Wednesday, 29 May 2019


Well…where to start. Let’s have a look at the stats:

Number of states: 6

·         Oklahoma
·         Texas
·         Kansas
·         Colorado
·         Nebraska
·         Wyoming

Number of miles: 5,465 – new record, but over 11 days

Total number of miles over all trips 28,306

Number of severe days. This is where things get utterly ridiculous: This trip had eleven (11) severe days in eleven days including a bonus day at the start of the tour:

·         High – 1
·         Moderate – 4
·         Enhanced – 4
·         Slight – 2

Number of days successful chasing days witnessing severe weather – nine, only 2 repositioning days

Final thoughts: This is an interesting one where in storm chasing bigger is not always better; those big severe days tend to be a bit of an anticlimax, why? Well...many things...lots of moisture gives low visibility, storms mess up each others fuel supplies, giant anvils act as the worlds largest fire blankets suppressing convection in otherwise great places and chaser convergences clog the roads (hint: go for a lesser target). Photography can become frustrating in the poor light and washing machine conditions, certainly my number of "keepers@ was disappointingly low. There's a lot to be said for those 2% slight days with the odd discrete supercell and little else to distract.

We did see some cool stuff, three tornadoes, giant hail and damage, lightning, floods, met some old friends, ate some good food and saw those interesting places off the beaten track that you'd never otherwise see. And some good craic along the way.

Fallow year for me in 2020, we'll see after that.

Day 10 – The final final day?

After yesterday’s fun/terror the last thing I wanted was for the hotel power to be out. I had 20% power left on the phone which had to be used as a torch as my room was pitch black. I set the alarm on my phone for 07:00 more in hope than expectation. I crawled around in the dark, managed to back up 13GB of photos from the day’s shoot and plugged the iPhone, laptop and camera battery into dead sockets hoping that they would charge when the power was restored. I woke up at 06:30; the power must have come on around 05:00 but the sockets my phone and laptop were plugged in didn’t appear to be working. The phone was on 2%. A mad scramble ensued to get these charged and somehow the WiFi was actually super-fast and I managed to get the blog published.

Breakfast was at the same place as yesterday. More stories filtered through about the destruction from yesterday’s hail including the devastation of crops which were already struggling after a bad year. There were apparently numerous tornadoes in Ohio after dark with Dayton being badly hit. That must have been terrifying.

The SPC has issued yet another moderate risk this time for southern Iowa, northern Missouri, south eastern Nebraska and north eastern Kansas. This is our last day chasing which has to be combined with a return to base at Oklahoma City ready for tomorrow’s flight home. Speaking of tomorrow’s flight there is an enhanced risk directly between Oklahoma City and Atlanta; I’m getting very apprehensive about catching my connecting flight home as I only have a 90 minute stopover in Atlanta. If it’s delayed or worse cancelled I’ve got a problem I could do without.

A return to base day without chasing would take around 8 hours so we’ll be targeting the area to the west in Kansas. There’s some debate about whether that area will be too heavily capped but we haven’t got much wiggle room due to time constraints; we’d all like to be back at OKC by 22:00. If there is time we may visit the Kansas Cosmodrome in Hutchinson, KS the air and space museum I last visited in 2012. It’s a cool place.

We head east on the I80 then south at Elm Creek on the US183 and eventually turn off on Highway 18 and stop at Lucas, Kansas looking for somewhere to eat. Lucas appears shut so we get back on the highway and spot a non-descript building, the K-18 Café. I had a hot beef sandwich with mashed potato and a gallon of brown gravy. The beef was stunningly crumbly and the mash light and fluffy – don’t judge a book by its cover. We go into town for a team photo and on closer inspection we have “American Fork Art” and a museum entitled “The world’s largest collection of the world’s smallest versions of the world’s largest things”. It was shut. That’s small town America in a nutshell. It was 60f when we left North Platte; it’s now officially HOT at 85f. We head south towards the I70 and an earlier mesoscale discussion now has a tornado watch issued just to our south west.

