When it comes to a storm chasing trip, one might wonder if there is a precise moment when anticipation becomes reality. When does the ‘chase’ begin and what constitutes that critical moment when expectations mesh into reality? Does it require the intercepting of a tornado? Is it when we see some neat storm architecture? How about when the vans are loaded and there are few miles between us and Blacksburg? Is it a night at the Motel 6 in Dale, Indiana? Is it a 6am jog on a new road? As always, individual perceptions vary.
As a geographer I frequently remind students that our first understanding of space begins with the space of experience. The word Geography can literally be translated as earth (Geo) writing (graphy) or earth description. Although it is certainly possible to describe locations or place without having physically been there, the richness of our observations, and the subtleties of inquiries are usually enhanced when we explore first hand. There is a certain thrill of visiting a new state and already several of us on the trip have already experienced that delight. For others, Kentucky or Indiana might be familiar territory and we count on them to share their stories and outline their interpretations. In case anybody was wondering, my impression of the corn bread at Windells’ diner in Dale, Indiana is quite good.
I have absolutely no idea if we will see a monster tornado (I rely on Dave and Kevin and increasingly the other members of the team to outline the statistical probabilities and to spell out ‘meteorology terminology’ to my untrained ears). What I do know is that while we had dinner last night a gentleman had the courage to approach a table of 15 people to enquire about the nature of our trip (the multiple antennas on the vehicles in the parking lot tipped him off). He was concerned that there was a tornado approaching and that it would upset his plans to take his kids to an amusement park the following day. When I informed him that the chances were extremely slim, he was relieved – and I was relieved for him.
I think that moment would qualify as a powerful signal that I am no longer in the anticipation phase of the trip.
Bob Oliver (coming to you from room 217 of the Motel 6 in Dale, Indiana)