Respect the Tornado
Summary: Jim and Blair visit one of Simon old friends, a storm chaser living in Oklahoma. It was supposed to be an ordinary vacation with fishing, but suddenly a storm hits and both friends meet the great force of Mother Nature face to face. Sort of inspired from movie Twister (1996, starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton).
Disclaimer: Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg belong to PetFly and Paramount. I also do not own informative text from prologue and epilogue.
Notes: Two years ago in Latvia an unusual count of tornadoes was spotted – seven whirls in two months instead of the usual one in two years! I was a witness to two of them. It was scary, but at the same time, an amazing sight. Since I watched the movie Twister, tornadoes became an object of my amateur investigation, however it would be stupid to say that I am not afraid of them. But still, even being dangerous, in my opinion it is also a beautiful nature phenomenon.
Global warming negatively affects on whether changes, so I suggest the people think about their safety. And I really hope that situation in here won't turn out so bad as it is in so-called tornado alley in USA. Many people in here have no idea about how to foresee the storm and our whether services has no such technical support that would be good enough to make exact forecasts.
This story inspired by National Geographic documentary film Inside the Tornadoes, and movie by Jan de Bont - Twister.
BIG thanks to Lila from Kansas, who gave me a lot of useful information about life in Tornado Alley! Of course, any reviews are welcomed here. And since the English is NOT my native language, I do apologize for grammar mistakes.
Thanks to Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin for making the script of Twister! And also big thanks to National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) for a lot of Internet links of information about the tornadoes and dictionary of technical terming.
What Are Tornadoes, and What Causes Them?
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent tornadoes have rotating winds of 250 miles per hour or more. They are capable of causing extreme destruction, including uprooting trees and well-made structures, and turning normally harmless objects into deadly missiles. Most tornadoes are just a few dozen yards wide and only briefly touch down, but highly destructive violent tornadoes may carve out paths over a mile wide and more than 50 miles long. Although violent tornadoes comprise only 2 percent of all tornadoes, they are responsible for nearly 70 percent of tornado-related fatalities.
Tornadoes develop from severe thunderstorms in warm, moist, unstable air along and ahead of cold fronts. Such thunderstorms also may generate large hail and damaging winds. When intense springtime storm systems produce large, persistent areas that support tornado development, major outbreaks can occur. During the late spring, tornadic thunderstorms can develop in the southern High Plains along a dry line, the interface between warm, moist air to the east and hot, dry air to the west. From the front range of the Rocky Mountains southward into the Texas Panhandle, slope flow of unstable air can cause tornadic thunderstorms to develop. While generally smaller and not as frequent, tornadoes occurring west of the Rocky Mountains of the United States, also cause damage and threaten lives annually.
Land falling tropical storms and hurricanes generate tornadoes. Such tornadoes are most common to the right and ahead of the storm path or the storm center as it comes ashore. In 1967, Hurricane Beulah produced 148 tornadoes as it made landfall in south Texas.
Jim Ellison glared at his partner, who tried to find in map their exact location. Blair was damn good anthropologist, his best friend and partner in their police work, but as a navigator, he was absolutely useless. Even more, sometimes Jim could even call him a topographical idiot with no exaggeration. Right now Jim doubted they are going to reach their target in time. He unfastened his seatbelt and climbed out of truck to get some fresh air while his partner still tried to read the map (the operative word being "tried").
Yesterday they left Cascade to visit one Simon's old friend, Frank Harlow who worked in National Severe Storm Laboratory and his job was to investigate one of the most deadly forces of nature – tornadoes. Jim had seen a few of those storms in Washington State, but tornadoes he saw were small and did not caused any major damage. It was too rare thing to worry about.
Frank invited Simon to do some fishing for a week, but unfortunately the Captain had to testify in court and process seemed to be long. So he offered Jim to take this trip and travel to Oklahoma. Jim had finished one rather nasty drug dealer case only few days ago and so he accepted the offer with no hesitate. Of course, Jim invited Blair to go along and in the same evening they already packed their bags.
After three hours in airplane with bad food (at least for Jim's opinion) and watching a boring movie, they finally landed in Oklahoma City and spent a night in decent motel. In the morning they rented a car and... Well, now they were stuck in an absolute middle of nowhere.
Jim glanced at his truck. Blair still examined the map up and down, trying to find their location. Jim yawned, rubbed his neck and walked to passenger side.
"Hey, Chief, can you do it faster?" he opened door and grinned at the young man who had buried his face in map. "And don't you even dare to tell me we're lost!"
"Yeah, yeah, just hang on a second. We're somewhere... Oh, there it is, I got it, Jim! We're right here!" Blair pointed at some road in map. "That means we're not lost, we just have to drive few more miles further to... emm, to the south."
"Few miles? How much more?"
"I don't know, maybe ten, fifteen miles more."
"Fine, let's go then!" Jim slammed the door close with a bang that caused Blair to wince and then he headed back to driver's seat.
"You know, I'm really excited about this meeting. Simon said that Frank is one of those so-called storm hunters," Blair chattered, while they continued to drive. "In spite of all the modern electronic and satellite scientific wizardry at their disposal, the national weather service still has to rely mainly on the human eye for the final devastating confirmation of a tornado, so it's left to the storm chasers to witness and confirm "ground truth" of a cyclone. These professionals are often the best and sometimes the only warnings that a three-hundred-mile-an-hour winds are coming down from the sky! It must have been exciting!"
"And dangerous enough to avoid it. I'm not planning to see anything of it. I've already had enough adrenaline doing my job and living with you and your lectures."
"Yeah, but can you imagine how great job they're doing? And right in this season there's the biggest activity of tornadoes," Blair deliberately ignored Jim's last sentence and continued his lecture. "Each year about a thousand tornadoes touch down in United States. Only a small percentage actually strikes occupied buildings, but every year a number of people are killed or injured. The storm chasers are trying to give a chance to people to get in safety! Basically they're doing the same thing as you do, only instead of armed bad guys they're chasing the force of nature."
Jim could not resist smile. Somehow, he always thought that Blair has an interest only about some unknown cultures in unknown places, but still young man managed to surprise him. However, Jim had a bad feeling that kid is watching Discovery channel way too much. He refused to give any reply, concentrating on the road. Of course, he should have known better that Blair is able to find a connection with his work at any situation and occasion.
"You know, at some point it's also connected with my field of work," he said, glancing at Jim. "Have you ever heard about Topeka?"
"Topeka, in Kansas. There's that hill, Burnett's Mound, okay? The legend is that it was claimed as saint place, since there was buried the Chief of the old tribe. No tornado will hit Topeka as long as nothing will be built over that place."
"So? What happened?" Jim unwillingly realized that he become interested in what Blair was saying.
"In 1968. someone start to build something in that place. An F-5 tornado hit the town, destroying it almost completely. Only one building remained on place, as much as I know," Blair shook his head. "The scientists, of course, are sceptical to this legend, and their opinion is that it was nothing but a coincidence, but I think that it might be true. The curse, I mean. These old tribes of Native Americans knew how to work with the power of nature."
Jim sighed and regarded Blair with another of his sceptical looks. Fortunately, Blair didn't fell in further discussion and went silent. Jim mentally said thanks to whatever higher power that made his usually overtalkative partner to sit quiet at least for a while.
Both sides of highway were covered with nothing but a wheat fields. Jim instinctively glanced to the skies through the windshield. Few nice and white clouds were visible above with no threat of thunder or whatever at that point. At least some good news today, he thought. Jim really had no wish to see any actions of nature. He was chasing after various criminals almost every day and all he wanted to do was relax.
However his peace didn't last for long and his own private and nicely quiet world was scattered in small pieces, when Blair start to run through the radio channels, until finally he found one with a pretty decent music even for the Sentinel taste.
"How does Simon know that guy?" Blair went back to talking for Jim's irritation which he tried to hide under another sceptical look toward his partner. However Blair absolutely ignored it and eventually Jim gave up.
"He said that they went in the same school. Then Frank moved to Kansas and started his studies in meteorology. Now he's working in Oklahoma, basically. From what I heard, he's driving around, chasing the storms in whole Tornado Alley. That's all I know."
"I wonder, how obsessed the man should be to spend his whole time chasing after the storms," Blair thoughtfully said, looking out the window.
"C'mon, Chief, don't tell me that you're not obsessed with anything. It's the same here when you're observing my Sentinel abilities. It's not obsession, huh? And, it's just as dangerous," Jim stated.
