Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tornado Chasing For Dummies -- Wild Ride 2008

*Blogger's note: two prior storm chases this year were rather unproductive, if amusing in my fumbling, stumbling-into-stuff kinda way. Yet, even in the midst of plenty...*
Wednesday, June 11, 2008. Remind me to compliment the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center online. They convinced me it might be profitable to venture into east/central Kansas, on a storm chase. Despite the distance, the prohibitive price of gas, and the fact that it's Kansas. Miles and miles of boredom, oh my.
It was a long, increasingly hot journey, from Lakewood, Colorado, to Hays, Kansas. And at around $4.00/gallon gasoline, it was a pricey venture, even in my fuel-efficient Saturn. I almost had to put my pet rock Seymour up for collateral for gas when I stopped over in Colby to refuel. And things weren't looking so good -- bright, unthreatening skies, very unstorm-like -- as I got there.
But the good folks at the NWS SPC aren't there to delude goofs like me into ultimately expending three tanks of increasingly pricey gas for nothing. I ventured on east, past Hays, seeking enlightenment. Past Hays and before Russell, Kansas, what I was seeing ahead and to my southeast was suggesting that the trip wasn't wasted, baby: the skies were turning nasty.
Beautifully so, if you're cracked like me.
I parked off the highway for a spell, and sought out a radio station that might have a weather update; one on the AM dial (it might have been 1070am) reported possible tornadic activity near a place called Olmitz. A place I didn't initially find on my map (not realizing it was about 35 miles south and west of where I currently was, outside of Bunker Hill, KS). I decided to advance a bit more eastward, and bailed off the highway to sit and await developments at about mile marker 216, a bit northwest of Ellsworth, KS, and a place where I had a road net to north or south on, as well as east/west on I-70, in case conditions warranted. I parked on the north side of the interstate, and awaited developments.
Unknowingly, I'd parked myself in a the kind of place I'd been trying to get to. Sort of.
As the skies got gnarly in a enthralling kind of way, other reports began to surface: severe thunderstorms in Barton and Ellsworth Counties; a tornado reported north and northeast of Claflin; another reported near Holyrood and Lorraine. I was keeping busy with my map, when I found the places noted. I noted the track of the reported storms.

S/SW of me and coming my way.
Fool that I am, I elected to sit tight. I had my nose pointed south, in case a quick exit was called for, but I wanted to see what was lurking to the SW.
Whatever might be lurking, a cow-peeing-on-a-flat rock rain opened up, cutting badly into my visibility to the south. Then came a report of a possible tornado NW of Ellsworth; only nine miles SE of me! Unfortunately, I couldn't see it; the rain was coming down in sheets, and hail was becoming part of the mix. But I suspected something might be nearby, as the winds were getting downright stout. Even though the hail was only pea-to-nickel-sized, it was hitting my vehicle with a force that could only mean very strong winds.
My excitement level was rising, as was the strain on my sphincter, all based on my inability to see much more than yards away from my vehicle. With the winds rising as they were -- I now guesstimated the winds blowing in excess of 50 mph -- if IT was out there, IT was shielded from my vision by the virtual monsoon. Whether it was a rain-wrapped tornado, or just damaging winds from a strong thunderstorm, I couldn't see to take a photo of my quarry, unless it waltzed up and introduced itself. Great for a photo, but bad for getting me and the Saturn back home in two relative pieces. Besides, I don't know any waltz steps.
I never saw IT, nor do I know if IT was closer than I wanted IT to be; by the time the fury of the local storm had passed, I was hearing about warnings both east and NE of me.
This annoyed me greatly. I went on east and then north for a spell, in time to hear about a tornado warning for a town in Ottawa County; a quick check of the map showed me in Ottawa County, but about 12-15 miles SW of the reported tornado sighting. Which, from my vantage point, I couldn't see.
About this time, I kinda knew how General Patton felt: the whole vicinity full of tornadoes, and I'm left OUT OF IT?? makes sense if you saw the movie, and I digress.
It was beginning to rain again -- hard -- with more of that pea-sized hail, but before I took cover in the shelter of my now thoroughly unamused Saturn, I got a photo of what I believe was a funnel cloud, a few miles to my north (see above). But only one: the skies opened up again, and visibility dropped to yards again.
I was about 425 miles or so from home by now, and I wasn't equipped to chase at night. One stinking photo for 425 miles. Grrrrrr.
With reluctance...and a bit of an urgent need to relieve the spinchter...I turned about for the long ride home. The highlight of which was the chocolate shake I bought in Colby, along with tank #3 of precious, Seymour-collateral gasoline. If ever oil was rightly called black gold, it's nowadays.
I suppose I could have mounted a sail on the Saturn, and saved some on the fuel usage. Then again, the savings would have been wiped out by my having to drive home from Tennessee.
The next day, I went online and learned what I'd been in the middle of, out there west of Salina, Kansas. Some will probably say I was lucky, not to have wound up a more interactive part of it.
Perhaps true. I just think that after about 850 miles, about $110 worth of gas, and getting the snarf beat out of me in a severe thunderstorm, I can't say that one friggin' photo of a funnel cloud was exactly what I had in mind.
But it sure was a wild ride for a time.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tornado Chasing for Dummies -- 2006

June 2006, proved a disappointing storm chase season for me. So when conditions were projected to be 'potentially unstable' for Denver and points east on Thursday, June 22, I decided to give it a go. After all, being "potentially unstable" myself, I felt a kind of kinship with like company.

Usually I chase alone; this time, I had a passenger, an invisible one I didn't invite: Murphy, and his dadgummed law.

For instance, in late May I had reloaded my 35mm film supply, as well as picked up an extra battery for the camera, in case my two year old battery went phfft, or I ran into particularly good shooting.

I apparently forgot to put them in the car. I blame Murphy (ML # somethin' or other: You'll forget what you forgot you forgot, until you need it, when your 'forget' forgets, and you'll realize you forgot it). So all I had along was the one partially-used roll of film already in the camera: four shots of which remained.

Of course, I could have remembered this in time to rectify it with a stop and purchase of extra film in Bennett, CO, my usual staging area east of Denver on I-70. But it wasn't until after I departed Bennett -- hurriedly -- that I made what proved to be my second discovery. The hurried departure was the result of Murphy's first discovered intrusion into my chase plans (ML # somethin' er other: weather and it's real (vs projected) tracks don't give a damn about your best laid plans). What was supposed to be good conditions evolving along the foothills and moving east was, in fact, doing so: but south of I-70. Not from Denver to the east, but from Colorado Springs to the east/northeast.

I was on the wrong side of the building storms again.

Thanks, Murf.

So I made a quick (but legal...*wink*) redeployment to just west of Limon, CO, where state highway CO 86 heads back west/southwest from I-70. The storm track appeared to be moving toward, or just south of Limon and points immediately south; I reasoned a deployment into the sparsely populated area of eastern Kiowa and/or Elbert County would potentially allow me to overcome Murphy.

It did; and it didn't.

Prodigious in my storm chase deficiencies is my vehicle: a Saturn Ion. It's a great vehicle for what it's meant to be; an all-terrain, all roads/conditions vehicle isn't one of them. As I learned in '05, using the local dirt roads for more precise interceptions in a storm wasn't an option, as the dirt turned to slime, and my tires (new in '05, and now surpassing 25,000 miles of use) were only adequate for non-snow/ice-bearing pavement. So I was stuck with Hwy 86, or any other paved roads I encountered.

In Kiowa and eastern Elbert County, that ain't many. And 86 -- a good road, to be sure -- is only two lanes, with not a lot of places to turn around in a hurry, should conditions require me to make a tactical withdrawal with the alacrity of a striped-ass gazelle.

As I plowed along west, both visual sign and weather radio sign became encouraging: ever-more ominous storm clouds were before me, and a radio report of a possible tornado near Franktown in Douglas County (west of Elbert County) gave me cause to think I might get lucky, even coming in from the wrong direction, again. Then came another weather alert: tornado sighting near the town of Elbert (where it reportedly damaged a couple homes, also to my west). Another head-to-head reckoning was stupidly on the menu.

But and again, from the wrong direction: it's called storm chasing for a reason. Running into the storm from head-on isn't what seasoned storm chasers consider too bright. Fortunately, I've never claimed to be too bright.

Finally, at a point roughly 10 or so miles east of Kiowa, CO, I found IT: a funnel cloud (it wasn't on the ground at this point). I also found rain. Hail. And some pretty gusty winds, what with the bucking and rocking my Saturn was doing. I quickly pulled over and got off one shot before Murphy's Law chose to reveal my third discovery: with a tired phffft, my camera battery died.

(Expletives -- in heart-felt plurality -- deleted)!

On top of that, after my one and only shot of the funnel -- which I wasn't even sure I got at the time -- the skies opened up. Including through my open window.

I hope Murphy got as wet as I did, before I got the window up.

So there I was, stopped along 86, vehicle rocking, cursing Murphy and a dead camera, while my one observed funnel cloud was now lost to view through the deluge. It was obvious to me that there might be more fireworks yet to come; it was also obvious to me I was in a lousy spot, at a lousy point in a getting-lousy storm, with a lousy camera inoperative because of a lousy dead battery, and a lousy invisible passenger I blamed for the whole lousy situ-lousy-ation.

