High risk day – may 20, 2019

On the evening of May 19, 2019, I sat on Marcus’s doorstep in Amarillo, Texas, staring at my iPad and trying to wrap my brain around what I was seeing. It was incredible; there were already whispers of a “doomsday scenario” outbreak of strong to violent tornadoes across Texas and Oklahoma; I was waiting on the next SPC discussion to come out to see the updated version of what they thought about the situation. Things were already looking threatening; when we dropped Lauren off at her hotel room, there was a DOW parked in the parking lot. Not a great sign.

the only time i have ever been unenthused by the appearance of a dow truck.

I couldn’t sleep. I was incredibly anxious; I called my husband to tell him about what we were looking at for the next day, and he was a bit less than thrilled. Finally, at 12:56 am on the morning of May 20, the SPC upgraded their strongly worded moderate risk to a rare high risk- super rare, really- it was among the highest of high risks ever issued. They were NOT fucking around this morning; using language they very, very seldomly use, they expressed tremendous concern about the well-being of every single living thing in the paths of these storms.

oh shit.
oh SHIT.

I finally was able to slip into a very uneasy sleep. I dreamt of violent tornadoes, of shattering glass, of splintering homes. It was not a restful night.

All of us woke quite early in the morning, despite our lack of sleep. We took another look at the SPC’s discussions, and just shook our heads. 45% hatched. Unbelievable. We went to breakfast at a local Amarillo joint called “Ye Olde Pancake Station”, where we sullenly ate and quietly made plans for our initial target area. There was no joy today; there was only apprehension.

At 11:24 am, the SPC announced that it was highly likely (95%) that they would be issuing a PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation) tornado watch within the next two hours.

ugh.

We stopped at a gas station outside of Clarendon, Texas, and joined a small gathering of other chasers. Nobody was stoked about this; every one of us clearly recognized the severity of this situation, and small talk was sparse. At 12:35, the PDS tornado watch was finally issued by the SPC.

One by one, chasers began filing out, off to their starting points for the day. At 2:25pm, the NWS issued its first tornado warning of the day for both Roaring Springs and Paducah;  two young cells had barely fired up, and they were spinning furiously.

It was gonna be a long day.

It was decided that the Paducah storm looked slightly better than the Roaring Springs one, so we headed in that direction. Our timing was impeccable; as we arrived, the storms were both re-warned, and a narrow, snakelike funnel cloud began creeping down from the storm in front of us.

Tiny but fierce, the little funnel twisted upon the landscape. We watched it for a while, and when it finally roped out and died, we went on our way to the next good-looking storm over Estelline, Texas. By this time, most chasers had dismissed Texas as a lost cause and left for Oklahoma, where the day’s most powerful tornado would occur. That beast, despite its wind speeds of around 212 miles per hour, was eventually rated an EF2. The town of Mangum narrowly escaped chaos that day, and that tornado was a small taste of what would have been.

As we approached Estelline, the sky changed from deep blue-gray to greenish, and sirens began to scream. Round two, here we come.

….except there was no round two.

Nothing happened.

Oh, well.

Close to six pm, I began to feel an odd sense of relief. It didn’t happen. The highest high-risk day to end all high-risk days did not pan out how it was expected to, and I was perfectly okay with this. We got a tornado. That’s all we needed. Plus, it was a small tornado that did no damage and stayed out over an open field, beautiful and transparent. We were relieved. It was enough for us. The situation could have unfolded significantly worse than it did, but the residents of the central great plains were spared for now.

My relief was short-lived, however, when at 6:32 PM, the NWS issued a PDS tornado warning for a large and extremely dangerous tornado on the ground in the nearby town of Spur.

and i oop

My gut froze solid and my blood ran cold; just that name was enough to evoke significant anxiety. On March 28, 2017, as many of you know, my close friend, confidante and chase companion Corbin Jaeger had died needlessly in Spur at the hands of a reckless driver. Of the hundreds and hundreds of towns all over Texas, this storm had to pick that one. I had no desire to go there, and no desire to even risk passing through the rural intersection in which the wreck happened. Marcus promised me he knew where that intersection was, and that he would make absolutely sure that we didn’t get anywhere near it. Even still, we were very nearby, and the road signs all looked just like the ones from the livestream feed in the vehicle of the men who killed Corbin that day. They were the same, just with different numbers.

I was uneasy.

We decided to inch southwest, mile by mile, and see if we could at least catch a glimpse of it. We had no such luck; it was entirely wrapped in rain; however, we were close to it and we knew it. An audible roar filled the air and power flashes were visible through the rain. Slivers of the beast’s rear inflow jet were also somewhat visible; I was content to stay in place. There was no need to go further into Spur. Relief washed over me as the tornado passed back into the depths of the rain to die.

We had no time to calm down. Another significant circulation had popped up outside the town of Roby, and we were immediately en route. This was the third tornado warning that this single cell had spat out.

oh.

