This year really began for me on 01 May, when I did a rare (for me!) spot-chase down to the MAF area ... and missed the show there. Then, on 03 May, I left the office at closing time and chased that tremendous outbreak here in Oklahoma. I had a great chase and a fascinating post-storm survey ... see here for my impressions and thoughts from that huge event.
My scheduled chase vacation started with tag-alongs (very unusual for me): a Pioneer Productions crew (Alec, Jason, Rickie), plus my friend and colleague (an NRC post-doctoral fellow) Romualdo Romero and his wife Isabel. Then, after the first week, my wife and best friend, Vickie, took over as my chase partner.
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NOTICE .. All images I show on my Web pages have been scanned from original slides, with some digital enhancement (touch-ups of dirt on the slides when scanned, and some enhancement of the original scanned images to make them look more like the original slides). I do not alter my images digitally to put in things that were not originally in the image or remove things that were originally in the image, and I do not make digital composites. I am personally opposed to such image manipulations unless they are admitted to clearly and obviously.
Route notation: "USXX" denotes US highway XX, "I-xx" denotes Interstate highway xx, "SSxxx" denotes state (SS) highway xxx, "FMXX" in TX denotes farm-to-market highway XX. Wherever possible, cities having National Weather Service offices are identified with the appropriate 3-letter identifier.
Route: Left OUN via I-35 to ICT, I-135 to SLN, I-70 to HYS, north on US183 to Stockton, KS, west on US24 to HLC, south on US283 to Wakeeny, KS
Narrative. A busted day. Storms developed in northwestern KS and southwestern NE, produced a guster (derecho) that we went through on our way to Wakeeny.
Route: Left Wakeeny, south on US283 to DDC, to US54, southwest to DHT, US87 to Capulin, NM325 around Capulin, back to US87 to CAO
Narrative. Essentially a "blue sky" chase. Storms never fired on the plains.
Route: Left CAO south on NM209 to CVS, southeast on US84 to FM179 to FM spur 309 to TX114, west to FM2646, south 5 miles, then back to TX114, east to LBB
Narrative. Interesting day. Lots of wildflower shots in eastern NM (like this, or this, or this), then some weak storms developed west of LBB, which gradually dissipated. Nice warm-up for what we hope will be a BIG day tomorrow.
Route: Left LBB via Loop 289 to US82 northeast to Idalou, then east to FM400, south to TX40 east to about 5 mi. southwest of Ralls, then back to Loop 289 to NWS-LBB; then Loop 289 to I-27, north to Hale Center, then east on FM1914, south on FM400, east on FM784, south on FM789, east on FM37, south on US82, to Ralls, west on US82, back to LBB
Narrative. Pretty decent intercept day. First storm fired up to the east of LBB, at the intersection of two cloud lines, apparently left over boundaries from previous convection. Storm looked great for about 20 min, with a nice lowering and then it seemed to push its RFD southward and from then on, it got smaller and was fizzling. Ran into Cloud-9 crews (Jim Leonard, Charles Edwards, R.J. Evans, etc.) with this storm. Went back to NWS-LBB, looked at radar and saw developing storm to the north, so took off after it. Intercepted it near Hale Center ... a wild HP beast it turned out to be. Struggled to stay ahead of its outflow as we moved in a zig-zag to the east-southeast ... great structure and interesting green color with it, north of Petersburg, TX ... had a terrific radar echo at that time. Ran into one of the DoWs, Dave Hoadley and Roger Edwards during the chase. It seemed finally to get thoroughly outflow dominated and so we broke off and returned to LBB.
Route: Left LBB via US87, southeast to Sterling City, south on TX163 to Barnhart, west on I10 to Sheffield, north on TX349 to MAF, north on FM1788 to TX176 through Andrews to about 5 miles west, then back to Andrews, south on US385 to Loop 338 to I-20, east to FM 1788, south about 18 miles, then back to MAF
Narrative. An aggravating day. I made a bad decision, to go southeast toward SJT, when I should have stayed around LBB to see where things would go up. I was not very happy with the messy situation and was pretty pessimistic about anything good happening. After a gas-consuming trip, we arrived at the MAF NWS office and saw storms blowing up in southeast NM, so we roared off after them. After a chase, we saw a huge storm blow up behind us and couldn't make anything out ahead of us, toward Eunice. Called MAF and they said baseballs had been reported near Odessa ... so we went back to intercept it. An interesting left-mover came quickly at us. The right-mover was still a long ways away and navigating through MAF slowed us down ... it was crap by the time we saw it. Hung around south of MAF til dark, trying for lightning. A gust front roared out of the murk at us, and we finally bailed.
