Chasing storms provides new experience

I set out last week in search of the beast. I climbed on my trusty steed, caged myself in armor and was prepared to capture forever the terrifying image of one of nature's most hideous monsters.

I ended up on the side of State Road 400 changing my tire in 60 mph, hail-laden winds.

Wednesday morning I woke up to what I, at the time, considered big news. The National Weather Service was predicting a rash of tornadoes throughout Indiana and Daily News photographer Joe Krupa was probably going to head out with Dr. David Arnold and the Ball State Storm Chase Team with the goal of observing a tornado or two first-hand.

After meeting up with the team and developing a game plan (read: Arnold speaks, tells us where to go and then we hop in our cars and follow), a caravan of about 10 cars headed north on I-69 chasing a particularly menacing set of dark gray clouds.

Apprehensive excitement sent a surge of adrenaline through my body as I set off in my trusty Ford Bronco to face and capture on film as many shape-shifting, trailer park-destroying monsters as I could. For the second time in my life I was going to stare nature's bad boys in the eye and ask them, politely, to "smile for the camera."

Funny, the first time I took my chances with this type of a storm I ended up nearly being struck by lightning. Obviously, I had yet to learn my lesson.

The caravan headed north on I-69 and then, after a quick stop on exit 41, turned south and pulled over to the side of the road. Arnold got out, looked at the rotation and movement of the formation, explained what it meant to the news and radio people present and decided to change the caravan's course once again.

Arnold decided that the caravan needed to head north.

God, or fate (depending on your personal beliefs), decided my luck needed to head due south.

It all started when I noticed that the cars in front of me weren't the same cars I had been following for the past 15 minutes and my cell phone rang. Krupa was on the other end asking me where I was and my answer placed me about 5 miles north of the rest of the caravan.

I had to cut across the median of I-69 (this was in the name of scientific discovery, right?) and I guess the gravel road did the trick.

Heading south on I-69, I noticed the back end of my Bronco starting to swerve a little. Pulling off on exit 41 once again, I started to have serious trouble controlling my car.

Rumbling into the first house on the left side of state road 400, my passenger-side rear tire was a mangled mess and, more importantly, heaven opened her floodgates like I've never seen before.

It took over an hour to change that tire. Considering that every single lug nut was rusted in place and 60 mph winds, complete with quarter-sized hail, blasted right through every piece of clothing I was wearing I'm surprised it only took that long.

I'm even more surprised that I'm not suffering from pneumonia. I shook for over an hour after I got home -- my chattering teeth straining to pronounce words correctly over the phone as I explained to my girlfriend the intricate details of my tornado-chase fiasco.

The next day, I paid around $300 for a new set of tires, as my rear passenger side tire was not the only jacked-up rubber wheel on my vehicle.

But hey, I got a couple pretty pictures and another humorous story to gradually embellish as the years go by -- priceless, right?

Yeah, I guess I've learned my lesson this time around -- the next time Krupa calls and tells me the caravan's going to roll again I've definitely got a solid answer for him.

I'll tell him to count me in.


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