Friday, June 20, 2008

The end

Well, it's all over!!!

Our last couple hours in Tulsa were pretty quiet. We got up, got our stuff together, and headed for the airport. Not much to do when you've gotta get out and also don't have a car.

Our flight left Tulsa at 4:30 PM CDT. We got to the airport around 3:15, which worked quite well. Security was, as always, a pain, at least for me, unloading all my stuff. But it really wasn't any big hassel. I tried to go find wifi while Jim and Chris chatted. Thankfully Josh called me when we boarded earlier than expected :) We'd checked in the night before, so we were near the front of the boarding line (and flying Southwest), so we had choice of seats. Everything went smoothly and we pulled back a few minutes early and within minutes, Josh was flying for the first time...

Flight to St. Louis took only about 55 minutes. On the descent into Lambert Field, you could easily see the huge flooding that is taking place to the north... sometimes 2-3 miles of fields were inundated.
We entered the pattern for one circuit... allowing us to get good views of downtown and the Arch, then landed from the east or southeast.

Part of St. Louis (I think!) and the flooded river

Next up: almost 3 hour layover in St. Louis!
We decided to get some overpriced airport food to try to speed things along. Then it was just killing more time.

Thankfully our flight to Orlando got out on time. This flight was moderately full (the first one was quite barren). Taking off near sunset (8:15 CDT) offered some quite impressive views.

I also got my GPS to work on this flight, though my poor laptop battery made it so I could only turn the computer on for segments. It was pretty cool being able to follow your position, speed, and altitude as we progressed along. We passed right over Paducah, KY, and then near Nashville and Chattanooga.

The GPS track segments (in blue)

There were apparently a few residual storms left over Florida as we got into the state, as we had a bit of minor turbulence. Unfortunately that caused the pilot to ask for electronic devices to be shut off early, so I couldn't track us going over Gainesville and the northern suburbs of Orlando. Oh well!
It also meant no pictures as we came down over Orlando... that was a pity, it was, as always, quite a sight.

Sunset and the Ohio River

We swooped south down to near Disney, then made the left turn and landed from the south. It's quite rare to land from the south in the summer (you fly into the prevailing wind... we typically only get north winds after a cold front passes in the winter!).

We took the fun tram thing back to the main terminal, grabbed our bags almost immediately off the carousel, and waited for pickup.

Within the hour we were back at Chris'. Just for fun, we finished the night off with a trip to Whataburger with Jeff Ottum. And that was all she wrote.

I hope everyone enjoyed reading the blog!

Have a good one, God bless...

The end

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Winding Down

Well, we're already down to our last day, and a lot to catch up on!


So, first, all the way back to last Thursday, and what turned out to be our last storm chase. The weather setup was very similar to the previous day's, but maybe a bit further south, so, after breakfast at Burger King (complete with a horrible driver who decided to back out of the exit, almost hitting the rental as we were exiting), we set out on a trip to drift towards southern Kansas. Eventually upon talking with Clark, it seemed back a bit west of our location was where to be.
So we made our way to Wichita and waited. And waited. And then some more waiting ensued :-)
I took a nap while Chris and Josh wandered Best Buy and Game Stop, and we just generally lazed around.

My friend from OU, Eddie, was on his way up for a chase, and wanted to meet up with us. By probably around 5:30, storms finally started growing a bit more stout, and tornado warnings were issued to our north.
Eddie quickly ditched his car at the Wal Mart and we hit the road for intercept.

Turned out there were actually quite a few storms to pick from. About 45 miles north of Wichita, we make our choice on a nice developing one and pulled up to the east.

Well, time after time, the main storm outflow would surge ahead and start messing up the inflow, so our storms wouldn't hold their areas of rotation very long.
There was still quite a bit of impressive rotation on the gust front (it looked a couple times like a new meso might form), and some stunning scenes... but the theme all evening seemed to be the storms struggling just when they were ready to go.

At one point while observing from the east the lightning got really insane. We had been standing outside the car taking pictures, but we bailed to the car faster than a bullet, especially since we were the tallest objects around! We eventually went back towards the interstate for a bit more safety. Probably had about 15 lightning strikes with instantaneous lightning and the little pop before the strike within a half hour. Pretty nuts!

Eventually our storms pushed closer to us. At the same time a storm back near Wichita started to look better.
So back down the Turnpike one more time!