Route: Left MAF via I-20 to US277 to SPS, north on I-44 [flooded!] ... through SPS to US287 to US82 to Gainesville, north on I-35 to OUN.
Narrative. Looked over the data at MAF (saw some interesting mammatus from some early morning junkus), came to the conclusion that the chances for reachable severe weather for the rest of the week were minimal, so we all went home. I needed to wait til Vickie got off work so she could join me, and I dropped off the Pioneer crew, along with Romu and Isabel.
Narrative. spent at home
Route: Left OUN via I-35 north to I-240 west to I-44, north to I-40, west to spur 281, northwest to US270/281, north to KS34 to DDC.
Narrative. Travel day, positioning for Monday. Waiting in DDC til tomorrow.
Route: Left DDC via US283 to Laverne, OK, to US270 to May, back to US283 to US160, west to 3 east of Meade, back to US283, south to US160, east to US183, south to Sitka, to US64 to Buffalo, OK
Narrative. Would have been a great day, but for a bad decision at the end. Waited around or moved only slowly with lots of stops (saw Mike Foster at the intersection of US283 and US64 in OK) for a long time ... dithered about Laverne, OK for awhile, waiting for something to fire. Finally, Vickie saw the developing towers to the northwest. We intercepted the storm just east of Meade (where we again met Mike Foster) ... an LP "mothership" for awhile (here's a wide view). It produced a weak, brief "dust bowl" tornado. Then it developed a lowering and began to propagate east-southeastward and we had to move to stay out of the hail ... ended up south of Sitka on a dirt road, the same road where we had watched a supercell last year (on 24 May); saw Gene Rhoden there, with his tag-alongs. We were running low on fuel and I was worried about that, so we left Gene and went on to Buffalo, OK ... only to find out we had driven away from a tornado, not 5 mins after we left! Gene met us again about 30 min later, in Buffalo and showed his video (a sample of Gene's images can be found here; some other images of what we missed can be seen here, at Bob Conzemius's 31 May chase site). We were right there, and left, minutes before ... Aaarrrrrgggghhh!!! It would have been a terrific day, as I had gotten some nice wildflower shots and the very picturesque supercell we intercepted and followed was the result of a string of good decisions, only to have it blow up on us at the end. But that's real storm chasing, folks!!
Route: Left Buffalo, OK via US183 north to KS34, north to Bucklin, northwest on US400 to DDC, west on US50, north on KS23 to Dighton, west on KS96 to US83, north on US83 to LBF
Narrative. Chose to blow off the storm system that produced yesterday's action, with today's threat mostly east of I-35 ... today would be a positioning day, north to LBF, in preparation for a High Plains upslope day tomorrow.
Route: Left LBF going west on I-80 to I-76, southwest to Julesburg, CO, south on US385, to Cheyenne Wells, west on US40 to about 5 mi west of Firstview, CO; then east on US40 to Sharon Springs, north on KS27 to GLD, west on I-70 to Burlington, CO, north on US385 to Wray, CO
Narrative. Interesting day ... went out and looked at the first storms up, decided they were high-based crap, and went east, but nothing was happening. Went north toward GLD, and saw our original storm had developed into something interesting, so we gave it a chase: a high-based supercell. Followed it as it moved north-northeast, getting right close and personal, including a great view under the "flying saucer" [Note (added on 24 Jan 2000): see also Walker Ashley's images here.] (and operating my "Ralphie" lightning detector) watching towers roll up into the anvil. Then it began to dump precip and move past us, giving a great view at sunset. [Note (added on 23 June and revised on 16 July): Near sunset, I took this shot, which certainly has something strange happening. I think it's a downburst, with some dust curling up at the leading edge. Any thoughts? e-mail me.] Non-tornadic (?) (although it had a brief dust whirl under the RFD cut), but it sure was an interesting storm and many pretty angles. After the dust whirl, a dust band began to move toward the RFD cut from the precip area, and a strange "blob" or two of concentrated dust was lifted under the RFD cut, but it didn't seem to be rotating. The storm had a classic appearance on radar but the storm relative Doppler velocity was all inflow and relatively little outflow. There's hope for tomorrow, too.
