We pulled off on a country road and got out of our vehicles. While its anvil unraveled across a great swath of the state of Kansas, the actual core of the supercell was only a few miles in diameter. Yet it erupted straight into the sky, a tower of churning, muscular clouds soaring 60,000 feet. Within it was the mesocyclone. We watched the wall cloud, which had begun to rotate, and waited to see if a tornado would form below it. We could see dirt from the fields surrounding us being sucked into the storm, and we could feel the same inflow buffeting our backs, pushing us toward the core.
After ten or fifteen minutes, I saw it. At first, the funnel cloud was camouflaged by the rest of the wall cloud, but soon I could discern its discrete shape. It looked like an enormous elephant trunk, greyish and thick. A long, more narrow rope-like structure led from the funnel cloud up into the thunderhead itself, presumably stretching into the mesocyclone that was invisible from the ground. It reminded me of the handle to a vacuum cleaner. I was awestruck. I'd never witnessed anything like it before.
There was something about watching the storm that filled me with reverence. Was I in the presence of something holy?
Or was I playing with fire, pushing the boundary with something capricious, ruinous, and forbidden?
The sight before me was ominous and almost otherworldly, yet my dangerous proximity to such an overwhelming, deadly force of nature was mitigated by my adrenaline-fueled excitement. Nobody said a word. And then, within seconds, the funnel cloud dissipated into the mass of other clouds, vanishing into thin air. It never touched down, nor was its unfathomable power fully expressed. I was grateful for that. I was grateful that I never witnessed the twister churn the earth below, that I never saw it toss around trees and tractor trailers like children's toys. I was thankful that I never beheld up close something that few people ever experience and survive without deep wounds.
I was happy the tornado never touched down. At least that's what I told myself.
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