Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mike Walker's blog

Here is a link to Mike Walker's blog:

He is one of the people on Ron's tour, and is writing daily summaries with some photos. I wish I could upload some pictures of my own, but I don't have the drivers installed, so the camera can't be recognized. I wish I had a card reader....

Day 5 May 30, 2007

Today we actually got to sleep in, yay! We left Colby, Kansas around 10 am after Scott had went for the first oil change, then we went to get something at Starbuck's out of town. There was a gift shop nearby so we went to check it out. When I go to shops I usually look for tornado stuff to add to my collection. This time I happened to find a green Tornado Chaser t-shirt and matching coffee mug. Bonus!

We then continued south into the Texas panhandle. We were going to play the triple point today in central Texas. I had done one last check of the models, but I couldn't see much updraft potential in today's setup. We had to be down there for the next few days anyways, so it was worth a shot.

As we were going through Oklahoma's panhandle, there were a few feeding lots with tons of cattle... peeeewwwwiiieeee! You ain't smelled methane if you've never smelled a feeding lot. Holly cow, no pun intended, but it was strong enough to make you wanna almost cry. Other than that, we had a nice cumulus field for early in the day, so it looked kinda promising. We managed to see two dust devils on the way down. The last one we saw was kicking up some dust behind trees and a building, then it went invisible. It then threw some peice of something - looked almost like metal scrap - near the side of the interstate... and then the van felt this sudden gust of wind for a second. From now on, the van should be called the Dust Devil Intercept Vehicle. Nothing like a little excitement when travelling in a place "with a whole lotta nothin". We went for a quick break and I decided to eat a steak burrito shortly after 1 pm.

When we were in Dumas, Texas, we went for our main lunch at a Subway. I wasn't quite hungry, so I just got myself a chocolate milk, three peanut butter cookies and a bag of chips. We then went to Amarillo so that Mike could pick up his package that got shipped down. It is a sensor that opens his shutter in the daytime so he is able to take daytime lightning pictures. After that, Ron wanted to bring us to the Cadillac Ranch just south of town. This was quite different to say the least. Where else can you find ten colourful old cadillacs with their front ends buried in a bull's field? It made for some interesting photos. There really wasn't much else to do... the trough had already gone through and nothing has fired yet. The sky was completely clear with just a few small soft looking cumulus. The inversion wouldn't break today.

We decided to head back into town and eat dinner at the Big Texan. I got a chance to say hello to a chaser named Roger Hill. For dinner, I ordered the mountain oysters and a peach iced tea. I still wasn't hungry. That's the thing with these types of trips... you are in a vehicle all day getting no exercise, so you don't build up an appetite quickly. Scott really thinks that I am able to eat the 72 ounch steak, but I really don't think so. He said to me "You know how you were talking about omens? If you don't eat the 72 ounch steak, you won't get to see a big tube." Hahaha funny Scott. I hope that wasn't his cold medicine talking... I highly doubt I could finish a meal like that... if I did, I'd probably die, so I wouldn't get to see that big tube afterall!

Tonight we are staying at a Super 8 in Amarillo, and have plans to do some laundry in the morning. Tomorrow it looks like our target will be somewhere in the Oklahoma panhandle according to Professor Gravelle.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Day 4 May 29, 2007

We were going to head south towards southeast Colorado today, departing from Murdo, South Dakota around 7 am. It was a pretty cool start to our day because a boundary had gone through the area. We took I83 south through Cherry county once again. Ron decided to change the target area a bit more north, in western Kansas and eastern Colorado. On our way down in central Nebraska, we saw a storm trying to get together. There was a tornado warning because a trained spotter had reported a small funnel cloud moving towards North Platte. We decided to play around with this storm for a little bit. We pulled off the interstate to take some images. The storm seemed pretty outflow dominant... cold winds were blowing away from the storm while a wall cloud wannabe was trying to gather. Realizing this storm wouldn't put on a great show, we decided to continue on our trek west into Colorado to play the triple point low.

A little later, a tornado watch box had been issued for southwestern Kansas. YAY! Temperatures were finally getting warmer and the southeast backing winds were increasing. We ate lunch in McCook, Kansas. A little further south, we decided to fill up on gas in some small place. Scott and Ron noticed some people from Oklahoma trying to get into their back trunk... apparently they had locked their keys in there. Without success, we had to leave and continue on. The Gravelle Positioning System showed some shortcuts to get to the target quicker.

We did one final stop. I looked at the Baron radar and saw a supercell near Denver. Mike then got a voice mail on his phone saying there were tornado warnings issued, and that roads in Denver had to be closed because there was 3 inches of hail accumulation. When we got closer to the storm, winds began to pick up. We saw a fairly decent sized multi-teired shelf cloud. It looks like our supercell had turned outflow dominant, but at least it was still cool to look at. We pulled off the interstate to take some images. Holy cow I must say I have never felt outflow this cold before. While I was taking video on my tripod, my hands were actually freezing. This felt like November temperatures back home! Given how outflow dominant the storm was and how cold it was, it was pretty clear that a tornado wasn't likely. The hail and rain core looked pretty heavy duty and it was coming for us, so we had to load the vehicles and shoot east back on the interstate. We pulled off once more to get another look at this thing. Tumbleweeds were flying all over the place, and one had got caught in the van's front grill. It looked like the storm wasn't going to do much of anything else at this point... they were starting to fall apart. It was time to head back into Kansas. I saw what looked like a small gustnado off in a field. Later on, we were treated to a nice lightning show. If it weren't for the driving rain and cold winds, I would have probably attempted to get lightning stills.