Route: Left Wray, CO - east on US34 to KS-27, south to GLD, east on I-70 to Colby, KS, east on US24 to US83, northeast to KS383, northeast to Norton Wildlife Refuge ... north to US36/383 to Norton, south on unnumbered dirt road to Edmond, KS, east on KS9 to Logan, KS, west on KS9 to unnumbered dirt road, north to US36, east to KS80, north to Almena, northeast to US183, north to Alma, NE, east on US136 to Red Cloud, NE, north on US281 to HSI.
Narrative. Great day! Wandered into the GLD NWS office, made a forecast for north-central KS and "chased my forecast" ... waited for about 2 h at Norton Wildlife Refuge before we saw towers popping to our immediate south. Stayed with the storm and it developed a "mothership" look, after an initial split. Struggled with KS dirt roads ... called in funnel reports (we saw at least three, first this, then this, then this) from a dirt road northwest of Logan and then moved to another position further north. South of Almena, KS we watched a tornado develop to our west-northwest, starting with a chaotic phase, including multiple vortices, and then it turned into a fat cone, then a large stovepipe that persisted for a considerable time, evolving back into a curved cone [here's another, wider view]. We had to move because the tornado was getting away from us ... as we moved, it was gradually narrowing, but still remaining cone-shaped. Finally, it became a narrow cylinder and then finally roped out. After the tornado dissipated, we struggled with the hail it was putting down on our route, but we got some great views of the "mothership" that we thought was certain to produce more tornadoes, but we never saw more [there may or may not have been more]. At sunset, the storm evolved into a beautiful LP storm. It could be argued that the whole evolution of the main event was one tornado (the point of view that I'm advocating), but there were several gaps in the evolution that could be argued were gaps between tornadoes ... see here for a general discussion). Got some decent video, Vickie shot 35 mm slides, and I hit the medium format camera (examples here and here), as well. Ran into Bill McCaul and his wife at GLD and later around the storm, saw Gene Moore after things settled down (near sunset); had seen Bill McCaul and his wife both at GLD and in the field, early.
Route: Left HSI - north on US281 to NE58, west to Rockville, NE, south on NE68 to Ravenna (detour route!), northwest on NE2 to Thedford, north on US83 to VTN, west on US20 to Merriman, south on NE61 to Ogallala.
Narrative. Frustrating day! Blew off the early developments (high-based), went north to VTN but nothing was going on, so went west toward some distant anvils. Saw overshooting tops to the south, so then dived south, but the show was over by the time we got to Ogallala. Thus, we managed to miss everything! Nothing to show for a looonnnggg drive. Found out later that a big show took place at Thedford ... see route description. Aaarrrrggghhh!
Route: Left Ogalla on I-80 east, to LBF, then continued east to GRI, north on US281 to NE12, east to 2 mi east of Verdel, NE, then back west on NE12 to Butte, NE, then south on NE11 toward Atkinson, NE ... turned west on an unnumbered dirt road 5 mi north of Atkinson that became paved northeast of Stuart, NE, around Stuart to US20, west on US20 to 1.5 mi west of Newport, NE, then back on US20 to NE137, north to NE12, to Naper, NE, then north on NE/SD 137 to US18, then southeast on US18 to US281, south to O'Neill, NE.
Narrative. An initially frustrating day, again, but with an exciting finish! We wandered about, lost (meteorologically) and confused for most of the afternoon ... saw some nice Altocumulus Castellanus while on I-80. Bad visibilities and no storms to the west seemed to spell another screw-up, but finally saw anvils west and decided to go after them. After a wild chase, we managed to intercept a terrific supercell, with a beaver's tail and other nice structure late in the day. Saw a nice cone-shaped tornado develop just northwest of Newport, NE! Our first views of the storm give some indication of the structure, the tornado was reasonably large under a low cloud base, although the contrast wasn't great. It eventually became rather debris-shrouded, and then was moving away from us as it dissipated. We didn't get much besides video and a couple of slides. Limited road options forced us to drive under the mesocyclone north of Newport, but we avoided any large hail and no more tornadoes developed at that time, fortunately for us. In examining my video, there might have been a tornado after dark(?) as the storm moved toward SD, but I don't think there was. It was really nice to see a tornado after having figured we'd missed everything, but the chase to get to it was a bit frantic..
