Monday, February 6, 2012

Andy Gabrielson 1987-2012

There was a moment of sheer denial in what I'd just read on Saturday night:

"We lost Andy Gabrielson today."

My mind raced to even come up with the words to respond to the text in front of my face. Though I remember little about those first few moments the likelihood of my responding with the word "WHAT!" was true.

I was with family members out for an evening of celebration for a recent birthday. Though I had promised my wife there would be little interaction with my phone that evening, I couldn't help but sneak a peek at times over the party. And there it was. And after I read the initial sentence a couple more times, The shock wave hit.

"We lost Andy Gabrielson today."

Of course, the "WOW!" that emanated from my mouth at that point gave away the momentary indiscretion and called attention to my furiously searching for more words. After explaining the urgency to the party, the focus became about the details. With each discovery multiplying the reality by a factor of a thousand, the words that I'd just read and refused to believe, became stunningly true.

And sadness took hold.

"I was just with him on Friday" I thought to myself. "I was following him south of Wichita Falls on a supercell that by all appearances, had a good chance of going tornadic." For all the theater of chasers out there that day, my money was on Andy.

I tagged along with Andy as well as several others for a couple of hours until it was fairly clear that what was once promising, failed to produce.

Bust. Damn...

And that was that. I continued on with my day. And most likely Andy continued on with his. I can't say for sure however, as at that point I was disconnected from him and moved on to my work at hand.

You see, neither of us knows the other.

At least not under the premise of a roadside chat, a squaring of the eyes to each other, a handshake.

No, my connection to this 25 year old kid from Luverne Minnesota came together from a common bond of residing in the same state, a passion for severe weather, and social media.

My connection to Andy came about due to my desire to rekindle an interest in weather. Specifically, severe weather and to focus it to a finer point: tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. I had been fascinated with weather as a very young child. Family members have said "You wouldn't shut up about it..." And over the years while I may have shut up about it, the interest still lingered.

It wasn't until many years later when, as a birthday present to my then 15 year old daughter, we went out on a chase day trip with some experienced chasers. Not only did it give me the opportunity to share the common interest of severe weather with her, It began my journey as well.

As time passed, I found myself with grown kids and beginning to search for avenues of interest aside from the usual that occupy so much of a parents time as their children grow. By this time, social media had taken hold and the ability to communicate to it by mobile means was a foregone conclusion.

One day, I happened to be monitoring a line of severe weather passing through an area of Minnesota. As I was searching for more information about the severity of the storms via the internet, I stumbled upon one of the early streaming websites for chasers, Severe Studios.

It was shortly thereafter I found myself riding on the dash of none other than: Andy Gabrielson.

Barreling down some back road with a wall cloud hanging in the distance, I was mesmerized. Here I was, riding along with some lunatic I knew nothing about satisfying my rekindled love for out of control weather cheering this guy on hoping something would drop from the sky. We were not to be disappointed. Soon, out in the middle of somewhere Minnesota, a tube ends up on the ground.

And instead of enjoying the view from a comfortable distance, My chase partner goes right for it.

"This guy's got balls of Titanium" I say to myself. But in some perverse way, I want him to go for it. We're invested now. It was at that point I began to pay more attention to his safety and location to the tornado than to the awe and the scope of what I was watching. And at that moment, at about a half mile's distance away from the chaos, the tornado lifted and disappeared.


I had never experienced a moment like that up to that point in my life. That I could be so connected to an incident occurring at that very moment in time with an individual that shared a passion for the same interest as I and was willing to let me experience it with him via a seemingly very disconnected means.

What stemmed from that moment in time was the realization while some guys like to fish, or hunt, or rebuild old cars as they settle into middle aged life, I decided I wanted to chase storms. I wanted to challenge my need to learn and support my interest in technology and severe weather, and mold it into a hobby. One that I could share with my wife and other family members and anyone else that was interested.

As I educated and prepared myself for entry into the hobby, I always kept one eye on Andy. And as a result, I got to witness first hand just how extremely successful he was becoming. Whenever and wherever  severe weather lurked, it was likely Andy was close by. It was clear he had a passion unlike many others and not only did he become known as a "Chasers chaser" he became a successful businessman parlaying his love of weather into real dollars and cents.

But clearly, as I look around at the various social media sites dedicated to storm chasing, one thing is repeated over and over again, Andy's connection to people that crossed paths with him and the incredible response to the awful news of his death bore witness to how unique he was.

And that response can serve to temper the obvious and rightful anger and sadness and sense of loss we all are experiencing at this moment in time.

I think the one most important thing we can and should gather from this tragedy is this: There's an emblematic part of Andy in every one of us. And if each one of us took our own piece of Andy's memory and put it into action, This world will be a far better place for it...

And even though I never met you Andy?

I will most certainly miss you. 

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