Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Something I’ve never seen

I am a native of the Midwest of the United States, an area that ought to have big signs saying “Tornadoes R Us” on roads crossing into the region, because the storms—or the threat of them happening—are common facts of life in much of the region.

I lived in the Midwest—Illinois specifically—from birth until age 36, and there were many times I experienced storms that produced tornadoes (elsewhere), and there were even a few times I took cover. And yet in all that time I never actually saw a tornado.

That all changed today.

We were heading north, making our way to the motorway and we saw one off in the distance. I was more fascinated than frightened—though I did keep an eye on its position and the direction it was heading. Only a few minutes earlier, I was telling Nigel about how I’d seen on Twitter that there had been tornadoes in Auckland a little while earlier.

We got on the motorway at Constellation Drive and, due to traffic, there was just enough time to snap the photo above (at about 4:24pm). I thought it was ironic that I lived all that time in the Midwest without ever seeing a tornado, and here I was, some 13,000 kilometres (8200 miles) away seeing my first one.

Except, it wasn’t and I didn’t.

It turns out, it was a waterspout which is similar to a tornado, but over water and usually not very destructive. Going by the photos posted to The New Zealand Herald website, the waterspout was pretty long-lived, going for around 45 minutes.

Waterspout v. tornado may seem like a technicality, but the distinction is useful, I suppose. Tornadoes aren’t rare in New Zealand, but they’re not common either. There was a bad one last year in Albany—which isn’t far from where the waterspout seemed to be when we saw it—but deadly tornadoes, fortunately, are rare in New Zealand.

I should say that I’m relieved it wasn’t a tornado; I should say that, but I’m actually kind of disappointed it wasn’t one. Obviously I’m glad there weren’t any injuries and there was no damage (as far as I know), but it would’ve been kind of nice to add that to my list of done things.

Because—technically, at least—a tornado is still something I’ve never seen.

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