Day 9: Cap bust in Wyoming

wyoming flooded fields

Today’s main target was really Minnesota, although it looked like squall lines and night time chasing. Fortunately, in the morning it turned out SE Wyoming would actually have a chance to produce severe weather. SPC even put a 2% tornado risk in the area where were more or less just prepared to have a down day anyway.

Driving through Wyoming was just as nice as driving through Montana yesterday. The vast fields, hills and mountains make up for scenery that makes you want to stop every 5 minutes to take a new photo. 

We stopped in one of those places and started waiting for the moisture and CAPE to move its way in to the area. We waited…and waited…and waited. At around 7 p.m. we gave up and started driving south towards Ft Collins, CO. At that point there was actually a super-tiny tornado warned storm in Casper, WY, where we did our lunch forecast. 

The main focus of the day was, however, Monday that is starting to look really good. 

colorado road

colorado road

wyoming

wyoming

Day 7: Moderate Risk Day semi-bust

I woke up feeling really tired but excited about the day. Almost everything was pointing towards a big day with several big tornadoes. The SPC was predicting an 80% chance of tornadoes and 60% chance of strong tornadoes rated EF2 or higher. The area we targeted had a 15% hatched risk which is the highest risk I have ever chased in.

After last year’s SPC-busts I was not allowing myself to get too excited though. I was also struggling with computer problems all morning which kind of removed the focus from the anticipation of the day. But, of course, the day was a bust – at least in terms of a tornado outbreak in Kansas.

The storms all started around 1 p.m. (which is really early) and it washed out the entire area leaving all central Kansas cool and stable and thus very unsuitable for severe thunderstorms. When Erik realized that was going on we hauled down to the Kansas-Oklahoma border where the air was still untouched and unstable.

chase area

We got on a storm that was slowly becoming better looking, albeit being too linear. For a while it seemed pretty promising, had some really nice structure and we experienced some large hail but that was pretty much it. It was a rather decent chase day per se but with the build-up of the day it felt more like a bust than a nice chase day.

supercell
The supercell near Wellington, KS, at its peak.

 

funnel
It may have produced a brief, cone-shaped funnel for a while. This photo was not timed perfectly so I am not 100% sure.

We ended up in Greensburg, KS, where we stopped at a gas station where I randomly ran into three (3!) previous chase partners / tours: Charles Edwards, Gene Robertson and David (again). We all hid from pea-sized hail for some 10 minutes before heading back to Oklahoma City.

Dave
Dave photographing the storm.

My tour with Tornadic Expeditions was thus over and I was expecting the first long, good sleep for a week. An amazing week was at its end with some 20+ tornadoes and three tornado days. I have never been so lucky with the weather pattern for a tour and Erik did a good job finding the right targets as well.

Chase day: May 26th 2016

Day 6: Painful bust in Kansas

Today started as a marginal risk day and I was so satisfied with the amazing day in Dodge City yesterday I did not really care too much what happened. It felt like nothing could go wrong today but I was wrong.

Our first plan was to position ourselves in McPherson, KS, but later changed a bit further south around Newton, KS, to watch storms go up around the boundary (again). Towers started firing and we picked a target that was fairly nearby and watched it struggle….and struggle….and struggle. At the same time a better looking storm was firing north of Salina, KS, but it was 80 miles away which meant roughly 1.5 hours, we would be there around 7.30-8.00 p.m. We were never really thinking about going up there, even when it got tornado warned or even when there was a small tornado reported. We trusted our storm to start performing since it was in a great enviroment.

kansas
Waiting for the storms to fire.

The northern storm soon got a tornado report of a small tornado and the reported a wedge tornado. At that point we were a bit bummed out we had not gone up there instead. However, we later realized that the northern storm had turned into a monster cell with a 90 minute wedge tornado. 90 minutes! That is incredibly rare!

At that point we had completely busted on our target area and it was an incredibly painful bust. The incredible day yesterday was almost forgotten and Erik was bashing himself completely for not having gone further, as he previously planned. The storm however was outside of the SPC warned area and it was a surprise to many seasoned chasers (who also missed the storm). No matter what, the drive back to Great Bend, KS, was not a very pleasant one. We could even see the anvil from that storm even though it was 100 miles away.

Chase date: May 25th 2016

Day 3 – 5% tornado risk turned to 0%

The reports we got last night was that today was going to be quite intense with even better shear and great instability. SPC had a Slight Risk in our area and a 5% tornado risk where we were positioned for the day. The next couple of days looked crappy so I realized this could very well be the last real chase day of our tour but we had a chance to go out with a bang!

