Desert Storm | Road Trip

When I was a kid I was pretty certain I was going to grow up to be a storm chaser.  (And a teacher, and an architect, and at least eight other things.  I like being busy, I guess.)  I’ve always loved rain and storms and I still get distracted by clouds more than I’d like to admit.

The problem is, I don’t really like going fast.  Ask my best friend about the time I nearly killed us both by trying to grab onto her as we rollerbladed down a road with about a 0.01% incline.  Driving?  Well, I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket yet (knock on wood).  And apparently storm chasers need to go fast to, you know, chase storms and stuff.  So I have contented myself to be a Weather Channel couch storm chaser.

Going across country was a new adventure, and one that brought prospects of ACTUAL WEATHER.  If you live in Los Angeles, you know this is a thing we hear tell of outside our magical sunshine land.  I was excited.

Of course, most of the drive was sunny and uneventful and we mostly just hit some high temperatures and a lot of bugs.  (Kansas, my lord.  Why so many?)  But occasionally we hit some clouds, and we came home with a couple good stories.

The first – and worst – storm came on our second night of camping, four nights into the trip.  We’d found a lake in Nebraska with a stunningly green campground, set up camp, relaxed lakeside at sunset with the lightning bugs and a cup of tea, and crawled into on top of the bed early after a long day’s drive.  That was our first clue: it was stupidly hot.  Around midnight the humidity increased; goodbye sleep.  At 2:30 am, the wind kicked up.

And at 4:45 am, the lightning came.

We spent about 15 minutes watching the clouds flashing, two grown kids with their noses pressed to the screen window.  Then one of us woke up and realized that we were about to be in a tent during a thunderstorm and that was probably not the brightest idea.  Luckily we hadn’t unpacked much since we’d been so tired the previous day, so we grabbed clothes and electronics and headed for the truck.  The rain was just starting and the lightning was so constant that we didn’t need flashlights.  We didn’t have signal.  We couldn’t see where the clouds were heading since it was so dark, and aside from the rumbling everything was just so quiet.  Eerie…

At 5:30 am, something hit our truck.  We were parked under trees but nothing on any tree was heavy enough to make that sound.  We looked at each other.  That wasn’t what we thought it was, was it?  We waited and listened – just rain and wind and thunder.  Waited some more.  Maybe it was a rock?  A pine cone?  There weren’t any pines around.  We sure as hell weren’t getting out to look.

And then it came.

Hail, bigger than I’ve ever seen, just fell.  There was no slow start, no pebble here or there.  The whole cloud just dumped. And it didn’t stop.  We’d see chunks of ice bigger than quarters flying off the truck when lightning flashed.  We were sure the windshield was done for.  I had my camera on the dash but kept a hand on it, certain that the glass would give up and fall in any second.

The hail lasted… I’m not even sure.  45 minutes?  An hour?  Maybe longer.  The trees gave barely any cover and the wind made sure they were completely useless.  At dawn the sky turned pink and green and brown and black for an instant and then the clouds covered up the light for another half hour.  We’d dug our emergency radio out to listen to the local news, and it was mayhem.  Nearby residents were told to stay home from work.  One creek had gone from 3 feet to 10 feet in an hour.  And they’d had reports of egg-sized hail at – and they named our campground.  EGG!  There had been a 10% chance of rain that morning.  Instead, three storms had met and merged right on top of us, and parked for three hours.

I’m not sure when it started to lighten up; I’d slept in the truck so I could drive for a while, since husband had gotten almost none.  At 10 am we packed up the tent while thunder rumbled (it had flooded, and was still wet when we unpacked it a week later), and headed out as soon as we could.  We later learned that storm caused flooding, crop damage, and later in the day, a couple tornadoes.  The windshield survived; we’re not sure how.  The hood, though, looks a bit like the surface of a golf ball if you look at it in a certain way.  Poor truck.

And you guessed it – that was another hotel night.

We ran into rain in other states, and I’ve included some in-the-car shots along the way.

Watching a storm grow over the desert sandstone was absolutely fantastic.  We’ve all seen those photos of isolated rain storms over the desert and I desperately wanted one of my own, and we got lucky on our way home.  Little storms started popping up in front of us, and we’d see a bolt of lightning here or there as we drove.  Catching lightning in a picture while driving is not at all my area of photography, so I had to make do with plain old rainstorm photos.

Standing at the edge of a rocky ravine echoing with thunder was exceedingly cool.  I could have stayed there all day, had it not been for pesky hotel reservations.  Who needs sleep when you have gorgeous views like that?  Husband mentioned that standing on exposed rocks with lightning around wasn’t the brightest idea, so we left.  But what a view!

Would I still be a storm chaser if I had the chance, after all this?  Absolutely… but in someone else’s car.