However, as we drove... well, the storm really wasn't looking so enticing. And it was getting near dark. And Me, Josh, and Chris just really didn't have much interest left in tracking tough nighttime storms. We went out hoping for a daytime storm so we could stop and enjoy and videotape. Plus, we needed to get back to Tulsa. Eddie on the other hand wanted to keep chasing after dark, as he felt the storms would get better nocturnally.
So the plan became to drop Eddie off and head home.

We get back into town fine and are making our turn into the Wal Mart....... when the tornado sirens go off!

Eddie pulls up radar data on his phone, and, lo and behold, the storm coming up into Wichita looked like a beast.

We had to chase it. Not only because it wasn't dark yet and it was right there in front of us... but because if we stayed put, we'd be quite near the path of the most dangerous stuff.

So we booked east out of town in pouring rain, trying to get far enough ahead so we could safely cut south in front of it and not get any hail.

Finally we did. It was darker than dark looking, but only probably 8:00. Some VERY heavy precip to be sure.
We plowed south, and finally it starts to lighten up and the base becomes visible off to the west.

Eddie said it looked fantastic. I never really got a good look, but it was definitely ominous.
Soon the theme kicked in, and it started to wrap with precipitation and weaken as the outflow kicked out ahead again.
However, a second strong precipitation area developed a few miles to the south with more rotation getting active down there, so we dropped a bit further down to intercept right as sunlight was really waning.
Quite an impressive structure for a few minutes... and then, of course, the outflow came out ahead again.

And that was all she wrote.
We made our way back up to the Wal Mart to drop Eddie off and start the long drive home.

For once I didn't have to drive through storms that much on the way home (A WELCOME TREAT!), but I did get kinda tired towards the end. We ended up making it into Tulsa maybe about 1 AM.
We were beat.

.. oh, btw, a check of storm reports when I got home...
That evening a tornado passed within 5 miles of the hotel we stayed in the night before. DOH!
Man, that's how it goes somedays!
But we were quite glad to be back in our home away from home.

random cow behind the rest stop near Yates Center, KS


Friday we stuck around here and played LOTS of Nuclear War (a card game Jim has which is quite addicting). I really don't remember much else at all happening!

Us playing Nuclear War


Saturday we set aside to either see some friends or take a scenic drive. There was also a slight chance of storms... but it was like a gajillion miles away in the Texas Panhandle... so we passed on that(and didn't miss much). Since the friends seemed busy, we decided to try to take a scenic trip up into NE Oklahoma.

First we stopped at the giant McDonalds over the Turnpike in Vinita, Oklahoma. I'd always wanted to go there, even if it just some weird building. I thought it was decently cool... though certainly a rip off for how much food/souvenirs cost.

Then we went down towards a very large lake created by a dam on the Grand River nearer Arkansas. We set out to make our way down a peninsula that juts out into the very center of the lake, and stop and take some pictures.
Unfortunately it was all resorts down there (how weird a spot for that!?!), and we failed to find any great place (a bathroom stop in one of the resorts proved the high point).

We left your resort some gifts

After crossing the lake and going through the interesting Oklahoma town of Grove, we set out south towards a very scenic area of greater hills.

It was a very nice drive as evening set in. The road (Oklahoma 11) paralleled the Illinois River Valley and had a lot of rises and falls and a few bluffs cut out by the road. It reminded us all of something you might see in North Carolina or Tennessee.

Some of the hills on the scenic route

Too bad there wasn't any spectacular place to pull over and get better pictures. And Jim was driving... and as we hit the southern end of the scenic road, a highway checkpoint was setup. Turns out Jim didn't have current insurance paperwork in the glovebox. Blah. The positive luck (he got a warning) tempered by the negative (really soured the nice drive) seemed to be the story of the day. We got back around 10 and played more games.


Sunday was another day back around the house in Tulsa. We all talked to our dad's on Father's Day and I got to watch the end of the US Open golf tournament on the phone with my dad (a tradition we always have had... and it was an exciting tournament too!). Other than that, the day was mostly... yeah, you guessed it... Nuclear War!

By late evening, though, storms started to roll in. We were actually in a moderate risk for severe weather all day, but the big threat was wind and hail, not tornadoes.
The storms started to pop... maybe about 5:00... nearby avoided Tulsa through the evening. Finally we decided it was a good chance to go down the street and take some lightning pictures from a hill.

I enjoyed that a lot :-)

It took a while for me or Jim to find decent camera settings, but Chris was reeling off good shots without even using a tripod!