We reached Roby, where tornado sirens were screaming, and the roads were as still as death. Lightning flashes constantly illuminated the sky and we kept a watchful eye out for any interesting hints as to where the circulation was in relation to our heads. We followed it to about midway to Hamlin before abandoning it. A half-hour after the circulation passed to the northeast, a second circulation began just to our west. We high-tailed it back to Roby.

dances with couplets

We sat outside of Roby, those sirens still piercing the night, those streets still quiet in the same way a mausoleum is. Once more, nothing came of it, and that was alright. Today had been alright; no, the high risk didn’t verify in the way we expected it to (thank God), but it was still an active day and added my first high-risk notch to my belt. Passing through Roby once more after the threat had passed, the sirens were still on. We wondered why they hadn’t been shut off yet. Marcus spotted a police cruiser sitting in a bank parking lot and said, “Hey, we’re storm chasers. The danger has passed. The sirens don’t need to be on anymore,” to which the indifferent officer replied “Yeah, we’ll get to that at some point.”

Okay, then.

I don’t know what happened from that point on, because we headed to Snyder for some well-earned rest. Some say that Roby never did figure out how to shut those sirens off, and that they’re still going to this day.

We were alive. Everyone was alive to see tomorrow. There had been no major destruction, injuries or death today. To say it was a relief is an understatement of the highest order.

The following day, we made our way back up to Oklahoma City, where we had an impromptu barbecue with Bart, Debs and a chaser by the name of Bill Oosterbaan, with whom I had a lively discussion about the band The Doors. Many jokes were made at the expense of the day before and all its hype; though the high risk and the hype was absolutely justified, that didn’t prevent us from having some fun with it.

thoughts and prayers
everyone in 2019 salty about what they called a bust but we were over here in 2050 making memes with outdated formats

So, what had happened? Why didn’t it pan out to be the disaster we were anticipating? There were a few things at play that day that dampened the chances of extremes. First, the cap was a bit stronger than we’d anticipated, and a layer of dry air moved in from the west just before the worst of the day had been expected. Updrafts were thin, and it was incredibly hazy over the entire region likely due to raging wildfires down in Mexico. It’s also entirely possible that aerosol particles from the smoke did the task of possibly reflecting or absorbing daytime heat that otherwise would have directly contributed to convection later in the afternoon. Early-morning rain and clouds also did their part to inhibit surface heating.

Even still, I couldn’t have been more pleased about a day in which nothing happened as expected. What was expected was bad; what happened was just an average chase day (except for those poor souls in Roby. RIP their eardrums). This does cause me concern for one major reason, though: the public is finicky and skeptical. This event was (rightfully) played up and hyped as early as a few days before; schools in the high-risk area closed in a first-ever “tornado day”, reflecting on the Moore tragedy of 2013 in which seven schoolchildren were killed when a wall collapsed on them while seeking shelter from the storm. This time, the hype didn’t work out, and all this does is make people say “See, the LAST time they said we were all in big trouble from the storms, nothing happened, so we’re fine”. This may lead to deaths in the future due to people ignoring watches and warnings; for now, though, everyone was fine, and we went to sleep the night of the 21st still completely relieved that it hadn’t quite panned out.

Overall, there were 38 tornado reports, including one in- wait for it- Arizona (DAMN IT). And yes, a small tornado had touched down in northern Arizona just before things ramped up in the plains. Oh well. All’s well that ends well, I guess.

Stay sick.  

five weird-ass clouds you may not have ever heard of

How much do you *really* know about various cloud types and subtypes? Come on, be honest. I’ll bet you’re thinking about some of the basics- cirrus, cumulus, cumulonimbus- or maybe if you’re a little more weather-wise and adventurous you’re throwing mammatus, lenticular and shelf clouds in there.

Well, did you know that there’s the ten major cloud types- and then some? Not only do those cloud types have subtypes, but there’s a few other clouds in the meteorological lexicon than just your basic-ass ten types (particularly the ones you see in literally every article about cloud types). Here’s a few of them.

  • Pileus
image courtesy of the international cloud atlas.

Directly related to the beautiful and spooky lenticular cloud (which is one of those clouds in every list ever, so I won’t be covering it here), the pileus cloud resembles a smooth, arched “cap” that forms over a rapidly rising updraft. Also known as “cap” clouds (shocking, I know), they result from a strong updraft from below ascending into moist air aloft. This cools the air down to its dew point, creating the smooth, white- sometimes iridescent- cap cloud we know and love. I personally adore seeing these clouds because they’re an excellent visual indicator of updraft strength; when one forms atop a growing cumulus cloud, I need to keep an eye on it because that tells me loud and clear that that little cloud is trying to develop into something much more interesting.

