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Tornado Chase 2009 Blog

This page contains the daily blog updates that I'm posting while on the road in Tornado Alley. Once again I'm driving one of the tour vans for Cloud 9 Tours. Charles Edwards runs one of the oldest and most reputable storm chase tour companies around. We take people from all over the globe to the Great Plains to search for the worst weather in the world.

- George Kourounis


June 15 - Toronto, Canada
 
The brutal, 2 day drive home is now finished. This year's chase was an odd one.
 
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.
 
Now, I rest for a few days before the next adventure...
 
My regular blog posts will now resume on the normal Blog Page

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 12 - Pikes Peak, Colorado
Since it was a down day with no storms to chase, my "Highway to hail" group along with Jim Edds, Scott McPartland and Dave Lewison decided to take our vehicles up to the top of Pikes Pear near Colorado Springs.
 
What an interesting place. When you spend weeks driving across the flat, and mean REALLY flat expanses of Kansas and Oklahoma, it is a bizarre sight to look off to the west and see this giant, snow capped mountain, seemingly springing out of nowhere.
 
The road is not an easy one. Much of it is an unpaved dirt track with steep cliff side drop offs and without guardrails in many places. To add to the difficulty, it is also a very high mountain. The summit is 14,110 feet above sea level, so the lack of oxygen starts to affect you higher brain functions. Scott, who had been a serious smoker for decades and has recently quit, was feeling light headed on the way up and handed the driving duties off to Dave. A wise decision considering what might happen if he would have slipped off the road.
 
At the top it was a winter wonderland with 8 inches of fresh snow that came down the day before. Of course, snowballs were thrown and we took countless pictures of the summit, the snow around us and the view looking down onto the Plains below. We only stayed on the top for about an hour and a half. The temperature was below freezing and the altitude was giving most of us a headache so down we went, back into the warm temperatures and thick air.
 
On the way down, a park ranger had to check our brakes to make sure they were not overheating on the steep, winding descent. Losing your brakes on this road is not a good idea (to state the obvious).
 
Back down in Colorado Springs, we treated ourselves to a nice Mexican diner complete with margaritas and made plans for tomorrow, which will be our final chase day of this project.

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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 06 - Beatrice, Nebraska
After yesterday's success, we were hoping for round 2 today, but it never really came. We travelled east across, Nebraska and into eastern Iowa and spent several hours waiting for storm initiation.
 
As the sun set, we gave up on the day, only to be teased by a series of storms that rolled through late at night as we checked into our motel in Beatrice, Nebraska. A few of us tried for an intercept but the storms quickly fizzled and that was the end of that.
 
All too often, storm chasing is all about how you handle failure.

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 03 - Liberal, Kansas
Not much to report today. It was a travel day in order to get into position for tomorrow's chase. We started off in Sweet water and drove north to Liberal, Kansas. Along the way, we did some drive-by filming and also got some unique camera angles of the two vehicle caravan.

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 golfball 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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May 31 - Norman, Oklahoma
My stint guiding for Cloud 9 Tours is now complete and I am switching from "tour mode" to "TV mode".
 
The next two weeks will be spent filming a new episode of my TV series Angry Planet. This show is all about hail so the goal is to find the biggest, baddest hailstorms we can and see how big these hail stones can get.
 
The crew for this trip consists of myself, fellow Canadian storm chaser Mark Robinson, cameraman Peter Rowe, U.S. storm chaser Jack Kertzie and Australian adventurer Nik Halik
 
Yesterday was a shake down day where we finished getting all the equipment prepared and the vehicles ready for the chase. Luckily, the overall weather pattern for the next couple of weeks looks far more favorable for severe weather than the last month has been. That would not be difficult since the month of May has been one of the slowest in history for tornadoes and other severe events.
 
Let the chase begin!!...Again.

May 28 - Fort Stockton, Texas
Another round of storms in the same general area kept us in Fort Stockton another day. We were treated to a very nice storm near Marathon, Texas that had a very mean looking hail core on radar. Since the storm was moving so slowly, we were able to pace it for quite a while before we moved into place to let the strongest part overtake us.
 
The hail was plentiful but not huge and I took the opportunity to step out of the van and gather a few samples. The hailstones hurt when they hit but it wasn't too bad and I've grown quite used to it by now.
 
After it passed, we treated to a very nice rainbow display amongst the gorgeous scenery in that area.
 
This was likely the final chase day four tour two since we'll have to start heading back to home base in Oklahoma in the morning.

