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Face to face with a Tornado !


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CLOSE ENCOUNTERS with a Twister

Paul Denman tells about the day he came face to face with America's most frightening meteorological phenomenon, a tornado

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Until last year, I'd always wanted to see a tornado. A few years ago, in Oklahoma, I saw one of those violent dark green storm skies, with small cones hanging down from its underside; but the tornado that people feared at that moment never materialized. The cones were sucked back into the clouds, and eventually the sun came out again. Last year I met my first (and thankfully only) tornado.... and it was not in the south. We were in Montana - tranquil old Montana - enjoying our summer vacation, when the twister struck. The day had begun like any ordinary July day in Montana, with a bright blue sky, and hot sunshine. A few bubbling clouds were blowing across, as we made our way in the footsteps of Calamity Jane , towards an ancient mining town called Castle. In the days when the West was Wild, Castle was a rough and busy town, full of miners looking for silver and gold. Jane stayed there for a few years, running a bar. Today, Castle is a "ghost town", a collection of old wooden buildings, some still standing, others just a pile of fallen boards and planks of wood. Abandoned over 100 years ago, when the mines ran out of precious metals, Castle now lies in the middle of nowhere, miles from a paved road, miles from civilisation.

ghost town, montana That morning, Castle was deserted. Few visitors make the journey to this distant part of Montana, and even fewer want to drive ten miles on a dirt-track to visit a place like Castle. The sun was shining brightly when we arrived, and it was still shining when we found the house where Jane used to live. It wasn't until the sun went behind a cloud that we looked up at the sky.
   "Hey!" said Sarah, "Look, there's a storm coming..." Indeed, to the south, the sky had turned an inky black. A storm was coming, and it looked like a big one.
  "Let's get back to the main road," Sarah added. "These tracks will be unpassable if there's a storm."
   "Sure, that's a good idea, let's get going!" I said
   "If we go north, we'll come out near White Sulphur Springs," said Robbie.

The track wound upwards through a forest of pine trees, then divided, then divided again.
   "Which way?" I asked.
   "Take the track to the right," said Julie who had the map.
    "Are you sure?"
   "No, I'm not sure exactly where we are... the map doesn't show all these tracks... but I think so."
    The time was just about midday, yet somehow, in the space of ten minutes, all the blue had vanished from the sky, and the light was fading fast, as if evening was coming on. The track twisted and turned, up and down, through woods and over streams, and then, at last, out onto an open, treeless, hilltop. Suddenly Sarah shouted. "Look, a tornado!"
    I pulled the car to a stop, and looked back; and there it was. Just like in the movie: the clouds were hanging like a dark ceiling above our heads, slate gray with tinges of brown and green. And there, just a few miles to the south, was the tornado, an inky funnel of twisting cloud coming right down to the ground. Beside it, several other menacing cones were hanging downwards, ready to strike. We could see them moving in our direction.Tornado in Montana "Let's get out of here!" I said, and threw the car into gear.

I don't usually drive cars at 50 m.p.h along dirt tracks, but this time I did; as we sped across the open hilltop, it seemed like there were three different storms coming towards us at once, from three different directions. By now we could see waves of wind gusting across the grassland, and by the time we reached the trees again, branches were blowing in all directions. Then, beside the track, we came across a group of tourists on quad bikes, enjoying a cross-country trip. We stopped the car for a moment to warn them, but the tour-guide laughed. "Tornado?! No! We don't get tornados here!" I wasn't going to hang around arguing with him, so we just set off again, hoping to find a real road where we could move faster than the storm. But it was not to be. We had come out of the woods, and were going down into a valley when suddenly the hills in front of us vanished. It all happened in the space of about two minutes.  
     "It's coming this way," shouted Sarah.
     "Find some shelter!" said Julie.
There was none - not a tree, not a building, not a bridge, until, just as we were giving up hope, like a mirage in the desert, we spotted an old abandoned church. Just beyond it, the sky seemed to touch the ground. As we raced towards the shelter of this - probably the most solid building for miles around - the first hailstones hit us, as big as golf balls, blowing almost horizontally across the windscreen. We reached the church, and pulled to an abrupt halt. Shelter! By then we could see nothing - or at least nothing further from us than about fifteen meters; and although there were four of us in the car, and it was a heavy car too, the vehicle was jumping up and down on its springs, as if someone was trying to push it over. The noise of the wind and the hailstones on the roof was deafening, and conversation was impossible, so we just sat there in silence hoping and praying that our car was not going to be picked up like a leaf, and thrown across into the unknown that we could not see.....

It probably lasted about ten minutes - but sitting in that bumping noisy car, it seemed more like ten hours until, almost as suddenly as it had started, the wind stopped, and the hail stopped falling. Normality returned.
   "Phew!", said Sarah. "I thought we'd had it!"
   "Me too," said Robbie.
    Fortunately, the tornado had missed us, and we'd just been through the very violent storm that accompanied it. But just short distance down the road, the twister had caused chaos and destruction, flattening a farm and a garage as it rolled across the prairies of Montana. A week later, a similar twister crashed into a camp ground in Alberta, Canada, killing a dozen people, and wrecking hundreds of tents and caravans. With hindsight, I felt that we'd been quite lucky. I'd seen my twister, I'd been on the edge of it, but fortunately not in the middle. Frankly, that was quite enough.



TORNADO ALLEY

Perhaps you saw the movie "Twister". Remember, it was the film about scientists who wanted to measure the forces in the middle of a tornado. It was a frightening movie, which illustrated the incredible strength of this terrifying natural phenomenon. Though small tornados can happen in many parts of the world, it is only in North America that the real big "twisters" attack. "Tornado Alley" stretches from the Gulf of Mexico in the south, as far as the plains of Alberta, Canada, in the north. The further north you go, the rarer they are; but in the southern states of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, Tornados strike every year, destroying houses and mobile homes, cars and trees, and anything else that gets in their way.


Notes: 

Calamity Jane

Jane was one of the very few women who became famous in the very masculine world of the Wild West. She was really Martha Jane Burke, 1852-1903. She spent most of her life in mining towns of South Dakota, and working on the wagon trains that brought supplies to the wild and isolated towns. She was an excellent shot with a revolver or a rifle.

The days when the West was Wild:
Generally, the second half of the nineteenth century, as the new territories, between the Mississippi and the Pacific, were opened up. In particular, the short period between about 1850 and 1880, the "heyday" of the legendary West.

WORDS:

Word guide

board: plank of wood - cone: a rounded pyramidal form - deafening: very loud indeed (it can make you deaf) - dirt track: a road with no hard surface - fade: diminish, disappear - get going: leave, depart, start - give up: abandon - gust: a violent movement of the wind - hailstones: small balls of ice - hang around: stay - hindsight: retrospect - inky: like ink, very dark - into gear: gears come between the engine to the wheels - make one's way: go - make the journey: come, travel - materialize: become real, appear - quad bikes: four-wheeled motor scooters - rough: violent, dangerous - run out of: come to the end of, have no more of - run: to manage, to own, to operate - set off: move away - shelter: protection - slate gray: almost black (gray US = grey GB) - sped:past tense of to speed, go very fast - spot: see - spring: a mechanism that absorbs bumps and jolts - struck:past tense of to strike, to hit - suck: pull - we'd had it: we were in serious danger - windscreen: front window of a car - wound: past tense of to wind, twist, turn - wreck: destroy -



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Close Encounters with a Tornado - Worksheet

Exercise 1:
Replace the missing prepositions in this extract . You will find a list of the missing prepositions in the left hand column,  indicating the number of times each one is needed.
Sorry : This exercise cannot be viewed on small-screen mobile phones
 
List of missing prepositions to replace:

About: 3 ,
above 1,
across 4,
along 1 ,
at 4,
beside 2,
beyond 1,
by 3,
down 3,
for 2,
from 3,
in 7 ,
into 1,
of 10,
off 1,
on 2,
out 3,
over 1,
through 1,
to 10, 
towards 2,
up 2,
with 2,
The time was just _________ midday, yet somehow, _________ the space _________ ten minutes, all the blue had vanished _________ the sky, and the light was fading fast, as if evening was coming  _____.
    The track twisted and turned, _________ and  _______, _________ woods and _________ streams, and then, _________ last, _________ onto an open, treeless, hilltop. Suddenly Sarah shouted.
    "Look, a tornado!"
    I pulled the car _________ a stop, and looked back; and there it was. Just like _________ the movie: the clouds were hanging like a dark ceiling _________ our heads, slate gray _________ tinges _________ brown and green. And there, just a few miles _________ the south, was the tornado, an inky funnel _________ twisting cloud coming right _________ _________ the ground. _________ it, several other menacing cones were hanging downwards, ready _________ strike. We could see them moving _________ our direction.
    "Let's get _________ _________ here!" I said, and threw the car _________ gear.
    I don't usually drive cars _________ 50 m.p.h _________ dirt tracks, but this time I did; as we sped _________ the open hilltop, it seemed like there were three different storms coming _________ us _________ once, _________ three different directions. _________ now we could see waves _________ wind gusting _________ the grassland, and _________ the time we reached the trees again, branches were blowing _________ all directions.
    Then, _________ the track, we came _________ a group _________ tourists _________ quad bikes, enjoying a cross-country trip. We stopped the car _________ a moment _________ warn them, but the tour-guide laughed.
    "Tornado?! No! We don't get tornados here!"
    I wasn't going _________ hang around arguing _________ him, so we just set _________ again, hoping _________ find a real road where we could move faster than the storm. But it was not _________ be. We had come _________ _________ the woods, and were going _________ _________ a valley when suddenly the hills _________ front _________ us vanished. It all happened _________ the space _________ _________ two minutes.
    "It's coming this way," shouted Sarah.
    "Find some shelter!" said Julie.
    There was none - not a tree, not a building, not a bridge, until, just as we were giving _________ hope, like a mirage _________ the desert, we spotted an old abandoned church. Just _________ it, the sky seemed _________ touch the ground.
    As we raced _________ the shelter _________ this - probably the most solid building _________ miles around - the first hailstones hit us, as big as golf balls, blowing almost horizontally _________ the windscreen. We reached the church, and pulled _________ an abrupt halt. Shelter!
    _________ then we could see nothing - or _________ least nothing further _________ us than _________ fifteen meters.

Exercise 2:

Read the article, and decide which of the three alternatives suggested is the best synonym for the following words or phrases:

    * eventually: a) perhaps, b) finally, c) by chance
    * funnel: a) chimney, b) hole,   c)lake
    * at once: a)  immediately, b)  very fast, c)  at the same time
    * we came across: a) we saw, b) we hit, c) we got stopped by
    * to warn them: a) to watch them, b) to inform them of the danger, c) to let them pass
    * it lasted: a) it finished, b) it seemed to be, it c) continued for.


Exercise 3:

Make up eight questions that you would like to ask Sarah, using eight different structures or questions words, including two from each of these groups:

    * Group 1: Questions with NO question word.
    * Group 2: Questions with how much or how many.
    * Group 3: Questions with how often, how long, or how + adjective.
    * Group 4: Questions with what, where, how, when or why.

Imagine Sarah's reply in each case.

Exercise 4:

Teachers, a) using exercise 3 as a starting point, have students script an imaginary interview involving Sarah or Paul and a radio reporter; this interview can be acted out in class, or recorded.

b) Note tense usage in this article, notably use of the past perfect (with had). this is only used in English, when it is necessary to place one action or event further in the past (i.e.before) than another that is mentioned.
    Until (i.e.before) last year (past event), I HAD always wanted to see a tornado.

  

Further suggestions submitted by Annette Engelmann, from Switzerland.

A/ Find the synonyms (look only at the bold and italicized words)

To go
To have no more of
Four-wheeled motor scooters
Protection
To appear, become real

B/ Answer the following questions about the text (full sentences, please)
1.    What was the weather like when Paul Denman experienced a tornado in
Castle? Explain the development of the weather.
 
.......................................................................... ..............................................................................
......................................................................... ...............................................................................
......................................................................... ...............................................................................
........................................................................ ............
2.    How many people were there in the car? Give the names.
 
....................................................................... ................................................................
3.    What were the reactions of the various people in the car?
 
....................................................................... .................................................................................
....................................................................... .................................................................................
....................................................................... ..............................
4.    Who  and what saved them?
....................................................................... .................................................................................
....................................................................... ...............................................

C/ Your opinion (number of words is the minimum expected)
1.    What do you think happened to the group of tourists? (30 words )

...................................................................... ..................................................................................
....................................................................... .................................................................................
....................................................................... .................................................................................
....................................................................... .............
2.    How do you think you would react in a similar situation? (30 words)
...................................................................... ..................................................................................
....................................................................... .................................................................................
..................................................................... ...................................................................................
..................................................................... ...............
3.    Do you think anything like this could happen in your country? Why (not)?   (25 words) 
...................................................................... ..................................................................................
...................................................................... .................................................
Other ideas?
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Reading comprehension in the English class
(Version française : Petite méthodologie de la compréhension écrite )

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