  • Nacreous
insane nacreous cloud over peru photographed by david alvarado

Hey so like have you ever seen clouds that kinda look like oil spills? I know, it sounds weird; hear me out. Nacreous clouds, known much more broadly as polar stratospheric clouds, are quite unique- they form in the stratosphere as opposed to the troposphere, which is where Earth’s weather primarily exists. Being incredibly high in altitude, these guys are seen very seldomly during winter months in (almost always) the Antarctic, and they appear to have a pearlescent gleam; a process called forward-scattering of light from a very low angle causes these clouds to “glow”. Another distant cousin of the lenticular cloud, nacreous clouds are a type II polar stratospheric cloud; they’re made of ice crystals and can appear as either resembling lenticular clouds or taking on a more cirriform shape. They can be seen when conditions are just right and the sun lies just below the horizon after dusk or before dawn.

  • Morning Glory
badass morning glory photographed over new south wales, australia, by deborah toop

Why haven’t you ever heard of a Morning Glory? Well, there’s probably a few reasons- one being how uncommon they are; these clouds, when spotted, are usually spotted in Australia. A relative of the roll cloud, there have been instances of them occurring in other areas, but Australia seems to be the only region where they can be expected in certain conditions at a specific time of year. The process behind the formation of Morning Glory is not entirely known; it’s currently believed that they may mark the convergence zone between two sea breezes. They’re essentially a solitary wave cloud and can be anywhere from 5 to 600 miles in length. They move quickly, and do not change shape or size. When spotted, they’re often spotted in rows, spanning hundreds of miles.

  • Actinoform
satellite image courtesy of NASA

Appearing to the casual ground observer as a standard layer of stratocumulus clouds (yawn), the beauty of the actinoform cloud is best appreciated from above- way above. Satellite images have observed these incredible formations spanning for hundreds upon hundreds of miles since as recently as the 1960s; they are highly complex and occur much more commonly than originally thought. How or why these clouds create these stunning patterns is not currently known, though modern theories include the effects of radiation on atmospheric moisture.

  • Nocticulent
gorgeous display of nocticulent clouds over florida following a rocket launch shot by mike bartils

Okay, so they’re not technically clouds, but whatever. Close enough. The word “nocticulent” stems from a term meaning “night shine” in Latin. They’ll remind you of nacreous clouds in the sense that they’re extremely high-level, thin clouds with a propensity to glow. Unlike nacreous clouds, these guys are a summer phenomenon and commonly seen just after dusk. These clouds are the highest-known in altitude; forming in the mesosphere, they reside anywhere from 47 to 53 miles above the ground and are visible in high Northern latitudes. If you don’t know what it is that you’re looking at, I’d imagine that a glowing cirrus-esque cloud hanging above the horizon would seem pretty bizarre to the casual observer, and they are often reported as “strange lights” in the sky.

Have you ever seen any of these strange and beautiful phenomenon in the skies for yourself? Share any photos or videos you may have of them in the comments!

ten insane temperature changes (united states edition)

i am an artist

You ever been outside and physically felt the temperature drop (or rise)? I have; it’s a strange sensation. One minute you’re nice and toasty in the sun and over the span of a short time period you’re suddenly shivering and need a sweater. This type of event is uncommon in my stomping ground of Arizona, USA, but in other parts of this country, it’s a fairly common phenomenon; in this listicle, I’m going to tell you about some of the more batshit insane ones on record. Get ready for a ride and make sure you have your coat ready (or not, I guess, depending).

  1. Phillipsburg, Kansas – May 29, 2000

Have you ever heard of a heat burst? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t, but the residents of Phillipsburg, KS definitely had heard of one following an insane temperature rise in May of 2000. A heat burst is an uncommon phenomenon, usually marked by a very rapid increase in temperature and decrease in humidity as well as high winds. It’s believed to be a rare by-product of dying thunderstorms. Just think of it like a really, really huge blow dryer stuck on the hot setting directly over your whole-ass town. I imagine that would be kind of annoying, honestly, and I’m sure that the residents of Phillipsburg were either less than thrilled when the temperature rose nineteen degrees (Fahrenheit) from 74 to 93 in just eleven minutes or really, really confused. Just like that, they went from pleasantly cool to annoyingly warm and dry, and I bet the people who chose to wear long pants were piiiiiiissed.

  • Hobart, Oklahoma – May 23, 2005

Speaking of heat bursts, here’s another: the Oklahoma MesoNet recorded an incredible 19.3 degree increase from 73.1 to 93.4 degrees Fahrenheit in five minutes. FIVE. MINUTES.

  • Fort Assiniboine, Montana – January 19, 1983

If you thought nineteen degrees in five minutes was nuts, what about a rise of 42 degrees in fifteen minutes? Just about double the fun in three times the time.

  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – February 18, 2018

A passing cold front wandered on through the state of Oklahoma and during a four-minute timespan the temperature dropped from a pleasant 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit to a balmy 43. Now, I don’t know about you, but my desert-dwelling ass feels like shit’s officially cold once you hit the low fifties; dropping to the low forties from the mid-sixties in less than five minutes? Fuhgeddabouddit.