"This is not the same, Jim. If someone fires at you, there's a chance to give a backfire, right? It's not like you're absolutely helpless to fight back. But when you come face to face with the force of nature..." Blair shrugged and then suddenly grinned. "You know, I would love to see how you will kick the tornado ass."
Jim started to laugh. He tried to imagine it, how he would walk up to a dangerous twister and tries to kick it or make an arrest. And few seconds later Blair managed to make him laugh even more.
"Hey, do you know what one tornado says to the other?"
"No, I don't know. But I'm sure you will enlight me."
"Of course. So, he says, let's twist again, 'cause you turn me on," Blair made his favourites cha-cha moves, and Jim almost drove off the road from laughter.
They reached Frank's given coordinates after twenty minutes. Jim was glad that he could drive on full speed, not worrying about any collisions or red lights. In past two hours only few cars passed by them. The whole road was practically empty. This was the bright side of life in country.
Already from a distance, they noticed three cars in field. Few people were hovering around them. Jim pulled off the road and parked near them. A blonde, long-haired guy noticed the new arrivals and came to say hello.
"Hi, there! Can I help you somehow?" he asked, eyeing both men.
"We're looking for Frank Harlow," Jim said, and the man pointed at the furthest truck in a distance. A middle aged man on its roof hovered over some device which looked like a mobile satellite, or at least Jim thought it to be a satellite at first look. However, Blair quickly explained him that it is a mobile Doppler radar.
"This radar can measure radial velocity, the instantaneous component of motion parallel to the radar beam, it means toward or away from the radar antenna," Blair was bubbling again, although Jim barely listened.
When they approached the truck, they heard the conversation between Frank and his colleague who sat inside the truck, messing with numbers of cords and wires, attached to the computer and some other devices.
"Okay, I've got it now. Give me the reading!" Frank called from the top of the roof.
"Hold your horses, boss," the other called back. "Which way do you want it, Frank?"
Frank eyed the skies for a moment. "Looks like the dry line is stalled. Give me the sector scan of west, northwest, search for mid-level rotation and increase PRF!"
In the very first second Jim noticed some weird likeness between him and Blair. He guessed that it must be because of that typical enthusiastic look of scientist. Frank looked like a man, who is spending his whole time for nothing but his work.
"Hey there, I'm Frank Harlow. And you must be detective Ellison!" he finally noticed Jim who came closer.
"Call me Jim, okay? And this is my partner, Blair Sandburg," Jim introduced Frank with themselves.
"How you're doing?" Blair shook Frank's hand.
"Good. We're all good. Simon already called and said he's going to send here two of his best men. This is my team. Well, that guy over there is Sam," Frank pointed at man, who met them first and now waved at them. "He's in charge of taking measurements of wind. Rodger is the navigator. Eric is master expert of tracking the storms through the sattelite. Eric, catch the wire," Frank tossed the cable at the man who attached it to the computer to read the Dopler radar readings of direction Frank called before.
"Reading will be done in a few minutes, Frank," he informed while frantically typing at the keyboard to write down the coordinates they needed.
"Okay, thanks. So, for the rest of the team," Frank climbed down from the truck roof and went to the guests. "Gary is in charge of photographing and capturing a tornado on film. And Nancy is my assistant," Frank finished introducing with his team, and then he turned back to both friends with regret in his face. "Actually, I owe you apology. We have a major action in here right now. It was supposed to be a nice whether for the next couple of days, but we got a call from lab that a storm is building up. So, now we're trying to track it down. It was so suddenly that I didn't have a time to warn you about it. Nature is too unpredictable yet," he smiled. "So, I think that maybe it will be better for you go to the nearest town and settle in a motel or else. At least for a next two days, until it's over."
"So, when you track the storm... are you gonna chase after tornadoes then?" Blair suddenly become into his Energizer Bunny mode.
"Sure, that's why we're here, aren't we?" Frank smiled.
Jim considered his opportunities. Frank's suggestion sounded reasonable, but Jim didn't like that excited look in his partner's eyes. He knew where it would lead them, and this was the last thing he needed.
"Frank, can you come over here for a minute?" suddenly a brunette pulled her head out of van and called to the boss.
"Sure, sure, I'm coming, Nancy!" he called back, then excused himself to Jim and Blair. "I'll be right back, okay?"
"No problem," Jim nodded, then he waited until Frank walked away far enough and grabbed Blair by his shoulders in a tight grip. "Do you have some kind of death wish here? Don't you even think about it! No way!"
"Jim, what are you talking about?" the anthropologist made his best innocent face, but the detective was not so easy to fool.
"You know very well what I'm talking about. You want to go with them, but I'm saying no. It's not our area, okay? Now, why don't you go and check the map to find a place where we can stay."
"I never said I want to go with them," Blair tried to object, but Jim shook his head.
"You don't even have to. We'll follow Frank's advice and look for some motel, is that clear, Chief?"
Blair sighed. He knew that nothing could convince Jim once the Sentinel made up his mind. And he sometimes he hated how good Jim knew him after all. He didn't actually said his wish to go with Frank and his team out loud, but Jim still knew what was going on in his mind. As for being cautious, well, Blair couldn't exactly blame him for that, but then again the tornado was something he wanted to see – from a safe distance, of course. Blair wasn't a kamikaze after all. Now he only had to reassure Jim, and that was mission impossible.
"Emm, Jim?" Blair carefully started, and his friend glared at him. "This whole thing is not so dangerous at all. I don't think you know how to foresee the tornado, and neither do I. Don't you think that we'll be more safe going along with them?"
"Sandburg!" Jim growled. "Let me explain you something. I've seen this thing before and I've seen what it can do. And I have no wish to get anywhere near it again."
"You have seen it? When? Why did you never told me about it?" Blair's eyes lit up with the same excitement Jim had seen so many times before, especially when he figured a new test for his Sentinel senses.
"Never thought of it as anything important," Jim sighed. "The first one I saw about four years ago. But it wasn't big anyway. I was driving from Astoria back to Cascade. There was a thunderstorm and nothing seemed to be unusual, but then I glanced aside and there it was. It just came down from clouds about a mile away from me. It vanished after five minutes, but still managed to sweep away one barn and five acres of forest. Fortunately, no people were hurt."
Blair brushed his fingers through his curls. He pondered for a moment, and then continued his arguments.
"C'mon, Jim, do you really want to spend two days in some cheap motel instead of this? We can go with them, see some wild action, you know," Blair pumped his fist in air, grinning wolfishy. "And, when the whether will calm, we can make a bet which one of us will catch the biggest fish. Well, what do you think?"
Jim glanced up and observed the skies. His look paused at the west side. The sky there was covered with a dark clouds at the horizon. Straightening ears, he could hear a thunder far away. Suddenly a bright and really large lightening bolt cut the clouds and hit the ground. It was obvious that nature was going to show her full power.
Blair stood by his side and bubbled out few more arguments for tornado's sake, and Jim realized that it's hopeless to keep his partner away from chase, so he did the only thing he could do to prevent Blair from going there alone.
"Okay, okay, you won! Never thought I will say that, but maybe you're right," he lifted his hands up in surrender and then turned to see Frank and his team. "So, if we are going to hang around with these guys, don't you think we should talk to them?"
Blair cheeringly nodded and they both walked closer to storm chasers.
Frank talked on the phone, looking at his laptop with the whether map on the display. Most of team members checked their instruments and cameras, both video and photo. One of the vans was open, and Jim saw inside few computers with measurements and satellite pictures on their monitors.
"Hi, guys! I'm Nancy, by the way. And you are..." the brunette who called Frank away before now came to them.
"Hi, I'm Blair. And this is Jim. He's a police detective from Cascade, Washington," Blair managed to answer first while Jim rolled his eyes upward. Here you go with the table leg, Chief, here you go, he thought.
"And you? Are you a cop too?" Nancy shook their hands in turns.
"No, I'm an anthropologist. So, you're a storm chaser? Must be you're seeing a lot of tornadoes," Blair obviously tried to make a flirt, but Jim interrupted him.
"Let me guess. Are you heading to that direction?" he pointed to the west. "Looks like a major thunderstorm is building up in there."
"Actually, yes, it is," Nancy looked at dark clouds and smiled. "Pretty cool, I must say. The national weather service has issued a tornado watch in effect until 11:00 am. I can bet we will see some good action today. So, are you, guys, coming with us?"
Jim shrugged, avoiding the answer. Blair used the moment of his partner silence to chat with Nancy. They walked a bit aside, discussing about tornadoes and the chaser job. Jim rolled his eyes up. It was so typical Blair. He never let go opportunity to make a date, even if his flirt subject was obsessed with extreme actions. Jim grinned, letting Blair to dance around the table leg and went off to have a talk with Frank.