My optimism quickly changed when Lanny had his morning briefing where he told us that the Low Pressure System had taken an unexpected turn leaving instability, dryline and shear in completely different places. The tornado risk was nowhere near what SPC had predicted and all my hope diminished.

I had been looking forward to this trip ever since January when I bought the ticket. I have been studying for two weeks just to really understand the chase better this time. Although this was my 4th trip I was anticipating it more than I had ever done (maybe except for my first one) so this was a really, really hard blow for me.

We gave the storms half a shot but there was really nothing to chase rather than fast moving MCS over a bad road network. Instead we started moving north. We stopped for the night in Weatherton outside Dallas/Fort Worth and had a well deserved real dinner, a few drinks at a bar and a fun after party where we tried out Jelly Beans. The ones where you don’t know if you will have a Tutti Frutti-flavored or a Vomit-flamored bean.

Five day tour with PDS Storm Tours

This blog entry was originally written on my personal blog and directed (simplified) to my friends (who don’t know anything about storm chasing). I have translated it as it was and left it with no major editing. This was my second trip and I didn’t know that much about storm chasing at the time.

I recently came home from my second storm chasing-trips. The first trip I made back in 2009 was probably the best trip I have made (all categories) since we were lucky enough to experience lots of weather phenomena, for example a giant tornado in Wyoming. I tried to keep my expectations low for this trip with PDS Storm Tours (Gene and Barbara Robertson), since it was much shorter (5 days as opposed to 14 days on my last one).

It turned out to be a trip that started off really, really slow but with a great finale! In the end, the last few hours of this tour turned out to be some of the most intensive moments I have ever experienced in my life!

I landed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the Saturday and had a quite funny conversation with the immigration officer:

– So, Mr Bejorkenwall, are you coming to the US for business or pleasure, sir?

– Pleasure

– Visiting family in Oklahoma then, sir?

– No, I am here as a tourist

– ???…touristing in Tulsa? *thinking: bring him in boys*

– Eh…Yes, storm chasing

– Oh, you are one of them crazy people. Well have fun then.

 

Severe storm risk according to SPC

The setup for this week, at first, looked quite good but later on turned out really bad. Basically, you can get an idea of the risk of severe storms on this map at Storm Prediction Center. You can have a few different variations in terms of: No severe risk, Slight Risk, Moderate Risk and High Risk.

If you are facing a non-existing risk it is quite likely you will not be able to find any severe storms at all. With a Moderate Risk, most who have storm chasing as a hobby are likely to hit the roads if they can. At a Slight Risk you may only go chasing if the risk area is nearby. For this week it looked like Slight Risk would be the highest risk we would face.

 

Stockholm – Bombay

Storm chasing involves miles and miles in the car, for which I was well prepared. This trip, however, was exceptional since the risk areas were so few and so spread out. We were in New Mexico (which borders to Mexico) on Monday afternoon and we touched North Dakota (which borders to Canada) on the Tuesday afternoon! We literally drove over the entire country in one day! After summing up the miles driven during these five days it turned out we had gone over 4.000 miles. This is compared to driving from Stockholm to Bombay. In five days!

First four days of finding nothing

Even if we got to chase some sort of storm setup every day we didn’t really find anything to write home about, since nothing really superseded anything I saw on my previous trip. The most interesting that happened of the first four days was that we ended up 45 minutes from Rochester, Minnesota, where I lived for a month in August 2011.

It was in the corner of Minnesota and Wisconsin where we had our last planned chase day, since our last day (Friday) looked completely dry with a non-existing risk of severe storms. At this time I wasn’t exactly bitter but really wasn’t happy either. I mean, it’s fun to road trip in the USA and the Midwest has a special place in my hear after my year at K-State – but it’s not thaaaat much fun to experience disappointment after disappointment every day!

These are some of the best and most interesting photos from my first four days, which says quite a lot:

mammatus
Beautiful mammatus clouds

 

sunset storm
A nice storm at sunset

 

shelf cloud from a mcs
Shelf cloud from a linear storm in Iowa

 

Our great change of luck

When I woke up on the Friday morning my greatest expectation was to be able to drive by Manhattan, KS, and visit my old university town. I checked the SPC outlook in the morning and was positively surprised to see that they had changed the non-existing risk to Slight Risk in Kansas that day. This was perfect since Kansas was on our way home. So, we got a bonus chase day on our last day after all!

manhattan kansas
My old house when I went to K-State

At the same time as we were driving around in Manhattan, the weather forecasts were becoming better and better (from a storm chaser’s perspective) and central Kansas suddenly appeared really interesting! So we finished up quickly in Manhattan and continued through the beautiful, flat plains of Kansas and even managed to pass by the old Swedish settlement of Lindsborg, KS (just south of Salina) before arriving to the show just in time.

anvil
Anvil of the Storm of the Day. The cap was broken!

