Saturday, June 21, 2008

Storm Chasing For Dummies: Funnel With A Side of Flies


*Note: my one confirmed, one possible funnel cloud shots aren't ready for this posting, so I went with an earlier funnel photo from my limited stock of same*
Wednesday, June 18, 2008: once again, them professional prognosticators at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, gave storm chasers a thumbs up to possible severe weather in western Kansas and Nebraska, with a lesser chance in far eastern/northeastern Colorado.
And me, too. I asked my pet rock Seymour to suggest where I should go; his answer had nothing to do with surface geography. So ignoring the biblical reference to a really hot place from my rock, I flipped a coin: Kansas, again.
I am a glutton for punishment.
Getting a reasonable start, I could tell it was going to be a hot day locally: 90 degrees for Denver and vicinity. Approaching the noon hour, I'd passed into Kansas, and just like a week before, I was presented with a clear blue sky, with the barest wisp of unthreatening clouds to my west/southwest. But as I approached Colby, KS, I kept looking behind as well as ahead: back to the NW, one seemingly harmless cloud 'wisp' had suddenly begun to mushroom in the early afternoon skies.
*TOING*
I doubled back to Goodland, KS, and went straight north, watching the 'mushroom' grow ever larger, with 'chums' evolving behind it. When I reached St. Francis, KS, I did some map reading and sky watching, and decided to wander a bit more north and west, toward Haigler, Nebraska. But about halfway there, I began to note a curious 'drift' to the cloud formations, that suggested an E/SE direction.
*Note to Kansas road crew, working on a stretch of highway in the middle of next to no where: sorry about driving through your mess, twice* Though, the four hundred pound flagger appeared as disinterested in my first passage, as he did with my second.
So, I returned to St. Francis, and found a nice parking lot with a bit of elevation to it (yes, there are elevated areas in even bucolic, flat-as-heckydarnpoo Kansas), from where I watched the clouds continue to evolve, and searched my radio for an AM station that might give me some ideas of what was evolving out there. AM 730 -- out of Goodland, Kansas -- gave some satisfaction. Both with information, and lightning static: a severe thunderstorm was moving E/SE from the vicinity of Bonny Reservoir, in Eastern Colorado. It was projected to pass by, or over, the town of St. Francis, Kansas, within the hour, bringing with it rain, quarter-sized hail, and "damaging winds of 60 mph or more".
Deja (no) view, I begun to muse. Then the station return to it's regular programming (Dr. Laura SlammingSomeone, doing just that to callers), while I sat and patiently waited, and the sleepy town of St. Francis...just sat there.
Within 15 minutes, Dr. Laura's berating of one of her "stop with the 'I don't knows' and tell me something, idiot!' was interrupted by one of those tell-tale EBS tones: a tlkdowo genaion gkewiaos....now that my fingers are back over the right keys...a National Weather Service Robot was announcing that a tornado warning had been issued for a town NW of the Bonny Reservoir in Colorado, with the storm track projected SE. Areas included in the warning were the Bonny Reservoir, and NW Cheyenne County, in Kansas, including the town of St. Francis.
*TOING* It was time to consult my map. In the midst of consulting same, the folksy voice of a local 'weather center' announcer, back in Goodland (about 60 miles S), was telling the good folks of St. Francis "to take cover in your tornado shelters, or in a central bathroom or closet in your house, immediately".
I'm looking to the W/NW, and saying to myself, WTF (as in WhereTF)? Yes, the skies were a tad ominous to the NW...N...and NE. But anything tornadic on the horizon? Nawp. What's more, Bonny Reservoir was easily 20 or so miles NW of St. Francis.
Now, I know what you're thinking: the more warning, the better. Well, as an outsider looking in (and out), I can tell you how the good citizens of St. Francis reacted to this radioed tornado warning: *yawn*. There was no frenzy of people rushing about, with screaming mothers clinging to squealing kids, or rushing to secure lawn furniture and small pets. One guy walked out of a bar across the street, looked at the sky, shrugged, and went back in the bar.
While some college meteorology undergrads somewhere might have been nonplussed by this act of defiant indifference, I had to laugh. Having had three concussions, I do that now and again.
45 minutes later -- and with the local announcer out of Goodland, continuing the warning, along with additional ones in SW Nebraska and NE Colorado -- it was apparent that the storm was passing St. Francis to the N, moving E/SE. At one point, I did observe what appeared to be the makings of a wall cloud, north of town, but it fell apart shortly after forming, without anything dropping from it, other than my unabashed disappointment. Otherwise, all that St. Francis was getting from the passing storm was a few droplets, and some relief from the sun.
That bar patron should become a weather forecaster.
Meantime, a new voice was interrupting Dr. Laura's caller berations -- amidst heavy lightning interference and static -- warning of possible tornadic activity near a town called Benkelman, in SW Nebraska, with the activity moving SE. The same storm cell now passing to my north.

