really turn on her passion. Who’s smart but not too smart, adventuresome without being obnoxious, brave but not necessarily heroic, but who has strong personal convictions about things and doesn’t let the world tell her what to do. And one of those passions is extreme weather.

Stormy McLeod is that someone, and it’s at this point where any resemblance between us ends. Because Stormy’s good enough at math and science to be a really good meteorologist. I can’t even balance my checkbook. She’s infinitely patient, toiling away day after day as a forensic meteo on cases that aren’t exactly exciting, so she can save up her money and her vacation time to go out with a few friends to chase storms every spring. I’ve been storm chasing once and will probably have to save up for another five years before I can go again, because I can’t work at a job that doesn’t excite me. And the list goes on.

But we do share that love of the mystery and raw power of extreme weather, and I can’t wait to explore this shared passion in depth through Stormy my alter-ego, and her cast of family, friends and colleagues.

I sure hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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