At around 15:30 towers start to bubble up to our south. We continue south to Hutchinson and have a whistle stop visit to the Kansas Cosmodrome and Space Center which includes the Mercury and Gemini rockets and the SR71 Blackbird. We’re quickly back on the road and there is a line of storms moving north east about 80 minutes drive away. We get to Wichita and head south on the I35 and that line of storms has now formed a single cell. We dive south the east on US412 to try and get on the south east of it. It’s now tornado warned.

We eventually get to the south east of the storm; the base is in sight with a scrufy wall cloud. It weakens so we have a fabulous steak at the Texas Roadhouse in  Stillwater and it’s back to our hotel for a couple of Shiner Bock, pack and go to bed. That’s it for another year.

Total Miles: 625

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Day 9 – All hail to the weather..!

After yesterday’s long drive to North Platte, Nebraska I predictably cannot sleep. Our late arrival at 23:45 was compounded by an internet outage that turned checking in into a tiresome ordeal at the less than super Super 8. The paper thin walls and ceiling let through any noise: snoring  (Roger), either a small child or dog squealing at 01:30, my sons continuing a text conversation at 04:30 and my mother trying to Facetime me at 06:45. Not sure they get time zones. I “wake up” tired with suitcases below the eyes.

I had a decent breakfast at the Lincoln Highway Diner with sausage links, sour dough toast and a gallon of black coffee. It’s a little bit more expensive than usual but I have colossally under spent as the incessant chasing has meant many more truck stop grab and go “meals” than usual and not so many sit down lunches and dinners; thank God for the breakfasts. I’ll have some cash left over when I get home which will be a new one.

This morning the SPC has issued a now revised enhanced risk with three separate tornado hotspots. The two within our chasing sphere are a 5% risk in the eastern Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and another 5% risk being an upslope event in south western Nebraska, south eastern Wyoming and north eastern Colorado. Up slope essentially means that the topography as we near the Rockies forces air and moisture upwards as opposed to the usual converging air masses – this is known as orographic lift. We initially choose the latter area with a target of Scottsbluff, Nebraska which is just off my South Central Plains map.

There’s time for a visit to the Golden Spire Tower, a volunteer run 8 story building dedicated to the North Platte Rail Yard, the largest rail yard in the world which it overlooks. There’s a great panoramic vista from the 7th floor outdoor viewing platform. We head west on the I80 interstate with a stop at Starbucks on the way which I decline. Too much coffee already. We join the US26 at Ogallala heading north east towards Scottsbluff. The countryside is pleasant with Lake McConaughy to our north and gently rolling green down land giving way to the extensive Sand Hills, small continuous, undulating dunes put down by an ancient sea. I momentarily get a 4G signal but shortly after it reverts to a combination of 3G and “no signal” that has so far characterised all of Nebraska.

A quick Subway top at Bridgeport and we arrive at Scottsbluff National Monument, drive to the top and take some snaps of the vista. It reminds me slightly of Lordstones Café back home, similar walk through some bushes to a view of the Tees Valley, in this case the Plains; no rattlesnakes back home though. It’s also chilly at 60f with a biting wind. Not shorts and t-shirt friendly. As we return back to the SUV I’m trying to figure out why my Z7 has drained the battery in less than three hours while sat in my camera bag. Hopefully some changes of stings will sort that out.
As we descend back down to the Plains a tornado warned cell has appeared south west of La Grange so we head south then west to intercept it and enter Wyoming which is state number 6 for this trip. We bolt south on US85 then go east on Highway 216  then south towards Burns, stop and take     some photos then dive under the I80 to Carpenter. There is a storm in front of us and one beyond both of which have wall clouds with slow rotation apparent on the nearest one. They’re not going to produce so we head east on the I80 towards a bigger storm that has had small funnels reported earlier and has attracted the usual chaser convergence. It’s heading east, so are we; whatever happens we’re also heading back to North Platte and the Super 8.