So, basically and quite simplified, what you do when you chase storms is pretty much you:

  1. Find your target area of the day, based upon your weather forecast
  2. Drive to that target, and wait for the afternoon (where storms usually start).
  3. Keep track of your weather radar to see where storm cloud start to tower up and visually you look for large towers of storm clouds, with anvils spreading out and position yourself in front of them.
  4. You observe and move around the storm cloud to avoid high risk areas of it, such as straight underneath the so called wall cloud, which may produce tornadoes. You also try to avoid the core which produces a lot of rain and dangerous hail. The constant re-positioning is to always keep you out of danger’s path and to get the best possible view of the storm
dust below storm cloud
Our storm is kicking up a lot of dust from winds coming down from the storm.

In our case, our first storm looked really promising with lots of dust being kicked up and strong winds. We were basically just waiting for it to produce a tornado but the storm never really got that far. The hours went on and even if it was an amazing storm with really cool features, we still lacked that extra icing on the cake. I was still quite satisfied since it was about 10 times better than anything we had seen during the entire week. Finally, the sun started to set and our longing to see a tornado from this great storm became a matter of time. Would we see anything before the sun set?

sunset
The sun was setting

Then, at last, something started to happen.

We placed ourselves at a field in the strong evening heat (+30 C) and watched the tornado warned storm while the sun, all too fast, were closing in on the horizon. The feeling was very much like watching the end of an exciting football game with one eye on the game clock. Then, just like a goal on overtime, the storm finally produced a tornado!

The tornado quickly stretched out like a rope over the horizon with the sunset behind it. The finale couldn’t have been better and we were all ecstatic!

Sunset tornado
Just like a last second touch-down, the tornado touched down just in front of the sunset.

 

sunset tornado rope out
This sight was just amazing. The tornado quickly roped out just in front of the sunset.

 

sunset tornado dissipating
The tornado dissipates and the sun has already set.

Ten minutes later the tornado dissipated (but it apparently demolished some houses during its lifespan). We drove a bit closer to the storm to photograph the magnificent lightning display and thought we had experienced the best of today, but there was more to come.

 

One does not chase storms at night, now I know why

Eventually, the dark settled and one does not chase storms in the dark. It is dangerous and relatively pointless since you can’t see anything anyway. We did however have to go south in order to get back to Oklahoma. Driving south also meant driving in between two tornado warned storms, i.e. storms that could spit out a tornado at any time – without us not being able to see it! We also had to drive quite close to the core, although not underneath the wall cloud (which is the part of the storm that usually produces a tornado).

With some curiosity I kept my eyes on this wall cloud that was a bout 1-2 km away to our right. The sun light was long gone but the frequent lightning lit up the sky once every second or so. At first I kept the window rolled down in order to be able to see, but doing so was quite noisy so I gave up my search and kept my eyes on the road instead.

 

I can’t believe what I see lit up by the lightning

Suddenly, we start to see wind gusts in front of our head-lights. The rain and the winds were acting strange. Something was definitely going on!

I roll down my passenger window again and stare out into the darkness, towards where the wall cloud used to be (2 km away). Lightning flashes a couple of times and I…wait a minute…What. Was. That!? Another double lightning lights up the sky and I turn my eyes from the field further away and look up. I see what I only thought I saw the first time: A white, cylinder shape is apparent on the sky, like an elephants trunk and it’s just above and beside us. I stutter to Gene and Barbara in the front seat:

Eh, I think there is a tornado to our right

Gene pulls down his window as well and the sky is lit up by another lightning again. It’s quite obvious that we have a tornado touching down just a few hundred meters to the right of our car. We cannot see the end of the tornado but when I follow the trunk I can see that its base is just above us! It stretches like a snake from the sky down and just like the head of the snake is the most dangerous part, that part of the tornado is fortunately not in our path, but rather to our right. The sight itself is boh deeply terrifying and amazing at the same time!

We, obviously, put the pedal to the metal and drive as fast as we can. A couple of lightnings later I can no longer see the tornado but that doesn’t really ease our minds.