Thus up to my ass in lousy -- not that you would have guessed it -- a rather frustrated decision demanded I do the one smart thing I did that lousy afternoon: I turned the Ion around with heavy heart and blue air, and ran like a lousy wet, striped-ass gazelle back in the direction of I-70.

On the way back to Denver, I encountered quite a photo op on the backside of the storm; hoping beyond hope that perhaps the camera battery had enough umph to take one last photo, I tested Murphy.

It actually took (before it went phffft again). So all in all, the two photos I managed that day tweren't all bad, all things considered (I cropped the funnel photo, but left the backside of the storm photo in it's original form). But I was damned if I'd ever take Murphy along on another storm chase. On this I was adamant.

ML # somethin' er other: Regardless of my or anyone elses' plans, Murphy goes where and when Murphy wants.

*Sigh* Yawp.

Note: no 2007 episode...but there sure as hell was in June, 2008.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tornado Chasing for Dummies -- 2005

Thursday, June 2, 2005. With a forecast of moderate to severe storms "guaranteed" for Denver and points east, it was time to set out once again and venture forth into the maelstrom. Unlike my two previous efforts in '04, I opted this year to base my operation from the town of Bennett, Colorado, right off I-70. Bennett had been a source of a couple of near-misses in '04, and offered an excellent road net for pursuit in all directions.

Upon my arrival there, I was reinforced in my decision by the presence of a couple of professional storm chase vehicles. I wasted no time in chatting with the pros, and made good use of the time availed as we awaited storms that were still building up on the foothills west of Denver. One patient pro noted my vehicle of choice -- my '03 Saturn Ion -- and suggested that it might not fare well on the dirt roads hereabouts, once the rains turned them into "grease". Not having experienced the dirt roads hereabouts after a good rain, I didn't necessarily heed or dismiss his observation, but I did have cause later to remember it. Despite my lack of equipment and formal training, the chasers didn't object to my following along as far as I'd be able to.

Soon it became time to move: with a terse "the approaching storm is developing faster than the radar could track", the scramble was on to head north, and position to "ride it out". During this 'hurry up and wait' mode, I made some notes on tips the storm chasers imparted to me:

--patience is a storm chaser's best friend

--backside pursuit is the idea; plowing into a storm head-on is unduly risky and usually unprofitable (aka, my 2004 experiences)

--know your area road net well (I had a map, albeit a 15 year old one...)

--be mindful of not only the road net, but the terrain around the road net, to avoid getting into a situation before one can get out of it (ya learn as ya go...)

--get some equipment and get some training from SkyWarn (their little suggestive dig for a six-fingered amateur).
Additionally, I had my own lesson to include: a catheter, or at least a bottle to pee in ;-)

The storm came up and dumped on us: rain, at times torrential, with pea-sized hail and strong, buffeting winds. The storm chasers stood pat riding it out, and then took off with some urgency to the north. As I would learn later, their on-board computer's doppler indicated a classic 'hook echo' setting up to the N/NE of us, on the now backside of the storm. Soon they came to a dirt road intersection, and turned east in pursuit.

At least it'd been a dirt road before the downpour: now it was exactly as the storm chaser had warned me: it was 'grease'. As their 4x4s continued to barrel east at near highway speeds, my Saturn was sliding all over the place, and beginning to sarcastically 'oink' at me. My speed necessarily fell away in a hurry, so I could remain on what remained of the road surface. The storm chasers were quickly out of sight, and there was no way I could catch up to them in the slime of this road. With the lesson sloppily learned, I regretfully found a place to turn around, and eased my way back the four miles to the hard surface highway we'd left, with my Saturn sardonically oinking all the way at me.

The car and I would have a heart-to-heart later.

Once again on solid road, I was mocked by a tornado warning near Hoyt, Colorado -- a few miles down the road I had just abandoned. Instead, I returned to Bennett, then headed east on US 36 toward Last Chance, Colorado. Plenty of storm activity was still brewing all along the I-70 corridor, and out this highway I had plenty of room to maneuver and see whatever was coming, going or breathing hard (ducking a few boos and throwd items).
Running east, a few miles SW of Last Chance, I knew I was closing on something: I passed two storm chase vehicles off to the side, along with a half-dozen other vehicles, including two tractor-trailers. Obviously, something was out ahead of them. Forgetting the patience lesson, I plunged on, intent to close with whatever it was. In the distance -- perhaps ten miles -- I could see what appeared to be a funnel cloud, though it was too far away to effectively shoot with my camera.

At that time, a decision needed making: the radio announced that another storm had gone tornadic NE of Kiowa, and was moving E/NE, toward Limon, on the I-70 corridor. I was approaching Colorado Highway 71, with a straight shot south to Limon, about 45 miles away. One last glance to the east -- whatever had been there, was gone -- and I decided it was Limon or bust.

Once again, I forgot to heed the tip about patience: I headed south to try to get into Limon before the storm did. I did consider pulling up short of Limon and letting the storm pass; but I didn't know how big the storm was, and there was nothing much out here north of the town. I decided to gamble and go for Limon ahead of the storm.

I lost.

Several miles north of Limon, I met the leading edge, as I began taking rain and some rather ferocious crosswinds. Winds that were stout enough to challenge my staying on the road a few times. Moreover, in various spots, where field accesses to the road existed, I noted tumbleweeds crossing the road. Like missiles. In one case, I swear I saw a prairie dog hanging onto a missileweed, screaming as it blew by.

Okay, so that's a bit of an embellishment: the prairie dog was probably too terrified to scream. It was probably just the wind, or my car; it never much cared for rodents, flying or otherwise.

Now came the hail: one-inch diameter, hitting the car with sufficient force to make me wince. The car's earlier sardonic oinking was replaced with epithets of its own, probably regarding my lack of patience.

A mile north of Limon -- I could see the town from my vantage point -- I cleared the hail, and found myself amidst another group of storm chase vehicles. All eyes thereabouts were glued to a rotating, swirling wall of clouds, mottled in a deep, black-green, approaching low and fast from the southwest, less than a mile away. The clouds looked as if they were 'tumbling' toward us. From that angle, I had never seen anything like it (the two photos above don't do the motion justice, trust me).

I had a notion that running, one way or another, might just make sense. But I was too busy shooting photos to exercise it. Ominous as it appeared on its rapid approach, it didn't sweep us or the town of Limon off the map; but I did watch a somersaulting cloud go tumbling by us at little more than an eighth of a mile. That was a new one for me. No one held up score cards, so I don't know how well it did on presentation and technique.

I then learned from one storm chaser that the storm had "flattened out", and lost it's tornadic punch. He couldn't exactly explain what we had just witnessed, either; but he had "awesome" video of it. "Perhaps my professor can explain it", he mused.
With the storm "flattened out", I had little more to accomplish here, and with dusk settling in, I wasn't equipped for night chasing, so I again -- tornadoless -- turned for home.
The storm might have "flattened out", but it hadn't yet "emptied out".
About six miles west of Limon, it began to rain. Eh. I continued on at 70 mph. For about a quarter of a mile. Then the skies just flat opened up (see photo you can't see in, above). I took that photo after my speed had dropped to 25 was the heaviest rain I've ever run into in Colorado in the 34 years I've been here. I began to hope I wasn't going slower than the Queen Elizabeth II, in case she was out here somewhere.
At least the Saturn didn't know the theme from Jaws to further taunt me with.
Again, no tornadoes. But I'd learned a few things, including (a) my car knew how to taunt me audibly (b) I might have witnessed a screaming prairie dog, or not (c) I had seen something meteorologic that I'd never seen before and (d) I would have to work on those tips I'd been given by the storm chasers. The future would show how well I enacted them.
UPDATE: in a later email (about a week later) from one of the chasers I'd chatted with early on, I learned that my decision to turn back when I did in the muck was one of the rare wise decisions I'd made that day: about three miles east of where I'd turned back, the chaser's vehicles had bogged down in the mud, caught between two flood plains. Took them two hours to dig out and wait for the water to recede. So they missed the Hoyt tornado, too. I didn't ask if their 4x4s were oinking at them as well...
Next up: TCfD III -- 2006

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Tornado Chasing For Dummies -- 2004

