31 October 2010

Tornado Watch. Or: What a Difference a Day Makes

This week has been about work and weather. I've been in Grand Rapids, Michigan, attending a conference. I come regularly and enjoy meeting up with my US colleagues. Because I'm carrying work kit, there's rarely room for much camera gear, so on this trip I had just my Panasonic DMC-TZ6. And even that pocket camera ended up not being with me when I could have used it!

At the start of the week the news was full of severe weather warnings. The worst storm for 70 years was forecast to be coming through on Tuesday - the day of the conference. Boy, did it arrive! The rain became heavier and heavier and increasingly audible even in our windowless conference room, and you could hear the wind roaring.

Halfway through Tuesday morning's sales presentation, the tornado warning sirens went off..

Now as a Brit, this is something I've never experienced before and it did spike my adrenaline a bit as we were all evacuated to the conference centre's basement. Unfortunately as it has always been drilled into me to evacuate without taking anything with you, I left my camera upstairs in my case. Which was a pity as there were some rather good photo opportunities as people tried to work on in the basement.

Still, photographers (like fishermen) frequently refer to 'the ones that got away'... and I was there to work rather than photograph. Work on we did - the sales conference schedule was not going to be flattened by a tornado warning! So we all 'kept calm and carried on', with a great on-the-fly-and-who-needs-modern-technology-anyway presentation of the next set of books with visuals of the book covers shown by using the new catalogue. A bit smaller than the powerpoint presentation upstairs, but it got the information across.

Forty minutes later we all trooped back upstairs. (I must admit that I did look to see if all the cars parked out front were still there!) Ten minutes after that we went through the whole process a second time when the sirens went off again. Despite all the disruption, the conference ran to time, which I thought was pretty impressive.

By the time we finished the rain had eased, though the wind was still incredible. From the shelter of my (rocking) car, I took a grab shot of the amazing threatening sky. You can just about see the outline of the cars at the bottom of the picture. I missed my SLR's manual settings at this point - the general light level wasn't quite this dark - but I think the picture I've got does represent the atmosphere of the day rather well, even if it's not as good as it could be. (Bearing in mind too that this is the picture 'straight out of the camera' with no tweaking or tinkering whatsoever.)

I heard the following day that a funnel cloud was seen at Grand Rapids airport, which is only a few miles away from the conference centre, but most local damage seemed to be to power lines and small things like signs.

By Wednesday morning the worst of the weather had gone through, leaving very strong winds following. The power went out (again) at the offices I was visiting, but not for too long. Though the traffic lights going out for most of the day on one of the major intersections meant some very lengthy traffic queues which I accidentally ended up in! It was quite literally hard work to walk into the wind, and my car door was snatched out of my hand and slammed. But the black clouds of the previous day had been utterly blown away. This picture was taken about 18 hours after the last. Apart from the storm force winds, it was hard to imagine the tornado warnings and torrential rains of the previous day.

These photographs are not among the best I've taken. I didn't take very many, and they were taken on a camera which perhaps isn't best suited for extremes. Nonetheless, there are times when the pictures you are taking are about personal memories, not pictorial perfection. In photography, as in many other things, there is infinite diversity. And that's one of the things which keeps it so interesting.

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