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May 27 - Fort Stockton, Texas
After a long drive west, we intercepted a severe storm south of Marathon, Texas which had plenty of hail and rain but there were very few roads that we could use to keep up with it. Because we ended up so close to Mexico, we even had to stop at a immigration checkpoint where all the foreign chase guests (and myself) had to have their I.D. checked.
 
The best part of the chase today was the beautiful sunset and the vast landscape.

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May 26 - Fort Worth, Texas
We typically avoid storm chasing in urban areas due to visibility problems and snarled traffic but today a supercell storm formed west of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and moved into the urban center. We maneuvered through the traffic and found a great vantage point in a residential neighborhood.
 
A severe thunderstorm warning was issued as the storm approached and we kept pace with it as it continued east. There were several reports of large hail.

May 25 - Childress, Texas
Weak storm in the Texas Panhandle - What looked like it might have been a good storm going up in Texas ended up shrivelling up and dying as we watched it. The environmental parameters were just not strong enough to support organized storms.

May 24 - Guymon, Oklahoma
Today was a travel and sightseeing day as we moved south from Kansas to the Oklahoma Panhandle in anticipation of some potential storms on Monday.
 
Along the way we stopped in at the picturesque Monument Rocks near Oakley, Kansas and then moved on to Greensburg which was mostly leveled during the EF-5 tornado that made a direct hit on the town in 2007. A lot of rebuilding has happened in the past 2 years but it is still very evident that the town still has a long way to go.

May 23 - Colby, Kansas
Meager storms were chased today, mostly a small line of storms in southern Nebraska which briefly got strong enough to warrant a severe thunderstorm warning. During the chase, we came across numerous vehicles from the VORTEX 2 project who were taking measurements on the same storm.
 
After dark, we attempted to catch some lightning that was illuminating a roll cloud and we met with mixed results.

May 22 - Hays, Kansas
My birthday has arrived and unlike the past two years, there will be no tornado. In fact, the pattern is so bad that many chasers are considering this to be the worst chase season in decades!
 
Tour groups like ours are feeling the crunch. We have clients who want to see storms but there just aren't any to be had right now. The multi-million dollar Vortex 2 project is running around chasing rain showers and have yet to intercept even a decent supercell storm, let alone a tornado. This is bad.
 
Many storm chasers are rescheduling their trips out here, some are considering canceling altogether. At this point, we'll be going after any marginal setup but even the Storm Prediction Center's 4-8 day outlook shows "Potential too low".
 
2009 may go down in storm chaser history as the single worst, epic, horrible season of all time. The only good news for me is that I have the luxury of remaining out here until mid June, so there is time for the pattern to shift but it will take a mighty shift indeed to make up for May so far.

May 21 - Hays, Kansas
The morning was spent making repairs to the van in a motel parking lot in North Platte. After a couple of hours of hammering and drilling, we were able to get the van in shape to travel. The door now opens properly from the inside (the outside door handle is still smashed) and the headlight is secure and working.
 
The terrible storm pattern continues and with nothing to chase today, we headed south to Hays, Kansas and took in a movie. The forecast remains quiet for at least the next few days, perhaps longer.
 
The jet stream is way up in Canada and the moisture from the Gulf of Mexico has been shunted by the big low that has been drenching parts of Florida...Tough times for desperate storm chasers, including the huge Vortex 2 scientific research project that is currently out in full force for the next few weeks.

May 20 - North Platte, Nebraska
Today was an "Interesting" chase day. There was a marginal risk for severe weather in the Nebraska Panhandle and we were in position for it. We headed north from Sidney to Alliance and had some time to kill so we visited the local roadside attraction known as "Carhenge". It is a replica of the original Stonehenge, except for one important distinction... The whole thing is made completely of old cars.
 
The automobile art piece was actually a fun place to visit and I even took the liberty of climbing up on top of the structure (I have a habit of climbing monuments and attractions).
 
As we were finishing up at Carhenge, storms began to fire up and so we dashed off and got into chase mode. The main storm we targeted never really got its act together and the road network in that part of the state is terrible so we spent a lot of time driving great distances, just trying to catch up with the storm and find a good viewpoint. We did get to see some decent structure, some small hail and a few pretty rainbows but everything came to a screeching halt when the unexpected happened.
 
A deer darted out in front of the van... Collision was unavoidable.
 
Even though I leaned on the brakes, it only slightly lessened the impact when the big buck hit the front driver's side headlight. It then spun around in the air and impacted the fender and door. The deer died instantly and the van was in rough shape. The headlight and turn signals were dangling out of their sockets and the hood, fender and door were badly dented. I couldn't even open the door to get out, I had to climb out the window to inspect the damage. There were even two dent in the side where the hooves hit the side of the van.
 