My early pics

Chris' early pics

Finally I got mine set well... wouldn't you know it, but within a few minutes a bank of lower clouds (the outflow boundary) moved in and mucked up the picture opportunities.
So more Nuclear War!

I did head out after Jim had gone to bed to try a few more pictures as there were some decent gaps in the clouds again. But it was like trying to shoot fish in the ocean, as there were storms in every direction. Set the camera up and hope!

I spent probably a good hour trying. I got a few fair ones. But in the time I was out there, first thunder started as a faint rumble in the distance... then it became more noticeable... and finally it started to rain and rumble good. I eventually did pack it in as the rain ended my show.

By that time it was probably 2 AM. But what a gully washer of a storm it was. More constant lightning, and the wind flailing like crazy.

Finally it let up... but not before delivering a good 2"+ of rain throughout the area, with some more localized flooding.

A good ol' early summer overnight squall line that I love in these parts!


Monday was dreary. Lots of movies and sleep. And Nuclear War after Jim got home, of course :-)
We ate at some restaurant called Bill & Ruths. Nice little place!


And that brings me to this past day. One final day for to enjoy, though we also had to start organizing to leave. Beyond that, just a day to kick back and enjoy. One more trip to Schlotzsky's for lunch and then we planned a good dinner at a local bbq place in Broken Arrow. Place turned out to be fair food and nice surroundings, but a bit expensive. Oh well, still a good final evening together.


And now we tidy up things to get ready to depart. I'm sad it's over already, and I really look forward to another trip out here next year. Josh and Chris certainly enjoyed relaxing around the house quite a bit, and that was fine by me too :-)
Assuming I have the money and time, I plan to come back next year... and maybe I'll get a bit more chasing in too. (btw, let me know if you are a friend and might like to go, it's a lot of fun, and I'd be happy to have you along)

Anyways, some final stats...
Storm chases: 4
Miles driven: 3,349 (not including our trip Sunday, which Jim drove)
Estimated cost: should be somewhere between $700 - $900 each
Tornadoes seen: 2 nighttime ones last Wednesday

Surprisingly we didn't get to see any hail at all... well, there's still a chase some storm could roll through in the morning... but otherwise, shocking little. I hear it's also been more rainy in Orlando, too. I'm mighty happy I get to return to that!

There have been slight risks of storms each day since last Thursday... but we haven't chased any more because the setup hasn't really been that impressive to me... has panned out to be the right choice since we haven't missed any tornadoes in the area. Maybe if we went up north for longer we could have seen more. I'm not sure we wanted to do that much more driving though!

Mostly, I really don't look forward to going back home. I miss it out here, and I'm not looking forward to getting back to find a backlog of work.
I think Josh and Chris are more ready to go. I'm sure they've become pretty bored by now!

I am, however, really glad that I was able to come out and handle the rigors of heavy driving once again. I have been feeling a bit old and lethargic recently, and it was reassuring that I still at least have that skill!

A great thanks to Jim for being the most spectacular host in the world. He is such a kind guy for letting us invade his casa for the past 2 weeks. He's been constantly attentive to anything we might need, hanging out with us, and putting up with us! ^^
Friends like that make me want to move my butt back out here!!!

Anyways, so what do I leave thinking?
I'm thinking about how it's a different world out here. The attitudes are different. Life itself is different. It seems like a lot of the contrast comes from weather. In the southeast, it feels like we've moved in and taken hold of our land. Out here everything feels so temporary. The weather is so changing and so powerful. It feels like life is a little more difficult and a little more precious all at the same time. It's a bit more of an adventure out here.
And it's so much more laid back. So friendly. And so filled with a flourishing nature to life (except in winter).

It may be about 1300 miles between Orlando and Oklahoma, but it feels like forever.

I'll probably make one more post about the trip home tomorrow, and then it's back to the everyday grind. Oh well, it could be worse :-)

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Ok folks, this day really seemed to be ALL about setbacks and failure.

We planned to leave around 9, but first the GPS wouldn't work for almost an hour, then I got something REALLY annoying in my eye, and we spent another waiting for me to try to irritate it free, then try to flush it free, then going to WalMart to buy drops.
Finally we were on the road around 11. This after models continued to be uncertain about what would go down today.

We couldn't decide if Selina, Kansas, with plans to head north (the spline of Kansas), or Kansas City, KS, with plans to head up to Omaha, Nebraska (further east) was the way to go.

