The Missouri River came up on our right, and sure enough, a wall cloud was slowly descending over the water. I floored the gas, bringing the TIV to sixty miles an hour as we skimmed under the edge of the rotating cloud. The rain lightened save for a few haphazard splatters, meaning we were beneath the rain-free base where a funnel would emerge.
“Sylphie, pull back a little,” Dad’s voice crackled. “The RFD’s kicking up.”
I’d felt it already, knew we were right alongside the clear slot. The buoyant rear flank downdraft had dried out the clouds and I could feel the warm inflow gusting around the truck. I followed my dad’s instructions and eased off the gas a bit. Our team would be hanging back at the moment, waiting to see not only if we’d get a cyclone, but if it would hit land, hopefully this side of the river as there’d be no point chasing it across a bridge. If it happened to shift its path, you didn’t want to be caught on an overpass.
I sensed the funnel before I saw it, a much smaller twisting of air descending from the center of the wall cloud. It connected with the river, exploding in a column of blue. I increased speed to keep pace with it, but stayed a good distance behind in case it decided to bank left and cross our path.
Gage’s camera clicked furiously. It wasn’t an extreme twister, probably an F1, maybe pushing F2 with wind speed approaching 110 miles per hour. But it was beautiful nonetheless, like an ice-blue snake bending and contorting in a vertical dance, head buried in the clouds as its jaws devoured lightning.
“Not bad, huh?” I said over the cyclone’s whistling.
Gage took a split second to flash me a grin before returning his eyes to the camera’s viewfinder.
“Sylphie,” David’s serious tone cut in. “You seeing that?”
I immediately pulled my focus back and scanned the air currents. Shoot, the thing was gaining speed.
“See what?” Gage asked.
“It’s getting stronger,” I said, tightening my grip on the wheel and watching for a signal it would change direction. At the moment, the waterspout seemed content just to coast up the river.
Gage tilted his head away from his camera, brow quirked. “How can you tell?”
“Experience,” I hastily replied. “Man, if the thing would just come ashore we might be able to get the probe out.” But even a low-level intensity tornado like this one was beyond our physical and mental limits to control, not unless we all pulled off the road, stood in a circle, and concentrated like a bunch of Wiccans chanting a spell. Minus the chanting.
Lightning whipped across the sky like fractured glass. A branch backlit the cyclone, filling it with a refracted glow that reminded me of a pale, buzzing, Jedi sword. Thunder cracked above our heads, rattling the bulletproof windows. More streaks cut through the clouds in rapid succession. I only had a split second to recognize one of the discharges was flashing straight down for ground contact, and even then I couldn’t stop it as the charge struck a power line several yards ahead on our left. Sparks exploded in a showering sizzle and a live wire suddenly whipped out, slashing across the road.
I swore and cranked the wheel right, slamming Gage and David against the far side of the truck. The TIV careened onto a side road—straight onto a small bridge.
“What the hell are you doing, Sylphie?” Dad’s alarmed voice shouted. He would’ve seen the abrupt turn on GPS, but not the reason for it.
“Sorry!” I exclaimed to my passengers before snatching up the radio to assuage my dad. “Wayward lightning strike, nothing to worry about.”
“Sylphie, it’s shifting!”
I jerked my attention out the driver’s side window at the twister I’d assumed would be leaving us behind. But the waterspout suddenly wrenched around, its top veering back while the bottom half took a twisted moment to switch gears and change direction. And it was heading straight for us.
“Oh.” Crap on toast. “Hang on.”
I jammed my foot on the brake, jolting everyone forward. Gage clutched his camera protectively to his chest with one arm while catching himself on the dash with the other. David thudded against the back of my seat with an “oomph.” The back tires squealed and started to slip. Pumping the brakes, I steered into the skid, focusing on keeping the truck steady. The buzzing cyclone was nearly on top of us.
As soon as the TIV came to a jerking full stop, I dropped the stabilizing spikes and wind skirts, nearly jumping out of my skin as my gaze darted between the twister bearing down on us and the slowly deploying hydraulics. The metal teeth hit the ground and dug in just as the truck started to wobble in the increasing wind speed.
The cyclone hissed and veered right in front of us, a sheet of water covering the windows and blinding visibility. Gage kept shooting pictures anyway. The truck lurched and tipped a few feet to the side and I let out an exultant whoop as the waterspout’s sheer power enveloped my senses in a wash of sensory overload. Twisting air currents, colliding temperatures, and the electrostatic discharge converging in a raging storm right over our heads sent my heart into overdrive and flooded my system with endorphins. I lived for this high.