The bottom line is that nobody in the van was harmed and it was still drivable after we taped it up a bit. This is the second year in a row where a deer has jumped out in front of me... With the same van!

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May 19 - Sidney, Nebraska
There is some hope for storms in the Nebraska Panhandle region tomorrow so we've been driving all day to get from Amarillo to Sidney, Nebraska. In total, today we put down over 500 miles through 4 states and 2 time zones. It is a bit difficult, but that is what you have to do if you want a chance at seeing big storms, especially with such an unfavorable weather pattern like the one we have now.
 
As we pulled into Sidney, we were greeted by a thunderstorm that was pelting us with 60 mph gusts, picking up all kinds of dust, debris and tumbleweeds.Hopefully, this is just a prelude to more storm action tomorrow.

May 18 - Amarillo, Texas
Just a quick update since we don't have any storms to chase right now. We drove from Oklahoma into Texas where we stayed at the Big Texan and enjoyed a nice dinner. Tomorrow we will be heading north in the hopes of finding some storms in the high plains.

May 17 - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The weather pattern ahead is looking rather grim for storm chasing, with a large ridge of high pressure dominating the central U.S. Because of this, there is little chance for severe weather over the next few days. Today we saw the sights in Oklahoma City.

May 16 - Wakita, Oklahoma
On the way back to home base of Norman, Oklahoma, some of us wanted to drop in on the little town of Wakita, in north central Oklahoma. Quite a bit of the movie "Twister" was filmed here and they have a small museum dedicated to the film shoot that took over the town. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that numerous members of VORTEX 2 also had the same idea. VORTEX 2 is the world's largest tornado research project and it is currently underway for 6 weeks. The project includes numerous radar trucks, instrumented probes, and aircraft. The goal is to gather data to better understand the origin of rotation in tornadoes.
 
It was funny to see the "Dorothy" probe from the movie sitting beside the real thing which is intended to be placed in the path of oncoming tornadoes.
 
After hanging out with the VORTEX crew for a while, we continued back to Norman to greet the tour 2 guests. Today is the overlap day between tour one and tour 2 so we ended up having about 40 people come out to dinner simultaneously. In the morning, we drop off the tour 2 people at the airport and the y head while tour 2 is just beginning their adventure. For now, the weather pattern is not looking great, with a ridge of high pressure to contend with. I suspect that the next few days will be spent sightseeing since storms will not be in the forecast for a while.

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May 15 - Ottawa, Kansas
Tornado Watch - Our best chance for tornadoes today was to try and get on any early forming supercell storms that could form out ahead of an approaching cold front. We began the day in Topeka and storms fired up early. We blasted north, not expecting much, especially since it was still before noon. We were treated to a rather potent storm cell with hail and tremendous amounts of rain. We stayed in the core of it for a while, then decided that we should move south in order to get into position for the expected afternoon storms that had much better tornado potential.
 
Right on cue, a line of storms began to form ahead of the surging cold front. Ahead of this line, there were a few storms that able to pop up, so we targeted the farthest south of the bunch. This "Tail End Charlie" storm had the best potential to be severe since it didn't have any competing storms to the south.
We zig-zagged all afternoon and did manage to observe several wall clouds that exhibited rotation but none of this rotation was strong enough to produce a tornado.
 
Eventually, all the storms congealed into a massive squall line that overtook us. At this point, the chase was basically over for the day.

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May 14 - Topeka, Kansas
Not much to report today since it was just a travel day to get from Illinois to Kansas in order to get into position for another round of storms on Friday.

May 13 - Canton, Missouri
It's getting late so I'll just make a quick note here...
 
Tornado Warning - With a moderate risk issued by the Storm Prediction Center and good chances of tornadoes, it was inevitable that we would end up chasing today. The problem was that only one storm in our target area was producing tornadoes and it was far enough away that we had to scramble to get to it in time. There were numerous reports of tornadoes coming from this storm as it past just north of Kirksville, Missouri. We were already on an intercept course but by the time we got to the storm, it had already wrapped up and turned into a huge, high-precipitation beast that was too dangerous to get too close to.
 
We did get up as close to the circulating portion of the storm as we could but there was just no way that we were going to be able to see anything in there, especially since it was starting to get dark.
 
After the chase, we wound up crossing the Mississippi back into Illinois where we stopped to eat in Jacksonville where we encountered intense lightning and hurricane-like winds.

May 12 - St. Louis, Missouri
It's funny how plans change. 2 days ago we were planning on chasing in western Kansas but the setup looked too marginal there and it would put us out of position for the potential severe weather outbreak further east on Wednesday so we turned around and headed up Interstate 44 from Oklahoma into Missouri.
 