Route: Left O'Neill, NE on US20, west to Lusk, WY
Narrative. A "repositioning" day, devoted to photos. A beautiful sky was seen the whole day, enhancing the scenery. Ran into the true front as we drove west. A line of shallow convection was seen in western NE and on into eastern WY that managed to produce rain from very shallow updrafts. The drive along US20 in northern NE has lots of surprises. Very interesting country and well worth the time, especially with such interesting skies!
Route: Left Lusk, WY, north on US85 to Newcastle, WY, east on US16 to SD36, east to US79 to Hermosa, SD, north to RAP, south and east on SD44 to White River, SD, north on US83 to Murdo, SD, west on I-90 to Kadoka, SD.
Narrative. Another frustrating day. Wandered about toward RAP, saw a convective line to the east, but went to the RAP office (now UNR) ... diddled about and finally set off after the developing storms to the east. Thought we saw what might have been a tornado (but was probably precip in sunlight), went north after a left-mover after having struggled to get east for quite a few miles. Mistake. This cost us a chance at what may have been the storms of the day in southeastern SD. No imagery from this day.
Route: Left Kadoka, SD on I-90 west to SD73, north to Meadow, SD, west on SD20 to Reva, SD, south on SD79 to RAP, south to US18/385 to Chadron, NE
Narrative. An interesting day. Wandered across west central SD, slowing winding northwestward. Intercepted a developing storm north of Hoover, SD. It was a supercell, but not much inflow and apparently not much tornado potential. It was pretty, and moved basically straight at us for over an hour, with nice structural features from time to time, and pretty decent shear in its lowering, but it never could close the circulation. It seems the front undercut it. Another cell blew up along its outflow boundary and looked good for a few minutes, but it too got undercut by the front. Found out later we missed the big tornado show, one storm further east! Bill Reid saw it and heard about an even better tornado that he apparently missed. Aaarrrggghhh!!
Route: Left Chadron, NE, south on US385 to Bridgeport, NE, southeast on US26 to Ogallala, NE, south on NE61 to the KS border, then further south on KS161 to US36, west to KS27 south to GLD, on to Johnson, KS, east on US160 to Ulysses.
Narrative. Another frustrating day ... bummed by missing the tornadoes yesterday. Tried to get south of front. Gave up temporarily and nearly set down in GLD, but heard warnings for tornadoes in west central KS, so roared south, but no soap. Nothing but junk. Saw a nice rainbow, tried for some lightning late in the day, but no luck.
Route: Left Ulysses, KS on US160 west to KS27 to Syracuse, west on US50 to Lamar, CO, to US287, north to Kit Carson, and then north on CO59 to Seibert, CO, west on I-70 to Limon, CO, then north on CO71 to Brush, CO, then northeast on I-76 to Sterling, CO, then east on US6, to Holyoke, CO, then south on US385 to Idalia, CO, then west on US36 to Cope, CO, then south on CO59 to Kit Carson.
Narrative. A day with widely varying mood. Left for northeastern CO with relatively low expectations. We were going to set down and wait, but we began to worry about fuel in Last Chance, CO ... no gas stations, so ended up in Sterling, CO, where the clouds looked like my worst nightmare of convection in someplace like Norway! This put me in a depression and so I was ready to bag it and head for home ... on the way, Vickie saw and called my attention to a hard-edged anvil to our southwest, which led to checking the radio. Heard a tornado warning for a storm near Last Chance!! We took off after it, and found a nasty, occluded HP beast just west of Cope, CO. Found out later that the tornado reports probably were bogus. Saw some wild cloud action but nothing tornadic, apparently. Thus, it was an exciting way to end a day that was close to sending us home for the rest of the vacation. Will try again tomorrow!
Route: Left Kit Carson, CO on .US287, south to Boise City, OK, then south on US385 to DHT, then northwest to CAO, west on US56 to NM120, then back east to CAO, southeast to DHT, southeast on US87/385 to Hartley, TX, then east on US87 to Dumas, TX, then south on US287 to AMA, then east on I-40 to I-35, south to OUN.
Narrative. A non-surprising disappointment. Wandered south to get out of the cold, cloudy air. Ran into Mike Foster in extreme southeastern CO, and we chit-chatted for awhile. Then on to DHT, where I looked at the library's Internet connection to the Web ... the surface chart and visible satellite showed a good storm (apparently) in upslope flow over northern NM, so we went west to check it out. Time we got there, it was a big ugly guster, perhaps with some weak rotation but little or no inflow ahead of the storm, so I got disgusted after doing some photography and lightning video, and we bagged it. A long drive home left me rather tired when we got home at 2:30 a.m., but this saved a few bucks.
