storm season

After yesterday, I think we can say storm season has arrived. Massive severe weather systems pushed their way through the American heartland yesterday, causing destruction all the way from northern Texas to Minnesota. There were twenty-four confirmed reports of tornados on the ground in five different states (one of them was spotted three or four miles northwest of where I live — though we only experienced high winds, torrential rain, and a few minutes of hail).

It was horrible. It was glorious. It made me miss my brother, Jesse Eugene.

and it's still rainingJesse Eugene and I didn’t have a great deal in common. We were always close and we always enjoyed each other, but I’m not sure we’d have been friends if we weren’t brothers. Still, we spent a lot of time together over the last couple years of his life. Hunting morels in the spring (I haven’t found a single mushroom this year, which would have made him laugh his ass off, the vicious bastard), playing games on the X-Box (he’d have been really curious about the new version being released tomorrow), playing golf (which reminds me, I need to set up a tee time with my remaining brother), and sitting on his porch, cooking and drinking beer (I did most of the cooking; he did most of the drinking — an unfair division of labor).

And storms. We had this in common: we both loved storms.

and then it got worseWhen a storm was approaching, we’d both stop what we were doing and pile into his truck, head out into the countryside, and find a spot where we could watch it.

It’s one of the best things about living in the American Midwest: you can actually watch weather systems develop. You can watch a storm grow and turn mean — or grow, then give in to entropy and dissipate. You can watch rain pissing down like mad a couple of miles away, while you’re standing placidly in sunshine. You can see tornados form — or try to form and fail — or form and just hang there in the sky like wasp tails, without ever touching down. And lawdy, the lightning. Beautiful and terrifying and mesmerizing.

There’s something elementally compelling about watching a storm grow in size and strength. It’s both scary and magnificent. Sometimes you realize the storm hasn’t actually gotten bigger — it’s just gotten closer. That can be unnerving.

a bit of rotationI think what made Jesse Eugene such a good storm-watching companion was that neither of us was interested in the experience as an adventure. Some people like to get close to storms because they enjoy the thrill, the risk. My brother served as a Marine in Vietnam and was a career firefighter; I’ve been a medic in the military, I was a counselor in the Psychiatric/Security Unit of a prison for women, and a private investigator specializing in criminal defense — we’d both experienced very real risks and dangers, and neither of us felt any need to seek out new ones.

For us, watching storms was all about witnessing something primal, something wild and savage and entirely unrestrained. Something completely beyond anything resembling human control, but something that was still organic. Storms follow rules and laws of nature that we didn’t / couldn’t understand, and we were both drawn by the fact that a storm was always capable of doing something totally unexpected. One moment the sky would be grey and scarred with dark clouds, the next it would turn a weird purplish-green, the color of a three-day old bruise, and then half an hour later it would be blue again. Or maybe it would stay dark and rain like it was the End of Days. You just didn’t know.

anvil cloudThat’s Jesse Eugene in the photo above. He’s been dead for almost two years now, and I miss him. Not every day, but I miss him. It’s not necessarily painful — it’s usually just a quiet but sudden sense of the absence of the familiar. Like if you get a new office chair. Or you switch from winter boots to sneakers. It just feels a wee bit off. It’s a reminder that things are different now. But you know that feeling will pass. You get used to it.

But during yesterday’s storm, I missed him a lot. I missed the feral grin he’d get when the storm was getting stupid wild, or getting too close. It was a grin that said If we had a lick of sense, we’d get back in the vehicle right now and haul ass — but isn’t this great? Let’s wait just a tad longer.

Here’s today’s weather forecast:

A few t-storms, some severe; storms can bring downpours, large hail, damaging winds, and a tornado.

I don’t believe in any sort of afterlife. I don’t believe Jesse Eugene is somewhere else, on some other plane of existence, looking down and enjoying the storm with me. But I know if he was still alive, he’d be watching the horizon for a shift in the weather. And grinning in anticipation.

Editorial note: All of the photographs above were shot in a span of fifteen minutes on 21 June, 2011.

13 thoughts on “storm season

  1. I love that last shot for the terrifying weather and the human perspective. I like that it’s a lovely glimpse of Jesse Eugene, and I can imagine the smile on his face even though I don’t even know what he looked like.
    We, I mean humans, we don’t talk enough about this stuff, the way our lives are after someone has died. I recognise that missing feeling that you’ve described so well. I will think of Jesse Eugene the next time I see a proper storm.


    • Debra, I was standing up in the back of the truck when I took that shot. The wind was staggering, and the brother was suggesting I get the hell down and plant my ass in the truck — not to get out of the storm, but so we could get closer.


  2. Man, you described Midwest storm watching perfectly. I lived in Oklahoma for a few years decades ago and there were not many things more mesmerizing than watching a storm on the endless horizon. And the green sky which sometimes accompanied those storms held its own kind of morbid terror. In New Jersey I have seen green skies, but for a completely different reason.


    • John, when I moved back to the Midwest I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least I’d be able to see real weather again. I’ve found I rather like it here now, which I never did when I was young. Now the weather is just gravy.


  3. “Sometimes you realize the story hasn’t gotten easier – it’s just gotten closer.” I will carry those lovely words with me throughout the week. It does get easier, as I’m learning too from my mother’s death. And it’s these moments that make them all the more intense and, for lack of a better way to say it – electrifying.


    • I’m sorry about your mother. It does get easier…but thankfully, it never becomes completely easy. Isn’t that horrible? Isn’t that great?


  4. Ah Greg, what a sweet remembrance of Jesse Eugene. It’s always a little thing that triggers the feeling of loss and missing someone close you’ve lost. And boy have you nailed it about the storms. The primal force and beauty of weather and things that used to terrify me when I was young. I now want, need, to be a witness to these storms. I’ve lived with many a tornado passing over my house, but have never actually seen one. I’m going to try to photograph them this summer, with Camille Seaman; whom Pam referenced above; not for the adventure, but for the chance to witness their awe inspiring power and beauty. Your photos just blow me away.


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