"All the models are forecasting lifted indexes from minus six to minus ten. Sam, keep an eye on this sector for me, okay?" Frank pointed at display, talking to his team member.
"You got it, Frankie."
"Hey, Frank, I wanted to ask you something," Jim started. "Would you mind if we both join you and your team?"
Frank turned around and looked a bit surprised. "You know, chasing after sever storms aren't meant for amateurs. No offence here, Jim, but I don't think you have any idea about this whole thing. Being police detective you might be used for extreme actions, but you cannot just go and follow the storm, not even having a smallest clue about where it goes. I still suggest you to find some safer place out of this area."
"Yeah, I know that, but my partner seems to be excited about your entire job, and I think he wants to see the tornado with his own eyes. He's also a scientist, only in different area."
"Really? I thought you both are cops, you called him your partner," Frank chuckled a little, still glancing occasionally on his laptop.
"No, Blair is a consultant in department. Actually he's an anthropologist," Jim nodded at the display. "How bad does it looks?"
"Bad? You must be kidding! It's good, man! Let me show you something," Frank leaded Jim to the car behind the black van.
He opened the tailgate and Jim saw three cylinder-like probes. Examining them closely, he noticed few small cameras in sides. Obviously this was nothing but another one technical junk he had no clue about.
"What is that?" Jim couldn't resist his trained questioning skill.
"We're calling them turtles. Usually these low-lying, armoured probes are meant for taking pressure measurements from the funnel."
"You said, usually? And, what are you going to do with them now?" Jim stepped back when Frank slammed the tailgate close.
"Well, our primary task in here is to get some photos from the tornado inside funnel. One of our colleagues, engineer and storm chaser Tim Samaras was the first one who successfully took such photos, using these probes. These ones have a new, improved design to give them better chance to survive in storm."
"And how you're planning to get them into the tornado?" Jim had no idea when did he became so interested in all this tornado stuff.
"Well, we're driving so close to the tornado as possible, placing these probes with photo cameras in damage path and then we're getting away as fast as we can. Sounds easy, but when the storm is right in front of your nose, it's not that easy at all. You have to move fast, before twister gets too close and sucks you up."
Once again Jim suppressed the smile, noticing Frank and Blair's likeness. They both forgot everything else but their job, so excited they were. Even their speaking manner was the same. Although in difference from Blair, Frank wasn't so chaotic. He knew his job and explained everything reasonable and clear. Blair mostly had no clue about what he was talking about; he depended only on his logic and things he once learned. At least it seemed to be so, at Jim's opinion.
"Doctor Harlow? We just received call from lab. The tower is going down about twenty miles to the northwest!" a young man, apparently in Blair s age, rushed up to them, holding the cell phone in hand.
"Okay, thanks, Gary. Listen up, everybody, it's time to move out! Let's pack it up, guys! Hey, Jim?" Frank held detective back. "Look, if you really wanna come with us, stay behind this black van, okay? You'll be safer hanging in tail. Do you have CB radio in your truck?"
"No, I tried to found the car with radio in motor pool, but unsuccessfully."
"Okay, then you can borrow it from Sam. I think he had the spare one somewhere in his van. Then you'll be able to stay informed, okay?"
Jim confirmed it with nod, then went off to talk a bit with Sam who started to fish into the chaos of his van. After a minute he finally found the radio and gave it to Jim. Detective thanked him and then walked back to his car, grabbing Blair's jacket again to haul him away from Nancy, who already rushed to gather her stuffs.
"What's going on? I just started to make out something in here," Blair whined.
"Time out, Romeo, you will have a time for some Twister game later. They're moving away and we must stay in tail, if you want to see the tornado."
"In tail? Oh, great, that's boring. I want to see the action!" Blair complained, deserving one of best Jim Ellison glares.
"You better be thankful for getting along with them at all, Chief," Jim groaned as he pushed his partner toward their truck. "Otherwise I won't hesitate to tie you up and lock in the trunk until we get to the nearest motel if that's what it takes to keep you away from trouble."
Frank and his team acted professionally and fast. One by one they jumped in trucks and pulled out on highway. Driving by, Frank paused to tell them on which CB radio channel they are approachable. Jim waved to him and climbed in truck. He assembled the radio in, waiting for the last van's departure. When it passed by, Jim started the engine and followed.
They droved in the tail of this caravan of cars, heading to the northwest, closer to the dark and dreadful clouds, which Jim spotted before. Moreover, with every second more his guts start to curl up inside of him. This was not right. It was different when he was on a duty, where facing the danger was large part of his job, but not like this. Jim had enough information about tornado to know how unpredictable thing it can be. Why the hell he was doing this? Damn, he should not give up to Blair lost puppy dog's look.
Nevertheless, Sandburg seemed to be so happy and filled with energy like never before. Jim never saw him like this before. And, it meant something, knowing the fact that Blair usually was acting like that bunny from Duracell batteries commercial.
"Dare I ask you, why you're so excited?" Jim finally decided to ask after five minutes of Blair's sitting on pins and needles.
"You know what, Jim?" Blair took a deep breath, and Jim prepared himself for another lecture. "No one knows how to predict when or where a twister will come down from the skies with its menace and sure destruction. They remain mysterious and capricious killers. These in-the-field storm chasers are called to action when a tornado watch is issued by the NSSL, who can only predict the likelihood of a twister touchdown. I mean, they practically don't know exactly where it will hit."
"Okay, expert, then why don't you explain me the difference between the tornado watch and tornado warning," Jim unwillingly joined this discussion.
"Well, there is a difference. If a tornado watch is issued for your area, it means that a tornado is possible. If a tornado warning is issued, it means that a tornado has actually been spotted, or is strongly indicated on radar, and it is time to go to a safe shelter immediately. For now, there is only tornado watch, but it can become as warning in soon. So, let's be alert."
Jim grinned, glancing at his friend, who proved himself again as Mr. Know-it-all. No matter what the other detectives might think about him, Blair was smarter than they all together, there was no doubt. He turned his attention back on road, staying in polite distance from the car ahead.
"Chief, do you have a camera?"
"Well, if we are about to see some tornado, it would be shame to return in home without any evidence about it. Besides, I would love to see Simon's face, when he will realize what kind of show he missed," Jim chuckled.
"Oh, I got it!" Blair grinned while his eyes sparked with mischief and started to dig into his backpack, searching for the video camera.
As longer they droved, as darker become the skies above. Jim listened into CB radio conversations between the cars in front of him. They all were giving to each other coordinates of tornado path. It did not hit the ground yet, but if he listened carefully enough, according to their comments, it should have to happen in any minute.
"Okay, there it is. It's coming up from left side, probably an solid F-2," Frank's voice sounded in radio.
"There's a good southeast gusts at 40 miles per hour. Approaching 150 in the funnel."
"Copy that. As soon as it become visible, you better hang back."
Jim gazed out through the windshield, observing almost black, greenish black clouds. He turned his attention to weather clues around them that might warn of imminent danger. Local radio issued tornado warning in their area, and Blair become more nervous. As for wonder, at least for now it was not caused by fears. Anthropologist held his camera, ready to put it in action, and gazed ahead, looking for tornado.
"Shit, I don't see anything. Where is it?" Jim muttered.
"Maybe you can try to see it?" Blair suddenly suggested. "You know, use your abilities! Now, block out all other things around you and concentrate to the skies."
"What? Look, this is a bad timing for your tests!" Jim retorted angrily. "Besides, I'm driving now, and zoning wouldn't be the best thing to happen right now!"
"Don't worry about it, I can hold the wheel, if you zone. And, speaking about your senses, it's nothing unusual. Remember, I told you in our first meeting that the Sentinels usually observed the whether changes too, we just never made any tests on it. Now we have a perfect chance. Come on, give it a shot!" he pushed, turning into the Guide mode.
Jim sighed and rolled down his side window. Harsh wind breeze and cold rain hit his face as he peeked outside. Jim tried to do two separate things in the same time – to keep the truck straight on the road and to zoom his sight at the clouds, searching for something unusual.
At first his senses picked up roaring of tornado, although it was not visible yet. Jim concentrated his look to the lower line of clouds, where almost invisible rotating caught his attention. To get better sight, Jim combined sight and hearing together, slowly releasing grip on wheel, and car began to drive off the road. Blair leaned over and grabbed the wheel, manoeuvring car back to the road. After a minute Jim pulled his head back inside and closed the window. He wiped his wet face in sleeve and regained control over truck.
"It's building up right there, I think," Jim pointed at some spot in left side, where rotating of clouds increased fast. "Better let's stay behind. God knows I don't want to get close to it."
Like hearing his words, the other cars, except for Frank's jeep, also dropped the speed. Suddenly the hail started to slam against the roof. Rain was pouring even more hard, soon almost completely covering the windshield. Jim drove forward, depending only on his hyperactive sense of sight, which helped him to see the road and other cars through the thick rain, while Blair turned on the camera and start to film the skies on left side, although the rain made this practically impossible.
Then they saw it. The funnel slowly stretched down from clouds, rotating around its axe. It paused and swayed in halfway, like being unsure to touch the ground or not. Then it made the first contact with earth and almost the same moment jumped up back in air to return on ground few seconds later. From aside it seemed that new-born tornado is standing still on place, but when Jim looked closer he saw its moving to the right. At first sight it appeared almost beautiful. Blair gasped and turned the camera to the tornado's side.
"Okay, it's gaining strength, folks! I'm going in," Frank's calm voice sounded in radio.
"Copy that. Path is stabile. We have possible F-2 in here. Be careful."
The caravan pulled over, while Frank continued his way closer to the tornado, turning off the road and now driving through the field. His team climbed out with cameras. Jim also pulled over and Blair immediately jumped out, holding his own camera in hands. Detective still decided to better stay inside the truck, while Blair and others were soaking outside in rain.
Tornado obviously grew more intense and even from such distance they all could see huge rotating cloud of debris near the ground, surrounding the base of a tornado. Frank's car stopped about three hundred yards distance from it. Jim zoomed his vision to see how the man jumped out, rushed to the tailgate and took one of probes. He rushed few yards to the left and placed camera on the ground. Then Frank returned to his truck and did the same manoeuvre with rest two devices, placing them in tornado's path in several feet distance from each other. Tornado approached with a deadly speed, pulling out some trees with their roots and sucking them inside the funnel. Jim held his breath, watching how Frank jumped back in car and drove backward to get out of dangerous area.
Few seconds later the twister swept across the field, right over the place where Frank had just been standing a moment ago, then the funnel continued its way to the right, sucking up several bushes, which vanished into the cloud of debris. After five minutes it lost strength, rotation become slower and then it was gone.
Jim glanced at Blair. His face was pale and eyes wide opened as he stared at the skies, where tornado just had disappeared. His previous excitement apparently was gone, at least for a while, seeing how powerful the nature can be. And when he returned to the car, his next words confirmed it.
"Jim, I think we should get out of here," he said, but before Jim managed to answer, Frank climbed out of truck and joined his team.
"That was awesome!" Nancy exclaimed, while the others cheered, patting on Frank s shoulders and back. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just a close call," Frank smiled, turning his attention on radar in Sam's truck.
"Now we have to get the cameras back," Rodger announced, walking back to his car.
Blair still was ghostly pale, and Jim slightly pushed him to the passenger's seat, not really caring about that right now he looked like a drowned rat after standing in rain. Blair did not object, not after this. He definitely did not expect something like this and it was not the thing he wanted to see. Blair switched the camera off and placed it back into his backpack. This might be not the best video he made, but for Simon it was good enough.
"Are you okay, buddy? You don't look very well," his friend's soft and calm voice sounded right next to him.
"Jim, I'm so sorry, man. You were right. I think we should better leave this place, before another tornado hits. I've seen enough," Blair looked up in his Sentinel's light blue eyes that stared down at him with concern.
"Okay, calm down. There must be some towel in my bag on backseat. Try to dry yourself as possible. And stay here while I talk to Frank. Maybe he can advise some motel or else. He's similar with these places after all," Jim grinned and headed away.
Frank gathered the latest information about whether situation in nearest area. When Jim notified about leaving, he did not seemed to be offended, more relieved.
"This tornado passed us too far to worry about it. However, usually we are going even closer than today. So, I support your decision," Frank took a map from dashboard and examined it. "Okay, there. You can stay in Milburn. There you can find quite decent motel and good cuisine. It's only seventeen miles to the north east," he pulled a business card out of pocket and handed it to Jim. "This is my cell phone number. Call me tomorrow, and then we will see what situation we have. And, detective, you better stay alert. The storm is not over yet. A minute ago we received warning about supercell that just had builded in southwest."
"Okay. We'll be careful. It was nice to meet you," Jim shook Frank's hand. "Good luck to you, guys!"
When Jim returned to Blair, he noticed that his partner was sitting in car, drying his hair with towel and talking with Nancy through the open window. Jim could not resist the listening into their busy conversation, so he paused and stood on place. Probably the kid tried to act as if nothing special had happened. That would be another typical thing for him. However after few seconds Jim realized that he was wrong.
"Yeah, that was great," Blair shrugged. "Only I don't think that I want to see that again. At least, not for a next couple of days. In television it never seemed so dangerous."
"That's okay. Not so much people can handle this. Speaking between us, you must be real psycho to do this job," Nancy reassuringly patted on Blair s shoulder and smiled.
"You will go again? After... this?" Blair looked shocked to say the least. "It was a way too close. Don't you have enough for one day?"
"Are you kidding? The thing is not over, we barely saw the start of it," Nancy looked over her shoulder and noticed Rodger's return. "Okay, I've got to go now. Take care of yourself, Blair!"
"You too, Nancy," Blair waved to her.
Jim waited until she walked away, and then he approached their car and climbed in. Blair rolled up the window and deeply sighed.
"Okay, Chief, we're going to Milburn. Frank said we could find a motel in there. And, tomorrow we will go fishing. I spotted on a map some pretty nice lake nearby."
Blair did not answered. Even more, he simply stared straight forward on a road. Jim realized that his partner is still a bit shaken up. He didn't asked anything and started the engine, pulling on the highway, deciding that if Blair will have a wish to talk about his intern feelings, he will do without any pushing from Jim's side. That's the way he always had been.
The skies still were dark and thunder rumbled in distance, but at least for now there wasn't impending danger beyond. The nature had become quiet and calm again.
Maybe a bit too calm.
Thankfully to Blair's topographic skills, they reached Milburn only in late evening. Anthropologist several times missed the turns and, if previously he only messed up with directions, this time he lead Jim on circle about five times. Finally, detective noticed that and pulled over.
"Sandburg, give me the map," he hissed, tearing it out of non-resistant Blair s hands.
"Sorry, I can't think clearly right now," Blair sighed.
Jim glanced at him. Young man was hugging himself, his head bent down. Jim was hesitant to decide what to do – to try to comfort his friend, or distract his thoughts with casual chat, until they will get to the motel. After several minutes of checking the map, Jim choosed the second option.
"You know, you did great back there," he begun, while they finally droved on the right road. "I can't imagine myself getting out of car, while the tornado is right nearby. You always manage to surprise me, kid, you know that?"
Blair gave him a weak smile, but his mood seemed to get better.
"I wasn't too afraid. I mean, we were with professionals," he finally spoke. "But, I've never seen it in reality, you know. It was much terrifying than I expected. And, I'm thinking about these people all the time. They're risking their lives in the name of science."
"And we're risking our lives in the name of civilians safety," Jim grinned. "So, at this point we're likewise, huh?"
Blair's smile widened even more. Jim smiled back, knowing that he's on the right track. He kept on chatting about senseless things, until they finally reached Milburn. Jim quickly found the motel and rent one room with two separate beds. Blair went in shower and, before Jim could even blink, he already was in bed.
"Chief, I'm going to find some place where to eat," Jim nudged his partner, regarding only sleepy look. "Aren't you hungry?"
Blair mumbled something and drifted in sleep. Jim shrugged and walked out of the room, allowing his friend to have rest. He went outside and in relief noticed the diner right across the street. Jim bought one coffee and steak, and then settled at free table. Although it was late, the diner was full with people. He absently observed them, while eating.
These people were living in the middle of Tornado Alley, but seemed that they all already had used for it and no power of nature could disturb their life. Jim mentally noted to take example from them, or else this weekend promised to be stressful. He finished his steak and then once again unfolded the map to examine the roads to the lake.
In the morning, Blair woke up in a bad mood. All night he suffered from nightmares about tornadoes. He tried to escape from them, but they always sucked him up. And, every time he jerked up, all covered in sweat, breathing hardly. Several times Jim had came over to calm him and reassure that everything is fine. Still he hadn't had good sleep and was glad when the morning finally came.
"Hey, sunshine!" Jim lifted up and yawned, seeing his partner sitting in bed. "You were pretty restless last night."