*from the website tornado season 2010 approaches, I'll revisit a couple-three of my prior 'tornado chasing for dummies' experiences from previous years*
Wednesday, June 9, 2004. A date which will live in personal infamy. With the weather reports suggesting good conditions for severe weather with a moderate possibility of tornadoes, I headed NE along the I-76 corridor, to a rest stop near the burg of Wiggen, Colorado. With the potential storm track E/NE, I figured I was in a good position to await developments right there.
But the weather gods decided to toy with me, first: shortly after I arrived at my staging area, a tornado warning was broadcast...for southwest Denver. The weather gods have no mercy, but they do have a matchless sense of "gotcha".
Nonetheless, the storm track indicated an E/NE direction. The last laugh might yet prove mine.
For the next 90 minutes, I sat, observed, listened, calculated. All of which proved I wasn't very good at the calculating portion of the litany. The storm was tracking E/NE. But on it's current course, it would pass well SE of me. And time was awasting: I needed to get to Bennett, Colorado, and fast. From where I was, it'd take the better part of an hour.
As I raced south, then west, then south again, the skies ominously darkened, the clouds lowered, and off to my SW I saw promise: a puny-looking funnel cloud, rating a minus Phfft-1 on some scale (probably the phffft scale I'm known to employ on a cornudopia of things). Yeah, I did shoot it; yeah, you can barely discern it (if I had bothered to include the photo...I didn't).
I was after bigger game.
Now southbound toward Bennett, I ran into the leading edge of the storm, as wind, rain and hail began to pummel me and impede my progress south. Progress made more urgent when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning, five miles N of Bennett, Colorado, moving NE at 20 mph. I was, at that moment, 17 miles north of Bennett, headed due south at 65 mph.
Unfortunately, my angle of pursuit was, again, faulty in the extreme: I was plowing into the storm, and not chasing it, as is recommended. As the storm intensified over me, my speed of advance dropped to 25 mph, and my visibility dropped to sh**. The fields on either side of the road were under water, and I was concerned about running afoul of a freighter out here, as much as I needed to keep my eyes glued to the south, where 'IT' lurked.
Finally, I came upon a couple of TV news vehicles, with occupants out in the elements, shooting something in the air. I stopped and managed to get one photo of a funnel cloud in remission (see photo at right, top). 'IT', after having touched down and run a spell, slunk back up into the clouds. I'd missed meeting it head-on by scant moments.
Being philosophical about such things, I waxed poetically along the lines of *$@#*%! or words to that effect.
Having used up the film I had along, I turned and headed back home, where I found the weather gods had one more "gotcha" to throw at me.

The effects of the previous storm on the Metro Area were in clear evidence as I hit I-70 into east Aurora: traffic came to a screeching halt. For the next 90 minutes, I was part of a 0-5 miles per hour crawl on I-70 west, seeing evidence here and there of earlier heavy rains and hail. Finally, a traffic report revealed the reason for the tie-up: at I-70 and Colorado Blvd, storm drains had backed up, and the highway was under 2 feet of water. But the water was slowly receding, and traffic was muddling through. Soon, I finally saw the upcoming pond.
As I started into it, I neglected to notice a couple key elements that gave the weather gods the last laugh: (a) the large-tired truck to my left was coming up faster than I was moving and (b) my driver's side window was down six inches. As the truck caught up to me in Colorado Lake, a text-book arc of water came washing over the top of my Saturn. And through the open window.
Now, most folks would think that getting caught in a flash flood in a car is a bad situation, indeed. But folks who know me wouldn't be the least bit surprised to have seen me -- drenched in muddy water and laughing my ass off -- driving along with one hand, and wiping down the trashed dash with a desperately-yearning-to-be-elsewhere gym towel.
The weather gods are up 2-0, on gotchas and last laughs.
Next up: TCfD II -- 2005

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Absurd Is Good

*originally published in the Idaho Springs CO Mountain Messenger June, 1996; revised 1-22-2008, and again 5-19-10*
In an email from a cyberacquaintance, she regaled me with her latest series of pet misadventures, concluding with how one of her dogs -- adorned in a medical 'lampshade', had pinned one of her precocious cats to the floor, resulting in a minor riot that barely avoided the calling out of her local National Guard.

She concluded the email with an almost anguished "my life is absurd".

My response to her: "and you should be different from the rest of us, how?"
To poorly paraphrase an old fast food restaurant commercial, "absurd is good". It must be.
Absurdity permeates society. We live it, breathe it, do it. We watch it on TV and in the news. We say, write, imagine and pass laws based on it. We celebrate and honor it. We go so far as to elect it.
Think my premise is absurd? Read on, and I'll show you how absurd your denial is, though that it's okay, 'cuz it's what we are, either way.
We humans are, apparently by Nature, absurd. We can think and reason. We can differentiate between right and wrong. We can invent, create, and improvise. We can take a dream from image to reality. We have, over the course of many thousands of years, gone from living in trees, caves and snake-infested gardens, to living in advanced, energy-efficient, controlled-climate, convenience-cluttered dwellings. We've evolved from fire to the microwave. We've gone from wall etchings and smoke signals to satellite cell phones, texting, 'tweeting' and email. We can see around the world on TV, instantly. We've explored the Marianas Trench, Mt. Everest, the moon, and sent our research probes far beyond our Solar System, and all without Ralph Kramden's help.
At the same time, we have evolved from killing one another with stone and spear over issues of self-defense and food, to killing one another with all sorts of simple and advanced weaponry, over issues of religion, land, possessions, sex, and even the color one wears in the wrong part of town, or over the failure to use a turn signal.
Some of us support no-limits abortion by the millions, and decry the death penalty for the most heinous of criminals, while others view abortion and murder, and seek to make Texas the final destination of all capital crime committers.
We enforce speed limits on automobiles built to go well above those limits. We consider 18 year olds eligible to vote or go overseas to fight and die in a war, but not old enough to drink alcohol. We make legal some addictive substances -- alcohol and nicotine -- and make others illegal.
We've advanced medical procedures and health care to allow people to live an average of 30 years longer than they averaged at the beginning of the previous century, yet have developed a series of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons systems designed to wipe out life on the planet a thousand times over. We preach religious values and principles, and sue it out of schools.
We are absurd. We are irresistably drawn to absurd. We admire it, admittedly or not.
We elect politicians who make the most absurd claims and promises. We decry their absurdity, while electing them, based on who makes the most appealingly absurd claims and promises. Even as the absurdity of our choice becomes apparent, we often re-elect them, as the lesser of two absurdities, even when they're moreso.
We watch the legal profession argue new and increasingly off-the-wall liabilities and damages. We hear criminals become the victims, and the original victims become responsible for what happened to them in the first place. We hear that personal choice and self-inflicted behaviors are really disabilities, deserving no self-accountability or responsibility. We hear that in school, God is heresy but Allah is worthy of study (but don't draw him, lest you be branded politically incorrect and an infidel), competition is bad, self-esteem trumps standards of excellence, and that standards are bad and should be "dumbed down". We spend more money per child now than in the 1960s, and have much less to show for it.
We hear 'love thine enemies' and they'll reciprocate, while throughout history, no 'Munich' has ever paved the road to Nirvana; it has only led to many a Pearl Harbor and September 11th.
Face it, folks: we're absurd.
But not all of this absurdity is bad. Why? Because absurd is good. Why? Because absurd is FUNNY. George "Dubya" Bush? Disagreed with Dubya, and it was patriotic; disagree with Obama, and it's racist and sedition (about as absurd as it gets). AlGore as an "expert" on the global warming/carbon-offsets scam? Barbara Walters swooning over Fidel Castro? Paris Hilton and Britany Spears having more than three working brain cells between them? Pat Robertson as the voice of God? John McCain as a presidential candidate? Scientology is a serious religion? Grits? Arizona doesn't have a right to enforce federal laws? A Treasury secretary who's a tax cheat? Guam's going to tip over? Robert Gibbs?
Absurd. Utterly.
But absurd is vital to the human experience. Absurd feeds our impassioned craving and need to laugh at ourselves and our respective lots in life. Absurd 'grounds' us, especially when we're getting too self-important, self-absorbed, self-righteous, pompous and arrogant. Absurd serves as a reality check and reminds us that, contrary to what a few absurd 'pundits' feel about presidential vocabulary and carbon offsets, we aren't the final say in this Solar System, let alone beyond it. Even if we, and not cows, chickens or Nancy Pelosi, can handle a DVD remote control or actually uttering the truth for once.
Agree or not, like it or not, absurd is here to stay, folks. Especially in a mid-term election year.
But this isn't all bad. Absurd is good. Especially for bloggers like moi.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