I am expecting a widespread severe weather event tomorrow across large portions of Missouri and Illinois with damaging winds and the potential for tornadoes. Even though we are now much farther east than our typical "Tornado Alley" territory, we are highly motivated to try our best to get the worst weather possible.
 
A large portion of today was spent in St. Louis where we visited the famous arch that sits on the bank of the mighty Mississippi River. It is quite impressive at over 600 feet high and plated with stainless steel. We even rode up in the pod-like elevators to the top to get a view of downtown St. Louis.

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May 10 - Dallas, Texas
Today was low key. We started off in Hillsboro and relocated north into the Dallas area to take care of some of the more mundane tasks like laundry. Not very exciting, I know, but a necessary part of storm chasing.
 
In the evening we all proceed to dinner and then afterwards, some of us went out location scouting to see if we could find a nice vantage point to shoot pictures of the Dallas skyline. While circling around, I spotted an excellent spot out of the corner of my eye, a highway overpass that was close due to construction. It gave us a great view of the downtown buildings at night and was a nice end to a mostly uneventful day.
 
We stayed there for quite a while, experimenting with different exposures and photo ideas. I didn't really expect to find such a great vantage point but we lucked out.
 
The next severe weather day looks like it will be in the northwestern Oklahoma/southwestern Kansas region on Tuesday. For the time being we will be positioning ourselves to chase

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May 09 - Hillsboro, Texas
Bustola! I knew that the storm chances today were marginal at best but we figured we should at least get south of the cold front and wait to see if any storms would form. Well none did and we were not too surprised. Most of the day was spent waiting at a truck stop, snacking and playing poker.
 
Ah, the glamorous life of a storm chaser...
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May 08 - Ardmore, Oklahoma
Tornado Watch - A large portion of today was spent waiting for storms to fire up in our target area in Ardmore, Oklahoma. We waited for hours at a Love's truck stop and waited... And waited. It seems like all the storms this past week have been popping up just before dark. I'd love the chance to get one of these supercell storms earlier in the day.
 
Anyway... Dave Patrick, a friend of mine joined us on the chase today but the storms were not fantastic despite the tornado watch being issued. A combination of late initiation, hills, trees, bad visibility and mediocre storms made it tough to get too excited about the atmosphere today.
 
Or maybe it's me. Perhaps after all these years, I'm getting jaded? I don't really have an answer to that question but at least we had a good, albeit non-photogenic lightning display tonight.
 
I need some better storms... And Soon!!

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May 07 - Independence, Kansas
Today was a blue sky bust...
 
There was potential for storms in southeastern Kansas and we hurried to get into position from Denton, Texas but a capping inversion kept a lid on any thunderstorm development in our target area. We were treated to a nice sunset so it wasn't a total loss. We are expecting better potential for severe storms tomorrow.
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May 06 - Dallas, Texas
Since the closest storms today were off in the deep south of Louisiana and areas east of there, we had nothing to chase today. The next few days are looking very interesting and I expect several chase days to come.
 
We left Stephenville and headed into Dallas where we totally overwhelmed the poor staff at one of the local camera shops. Imagine 20 storm chasers all descending on the store all at once... They made a few dollars off us today.
 
We then headed to the historic spot where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. There are several X marks on the street that represent where JFK's limo was when the shots were fired from the Texas Schoolbook Depository. We even stood at the "grassy knoll" area where the alleged second gunman was supposed to have been.
 
A few of the guys had some fun jumping over a nearby water fountain, trying to keep dry (unsuccessfully I might add).
 
From there we went to the scene of the Dallas Cowboy's training facility that had the roof blown off last Saturday by a sudden downburst of wind from a severe thunderstorm.
 
After a great cajun food meal, we are now settled for the night in Denton, Texas, getting ready for a chase tomorrow in Oklahoma.

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May 05 - Breckenridge, Texas
Tornado Watch - Today's forecast was a tricky one. We knew that there was going to be the potential for storms in north central Texas, so we targeted an area just north of Abilene and sure enough, one lone supercell formed and tracked right through our target area.
 
It formed late in the day so therefore we didn't have that much opportunity to chase it before it got dark but it had an excellent look on radar with a persisant hook echo. The whole storm was right turning which typically enhances any tornado potential and it looked like it was close to producing a tornado several times during its lifespan.
 
Despite the storms excellent structure and rotation it never did put down a tornado but it was a HUGE hail producer. There were reports of hail stones up to the size of grapefruits!! On stray baseball sized stone hit John's vehicle right in the windshield and now it has several concentric rings around the impact area. Too bad has wasn't rolling video when it hit.
 
