So, there you have it: three vans, six days, more than 2000 miles, nine supercells, and three fantastic tornadoes. The best part of trip, however, was the time spent with two dozen people who share my passion for chasing and observing severe weather. Whether crammed in tour vans backtracking roads we’ve seen before, or congregating at the truck stop in Limon, CO, I always had great pleasure talking and spending time with everyone on the tour.
I especially commend Roger, David, and our drivers Matt, Chris, Bill, and Anna. Everyone kept us safe and did a great job driving through some of the planet’s worst weather. Roger’s decision-making ability really came through this year – just like in 2006 – when making the right call meant the difference between a bagged tornado and a busted chase. Roger also handled the van break-down very well, keeping himself composed, methodically troubleshooting, and then ensuring that everyone was still able to see storms that day.
As much as I enjoyed seeing monster supercells and my first tornadoes, there was a lot to look at on the ground, too, if you remembered to look down. I’m talking about chaser convergence. By early afternoon, sleepy interstate towns quickly become overrun by vehicles festooned with antennas, and instruments. Lines grow outside restrooms and fast food counters as the camera-clad hordes prepare, not knowing when they will leave or when they will have the next chance to stop.
Outside, mobile doppler radars gas up as some grad students toss a football with their professor. One of the DOWs breaks down again and is towed away. Other students work on the mobile mesonets, cleaning windshields and scaling hail-dented minivans to repair weather instruments. A film crew records the scene as filler footage for a documentary. A bearded man dons an orange jumpsuit, knee pads, and some sort of harness. He stands beside a lifted black truck outfitted with hail guards and an IMAX camera mount. Bull horns mounted on the grill complete the ensemble. Whoever gave this guy an IMAX camera must be out of their mind.
Meanwhile, sitting alone in the corner of the rest stop is Howie Bluestein. He spreads tuna on some bread as he looks over the surface observations and model output on his MacBook. Roger Hill and David Gold go over to say hi, just as Chuck Doswell walks in and pats David on the back. These old-timers have run into each other in tiny Great Plains towns for so many years, and will continue doing so until they’re no longer physically able. Come the end of the chase day, they will gather in local establishments and share fish stories of gorilla hail, mile-wide wedges, and the one that got away.
This is the real chasing community, the one that will still be here when the thrill-seekers and television cameras are gone. For a few weeks of the year they are nomads, roaming the Great Plains anticipating the next storm that will be unique from the hundreds they’ve seen before. They will find these storms and chase them, because there’s always one more day to forecast, one more storm to chase, and one more tornado to tally.
And there’s always next year.blog comments powered by Disqus