"Yeah, I know. Sorry about that," Blair rubbed his eyes and slid out of bed. "These tornadoes were chasing after me whole night. It was annoying."
Jim grinned and shook his head. Then he got up and headed toward the bathroom.
"Okay, Chief, I'll take a quick shower and then let's start to pack our fishing gear. Hope, you're ready to show to the local fishes, who's the boss in here."
"Whatever," Blair sighed and sat down on the edge of bed, waiting for Jim's return.
After five minutes, detective came out, and Blair rushed past him. It was too hot in here, and all he wanted was a lot of cold water on his head.
Jim dressed up and paused at the door only to call Blair to meet him in diner. Barely having response, he walked out, hoping that his friend will join him soon.
His hopes weren't vainly. He just managed to sip first gulp of his coffee, when diner door opened and Blair bounced right to the counter. After a minute, he joined his partner and grinned at him cheerfully.
"Looks like you feel better," Jim noted.
"Yep, the cold shower was exactly what I needed. Gee, it's so hot!" Blair glanced on his cold lemonade. "So, where we're going now? You said there's a lake nearby, right?"
"Yeah, I just can't decide in which place would be better for fish. Moreover, we must find a boat. I hope that there will be someone, who could borrow one for us."
"Well, maybe we should consultate with locals?" Blair advised, fishing a piece of ice out of his glass and tossing it into his mouth.
Jim rolled his eyes upwards, when Blair start to chew the ice with annoying sound. He playfully kicked his partner's leg under the table.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," he grinned. "Remember Clayton Fall? And, do you remember how did your previous ice chewing ended up, huh?"
Okay, that was a bad joke, but Jim still was unsure, did he really deserved glare and kicking back on his leg. Waitress came over them and placed two plates with fried eggs and ham. Blair thoughtfully looked after her, when she turned to go back behind the counter. Jim couldn't resist the chuckle.
"Careful, Romeo," he pulled one of plates closer and start to eat. "We're here for fishing. And it means that we are going to catch fishes, not some hot dates, okay?"
"Ow, man, that was harsh," Blair laughed, then observed the plate. "Mm, typical English breakfast. Good, I'm starving!"
"You should be. I mean, you haven't eat anything since yesterday morning."
Blair unfolded the map and combined eating with observing the roads. He pointed out on some dirt roads, which should lead them to lake much faster than taking the highways. Jim fell in discussion about it, and soon they were deep into the talking.
Suddenly, their peaceful conversation was interrupted by sharp sound of siren, which filled the town. Blair turned pale and jumped up, head over heels rushing outside. His gaze turned up to the skies. There was nothing but some nice, white clouds, although Blair remembered that yesterday the skies looked the same, but only several minutes later they became dark, just before tornado hit. He looked around. He couldn't see what's behind the trees and houses behind him. Maybe tornado builded up in there?
Jim came out of diner and stood beside him. Blair's hands were shaking, and his look darted around in panic. His breathing was fast and shallow, his heart was beating in rapid speed.
"Chief, calm down," the detective placed reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I don't see the reason for panic yet!"
However, Blair didn't listen. He spotted a storm shelter at the diner, and, before Jim could stop him, Blair vanished into it. Jim stared after him, then looked around and stalled in surprise.
No one of local people paid attention on siren. There was no sign of panic or even interest about warning. That was interesting. Jim tossed one more look toward the shelter, where Blair was sitting, probably freaked out of his pants, but, before trying to get him out, Jim decided to ask someone.
"Excuse me," he walked up to an old man, who was working on his yard. "Can you tell me, why the siren is on?"
The man raised his head and, for Jim's surprise, smiled.
"I suppose, you're not local. They're testing the siren occasionally. There's nothing to worry about. If there will be real warning, you will hear that on the radio," he shook his head about Jim's expression and went back to work.
So, Blair was making panic for nothing. Jim realized that if he won't get Blair out of that shelter soon, his head will explode. The siren negatively effected on his sensitive ears, and he already felt the headaches boiling up his brains.
"Sandburg!" he shouted, opening shelter's door. "Get out of there, it's false alarm!"
Blair carefully climbed out and glanced around. After several seconds, siren went silent. He sighed in relief, and only then noticed Jim's expression. Detective stood there, ears covering with palms, and it was obvious that he was suffering from pain. Blair recognized this situation and turned into Guide mode immediately. At least one good thing with these sensory spikes, Jim thought. It kept his mind away.
While Blair once again checked their fishing gear, Jim called Frank and asked about the situation. However, doctor Harlow couldn't resist laughter when Jim told him about his partner's reaction to warning siren. Still, Frank soon became serious.
"Actually, your partner acted reasonably. It would be wrong, if he'd stay on place and waited until the storm pats on his shoulder. However, in case if you didn't know that, every local is prepared for such situation, and, in case of tornado, police and fire department would warn everyone."
"Okay, I'll count on that," Jim sighed. "But still I would appreciate, if you could inform me, if there will be any sign of storm anywhere near us."
"Of course, I will let you know," Frank promised.
Jim put his cell phone back in pocket and walked to Blair, who already waited for him, leaned against their car.
"Well, what did he said?" anthropologist curiously asked.
"He promised to warn us about tornadoes, if there will be any in this area. So, I think you can calm down, okay?" Jim patted on his shoulder and climbed in driver's seat.
They reached the lake pretty soon, and fortunately found one local, who agreed to give them his motorboat. Both friends get into boat and drove into the lake. Old man showed them the best spots for pikes. Blair sat in front of boat, but Jim took a seat at the engine.
They reached the middle of lake, and then Jim stopped the boat and threw out his line. Blair did the same on the opposite side. Then both friends settled more comfortable and waited for fish to bite.
The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm. Blair closed his eyes in pleasure, enjoying the slight wind breeze which gently caressed his skin. Jim took a couple of beers out of the ice-box and offered him.
"Thanks, man!" Blair smiled and took the bottle. "I heard that the pikes in here reach even twenty-five pounds weight. Would be nice to catch the big one, huh?"
"Yeah, that really would be nice," Jim took a sip of his bottle and stretched his legs as far as it was possible.
Blair yawned and closed his eyes again. Jim followed his example and barely listened his friend's absent bubbling about some recipes, which he was about to try. Detective used one of tricks Blair taught him, and blocked his voice until it sounded like a weak background.
Suddenly Jim's line trembled a bit. He jerked up and grabbed it, trying to hold it. Blair noticed the swaying of the boat and opened his eyes to see, how Jim stood up on his feet.
"Hey, do you need a helping han..." he didn't finished his question, when suddenly the fish hardly pulled the line, Jim lost his balance and fell into the water.
Blair forgot about his own line and bent over the board, looking after Jim. After few seconds he emerged, still not letting the fish to go. Blair reached out his hand and grabbed Jim's shirt, pulling him back into boat.
"Take it and don't let go!" the detective ordered, giving the rod to him.
Blair took it and held with all strength, while Jim climbed back into the boat. Together they struggled to get the stubborn fish, and finally they successed. Blair gasped, seeing the pike, which emerged out of water, hanging on the hook.
"Oh, my God!" he laughed. "This baby could be about twenty pounds in weight, don't you think?"
"Yeah, maybe... Shit!" Jim suddenly cursed, because pike apparently had decided to fight till the death, locating its sharp teeth into his finger. "Son of a... "
"Whoa, chill out, man!" Blair helped to release Jim's finger, still not being able to stop chuckling. "Come on, let me see that."
"Get off, Sandburg," Jim growled, finally capturing the fish and making sure it won't be able to get out of boat. "Better give me the first aid kit, before I'm catching some infection."
While he took care of bited wound, Blair checked his own rod. The bite was still intact. He threw the line again, secured the rod and turned his attention back to Jim.
"Well, if this was a competition, you would probably win with this baby," he pointed toward Jim's fish.
"You know, I'm only glad that it's really hot, or else you would hear my complain about being wet," Jim replied, observing his catch.
Blair grinned, tossed him towel and then glanced at his own float, which slightly swayed in water. The fishes apparently didn't liked either his bite or him. He glanced toward the big pike, which hopelessly convulsed and swayed. Blair was so deep in thoughts about the boycott of pikes against his rod, that he didn't noticed the float is missing.
"Hey, Chief, you're gonna miss your fish!" Jim nudged him.
Blair rushed to get his catch, and all sullen thoughts were swept out of his mind like after a magic hint.