All in all, today's chase was excellent. We were on the only storm in the target area and were in excellent position the entire time. Luckily, we were able to find a place to stay without driving too far. We somehow were able to find 16 available rooms at the Best Western in Stephenville.

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May 04 - Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
Today we visited one of the most beautiful spots in the Texas Panhandle, Palo Duro Canyon. It is like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon in the middle of the Great Plains.
 
It is common to have several high water crossings, especially at the bottom of the canyon and these are always fun to drive through so I couldn't resist...
 
 
Tonight we are spending the night in the town of Childress and I have high hopes for organized severe thunderstorms tomorrow. The forecast looks good and we are already in a good position so all we have to do now is wait and see what Mother Nature cooks up for us. I don't expect to have to drive too far in the morning so we can probably take it easy and get a late start.
 
This will be the first official chase day of tour one and my first chase day of the 2009 season.

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May 03 - Amarillo, Texas
With no storms to chase yet, we have some time on our hands to take it easy and enjoy some of the local flavors so we drove from Norman, Oklahoma to Amarillo, Texas where we enjoyed dinner at one of our favorite places to stop in Tornado Alley: The Big Texan Steak Ranch restaurant.
 
This place is known for it's tacky western decor, strolling country & western musicians and its huge slabs of beef. Everything IS bigger in Texas!!
 
This time, tour guest Ray Skinner from the U.K. decided to take on the big steak challenge. He had to try and eat a huge 72 oz steak dinner with baked potato and shrimp, and he only had one hour to complete his task.
 
Ray pulled off a valiant 43 ounces and filled himself up as best he could. Congratulations Ray. Maybe next time you'll finish the whole thing. I know I couldn't do it. I tried a few years ago and only finished 41 ounces.

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May 02 - Norman, Oklahoma
Delays, delays... Ah, the irony of it all. As it turns out, several clusters of potent thunderstorms rolled through the Dallas area which caused air traffic chaos and ended up delaying a large number our arriving guests. The entire day was spent driving to the airport... Waiting...Waiting more, then driving back. Repeat this several more times and you get the idea.
 
...And we're still missing one! Still more delays stranded one of our guests in Chicago and he won't be here until the morning.
 
There looks to be a good chance of severe weather on Sunday, but it is too far east in the hills and jungles of Louisiana so we are NOT going to blast out and try to intercept it. It would not be worth the effort to drive all that way for nothing but some wind and rain. Instead we'll take it easy for the first couple of days and patiently wait for the weather pattern to swing back around.

May 01 - Norman, Oklahoma
Well I made it. Let the chase begin!!
 
Okay, well not quite yet. Everything is all set, the vehicles have been prepared, the computers are ready and starting tomorrow morning, the tour 1 guests start to arrive. The day will be spent picking everyone up from the airport and then once the entire gang is assembled, we'll have an orientation and safety briefing, getting everyone up to speed on what the daily routine will be like and how to keep from getting killed out there in the field.
 
The town of Norman feels like my home away from home. It is my home base every year when I'm down here storm chasing and since I spend so much time here, I guess it kind of is a second home for me. Of course, I spend so much time travelling all the time that wherever I lay my hat seems to be my home.

April 29 - St. Louis, Missouri
1300 kilometers later and I've made it as far as St Louis and I've stopped for the night. Depending on the forecast, I see that multiple tornadoes were spotted from a storm near Plainview, Texas today and I believe there were other tornadoes sighted in Kansas as well. It was impossible for me to have left a day earlier so I'm not disappointed at missing some photogenic tornadoes today. I had no chance of being in position in time and I've learned a long time ago that I just can't be everywhere.
 
Now I just need to work on building a cloning device or a time machine!

April 28 - Toronto
I think everything is packed and ready to go... The past few days have been a frenzy of last minute plans and organization for the chase trip but I'm set for my morning departure tomorrow.
 
The storm season has already begun with several days in a row of tornadoes in the central U.S. We shall see if this trend continues but there are glints of a favorable pattern in the future so I have high hopes.
 
By day's end tomorrow, I should be in the St. Louis area. Let the chase begin!!

April 23 - Toronto
Preparations are in full swing for the 2009 tornado season and I'm hoping for another busy, safe safe chase. With only about a week and a half between returning home from New Zealand and Tonga, there are a million things I need to prepare such as: vehicle maintenance, camera and equipment preparation and a mountain of other logistics.
 
This year, I expect to be out on the Great Plains of the U.S. for 6 weeks in total which includes 2 stints guiding for Cloud 9 Tours plus another couple of weeks of filming for Angry Planet. The chase begins April 29th so check back often as I'll be updating this page on a daily basis.
Tornado Alley


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