As Close as I've Ever Come to a Tornado

Rope Tornado

I did not take this shot, and this isn’t even the same weather phenomena I witnessed. This Flickr photo is entitled 1tornado and is by Nate Fuller. It’s used in accordance to his Creative Commons license.

This past Wednesday was among the most humid Vermillion, South Dakota, has seen so far this season. The air just hugged the ground, and the blazing sun raised puffy cumulus clouds into the sky all day. Classic storm brewing weather. Late that afternoon, the family (myself, Erin, Vivian, Nora, my mother-in-law Rosemarie and her parents) decided to have dinner at Toby’s Chicken Shack. This place, which is what it says on the tin, offers up the best fried chicken anywhere, and it certainly puts KFC to shame. I had the shrimp, however, and it was good too.

However, Toby’s Chicken Shack was in the next town over, one Mecklin, South Dakota, so we took two cars, and headed out onto the highway, as some very dark clouds rolled in.

Vermillion is located in a bit of a valley, and with a population of 10,000, it’s by no means a small town. In the downtown, with the turn-of-the-century stone buildings on either side of you, you don’t get much of a sense of how big some of these thunderheads can be. Pulling out of town, getting onto the prairie flats, I spot the horizon beneath the clouds, and beneath one part, a sheet of rain cloaking the air from sky to ground, miles off. “Ah,” I say, “there’s the storm.”

“That’s just rain. I’d be more worried about that,” says Erin, pointing to a part of the cloud adjacent to the rain sheet. It’s a thin piece of cloud, dropping down from the storm, like a dangling piece of rope.

And, as we drive, that piece of rope is getting longer.

It is, fortunately, miles off, but I’m driving with one eye on the road, and the other watching this thing reach slowly down, then curve horizontally for a bit, and then point towards the ground again. I’m fascinated, but I should note that, even though this thing is miles off, Erin’s watching with her hand over her mouth.

Eventually, the rope funnel dissipates up near the cloud base, and the thing spins out, without touching down. We arrive in Mecklin, which hasn’t seen a spot of rain, and the passengers in the other car had seen the cloud too. It added a lot of excitement to our conversation at the meal.

I was, truth to tell, somewhat disappointed that the tornado didn’t touch down, harmlessly, in some field somewhere, and kick up a little dust. But perhaps I should backtrack. The other people at the table, Midwesterners to a one, were all quite relieved that the rope dissipating aloft was the extent of our entertainment that day. And I’m guessing they know what they’re talking about.

We’re back in Des Moines, and I have a huge amount of e-mail to slog through. The children are doing well, although Vivian is, I suspect, getting a little tired of all this travelling, and getting a little homesick. She’ll be glad to come home, though she’s going to miss her grandma Rosemarie terribly for the time she’s away.

Not much progress to report on the writing front, although I’ve no shortage of ideas. My mother gave me a critique for The Dream King’s Daughter that’s going to force a substantial change to the tale, but has me quite fired up about it, and that’s a good thing. Otherwise, I’ve been pottering about with a sequel idea for The Night Girl, tentatively entitled The Day Boy. I whipped off 500 words on a prologue, which I’ll share when it’s done.

Finally, though it’s a week late, I’d like to congratulate Dan’s sister Lisa on her wedding. Sorry I missed it, but I look forward to seeing photographs when we come back.

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