Which way do I go, which way do I go...? While the National Weather Service in Denver sends me this way...and that way....and laughs it's collective butt off at me whilst doing so.
Yeah, I know: tornadoes are serious business. In a lot of places in the country, they're worse than serious business. The National Weather Service and meteorologists have, for decades, been working to improve and enhance tornado warnings, and provide more of a window of time for the public in the area of a tornado to prepare and take cover. None of that good, well-intentioned work goes to waste.
But in the process, the National Weather Service has duped me. Yes, I said duped. Lemme 'splain.
'Twas a promising day, this Thursday, June 11, 2009, by the reckoning of the National Weather Service. At least a 30% chance of potentially severe thunderstorms, lightning, hail, damaging winds...and tornadoes. After getting yanked into work for a few hours (usually a day off), I was free to go park on the east side of Denver, and await the next round of storms that were predicted to come roaring off the foothills "with malice aforethought", in the words of one gifted meteorologic orator (probably a lawyer in the budding meteorology defense league, coming soon to a new law practice near someone).
It's that time of year in Colorado -- late May through early July -- when storms of the intensity to produce tornadoes and up to softball-sized hail, form up and practice their trade on Denver and points east. They hit Denver and nearby with tornadic intensities up to EF-3, before attending graduation and moving off to the 'big leagues' in Kansas, Nebraska, et al, where some of the more gifted storms go hard-core EF-4 and 5 (the tornado that rearranged a mall in SE Aurora, and had other fun with various and assorted structures for 30 minutes on Sunday, June 7, was a budding EF-2).
And sure enough, by 1:30pm, a line of storms had evolved and was moving E/NE, from Douglas County to north of Denver. And almost immediately, I heard the first "Tornado Warning" EBS (Emergency Broadcast System) alert go out over my favored radio station for storm tracking. I was north and west of where the storm was reported to be, but given it's reported track and speed of advance, I had time enough to get into it and do a chase from, for a change, the right place and from the right direction.
But there was something curious about this "Tornado Warning": the exact phrasing of the warning was "Doppler radar has detected a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado, moving to the NE at 20 mph...", followed by the usual "all persons in the following areas should take cover immediately", and a short list of those areas in the path of the storm.
In past years, such a warning was always accompanied by reports from trained weather spotters, or law enforcement, or at times the public, that a tornado had actually been spotted at a certain location, and providing the direction it was travelling. But all this warning ever said was "a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado".
Okay...I reckon such storms ARE, indisputably, capable of such. Last thing I'm capable of is engaging in a debate on meteorological verbiage with a NWS egghead wearing high-water pants, Clark Kent glasses, a pocket protector, and spouting meteorological terminology that I can only respond back to with "yeah, what you said...I think". I mean, I know a promising storm formation of clouds is referenced meteorologically as cumulonumbnuts, or something like that.
Thus, onward I travelled, inspired of the hope that said storm would, in fact, prove capable of producing a tornado for lil' ol' me.
As I hit the east side of Denver, I had two choices to make -- I-76 to the northeast, or I-70 to the east -- a second tornado warning came across. Another severe thunderstorm had been detected on doppler radar, "capable of producing a tornado" east of Bennett, CO, and moving to the east at 20 mph.
There it was again: capable of producing a tornado. Not "tornado on the ground" or "tornado sighted by someone...ANYONE". And like with the previous report, no follow up reports of tornadic activity. Hmmmm.
So for the moment, I split the difference between the two main interstate arterials, and for five miles, found myself unexpectedly on a hog wallow between two paved stretches of road east of Lochbuie, sliding and slithering through mud in the wake of heavy rains (if you remember, the rural dirt roads in east-northeast Colorado aren't gravel; they're dirt, that turn to slime in the rain) at a speed you'd see in a covenant-controlled neighborhood...about 5-10 mph.
Once I made it to pavement again, the mud roostertails I left in my wake were impressive; hogs seeing this razorback silver boar, barreling down a wet and empty two-lane and sending out arches of mud in my wake, had to have snorted their approval.
I don't think my Saturn was as amused.
Finally, I reached a t-intersection that gave me one more chance to choose NE or E as my pursuit angle. But and again, no follow up tornadic reports from the last two warnings. And another big, menacing storm lurked off to my north, moving east. No severe reports of anything from that direction yet, but from my vantage point, it was of a size and visual composition that held promise. And I was on it's southwestern flank already.
Game, set, match: north, to the storm flank. Go north, the chase was on (with apologies to the late Johnny Horton).
And shortly after heading after it, I was gratified by yet another EBS-toned tornado warning: and again, it was a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado. WTF???
Were there any tornadoes, or were there not? That was the question.
Whilst I pondered this Bardly notion, I pursuedeth, and then waded into the storm fromst thine usually-promising flank, suffering the slings and arrows of meteorologic temerity, for roughly 100 miles with nary a further warning of any kind. No more nuthin', 'cept for rain, some hail, and enough wind to cause prairie dogs caught above-ground in a gust, to hang onto prairie grass and flap like a flag, gesturing angrily at me if they lost their grip and went flashing by my windshield like little furry tumbleweeds.
I have no idea what they were flipping ME off for. Guess I was handy.
Finally, I parked my carcass at a rest stop outside of Sterling, CO, and heard the last anything meteorologic in terms of reports: a tornado watch was in effect until after dark for most of NE Colorado.
No tornadoes had been sighted. No tornadoes had been reported. But conditions were such that a storm capable of producing a tornado was possible.
Grrrrrr. A 360 mile round trip, for storms capable of producing a tornado. And they all flunked. I vote their diplomas all be revoked, and they be held back for another semester. I don't think either Nebraska or Kansas will object.
Oh well...I reckon that it's all part of tornado games (posted last in '08). And now the National Weather Service is playing, too.
Sunday Update, June 14: again, I'm mired at work (albeit on my regular schedule) and shore 'nuff, a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado hits the Denver Area. And near Coors Field, what does it do?
Produce a funnel cloud. One that stops the MLB game between the Colorado Rockies and the Seattle Mariners, for 55 minutes, until the weather passed.
It showed up to watch a ballgame, and IT got screwed.
At least I know I'm not alone in that department. I feel better.