I have chased with many different tour guides now and they all have had different personalities and guiding styles. We have the calm and informative style of Charles Edwards and Brian Morganti or the friendly and dedicated style of Gene Robertson and Allan Dietrich. They were all excellent tour guides but I really loved chasing with Lanny Dean.
People sometimes ask me what I find so interesting about storms. I am always a bit surprised by the question, like “How can you not be fascinated by tornadoes?!”. I guess everyone would find a full contrast, destructive tornado fascinating but we all know storm chasing is not like that every day. What makes every day special is the build up, the growing excitement, the let-downs and surprises, and the clues the storms gives you it might produce something spectacular.
That is why you can look at dark coloured, condensed water in the sky for hours – with an adrenalin rush. Often, you have no idea what you are looking at, what might happen or if you have any reasons to be excited – and that is what Lanny Dean brings to the storms. He has seen some 300-400 tornadoes I think but is still over excited about inflow, possible funnel clouds and wall clouds and he really brought that passion (and knowledge) to us guests.
Below is a video I just put up on Youtube that was filmed on our only real chase day of the unlucky tour of May 2014. We saw an anti-cyclonic land spout tornado that day (not in the video) but nothing else really, it still was a spectacular day thanks to the excitement and passion brought by Lanny.
I went back to the videos I shot at the Canadian, TX, tornado outbreak last year. I did not really have a full look at them at the time and I never took the time to upload any videos to Youtube until now. As always, the footage is a bit shaky since I usually focus on still photography but I managed to cut most of it out. Enjoy! You can also read my blog post about the event here.
Our last day of the tour was mainly about getting back from Amarillo to Tulsa. We started with an amazing BBQ-brunch in Amarillo and continued eastward. When we reached Oklahoma city a few from the group went to see the Oklahoma City bombing memorial while I, and the tour guides, relaxed over a coffee. When we finally got back to our hotel in Tulsa we had a quick goodbye dinner before I was picked up by David, my new chase partner.
David Williams is a Tulsa-based chaser whom I never met before. We had gotten in contact through StormTrack in which I had posted an ad looking for chase partners for this week. This would be my first week ever to chase outside of a tour and I was excited to be more involved in forecasting, decisions etc. Staying and chasing with a stranger 24/7 felt like a bit of a gamble but a gamble I was willing to make. It did not take long until I realized I would get really well along with him and his wife Lisa. They turned out to be a really nice, interesting and cool couple!
Just before going to sleep on Saturday I got news from Randy (my temporary chase partner for the middle of the week) that instead of having to be back on Thursday for an important appointment he had that appointment already on Tuesday which made it impossible for us to have any chance of getting to the really promising setup in South Dakota on Tuesday. Once again I was without any good options for chasing the northern events and had a bad night’s sleep.
Friday was our last real chase day on the tour since we had to be back in the evening in Tulsa on Day 6 which limited our options. Not that it matter though since Saturday did not have any real storms to offer. Friday was the first day in the week when we did not have a 5% tornado risk, but rather a 2%. In previous tours with worse luck with the weather I had been quite happy with a 2% risk so I did not worry to much.
We had hardly seen any hail during the entire tour (except for the first 30 minutes on the first day) so we agreed to have the goal to at least experience some hail. Our target area was New Mexico but once again we were in the neighborhood (Dumas, TX) so we could take it nice and slow on our way over there. We stopped for example a bit over 10 minutes at the border to New Mexico taking photos.
While driving west from the border the tour guide Chris mentioned we were going to the town of Clayton. Not having my brightest moment I asked “Is that Clayton, Texas?”. A few milliseconds later I realized how stupid that question was. I mean, we had just been standing 10 minutes under the “Welcome to New Mexico” sign! 🙂
While the storms were still growing we stopped by the most beautiful church at a small town by Lake Ute. The view was stunning with mammatus clouds in the background and the whole valley behind it. We stopped for over 20 minutes just in awe of the whole scenery, taking multiple photos.
As the storms were maturing we picked a target and started chasing for real. The chase led us up through mountain roads adding even more beauty to the scenery. Unfortunately, we ended up north of the storm again and had very few road options to really catch up. When we finally got around to the southeast corner of the storm it died off – pretty much like the Texas storm on our second day. We did however get to chase in a beautiful environment and saw some really cool hail shafts.