This had been a long day in Oklahoma. Two more tornadoes were spotted in Canton and another one destroyed a farm near Hillsdale. In radar room of the National Severe Storms Laboratory, scientists carefully gathered latest information and satellite photos about two cells, which was about to converge. They start to inform all storm chasers in threatened area about possible severe thunderstorm.
"The first dry line had stalled, but not for long. This might be serious storm, doctor Harlow," one of the scientists talked on the phone with Frank.
"What about direction?"
"First cell is coming from southwest. The other comes across from northwest."
"Okay, we'll keep an eye on it," Frank ended conversation, when Nancy came over.
"I checked it. With this path it might hit Milburn head on."
Frank turned pale. That's exactly where he sent these two Simon's friends. They were about seventy miles away from the place.
"Rodger, try to find some shortcuts to Milburn! NSSL says there might be an F-3. Gary, here's the number of detective Ellison. Try to reach him and give a warning! We're going!"
Jim went out of shower, pulled his t-shirt and jeans on, and walked to window, opening it. He had been taking a cold shower, but it still was hot inside. He glanced outside. The skies were cloudy and it was getting dark. Jim extended his ears and heard the thunder somewhere far away. Fortunately it was too far to cause any concern. Jim looked at his partner, who was stretched on his stomach in bed in their motel room, reading some book.
The kid looked tired, and that was not surprise at all. They spent whole day at the lake. Blair managed to catch two more pikes, however they weren't so big as the first one. After returning in shore, they made a friendly communication with old Malcolm, who borrowed them the boat. As they soon find out, the old man was retired police officer, who seemed to be glad to meet at least one colleague. They cooked all three fishes and had a great meal. Couple of hours later, Blair did some swimming, but meanwhile Jim and Malcolm talked about police work. When Blair returned, Jim involved him in conversation too.
Basically, Jim had done his best to keep Blair's mind away from tornadoes and everything what could remind him about it. Now he was absolutely lost in his usual temple of peace which called reading. Jim carefully tiptoed closer and zoomed his vision over Blair's shoulder to see what was interesting enough to help his partner to avoid his thoughts away from storms.
"Stop reading over my shoulder! And don't laugh!" Blair suddenly covered the page with palm and glared at him.
Jim's eyebrows rose up. How in the hell Blair knew what he tried to do?
"I don't see the reason for fun yet," he innocently shrugged. "What you're reading?"
"Nancy gave me instructions about tornado safety. Well, you know, just for case."
"And? Did you found anything useful?" Jim stretched on second bed and took a TV remote.
"Yeah, mostly there are instructions about what to do before and during tornado. Here, take a look!"
Blair tossed the book, and it landed on Jim's stomach, then he get up and grabbed the remote from Jim's hand. Detective glared at him, and then he opened the book and started to read, while Blair lazy pressed the buttons on remote, trying to find something interesting.
"Tornadoes have been reported in every state, and though they generally occur during spring and summer, they can happen any time of the year. While tornadoes can occur at any time of the day or night, they are most likely to occur between 3:00 and 9:00 p.m. There are no areas immune to tornadoes; they have been reported in mountains and valleys, over deserts and swamps, from the Gulf Coast into Canada, in Hawaii and even Alaska. Regardless of the location or time of year, if conditions are right, a tornado can happen. Over 1,000 tornadoes are reported annually nationwide, and as our tornado detection systems improve, more are being reported each year. However, sometimes tornadoes will develop in areas in which no tornado watch or warning is in effect, so stay alert for changing weather conditions."
Jim rubbed his eyes, turned over the page and continued reading. Unwillingly he had to admit that this could be useful information.
"Be alert to what is happening outside as well. Here are some of the things: a sickly greenish or greenish black colour to the sky. A strange quiet that occurs within or shortly after the thunderstorm. Clouds moving by very fast, especially in a rotating pattern or converging toward one area of the sky. Sounds a little like a waterfall or rushing air at first, but turning into a roar as it comes closer. The sound of a tornado has been likened to that of both railroad trains and jets. Debris dropping from the sky. An obvious "funnel-shaped" cloud that is rotating, or debris such as branches or leaves being pulled upwards, even if no funnel cloud is visible."
Jim frowned. Almost all of these signs he witnessed today. He paid attention on tornado sounds description. Waterfall, railroad trains or jets? These were not the sounds he could use to describe the tornado. It sounded more like a live being, some wild animal or else. He glanced aside on Blair, wondering if he thinks the same.
But Sandburg seemed about to go somewhere. He placed remote on table, getting up from bed. Anthropologist's eyes darted around the room like searching for something. Jim raised one eyebrow up, observing his friend's activities, but Blair ignored his look. He pulled his wallet in back pocket of jeans and gathered his hairs together in ponytail.
"I want some coffee. Want to join me? There's a nice diner across the street."
"Are you really talking about diner or maybe about that blonde waitress?" Jim could not resist a little teasing.
"That's funny, Jim, really funny," Blair grinned. "So, you're coming or what?"
"Have a good time, Chief," Jim muttered.
"I guess that means no. Fine, then I'll see you later," Blair grabbed his jacket and walked out of room.
Jim chuckled at himself. The kid fast recovered from last events. When he announced about his wish to see the tornado, it was obvious that he has no idea where he's going into. Jim decided not to give him one of usual lectures. What sense of that would be? Blair already had a perfect lesson – stay away from tornadoes. Jim shook his head and turned back to the reading.
"If you see a tornado and it is not moving to the right or to the left relative to trees or power poles in the distance, it may be moving towards you! Remember that although tornadoes usually move from southwest to northeast, they also move towards the east, the southeast, the north, and even northwest. Encourage your family members to plan for their own safety in many different locations. It is important to make decisions about the safest places well before you ever have to go to them."
Slight wind breeze moved the curtains and the thunder rumbled again. This time it was closer, because Jim didn't had to straighten his ears. Suddenly his guts curled in ball for unknown reason. He climbed out of bed and walked to window, pushing the curtains aside and peeking out. Bright lightning flashed across the skies, and Jim winced from the light. He rubbed his eyes and pulled head back inside. There was nothing but an ordinary thunder, just like it used to be in Cascade too.
Still something make him feel anxious, however there was no visible reason for it. Maybe it was because of that one single tornado he saw yesterday. Amazing, how the few minutes of witnessing the force of nature could turn him into the alert mode for the whole day. And for the night too. Jim glanced at clock. 1.00 a.m. In usual day he would be already in bed, snoring in sleep. Instead, he was sitting in some motel room, staring in TV and – he was alone.
He sighed and took his jacket, hoping that Blair won't mind a company in his person. Right now he really needed some coffee. Maybe then everything will look different.
Jim already had placed his palm on doorknob, when his look paused at cell phone. He cursed himself for not being smart enough. Instead of staring in skies and trying to guess, there will be the tornado or not, he could easily call Frank and ask about it. Jim slammed the doors close and took the phone in one hand, searching in pocket for Frank's card with the other.
Another lightning flashed behind the window, startling Jim who almost dropped the phone out of hands. He quickly rushed to window, carefully closing it. Then he finally pressed Frank's number.
The phone line was dead. He tried to call again with the same success. Suddenly the TV static sound filled the room, and Jim frowned. He took a remote and turned it off, making a mental note to give a complaint to the owner of this motel. Was there asked too much for decent TV antenna? How to relax in a place like this? Even more, now there was no TV at all. Jim growled and finally turned to go outside, throwing cell phone over his shoulder, not really paying attention on its landing spot.
Blair was sitting in diner and slowly sipped his coffee. It tasted good, bitter and warm. He still startled a little bit by every lightning, however he trusted in warning systems and TV whether reports, even if they wasn't good enough. Ordering coffee, Blair had noticed a wedding ring on waitress finger, so his plan about making date scattered in small pieces. He simply paid for coffee, not even trying to start any conversation, and choosed the place at the window. He wasn't upset at all for his bad luck, which gave him a chance to enjoy a moment of peace.
However his thoughts were brutally interrupted, when diner door opened and Jim marched straight to the counter, ordering a coffee for himself. Then he gazed around the place and spotted anthropologist s location. Blair motioned at free chair in opposite side of table, and Jim walked over.
"Having fun?" he grinned.
"This isn't my lucky day, man. I mean, she's married and... never mind."
"Uh huh. Well, I hope you don't mind if I sit here for a while."
"No, I don't mind," Blair sighed, turning to look out of the window.
Jim sat down and took a sip of coffee. His sense of taste happily cheered up, feeling a strong and bitter taste of warm drink. It filled his tired body with new energy and strength. Jim took some few sips more and then turned Blair's attention.