Well this is a bit surreal…this storm is barreling east on the I80 at 30 mph and we are slowly reeling it in. It has a humongous hail core showing 3” hail with intense precipitation and is still tornado warned. Jan puts on the title track “Wings” from Picture’s soon to be released 12th Album which passes the time. We pass through a contra flow and need to slow down, it’s absolutely lashing it down and it’s a bit dicey. A new tornado warned storm has sprung up to our south, the boiling updraft visible through the rain.

We can’t get past this storm; its hail core is straddling the length of the I80 like it is running on rails so we pull into Big Springs services for a break. There’s hail everywhere and the car park is full of cars with destroyed windscreens and sun roofs with bodywork like the surface of a golf ball. Some of these cars are write offs.

We gingerly pull back onto the I80; there are dozens of smashed cars littering the interstate, some in ditches and trees denuded of all foliage with fallen branches everywhere. We pass a cattle facility containing hundreds of cows. That beef will be tender…There’s hail covering the interstate including some huge lumps. A snow plow appears on the other carriageway; we edge up behind the core and follow it as close as we can at a snail’s pace. We’re still 40 miles from our hotel. Another hail core has developed, it’s getting hairy so we pull off at Paxton to try and find cover - there isn’t any so we pull back on to the Interstate. This storm is  like the truck in Spielberg’s Duel. The hail core gets bigger and this bizarre storm sticks faithfully to its route. We stop as does everything in front of us. The sky is lit up with lightning. The other storm to our south is still tornado warned and reports of tornadoes come in. That storm is heading directly to North Platte and our hotel. That could really bugger up check in…The semi-trucks (articulated wagons in UK speak) belt past – nothing will interfere with their schedules. We crawl on, hazard lights flashing in the night. It’s now 21:00 and well past dinner time and hail is falling on us…

Eventually we find a way through the hail and find a steak house and a well earned sirloin and a couple of 23oz amber ales and it’s time to book back into the Super 8 – and all the power is out! I’ve got the world’s supply of stuff to charge and no power so I plug everything in – in the dark – and hope the power comes back on during the night. I’ve got 22% left on the phone, hopefully that will be enough to last until my 07:00 alarm…this will have to be loaded up later.

Total miles TBC

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Day 8 – No moderation in the moderate days…

Thanks to the person in the room above using the bed as a trampoline and testing the plumbing at all hours I have a less than good night’s sleep. The early night after a stodgy small pizza (12” was the smallest they had, I managed half) failed to happen as the suitcase repacking exercise highlighted a wardrobe malfunction – a lack of clean pants and socks. I washed some in the sink with shampoo…it’s surprising how long it takes to dry a pair of pants using the asthmatic hotel hair drier…

Today we wake up in Liberal, Kansas in the bullseye of a moderate risk and 15% hatched area for EF2-EF5 tornadoes. This is unprecedented, I can’t remember a moderate risk ever in 7 previous trips, so far we’ve had one high risk and 3 moderate risks in a week with lesser severe risks on other days. Ridiculous!

I had a very good breakfast at the very busy but very efficient Pancake House including the increasingly rare sausage links as opposed to the patties you normally get. Finally, after passing through Liberal for many years we go to see Dorothy’s House which is a Wizard of Oz movie tribute. Didn’t stay long, poor Dorothy looks like she’s had a cosmetic enhancement bodge job carried out.

We head north then west then up to Moscow and on to Ulysses and stop at Johnson City on US160 for a pit stop. It’s warm, bordering on hot with a few cotton wool cumulus clouds drifting aimlessly across the blue sky. Today’s environment has some capping, the inversion layer of warm air aloft inhibiting convection. Break the cap, and like the lid of a pressure cooker giving way, explosive storms can result. Yesterday’s lack of capping allowed numerous storms to spring up around  lunchtime which ruined the rest of the day. Tornadoes did happen yesterday with sadly some more fatalities but not where we were. Hopefully today we’ll have bangers and not roman candles.