  • Browning, Montana – January 23-24, 1916

Alright, this one’s nuts. Sure, a twenty degree change in a few minutes is notable, but what about ONE HUNDRED DEGREES in a 24 hour period? That’s the exact kinda wintery bullshit that happened in Browning, MT back in January of 1916. Temperatures plummeted from 44 degrees (ugh) down to -56 degrees (UGH.) Fahrenheit during the span of a day; a formidable douchebag of nature in the form of an Arctic cold front blew through the region between 9 AM on January 23 and 8 AM January 24. I can’t even fathom, like, how six degrees feels- let alone NEGATIVE 56. #nope

  • Rapid City, South Dakota – 11/9/1911

This one’s a DOOZY, guys. Not only did a phenomenon known as temperature sloshing rock everyone’s world on this day, but it came with the added gift of tornadoes (thanks nature I hate it). Temperature sloshing is a casual term for the phenomena more formally known at temperature oscillation; this is when temperatures do, well, exactly that: they oscillate, or “slosh”, between two different values, and boy oh boy did this bitch slosh. When an incredibly cold Arctic front wandered through, the temperatures dropped a total of 52 degrees from 55 Fahrenheit to 3 Fahrenheit in a little under two hours. As if that weren’t obnoxious enough, mama nature had to throw in a little extra “fuck you” in the form of a low pressure system developing right along that front over the Great Lakes region, creating a boundary between warm, moist, unstable air and the frigid front the next day- which resulted in tornadoes. Lots of ‘em, across five states. The most notable tor touched down in Janesville, Wisconsin, and is estimated to have been an F4. It killed nine when it struck the town at nine pm; by midnight, the wreckage of what used to be Janesville was under blizzard conditions, the temperature having dropped to 7 degrees when it had previously been 70. Nature, what the hell?

  • Great Falls International Airport, Montana – January 11, 1980

An inconvenience known as Chinook winds took the temperatures over the airport from -37 degrees up to 15, which really doesn’t sound any better. Chinook winds, also called foehn winds, are strong, warm and dry gusts of wind from off of the mountains; the Blackfoot people of the region simply called them “Snoweaters” due to their propensity for making feet of snow disappear in just a few hours or less. The temperature difference in this instance was an astonishing 47 degrees, and I’m really just not interested in living anywhere in cold-ass unpredictable Montana at this point.

  • Fairfield, Montana – December 14, 1924

Damn, Montana, back at it again with the ridiculous temperatures. On this particular December day, temperatures plummeted from sixty-three degrees to -21. That’s stupid. Montana, what’s your problem?

  • Spearfish, South Dakota – January 22, 1943

That whole temperature sloshing thing happened here and did it EVER. Get this: the temperature increased sharply from -4 degrees to 45 degrees in TWO MINUTES. Nature, what the hell? From there, temps rose to 54 degrees before sharply nosediving back down to -4 within 27 minutes; this was a temp drop of 58 degrees in a gat damb half hour.

And finally, last on this list but deeeeefinitely not least by any means:

  • Loma, Montana (sigh) – January 14, 1972

At this point, I’m pretty sure Montana is just showing off. Finishing out this list with the largest recorded temperature change in 24 hours, the temperature fluctuated an INSANE 103 degrees, rocketing from a stupid -54 degrees to a pleasant-by-comparison 49 degrees. This was the largest temperature oscillation ever measured in the US, and possibly the world, at that time. It’s got yet to be beat, and honestly, I really feel like it might do that at some point. Just, you know, to spite the people who still live there that haven’t frozen to death yet.

This concludes my very first (of many!) listicles that I’ll be posting on this blog. If you have any ideas for meteorology-related lists you’d like to see, feel free to shoot me a suggestion or two! Lord knows I’m not creative enough to come up with all of these on my own.

Until next time, guys- stay sick!

A cell to remember- may 27 2019

The day began simply enough; we awoke in Limon, Colorado. It was remarkably clear and crisp that morning, but we knew it wouldn’t be for long. We had things to do today.

The night before had been something out of a buddy comedy movie; our group consisted of myself, Marcus, Bart, Debs and Conor. We were exhausted, having spent all of the day before chasing with little reward. To top it off, the power steering in Marcus’s car had gone out, and after some deliberation about what to do about that we decided we’d just chase today and then get a rental.

We’d decided to stay the night in Limon. Bart suggested we go to a local Subway for dinner. It was a favorite location of his and we were all starving half to death by this point. “Yeah, let’s just go to that Subway. I know it’s there for sure.”

As luck would have it, we got to where the Subway definitely was, according to him- and it wasn’t. Not only was it closed, oh no- the entire building had been demolished. The rest of us got a good laugh out of that while Bart fumed. “I mean it was there last time I was here, okay?”

We settled on Pizza Hut. As it turns out, it’s a lot more expensive to eat in at Pizza Hut than to get it delivered. Despite our complaining about the pricing, we ate anyway and rebuffed Bart’s numerous attempts at stealing our food.