We got to Concordia, Kansas pretty uneventfully, probably around 2:30. The front was off to our west, and figured it was time to look at data ourselves. We pulled into Sonic to grab a bite... and in 10 minutes, storms well beyond our sight to the southwest went from nothing to giant hail producers.
The chase was on!

We decided to go west to intercept the first storm, only to realize we'd screwed up... and ended up going almost straight back east and intercepting it only about 15 miles south of where we'd been before.

The storm went tornado warning, and we were feeling good.

The storm came into view and looked pretty nice!

We'd sit and watch it for the next 45 minutes or so.

It wasn't doing too hot and new tornado warnings went up for the next storm 30 minutes to our south. Most other chases bailed, we stuck with it. This was the target area.

And we waited. And waited. Nothing looked good.

But as we started really talking about leaving... the whole thunderstorm really started to organize, and we saw the first real organized rotation of the year!

The others would all regret their impatience!

Oh, except our storm fell apart. Right when it was wrapping up and a funnel cloud started to come together.

We were hesitant to leave this storm. It could come back together still.
But it didn't look really well bunched up like it had earlier.

So we finally bailed south to pick up the next storm.

It already had 3 confirmed tornadoes. ARGGG!!

And of course when we get to within range... the tornado warning is cancelled. It's not looking so hot.

And it's getting dark.

Ugg, the day is going horribly. There's tornadoes everywhere but where we're at. Tornado warning for Lincoln. Tornado warning for Omaha. Tons of tornadoes being reported.

One last storm to the southwest. And I'm hearing it looks REALLY good.

We race south... and can start to see some early features. The rotation must be strong, part of the mesocyclone is sticking out from the rain to our southwest.
As we get on, it's the storm of the trip so far... probably one of the top 10 I've seen.

I wish we coulda stopped and watched for a while.
It's moving 60+ mph!?!?!?! With baseball hail!?!?!

We have to really hurry back to the east to stay ahead of it. But there was some stunning scenery out there. We finally get a few pictures....

We follow further east and find out we'll get a fair shot to "attack" it. Back near Salina. Guess that wasn't so bad a choice after all!

The storm starts moving a bit more north yet (Jim was a GREAT help via phone), giving us finally a decent chance to get nearer it. It's a very high precipitation mess, really hard to make out what's going on in the wall cloud. But it looks spectacular.

We cautiously creep up to it from the south, listening to the people on the Selina radio station going nuts and the sirens going off. We get near the airport, but despite a few interesting lowerings, it quickly passes off to our east. We follow it up into Selina. No major damage reported. A good thing!

I'm starting to think about dinner and at least checking data. All of my friends giving us radar updates are busy/going to sleep/etc...
And it's basically dark. I never have had any real interest chasing after dark.

Any other day......

I've never been as frustrated as today.
And I was sure there was more to see.

Two more storms are coming from our west basically where this one went.
Clark Evans is telling us to intercept the next cell we just need to drop back south along the road like 10 miles.

I can handle that!
(and a good thing he called. I would've stayed in southern Salina. They had good food options.
That would've been a REALLY bad choice.

I had already decided. This is chasable. We are not out to get close. I want to be like 15 miles from any of the rain. Just watch it from afar.
We can do this. It is safe.

We go back south. This storm is racing up on us too, and we can't see too much yet.
Clark says if it starts to rain at all, we need to get east. Or we're going to get hail REALLY soon.
Before I even get to the east road... it starts to rain.
Suffice to say I was quite upset.

We race east and do (for once in my life in such situations!) break back out of the rain.

We push like 8 miles further east, and finally find a spot to pull off, after being told we had a little time to spare finally.

It was amazing there!

Tons of lightning everywhere. With lightning bugs all around us. I LOVE that! A wall cloud off to the north, and more lightning to our west.

We spent about 15 minutes enjoying there. Took quite a few long exposure pictures. Chris and Josh got to get out and clown about after a tough adrenaline-filled day cramped in the car, and it was just a beautiful, isolated, quiet, serene spot.

Towards the end we saw a bunch of power flashes back to the northwest. Like 20 within a minute. I caught the end on video, though it's not real easy to see.
We wondered what it was... but the radio was talking about a gas mane break that was reported, and I figured it was to do with that.

Anyways, the storm to the west started to really get nearer to us, and Clark told us it was getting time to move again.

