It looked like I had another race on my hands. I had just won one, the Mark Hardin Memorial Air Race in Terrell, Texas, the day before, and now I was on my way home. But this time I wasn’t racing other men and machines, I was racing the elements.
The forecast called for fog in the morning so I got a late start. The weathermen were wrong. There was no fog. They also called for a few thunderstorms in the late afternoon. They were wrong about that, too: Both in how many there would be, and when they’d develop.
Back in the day, the sky a mystery over the horizon, flying must have been frightening. But thanks to near-real time radar on my iPad in the cockpit, I can see a storm a hundred miles away. Two hundred. I can see further than I can fly. So from far, far away, as I flew west, I was able to see the storm grow.
Actually there were many storms, but most posed no threat. Out from Plainview, Texas, they sprouted to the north and south of my course. I watched them billow and grow off my wings, giving me cooling shade and painting my radar first green, then orange, then red as they towered into the atmosphere, higher and higher.
They were beautiful, but no threat. I slid between and below them as they grew into monsters, but before they turned ugly. My worry was dead ahead. West of my destination a thunderstorm started to grow. It looked like it was barreling down on my home base as I was thundering towards it from the opposite direction.
The race was on.
I was doing 111 miles per hour. A good, strong thunderstorm can move a more than half that speed, so they can cover some ground pretty quickly. Plus, storms tend to kick wind out ahead of them. I expected to meet the front’s headwinds before I landed. The race looked to be a close one.
As we both closed in on the airport, the storm and I, I was pulling ahead on the radar. But in the real world it looked different. I was able to watch a menacing shadow from the storm’s anvil move across the landscape like an invading army, and on the final stretch I passed into the shadow, looking up from my cockpit at high, turbulent clouds above me as I made my turn to final approach.
On the ground the bright day turned to dim twilight, and the windsock snapped and groaned against the wind. The sky turned an evil shade of darkest grey. I quickly re-fueled, taxied to my hangar, and got the plane inside, sheltered from the sky.
Then, apparently deprived of its prize, the storm suddenly moved north, not leaving so much as single drop of rain. The sun came back out again and the wind died to a whisper.