Today was our “Well, we can chase if there are any storms around Tulsa”-day, since we were all leaving around noon the day after. Although there was a chance for some sort of thunderstorms in Tulsa, the environment was best in north-east Kansas. We could not, however, risk being so far away from Tulsa so we chose the south central Kansas-target and sat down at Starbucks in Wichita. Oh, the amount of hours we have spent at different Starbucks this trip. Strong coffee and free Wifi attracts storm chasers as moskitos to a pair of legs on a Kansas country road at dusk!
I was quite busy going through all the photos from the day before and did not really mind the wait. Although the environment was not really tornadic I did not have great hopes, but the lesson learned from yesterday was to never give up so…we chased.
Finally, two storm complexes started firing. One around Salina (the northern target) and one around Pratt. The northern one clinged onto a boundary and really felt like the main target but we had no real option due to our flights so we had to choose the southern target and yet again bet on the outlier. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable hearing reports on the northern cell, thinking of the Big Chapman Miss last year.
Our cell looked good though but seemed to die off in an outflow burst some 30 minutes into our stop around between Pratt and Greensburg. It did re-organize and presented an intense lightning show for us, with an amount of positive lightning I have never before seen during daylight. It was impressive! One lightning under the meso started a fire causing smoke to go up into the updraft.
The storm shaped a perfect looking wall cloud with a tail cloud but did not really rotate much. As it was almost stationary we could just stand and watch it, so it was very pleasant. As it finally moved though, we were in for a treat of a lifetime.
We were quite limited to what we could chase since our 4WD was out and it was starting to get dark. We did not want to end up in the same situation as yesterday! So, we went for the structure shots and stopped on Highway 400. And, oh boy, what a structure! The supercell rotated rapidly and presented the most amazing storm structure I have seen in 7 seasons of chasing. It was like out of a photo book! Wow!
We could not follow it south over Greensburg due to the risk of tornadoes, the heavy rain and the dark so we decided to end of a positive note and head back to Tulsa. We drove through the MCS (stemming from the northern target) on our way back there and got back some time after 2 a.m. with a good mood and not too tired. My last thunderstorm of the trip woke me up at 6 a.m. and I spent a couple of minutes looking and listening before I fell back to sleep with a smile on my face.
I woke up with a nice, peaceful feeling from the day before. Storm chasing is at its best when you can stand and watch a slow moving storm and take good time to take photos, enjoy and plan ahead. I really loved that!
That nice, peaceful feeling came to an abrupt halt when we realized we were a bit behind schedule and the storms firing up near Hays, KS, was instead ahead of schedule. We were about 2.5 hours away from Hays when we saw the first signs of towers going up there and we had to put a speed on. Although the chase terrain in south central is remarkably flat, the haze in the air made it difficult to see more than 20 miles ahead. The first cell stood isolated and rotating for quite a while and was tornado warned as well during its first hour, while we were speeding towards Hays. At this point it was really exciting and we were super focused on getting there in time.
Once we finally reached the storm, however, it seemed to have become weaker and we chose to go with a cell that was popping up to its west. As we drove by the storm a really cool gustnado appeared at the leading edge of the storm, more or less a few hundred meters right of us.
That turned out to be the best thing of the day. The next storm did not do anything and we decided to core punch the storm to see some large hail but found only rain. We considered going back to the front end of the first storm to at least see some nice shelf clouds and possibly a bow echo tornado but decided to play the odds of the dryline having storms popping up.
To be honest, after this point I stopped really paying any attention. The storms were all in a big mess, cutting off each other and I pretty much just stayed in the car playing games on my iPad. Still, we decided to see what happened when four boundaries met but that proved not to create anything special.
To finish off this slow afternoon we got a flat tire while driving back to Dodge City! Outside of the really cool gustnado, this was not one of my best chase days. Off course, you can’t have great chase days all of the time.
As today was a very marginal day we chose to really sleep in and catch up on some work. We didn’t leave Lincoln, NE, until after a nice lunch at Ihop and headed east towards Topeka, KS, to play the dryline again. The dewpoints and temperatures were super high so it was almost painful to be outside. I also had quite a headache and nausea so I was not too involved in the events of the day.
Although we had some towers going up just after noon, the subsidence was keeping a lid on all convection throughout the day. For yet another day we played the waiting game and eventually gave up at around 6 p.m. and started heading towards our hotel in Wichita. We knew from the radar images that there was a small storm south of Wichita but it was not a supercell and we did not really expect it to be there when we arrived.
The cell however stayed put so we thought we could core punch it for the fun of it and maybe experience some small hail. As we started nearing Wichita the storm started to grow and started to rotate and eventually became a supercell, to our surprise. Having been too far away from tornadoes on several occasions we decided to head under the meso directly. As it turned out, the structure of this supercell was the best I have ever seen. The pink hue from the sunset, the striations on the mid-levels and the horse shoe shape of it all just made up an incredible structure.
As we were standing underneath the meso the storm produced a small funnel. As the storm was relatively high based it was nowhere near a tornado but we would have had a perfect spot to see a pink tornado from less than a mile away!
When we left, the storm started dissipating but another one grew up just next to it. At this point it was already dark and although we stayed close enough to see any potential tornadoes we mainly went for structure and lightning shots. This storm turned out to be incredible as well, and we continued on dirt roads in the dark to chase it. In fact, we could almost have walked as the storm barely moved.
In the end, we were positioned on a small road outside of Mulvane, KS, that was the scenery of the best tornado photo ever shot (Eric Nguyen). It was one of my best storm chasing experiences ever. It was nice and warm, pitch black and we had the storm producing a spectacular lightning show in front of us. Behind us the skies were clear and filled with stars and on the fields around us there were hundreds of lightning bugs lighting up the fields. In the end I turned off the camera to enjoy the scenery, only looking at the stars and the lightning bug filled fields.
That feeling, right there, was quite the opposite of the adrenalin and excitement filled day in the Nebraska panhandle. Instead, it was such a calm, overwhelmingly peaceful experience that I will never forget.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As of the morning on Day 5 I had seen 13 tornadoes in total. I was about to double that number today. Day 5 was an epic storm chase day and many seasoned storm chasers have mentioned this was their best day ever. I was fortunate enough to experience the Dodge City-tornado outbreak of 2016.
We knew today was going to be a major chase day but the target area was not 100% clear. Some things pointed towards the Texas or Oklahoma Panhandle and other further up in Kansas. We positioned ourselves in the heat in Woodward, Oklahoma, in the early afternoon.
Around 4 p.m. cells started firing up near Minneola in South west Kansas. Erik noticed a subtle low pressure in that area and was convinced that would definitely be a major event – “I have seen this before, this storm will go nuts!” he mentioned to his two chase partners who was more convinced of staying in our area. They discussed for quite a while until Erik convinced them and we blasted north.
Erik was right. The storm positioned itself on that boundary and just grew bigger and bigger and for us it was a race against the clock and I was super stressed in the back seat worrying we would miss the show.
When we arrived the storm was south west of Dodge City and was showing an impressive wall cloud. At this point we knew it was just a matter of when the storm would fire a tornado. We got a little bit closer but when the storm started producing a funnel we stopped and looked.
The show of the decade was about to begin.
There was not long until a tornado started to form. After that everything was just going crazy. The first tornado stayed on the ground for about 30 minutes. The storm generated a second wall cloud which started spitting out secondary tornadoes as well. At one point there was four tornadoes At The Same Time!
We drove a little bit closer as the storm progressed and regrouped but never got really close. First of all, we did not want to waste time in the car when there was tornadoes on the ground, second of all the roads to our west (where the tornadoes were) were mud roads not suitable for our car and thirdly, the storm was dropping tornadoes everywhere so it was not safe.
The storm missed Dodge City, KS, by a mile or so and while we were driving into town we saw the last tornado rope out behind the trees and houses. We chased it a bit further and followed another tornado warned storm for a while until we called it a day and headed back to Dodge City.
Like most of these amazing days you don’t just get tornadoes but we also saw some amazing (anvil) lightning, some while there was a rainbow. On our way back we also stopped to photograph the most amazing mammatus field I have ever seen (even better than Leoti, KS, last Saturday).
I feel so grateful to have experienced this day since it surely will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I don’t know how many tornadoes we saw today but it was somewhere around 15. Not only did we see many tornadoes but they were all unobscured, good contrast and high based. We saw all ranges of tornadoes, from wedges to drill bit-tornadoes. Thankfully, the tornadoes never hit Dodge City either and there were no casualties. In other words – it was the perfect storm.
We finished the day at Applebee’s in Dodge City that was full of storm chasers. I got to meet storm chaser legend Reed Timmer (from the Storm Chasers TV-series) and had a well deserved beer.
Update: I will probably continue to update this blog post with more photos and videos as I am getting them edited.
One of the most common questions people ask me when I tell them I chase storms is: “How close have you been to a tornado?”. Up until now, my answer has been “I have been underneath one“, but I think I need to update that answer after Saturday’s events.
Day 2 was our first real chase day and the season really started with a bang! We knew the week would be great but Saturday was supposed to be a slow start but it turned out to be one of my best chase days ever!
Our target of the day was south-west Kansas and we set off to Scott City. We had lunch at Subway’s where I bumped into Scott McPartland and Dave Lewison (who took the photo picturing the tornado that used to be my “closest to a tornado”-record). I also met George Kourounis in the same tiny Subway who updated me on some of his amazing adventure stories, like standing next to a lava lake in Kongo. I love the fact that you stop in “random” places and meet up with people you know all over Tornado Alley.
We all preferred to wait for the storms out on a field so we went outside of town and waited. The cumulus sure took their sweet time to come which gave me a suntan while waiting under the blue skies. We had surface winds of something around 20 mph which almost made it feel like we were already in a storm. Crazy!
We regrouped to a rest stop where I saw a familiar car with a hail cage coming in. David! David is my chase partner from last year and although I knew he would chase in the vicinity it was a neat coincidence that he, and his crew, ended up in exactly the same spot.
The storms were struggling and I lost faith in that we would actually see something until one finally started to get organized and quickly turned into a great supercell. The chase was on!
The storm was absolutely stunning already from the start, the structure of it was just amazing and it felt like it would drop a tornado any second. In fact, it did, and we missed it – at least to the point that we could not directly see it from the point we were at and we had a really good view, but it was brief (30 seconds), low contrast and behind a rain curtain.
We regrouped from our structure view to get closer into the base in order to see potential tornadoes better…and got more than we bargained for! While chasing inside the bear’s cage Erik suddenly shouted “Tornado!” but from my side in the car I could not see anything – well, I saw something but I could not tell it was a tornado really.
The tornado was coming closer and we stopped to let it pass in front. I quickly (2-3 seconds at most) got out to shoot the tornado only to realize it had changed its path and was coming right at us. Erik was shouting “We need to go!” and I was back in my seat in milliseconds and we raised away. At that point I could see the circulation on the ground just outside of us and it was really, really close. Less than 100 yards! Erik slammed the gas pedal and drove off as I filmed the tornado passing just behind us!
The tornado was merely a spin-up and was dissipating while it was approaching us only to die off a few seconds after. It would not have made any significant damage to us but it was still an incredible adrenalin rush! Off course, it was too close for comfort and nothing we planned to do although Erik and I were well aware of the risk. 61 year old tour guest Dave was a little bit more concerned about the safety aspects of it though.
The morning after Erik found this video, made by Tim Purington. The white van in the video is ours and you can see me get out of the van to photograph and then see the tornado pass a few seconds later:
We continued north only to get our south escape route trapped by a truck who had decided to turn around on this little highway resulting in a perfect block on the road. Our east route was a muddy road we did NOT want to go to and north was the mesocyclone and hail core. We stood in that intersection with 4-5 other vans (including Charles Edwards Cloud 9 tours and, off course, Scott McPartland and his friends – it’s a small chase world).
At that point we started seeing some intense rotation just to our north and I had no doubt the storm would produce a tornado just to the field north of us but it never did. High on adrenaline I was actually a bit dissapointed but it was probably for the best.
The storm started to dissipate a bit as the sun was setting so we went south again to shoot lightning and more structure shots. The storm kept on delivering in terms of beauty when the sun was shining on the most amazing mammatus fields I had ever seen.
We photographed lightning for some 30 minutes and then called it a day. And, what a day!
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!!
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.
The 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!
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!
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!
The best target for the day was probably Illinois but we needed to get back to Tulsa in order not to stress back the day after. So, we conveniently picked north central Kansas instead. It had decent CAPE, good moisture but the shear was not great. Northwestern Kansas looked a little bit better but going a couple of hours west (and then back) for just slightly better storms just did not seem all that attractive.
Our expectations of the day was not to really have a chase day but to perhaps see something interesting on our way home without diverging too much from our route. In our area Osborne, KS, seemed like the best spot so we stopped near an abandoned house in a beautiful environment underneath the cumulus field.
The lift from the cold front and the boundary layer came through and started pushing the cumulus into towers pretty much right above us. We were literally in the square mile where the towering was taking place! All towers died off within 5-10 minutes but it was nice to see and I got some nice time-lapse videos of it.
With the very meager chances of real storms to form we were happy with what we got. When we actually found a speckle of green on the radar we chased it as it was a tornado warned storm, kind of in a sarcastic way. We had a lot of fun doing so and when we saw the rain we decided to get under it, just for fun. That was pretty much how low we had sunk in our expectations and how goofy we felt about the whole chase.
Having a very Reed Timmer-esque sarcastic/goofy chase on this puny little rain cloud was a lot of fun and we followed it onto a gravel road which turned into a real Kansas black dirt road after about a mile. It only took me some 30-40 feet to realize we were in trouble. It felt like the minute we stopped we would be completely stuck in this sticky, super slippery mud so all I could do was try to get up on the little hill in front of us, trying to go as straight as possible.
Finally, the car stopped anyway but I actually managed to reverse the car and start going back. At this point we were getting quite a lot of rain on top of us so it was very difficult to see where I was driving. I kept driving in reverse and managed to stay on the road until we were about 30 feet away from the sturdy gravel road. That’s when the right front tire got too for out towards the ditch and we had to stop. We were stuck.
The irony was not lost on us. We had literally been chasing a rain storm and managed to get stuck in the mud. Obviously, it was not our proudest moment!
After letting the rain cloud pass over us I left to try to find some help. Running back towards the main road I stopped to take some photos of the rain cloud that ironically had turned into a proper thunderstorm! I was lucky to immediately find some local Kansas farmers to which I explained the situation and they drove over to the car.
His first words when we arrived to the scene was: “How stupid are you!? Driving on a dirt road with a car like that! Damn city slickers!”. “Pretty stupid” I admitted while they reluctantly agreed to help us out. We could not find anywhere to attach the chain to the car so we had to give up our attempts and instead call the local towing service. “It aint gonna be cheap, I can tell ‘ye that!” was his last words.
The farmers were obviously right and I had now learned the lesson that many storm chasers do at one point. I have heard about the dirt roads and how to avoid them while chasing but still… I have been driving on several dirt roads while chasing on tours and hundreds of different dirt roads in Sweden without thinking twice about it. I now understood the full extent of how bad the Midwestern dirt roads actually could be!
So, we were stuck again but with a tow truck coming to help us for $300 within 45 minutes. The $30o felt excessive but we really had no good options and we could have been far, far worse off. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had gotten stuck in an really picturesque spot among the wheat fields but most interesting of all. Our rain cloud had turned into a supercell!
Basically, while waiting for the tow truck we could watch the storm grow into an incredible supercell on a completely blue sky. It was stunning! We could even see portions of the base and a wall cloud while it was drifting off. The sun was shining, we could watch some incredible storm structure, our spirits were quite high and the tow truck was on its way. The lesson was learned and even if it cost us $300 we could have learned this lesson with a tornadic storm coming our way as well!
Eventually the tow truck came and got us out of our mess and we continued our way back home. The storm was dying off pretty much the minute we left but we could follow it all the way to Salina doing some passive storm chasing.
This was my last day of chasing this season and it could have gone into the books as a complete disaster but it felt like quite the opposite. Sure, we lost $300 but we learned a good lesson, had a lot of fun and actually managed to see the nice storm structure I had been longing to see ever since I got here two weeks ago.
We woke up and had a quick breakfast before leaving for the Nebraska/Kansas-border which was our target for the day. The predicted storm area was quite large where Colorado had the better lift but north Kansas had amazing CAPE and great shear. The day really sounded promising, as long as the lift would be there!
So, we drove east over most of Nebraska and then down to northern Kansas, stopping at Phillipsburg, KS. Once again we bumped into the people from Extreme Tornado Tours but to my great pleasure also Kimberley George and Martin Lisius from Tempest Tours, whom I had been in contact with for a long time without having ever met them. As always, it feels like a great coincidence when you meet storm chasers you know at random gas stations and out on the fields – even though it is not all that much of a coincidence. We are all there for the same reasons!
After some 30 minutes waiting at the gas station in Phillipsburg, Tempest Tours, flew off somewhere and we saw a storm growing on the map. The chase was on!
…for about 10 minutes.
By the time we had reached the storm, the tower has failed to break the cap and was gone again and there was nothing else around. Albeit starting to feel a bit worried we still had hopes for the day. Our area showed an insane 5.000 CAPE! All that was needed was some lift, and there was a boundary coming in from earlier storms in Nebraska.
We waited for an hour or so until we finally gave up. We had the option of either going 140 miles to our west or go home. We would probably reach the storms to our west at dusk and even though they may be worth it, it just seemed like too much of a stretch. Would it really be worth two hours in each direction to see some structure in the dark? Instead we just cut our losses and started the long haul back to Tulsa.
The disappointment was tangible and it did not get better when we started getting amazing reports on the other target area of the day, Colorado. Multiple, fantastic high contrast tornadoes – some where one of the best I had ever seen. Colorado was never really our main target but it was still very difficult to handle the disappointment of the last three days.
After the first disappointment settled I started looking at things from the bright side again. Me and Randy had a really nice conversation on our long trip back to Tulsa. I was listening about Randy talking about his many incredible and interesting stories from his life. Randy has had a difficult life but is still going strong and with a positive attitude towards life. The conversation kept us both awake until we finally came back to Tulsa at 2.30. The Outlaw Chasers still had another few hours to go to get back to Springfield, MO!
I really hope Randy and Lisa gets to film their eye of the tornado (and prove my doubts wrong) and show the rest of us the footage! I will, most likely, never chase with them again since we have such different views on chasing but I hope to see them on the roads (and on YouTube) in the future again.
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?
– 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:
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!
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.
So, basically and quite simplified, what you do when you chase storms is pretty much you:
Find your target area of the day, based upon your weather forecast
Drive to that target, and wait for the afternoon (where storms usually start).
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.
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
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?
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!
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.