This is Scott Gast’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:
My name is Scott Gast. I am 22 years old and live in a small town called Colonial Beach, VA (population < 2,000). I try to stay busy all the time and have been that way since I was a little kid. I am a Graphic Designer under contract (paid), Shift Manager (paid), Ambulance Driver (Volunteer), and I am also an Independent Storm Chaser for the National Weather Service (Volunteer). I volunteer as much of my time as possible and in any way possible with no limitations.
One day, a few years ago, I was working at our local grocery store, Food Lion. My shift supervisor had stepped outside the front door for a moment to speak with the store manager before he left for the day. Within seconds of her going outside, she came running back through the front door screaming my name frantically. I tried to calm her down but she was too scared and frightened to speak. Being unable to talk, she started throwing her arm in a directional motion towards the window. Starting to get scared myself from her reaction, I looked out the window to see what made her so upset. I saw a small tornado on the ground traveling slowly down the side of our local highway (Rt. 205) towards our shopping center.
Being the only person around with experience in severe weather situations such as this, I went outside (dumb move on my part, but intensely exhilarating) and immediately called the National Weather Service office in Wakefield, VA. I identified myself with my SkyWarn Storm Spotter ID number and told them my exact location and the current severe weather conditions. The meteorologist I was speaking with informed me that their office had not yet received any reports of a funnel-cloud making contact with the ground in our area, nor were they focused on it, as they were concerned with other localities in our state with “multiple sightings” of hazardous weather conditions. With the information I had provided them, the National Weather Service was able to issue a Tornado Warning in advance for Charles County, MD, which is two miles across the Potomac River from our town.
The tornado had dissipated, the winds calmed down and the rain started pouring as the storm system worked its way across the river. Work then returned to normal and the talk of the town was now on what had happened in the “Food Lion parking lot in the beach.” Later that evening, around 11 or so, I was watching Channel 9 News and could not believe my eyes. There was a reporter speaking over-top video footage taken by helicopter of a demolished house in Charles County, MD from earlier on in the evening.
As it turns out, moments after I had reported the tornado in Colonial Beach, the same storm cluster had produced yet another tornado. This time it was in Maryland. A homeowner, with her son in hand, came on camera and told the reporter that she was in her living room folding laundry when an ‘Emergency Broadcast Alert’ popped up on her television with a Tornado Warning for her county. She immediately ran outside to search for her six year old son when, to her disbelief, she saw what appeared to be a funnel cloud (spinning in the clouds that closely resembles a tornado, but has not yet made contact with the ground) a few blocks up the road from her residence. She started yelling for her son in the backyard, and terrified by his mother’s tone of voice, he came running from the side of the house. They were both able to make it into their basement within seconds of the tornado hitting their home and completely destroying it.
I could not believe what I had seen. What happened next was even more unbelievable. The broadcaster stated that their news station had contacted the National Weather Service office in Sterling, VA (Maryland’s local NWS office), who then told them that thanks was not due to their office, but to the SkyWarn Storm Spotter in Colonial Beach, VA, who was able to report an earlier tornado associated with the same storm cell. That, in turn, had prompted them to issue an advance warning for their county when they did. They did not mention my name as the NWS is not allowed to by law, but it was not necessary.
I had saved two lives by making a phone call. Never before had anything like this ever happened to me. My emotions, in knowing what I had done was beneficial to the lives of a mother and her son, completely overwhelmed me. I do not consider myself a hero, as I probably should, but more-so as a person in my community doing something to better the lives of others. I have this feeling deep inside that one day, somewhere and somehow, the mother who’s life I helped to save or her son, will too, help save someone else’s life. I believe its nature’s way of “paying it forward”.
Technology is saving lives every day. If it weren’t for the technology in my cell phone to call the National Weather Service, their radar to confirm the tornado, their alert system to notify the public of the on-coming storm and the television’s ‘Emergency Broadcast’ to spread the word, two lives would have been lost that day. It’s up to us, the general public, to find new ways to utilize the numerous possibilities of combining every resource available to help the lives of others, even if it helps just one family. You too may need help one day.