I can still vividly recall the drive back from Iowa after seeing my best tornado of the 2021 storm season, reminiscing on the feelings of staring down a vigorously spinning column of water vapor, dancing amongst cornfields. These feelings when chasing are all too familiar at this point. I've been running towards storms since I was a kid. Once handed my drivers license, my parents had a hard time keeping me at home. I would be out the door at the first opportunity to see the atmosphere cook up something magical that would leave my mouth wide open, speechless as I stared down what was in front of me. Similarly, I'm still left speechless, with those same little kid feelings of excitement, adrenaline, and awe.
Every. Single. Time.
Growing up, I thoroughly believed I had it all figured out. My "plan" for the longest time was go to college, become a meteorologist, and chase my heart out as much as possible. As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that life is too abrupt to plan. Remember the moments that make you smile, embrace the feelings that come and go, and remind yourself why you are here for all the times in between. Well, here I am, 22 years old, and I will proudly say I attended college for meteorology, yet abruptly dropped out and am now pursuing my love for photography instead. The childhood "plan" I once had no longer stands valid. However, the way I look at things now, rather through a lens, has allowed me to carry out the final and most imperative part of my plan: chase my heart out.
These past two storm seasons for me have been interesting. In 2021, I found myself racing across the plains for a week with my friend, Jonah, in the hunt for Mother Nature's fury once again. No tornadoes for us during this week, but for once, that wasn't my goal. Rather, the goal for me was to find peace, and continue to heal.
A few months prior to last year's storm season, my sister Evelyn unexpectedly passed away at the end of February. It sent my family into a state that we had been unfamiliar with. We experienced grief, anger, confusion, and many emotions that fifteen months later, I am still trying to identify. Evelyn was my best friend. She was the last person to say goodbye to me when I left to go chase. I simply refused to leave the house without a warm hug from her. She was the first person I always spoke to when I was done chasing. Those blue sky busts that left me frustrated didn't seem so bad after I heard her voice over the phone, exclaiming, "Hi Charlie! When do you come home?" As much as I craved being surrounded by the fury of storms, there was a level of peace coming home to Evelyn that reminded me that I am okay. After she passed, the main question that entrapped my brain was, "Will I be okay?" For a while, I wasn't so sure.
Then came May 24, 2021.
While chasing in Western Kansas, Jonah and I were left with a tough decision. Abandon our initial storm and race north to early, yet developing supercells, or drop south to a lonely storm rapidly ramping up. After a brief discussion, we chose to head south, eager to see what looked to be a promising evening ahead.
During the drive, we began hearing reports of tornadoes from the northern cells near Selden, Kansas. Optimism was fleeting, however we weren't discouraged. We felt confident with our decision to head south, so we trekked on. As we approached the now tornado-warned beast, I began feeling connected to this storm, in an unfamiliar way to others. Not in a way that radiated adrenaline, awe, and excitement, rather an overwhelming sensation of there being a presence there. Unsure if Jonah was feeling this way, I kept to myself as we got closer and closer, until eventually, we found ourselves under the monster.
Once parked, Jonah and I underwent our routine race to set up our tripods, stare into the mesocyclone, and begin capturing this beautiful hail core, violently protruding from the center of this massive, fear mongering supercell. Well, fearful, but only for a brief moment.
As the sun dipped below the clouds, light pierced through and illuminated the storm in a way that was previously unseen. It was at this moment, I understood. The presence I felt was my sister. No tornado, but the presence of Evelyn overwhelmed me with a sense of peace that to this day, I know I will never experience quite like again. And that's okay, because from her presence with me during that chase, specifically when the light arrived, assured me that she is along for the ride every single storm I race towards.
I will be okay.
It's been nearly one full year since that day in Kansas, and although I will always be hurting, I will always be healing. I have my sister along for each time I chase, hunting for those moments between violence and peace. I no longer feel the need to call home for her. I know that when I put my camera away and the storms fade off into the horizon, rather than wishing I could speak to her, I know she is speaking to me; Through rainbows, sunrises and sunsets, I am excited to see her magic more this season.
I've given up on planning life. Let the storms come as they please, and I'll chase my heart out regardless. Storm chasing is interesting that way. Like many others, we thrive off the inability to plan ahead and simply hope for the opportunity to see Mother Nature work wonders for us at a moment's notice. When those moments come and go, we reminisce and realize how privileged we are to seek out our own personal sparks of wonder, and find answers. I'm fortunate to have found my answer for chasing last season.
When the time comes that I feel the need to call home for the last time after my final chase, I'll know I don't have to.
Home is with me, and she made it all happen.