It started as a shakedown cruise
Gotta have one of those every season — the first time out, after the equipment is setup and everything has been tested at home. Then it’s time to get out on the road for a few hours, find the bugs and any fine-tuning needed in the workflow, and see some storms!
Initial Target: Enid, OK
We didn’t make it anywhere close. My chase partner (and the one who took the great photos, mine are okay…) was Steve Boleski. Thought Matt was going to come along, but he had a work issue that precluded it. He did provide nowcasting and helped at several crucial decision-making points.
Also accompanying us was Flat Ryan.
My oldest grandson Ryan is 7, and in first grade. On Monday his class read the book “Flat Stanley” and made “Flat” versions of themselves from poster board. Their assignment for the next few days (it’s due next week) was to see what kind of adventures their “Flat Me” could go on.
Real Ryan isn’t quite ready for the long boring hours of storm chasing trips — he’s an energetic boy. However, we had just the job for Flat Ryan — he guarded the truck when we were outside and helped run the cameras! So here’s the story of our day (and Flat Ryan’s)
A Gentlemen’s Chase
Perhaps you haven’t heard the term before. I’m not sure if it originated in the Denver chasing community, but that’s where I was first exposed to it. It basically means a quick afternoon chase maybe a couple hours from home — go out, chase a while, and head home.
With the Denver convergence zone an hour’s drive, and the High Plains of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas only a couple hours further, the Denver-area folks do a lot of these shorter chases.
We logged 229 miles, a round of quarter-size hail, a canola field with the shelf cloud brewing behind it, and the storm going outflow-dominant as we conveniently came near a grain elevator with a nice road the exact distance south of it we needed to frame the structure with the storm’s “foot.” Bonus: a BNSF train happened by just as we started to video and photo!
We got on the road right at 2pm and headed for Enid. As we crossed into Oklahoma, we saw some development behind us and the discussions were pointing to the front laying approximately from Whitewater to about Alva. So we held up at Blackwell for about 45 minutes to see how things developed.
In consultation with Matt, I decided to backtrack up into Kansas…revised target Anthony. We stopped again for almost an hour at a cell site northwest of Caldwell on K-44.
Overshooot, Backtrack, Get on the first Storm
We headed west again, after something about the storms firing southwest of Medicine Lodge tweaking an instinct. Wind at Medicine Lodge had been some form of northerly all afternoon, so I wasn’t going to go that far west. But we did make it through Anthony and somewhat west of the Harper/Barber county line. As we reached that point, the clouds south of us were darkening. It was about then I realized we’d overshot the front and needed to turn around and head back east.
As we approached Anthony, I elected to have Steve turn south on K-179, as the core of the storm southwest of town was starting to show well, obviously producing heavy rain. We got about a mile south of town and sat to wait for it.
This was just a few minutes before my first live shot of the night during the weather segment of the KWCH 6pm news. It had started raining in that time. A few minutes later the first of two hail cores crossed us, bringing hail up to quarter-size.
A brief hail core came through a few minutes later. That hail was softer, looking more like QT crushed ice than hail. Right after that came through, I was on as part of the lead weather in the KSCW “Right Now with Michael Schwanke” 6:30pm newscast.
After some slipping and sliding, we made our way into Anthony and east on K-44 to get back ahead of the line. But first some street flooding….
As we approached the corner of NE120th and K-44, here’s what we saw:
The video is from my dashcam, as was the street flooding footage. Steve got some great photos of this field with the storm passing a few miles to the north.
My photos, by comparison…meh. But I did get an okay photo of the tail end of the storm back to our southwest.
My best photos were actually from inside the truck…
To have such a high-contrast setting was some of the greatest storm beauty I’ve seen in a while — as I posted on Facebook, Captioning this video “This. This is the best thing about storm chasing.”
But it wasn’t…not yet!
We continued north, figuring most of the show was done and we were out of position. But we were in for a show as we approached US-160 on K-49 (technically a Milan address, but 2 miles west of Mayfield, which is how I labeled the photos). We noticed the storm starting to get what can best be described as a “foot:”
And right there, in perfect position, was a grain elevator! The picture framed up perfectly in our minds — Steve, being the more experienced photographer, decided to go west from the highway while I wanted to go east. Steve was right:
…and yes, you see correctly in the first photo — BNSF was courteous enough to schedule a train through just after we got setup!
I did get a couple of shots of this which I feel okay about posting — still, cell phone camera does not beat a professional DSLR…
We ended this (hard to believe it was only) 9-minute stop with Steve working with his lightning trigger. Out of the 150 shots it triggered, here are the ones he liked best:
I don’t know of any significant storm damage, and I never heard of hail in Kansas that was golf-ball or hen egg size, as was forecast. However, the forecast for the severe storms forming at the southwest end of the front (nearest a sort-of triple point) and zippering rapidly up the line to the northeast panned out very well. And the night gave us the opportunity to shake out the cobwebs and get some phenomenal photos!
Even Flat Ryan was smiling at the end of the night….