If you see a red Subaru parked under the storm with a flannel and baseball cap-wearing fella standing by it, feel free to say hey! I intentionally keep myself pretty incognito while I'm out there. I don't drive an armored tank, I don't have any flashy lights or a recognizable paint job. It's a pretty anti-social thing for me and I'd rather not draw any attention to myself. That being said - if you see me, say something!
I never stood a chance. I suppose I feared storms for a couple years of my life. Around age 2, I was awakened by a nighttime thunderstorm. My parents grabbed their crying toddler and took him onto the porch of my grandparent's home in rural Aledo, IL to watch the driving rain, bright lightning and loud thunder. They didn't seem to bother me after that.
My dad always had an interest in severe storms and tornadoes. He was a storm spotter as a young adult, and his stories of his first tornadoes kept me on the edge of my childhood seat.
My path was further solidified when my dad friended the new Chief Meteorologist in town, Ed Kieser, at WILL AM 580/FM 90.9. Ed became a local weather celebrity who also had a passion for severe weather, and specifically tornadoes. Are you catching a theme here? Their powers combined to create a tornado-obsessed child who spent more time watching tornado videos on VHS and Beta tapes than watching cartoons.
My parents bought me a little Kodak 110 camera to play around with when I was 6 or 7, but I wanted more. I took on a daily newspaper delivery job, a paperboy, if you will, and saved away my money until I could buy my own 35mm film SLR, and then my own Sony 8mm camcorder. It was time to go!
My dad and Ed Kieser would go off with the folks in the Dept of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois in search of tornadoes which left me devastated every single time. "Wait until you're 18!" they told me. When you're a 12 or 13-year-old kid, your 18th birthday feels like an eternity away. I still got my fix, filming storms that rolled into Champaign-Urbana from the garage, and then compiling little highlight flicks using my camera and multiple VCRs plugged into each other to share with family and friends.
...And 15, 20 years later, I guess I'm still doing the same thing. The only difference is, time did pass, and I now have the luxury of meeting the storm out on the prairie rather than pleading with the sky to send the action to my driveway.
The sky is always up to something. Even if it looks benign, it's still sitting up there scheming. The open sky will always be my escape. Whatever form it takes - the middle of storm chasing season, standing in front of a growing supercell with my best friends - or walking a trail with my family. Fresh air and the open sky breathes life into this body.
While I'm not out observing the weather in the open, I'm forecasting it from the office. My day job is Senior Meteorologist for Nutrien Ag Solutions, working in our Champaign, IL office. I also independently operate Chambana Weather, providing local weather information for Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities. I provide daily weather forecasts and live severe weather coverage for Illinois Public Media, WILL AM 580/FM 90.9, (Central Illinois' NPR). I also work closely with local school districts and the County Emergency Management Agency in severe weather preparedness efforts.
I am truly living my best life.
The Cloud Mobile
The "Cloud Mobile" in front of the Divernon, IL tornado on July 15th, 2020, courtesy of Colin Davis' dash camera: