I was stranded while storm chasing, so strangers came to the rescue

'The last thing a storm chaser wants is to be stranded hundreds of miles from home or in a potentially dangerous situation'

On a rural dusty dirt road in the middle of nowhere, Arizona, I’m taking a moment to relax with a fellow storm chaser. 

Just an hour or so earlier we saw landspout tornadoes spin up underneath a rotating thunderstorm — an exciting first for me — but I was about to get another much less fun first experience. 

Distant storms were slowly encroaching on our position, and I was considering our options. After a quick discussion, we decided to get back onto the main road. I started to make a three-point-turn, reversing my car just a few feet off the dirt road when I felt the car dip and heard a loud crunch. 

“Uh oh.” I turned the wheel and revved the engine, but the car didn’t budge. 

Chris Scragg's Mazda3 perched precariously on a small ditch near Marana, Arizona, on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. 

The last thing a storm chaser wants is to be stranded hundreds of miles from home or in a potentially dangerous situation. Luckily, the weather was calm for the time being. 

I got out and saw my car beached in a comically small ditch. 

“Really?” I muttered to myself. 

Any vehicle with a few more inches of clearance would’ve had no problem.

My Mazda3 Sedan looked pathetically out of place on this dirt road with the back wheel almost lifted off the ground. 

My fellow chaser, Linda, and I worked for nearly an hour trying to get the car out. We dug underneath the tire and scavenged for sticks and rocks to get traction, but the car kept digging deeper into the sand. 

Linda called a local gas station for a tow rope or hopefully a tow, but no luck. 

Out of options, I pulled out my phone and tapped in a tweet for assistance with a Google Maps link to my location. Twitter said "sending," but the cell signal was weak. I was unsure whether it would send so I put my phone on the roof of my car and got back to work. 

About 15 minutes later, I saw a line of cars coming down the road. I assumed these people lived down the road somewhere, and I instantly felt embarrassed having the locals pity my unfortunate looking car sticking out in the dirt road.

But the lead car rolled its window down and the woman driving said, “Are you Chris?”

My earlier tweet had gone through, and it started a chain reaction through the small Arizona storm chasing community. As a result, four Tucson-area storm chasers heard of my plight and came to rescue me. 

A storm chaser named CJ who’s currently living in Oregon, saw my tweet and reached out to storm chasers that he knew were in my area. 

With the Google link, these Arizona native chasers, most of whom I'd never met before, came to my rescue. 

After receiving a few lighthearted and deserved jabs at my predicament, we chatted for a few minutes about previous chases in the season and what we'd seen from the storms earlier that day.  

Storm chasers Kevin Rimcoski and John 'Flano' Flanagan stand by a stranded Mazda3 near Marana, Arizona, on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. 

Distant rumbles of thunder and sprinkling rain got us back on task. A jovial and long-bearded storm chaser, nick-named Flano, hooked my car to a pickup and it was yanked out of the ditch in a few minutes. 

I thanked everyone who helped and we all went our separate ways, headed for the next big storm.

I was so elated and surprised that people I never met were not only willing to deviate from their own plans and risk getting out of position to help me, but also managed to make it a genuinely fun encounter. 

It proved to me that even for a competitive time-sensitive hobby that puts us in the middle of nowhere, the community of storm chasers is generous and excited to help each other — something that can be hard to come by today. 

The other lesson I learned? I need a bigger car. 

Reach the reporter at cscragg@asu.edu or follow @monsoonchaser on Twitter. 

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