Was it fun? people ask, knowing I’ve just returned from a tornado chase on the Great Plains.

Sure it was fun. If your idea of fun is sitting in a van for 10 hours a day, reeling in the miles (3500 of them in seven days); or waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen (thank God for Walmarts, great places to hang out); or falling in a ditch in the dark (next time I’ll bring a flashlight); or clogging your arteries with fast food (I had to double my statin drug dosage).

Oh, don’t take me seriously. It wasn’t fun in the sense of an Alaskan cruise or Caribbean vacation, but it was a memorable adventure. One I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

I went on the chase knowing there was no guarantee of seeing a tornado. And I didn’t. But I learned how chasers operate, which was the real purpose of going, and I learned more than I thought I would about the monster thunderstorms that prowl middle America. My work-in-progress, Supercell, will be a better novel for it.

PHOTO: A Nebraska supercell, May 2, 2012.

To ease the pain of long hours sitting on my butt, the chasers I traveled with were a good group: two doctors, a retired dentist (our driver), a lawyer, an arborist from Australia and a grocery store manager from London. Two of them, it turned out, were at least casual writers, so beyond big honkin’ storms, we a had another mutual interest.

Roger Hill, our tour leader, was an absolute joy to be around. Personable and articulate, he harbors the knowledge of a college professor and the enthusiasm of a college cheerleader.

Thanks, Roger, for a trunkful of indelible memories: witnessing the birth of a monster West Texas supercell; listening to coyotes chant in tandem with rumbling thunder; dogging a supercell through a lightning-filled Nebraska night; and chasing a hail beast along the Red River.

Ya know, I think I’ll be back. Still gotta notch a tornado on my belt.

-May 8, 2012-

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