A MidWinter Night's Iaido Nightmare

*A classic from my '03 archives, and one that still gives my pet rock Seymour nightmares, even though he's in Texas*
My imaginary life is often as ludicrous as my real one.
In January, the on-line writing club I belong to sent me the following exercise: write anything you want, but it must begin with the sentence "I knew right off there was going to be real trouble this time".
The group facilitator knew this was an open door to this knucklehaid ;-)
I had just finished with one of my usual lunatic email responses to a humor column by Amy Chavez, concerning the Japanese art of Iaido: the drawing of a Japanese sword (katana), and all the related necessities to bring off a successful ceremonial and casualty-free iaido session.
I knew right off there was going to be real trouble this time. And, as usual, I didn't take counsel of my fears, having bade them to go get a drink and chill out. I should have joined them.
It started when I read a recent column by an American living in Japan, Amy Chavez (Japan Lite), about the ancient Japanese art of Iaido: the proper manner of drawing a Japanese sword (katana). It included the setting up of a proper room for doing so (dojo, a special place for martial arts training), the proper attire for same (hakama, a traditional bushido garment with a skirted bottom), and the necessity of learning from a proper teacher (sensei).
But I didn't need no stinking sensei: I had Iaido For Dummies, The Video Series (patent pending litigation assessments for damage, etc). Throw it in the VCR, don the Japanese fighting dress in the privacy of my own abode (so I wouldn't have to open up some katana whupass on some cretin making fun of my chicken legs), and learn to dazzle and scare the snarf out of friends, colleagues, neighbors and Errol Flynn with my sterling, self-taught katana-manship.
So there I was, one mid-winter night's eve, poised before the TV, minding my own business and looking like a bit-playing buffoon in a Japanese 'B' movie, chicken legs and all. And then -- while doing some strange warm-up exercises and sounding (un)like Jackie Chan in a Hanes underwear commercial -- IT showed up. IT being a rather large, ungainly millar moth. It's's cold and snowy outside. What in the Sam Hill Horsefeathers is this darn fool piece of cloth eatin' buggaratus doing in my abode?
Before my horrified pet rock Seymour could urge restraint, I forgot the tape playing before me, the silly attire I was in, and the weapon of choice in hand. I went after the moth with the ultimate Ginsu flyswatter/slicer-dicer: "Okay, moth-san, say yer prayers! Gyaaaa!"
I made it clear at the outset-san: no prisoners would be taken.
At the unrealized height of the frenzied melee, I seem to recall noticing a rather authoritative knocking/pounding on my door, increasing in urgency and volume: "POLICE! OPEN UP!"
It seems that during my heady pursuit of Mothra, a neighbor or two were astonished and just as horrified as Seymour, to see through my shredded blinds, "a crazed dude in a funky dress, wildly swinging a really long knife", and basically sword-o-matic-ing everything within reach, in a flurry of chopped and shredded furniture, plaster, fixtures and moth parts, thereby resulting in a frantic 911 call.
Fortunately for me, the responding officer(s) knew me, having responded to previous calls concerning my culinary (in)acumen in the kitchen, and were less nonplused by the widespread carnage in my abode, than I shortly would be. They did relieve me of the training tape, though, before departing, ignoring the cowering pet rock in the corner, under what was left of the computer desk.
But no worries: Amy doesn't send me anything further about the history and/or how-to of anything remotely bushido. Granted, she DID send me a column about the art of Japanese sumo wrestling, but apparently assumes I'm not about to don a giant thong diaper and attack my loveseat...
2009 Update: so far, I haven't ;-)
2010 Update: not yet...

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

The (dubious) Return of Aesop's Fables

*originally published 7-20-96; first blog published in 2006*

..uh, not really.

Prompted by the July 19 blog of Miss Cellania, I have dug deep into the archives, and retrieved a rather peculiar column. A column that did run in the newspaper I wrote for back in the late 90s, but never bothered to post on either my website or blog.

Until now.

There might well have been a good reason heretofore; you be the judge as to the wisdom of changing that long-held decision:

The (dubious) Return of Aesop's Fables (mid 1990s-ish)

I doubt he'd be amused.

There once was a land where three rural mountain towns were born. Born at a time when a great gold rush was on. These towns prospered, as only towns having gold could.

But all good things must end. And 120 years later, it more than had. Fact is, life there had long settled firmly into the category of 'sucks'. Infrastructure crumbling. Little future. Less hope. At least the ghosts had it good.

Then came a promise of resurrection. Thanks to the people. The people and the ballot initiative. The people voted in a new gold rush: limited stakes gaming. And on a magic day in 1991, a new "gold rush fever" returned to those once crumbling, now rejuvenating towns.

In previous times, the original gold rush brought prospectors. Speculators. Dreamers. Schemers. Crooks. Saloons and whores. In 1991, it added tourists and gamblers to the mix. And not long afterward, came something else.

The truly weird.

This is a tale, albeit a true tale. A tale of one day. One atypical day in an average work week. I went to work expecting nothing out of the ordinary. But I failed to reckon that on that particular evening, a full moon would cast upon the land it's mystical version of blondethink, in the form of wrap, a half moon, a Polaroid, and an abused purple reptile.

Gawd knows what Aesop would have made of it.

It began as I started work, and learned of a most unusual happening: a driver of a bakery truck, making his early morning delivery of bread to a nearby casino, was in counting his buns and loaves as the new day dawned. 30 minutes later, he emerged to find a surreal sight: his bread truck had been completely saran wrapped. No note. No witnesses. No X Files music. Just a seal of disapproval. Was he the first, or Homer Simpson, to utter in dismay, "Doh!"?

But this was only the beginning.

As I pondered this oddity in the early afternoon of my shift, I was sought out by several employees. A crisis loomed: a threat to Mankind. Something akin to the Apocalypse. A crack in the universe. One big enough to swallow us all, if it'd been a black hole.

There, sitting at a slant top slot machine, was a patron of ponderous girth, blissfully doing what a patron does at said machine. But his jeans weren't doing what jeans generally do.

They'd sunk.

A patron noticed it first. She pointed it out with disgust to a couple employees. They pointed it out to other employees. They collectively stood around, first twittering amongst themselves. Then they surmised that this was not a good thing. They mused what should be done. It came to resemble a bad cereal commercial from the 1960s:

"You tell him".
"I'm not gonna tell him, YOU tell him".
"I'm not gonna tell him...."
"Let's get Mikey..."
"Yeah, he'll do it!"

I didn't like the commercial or the cereal. But with the memory of the bread truck story wearing on the delicate balance between my threadbare professionalism and my ornery sense of humor, I was moved to make the most of a rare opportunity, even as I pondered the potential End of Days, so to speak.

I called the shift manager over the radio, and notified her that we had an "unlicensed slot machine in play on the floor". I knew this would bring her otherwise indifferent self from wherever it was she liked to lurk out of sight and mind, in a big hurry. A gaming violation is a gaming violation, and on that shift, her responsibility.

It did. She responded promptly. As she arrived, I pointed. She looked. She gasped. Her face went beet red. The other employees made themselves scarce. After a moment of sputtering, she demanded to know what I was doing about "it". I lamely suggested that 'she' was the horsepower on the floor, not me. With a glare that would split atoms, she muttered a sharp "deal with it" and stalked off.

They got Mikey.

So I walked over, and rather politely suggested to this off-duty plumber* that if he'd shift his jeans up a tad, he might avoid having a far-sighted customer mistake his 'crack' for a slot machine. With a gruff "oh", a grunt and a ponderous shift, he made the universe safe for democracy and small flying birds again. Meantime, the shift manager spent the rest of the day sputtering to anyone who'd listen, "do you know what that SOB (aka, me) did to me?", not realizing they'd been laughing at her and about it all afternoon.

As evening wore on, I thought the full moon's half-approximation was the end of it, pun intended. I learned how wrong I was, as a shuttle bus driver presented to me a polaroid photo that'd been left on his bus. A photo of a woman. A rather attractive one. One we both recognized. One sans attire. Not even a thong.

I lost the tug of war for the picture.

Finally, the long evening was over. I boarded the bus for the ride home, thinking I'd seen and heard it all for the night.

Wrong again.

The story went 'round the bus of the casino down the hill, with a new parking lot. A parking lot blasted out of the mountainside. It was supposed to be a multi-level lot. The money ran out at a ground level. There'll be projects like that. So they decided to make do with their one-level parking lot.

Some marketing whiz for the casino cast about for something unique for the 'grand opening' of this mountain-gouged parking lot behind the casino. Something that would highlight the lot for customers. The story goes that she settled for a purple alligator. Don't ask me; but I'll bet she was cleaning toilets in the bus station downtown the next week.

At any rate, or so the story went, that day was Grand Opening. The Purple Alligator -- a young woman dressed in a purple alligator outfit -- was out flagging down cars, and with gleeful animation, meeting and greeting customers. A good time was had by all who weren't yet under the care of their casino pharmacist**. Save for two.

With the gouging out of the mountainside, loose rock was in abundance up and down the face of the now sheer cliff that marked the back wall of the parking lot. A few specimens heeded Newton's Law of Gravity, and fell. One landed right on top of the hood of one vehicle. When the owner of the vehicle went to retrieve his car, he found what the softball-sized rock had used in place of a cushion. He was not amused. As he returned toward the casino entrance, his amusement level apparently deteriorated rapidly. To the point that he couldn't wait to discuss the matter with the casino management. He wanted instant gratification.

He apparently got it by beating up the Purple Alligator.

I suppose his defense could always be that he'd been emotionally scarred by Barney as a child. Even I'd have to consider voting to acquit on that one, but I digress.

As the story-telling and laughter on the bus subsided, I sat back and pondered what ol' Aesop might have conjured up as a moral to this strange day. Perhaps it'd be something along the lines of "Comes the full moon, don't discount the half-assed". Or not. However more or less philosophical Aesop would have proven to be here, at least he wouldn't have to rant about what "that SOB (aka, moi)" did to him...unless he saw I'd used his name in conjunction with this column.

* dunno if he was a plumber or not...