"I tried to call Frank, but the lines are dead. I don't want to make any false alarms to your nerves, but what about the tornado warning systems in here?"
"Well, there are sirens and TV whether reports. We can ask the waitress to turn the channels on," Blair turned to counter, but his further words lost in halfway out of his mouth, seeing the TV turning to static. "What the hell..."
"The same happened with TV in motel room," Jim muttered.
The waitress switched the TV out. In next second the warning siren went off, and this time Jim had a bad feeling that this time it's not a false alarm. The waitress immediately turned the radio on to hear the weather report. Blair held his breath and listened into the phlegmatically calm male voice which filled the diner and caught everyone's attention.
"...tornado warning in Johnston county continues now, it's been extended officially... if you don't have a cellar or a basement, go to the center part of your house..."
The waitress immediately urged the people, sitting in diner, to stay calm and get outside to the shelter. Jim jumped out and passed her by, rushing out on the street.
"Jim! What? Wait for me!" Blair placed his mug on table and followed his friend.
Jim stopped in the middle of the street and gazed up at skies, turning all his senses in Sentinel mode. If the tornado was coming, he had to notice that thing before it hits. But he could not hear anything but the siren; there was an absolute silence in air as if he had the earplugs in. He pondered about the change of the air pressure that might cause a similar effect, and instantly he knew that it must be a certain sign that the storm is coming. Jim zoomed his sight into the darkness, but there was nothing too.
Jim shook his head. Why did he imagine that there would be the tornado at all? Okay, the warning was issued, but it accorded to whole county. Frank had said that the sirens could go off, even if tornado had been spotted in the opposite side of county, and that might mean that it won't even reach them. That was really stupid idea. He turned to walk back inside and bumped at Blair, who stared at him with concern and fears.
"It's coming, isn't it? Jim, I know you can sense it," his partner's voice trembled a bit. "The tornado is coming?"
"Calm down, Chief! I don't think that..."
Jim didn't finish his sentence. The wind suddenly grew louder. They heard a low roaring and looked behind them. And then there it was – the lightning flashed, enlightening the skies, and both friends nearly jumped, not really believing to what they saw. A huge tornado had formed only a half-mile away from them, straight into the heart of the town.
"Gee, it's coming!" Blair gasped, staring at funnel. "We have to get in cover! Jim? Where you're going? JIM?"
But detective already was back inside the diner, urging everyone to take cover immediately, and helping some older people to get in cover. Blair spit out some of selective curses, and then followed Jim's example, running across the street and into the motel, pressing the fire alarm button as extra warning siren, although the motel staff already lead the people down to the basement.
Tornado moved directly to them. Its rumble was deafening, the winds turned gales blow papers and lighter objects around. Blair helped motel s administrator to lead the people to the basement, making sure that no one has left behind. Then he turned and rushed outside to find Jim, before tornado hits.
Jim stood at storm cellar at the diner, holding the door in the ground open, and helped some old man to get down the stairs. Blair had to call his name several times before detective turned and saw young man standing few yards away.
"Sandburg! Get in here!" Jim yelled when tornado started to destroy the buildings only several yards from them, picking up debris and whirling them around the funnel.
Blair tossed the look back and, seeing that the storm is dangerously close, he run to the cellar with no hesitation. Jim pushed him forward, urging him to get inside. Blair stumbled down the stairs to join about twelve people, who already found the shelter in there.
"Jim? Jim, come on!" he swung around and yelled, because Jim stared at something (Blair had a certain suspicion on what he was staring) and his expression slowly changed.
"Watch out!" Jim yelled back, suddenly stepping away from the door.
Blair screamed for his friend, helplessly watching the door slamming close with a loud bang above his head, hiding his partner out of sight. The waitress rushed forward to close the latch. Through the howling of the storm Blair heard a loud crack and something hardly crashed against the cellar door, trapping all of them in the Underground shelter . Someone grabbed Blair's jacket and pulled him deeper in safety, while he still screamed for Jim.
"Jim! Jiiiim!" he frantically fought to get a rid of iron-like grip, but unsuccessfully.
"Calm down!" some man yelled in his ear to be heard through the deafening howls and rumbling. "You cannot help your friend now! Stay calm! It will be over soon!"
Blair held his breath, listening into the terrifying sounds coming from outside. He heard the crack of trees when they broke apart, glass breaking, more things crashing against the door. Then the earth start to shake under their feet.
Everyone huddled up in fatal position in the deepest corner of cellar. The sound of a jet plane or at least twenty railroad trains became increasingly louder, almost deafening them. Blair could think about nothing but Jim who was left somewhere out there. Did he managed to get cover in time? Was he still alive? Damn, how could anyone stay outside and survive?
"God almighty!" an old woman behind him screamed in panic.
Blair turned around and get over her, placing his arm around her shoulders. He couldn't help Jim, but there were the other people too. Blair knew that Jim would help them if he was there with him. He stretched his other arm and grabbed old pipe above his head as bonus safety in case if door won't keep shut. The sound was so loud that Blair couldn't even hear his own thoughts. The sense of time was lost. The minutes seemed to be endless. All he could do was pray.
When it will stop? Please, I want it to stop now! Please, Jim! Are you still alive? Please, God, let him be alive!
Then, suddenly the sound slowly faded away. Everything went silent.
Frank stared shockingly on image in front of his eyes. The devastation was sobering. The most of buildings were trashed and demolished. Smaller trees were pulled out with their roots and scattered all around. They saw a couple of bonfires and families picking through wreckage. Telephone poles were down on road, police officers and firemen tried to move them away. An ambulance was hovering around, giving first aid to injured people. It reminded some horrible scene from war movie.
"You just look at that!" Gary moaned, carefully driving through the remains of houses and parking near the heap of junks, which used to be a car. "Guys, I can bet it was more like an F-4!"
"We're too late," Frank raised on his toes to look over the crowd of people. "Okay, let's separate. We have to find them!"
"Who we are looking for?" Nancy hopped out of her truck with Sam and Rodger on her heels.
"Detective Ellison and his partner, Sandburg. I advised them to stay in here. Damn, I shouldn't do that!" Frank gazed around.
"Frank, you couldn't predict that," Rodger looked around. "Nobody could."
They started to walk forward, carefully looking at the people, searching for the big man and smaller one with long hairs. Frank turned his attention to a pile of trees and poles where a cop was hovering around, trying to see, what's under it. Seemed that he found something in there, because after a few minutes of examination he attempted to move the debris away, but realized he can't do this alone, so he called to his colleagues.
"Hey, guys, over here! There are some people down in there!"
Storm chasers didn't hesitated and run to help the cops. With their united effort they managed to move couple of power poles and lot of debris that blocked the cellar door and had trapped those who were inside. Paramedics came over, when rescuers led the people out. Frank sighed with relief seeing Blair climbing up the steps.
"Hey, Blair! Are you okay? Nancy rushed to him and grabbed his forearm to help him keep the balance.
"Wh... where... where's Jim?" Blair's eyes darted around, searching for his friend, "Jim? Where is he? Jim?"
"Wait a minute!" Frank grabbed young man and settled him down. "Are you saying that Jim wasn't there with you?"
"It was so fast... the tornado... we were warning the people and... when I came out of the motel, he was in here, at the shelter," Blair spoke fast, stuttering; his eyes never paused on search for Jim. "He... he pushed me inside, but then something felled on... he shut the door and stayed outside. We were in trap... I don't know where he is. I don't know..." his voice broke, and Blair turned away to hide the tears that filled his eyes.
"Okay, let's go to find him!" Frank called his team together. "Search these buildings, maybe he found a shelter in one of them."
Rodger, Nancy and Gary rushed across the street to the motel, which was compacted to one story, where the firemen already worked to remove debris and pieces of wood to reach the basement. But Frank, Eric, Sam and Blair started to check the place around the storm cellar.
What the hell happened? That was the first thought in Jim's mind, when he finally woke up, lying on hard floor in diner, but the answer came quickly in one single word – the tornado. Something heavy held him down, preventing him from getting up. Jim carefully peeked down to observe the unknown restrain on his body, and he saw a large piece of wall. It hadn't yet pressed him in pancake only because of few other junks in both sides of his shoulders. The wall hung on them, trapping Jim, but in the same time not threatening his life.
Jim turned head to examine his surroundings. He was trapped in the middle of debris, which only few minutes... or maybe hours ago... well, anyway, it now used to be a nice diner. Now the whole place was practically crashed down. Only the counter and a few tables hold all this wreckage together. At least temporary.