We head north from Johnson City on Highway 27 in the direction of Goodland and a couple of small storms have bubbled up on radar. Go away! Hopefully the warm front drifting northwards will chase them off. We head east to Syracuse on US50, leave Kansas and enter “Colorful Colorado”. It’s picnic time so we stop at Sheridan Lake and shelter from a down pour while eating our Walmart specials. We head east towards Tribune and back into Kansas, flip flopping between -6 and -7 hours from British Summer Time. The mobile phone coverage in now excellent compared with when I first came in 2006, but just now we’re in a signal void so the intended call home doesn’t happen.

Eventually we get to Tribune, head north and then have a change of mind and head south back to Tribune. Things are starting to look a bit messy. We do have a storm which is towering at 60,000 feet, is severe warned and showing a little rotation…and there is lots of rain. We retrace our steps north to follow it. The situation is getting messier by the minute with a line of storms just to the west of the warm front heading north east. A brief touchdown is reported and another cell is tornado warned. We drive through rain for what feels like forever, get to Sharon Springs and head east on US40 to try and find a vantage point. Eventually by Weskan we’re out of the rain.

We do a full circle to get in a better position and we’re back south at Sheridan Lake where we had our picnic. The storm is now more isolated, we drive west and stop at Brandon where we are rewarded by a well formed wall cloud with the leading edge being dragged into the updraft. The wall cloud becomes a bit ragged so we head back east, not before waiting for a huge chaser convergence to pass us before we can pull out into traffic.  One of the Doppler on Wheels (DOWs) has been deployed and its massive Doppler radar dish is making sweeps of the storm. We then drive north on US385 to the I70 driving through incessant rain. That’s us done, all that’s left is a huge rainy mess and we’ve got the joys of another 180 miles to drive to get to our hotel in North Platte, Nebraska for tomorrow, likely to be an upslope set up in Wyoming which are prone to putting down tornadoes. We stop at Colby, Kansas for food and count down the miles to our hotel.

Total miles: 645

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Day 7 – We know the way to Amarillo…we’re back there YET AGAIN..!

Up for an 08:00 start this morning after a decent night’s sleep following several bottles of Shiner Bock for dinner…Breakfast was decent at Dawson’s Family Restaurant, a quick stop at Walmart and we’re heading south west on US287 towards Amarillo and a possible stop at Palo Duro Canyon, the second biggest in the USA after the Grand Canyon. That depends on the weather; it has clouded over and cooled down a bit as we stop at Clarendon for a stretch of the legs. The Storm Prediction Centre has issued an enhanced risk today with a 10% tornado risk in the eastern Texas Panhandle the western part of the Oklahoma Panhandle, western Oklahoma and south western Kansas.

We arrive at Palo Duro and descend into the canyon for a picnic where it’s 80f. There was a sign on the way in warning against how long you can stay out in the sun. It starts at moderate and goes to extreme. Today is only high. On the way there we nearly collide with a female cyclist who is on the wrong side of the road. We ascend to the visitors’ area at the highest point for some breath taking views and take some photos. On the way there we run into the same cyclist who is stationary but still on the wrong side of the road. Stopping to give her some “advice” she informs us that she cycles on the wrong side of the road as it’s safer as she has kids at home…Darwin award in the making. The Facetime phone call home with the Canyon in the background comes to nought due to the lousy reception. It takes 20 attempts to make a crackly conventional call but I get through in the end.

Back to Plan A. It’s gone 13:30 and we head north through Amarillo on I27 to get into position to intercept some storms heading up from the south west. It’s now started to rain. After a half hour or so we’re in amongst the storms with an interesting lowering. We stop just north of Masterson to let a hail core pass.

