With several friends, I chased a line of severe storms in Nebraska on May 30 that offered much in the way of photo opportunities, even if they cut off our northern route in a beautiful landscape with almost no roads. What are you gonna do? Every trip is a mix of hits and misses (for instance, four tornadoes, but none on the high risk day), but it’s always educational and frequently fun – when it’s not frustrating. Like anything worthwhile, it takes a lot of work and, in this case, a lot of miles. To be precise: 11,865.
It’s always surreal returning home. Home is Florida, where it’s soupy and hot and summerlike, a big contrast to the breezy and cool spring of the Plains. Our rainy season hasn’t kicked in yet, so we’re not getting much in the way of thunderstorms. The dull drum of domesticity is met by the pleasure of being home. I’m watering the tomatoes, petting the dogs and catching up on sleep. I’m trying to find my rhythm as I get into a new career of self-employment. And I’m hoping for more adventure.I want to thank all the great chasers I caravaned with or otherwise hung out with on the road this year, among them “Dr. Wedge,” William “Bill” Hark; the storm chasing doctors Jason Persoff and Robert Balogh, who acted as first responders twice, including after the devastating Joplin, Mo., tornado; New Yawkers Dave Lewison and Scott McPartland; Mark Robinson and his team of Canadian “Storm Hunters,” Brad Rousseau and Dayna Vettese, Heather Reynolds and Meghan Yeo; Australian videographer Daniel Shaw; the crazy guys of Cloud 9 Tours; and Bill Reid and the Tempest Tours folks.
As for that lurker who followed Bill H. and I one day, what the hell was he thinking? Storm chasing isn’t like what you see on TV. It’s no Disney ride. It would be a lot simpler if it were.
The potent tornado machine is slowly moving east, losing a little of its punch, though my friends in Pennsylvania should watch the weather today. Florida might get storms, too. I hope we get rain at home to keep the plants happy!I chose not to chase in the hills and trees yesterday and instead repositioned north and west. I plan to go into Colorado to see what storms I can catch today. I’m looking for a little of that upslope magic.
I’m slowly catching up on my chase reports. Check out all the 2011 photo logs. The latest addition is the day of the Joplin, Missouri, tornado, which I did not chase, instead choosing to go after a promising area in southern Oklahoma. Again, it meant fewer hills and trees, and that’s a factor in the decisions that chasers make sometimes. Visibility is important. That day I also saw the TIV and the Dominator on the road, which you may have seen in Discovery’s “Storm Chasers” show. I saw storms that day and, of all things, a couple of tarantulas! See the May 22 photos.
Just 10 miles west of Wichita late at night on the way into town and to our hotel rooms, Jason hit a deer. Or maybe we should say the deer hit Jason. Either way, Jason was OK, but the deer and the rental car were both in bad shape. Many phone calls, the kind attention of a wonderful police officer, and a tow truck later, and all Jason’s stuff was in Robert’s and my vehicles, and we were able to get under way again. We got in about 2 a.m., and it’s taken me forever to get all the photos off my cards. I just don’t have time to process them all tonight before lapsing into unconsciousness, so … more later!
Along the way, I continued Dilapidated Shack Tour 2011, and I shot a few images of a horseshoe funnel, which was pretty neat. But day after day of massive drives for little in the way of storms is starting to wear thin. Prospects should get better over the next couple of days. I know, I’ve thought that before.
To top things off – well, you know when people spray perfume and then run into the cloud so they get a light spritz of scent? I think I got a similar treatment from a freshly road-killed skunk. It was dead when I drove by it, but the smell was overpowering, and my car is still kinda funky, at least on the outside. I also saw elk and pheasants today, but at least they were alive. And not stinky.
Late update today, because I’m in another crappy hotel (in north-central Kansas) whose wireless wasn’t working last night. I called the front desk and asked what the name of the network was, because it wasn’t showing up in the list. “I think it would be some kind of Internet thing, America Online or something like that,” the gentleman informed me. After a few minutes of conversation, he confessed, “I’m almost computer illiterate, to tell you the truth.” Thanks. Oh, yeah, and they told me breakfast was over at 10, but I found out the hard way it ended at 9. No hot waffle for me!
Not that I’m complaining, though in a way I am. I was on the main storm show from the start yesterday. It was another day of a churning low and crazy storm motions as the cells in question formed and then moved north or west around the low pressure. My first thought was northeast Kansas, but as the low’s position became more evident on the computer models, I felt it was important to go to eastern Nebraska, where the surface winds would be backed, thus aiding rotation. I spoke with Steve Sponsler and with Daniel Shaw, and Daniel and I decided to go for the Nebraska target, despite the Storm Prediction Center’s more likely tornado risk farther south. It was a good call, even if we didn’t see the reported tornadoes. We were in York when the first storm went up and a tornado watch came out. We got to the storm fairly quickly, but as the whole line of convection exploded, the potential for photogenic storms fell. The photo is from that first storm, which was tornado-warned, between Cairo and Ravenna, Nebraska. It was an interesting chase, as storms kept training over the same area. The storm system almost looked like a hurricane over Nebraska on radar. Or, as I said on Facebook, a giant toilet that kept flushing supercells. It wasn’t exactly what I came out for, though. I’m still looking for a long-lived, isolated rotating storm that will pose for its picture. It doesn’t have to smile.
See the May 12 photos.
I recently had the chance to take some photos of my friend Heidi and her beautiful little boy, Ryan, who was on the cusp of his second birthday. It’s fun finding that moment of joy and capturing it on camera, but I love all the expressions that cross a child’s face, including the grumpy ones. I wonder what I was thinking at that age. Probably, “Can I have a cookie?” I added a few photos to that gallery this weekend when I dropped by Ryan’s birthday party.
At another party, at a lovely location along the Indian River Lagoon, I shot a few photos of friends and their kids. We have furry children (dogs), so it was fun to see the real kids playing among the rocks, stalking one another with Nerf guns and making s’mores. All of that marshmallow-roasting is enough to make a girl nostalgic.
The weather has been gorgeous here in Florida, but I’m waiting for the pattern to change out west so I can hit the road for my annual storm-chasing trip. After last week’s violent tornadoes, the atmosphere seems to be taking a breather.