STORM CHASING USA 2011

Distance driven today: 718kms | Total so far: 8667kms

After such a successful Tuesday, today was very disappointing. Potential and expectation were high, so disappointment was probably likely! Several tornadoes touched down around the place but for the 700+ kms of driving we did, we saw very little.

...apart from the freshest, yummiest and cheapest burgers we've had in the US so far, from a tiny town somewhere north of Woodward:

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The hot spot ran from central Kansas, south-west to NW Oklahoma, so we proceeded to Pratt, Kansas and waited.

In the town, we spotted many vehicles with Storm Chasing logos splashed on their sides, people on laptops at fast food joints, and tourists with cameras around their necks peering into the sky. Encountering so many other storm chasers felt very bizarre to me and cheapened my chasing experience a little... making it just a little bit less special. I'm sure I'll get used to it. It's always an interesting taking point with the locals.

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Then we spotted our first explosion of cumulus to our SE:

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We took off in its direction, but then suddenly the sky was erupting to our SW!

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With activity moving NNE at around 50kmh, continuing on didn't seem sensible, so we decided to turn around and stay ahead of our new SW cell.

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The sky looked promising, but this storm was weakening. After a bunch of driving around in circles, we finally got radar access and discovered a line to its W was intensifying, so we shot north again.

Some weird mountain-looking lenticular clouds on the horizon caught my attention:

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Unfortunately, there was a danger of hitting some of the rain from this new line so we looked for a road W so stay out of it. We then spotted another more 'sophisticated' chase vehicle:

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Looking for a W road, we ended up on a terrible dirt road that led to dead end. With the rain and storms approaching (and nothing at all visible that was worth photographing) our only exit was to head S again, then around W and back to the N. Fifty kms on our merry journey, and the line was partly collapsing and heading N. Unfortunately (again), our best plan was to U-turn and re-do those 50 kms again to get to where we originally planned. All of this faffing about took us a long time and ultimately killed our chances of seeing anything decent from this storm... apart from a nice sun photo perhaps.

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Then we encountered the ultimate chase vehicle: Sean Casey's TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) featured on the Discovery Channel show Storm Chasers. On a previous season of this series, Sean Casey was shooting IMAX footage for his film Tornado Alley which has just been released in the US and is coming to Australia around October this year, I believe.

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Seeing him driving in the opposite direction was not a good sign for us, but after heaps of low level cloud blocking our view, we were finally approaching our storm just N of Salina in Kansas where we could actually see something.

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Despite spotting several other chase vehicle driving away, my first glimpse of a US storm base had me a little excited and I really wanted a decent view. To think that a tornado was still possible out of this thing was very exciting for me!

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Of course, it amounted to nothing and by now it was getting dark. Still red on radar, it was most suprising to not get any lightning flashes out of it: we were even deprived of a light show.

We hung around, desperately wanting something to happen, but it never did.

Quite coincidentally, when we pulled up to our hotel in nearby Salina, we discovered the TIV had done the same.

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I even bumped into it's builder and owner, Sean Casey in the motel lobby, but was too gutless to introduce myself to him!

Perhaps if we follow him tomorrow, we might have more luck.