We ate dinner at a Pizza Hut and are staying at a Super 8 in Colby. Tomorrow we are going to head south of Amarillo, Texas.

Day 3 May 28, 2007

Today was setting up for a mesoscale convective system in the Dakotas in the evening hours. I had downloaded models the night before and they seemed to suggest an isolated supercell or two ahead of the main convective cluster. SPC had put out a slight risk, with a 2 to 5 percent chance of tornadoes, as well as a risk for large hail. We were to head north into central South Dakota today. Ron and I really liked what we were seeing. There was convergence in the central Dakotas, with winds coming from the northwest colliding with southeast backing winds. The backing winds were quite strong today, gusting to about 20 knots. If the trough came in later, we would just set ourselves up for some lightning photography. Of course I don't mind since I am using my new Tamron lens for the first time chasing. Hopefully I will say goodbye to blurry lightning shots!

Going through Cherry county in Nebraska, we saw signs of horizontal vorticity. Some cumulus clouds were starting to curl and form transverse rolls. On the way north, we stopped at a scenic lookout. It was quite a nice view from on top of there. We ate a small lunch in Valentine and continued north. It was going to be a long haul after today's chase to get down south to the Oklahoma panhandle for tomorrow.

In Murdo, South Dakota we booked hotel rooms at a Super 8 and waited for the cap to break. I downloaded a sounding and it looked like the cap was reading about 4 degrees C... which is pretty strong. On satellite, it looked like some towers were starting to go up in the southwest. Ron said the models had the trough coming through later in the evening... it was probably going to be too slow for supercells forming prior to sunset. We waited for a couple of more hours. There was a full halo around the sun for quite a while. Southeast backing winds were clocking a good speed. I figured if there were storms, the inflow winds would increase even more from being sucked in. We ate dinner at a nearby diner, looked in the gift shop and decided to haul west towards Rapid City shortly after 7 pm.

On our way west, we saw parts of the Badlands to our south. Quite an interesting place from what I could see... pointy mountain-like rocks off in the distance. The storms that went up in southwest South Dakota were finally coming into view. We could also see an anvil that was about 100 miles away to the northwest. We noted one inflow band coming from the north and another inflow band coming from the east. This little storm was about to be an interesting one.

We had the air conditioner on in the van, so Scott went to put his jacket on. He managed to get one sleeve in ok, but when he went to put his left arm in, he looked pretty tangled up. His jacket was wrapping around the seatbelt. Scott went on the radio and said to Ron "Houston we have a problem". He mentioned he was stuck to the van and had to pull off the interstate to fix his jacket issue. When Ron pulled up beside us, Sandra's face was priceless. She had that had that confused odd look. And then there was Ben, of course, filming away at this hilarious scene. When you travel for long hours on the road with Scott, you are guaranteed at least one good laugh every day.

Anyways... back to heading west. We eventually got a good view of the storm and pulled off the interstate to take some images. The inflow winds at this location were really kicking, combining the speeds of the backing winds plus the storm drawing them in, like I had thought it would. We noticed scud gathering just to our north. It developed into a rotating wall cloud, but it seemed a bit disorganized. It would fall apart and pull itself back together again for a few times. It never amounted to anything more. I decided to bring out the lightning rod, my tripod, to get some good video, while I snapped some pictures of the storm, which was now turning out to be more of a multi-teired shelf cloud. It made for a pretty interesting scene for a while, but that meant it was picking up forward motion speed. We had to haul ourselves further east to get ahead before the rain came. We all piled into the vehicles and shot east on the interstate. We saw people taking shelter under the overpass we were on. Once we got ahead of the storm, we pulled off the interstate once again near an overpass. It was getting darker out now, so I tried my take at lightning photography. Something I've been wanting to try since I got my new lens! Unfortunately with all the winds, it was quite difficult to keep the camera from shaking ever so slightly. I am glad I was standing behind it all the time because, at one time, the wind actually went to push my tripod over! Most of the lightning was in-cloud, but I did manage to get one good photo of a strike.

The rain was nearing us once again. The wind was so strong that just one drop of rain actually stung a bit when it hit my face. We decided to call it a night and head back to Murdo to get a good night's rest. Tomorrow was going to be quite a long haul to get to the Oklahoma panhandle.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Day 2 May 27, 2007

Today is Scott's birthday and all of us were in a good mood in the morning. Scott took some scotch mints and pretended they were hail... he put one under the windshield wiper and another one in the coil of one of the whip antennas... and then he dragged that mint up alongside of the antenna and popped it in his mouth! Nice breakfast, loaded with plenty of fiber! Of course Ben was around to film all of this.