We figured that was the night... but we waited a bit too long to leave, and Clark told us we needed to go east, rather than south. All we wanted to do was get south of the last storm and be safe for the night.

How fortuitous.

We pushed east... and for one reason or another opted to keep going east a bit more.
Maybe the storm to the north was looking interesting (it was... at times it looked like there was a pretty wrapped up wall cloud/funnel). Maybe it was just the best plan for roads and hotel. Don't know.

We're split between watching all the different things going on and trying to stay one step ahead of the road options.

Well, get this....... Josh starts to notice something off to the north where we'd been watching the storm from earlier.

We all are watching the area.
A flash.
Oh my!

There it is. No doubting it. One more flash confirms it.
That's a large tornado. On the ground. To our north.

We looked for places to turn off and get a better view but couldn't find a good one. We see a few more illuminations. The tornado has transitioned from cone to stovepipe to full-out wedge. We were right near Hope, Kansas, and the roads were really no good for viewing.
One more flash and more of a stovepipe/rope appears.
By the time we finally get pulled off, we can't see anything.

We stick around a few minutes, but nothing comes to view... and we're still on the run from our own perilous situation.

Now we're really keeping one eye to our left and one behind us. Tornado warning for two towns we just came through. Meanwhile the tornado to our north is headed for a big town, Manhattan.

It's time to be a little more concerned about what's behind us. We find out we're most safe continuing ENE on 4, the road we've been on for 2 hours.
Our chances of seeing more of that tornado, getting a picture, are meanwhile fading away into the distance.

We hear the town of Manhattan gets directly hit. Sobering.
Sounds pretty bad.

We spent the next hour wending our way through turns and hills to finally reach Topeka ahead of the storms. Along the way we almost hit a deer, which decides to run beside the car, then dart out into the road. I'm glad I saw it early... the high beems on our car are life-savers... literally.

By this time we just want to get to a hotel. I was very nervous of the storms catching us from behind. Thankfully they kinda petered out FINALLY.

And finally we got to Topeka.

We found gas (we'd been running very low for the last hour, which was yet another unwanted worry). Then we found some good food options (Taco Bell and Steak and Shake for the crew!). Finally we checked a few places and found a Best Western.

And here we are!

Wow, it's one of those that days that leaves you kind of stunned.
A lot to contemplate.

Tonight was a bit nerve-wracking, trying to stay ahead of these huge storms. I hate fast storm motions.
It's amazing how quick things can turn around. I need to remember that one. We all do.

You want proof?

You won't believe this.
I get here to the hotel, antsy to write in the blog and also go back and look at some pretty awesome pics of that beast supercell.
And I find this.

(yes, that's what you think it is) (it's in the right side of the picture... click on the image for a full view).

And this.

And these (none are easy to see, and I move the camera... the trees are a good indicator of where the features are in relation) (also note the first picture is prior to the better two above, the right two are slightly after).

And so on.

I have between 5-10 pictures showing small glimpses of the tornado.
That's rarer than rare. Especially since I was trying to get pictures of the lightning and the bigger lowering. That one image with the clear slot is insane.
Turns out the image is from about 9:55 PM CDT.
There's a storm report of a tornado almost exactly then 5 miles east of Salina.

Oops, guess we accidentally saw a SECOND tornado.

The power flashes were three minutes later, and it's likely they were from that tornado, a seperate one, or the rear-flank downdraft punching out.

The most "lucky" of catches in the whole-wide-world. I figured we'd seen a tornado but would just have to tell people about it. Oops, looky what I found!

Anyways, it was a crazy day.
Tomorrow we'll chase back towards Tulsa. Might even be the last chase day.

And as it turns out someone died in Chapman tonight. The big tornado we saw for those 5 minutes in the dark.
In all my chases I've never seen a tornado where someone died.
I've been REALLY lucky.
It's pretty disconcerting.
And I'm a bit unsettled. It's hard being at all celebretory when someone died (or even was injured).

But tonight it's some very desired sleep setting in. Josh and Chris are long since passed out, and I'll soon join them.

We won't go home saying our chase was a bust anymore. We saw tornadoes.
They weren't the most photogenic, and the worse thing is the hurt they caused to people. Those are people's lives. Turned upside down tonight.
And we're out gallavanting around.
We are SO blessed to live the happy lives that we do.

You guys are missed.

Have a great day today and God bless.