** bartender

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Deceiving The Beast

*First run in late May 2008; since it seemed a good precursor for the last tornado chase season, here we go agin...*

Note: The first storm chase opportunity came sooner than expected, and defied conventional logic: big tornadoes moving N/NW, close to the foothills. I may have gotten one funnel cloud in decay phase, nothing more :( The storms did better, direct hitting Windsor, CO and Parkersburg, IA. Both of which will recover; strong as a tornado can be, the human spirit's pretty feisty in small town America. Now on to the relevance of the photos...
The first thing one will notice here is the structural, aerodynamic, and philosophical design differences in the two photos. Both vehicles are not of one mission: one is a multi-purpose vehicle, with just one of it's various missions to pursue a good tornado photo*. The other is geared solely toward that objective.
From there, the specifics diverge a tad.
One vehicle is roughly 2200 lbs; the other is 16,500. One vehicle is front-wheel drive; the others is ten-wheel drive. One vehicle cost the owner $14,000; the other is costing it's owner(s) several hundred thousand dollars. One runs on regular unleaded gas; the other runs on diesel. One gets 35 mph on the open road, and even better with a 100 plus mph tail wind; the other gets 3 gallons to the mile...maybe.
One is equipped with all the latest nothing for storm chasing, save for the driver's car radio, fallible eyes, and highly questionable judgement; the other is equipped with all the latest meteorological tracking features, including wind-and-roll-resistant cupholders for four.
One can outrun any almost any storm that exists if the driver gets some sense before it's too late; the other has no intention of doing so. One plans to get close, shoot and scoot; the other...plans to do what the owner(s) claim has never been done before: photograph a tornado from the inside.
Sorry, dudes: Dorothy and Toto already claim that distinction; ever seen The Wizard of Oz?
Houses, witches on bikes and brooms, flying monkeys...we already know some of the really weird crap that inhabits the inside of a tornado. Even Twister has been there and done that, as Bill Paxson and Helen Hunt got the ultimate blow*** from a CGI F-5.
Several hundred thousand dollars, dudes, and you've already been trumped.
Of course, if my angle of pursuit is incorrect, or my positioning in a storm's path is inopportune, I may beat the Tornado Tank to the 'perfect photo op'. With that possibility in mind -- despite earlier claims of being able to outrun trouble -- I decided to explore adopting some of the philosophy of the owners of the Tornado Tank, and figured a little 'armoring up' wasn't a bad ideer.
So I tried an experiment on my five year old Ion (*2010 makes it now seven years old*) : I lovingly layered it under sheets of kevlar armor. I reckoned that ten layers would give it sufficient protection in the event of a tornadic direct hit.
Initial tests were proof positive: the car was relatively impervious. And totally immobilized.
Unless I want to have a U-Haul truck tote my armor plating to east of Elizabeth, CO, and spend a couple hours or so strapping and fitting it on, and then just hoping that a tornado might form up and run right over the top of me. Which it would have to do once I'm armored up, because the car ain't goin' nowhere with all that armor on.
And the odds are almost as good of a tornado picking where I sit completely immobilized, as my buying a winning*** powerball ticket.
Then it hit me****: the most important -- and historically crucial -- difference between my storm chase vehicle and the vastly more technological and pricey version pictured above, would be in the disguise I give my armoring job: I make my weighted-down Saturn look like a mobile home.
I'm guaranteed to bring every tornado within a supercell thunderstorm down on me with that ploy; the Tornado Tank doesn't look enough like a trailer home to get much more than a passing "hmpft!" from a meandering leviathan. But an Ion, dressed out to resemble a double-wide on a wind-swept plain, with a nice bullseye drawn on it's roof, is a mesocyclonic magnet.
The end of May and June are just around the corner, and I might just beat the Tornado Tank to the punch.
Long as I have a long, downhill head start...or my Ion's disguise fools a mischievous tornado into a false sense of eagerly anticipated trailer park mayhem. Stay tuned...
* since G(overnment)M killed the Saturn product line, this won't be a future advertisement
** this is sometimes a family-friendly blog, I hadda remind myself...
*** well actually, I think the tornado's got a better chance
**** with my luck, prolly not...

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Monday, May 10, 2010


*Blogger's Note: for better or worse -- readers be the judge -- this is Blog Post #500. Slaughtering the words of Winston Spencer Churchill, "never since AlGore's last speech, has so little been said, while taking so many words to say it"*
In Star Trek II, one sees the playing out of a Star Fleet training scenario, infamous among cadets for wreaking havoc on the simulator room, and the cadet in command. It is known therein as the Kobyashi Maru scenario. And -- as would come as no great surprise -- the only Star Fleet cadet to ever beat the "no win" scenario is hisself, Admiral James T. Kirk.
'Cuz he reprogrammed the scenario.
I'm here to tell you, folks....I ain't that smart.
Oh, academically, I dun okay, grammar used herein aside. But when it came to puzzles, I was, how shall I say it....on par with a door knob. I hated puzzles. I didn't care for doing puzzles. I didn't care if they were put-together puzzles, crossword puzzles, number puzzles, or the kind of picture-association, geometric mosquito spit, that required a deeper grasp of analysis than I was up to.
Call me intellectually lazy...I just didn't apply myself in that mode.
It's not that, given half my life, I couldn't put together one of those scenic 1,000 piece puzzles of a manatee stealing a six pack of Bud Light from Flip on a Frontier jet tail fin; I just didn't feel like giving a generation's worth of time to sort all the pieces, and put them together over a quarter-century or so.
Besides, for a period of my life, there were pet cats in the household; and we all know how cats like to scatter stuff. I just didn't feel like chasing a cat, trying to retrieve a piece of a manatee that the cat probably would have spit out, had the cat given it a moment of thought or visual analysis. But I digress.
Anyway, I hate puzzles. Which is a bit ironic, since in my job, I have to solve puzzles. But never once in that job, have I had to chase down a cat who snatched a key piece of one.
At any rate, on the eve of Mother's Day, I called dear ol' Mom to wish her a happy one. And as the conversation went on, she reminded me of my innovative method of solving one of those puzzles that I have, for all of my adult life, loathed.
Leave it to dear ol' Ma, to remind me of an event I spent more than 30 years trying to forget.
I don't recall just when the infamous Rubiks/Rubix Cube came into being. But like mood rings, pet rocks (the real ones, not my freak of geologic nature, Seymour..."am NOT!"), etc., for a while about every home in America had at least one Rubiks/Rubix Cube in it. A Rubiks/Rubix Cube -- for those who ain't ever seed one -- is a six-sided puzzle. Each side is one color, different from opposite sides. The idea is to twist and manipulate the Cube until the colors are all messed up; and then, put the Cube back into it's original "all sides one color" mode.
I can't speak for others...but I was abysmal at this kind of puzzle. I spent hours, trying to work out a strategy in my head, visualizing this stupid Cube being put back into original form. And the plan never came to fruition in actuality.
Perhaps I should have tried while drunk; since I never got stoned, perhaps I missed out on the shortcut to getting it back to whenst it was when I first got it.
Others tried to show me how to do it; but all they got from me was the equivalent look of the AFLAC Duck, listening to Yogi Berra rattle off some of whatever it was he made famous saying. It just didn't register.
But I was stubborn; I kept trying. And many of my friends, long since having mastered the Cube, had moved on to other silly fad sh** -- like polyester leisure suits -- and were giving me tons of grief, 'cuz I was letting this silly, six-sided son of a plastic cubeoytch, get the better of me.
One day, the fire of my inner determination to persevere went phffft. So I began to seek a face-saving shortcut.
I pondered painting my Rubiks/Rubix Cube. Alas, I couldn't find paint to perfectly match the crappy, worn plastic colors my Cube was fading to. I'd be outed for my inability with matching colors and brush stroke.
I pondered taking the Cube apart, and re-assembling it. Alas, I never took anything apart that I didn't have leftover pieces afterward; and anything I disassembled, never worked again.
I could say that I woke up one day, and found that my Rubiks/Rubix Cube had, like in a country western song, run off with my best girl and pick up truck. Alas, I didn't have a truck, and my best girl wasn't, after hearing that idea.
I mulled saying that my Rubiks/Rubix Cube had been hijacked by aliens; again, a non-starter. 'Cuz anyone including me knew, the aliens would put it back together correctly, before impregnating it with some snake-like alien spawn. It would look like it should, before it grew six foot hairy ears, and started eating the neighborhood.
I came to the conclusion that, unlike Admiral Kirk, I had come up against a 'no-win' scenario. Yet, I didn't react as he would, a few years' hence; I found a curious level of acceptance with this realization. I found that, when all was taken into account, I could accept defeat at the cubes of a diabolically stupid human contrivance, designed solely for the purpose of demeaning me.
I would, as one might expect of one still wet behind the years in the throes of young male adulthood, "man up" and accept things as they were.
Having found this acceptance, and calling it good, I proceeded to act upon it in a manner one would expect a young, wet-behind-the-ears adult man would.
I took my Rubiks/Rubix Cube out, and shot it. One 20 gauge round. *BLAM* Mourners omit flowers or Super Glu.
Acceptance never felt so good.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

WAAAAAAH-thering the Storm

*not only did I wind up with a second column from the alleged undergrad from MSU -- I won't name the prestigious institution misrepresented here, I'll leave that to a commenter later on -- but he kept it up in email, and later again in comments, getting increasingly irrelevant and personal...which merely gave me more to play with, as well as other commenters..again, from 2007*

Perhaps you'll remember back in early October, I had a column regarding how easy it was to start an argument, accidently or otherwise, by talking about politics, religion...or the weather. Well, a column written by Rick Rantamaki -- a tongue-in-cheeker about wishing his school guidance counselor had recommended he become weather forecaster -- got under the skin of one alleged-to-be undergrad in a college meteorological program. And when this character read my blog response to Rantamaki's critics, it got under his skin as well (to get an idea of how much, visit the column Politics, Religion....And the Weather? a few entries back, and look at the comments section).

