Storm Chaser Shorts

Derecho Isn't Just a City in Texas

 I woke up late and had a fire department meeting in an hour, and it was a horrible day for a drive, so we went for a drive.

In our defense, it was a time-sensitive errand ... and we didn't know it would be a bad day for a drive. As I dragged myself out of bed Emily told me about a line of thunderstorms to the west, but we were headed east. Surely we could get things done and be back before it hit.

We didn't know it was a derecho, which is meteorological term meaning "big honking storm like a hurricane except in the middle of the country", which wouldn't have fit as easily in a headline. We also didn't take into consideration that the system was moving at 60 mph. By the time we got back it was, as the old timers say, all over but the shouting.

Just after we turned back I crested a hill on a country road and almost ran down a group of wild turkeys. Um, flock. Herd? Wait, let me look it up ...

Huh. Rafter. A group of turkeys is called a rafter. Who'da thunk it? Anyway, that was my first clue that this wouldn't be an ordinary trip.

Your rafter may vary.


There would be a lot of shouting. And wind. And those big huge drops of rain that look like there's a bucket full in each drop, and yeah, a little hail mixed in with that. We hit some of that, then about five miles out of town Emily told me the clouds were rotating, which I could believed because by then the western third of Noble County was under a tornado warning. (We were under a thunderstorm warning, which in retrospect seems underwhelming. It occurs to me there should be a derecho warning, or possibly they could call it a land hurricane, which sounds cooler.)

We pulled over at a good spot to watch. (In other words, safe.) I got out to see, yes indeed, there was a small rotating wall cloud going over our heads. I never thought to get some video, which is odd, because I'm usually all about grabbing the camera; but I stayed standing outside the car long enough to see it wasn't just a random cross wind--it was, indeed, rotating. I didn't see a funnel, and so far as I know all the damage around Noble County came from straight line winds ... which did just fine by themselves, thank you.

Emily, who's much smarter than me, and the dog, who's also no dummy, had stayed in the car. So I was the only one who got clobbered when another wall of those bucket-sized raindrops reached us.

We tried to drive on, but have you ever tried to drive while inside an automatic car wash?

You have? What the heck's the matter with you?!?

So we didn't drive, for a while, having found another place to get completely off the roadway. Eventually we went on, once all the foliage around us was no longer leaning at a 90 degree angle. Or 75 degree. Or ... oh, who am I fooling? I hated math. They were blowing sideways, okay?

Now, people can sometimes cause problems by trying to do the right thing. As we inched down the highway, an oncoming car flashed its high beams to get out attention. It was probably the driver who did it, not the car, but never mind.

They were trying to warn me, but it had the opposite effect, because I was looking at that passing car when Emily said "TREE!"

My wife doesn't yell about trees unless they suddenly appear in front of us, in the twilight haze of sideways rain. It had blocked about half of State Road 8, and it wasn't something I was going to move, so I called the Sheriff Department business number.

It was busy.

Different storm, same action.


You gotta understand, that just doesn't happen often. My first impulse was just to leave them alone, but the tree was across a state highway, after all. I got through by portable radio, and after we determined we'd do more harm than good if we stayed where we were, we headed back toward Albion.

That's when we came across a tree branch, halfway across the road from the other side, but this one was something we thought we could do something about. It was obviously just a large, dead branch, so we hopped out, dodging cats and dogs (still raining, you see), ran over to it, and realized it was way bigger than we'd thought from inside the dry car, where the dog was laughing at us.

Okay, it was a tree.

But it was a dead tree, so by hauling on it together, we were able to break the worst of it off. then we threw the larger broken branches off the roadway, and then we got the heck out of dodge, because dodge was a highway and visibility wasn't exactly 100%. Especially since the pavement was starting to flood, and who knew which way other drivers were looking?

 Yeah, I missed the fire meeting.

But we made it home safely, and we had dry clothes, and even electricity, which is more than a lot of other people could stay. The moral of the story is, I suppose, the same as it's been all year:

Stay home.

(Just the same, after we were safely home I looked at Emily and said, "But now that it's over, it was kinda fun, wasn't it?" She agreed. The dog was a dissenting vote. And this attitude is how people get into trouble.)

I suppose I should advertise my novel Storm Chaser here, but the weather was a windbag enough for all of us.




Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights

Nine Thousand Photos

Getting back to work on my fire photo book project, the first thing I did was get all the photos together. I went through all my hard drives and thumb drives and backup drives, and even drove the car just to make sure I had all the drives covered.

After making the first pass through all the electronic photos already in my possession, I came up with 9,154 files in 184 folders, for a total of 17.7 gigabytes of pictures.
"Great Scott!"
"Great Scott!"

Yeah, that's a lot of gigabytes ... especially since I figured the finished book would have about 500 photos in it.

And I haven't even finished begging other people for their photos related to the Albion Fire Department. Heck, I haven't even tracked down all the people who said they had stuff for me two years ago, before I got off on several tangents and put the project on a back burner.

But it's just the first run through. A lot of those pictures will get passed over when I start on the final outline, for various reasons: not quite clear enough, too much like similar photos, not as good when converted to black and white, and so on. Plus, a large part of them are from the last few decades, and I'm really hoping someone steps forward with older ones--the AFD has been around since 1888, and I've only been taking pictures of it since 1980.

Organizing projects like this can be incredibly difficult and time consuming. I didn't really understand that while going into Images of America: Albion and Noble County. Now I do, but here I am, anyway.

But hey--it's a good social distancing project, right?

You want to talk about old pictures? This one predates the fire department: It's Albion's second courthouse, which was replaced by the third one in 1888. And no, I didn't take the picture--it was found at the Noble County Old Jail Museum.

book cover humor

book review: The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

I planned to take a break from long works after reading The Passage, which I described as "War and Peace and More War". But my wife wanted to forge ahead into the sequel, and it's hard to say no considering how good the original was.
The Passage covered an entire century, starting with an ill-advised government experiment (aren't they all?) and ending with a world overrun by what we could loosely call vampires, with a few human settlements hanging on. Two of our constants are Amy, a six year old subject of the experiments, and Arbogast, a government agent who once had a daughter of his own, and against orders decides to protect the little girl.
As The Twelve opens we find ourselves right back at the beginning, following a small group of survivors as they try to escape the virus spreading through America. At first there seems little connection between them and characters from the previous book, but as their paths converge those connections do appear. By the time we jump forward to "present" day we're back with the people from the first novel, including a mysteriously slow aging Amy, who turns out to be the key to evolving events.
Speaking of evolving, the hordes of infected are now under the control of the original experiment subjects--The Twelve--and in a horrible city of human slaves they're planning a new order that could be quite literally a fate worse than death. The only way to stop them: Infiltrate the city, and kill The Twelve.
How hard could it be?
The Twelve is epic and complex, and yes, it's long, but my only complaint is that you might have a little trouble keeping track of characters. Luckily Cronin is good at keeping things and people clarified, for which I assume he has a flow chart marching along every one of his office walls. Its been awhile since I've been willing to trade sleep for reading, and this time Cronin is the reason why. The Twelve might not be right for someone looking for a light read, but for anyone who wants to be drawn in and actually care about the characters, this is the place to be.
Maybe--just maybe--The Twelve is actually better than The Passage. If that's so the third book in the trilogy, which we just picked up, will have to be pretty spectacular, indeed. And pretty long.
The City of Mirrors awaits me. If I disappear for a while, don't be concerned.