'Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore' proclaims a tousled Dorothy having been spat out of the tail end of a tornado. If you fancy following in her little red adrenaline-soaked footsteps, grab your sou'wester, load up on film and head for America 's mid-west. May is storm chasing month. Since the movie Twister this oddball pursuit has really taken off, and now several veteran chasers have set up companies offering 'storm safaris'. While the safari outfits hide under benign names such as Silver Lining and Cloud Nine, you'd be wrong to think it was a sport for the lily-livered. Peril lurks at every corner impatiently waiting to trip you up.
Firstly you have to know how to pick your chaser, and with the line between chasing and insanity thinning it's worth doing a little homework first. Best avoided is the 'wigged out core puncher - the type of fool who doesn't mind if their windshield succumbs to a grapefruit-sized hail stone'. This species is easily identified, with telltale give-aways including 'dead eyes' and overactive salivary glands. Another all too common danger is that of not being able to understanding anything that anyone is talking about - any ideas on the difference between a striated barberpole supercell and a laminar outflow stogie?
Then there's the hazards of the chase itself, including flash floods, flying debris and lightning(the latter being the number one enemy, apparently you're statistically more likely to be struck by lightning than win the lottery.how thoroughly depressing). If you manage to make it through all of the above there's still one more potential pit-fall, Tornado fever. It goes something like this; the atmosphere of being 'under the gun' combines with the mesmerising beauty of the twister, overwhelms the senses and induces a catatonic hypnosis - hence, when it's time to run, you don't.
Chasing is at present a far from an exact science and while veterans spend hours pouring over infra-red satellite images, monitoring pressure systems and fiddling with assorted gadgetry nothing is guaranteed, and most chasers are familiar with 'bust days'(what the rest of humanity refer to as 'fine weather'). Most of the action centres on the southern states, notably the East Texas Panhandle and Western Oklahoma, although they're also known to put in appearances in Colorado and Kansas. As hobbies go chasing isn't cheap, with prices for a two-week pursuit in a four-wheel drive starting at $1,500 then spiralling upwards. If your pockets don't go this deep, you can always try clicking your heels together three times.
The best time for storm chasing in the USA is during early spring.