This year, my chase vacation was filled with tornado chances, if not tornado successes. In case I needed it (I hope not!), the atmosphere humbled me on several occasions. I need no reminders that I am not among the elite storm chasers ... my luck and skill puts me well below the level of the real expert chasers (Gene Moore [who gets my vote for #1 chaser in the country!], Bill Reid, Erik Rasmussen, Al Pietrycha, Tim Marshall, Gene Rhoden, etc.), but Vickie and I managed to catch two tornadic events, anyway ... as well as missing some others. We had a lot of fun chasing storms together and I enjoyed my outdoor photography on several days when there wasn't much happening. My biggest disappointment, apart from missing three tornado events I probably should have gotten, is another year with relatively few lightning photography opportunities.
Kansas chasing was better this year (less construction!) and I finally ended both my Kansas and Nebraska tornado jinxes ... my first decent tornado intercepts in both Kansas and Nebraska. There is still a lot of construction going on in Kansas and Colorado construction continues near Springfield, not all that far from where Al and I first encountered it two years ago! Ugh.
"Chaser convergence" is occasionally getting rather out of hand, although it's clear that nothing can be done about it. In a couple of cases, there probably were 30-40 vehicles dashing about. It was pretty bad on the 03 May day, where about 30 chasers (including me!) played leapfrog along I-44 for most of the tornado's track. Other chasers were everywhere.
The DoWs attract a considerable set of tag-alongs and have produced some rather dangerous situations by the way they park their vehicles (and the retinue exacerbates this by adding a string of vehicles parked behind them!). We saw one chaser who lost it on a dirt road and had crashed through a fence into a field. It seems that many new chasers are not behaving very responsibly, as they are not pulling their vehicles off the road and are engaging in various forms of erratic behavior. It's still possible on some occasions to have a storm to oneself, although there may yet be unseen chasers nearby. I have no problem with most of the old veterans, who tend to behave well and keep a low profile. At least some of the new crowd, even including professional video and film production crews, do not seem so inclined to be responsible. Ahh, the lure of money and excitement attracts an interesting bunch. I'm not yet ready to quit chasing, but some of the things I have seen in recent years are pretty discouraging, and makes me not feel very proud to be a storm chaser. What makes it bad is that I feel some measure of responsibility for what has happened .. sigh.
Technology continues to make chasing easier. It seems the DoWs and the VORTEX-99 crews were in the right place at about the right time on many occasions this year. Old-fashioned chasers, like me, who have suffered for years by being deaf, dumb, and blind after making the initial forecast, are at a considerable disadvantage compared to those who have ready access to surface data, as well as radar and satellite imagery. I may have to upgrade my technology. I must admit that feeling of being "dazed and confused" on a chase day, and then missing events that I could easily have captured, is not a good feeling and something I think I want to minimize, somehow. The days of "going visual" are about over. The percentages of tornadic intercepts have been going up and I guess I'm going to have to catch up.
There is a lot of real estate in west central and northwestern SD with a very low population density! At least this year, the grasslands in this area are quite green and even attractive, in an empty-spaces way. This impression of emptiness probably includes areas of western ND and most of eastern MT. I suspect the reported tornado frequencies there are very serious underestimates. This adds to my awareness that big chunks of western TX, eastern CO, and eastern NM are quite underrepresented in the tornado frequency maps. Agricultural regions in other nearby regions (western KS and NE) tend to have enough farmsteads that tornado reporting is at least possible, but where it's tens of miles between houses, much less towns, virtually all tornadoes are likely to go unreported (and probably their intensity will be underestimated, even if they are reported ... there's nothing to gauge intensity by in these empty spaces), except where seen by chasers. Talking with the few folks we found suggests that they have seen and even been affected by many tornadoes that may well never have been reported.
Northern NE is not what I expected it to be (a sandy wasteland with scrub brush, at most). The Sandhills are quite attractive, with lots of wetlands within the sandy hills and loads of migratory birds and other wildlife. The ride across northern NE on US20 is terrific. There is some tourism evident in the area, especially in the VTN area, but this region strikes me as a mostly undiscovered treasure.
Most motels now have cable so getting TWC is pretty much the standard. All of these have reasonable rates, phones that will connect to the Internet, and TWC on cable.: