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Highway To Hail

Chasing Huge Hail Storms - June. 01-16, 2009
As part of the filming for a season three episode of Angry Planet, I assembled a team of storm chasers to go out and find the largest hail storms we could. Below are my blog reports from the trip.
 
We encountered big hail on several days, sometimes to tennis ball size. My truck has probably hundreds of new dents and the windshield was destroyed. I was also venturing outside into the storm to collect samples to bring back to the vehicle and place into a cooler. Luckily, I was wearing a helmet because I took numerous hits to the head, hands and back. Hail this large can be fatal if you wind up being hit in the wrong place by a big enough stone.

\Highway To Hail You Tube

June 15 - Toronto, Canada
May is typically the busiest month for tornadoes but this year, we were plagued by a stubborn ridge of high pressure that killed most chase opportunities for the month. June however, saw the pattern spring back with a vengeance. This coincided with my filming plans for Angry Planet and we were able to capture some incredible images, including giant hail storms and the breathtaking June 5th tornado in Wyoming.

June 13 - Silverton, Texas
Tornado Watch
 
 
Today was our last kick at the can. Starting tomorrow, we begin the long journey home but we certainly went out with a bang! Several, very loud bangs actually.
 
After waking up and realizing that our forecast target had shifted dramatically overnight from Eastern Colorado to the Texas Panhandle, we knew that it was going to be a challenge to get down there in time. We gathered everyone up and aimed south.
 
After a mind numbingly long drive south (almost running out of gas along the way in a remote corner of Colorado grassland) we saw numerous storms begin to go up. The most promising one was east of Tulia and approaching Silverton. Since we were approaching from the north, we had to punch through the heaviest rain and hail to get to the better visibility on the south side of the storm. We knew that there might be the possibility of a rain wrapped tornado in there so we kept a very close eye on the radar as we maneuvered through the heaviest precipitation.
 
While storm chasing, you never know what will happen next. In the middle of the rain and hail, the car in front of me starts driving in a very erratic manner, first hugging the center line, then pulling off into the oncoming lane in bad visibility AND on a hill. I tried to pass, but he kept cutting me off, after I did eventually get past, he remained glued to my bumper the whole way. This person was either very drunk or very scared.
 
Once we made it through, this storm had a very menacing look with a very low wall cloud and plenty of blowing dust & dirt. We even saw a brief tornado spin up but it did not last long.
 
As we sat at the side of the road, I saw what looked like snowballs whiz past... Here comes the big hail!!
 
I put my helmet on and headed outside to see these huge stones, mostly golf ball sized, but many of them approaching tennis balls, smash onto the road and explode! I gathered up a bunch as quickly as I could and brought them back to the car. The wind was picking up and we found ourselves in a "Hurricane Hailer" with the ice chunks flying sideways.
 
I moved the car to minimize the chance of broken side glass (How I didn't lose any today I'll never know) and film some cattle getting hit. At this point, Jack and Mark were a mile or two up the road and I could only describe on the radio what was happening to us at the time.
 
All in all, I ended up with more cracks in my windshield, more dents on the hood and one really big dent just above one of the rear windows that must have been caused by a giant stone. The sound was totally deafening. I can't wait to review the video.
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June 11 - Eastern Colorado
 
 
Tornado Warning
 
 
Eastern Colorado seems has been the place to be this chase season. Typically when you think of "Tornado Alley", visions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska come to mind but as you venture further west, the high plains of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming are also just as flat and can produce some of the most incredible weather.
 
Today was no exception.
 
In the early afternoon, we targeted a tornado warned storm west of Limon but it never produced much more than rain and small hail. It quickly lost its shape and died out but we knew that the day was still young and there would be more to chase.
 
After a brief pity stop back in Limon, we all blasted south to intercept two storms that had blown up right beside each other. Both of them looked good but the southern cell looked like it had more potential to produce large hail and possibly a tornado.
 
As we chased it through the town of La Junta an intense rainbow appeared and I was ready for the storm to put down a nice photogenic tornado beside the rainbow for me... Well, Mother Nature chose not to give me the photo op I wanted but she did bring the hail.
 
LOTS of hail.
 
We got pummeled by huge quantities of hail. it was mostly small but the stones were rock hard. There was so much hail in fact, that it began to pile up on the roads. It reminded me of winter driving back home in Canada.
 
The onslaught of small hail gave way to much larger stones which pounded my vehicle mercilessly, which was fine by me. I was there to document hail storms and this is exactly what I was looking for. We were able to get some great footage from both inside the truck and from outside.
 
The downside of chasing hail storms is the potential damage they can cause to your car. My hood now looks like the surface of the moon with countless craters in it. Part of my roof has broken away where I had some auto body work done to it numerous years ago. The pounding of the hail has chipped away the body filler plus my windshield has not escaped unscathed either.
 
There are now several concentric rings and quite a few cracks added to it. I was in need of a new windshield anyway, so this just gives me a better excuse to replace it. It was already full of pits and chips which made it tough driving into the sunset anyway.

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June 10 - Satanta, Kansas
Tornado Warning
 
Today was an interesting day. We were targeting western Kansas but started the day in northeastern Oklahoma. As the long drive west stretched out through the day, all our hopes dwindled due to constant cloud cover and drizzle.
 
As we approached Garden City, KS, it soon became clear that there were indeed some storms beginning to fire up in our target area and since we still had some daylight left, it made sense to try and chase them, even though we didn't have high hopes.
 
As we got near Satanta, the dominant storm really began to intensify and show rotation on radar! We even spotted a nice, green shelf cloud and a short lived, smooth funnel.
 
After attempting to find some hail in it, we followed it off to the east but had a hard time keeping up with it. As we turned north to break off the intercept, all Hell broke loose. The winds cranked up to near 80 miles per hour and the visibility dropped to near zero due to the wind,rain and flying dirt. Threes were swaying and we could barely see the road. It appears that we got caught up in a rather strong downburst as the storm was dying out. It was like being in a hurricane.
 
We later found out that there had indeed been a cone shaped tornado spotted, just south of our location.
 
A nice surprise on a day where we did not expect much.

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June 09 - Enterprise, Kansas
Tornado Warning
 
With a moderate risk for severe weather issued by the Storm Prediction Center today, I was expecting a lot more than what Mother Nature decided to hand out. The tornado and hail probabilities were very high and we were in the right place to see a tornado but we ended up being disappointed with the overall quality of the storm we were on.
 
Apparently, there was a brief tornado spotted very close to where we were (and when I say brief, I mean BRIEF, as in lasting only a few seconds). I guess we blinked and missed it.
 
After the tornado threat was over, I decided to core punch the storm to see what the hail was like in it. The storm had a nice green tint to it, so I was expecting it to have plenty of hail but we were underwhelmed, even though it got nearly as black as night, we never did find any good size hail today.
 
What a waste of a great setup... What can ya do? We were on the best storm in the target area, the Vortex 2 team was there, there was a tornado warning issued and I even thought a tornado would drop at one point but, it was not meant to be.

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June 09 - Wichita, Kansas
The goal today was to re-position ourselves to Wichita in anticipation of good storm chasing on Tuesday in southern Kansas.
 
I`ve been very pleased with the way everything has been going so far on this project. The weather has been cooperating and the crew I have with me have been fantastic. Joining me on this adventure is:
 
Nik Halik - Australian adventurer and trained cosmonaut. Nik is awaiting his turn to be one of the next civilian travellers to the International Space Station.
 
Jack Kertzie - New York based storm chaser who has been chasing for years and has countless tornado intercepts under his belt.
 
Mark Robinson - Fellow Canadian storm chaser who has joined me on numerous chases including hurricanes Katrina and Ike
 
Peter Rowe - Angry Planet producer and cameraman who has been following me to the far corners of the globe for the past three years.
 
Along the way, we`ve been hooking up with other storm chasers, friends who I usually only get to see at this time of year including: Charles Edwards & Rocky Rascovitch from Cloud 9 Tours, Scott McPartland and Dave Lewison from New York, Virginia based chaser Bill Hark, and Jim Edds from Florida who typically chases hurricanes but got his first tornado with us the other day in Wyoming.
 
Meting up with these friends is a huge part of the storm chasing experience and it makes the down days and the long hours on the road bearable with all the stories, laughter and practical jokes.
 
Tomorrow, we chase!!

June 07 - Kansas & Missouri
Tornado Warning
 
Filming of the "Highway to Hail" episode of Angry Planet continued today with great success. We chased 2 supercell storms from eastern Kansas into western Missouri and both of them put on quite a display for us.
 
We stopped in the middle of the hail core of the first storm to get footage and it was a non-stop barrage of hail to golf ball size and larger. The trees beside the road were getting shredded and the leaves were flying off diagonally. Nik Halik and I stepped out of the car (wearing helmets) to gather some samples and we took a beating! I now have several bruises on my back including a rather nasty one on my right shoulder blade which was swollen up like a goose egg.
 
The vehicles also took a beating. I think I doubled the existing number of hail dents in my truck and cracked the windshield in three places. I also had one of the lenses of my sunglasses. Jack Kertzie's vehicle also received numerous dents and he lost a turn signal and one of his flashing amber beacon lights.
 
Exactly what we were after!
 
The tornado warned storm continued on for a while but eventually weakened and the storm to the east became the dominant cell. We blasted across the Missouri River and eventually caught up with it near the town of Maysville where we were able to get right up underneath the rotating part of the storm. This mesocyclone was really churning and it looked like a tornado was imminent. In fact, if it had put down a tornado, it would've been right beside us! We had to look straight UP in order to see the rapid rotation.
 
All in all a great chase day with two photogenic storms and plenty of hail.
 
Right now I'm in Saint Joseph, Missouri, tending to my bruised shoulder and less than factory-perfect truck. It actually looks like a jealous ex girlfriend took a ball-peen hammer to the hood of my truck.

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June 05 - La Grange, Wyoming
TORNADO!!
 
Finally. In a season that has seen few severe storms and even fewer tornadoes, all that hard work paid off. Today we were able to witness a fantastic, long lived tornado near La Grange, Wyoming.
 
The tornado took on many different shapes from a thick cone to a slender trunk, then to a slender, twisty rope. It was on the ground for about 25 minutes and we had a great view from on top of a hill.
 
We were also treated to a spectacular lightning display after dark including one, very close strike that startled me half to death!
 
It is currently 3:00 A.M. and I'll add more details later. For now... Off to bed.

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June 04 - Limon, Colorado
It seems that Mother Nature was pulling a fast one on us today. First, we had to blast up from southwestern Kansas all the way up in to northeastern Colorado, then a storm went up near Limon, but by the time we got to it, it had fizzled to nothing. Then we sat around at a truck stop for a while and met up with numerous other storm chasers, including the Cloud 9 Tours crew.
 
After a while, a storm developed to the southwest... We went after it but it died a horrible death and to make things worse, another storm had exploded right near where we had been waiting all day. We turned around and headed back to try and catch it when yet another good looking storm went up to the northeast.
 
All hope was lost when both these new storms petered out and weakened down to nothing. We seemed to be running in circles all day and Mother Nature was just laughing at us.
 
It is clear who is really in control out here. We just THINK that we know what is going on... Tomorrow is another day.

June 02 - Sweetwater, Texas
Tornado Warning
The hail filming portion of my journey is off to a good start!
 
Our target today was near Lubbock, Texas and as we were driving south from Amarillo, storms began to fire up... Early too! It was only about 2 in the afternoon when we targeted our first cell. We knew that this meant it was going to be a long day.
 
We followed the storm to near the town of Post where it took on a dark, green appearance and showed signs of rotation. We drove into the core and encountered lots of hail to golf ball size. I donned my helmet and ran out of the vehicle to gather a few samples and bring them back to put in the cooler. During my excursion, I took several rather hard hits to my toe, leg and a few on the head (good thing for the helmet). Nik then joined me as we searched the nearby grass for samples of the largest stones.
 
This is exactly what we were hoping to film today so we were all very pleased, then we noticed another cell to the southeast that was within reach and had a radar indicated tornado warning. We blasted southeast to Sweetwater and punched the core on it as well but the best hail producing part of the storm was out in an area where there were no roads so we ended up having to eventually abandon it as well, after the tornado warning had expired.
 
Overall, today was a very good chase day with a lot of great material filmed for the show. The only serious downer was that Mark accidentally left his digital still camera on the roof of one of the vehicles when we stopped to take pictures near Post and it fell to its doom as we sped off.
 
He's not too happy about this right now as you might imagine.
 
As the week progresses, it looks like we will remain very busy. Tomorrow is expected to be a travel day in order to get north, up towards the central high plains.

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June 01 - Alanreed, Texas
Today was the first chase day for the filming of the hail episode of Angry Planet and we got more than we expected from the marginal; forecast. Numerous small storms were popping up al over the Texas Panhandle and as we cruised west along Interstate 40, we found one dominant storm that briefly became a supercell near Alanreed.
 
There were signs of rotation and a very green tinged rain/hail core that we observed before deciding to punch into the heaviest precipitation. Although there was plenty of rain, the hail was very small.
 
Since we were running low on fuel, we found the nearest gas station and as we were getting ready to start pumping the gas, a huge lightning bolt struck the power lines less than a mile away. A split second after the bright bolt hit, the power dipped out and the pumps rebooted. Luckily, the power didn't remain off or else we could've been stuck there with no fuel.
 
After this, the storm began to die out so we continued wet into Amarillo where we ate dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. While there, we treated to nice display of mammatus clouds just before sunset.
 
Tomorrow looks like it will also be a busy day so check back for more updates.

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Not a smooth spot remains on my hood.

The hail guards protected the glass part of my floodlights, but the inside took a beating.

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Broken anemometer cups.

A hole was punched through the plastic below my windshield wipers.

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Concentric rings of glass from a hit on the windshield.