When were back in safety again and my pulse has slowed down, the whole situation strikes me. This was probably one of the most intense moments of my life (and I have had the pleasure of experiencing a lot of cool things). I know we were in a very dangerous place and things could have gone really bad but despite that it was so intense I never feared for my life or anything.

I don’t want this to put PDS Storm Tours or Gene in any bad light for this incident. I trust him to have made good calls due to the circumstances and this was, as well, such an amazing event for me so if anything I feel gratitude! The effort they put in to make this a remarkable tour was incredible.

It is difficult to explain what it is with these spectacles of Mother Nature but the adrenalin, the uncertainty, the beauty, the dramatic weather phenomena is something that is something out of this world. Unreal is probably the word that best describes storm chasing and there is nothing that can compare these super storms with anything else, especially not the thunderstorms we get in Sweden.

Lastly, I would like to thank Gene, Barbara, Dennis & Jeanie Jones for this amazing trip. If there is something I bring with me from this tour, outside of these amazing events, is the incredible dedication of the team to really find some storms. We got up at 5 a.m. some mornings to drive over the entire country for only a meager risk of severe thunderstorms, and then back again. They really went above and beyond to find me some storms and for that I am forever grateful! “Walking that extra mile” is something they are purely dedicated to do and doing just that made us having this amazing experience in the end.

 

Day 10 – Broken expectations

Today was the most promising day of the year according to the forecast. I tried not to get my expectations up too much but it was of course difficult. Especially, when the day begins with the first storm coming in over us when we are driving already at 11:30 a.m. A lightning bangs down about 100 meters next to us and we can not separate the flash from the bang, it was just that close.

Then we end up waiting again as usual. After a while we begin to follow a storm that does not seem directly exciting though. Having positioned ourselves nearby a couple of oil tanks alongside us, we see the storm come in and it is after all quite powerful, at least it has very powerful winds.

We continue on and end up in the rain again, this time without the hail. Basically we drive around in the rain for over an hour and it’s pretty boring. Finally we stop at a gas station – and hear about the most interesting thing of the whole day. A couple of storm chasers who been at some distance from us when we were positioned by the oil tanks have seen a tornado during a very short time – a matter of seconds – touch down on the other side of the oil tanks while we were standing there!

There was never any real danger, I guess, but a bit sad that we were placed so that we did not see it.

An all in all pretty boring and a bit of a frustrating day. We had high expectations and also raised the bar a bit – all storms must, at least in some respect, be better than the last! What can be said about today’s storm was at least that was the windiest (probably around 50 mph, where we stood) and the greenest (plenty of hail in the clouds).

Well, I just hope some of the last days will have something exciting to come up with. I am starting to look forward to go home now – I especially look forward to normal food. Today I was incredibly hungry at 7 p.m. when we stopped at the gas station. The most healthy I could choose was…peanuts.

Update at 9.50 p.m. – The last we saw of this storm was after dinner when it suddenly showed some cool features: A stunning display of lightning fireworks. The lightning were mostly hidden behind a large cloud and each flash lit up the clouds as if it was a bomb, and there were about 3 flashes per second. It was very pretty!

expectations on storm day
This was the forecast for today
very close to a tornado
Here is where the tornado touched down a few hundred meters away from us.
bad view because of rain
Approximately a 100 feet view in the rain.
low clouds
The clouds hovering so low that one can not even see the bottom of them behind the trees.
very green sky
Very green sky.
green color mothership storm
It does not matter how often I see this. It is still so powerful to see a shelf cloud hovering in, taking over the city, accompanied with that weird green color.

Day 7 – Bust day

The amazing day yesterday ended in a really nice hotel, simply because we could not find anything else. Not a problem to me, since lodging is included in this trip!

This weekend is expected to be really great and it apparently started of really well. Saturday, however, was a “bust day”. This means, you go out to an area that has the right conditions, but nothing really happens. We stopped at a corn field in Iowa and it was extremely hot and humid, but absolutely nothing happened. The highlight was when we walked into the little town nearby (Sidney, Iowa) and bought a Fat Tire (Colorado beer), sat down by the water tank and just chilled out.

Another interesting thing is to look at the group dynamics among us. How groups are formed, and how different people react to the boredom which quite often is apparent (5-6 hours in the car per day!). I guess how you treat the boredom depends a lot on how well you are prepared for it, mentally, but also what you bring in terms of books etc.

sidney iowa
Sidney – One of many village names in the Midwest having a counterpart in the world.
george korounis getting interviewed
George hosts a TV serie called Angry planet where he is documenting everything from tornadoes to avalanches and volcanoes. He works occasionally for Cloud 9 Tours.