Do I encounter an unusually large amount of strange things in my life? I don’t think so; still, some days I wonder if I’m being specifically targeted.
It was the second day of June and, as usual, I was keeping one eye on the weather as I drove down US 6. As my girlfriend will tell you, I’m a weather geek to an unhealthily boring degree.
Off to my left, I saw an odd column of smoke. Back when gas was cheap, we used to pile the family in the car every spring and just drive around from one column of smoke to another, just to have an excuse to enjoy the nice weather. Yes, there are that many people who burn in the springtime, and more than once it led to me being first on the scene to an out of control brush fire.
But it took only a moment to conclude this was not smoke. Instead, it was a cloud: a narrow tube extending down from a round gray cloud, nearly touching the ground.
It was rotating.
Now remember, I’ve been a weather watcher since I was a kid. As a 12 year old, in 1974, I stood in my back yard when everything became still, and the sky turned a sickly green that seemed to make everything glow from within. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered a tornado had touched down just a few miles north of me.
As a firefighter I went to weather spotting classes, studying what to watch for. We spend many days waiting in the open, scanning the skies with the feeling of being in the middle of a bullseye.
As a fan I’ve been glued to dozens upon dozens of books and TV shows about wild weather; if The Discovery Channel programs anything with the word “twister” in it, it had better not be about dancing or games. I watch the Weather Channel more than people who work there do.
As a writer, I produced a novel manuscript that’s actually about a storm chaser. I put enough time into researching that part to actually get a meteorology degree.
Plus, I’ve actually seen a couple of funnel clouds. You’d think, after all this, that I’d have been able to accept what I was looking at right away. Instead, I spent a few seconds staring at it, open mouthed, thinking: “Is it – could it – Naaaahhhhh.”
That numb disbelief is the only excuse I have for what I did next: I drove into its path.
It looked like it was headed straight toward my brother’s house, for one thing. I was approaching the road he lived on, so I turned onto that road, which would give me a clear area between two fields where I could keep an eye on it. It was there that I had a brief moment of sense and grabbed my camera, snapping exactly one shot that captured the thing.
From there I had a few seconds to observe it. No way was I going to call it in until I was absolutely sure of what I was looking at – there lay ridicule.
The funnel was a long, wispy rope, which is common when they’re near the end of their lives and ready to dissipate. It was also mostly white – cloud colored, you might say – which indicated it wasn’t sucking up debris. What that meant was that it probably had not touched ground at all.
By now it was clear that the funnel was going to pass further north than I thought, so I headed in its direction, which shows why I’m never going to be a brain surgeon. I had to pass over a railroad tracks and past a small woods, and it was while I was trying to look over the trees that a big honkin’ deer ran out in front of my car.
Now, there’s something that isn’t unusual around here. She jumped a fence and kept on running – away from the funnel, I might add. I clutched my chest a little, then sped on past the woods and into the open again, where it was immediately apparent that there was – nothing.
Just a low hanging dark cloud, drifting away, and not spinning at all.
Okay, so what I saw met all the criteria of a funnel cloud, if not a tornado – it doesn’t become a tornado unless it actually touches down, and I never saw that. What I did see I’m pretty certain of, although I’d probably never mention it if I didn’t have the picture.
Sadly, it’s not much of a picture, as the funnel is faint and pretty much the same color as the clouds – I doubt you’ll see it in the newspaper, where it probably won’t reproduce well. As evidence goes, it’s not much. (If you’re online you can see for yourself, at http://i25.photobucket.com/albums/c97/ozma914/funnelcloud1.jpg.)
If it was the real thing, why did no one else see it? I checked – there were no report of a funnel cloud in the area at that time, including from me: By the time I thought to grab my cell phone, the thing was gone. Sure, it was a rural area, and maybe nobody was looking out their window. But why didn’t the National Weather Service detect rotation on their Doppler radar?
Frankly, if I was hearing the story from someone else I’d think they were making it up, or maybe confusing some low hanging scud cloud with the real thing. The best I can come up with is “I know what I saw”.
And isn’t that the international motto of alien abductees?