Jim tried to remember how did he get in here. He guided Blair down into the storm cellar, then he noticed that tornado was breaking power pole in distance, pulling the other poles along by wires. Then the pole next to him begun to sway threatingly. In the last second he managed to shut the cellar door, before the pole fell down, trapping the people in the cellar, including his partner. Tornado approached with unbelievable speed and the only place he could run in was the diner. He tried to get cover behind the counter, but then the walls sort of exploded and... yeah, that was the last thing he remembered.
Jim tried to push the wall off him, but at his first movement the whole pyramid of junks above it swayed a little, threatening to bury him under it. That was not too good. He tried again and this time few smaller ruins slid down, almost landing on his head.
Realizing that it's hopeless to try and dig himself out, he gazed around, searching for something he could use to as support to hold the wall up. Then his look paused at broken chair. It was worth to try. Jim carefully stretched one arm, grabbed the chair and slowly pulled it toward him. Then he tried to move the chair under the piece of wall in order to hold the thing in stabile position.
Suddenly he heard some voices calling his name. Straightening his ears, Jim recognized that one of those who were looking for him was Blair. There were more people with him – Frank! Of course, the storm chasers probably knew about the tornado, before it hit Milburn head on, but, since the phone was dead, Frank was unable to call him.
"I'm here! Sandburg! Blair! I'm here!" Jim shouted from the top of his lungs, hoping that his partner will hear him. Then he extended his hearing again.
"Did you hear that?" Jim heard Blair's voice. "I thought I heard Jim."
"Sandburg! I'm here, damn it!" he called again.
"In here!" Frank spotted the location of Jim. "Sam, get some help! Blair, wait for us, we're going in. Watch out! This thing is ready to go!"
Jim couldn't do anything, he simply listened in Blair and Frank's attempts to break through the labyrinth of debris.
"Jim, where are you?"
"I'm here, guys!"
"Okay, hang on! We're almost there!"
"Watch your step, Blair! Help me to move this away!"
"Okay, take my hand! Look out, look out! This whole thing is about to go!"
Jim listened to their exchange of short sentences. They came closer to him, carefully removing the broken furniture, shattered glasses and other junks that blocked their way. Finally Jim heard their voices right nearby, and in next moment he saw Blair's concerned, pale face.
"Hey, Jim, are you okay?" he asked anxiously.
"I've been better," Jim sighed, looking at large piece of wall, which still held him in trap.
"Okay, Blair," Frank commanded. "Get down in there and cover his head. We'll try to move this wall away from him. Guys, help me with this one!" He called out to his team.
Blair climbed down and kneeled next to Jim, leaning over and covering his friend's head. Frank, Sam and Rodger grabbed the wall by an edge and start to lift it up. The whole rain of small debris poured over Blair's back, but he didn't moved, protecting Jim from further injuries. When the piece of wall was moved up enough, Blair grabbed Jim by his jacket and started to pull him out.
"I'm okay, Chief. I can get out on my own," Jim slowly crawled out of his trap, however Blair made no move to get away.
Frank gave him hand and helped to get out. An ambulance truck already was waiting outside on street. Blair followed Jim like a shadow, hovering around while paramedic examined Jim's condition.
"This one will need a stitch, but nothing too serious. Just a scratches and few bruises. You're pretty lucky guy."
"Lucky is my middle name, I guess," Jim chuckled, hopping out of truck.
Blair sighed, looking around on devastation in front of his eyes. This was so wrong. He turned at Frank, who seemed to be in the same opinion.
"The sirens went off only a minute before the tornado hit. Is there a possibility that in future that warning system will get better?"
"That's what the we're working on," Frank nod at his colleagues, who were several yards away, helping the rescuers. "I hope that in soon future we'll make a new warning system. But until we do, they have to trust on whether reports."
Jim walked over and Blair immediately turned his whole attention on his friend.
"How you're doing?"
"Fine, just a little banged up. I have been worse, trust me."
Blair grinned. "Did you just said, trust me? You know, these are two scariest words in English. If they're coming from me, of course. Must be double scary coming from you."
Jim moaned. He glanced at Frank, who avoided any comments and switched the topic.
"Nancy found your car. Good thing that you parked in motel's garage," he noted. "I think it's not trashed, so you can leave this place, if you want."
"You can bet on this. However I think that we should hang around in here and see, if they need our help," Jim motioned on authorities, which worked in disaster area.
"There won't be a necessary. They are prepared for such situations. I don't want to be impolite, but it seems to be the wrong time for fishing," Frank sighed. "We have a whether reports from NSSL that this is not over yet. Soon we will be on the road again."
"Hey, how about some fishing in Washington State? Without any tornadoes?" Jim offered. "And then Simon would join us too."
Frank hesitated, considering the offer and then smiled at Jim.
"Sounds good. Just soon as the storm season is over, I call Simon. It was nice to meet you, Jim. Guess, I'll see you guys in Washington?"
"We'll show you some really good fishing spots. You think it's safe to leave now?"
"It's safe for now. If you hurry, you will be in Oklahoma City after seven hours. The storm shouldn't get in your way. But I would suggest you to keep the radio channel open. If anything changes, I'll let you know."
"Okay, thanks for everything."
They shook each other hands, and then Frank walked away to join his team. Jim turned at Blair, who still looked pale and a bit shaky after all this.
"Well, Chief, let's get the hell out of here," he placed his hand over young man's shoulders and leaded him toward the garage. "I hope that the car won't be buried in too deep. It doesn't look like there's a chance to rent new car."
Blair weakly chuckled in spite of fears and desperation he felt before. Fortunately only couple pieces of veneer blocked the entrance of garage. Together they moved the obstacles away and climbed in car.
"Geez, good thing that we left the most of our baggage in truck," Blair occupied the driver's seat. "Give me the keys, I don't think that you should drive right now."
"Right," Jim tossed him car keys, and Blair start to manoeuvre through the chaos on street. "I'll check the map to find some shortcuts to the highway. I want to get out of here as fast as possible."
Soon later they drove out of destroyed Milburn and headed to Oklahoma City. Jim turned on the CB radio like Frank advised him to do. This wasn't exactly the kind of vacation he expected. Instead of peaceful week they both experienced something they couldn't stand against.
"Actually, I remembered something interesting that I read once in some book," Blair suddenly interrupted his thoughts by one of his ordinary bad timing lectures. "In the past, carnivores or other wild animals were often used to symbolize dangerous nature; wolves, for instance, were often portrayed in European and American stories as bestially ravenous bad guys. Such a view of wildlife is less popular as our society's views of the environment have changed, but symbolizing nature with tornadoes in the role of villain permitted the mythic story to still be told in strong, clear terms. One of the most important mythic stories in Western culture: "Science Protects Humans from Dangerous Nature". A second important Western paradigm that lies even deeper: that nature is a dangerous thing from which humans need to be protected."
"Sandburg!" Jim glared at his partner. "Do me a favour and save this lecture for Simon. By the way, did you get the video?"
"Sure! He is going to wig when he'll see that!" Blair grinned, but then he turned serious. "You know, for a moment I thought that you are..."
He didn't finished the sentence, but Jim knew what he wanted to say. For a moment he also had thought the same thing. But, instead of heart-to-heart talk, he simply looked at road in front of them.
"Do me another favour, Chief," he finally spoke. "If we ever return in this area, stay away from storm chasers, okay? The Mother Nature has to be respected. "
"Yeah," Blair added. "But the most important, respect the tornado! "
Jim decided to remember this phrase till the end of his days. And he also made a mental note to never come back in Oklahoma again. Well, at least for the next fifty years.
Starry skies became visible through the clouds, reassuring Jim that the worse is already behind. According to Frank, they had to drive about seven hours, so he had enough time to get some rest. He gave the last look to his partner and then he fell in nice, deep sleep.
The storm had moved away from them to continue its destructive path. Mother Nature was unpredictable and dangerous only for those, who dared to not take her for serious.
If you are on a road, never hide under an overpass if a tornado approaches! The sad fact is this idea has caused many deaths of motorists already. The worst thing you can do is hide under an overpass. Winds can actually be worse under an overpass, which makes it a bad place to go. Please, never use an overpass for protection.
One of the most important things you can do to prevent being injured in a tornado is to be ALERT to the onset of severe weather. Most deaths and injuries happen to people who are unaware and uninformed. Young children or the mentally challenged may not recognize a dangerous situation. The ill, elderly, or invalid may not be able to reach shelter in time. Those who ignore the weather because of indifference or overconfidence may not perceive the danger.
Stay aware, and you will stay alive!