Day 4: Tornado at 11.000 ft!

Lightning from the mountain storm that spun the tornado

After the morning’s forecast we had the option of going some 3 hours east to chase really bad storms or going down almost all the way to New Mexico to, most likely, miss some slightly better looking storms. Instead, we went up the mountains again to hike and drive Mount Evens road, the highest located road in North America.

Our hike around a lake had to be cancelled after only some 10 minutes due to thunder. We weren’t too disappointed though, after all we are on a storm chasing trip! Instead we continued up Mount Evens road and realized we had a decent looking thunderstorm just next to us.

It was not very active but I managed to get a fluke shot of a lightning while driving. This was quite cool since there was only one lightning every 10 seconds or so. We continued to go further up ahead, stopping once in a while to look at the storm and take photos. 

We continued up to Summit Lake and went back down again to continue our drive to Cheyenne, WY, when we stopped at Starbucks and went through our photos. David came up to us with a big smile and said, look at this!! This is the photo he showed:

At first, we didn’t believe him and thought he had taken a photo of a photo of a tornado or something but suddenly realized he had actually caught a tornado on his camera! At 11.000 ft!! It was absolutely crazy! He made the tweet, as seen above, and it went viral instantly – causing numerous TV-channels wanting to show it etc. 

I didn’t see it myself so I had mixed feelings about the whole thing. Our chase team had caught a record tornado (in terms of altitude) on camera and we had been there – but I had missed it, even though I had been looking at the storm for much of the time. No matter what, it was a really cool catch and it taught us that you never really know when a storm will produce a tornado. Even high up in the Colorado mountains!

chipmunk

 

mountain storm
Beautiful shades of blue and gray. This was (obviously) not the tornado, just some scud.

 

stormtrooper chase vehicle
“The Stormtrooper” – our chase vehicle at Summit lake

 

Mountain storm lightning
Lightning from the mountain storm that spun the tornado

 

tornado debris
This COULD be the debris from the tornado (compare it to David’s photo) but I have no real idea.

 

whole storm
This is the whole photo of the storm from which the possible tornado pic was taken from (look at the left side).

 

Day 3: Hiking in the Rocky Mountains

rain showers

Early on this day David made a forecast and we realized that there would be very meager storms at best within a 3 hour drive (i.e. 6 hours in total) so we decided to call it a Down Day and go up hiking in the mountains instead, in Rocky Mountain National Park. There was a actually a few thunderstorms that were going to pass over the Rocky Mountains and on our way up to the park we ended up in one of them, experiencing some minor (pea sized) hail and a few lightning strikes. Nothing special but it turned out quite beautiful with the mountains in the background.

rain showers

The thunderstorms and the fact that there was still snow on the trails stopped our plans on going on a real hike. In fact, when we got up to 12.000 feet our lungs said no to that as well. I could blame my cold but I felt dizzy walking the short trails/walks we actually did. Outside of that it felt really cool to be so high up and to see snow on a storm chasing trip!

christoffer björkwall colorado

david williams in colorado

We were also treated with some wild animal sightings. Moose, elk and some sort of gopher I forgot the name of. 

elk in rocky mountain national park
moose in rocky mountain national park

When we were driving back from the park, some of the storms we ignored in the morning had gotten severe warned but had not been anything special. I think we made a good call, especially since I am a great fan of national parks, animals and scenic views. 

Thursday seems to be our first real chance of chasing storms and it should be progressively better towards the weekend. The only problem for us is that we may have to go back to Tulsa to leave Alex and pick up a new guy.

 

Day 1: The ridge. Omg. The ridge!

the moon bixby oklahoma

I arrived late on June 2nd after a long but pretty decent flight. Well, outside of the fact that I lost my iPhone on the first leg of the flight! It was a matter of many small coincidences as I am usually quite careful when it comes to my iPhone. It really sucks as it was in the beginning of the vacation and although the iPhone is not as crucial as my laptop, passport or camera – it really put a damper on my spirit.

I was not feeling to well either, having caught a cold just the day before, so I slept for a long time but still woke up sick. The “good” news, however, was that I could continue to rest because of the ridge sitting over the Midwest effectively removing all threat/possibilities of severe weather.

It has been an extremely slow season so my expectations were quite low, but it seems like the turnout is probably worse than my expectations. It seems like I am looking at starting of this season with 4-5 down days. I am not all that bummed out though as we are a really nice group of friends and we have plans to go hiking etc as well, basically a normal road trip in the US – and that’s not all that bad…as long as the weather pattern changes until I go back!!

The day was made up of preparations for the rest of the week: buying snacks at Costco, buying cold medicine etc but we also went out to an airfield where Alex (the other Swede in the car) had a flying lesson.

Now, we are off to finish the night watching Twister (of course)!

planes

plane

alex

costco

the moon bixby oklahoma

Day 9 and forward: Tulsa and some minor Texas storms

After our little rainbow chase on Day 8 we went back to David’s home in Tulsa and finally had a nice and easy down day. I knew I should not be hoping for down days, especially since the upcoming weather pattern did not seem to promising but still, it was well needed. I spent the down day catching up on work and editing photos from the last week’s storm chasing.

We did a forecast on Day 9 and it was not very promising but we still decided to go to Midland, TX, for a meager chance. Since we knew the rest of our stay would probably suffer from en Evil Ridge producing nothing but sunshine and blue skies we decided to go for what was out there. Even Alex (who woke up sick) came along and slept the fever off in the back seat.

inside david's car

hail guard
Inside and outside of the Toyota in which we chase. It has a really cool hail guard.

Day 10 turned out to be a blue sky bust so we just checked in at our hotel and relaxed. During the breakfast of Day 11 an old man at the breakfast tipped us about Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns is a huge cavern (cave complex) that was supposed to be amazing. It was also the place where the potential storms would initiate that day so we went.

The storms were actually firing up already before we got down in the cave so we felt a bit stressed about missing out on them. I thought the caverns were absolutely amazing but we still had to semi-rush through them. Later, when we realized the elevator line was 30 minutes to get back out we decided to more or less run out of there. It was supposed to be a “30-45 minute walk” out but we made it in 20 minutes, albeit sweaty and with panting breath.

carlsbad caverns

 

carlsbad caverns

 

caverns1

 

cave chasing
After we got out of the caverns there was literally a severe thunderstorm rumbling above us.

 

me
I came out panting with bat shit on my nose.

As we got out of the cave we were directly under a severe storm so our (well, David’s) forecast was pretty spot on. The storms of Midland, TX, however seemed better so we sped back there. At the time we were getting there the rotation in them were coming to a halt but still put up an amazing lightning storm!

lightning
Lightning outside Midland, TX.

 

lightning texas
These lightning photos makes up the best lightning photos I have ever done!

 

Day 12 was spent solely on driving the looong haul back to Tulsa, OK. We kept a good mood in the car and I laughed so much my throat was soar when we finally arrived late in the evening.

There might be one last setup before I go back home on the 8th of June but otherwise this second part of my chasecation looks like a Big Bust unfortunately. It seems I will be having the best start ever followed by one of the worst weather patterns ever! I would have been devastated if I would have arrived 5 days later!

“Chase” dates: May 28th through May 31st 2016.

Day 1: Down day with a lot of “Twister”

My alarm clock rang at 03.30 a.m. in my apartment in Malmö and I left tired but excited. Had a stop in Düsseldorf and then took an ancient AA plane to Chicago where I bounced on to Oklahoma City. I spent half the flight with head ache and nausea so it was not too pleasant but I watched “Twister” for the hundred time to keep me distracted.

Erik Burns (of Tornadic Expeditions) picked me up at the airport and drove me to my hotel. I had a quick nap before we joined up with Dave from Buffalo, NY, the second guest on this tour. We had a great dinner and then Erik showed us the forecast for the week. I have been trying to keep my expectations low for this tour in order to not get disappointed.

I was not disappointed.

Despite the fact we were going to start off with a down day (no storms or even thunderstorms in Tornado Alley) the week looks great, according to Erik (and the rest of the storm chasing community). I am still trying to keep my expectations in check. I have seen great outlooks turn to nothing  too many times but still… I am excited!!

bacon soda
Anyone up for a bacon soda?

Our down day was used to travel a bit up north to Kansas since we might go to SW Kansas or NE Colorado on Day 2. We went to see a local attraction: a superstore for soda pops where they have hundreds of different soda pops.

I tried a “Birch beer” and a “Cherry ginger beer”, both soda pops (i.e. not beer) but neither was great.

Soda store

dorothyThe main attraction was to go to Wakita, OK, where parts of the movie Twister was filmed. This is a very typical place to stop for tour groups but I had never made it here and was positively surprised. We stopped by the friendly “Twister café” for lunch and then went to the museum.

The Twister museum has a bunch of memorabilia from the movie, especially “Dorothy” along with lots of photos from the filming of the movie. To my great happiness they had a free Twister pinball machine, donated by actor Bill Paxton! I LOVE pinball and had never played this one so I was happy!

wakita twister museum
“I think we’re going iiiiin”

 

twister pinball machine
Pinball + Twister = ♥

We continued on to Greensburg, KS, which is another popular stop on down days. Greensburg, KS, was wiped out almost entirely by a major EF5 tornado in 2007. I had been here twice before but what struck me this time was how well they have built up the town again. They have made a huge effort to really build the town Green and have wind mills everywhere along with energy efficient houses etc. It is an amazing display of making a catastrophe into something good. Check out this documentary about it!

twister in the bar

We ended up in Hoisington, KS, around 7 p.m. where we joined up in the bar for a beer, while Twister was playing in the bar – off course! Me and Erik were dissecting the weather “sins” in the movie of which there are plenty. Still, I love that movie!


“Everything wrong with Twister” by Cinema Sins.