Well, Mr. Alleged Undergrad finally quit leaving comments on the blog; instead, he continued his whining to me in email. And frankly, like my jousts with foreign email scammers, it got more and more amusing, in a "how LOW can we go" way, with each subsequent email he sent. Several times he pronounced that he was "done with this". At least until his next email tantrum, that is.

I didn't need to have kids; I've got all I can manage, dealing with 'kids' and their pouty peculiarities online (aka, scammers and one weather forecasting whaaaaaaaa-nabe). Though granted, I don't have to clean up after 'em this way. But I digress.

I'll at least do this individual the courtesy of not listing the name he went by or the email address he used; as you read his successive missives, I think you'll appreciate the courtesy this is. And yes, my regular blog readers...there is a bit of bad Skunk...bad, bad Skunk herein. Sometimes, the temptation to lower myself to the level of my opponent is just too strong to pass up. You women out there whom I know can appreciate that all of us males, at whatever level of 'adult' we achieve, retain the essence of a child in us; an essence that can resurface without too much encouragement.

Guess I should set the table as to why he left off in comments where he resumed in email: he had already assumed a faulty premise from Rick Rantamaki's column. That faulty premise: that Rick said or suggested that weather forecasters shouldn't interrupt his TV programming with storm warnings. Rick said no such thing in his column; and I asserted to the aggrieved party of the alleged forecasting whaaaa-nabe part, that he needed to go back and re-read the column and save himself the upset. Instead of doing that, he began a crusade to get me to declare -- with a simple "yes" or "no" -- if I thought weather forecasters should interrupt TV programming with storm warnings, especially tornado warnings.

Besides the fact the question was unnecessary, I reminded this alleged college undergrad that I had already answered his question on the subject. Early in our jousts in the comments on the blog, I wrote this: being an ex-farm boy from Iowa, weather jokes were rather common when a forecast went phfft. But even the most laughed-at forecaster back then got everyone's attention when they broadcast a tornado warning. I have never personally heard a living soul complain about having their TV programming pre-empted by a tornado warning for their area.

Last time I checked, I, too, am a "living soul". Far as I was and am concerned, the question was answered right then and there. I urged him to go back and re-read it for clarification. But that was, apparently, too tough an assignment for this lad of dubious reading comprehension: he kept up demanding, in various ways, a "yes" or "no" answer to an already discredited and frivolous question.

Please note for the reading sensitive and regular visitors hyar, that while I don't tend to use the language that this alleged college student did, I didn't edit out his use of it, either. Read it exactly as he wrote it. In fact, he insisted in one of his last salvos (after I closed out this entry) that I "quote him".

Careful what you wish for, Potty-Mouth; I did.

Thus he begins in email:

why can't you answer "yes" or "no"? That's all I soon as you say one or the other, I will drop this whole thing (I have every reason to doubt that, especially if I'd tweaked him with a "no"). Why do you insist on beating around the bush and trying to make me look stupid by talking about some shit that is completely irrelevant? It's a simple question that just requires a yes or no answer. evidently you answered the question already...well, tell me once again and use language that I can understand. Just say "yes, they do need to interrupt TV programming to save people's lives" or "no, they shouldn't interrupt TV programming to save people's lives". Is that so hard?

Bad Skunk...:

I'm just working with what you're giving me. As I have previously stated, your question is based on a false premise you incomprehensibly drew from Rantamaki's humor column (I've never met the guy, but he writes some rather funny stuff). Even after it was made clear to you he wrote no such thing about not wanting storm warnings to pre-empt his TV programming, you persisted in foolishly pursuing that line. First with him, and then with me. I answered your question in a manner that any literate college senior could and should be able to understand. I am not obligated to make it simple for you, merely because you insist it be so. The world doesn't make life simple merely because you insist it be so. Meteorology won't be simple merely because you insist it be so. All the technology of the day doesn't prevent occasional blown forecasts, and that should be very clear to any level of meteorologist, including you.

So choose, lad: focus on your chosen vocation, or on a silly argument that you lost with the first blog comment. Beyond my primary career, I have plenty of time to indulge in this for laughs and amusement. Do you? As a college senior, I would think not. But we are from different generations. Times and values change.

Like with some of my email scammers, I thought that might have put paid to it. Wrong:

Ok then...well, let's just imagine that I was a stranger on the street that you had never met and was conducting a survey, and I asked you "Do you think TV meteorologists should or should not interrupt TV programming to let people know about threatening weather?" You had to circle "yes" or "no"...what would you say? Fuck Rantamaki's column and everything else we've talked about...what would you say?

As others have learned with me, I treat the F-bomb as indication of a lost argument, and degradation of the validity of their point of view:

*Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz*...employment of the F-bomb is indicative of a lost argument and the tactic of the last resort. If you were a stranger on the street and asked me what you just did, with the F-bomb qualifier, I'd give you no answer whatsoever, as you'd not be deserving of one.

That didn't go over well:

Jesus Christ, have GOT to be kidding me. Ok...let's try this again then. Let's just imagine that I was a stranger on the street that you had never met and was conducting a survey, and I asked you "Do you think TV meteorologists should or should not interrupt TV programming to let people know about threatening weather?" You had to circle "yes" or "no"...what would you say?

Bad Skunk....baaaaad Skunk:

Yes, I suppose Jesus Christ was a man. No, I'm not kidding you. Now that we have that established, let's imagine that you're a stranger on the street that I never met, and you were conducting a survey, and the premise of your survey question was based on misunderstood original information -- due in no small part to reading miscomprehension on the part of the survey taker (aka, yourself) -- and I pointed this out to you. And despite having that pointed out, you continued to demand a yes or no answer to a question you've been told was, is, and will remain incorrectly concocted, as well as the fact that your question had been answered during the correction (by me) phase, and you were too obsessed at winning a silly argument, to grasp it. Would you be surprised if I just walked on and ignored you? Yes or no are options, not required answers.

And what is this "You had to circle "yes" or "no"...what is this, Russia? Iran? North Korea? Since when is a survey question asked by a total stranger that I'd never met, requiring of a yes or no answer? Perhaps in a totalitarian society; this one ain't, lad.

So before you throw another fit, go back one more time and re-read (a) Rantamaki's column and (b) all of my responses to your comments on the blog. If you read thoroughly and carefully, you'll not only find my answer to you has already been given, but you'll find the original question was unnecessary in the first place. Or you may opt to continue to have your tantrum. I'm good widdit, either way.

To quote the knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, "he chose....poorly":

Alright dude you're a fucking pussy that's too afraid to say what he really thinks...that's the bottom line (uh, not really, but he goes on). I understand every fucking word you have said, and here's what I got..."I'm a fucking pussy, I'm a fuckin pussy" (is that what you got? That isn't what I got...but that's what he says he got, and he goes on). So, I'm through with it! You're too scared to say yes or no because you're afraid of what you're great viewers may think of you. Fuck that man...say what you think (he don' read me vewy well or often, do he? But he goes on)! What I think is that you think that they should interrupt, but you don't wanna say that because you want people to believe that you could care less either way. That's what I think, and that's the assumption I'm gonna make unless you tell me otherwise. You know should run for some kind of political office because you know exactly how NOT to answer a question and turn the whole thing around to make it something completely different from what it really is. Since you're so good at that, I think you would make one hell of a politician (do I sense an endorsement hyar? I think not as he goes on). This was no argument, but you tried to make it one by making false statements about me. Put yourself in my place (I'd have to dumb down way too much, no thank you, and he goes on)...what if someone wrote an article that said something like "all reporters suck balls and blow goats". Would you be happy with that (yeah, probably, since I'm not a reporter, but he goes on)? Naturally, you will say that you would laugh it off because of what's been continually discussed here, but deep inside you know that would piss you off (actually, deep inside I'd still laugh about it, but he goes on). And you just pick out things that are completely irrelevant and unnecessary to say like the circle yes or no shit. What was the point of saying that you fucking prick? Did you REALLY not know what I meant? I think you did, but you make yourself feel good by point out some stupid ass typos and once again changing the subject. You're a fucking loser....just keep writing your stupid ass blogs and making fun of people when they call you out on some of the bullshit you say. What ever you do...don't try to defend what they're saying about you by answering the questions (uh...yeah, what he said..and he continues)! Just try to point out some imperfections on them to change the subject and get everybody focused on something else.

Well, why not? I'll keep writing my stupid butt blogs with replies like this:

LMAO...and you were upset about being made to look stupid, eh (a few exchanges above, he complained about ME making HIM look stupid...)? Guess you don't care about that anymore. Fine with me. Having demonstrated in your very childish way that you've lost the argument you should never have engaged in from the outset, you've shown your true colors in the epithet-laden drivelfest you've concluded on (except that he ain't concluded, and I continue). My readers will be able to decide for themselves on this one, lad. Again -- though you assure me that no one else will read any of this -- I will acknowledge to any of your cyber-surfing classmates that your pithily expressed opinions and demonstrated reading inadequacies are not held to be indicative of the development of your peers, or the instructors who further your peers knowledge base. In fact, if any of your instructors wander by, perhaps they'll see the need therein to provide you with some remedial instruction and assistance, so as not to allow for any thought or notion suggestive of misrepresenting the quality of the (name omitted) undergraduate program.