Following dinner, we chose an inexpensive motel not too far from where we were. Check in was an adventure; you ever been so tired that everything is hilarious and you find yourself wired? That was us. The poor little old lady behind the counter had a sense of humor about it, though, which was nice. She’d need it to deal with the likes of us.

Each of us departed to our respective rooms; Marcus came to mine for a little while and we bullshitted until he needed to head back. Not even five minutes after he left, he was back again. I opened the room door to see him standing there. He wasted no time.

“I need to tell you what I just did.”

Uh oh.

Apparently, once he’d returned to his room, the phone began ringing. He immediately assumed (for whatever reason, haha) that it must have been me calling to mess with him, so he wanted to beat me to the punch. He picked up the phone and answered, in a thick Swedish accent:

“BOOTY CASTLE, WHAT’S YOUR HASSLE?”

The “oh God” from the other line told him that it was not me but rather the poor lady from the front desk. After she finished laughing, she asked him if he was driving the red Subaru. Nope, Bart’s car. Well, he left the lights on, she said, so she’d just call his room.

Marcus hung up and immediately came back to report his shame to me. Meanwhile, the lady rang Bart’s room. Evidently, when he’d arrived he immediately faceplanted onto his bed and passed out. He answered the phone, barely coherent, and acknowledged the heads up about his lights being left on.

He then proceeded to hang up and go back to sleep. The lights were on all night.

As hilarious as all of this was, it meant that the following day presented us with a challenging morning. Marcus, Conor and I had to decide if we were going to get a rental car or keep going with his vehicle. Bart and Debs had no choice but to stay behind at the motel to fix his now burnt-out Subi. After we had sufficiently pointed and laughed at Bart’s inability to wake up to save his life even if it meant losing his car battery, we went on our way.

It didn’t take long to get into the swing of things; the SPC had already issued a slurry of watches and the Day 1 convective outlook looked promising.

Yet another moderate risk issued; yet another kickass day of shenanigans was in store.

For the time being, we decided to stick around Colorado and see where we ended up by playing the day casually. It looked to be pretty cut and dry; despite the moderate risk being placed over the panhandle and surrounding areas, we opted to stay northeast, closer to Nebraska. Besides, we were beginning the rest of our day at Denver International Airport, attempting (and failing) to secure a rental. Looks like we’d be wingin’ it.

A small cell fired up near the airport. Convenient enough. We began following it with no idea just how incredible a day was in store for us.

It was a persistent little thing, becoming organized relatively quickly and producing hail. Strangely, it was a ghost town out there- where was everyone else? Playing the moderate, maybe? Oh well. More room for us to play, then.

We followed this small cell to just outside of Bennett, CO. By this time, it had begun to produce audible hail roar, and we knew we were in for a treat. It continued to rapidly strengthen, and finally it produced a small funnel cloud.

The funnel hung around briefly, but didn’t stick around. The storm was certainly trying, and if it were to do it, we’d be right there waiting for it.

At 12:55 PM, the SPC issued a tornado watch for our area specifically. It’s always validating to see that when you decide to take a minor risk and target an area outside of the more obvious ones traced out by the SPC. Solely SPC chasing is a noob’s game, but it’s always super nice to at least have them to confirm your own forecast when they agree with you.

It didn’t take long for the fun to really begin. Outside of Strasbourg (Strasburg? I don’t fuckin’ know) we encountered a small, uncondensed tornado swirling away in a dirt field. If it hadn’t been for the raggedy but notable funnel cloud above it, we likely would have missed it completely.

the important thing is that it tried

It was short lived, but it counted. A tornado warning was finally issued for the area, but only after the little tube had already lifted. The storm was fierce, though, churning angrily overhead, seemingly preparing for round two.

It never produced again, but the day was far from over.

We hop-scotched to another developing cell nearby, this one with a remarkably brilliant blue core. It was rough around the edges and raggedy, but the unpolished look to it just lent it more drama. In the distance, sirens blared, and we watched the blue beauty organize and collapse repeatedly over open land.

iPhone photo did NOT do the color justice; this was one of the most intensely blue cores I’ve ever seen.

As this storm moved into Iliff, CO, it began lowering considerably. Marcus and I watched the meso continue to organize just over a hill. We were sitting in awe and silence until Marcus had an idea.

“Let’s drive into that thing,” he said, casually, as if he weren’t literally suggesting we drive through a ground-scraping meso.

“Sounds stupid,” I replied. “I’m in.”

Slowly we crept up the dirt hill, honking at the endless supply of chasers and tour guests standing quite literally in the center of the road with gear and all (writer’s note: DON’T FUCKING DO THAT). As they took their precious time clearing the way for us (to, you know, like, drive, ‘cuz it was a road, not a sidewalk) we kept our eyes trained forward on the far edge of the meso scraping along the other side of the hill.

This thing was the definition of a ground scraper; as we reached the apex of the hill, our ears popped, and looking ahead of ourselves we saw the bottom opposite edge of the clouds briskly moving over the road.