We have a quick stop and continue north. A large mess of storms to our south have cast a huge anvil over us with spectacular mammatus hanging below; we move into the Oklahoma Panhandle trying to shake it off as it is putting paid to anything forming under it. There is a discrete severe warned cell to our north west in Colorado, that’s the one we’re headed to intercept.

We enter Colorado and a new storm has formed to our south west. We stop in Campo scene of our 2010 triumph. Could lightning strike twice, literally and metaphorically? No. There’s some great mammatus and therein lies the problem with the massive anvil stopping supercells forming. It’s a big mess.  We skirt up and down Campo and end up in Springfield for a quick stop and it’s pretty much game over and time to head towards our hotel, the Days Inn in Liberal, Kansas with dinner at Ruffino's Italian restaurant. There are a couple of cells near Lubbock that are tornado warned but up here where the action was supposed to be…it’s a bust!

Total miles: 494

Friday, 24 May 2019

Day 6 – Flash floods and museums…

While it was nominally an early night a bout of nausea had me sitting up in bed until 01:30 followed by a fitful night’s sleep. Awoke to cold grey soup and a slight risk in the Texas Panhandle.

We had a decent enough breakfast at the Calico County Restaurant in Amarillo then went to visit the Jack Sizemore RV Museum just down the road. The museum was free to enter and was part of an RV (Recreational Vehicle – i.e. massive camper vans) sales company. The museum was actually pretty cool with motorbikes, cars, RVs and memorabilia going back to the Second World War. The exhibits included barn finds and many things in original and still good condition plus a number of restorations such as Harley Davidsons which were superbly well done, probably better than when they came out of the factory.

We leave the museum and the SPC has issued an upgraded enhanced risk for the Texas Panhandle including a 5% tornado risk. We head south towards Lubbock on the I27.

Our second museum of the day was the Silent Wings museum dedicated to WW2 glider borne operations. It was pretty good but the weather curtailed our $8 visit to 30 minutes as very heavy rain was now falling and there was a storm with a rotating wall cloud and 2 ½ inch hail to our south.

We dashed south then exited south east on US70 to observe the storm and took some photos. Torrential rain with 3/4” hail was now falling making characteristic pings as it hit the SUV. Flash floods were everywhere with a semi-truck off the road in a ditch and spray flying all over.

Lunch today was in Applebee’s in Lubbock which was surrounded by some intense flash flooding; being flat for hundreds of miles the water has nowhere to drain, there are no storm drains, the water collects in special ditches at the side of the road and overwhelms any low lying point one of which was beside our restaurant and was now a fairly reasonable river rather than a road. A couple of comical moments ensued: the first when a man tried to cross the road/river as he couldn’t be bothered to walk round it. There was even better comedy as a car had been driven into the deepest part of the torrent and was now stuck and probably with a badly damaged engine. An SUV appeared and tried to pull the car out of the water, he took a run at it and snapped the tow line. Eventually the car is retrieved but it is not driving anywhere anytime soon. It’s memorial weekend coming up and a garden of remembrance is full of flowers.

We set off south to where tornado probabilities will be at the highest in a few hours in the warm sector and end up at Stripes truck stop on the US87 at Tahoka. Its 87f and it’s time to wait and the risk appears to be diminishing. We give up and head east on US380 then north on country farm roads to look at a line of messy and increasingly diminishing storms to our north and give up on them too so it’s back to our hotel in Childress. We have to drive carefully and slowly as these farm roads are flooded and passable with extreme care. There are blue flashing lights ahead…fortunately a truck has shed its load of fertiliser and the road isn’t closed. We head east…on US82, the road in very tricky with significant flooding and then north at Guthrie on US83 to our hotel, the Days in at Childress.
The journey back is through rain and flooded roads, we pick up some Shiner Bock at a truck stop and watch a fab lightning displayfrom the portico of the hotel.

Tomorrow is another enhanced risk.

Total Miles: 389