We ended the evening at The Big Texan in Amarillo. At that point I had received news from my chase partner David Williams that he had to work Wednesday to Friday which messed up our chase week. The target for next week was up north which basically left me with no chase option for the upcoming five days!
Luckily enough we had bumped into Randy “Outlaw” Hicks, a friend of Lanny Dean. I asked him if he would be chasing next week and if I could come along and he agreed, to my great relief!
I woke up content but also a wee bit hungover from the celebration last night. For the fourth day in a row we had an SPC Slight Risk with 5% tornado risk to chase. This time in the Oklahoma panhandle and southeast Colorado. Since we already were in the same area (Shamrock, TX) we treated ourselves with a good breakfast at a family restaurant nearby.
I bumped in to some old acquaintances from Cloud 9: Charles Edwards and George Kourounis but also Klipski who I had been emailing with in the pre-season. It is an awesome but absurd feeling to go halfway around the world, stop by a small restaurant in an even smaller town – and bump into people you know! I love it!
We moved westward on the Oklahoma panhandle when the first storms started popping up. We chased them and had to make a turn up north in order to avoid the rain but by doing so ending up north of our HP cell. There was a tornado reported on our storm but there was no chance to get back on it without core punching it, which obviously was a bad idea, so we pretty much had to sit it out and watch it congeal with the other cells (like all storms seems to be doing this year). We were treated with some nice mammatus instead.
So, even though we got to chase some storms and saw/felt some amazing thunder and lightning it felt like a semi-bust. It was however the fourth day in a row where we had been chasing a storm with a tornado!
This was the third day of chasing a Slight Risk-area with a 5% tornado risk (according to SPC). We targeted the Texas panhandle and quite early SPC issued a mesoscale discussion for the area. It turned into a Tornado Watch-area sometime after lunch as we drove into Canadian, TX, that seemed to be the play of the day.
While driving in towards Canadian we saw a wall cloud forming and just outside Canadian we stopped to watch. As on cue the storm spit out some 4-5 funnel clouds in those 15 minutes we were standing there. It was nothing like the funnel we saw yesterday, we were well positioned and ready and it was pure joy to watch the storm while hoping for the funnels to touch down.
The funnels never touched down so instead we continued closer to the base of the storm to watch the incredible and highly visible rotation of the storm. It was an amazing and beautiful sight and we were just waiting for it to spin up a new funnel cloud or tornado. We had to wait just a little bit longer though. While regrouping we got reports of a tornado on the ground and sped back through town. We could see the cone shaped tornado between the houses and trees but could not really get a good view of it right away.
When we found a good spot the tornado was roping out into a beautiful and far stretched snake in the sky. All in all it did not seem like it was on the ground for very long, at most 6-7 minutes. We were glad to catch the first tornado on the tour and to see it at fairly close distance! It was an amazing sight as well, no rain covering it or anything. Wow!
We regrouped once again to a veterinary center just out of town overlooking a field over which the storm was slowly, slowly coming in over us. The storm was so slow it was almost stationary. At that location we saw numerous funnel clouds and 2-3 more tornadoes of which one also had a brief satellite tornado. They were all really brief, none lasted longer than 20-30 seconds but it was all in front of us.
A brief tornado actually touched down very close to us as well, swirling up a few tumble weeds into the air. I did not personally see it but at this point we had seen so much it felt like it didn’t even matter! This was my first tornado outbreak and I was happy and satisfied since long. It is not everyday you get to experience a tornado outbreak from a stationary, non-HP-cell!
Up until now our tour guides had been Christopher Howell and Allan Detrich but at this time Lanny joined us for the first time of the tour. He stayed around for our last positioning but at this point the storm had stopped producing funnels and tornadoes. Happy and satisfied we went for the compulsory stake dinner. We celebrated the great day with drinks (Canadian whisky, of course) before finally crashing to bed.
Our target area today was primarily western Oklahoma so we started off south, chasing the dryline storms. At our lunch break at Arby’s we saw an incredible storm build up with a nice overshooting top – but it was over at the cold front some 90 miles away. We continued into north Texas after lunch to watch a nice cell build up. It did not really turn into anything spectacular though.
Instead we continued south and started chasing a messy storm to our south. That storm complex later grew into a nice compact storm that soon got a tornado warning. It was a tedious chase trying to catch up on it from the north shooting down the semi-flooded roads. When we were just to the west of it we got reports over Twitter of a wedge tornado in it. The game of catch-up suddenly got really serious and the tension in the van was tangible.
When we finally got into position south of the storm the tornado was gone and it never produced any other. Our four hour speed chase was unsuccessful but we did enjoy the rain and incredible lightning that was coming over us when we finished the day with a dinner at Chili’s.
Just as last year my neighbors decided to have a party the night before my trip and I had to get up at 4.30 to catch my plane! That, and being a bit nervous to oversleep made me sleep only one hour the night before. I slept on and off during the flights over to Tulsa but I was a bit of a wreck when I arrived.
After reading some discouraging news on StormTrack regarding this week I decided to stay away from all types of news about this the forecasts of this week. It was too demoralizing to read it after having had two bad tours in a row! I was pleasantly surprised instead on the first day of our chase to find out it was actually a Moderate Risk day! The moderate risk was mainly about flooding and was issued for Texas. Texas also had a 10% tornado probability the best I have seen while chasing.
Outside of the flooding, the storm system coming to Texas was a fast moving Mesoscale Convective System and would be very difficult to chase. Instead we chose the other area of the day – Central Kansas. I prefer chasing in Kansas so even though there was a slightly less chance of tornadoes (5%), actually seeing them would be a bit easier and the storms would likely be more organized.
It started off really well when we got into a hail storm already at 4 p.m. Soon thereafter Lori shouted “Is that a tornado!?”. Well, it wasn’t but it certainly was a funnel cloud. It was quickly rearranging itself and only had a very brief period when it looked like a classic funnel cloud. Later there was a reliable report of a tornado on that storm and it was likely during that time. I wouldn’t dare mark that as a tornado but it sure was exciting – and on the first hour of the tour!
We regrouped to get a better vantage point but while doing so the storm became unorganized and the different storms congealed into a big mess. It became obvious quite early that there was nothing left to chase so we called off the chase already at 5 p.m. At that time I was falling asleep back and forth in the car so I wasn’t too bummed out. After having a pizza in Pratt, KS, I was finally able to go to sleep.
Day 1, thus, was a very short chase but at least we saw a funnel. Still, the feeling after Day 1 was a bit of a disappointment since this promising start led to nothing else…
This was officially the last day of the tour but with no storms at all in the vicinity (and hardly at all in the US) we spent most of the day relaxing (it was well needed after all those shots yesterday). We had a tear-filled goodbye of our Aussie friends Tim & Jess and then continued on to check in at our airport hotel.
As mentioned I was quite devastated with how the weather turned out, having looked forward to this trip for such a long time. It is amazing though how Lanny and all other on this tour managed to turn this around to actually being quite a nice trip!
It felt like I came on this tour looking for storms but instead found new friends! It was just so much fun! Everyone seemed to be on the same page in terms of humor, discussions etc. I really hope to be able to chase with the same gang next year again.
My thoughts of giving up on storm chasing were brief and have been transferred into an even greater craving of really going all-in for next season! I will try to stay as long as I can afford in order to maximize my chances.
Lastly, thanks to Lanny for being so incredibly dedicated to give us the best tour possible despite the weather!
That tiny hope we had for the outflow boundary was lost during the morning briefing. The forecast was for tiny popup cells in the Tulsa area (in which we stayed) but we decided they were not worth chasing but instead decided to have some fun!
After some lunch we all headed out for a tattoo parlor where not just one of us but four (!) decided to have a tornado tattoo! Jessica and Alex already had a few but most impressive was that the “2nd generation” Tim and Lanny both decided to have one.
It was only me and Lori that didn’t get any tattoos. I may next time, especially if there is a tornado event to remember! We continued to a place where we drove go-karts, bowled and played laser tag. Although the go-karts were super slow it was a blast, especially with Lori trying to block the road!
When we left the place we came out to a beautiful sky with several small pop-up storms on an otherwise clear blue sky. We didn’t have time to go out and photograph them properly but it was a feast for our storm famined eyes!
In the evening we all went out for dinner, drinks, more drinks, some shots added to that and then some pool. Needless to say, we had a lot of fun. At this time it really didn’t feel like we were a part of a tour but rather just a bunch of friends hanging out.