The entire sky was alive, breathing, and it was doing so directly over us. We were IN the meso, or, rather, directly beneath it. It seemed to have a concave bottom to it allowing just enough space to drive under; behind us, the other bottom edge of the thing was kissing the ground, pulling dirt and loose grass along with it as it moved. The chasers who had been previously standing in the road appeared to have wised up and moved on. Now it was just Marcus, myself, Conor and the power-steeringless Ford, getting ready to punch through the other side. I managed to start a Facebook live feed, though the movement of the car rendered the intense movement of the clouds nearly undetectable on the screen.

why yes, i do kiss my mother with this mouth.

Just as quickly as our adventure with this particular meso began, it ended, as we popped out safely on the other side with little to show for it besides a cool memory and somewhat questionable quality video. I wish we’d have been able to stop so I could have captured that motion much more accurately; unfortunately, considering it was a meso we were tangoing with, we didn’t have the time nor any safe spot to stop. I do not suggest stopping when you’re driving through a rapidly rotating mesocyclone. (Writer’s note: Marcus insists this was actually a tornado and that we joined the zero meter club with this one. I’m not so sure. Either way, don’t try this at home, kids)

The next hour was somewhat uneventful; following a dying storm took us up into Nebraska. I was excited; I’d never chased Nebraska before and it had been a long running joke that I never would, since it hadn’t happened already. Well, today it was happening.

And was it EVER.

Very quickly after we arrived past the Nebraska state line, we trained our eyes on a young-ish storm brewing between our position and over on the Colorado side. We decided immediately that this was our next play, and the first order of business would be to core punch it and get to the other side.

This was a terrible idea.

It wasn’t long before we were assaulted by a barrage of hail- very, very large hail, which kept increasing in size with every foot forward that we drove. Marcus slowed down to a crawl and, spotting an overpass ahead of us already clogged with motorists blocking the highway, we had no choice but to stop.

Marcus backed carefully into the group of parked cars, taking care not to get too close to anyone. We were just about beneath the overpass, though the windshield and hood of the car were sticking out. Oh well. This would have to do; these people weren’t going to budge, and that aside, this hail-

CRACK.

An incredibly loud sound rang out, echoing in the car and sounding eerily similar to a shotgun blast. Before we realized what was going on, there was another. And another.

The windshield cracked all the way across in response this time: it was more large hail. Absolutely, incredibly, ridiculously large hail. We’re talking baseballs, and then softballs, and then goddamn GRAPEFRUIT sized stones. Marcus instinctively layed his arm across my chest and raised a hand protectively, trying to shield my eyes in the event that the windshield caved in.

“Careful,” he said, concern in his voice. “If this windshield goes, your eyes could go with it.” I told him I was alright and didn’t need the extra arm; instead I put my hand over my eyes with the fingers slightly spread so I could keep looking as the hail became louder and even more intense. Next year, remind me to bring some goggles.

Each behemoth ice boulder produced an incredibly loud sound upon impact. The windshield cracked further. Were we going to lose it today, finally, after so many close calls?

We didn’t exactly have time to think about that, though, as very suddenly two headlights pierced through the zero-visibility tempest – and they were coming straight for us.

It was a large, black Dodge Ram, and it was coming up the wrong way. It continued toward us at the same speed with no effort to slow down. All three of us braced for impact. This wasn’t going to be good.

I remember saying something like “Oh God damn-” and closing my eyes just as I was expecting the hit. But, none came. I opened one eye and then the other, carefully, to see that the truck had somehow seen us as the very last moment and stopped, its grill nearly kissing Marcus’s front bumper. We hadn’t seen its headlights until it was nearly too late; we assume that he hadn’t seen us at all up until the last moment as well.

Once we were able to catch our breath and stop the endless stream of profanity we were unleashing in the moments after realizing we’d been spared, we noticed that the hail was easing up, so we decided to move forward and try to get in front of this storm just to check out what we were looking at here.

This was the best decision we could have possibly made.

This entry is already lengthy, so I won’t get too crazy into the play by play; as we inched further and further out in front of the cell, every glance backward proved to be even more incredible than the last. The cell had taken on the mothership shape that is the stuff of chaser legend; it was becoming striated and becoming more and more organized with every moment.

Finally, Marcus stopped the car. We all piled out and, upon looking up to check out the structure of the storm we totally just almost got killed in, I was washed away.

I was washed away not in the literal sense, but figuratively. According to Marcus, the expression on my face as I stared at the goliath beauty before us was something he’d wished he’d taken a photo of. Undeniably in awe, he said.

He wasn’t wrong.

You guys. You GUYS. This was insane. Like a stack of pancakes sculpted by the hands of Michelangelo himself , this particular cell took on absolutely incredible striations; the colors in the sky from the setting sun created a tranquil atmosphere of blues, greens, and even some purples. The Nebraska landscape was dwarfed in comparison to this monster.

It was the single most incredible, awesome, humbling thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life.