I had downloaded some forecast models last night... it looks like we will be going on our first chase today in western Nebraska. SPC put out a slight risk for western Kansas and southwestern Nebraska. The indices seemed to be much better in Nebraska, so I chose that area as a target. In the morning, I asked Ron where he thought we were headed today and he said straight west, into western Nebraska. I thought that was pretty cool that both our targets matched perfectly. We could see some dryline storms today, but the risk of tornadoes seems pretty low... all the storm relative helicity seemed to be located in southcentral South Dakota.

A few days out, after Monday's potential setup, doesn't look so good for the rest of this week until the weekend... a ridge is going to be building into the plains. I guess we will have to do our sight seeing then, but that is okay... next week it looks like the ridge moves out and a couple shortwave troughs will be going through the southern plains.

In Council Bluffs, we ate a quick lunch at Dairy Queen. I had to have my brownie earthquake. We continued west on I80 to western Nebraska. Scott saw the Tornado Intercept Vehicle on the right side of the road, parked off the road.

On the way, Ron mentioned the Baron picked up rotation couplets on some storms that developed near North Platte. Mike loaded the SPC outlook page on his laptop... SPC had shifted their slight risk a bit more north into Nebraska. A tornado warning was also issued. As we neared the target just west of North Platte, there were two storms side-by-side... one to the south and one to the north. We could see the hard knuckles on the north storm and some mammatus from the south storm. Scud from the second storm was starting to curl from the outflow of the north storm. We then saw a wall cloud trying to form... it had a small inflow tail. We decided to get closer and took a road that went north. We pulled off the road and took some pictures and video. By now a new inflow tail formed, pointing in a different direction... from the south instead of the north. A small wall cloud that kicked up a bit of dust was all that could be had, but it made for some good pictures. The storm had lost its rotation according to the Baron.

After that storm fell apart, we debated about intercepting the southern storm but figured we would not see anything because we would have to go through the precip core. It looked like a garden variety storm anyways, so we decided to head back to North Platte. We saw the TIV once again... this time it was getting towed! We heard it was some mechanical issue with the TIV. We celebrated Scott's birthday by having a nice delicious dinner at Perkin's. I mentioned that the sun was setting and would make for nice mammatus pictures, so we went outside after placing our orders. The sky was filled with mammatus. Not really the hard classic looking mammatus; these were more wispy looking, but still beautiful looking. A partial bright rainbow appeared, adding final touches to the scene. I took some nice images.

Tonight we are staying at a Super 8 in North Platte, preparing for Monday's severe potential.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Day 1 May 26, 2007

It was that time of year again... we were going to head to tornado alley. It was Ron Gravelle, Scott Keddie, Ben Fuller, Sandra Gravelle, Lee Keddie, Pam Gregory, Mike Walker, Dave Hopper, and myself. This was going to be Ron's biggest tour yet - two vehicles and nine people.

What a nice day to depart too... cold and wet. Ron decided to book hotel rooms in Davenport, Iowa because this was Memorial Day weekend. That meant the possibility of traffic and full hotels.

Of course we had to have our omens... the rain drops were actually rotating anti-clockwise on the passenger side window. Really weird but it was probably the only rotation we were going to see today.

I guess Ron wasn't kidding when he said he started calling Ben "Camelot". This guy always has a camera strapped around his shoulder, always taking stills or video. I had to make a face at him when he was filming Scott's van from Ron's car.

Near Chicago we encountered very heavy rain. A couple tornado warnings were issued for nearby counties due to a heavy line of storms. They were pretty low topped and didn't seem to look very impressive. We saw a lowering trying to get its act together but it didn't amount to much. On another storm west of Chicago, we saw an updraft area with rising scud.

Later on, a third developing storm was in view, showing a small inflow band that didn't last very long. Today's storms were not impressive but it was just a travel day anyways... and an introduction to the storms of tornado alley for Ron's new clients.

One of the lessons was how to pronounce towns correctly. Lee, Scott's wife, learned this lesson the hard way when we were in Iowa, nearing Peoria. She pronounced it as "Pee-or-ia" and Scott said, "That sounds like diarrhea." Since then, we kept making jokes.

Tonight we're staying at a Super 8 in Davenport and plan to depart at 8 am tomorrow to get into position for some chasing. So far, Ben has took about 8 hours worth of video. I think he should save some tape for the storms later.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Quick update...

I guess I should update this blog once eh? Well my trip to Hawaii went very well and I got lots of photos... sometime when I get more time, I will post a summary of my Hawaii trip.

In 9 days I will be departing for tornado alley once again, with Ron Gravelle and Scott Keddie. This time there will be nine of us going, making this Ron's biggest tour to date. We'll be departing early Saturday May 26th, for two weeks, and I will be helping out with navigating sometimes. I will do my best to keep this blog updated with daily summaries just like last year. If there is APRS tracking, I will post the link on my website.

I have a lot of good feelings about this trip... the 2007 season is already a much better season "tornado wise" than last year's. Here's hoping we will see more tornadoes!