After all, they wouldn't want it said later that when you melt down on the air because someone poked fun at one of your forecasting gaffes ("Oh YEAH? DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO F***ING DIE IN THEIR F***ING TRAILERS BECAUSE YOU MADE F***ING FUN OF MY MAKING A LITTLE F***ING MISTAKE ON THE F***ING FORECAST? YES OR F***ING NO!"), that you are a product indicative of the quality of their program.

Untrue to his word, he wasn't "through with it":

You know what...there's absolutely nothing left to say to this (so he keeps saying, and he goes on). I can see that you're not gonna budge either way to answer a simple yes or no question, so I'm through with it (no, he ain't, but he goes on). *Sigh* and there was no argument to start was just me trying to get someone's opinion about something that seems to be harder than pulling teeth. For whatever reason you chose not to answer the question and cause me to waste I don't know how much time of my life dealing with a closed-minded, politically speaking, baby (he must be a progressive; he's not responsible for his actions, someone else is...and he goes on) that would rather turn a simple question into something that is completely off base. Well, dude,, I guess, "win" something that was not even a contest (I don't have to pay taxes on the winnings, do I? Baad Skunk, and he continues). So screw it...I know meteorologists should break in to alert people, and that is what I will do regardless of what people tell me (oy vay...the mental density hyar is something to behold, and he continues). Hopefully I can save a few people's lives that care enough to do something about it, and if the rest of them want to try to act like bad-asses and say "it's never gonna happen to me", well, then go ahead and let it kill them. I will at least have a clean conscience (since you spilled all the filth out in your emails, maybe you will, and he continues) and know that I did everything I could to help them. I will definitely feel bad about it, but there would be nothing else I could've done. So, again...yeah, you "win". I know all I need to know.

Well, no, he doesn't. But eh...what does ol' Skunk care? But ol' Skunk has another 'baaaad Skunk' moment, figuring he didn't mean what he said yet again:

Still harpin' on a lost cause, eh? Lad, you didn't 'win' because you simply don't pay attention. Good luck to any audience you forecast for, if you read a weather model as well as you read and comprehend text. You best work on that. From what I've seen here, work on it a lot. And I still don't consider the (name omitted) undergraduate meteorology program as faulted, based on just your demonstrated shortcomings.

Yeah, yeah...I know:

See...why did you have ot keep it going like that? I said YOU "won" who needs to learn about reading comprehension? And why did you have to say the thing about the meteorology program? That was completely unnecessary....everything that you have said about this is completely unnecessary. You're an idiot (a subjective opinion, not altogether inaccurate since I'm willingly continuing this dialogue, and he continues)! Ha...that's all there is to it. How does reading comprehension play into interpreting a model anyway moron? (duh, of don't have to read and interpret a tells you everything you need to think and say...*bonk* the whaaaa-therman, and he continues) So just shut up about all the reading comprehension stuff...shows how much you actually know about weather. By the way, I was just trying to say that I was through with this useless discussion (for about the umpteenth time, and he goes on) but you had to go on with your "lost cause". Again...who need to work on the reading comprehension now, skunkboy?

*Ear to ear grin as another baaaaaad Skunk moment evolves*:

You know (name omitted), you've convinced me of something: you're really not a college senior in an undergrad program. You're an 8th grader -- and I might be overestimating you even then -- who not only can't comprehend what you read, you're terribly immature and don't mean a single word you say, either. Several times now (my math may be as bad as his word, so I won't go back and count all of his "I'm through with this", and I go on) you've said you were through with this, via varied degrees of tantrum. And several times you're back, throwing still more of a tantrum. Do your parents know what you're doing on their computer? Bad (name omitted). Go to your room and take a time out.

And while you're standing in the corner, pouting over your bad behavior, I'll be mulling the entertainment versus the educational value of this series. When this post goes up on the blog, your penchant for making "terrible twos" look grown up will merely provide additional laugh fodder to the readers, to be sure. But perhaps more: many of my readers are parents themselves, and they'll look at this, look at their own kids, and suggest they make sure the kids not only learn their reading comprehension well, but they learn to mean what they say and say what they mean, too. And they might even throw in some points on rational, mature debate technique, too (not that ol' Skunk is a role model there, but I sorta digress and I go on).

As for you (name omitted)...storm on, lad. See what I just did there?

Yawp...bad Skunk. Baaaaad Skunk.

Now, His Nibs may fire back yet again (he did, twice more and as drivelly as heretofore, until with a last "so THERE!", he finally picked up his marbles and ran home to Ma), even after multiple promises to be "through with it". Perhaps to you readers, all we just had hyar is an adult (sorta) version of "is not!".."is too!"..."IS NOT!"..."IS TOO!". Maybe you'll argue it was equally demeaning to him and yours truly. Perhaps it was. But was fun. And be that as it may....I still won't trust a weather forecaster who can't comprehend basic English, and says there's no reading comprehension involved in interpreting a weather model. He better hope one of his alleged instructors doesn't happen by and read that little gem that qualifies as a full-fledged "don' git it".

Now, if he'd of said that there was nothing to interpret on a "weather model" who looks like Becky Ditchfield (KUSA Channel 9, Denver)...he and I just mighta had to finally of agreed on something. Rrrrowrrr (guys, just trust me on that).

NOVEMBER 23 ADDENDUM (WITH EMPHASIS ON DUMB): Well...(name omitted), as unable to read and comprehend as he is saying things he doesn't mean -- two superb character flaws for a future failure of a weather forecaster -- **** wasn't done yet, even though he said he was (again). And for all his claims that I steered the discussion off-topic, he had to come back, make some very off-topic comments and figure that I wouldn't have the guts to post them.'s **** and more of his childish drivel under the dishonest heading of "one last quick question":

I so badly wanted to be through with this, but I just found this to be all too funny. Why did you delete the comment about you being single? It's true isn't it? HAHA! You're just a fat, old SINGLE fart wh has nothing better to do than sit in front of a computer-screen all day aren't you? Well, listen man, you're gonna have to do more than "slap my wrist" to impress the ladies, ok? Hahaha!! that on your blog.

No problem, Junior. I'll even post my reply:

I had removed it because you were on restriction and you had expressed so much unhappiness about straying off-topic -- something you've done so much of -- I thought I'd help keep you on-topic by deleting the obvious loss of focus on your part. But to answer your last question (which, since you don't mean what you say any better than you understand what you read, I doubt it), I will be happy to add your last childish burst to the blog; you've even moved non-commenters to comment about you. Adding in this will merely underline and lowlight what they've already come to know about you and the complete embarrassment you bring and are to the MSU undergrad program.

I'll be happy to quote you here. Stupid is as stupid insists on being quoted.

That was fun. But as you read the comments section below, you'll see he still wasn't done; though once he started into insulting some female commenters, I did *bleep* those comments, and began using my latitude as "benevolent dictator" of this blog.

(2010 Note: ...when he started attacking female commenters, those comments of his I zapped, as unacceptable on this blog, then or ever. At any rate, he finally ran out of steam, and faded away. He resurfaced for one comment on a column almost a year later, but kept it civil. I hardly knew him ;-) At any rate, perhaps he's a weather forecaster today. Hopefully, a wiser one who takes care of his listening audience, when weather threatens. At any rate, enjoy the comments string).

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Religion, Politics...Weather?

*Another choice retrieval from 2007, wherein I commented in defense of one blogger's column, only to draw the ire of his detractor. Over weather. And it got better: I got a second blog post out of this, and twice the number of comments as this one drew. Sit back and enjoy a blast from the past*

Doesn't matter if you're trying to be funny or serious. Wanna start an argument? Talk about politics. Religion.

Or the weather.

That's what one Southern Humorist writer Rick Rantamaki at did, both on his blog and in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a major newspaper in Atlanta, Georgia. From some of the responses, you'd think the guy had smeared a national treasure or a sacred religious icon.

He did neither. He poked some good-natured fun at weather forecasting. Few of us over the years haven't. Well, a few of those forecasting types -- or at least a couple, who want readers to believe they are among those weather forecasting types -- were appalled that some they assumed to be ill-educated lowlifes, had actually dared to have made light of weather forecasting.

There was apparently nothing in this tongue-in-cheek humor piece on forecasting that they found amusing, but one thing specific they chose to key in on was this quote from Rantamaki's column: "When a tornado warning is issued, why not invite the trailer park folks down to the TV station? Compared to trailer parks, TV stations are relatively tornado free". More on the dysfunctional duo in a mo'.

For those of you who live in a furiously active tornado zone -- and for those of you therein who live in trailer parks -- you can appreciate both the humor and the reality. A trailer home is about the last place you want to be in an approaching tornado. A ditch or a TV station -- anywhere -- is decidedly better.

At any rate, this column drew a number of negative comments -- perhaps from a few authentic forecasters themselves -- which Rantamaki was tickled to highlight in a follow-up blog entry. That update (on his blog) drew the further ire of two persons of dubious humor/writing comprehension, with sort-of implied weather forecasting expertise, as their comments exemplify:

tis i said writes: "There's nothing funnier than listening to someone who thinks they know about weather talk about weather, but in reality, they don't know a thing about weather and what goes into creating forecasts. I hope nobody interrupts your precious little TV programming anymore to try to save your life though, buddy."