The fact that this was even a possible thing on this planet blew me away. I had only ever seen storm structure like this in photos and maybe in dreams, but here it was- right in front of me- presenting itself to me at its first opportunity.

A new acquaintance, whom I’d been sharing some light conversation and good jokes with via Snapchat for a few weeks prior- a chaser by the name of Brett Wright- was there with the tour group he was accompanying our mutual friend Mike Olbinksi in running. He and I were both busy geeking alllllllllll the way out, but as this was literally the first time we’d ever met in person we at least did do one of those jumping/flying high fives before going on our respective ways to stay ahead of this beast.

are you fuckin serious i can’t what even

To capture the moment forever, I needed to get a photo with it. I snapped this on my phone, somewhat carelessly; all I wanted was to remember that I had been there for the Imperial, Nebraska structurefest of 2019. I took a quick selfie, which quickly was shared among my friends on Facebook and beyond.

This is what pure freedom feels like.

I’ll cherish that photo forever, I think. Hell, the whole day was crazy and the stuff that we as chasers hope for every time we go out.

We watched this beast over Imperial, Nebraska, for what felt like entirely too little time. Eventually, it became outflow dominant and began its dying process. That was alright; it had been a hell of a day, and now it was time to get some rest.

We chose the motel we’d be crashing at later that night; it was about an hour away, so we had some time to really absorb the day’s events. As we were driving, we noticed a thunderstorm off in the distance with nearly constant lightning lighting up the night sky like a natural strobe. We decided to watch it for a while, turning off the highway onto a remote dirt road and following it for a mile or two before stopping to take it all in.

You ever have one of those moments in life, totally unplanned, that feels like part of a movie? That’s what this was.

The three of us sat in silence on that dirt road, watching this storm light up the night. Above us, thousands of stars glimmered and a light breeze kicked up. The radio began to play “Fade Into You”, by Mazzy Star, and in those moments everything was exactly as it should be. It had been a hell of a day, and I had spent it with some of the best people I could have ever asked to spend it with. Life was perfect, at least for a little while.

It’s times like that out in the great plains that I live for. It’s not just about the storms; it’s about the company, the times when everything falls perfectly into place. It’s about the camaraderie and the silliness, the memories that we’ll all keep forever.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Marcus took a photo of me sitting in peaceful silence, watching the storm in the distance. I will cherish this image for the rest of my life; it’s these little unplanned, unscripted moments that mean the most to me. I’m glad I have a copy of this one.

Until next time!

a hell of a foursome- may 28.2019

You guyyyyssss I know I know I’m so bad at this damn blogging thing and I’m sorry okay I’m just super busy with momming and working full time and just life in general BUT

The great news is that with my downtime at work, I’m able to just do whatever I feel like doing, and this affords me lots of time to work on this blog, work on my self-promotion and networking and re-work old photos for re-release. I’ve been at it a week and the difference is fabulous.

Anyway, today I tell the story of May 28, 2019; it was a day for the records for sure. On this day, we encountered not one, not two, not even three tornadoes, but four- and three of them were on the ground all at once at one point. Man, that was something.

The day began as it usually did on a spring chase trip; I rolled out of bed somewhere in southeast Nebraska the morning after an incredible day with the most insane storm structure I’d ever seen in my life. It was almost like all of us- Marcus, Conor and myself- had a happiness hangover from how badass it was. I shook the sleep out of my hair and got up to check out model runs, surface obs, the SPC and other tools to work on a forecast.

oh no not another moderate risk no waaayyyy so terrible ugh pull my armmmm

Marcus was way ahead of me. He was already digging into his forecast for the day and I, still exhausted, was more than happy to be a lazy-ass and let him do it.

The SPC had issued a rainbow of color for their Day 1 outlook; in bright red was a moderate risk area over southeast Nebraska and northeast Kansas. Surrounding that was an array of orange, yellow and greens, all communicating what kind of hazard (aka fun) we could be encountering today.

It looked sexy.

Marcus decided that we were going to head to Kansas today. I was alright with that and after looking over his forecast I absolutely agreed that it was solid. This day started off very slowly; I was dragging ass and Marcus and Conor were up to their usual shenanigans. We were perched at a rural gas station, playing the chasers’ favorite game called the Hurry Up and Fucking Wait game. Conor sent me a Snap of himself and Marcus playing “dueling farts” in the restroom.

I briefly wondered to myself, “Why are men?”

At 1:55pm CDT, the SPC issued a tornado watch for our area and parts of Missouri. Oh nooo, we all thought. Not another day with another tornado watch. How terrible. So awful. I think it had been, what, eleven days straight so far of pure chasing? Aw, damn.

Heh.

i am a godless heathen and i will not crop my screenshots wanna fight about it

Lazing at the gas station certainly didn’t help my fatigue; though I’d slept well the night before, eleven straight days of being on the road still took its toll on my energy levels. That would be remedied within a few hours, though.