And more locations and counties were being mentioned, as more storm cells were cropping up all over western Kansas. Since I had a bonafide supercell-wannabe right before me, I reckoned it was time to chase, and finally -- !!!!!! -- I was in the right place for once. A quick review of the map suggested that if I headed out of St. Francis, east on US 36, I might just catch up to some fun hyar.
Off I went, toward a town named Bird City, about 14 miles east. One I didn't reckon was so named because of NYC-like inclinations of drivers or pedestrians, but I figured I'd find that out shortly.
Meanwhile, Goodland Radio was getting harder and harder to hear, as lightning was dancing it's high-energy routine across the northern/northeastern plains before me. Up to now, I'd not hit any kind of precipitation that required me to roll up my windows -- allowing three Kansas black flies to annoyingly hitch a ride, which I guess were preferable to flying monkeys or a witch on a broom -- but proximity of some of the more animated lightning finally encouraged me to end the free ride advertisement, as I rumbled on east, with three confused flies buzzing around my windows. Into and past Bird City I went, with not a single NYC gesture to be found, and closer now to some pretty intense activity.
Which, for me, finally included a funnel cloud to my east, before rain bands obscured it. I pulled over, snapped two photos, and hoped for more. What "more", I should have specified, 'cuz more is what I got, though not the 'more' I was seeking: with Goodland Radio now lost in a white noise of lightning static (Dr. Laura's caller berating had been replaced by agriculture reports on what corn, wheat, soybeans and hogs were going for these days), I again found myself in a veritable deluge: hard, driving rain, pea-sized hail, and some impressive winds. And positively squat for visibility. I crawled along a few more miles east, but saw nothing further, save for prodigious quantities of water in varied forms, and Wiley Coyote with that silly, undersized umbrella of his, with his ink running.
It's so too late to suggest to Wiley to trade in his stock options in Acme for corn or oil speculation, but I digress.
Deciding I'd pushed my luck as far as it needed pushing, I decided to turn back, and begin the four hours back to Denver, without a sidetrip to Oz. First, I managed to usher two of my fly hitchhikers out of the car, even if it was still raining rather prodigiously**; the third one managed to elude me until a stopover in Wiggen, Colorado, whereupon it promptly collapsed from oxygen deprivation, and I was able to leave it at the rest stop, holding an improv sign "Will Annoy For O2". I reckoned someone would take pity on a fly out of it's geographic element.
Bottom line: 600 miles, two tanks of gas, 12 hours on the road, and two (possibly three) photos of funnel clouds. Still not what I was after, but a week later, I'm getting arguably more cost-effective*, if unintentionally on the radar screens of PPETF**, for cruelty to flatland pests.
* ROFLMWallet'sAO
** Pathetic People for the Ethical Treatment of Flies

6 Comments:

Blogger Stacy said...

My daughter's boyfriend and his dad apparently have the same number of brain cells you do since I recently learned they are storm chasers, too.

My husband's construction site got hit Monday. Eye witnesses report a funnel cloud. Trees were twisted off....but the NWS says only strong (70mph) winds or possibly a "thunder burst."

21 June, 2008 07:08  
Blogger Two Dogs said...

Well, it seems every damn time that you tell one of these stories, I get smashed by a tornado, so I'll let you know about next week's adventure.

I can imagine that your Saturm looks like a rolling block of Swiss cheese with all the hail dents.

21 June, 2008 11:21  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the storms would stay here if you chase them around Denver. My water bill has quadrupled because we're not getting any rain in this h'yar part of the state.

22 June, 2008 09:18  
Blogger Serena Joy said...

Yikes! I hope you're getting some decent pictures out of all this derring-do.:)

22 June, 2008 19:26  
Blogger Debbie said...

"No flies were harmed in the making of this article???"

You consulted your pet rock, but what about your 'mood ring', and 'crazy 8 ball'??? Don't leave anything to chance.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

23 June, 2008 10:58  
Blogger Herb said...

I thought your pet rock was in Japan or somewhere. There was a little twister that went through Fountain, CO about 3 or 4 miles away. You could have stopped in. But Wiggen is cool. I mean, C.W. McCall mentions it, "Me and Earl was haulin' chickens/on a flat bed out of Wiggens and we spent all night on the uphill side of 37 miles of Hell called Wolf Crick Pass..."

24 June, 2008 05:42  

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