And "a future jerk with a bloated ego" adds in part: "I read your little "article". As far as a cushy job goes, you have it the best! All you do is sit at home, on your bed, and think about something completely retarded to write about. Do you know how stupid you sounded by saying "trailer parks, TV stations are relatively tornado-free". So, by making that remark, your wanting these people to die...".

The latter person threw in some meterological terms in an attempt to (a) impress readers with his alleged forecasting prowess or (b) cover up his badly-written grammar and his inability to properly quote from and accurately comprehend the "article". If he is a forecaster, I hope he can interpret a weather map better than he can the written word, for the sake of his audience.

I decided to throw a couple comments of my own into the fray, making light of two critics thus: "if you could spell and had some ability regarding reading comprehension -- and you need to know both to be a meteorologist, along with being able to walk and chew gum at the same time *gasp* -- you'd have at least one fact right about a tongue-in-cheek article, and you wouldn't look as stupid as you have now let the blogging world see you look".

I know, I know....I didn't learn my lesson with the poking fun at politically correct Xmas (and my two detractors on that occasion, Tom and his "hurls at nativity scenes" friend Michelle), or the infamous (but least to me) New Mexico scenery flap. Most times, I can treat absurdity with the silence it deserves. But once in a while...I just can't resist lowering myself to the same absurd level, to poke a stick in the eye of the original absurdant by firing back.

So it came as no surprise to me that one of Mr. Rantamaki's critics would take the opportunity to turn his pique my way:

tis i once again said (with his unique brand of logic and eloquence): "Mr. 'Skunkfeathers'...I'm assuming that's a well-earned name..I'm very glad that you can type with a very stupid dialect that really shows your maturity level. Anyway, I noticed you say your an amateur storm chaser. Well, I guess that proves that you know everything there is to know about weather also (this guy's Clintonesque ways to miscomprehend written words is a hoot). It's not like any idiot with a camera can step outside and record a little footage of a storm and claim to be a storm chaser. I'd like to challenge both of you to look at and interpret models and come up with even a half-ass forecast, then get in front of that green screen and deliver that forecast to the viewing public. When you can do better, then try to write your little articles criticizing other people's work. Until then....I guess you need to shut the f*** up."

I especially love his maturity comment, and how he showed his own void of it, but I digress.

Now, I've written a few blog entries on my own experiences with storm chasing, and have been candid about my meteorological training (and considerable lack thereof). And I've never suggested to anyone I know or pretend to know that I can forecast the weather, let alone play a forecaster on TV. At the same time, I can appreciate the environment I live in -- along the NE foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains -- and can, over the 36 years I've lived here, appreciate some of the difficulties the natural anomalies herebouts throw at meteorologists trying to come up with accurate weather forecasting. Even using models, satellite imaging and doppler radar, forecasters are never sure what's going to come from the mouth of a super model.
tis i said, that's, I say, that's a joke, son (not that he'll get it, but what the skunkfeathers...).

I have also been witness to some pretty awry forecasts. I was here on December 24, 1982, when the National Weather Service upgraded a forecast of "snow showers" to "a blizzard warning". They made that addendum to their orginal forecast ten hours after it was evident to the rest of us living in the blizzard. And many a storm warning since, there have been "certain to hit us" storms that failed to appear, having shifted south or north at the last minute. And there have been plenty of forecasts that predicted a miss...and it didn't.

But even with some of the spectacular failures in local weather forecasting, you'll never hear Channel 9's weather maven Kathy Sabine disparaged as much as a conservative politician, right or wrong. Besides, she's too nice to disparage. And a babe to boot.

Okay, I heard those *oinks* out there.

At any rate, when I decide it's time to piss some readers off again -- if this entry didn't do it -- I'll do a "weather forecasting for dummies" edition. That oughta give tis i said and his unable-to-comprehend-what-they-read chums, some more to denigrate my maturity over, or that of fellow humor writers like Rick Rantamaki. All the while taking their own alleged maturity to new lows, by the vice of their own inability to understand what they read.

And that's pretty easy to forecast, dysfunctional computer super models aside.

*Now enjoy the Comments section, as Tis I Said continues the fray therein*

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tornado Chasing For Dummies*

*First published in May '03; updated February '08 and May '10*
For those of you who've seen the movie Twister, tornado chasing was dramatized and Hollywoodified (aka, the the unrelated subplot of marital strife between Bill Paxson and Helen Hunt), unless to those who're married and have or are undergoing strife, perhaps they found the two subjects dovetailing nicely together, but I sorta digress.
Tornado season in '10 got an early start, as Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and other locations can attest to. The deaths and devastation underscores why storm researchers 'chase' storms: by expanding their knowledge of tornado dynamics, they hope to better determine and detect tornadic formation with more lead time, increasing the amount of warning to those in a pending storm's path. Few people who live where tornadoes 'eat' and thrive, can't appreciate all the warning they can get.
Professional storm chasers are just that: men and women with schooling and experience in meteorology and thunderstorm dynamics, equipped and trained to analyze changing weather conditions within a nearby storm cell, and know pretty much what's about to go tornadic or not. They are trained to minimize the dangers to themselves and to the public during their 'chases'; they have a storm chaser's code of conduct, time-tested and safety-oriented. And they have a thrill of the hunt, Helen or otherwise.
They also -- or at least some of them -- tend to grit their teeth and loath six-fingered novices who shouldn't try this from home. Like me.
Growing up in South Dakota and Iowa my first 13 years, I developed a fascination with tornadoes. I've been through a couple; I've seen, from a distance and in the aftermath, what tornadoes up to an F-5 can do. To quote Dusty from Twister, "it's awesome". I spent many a summer back then, tracking severe storms based on TV weather reports and warnings, using a worn road map and a ruler to see if we were in the path or not. I got pretty good at judging what might hit our neck of the woods, and about when.
Then we moved to Colorado, and I learned that the mountains threw my old conventional meteorlogic right out the window, along with my ability to 'sense' the local weather. However, I also learned that Colorado had it's own version of "Tornado Alley": along most of the Front Range, and eastward from Denver to the Kansas/Nebraska borders. As time went on, I saw ample evidence of tornadic productivity in the local skies, usually in June. The tornadoes here tend to be a bit less "awesome" than their leviathan cousins of the Great Plains and Southeast; but that didn't obviate the thrill for me, or the desire of obtaining a photo of one in action. And not a photo taken by a trained, experienced professional: one taken by me.
My goal: an F-2 or better, on a parallel course, at a distance of a mile, maybe less. Didn't want much, did I?
But time and persistence provided just the kind of opportunities I sought. In the very productives summers of 1989 and 1990, I managed to get three sets of tornado shots in and around the Denver Metro Area, one series at the point-blank range of one mile (see the above photo), as it formed and touched down (with the extra point landing somewhere on the Kansas/CO border).
What would come as no surprise to the professionals, I wasn't satisfied. I wanted more.
In July of 1995, three consecutive days that I had off proved tornado-rich; my success proved less, though I didn't miss a couple opportunities by much, and found that I had run heedlessly into more than one situation that was borderline to going really bad in a hurry, without paying much mind to a storm chaser's credo "be aware of your surroundings and changing conditions", or some such. I just plowed right in, seeking the beast in its lair.
In retrospect, I can see where I was lucky to come out unscathed on a couple of occasions. And it did give me cause to concoct a sort-of definitive how NOT to chase tornadoes list. Unless, of course, you're me:
1. First, you need a brain stem disconnect to totally divorce common sense and personal safety from your mind.
2. Second, you need expendable equipment, so that if you guess really wrong, you're not terribly concerned about what just got turned to tornadic hash.
3. Third, while it's helpful to know meteorologic terms and concepts that are second nature to professional storm chasers, it might slow one down when charging boldly where no rational person would otherwise go. For instance, it doesn't matter if that dark, sinister cloud formation approaching you is a wall cloud or one of the more technical terms, a stratavarius or cumulonumbnuts cloud; it just matters if it produces what it is you seek. Especially if you turn out to be right, and are in the worst possible place to be proven so (as I almost was outside of Limon, CO, in June of '05, among other opportunities).
4. Fourth, though there is plenty to the addage of there being "safety in numbers", if you're gonna storm chase my way, you really need to go it alone; if you get an equally untrained, unthinking accomplice with you, the 'two negatives results in a positive" factor tends to take over. Sooner or later, one of you gets a brain signal that suggests "dude, this is really stupid", and you'll get out of there, perhaps even in time.
Granted, a second person could be useful -- to read the map, watch the skies, and add to the totally unnecessary verbal observations taking place during a pre-disaster:
"Oh wow, dude, we have stuff flying around!"
"You dumb sh**, we are the stuff flying around!"
"This is so wrong, man..."
Finally, the ultimate objective in this little idjit escapade -- besides possibly backdooring yourself into a Darwin Award -- is to get your subject in a good quality photo, without becoming the "hey, look at that moron" secondary subject in someone else's good quality photo or video.
Will I do it again? Since this was originally published, I have. My thirst for that 'perfect photo' remains unquenched. But, just so's the least lucid of you won't ponder following me potentially into Nature's version of a really windy toilet swirly, here's a few serious and worthwhile links to visit for some excellent information on tornadoes and chasing them from the safety of your home computer: (website of Colorado-based storm chaser/photographer Eric Treece) (website of Minnesota-based storm chasing duo The Twister Sisters)
* aka, me

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