I amused myself by being an asshole to Marcus. It was fun. I found an ashtray called a BUTT BUCKET and told him it was his name for the rest of the day.

Finally, initiation began within driving distance at around 2:30pm. Off we went. Time to get to work.

We watched the sky darken en route to the first developing supercell of the day. Storms were beginning to pop up left and right; which one would be our first contender?

The answer to that came as we approached Osborne, KS. In the distance, there was a large tornado in progress already. As it approached the town of Waldo, KS, a new, large wedge took its place, and holy shit y’all it was intense.

Another chaser, Shaun Piegdon, got a great photo of the Waldo wedge.

Image (c) Shaun Piegdon 2019. Check him out at EpicSkies.net.

The wedgebeast didn’t last long, however, and as it began transitioning from wedge to stovepipe and finally to its rope-out phase, we realized that a second tornado was on the ground.

Except this second tornado was riiiight beside us, next to the road, tearing up and throwing grass stalks all over the place, including on us. It wasn’t fully condensed, so we hadn’t seen it yet until it was right there.

I went live on Facebook just as the tornadoes disappeared behind some trees, but they didn’t stay hidden for long. The grass debris raining down is all over the video, and I love it.

Facebook Livestream 05/28/2019. I was kinda stoked ngl

During the filming of this livestream, the younger tornado crossed the road directly in front of us. As we watched it churn off into a field to our left, the previously mighty Waldo wedge was a spaghetti string rope, breathing its last breaths, but it was still going. As cool as that was, this other tornado was gaining strength and although it wasn’t fully condensed it was definitely on the ground, continuing to hurl grass and small rocks at us.

As it moved into left field (heh), we suddenly realized that HOLY SHIT THERE WAS ANOTHER ONE. THERE WAS NOW THREE TORNADOES ON THE GROUND AT ONCE ARE YOU FKING SERIOUS WHAT

The celebration among us was epic. Hooting and hollering and ripping down the road you’d have thought we were a merry band of rednecks taking a joyride with the General Lee. Nope, just a bunch of professional dumbasses living the dream.

The first tornado dissipated and left the other two to it. We were able to get out of the car at this point and really take it in; the second tornado was now roping out, weakening substantially, as the third off in the distance was gaining momentum. Quietly but ever so excited about it, we watched the second one dissipate and focused out attention onto the third.

It had grown into quite beauty. Ghost white and dancing behind the parent storm, it had a healthy glow to it and didn’t appear to be picking up any debris other than more grass.

Back into the car and after it we went.

Butt Bucket (sigh, okay, Marcus) pulled onto a well-kept dirt road and we barrelled toward it. There wasn’t much time left; we could tell. It was weakening by the second. There wasn’t time to stop and get set up, so I fired off some shots from the car window. Most of them are, of course, blurry as hell but at least one turned out nicely.

Look how purdy it was!

As quickly as it had intensified, it dissipated, abandoning a wisp of condensation and grass in its place.

The three of us were stunned. Three tornadoes on the ground at once, and for a much longer duration than the famous Dodge City triplets. I was no longer salty about missing out on that one.

Visually, the storms were already beginning to lose steam. Chances were high that we’d see no further action today, so we called the chase and decided to go have dinner and high five each other for an hour straight. Marcus nailed that forecast. He’s the type of chaser who enjoys the “high risk, high reward” types of chases and today we’d taken a risk and we’d been generously rewarded. There were hardly any other chasers out where we were at all; it was us, the storm, and a black Ford covered in so many hail dents that it resembles a golf ball.

Four tornadoes in an hour.

Nuts.

A dying storm in the distance reflected the setting sun and turned to stunning cream and pink; we decided to stop at this beautiful, rural field to watch it for a while. It was, as I called it, the most Kansas field ever.

Breaking news: Kansas is flat.
obligatory “today kicked ass” selfie
i dont know okay
marcus and myself looking like snaccs

Considering that I was scheduled to fly home to Phoenix on June 1, this would be our last chase of the trip together (this ended up changing very shortly after this, when Marcus had an unexpected family emergency and was unable to drop me off in Dallas. I ended up staying an additional three days, which was fine because hey, 72 more hours of the plains). We decided to celebrate at a local pub with junk food.

During our conversation it came up that I’d never had a man buy me a drink at a bar and that I was pretty sure that trope was bullshit. Marcus said, “You know what? Ima be the first man to buy you a drink. What do you want?”

I had a shot of Jack.

We held up our drinks to toast a hell of a season and a hell of a day. To us, to next year, to the years to come.

nostrovia.

And now, I’m going to close this with a completely out-of-context quote said that day by Marcus; I wrote down some of the ridiculous shit that was said on this trip as it happened, but intentionally left out any context because honestly it’s way funnier that way. So, without further ado, we close this entry with:

“It’s like the magic schoolbus, but in my ass.”

Don’t even ask me what the hell the context was there. I don’t remember. Lol.

Stay sick!

will the real tori jane please stand up

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