2009

Here is an archive of my 2009 Storm Chase Journal and Photo Gallery.

April 25, 2009

For some reason, I woke up early this morning and checked SPC to see what was going on for the day. There was a real good chance of storms in the TX panhandle and western Oklahoma. By 8 am, we were on the road.

The vehicle I was using was not configured for storm chasing, so we battled the setup the entire way across to Amarillo. In Amarillo, it became apparent that we were not going to catch the action for the day. However, the next day was looking good for the same area, so we decided to call it a night in Elk City, OK and troubleshoot some of the equipment. After dinner at Denny’s, I worked on a few of the radios for hopes of chasing on Sunday. We did snap a few photos of the storms today as they drifted eastward:

April 26, 2009

We woke up under some cloud cover, and found morning convection firing south of us. We decided to go ahead and chase it, as long as we didn’t get suckered into chasing out of the afternoon chase area. As it turns out, the morning convection was pretty severe, and we circled it, and headed north for the higher potential in the afternoon.

One big complaint: Don’t pass people on a double line. I don’t care if you are an uber-cool storm chaser. The amount of rude drivers today was amazing. Chase safely- if you have to drive like a maniac to get to the storm, you busted your forecast.

Anyway, the best intercept of the day was near Vici, OK, and it wasn’t super photogenic:

After a frustrating day, we had dinner at Montana Mike’s in Clinton, OK and spent the night in Amarillo, TX, headed home.

[Edit: May 20 through 29, I led the New Mexico Tech Meteorology and Storm Chase Club on a storm chase tour. Here is some of the information about that chase vehicle.]

Vehicle: 2001 Chevrolet Suburban 4WD

Communication Equipment: Yaesu FT-7800 (for VHF/UHF), Yaesu FT-857D (for HF), Yaesu VX-7R, Icom 281H (ARPS) to Tiny Trak3 and Garmin Etrex, Radio Shack Pro95 Scanner, laptop with Autonet Mobile Wi-Fi Service

Data Acquisition Equipment: National Instruments (NI) SCXI-1000 Chassis with NI SCXI-1300 Module reading two K-type thermocouples with LabVIEW 8.5

Web Cam: Sunglass lens electrical taped to some cheap camera connected to a laptop running TinCam

May 20, 2009

Today is the first day of chasing for the official 2009 storm chase. The pattern could not be much bleaker than it is. There are no dynamics in the United States, no moisture, thanks to a blocking low in the Gulf of Mexico, and little hope of tornadoes for the foreseeable future.

Given this pattern, our best bet is somewhere around the WY/NE/SD tristate area, making today a travel day. We intended to stop around Denver or Fort Collins for the night.

Even though all systems were running last night, all systems are down today. The APRS track stopped somewhere outside of Socorro, the internet stopped soon after. The thermocouple program I wrote in LabVIEW gives me a blue screen o’death, and the webcam suddenly has no drivers. Ugh.

We first stopped in Santa Fe, NM for lunch, took our first group photo and ate lunch at the Long John Silvers. I think this crew is going to work out, as everyone is laid back and has war stories of sorts to tell.

Our next stop was in Raton, NM, as I really needed to stretch my legs and wake up a little. As it turns out, Bobby Edmonds was returning to Las Cruces from Colorado, bummed out at the slim chance of storms for the next two weeks. I think he said he was giving up and going to a beach in California. We chatted at a Dairy Queen for a few minutes before both parties got on the road again.

We ate dinner at a Boston Market in downtown Denver. It was a little hard to find, thanks to the poor parking lot design. We had a good meal and discussed dorm life and pranks that may or may not have been played.

After discussing our options, we decided to make a long first day and pushed on to Cheyenne, WY, where we stayed in a Days Inn just outside of town. Cheyenne might be the cleanest city I have ever seen, there was almost no litter anywhere.

May 21, 2009

We woke up to a rainy and chilly day in Cheyenne. There were no storms forecasted for the day, so we lingered around town, stopping at the Wyoming State Capitol Building and taking photos there.
Lunch was a tasty meal at Olive Garden there in Cheyenne. After lunch, we returned to the capitol building and split up, with part of the group visiting a museum and the rest doing other things on the plaza. I managed to get a few QSOs for Laramie county WY. I attached a few photos:

After the museum and train depot closed, we headed towards Lusk, WY for the evening. Along the way, the fuel gauge stopped working, but we checked to make sure the tank was not leaking. We averaged ~400 miles on a tank, so I just set the trip odometer and kept watch on our miles.

We stopped at the one of the few hotels in Lusk and had dinner at the Outpost Cafe. Not a bad place, which was good because it was the only place at 10:30 at night.

May 22, 2009

Once again, there was little threat for storms. The Black Hills area was our best bet, but it would make for a rugged chase.

Before we left town, we stopped in at the Stage Coach Museum in Lusk. It was quite a nifty place, having photos from the past 100 years, as well as artifacts from the pioneers. It was only $1 to get in, and it was money well spent.

After leaving the Lusk, we headed into South Dakota, towards Rapid City. Because the threat was so low today, we figured we would dodge the rain and go to Mt. Rushmore, as four of the five of the group had never seen it. The park was very well orchestrated in that you had to pay $10 to see anything at all. However, we paid up and got into the park. Once inside, I snapped a few pictures:

We left Mt. Rushmore towards Rapid City for the evening. I picked up a few counties on 20 meters in South Dakota.

In Rapid City, we met up with a friend of one of the chasers, who recommended an Indian Restaurant (Curry Marsala) in Rapid City. We ate there. I must say, the owners were hilarious, cracking jokes. The business was family run and their son was a double major in Mechanical and Materials Engineering. I recognized the ‘Iron and Steel Technology’ Journal on the magazine rack and fired up a conversation with him.

We spent the night at the Lazy-U hotel, and hoped for better (or worse) weather tomorrow.

May 23, 2009

I managed to get the webcam working today. I think the problem is actually the thermocouple reader. The program seems to give me the blue screen o’ death, probably due to bad data from the GPS. What a pain! Anyway, the camera works just fine, and it snaps photos every 90 seconds.

Today shows a spark of hope in the forecast. I targeted Imperial, NE, though it will be quite a run to get there. SD was overcast, so we needed to get south out of that mess to where there would be daytime heating.

I picked up a few more counties in SD and NE. This trip has been slow for the county hunting, partially because of the weather, partially because I have already run many of the counties already.

Headed south, we stopped at a Walmart in Chadron, NE for lunch. Surprisingly, the Walmart lunch was pretty good. There, we spied several Vortex 2 trucks, headed the same direction we were.

We pulled over for gas in Oshkosh, NE, along NE 26. A group from University of Michigan told us that a tornado had been reported near North Platte. I was not convinced, but either way, I still figured near Imperial was the better conditions.

We made it about as far as Grant, NE, where a cell was moving northwest towards us. We took the opportunity to stop and take some photos as it approached:

At Ogallala, we stopped and reevaluated. From there, we decided to go south towards an approaching cell. The cell was moving slowly to the northwest, so it took us a few minutes to get our bearings as to where to be on this particular storm. We met up with it just north of Grant, NE and watched it for a few minutes. As the precipitation core started to approach, we headed north to Ogallala, and reevaulated again. Noticing the storm was starting to go linear, we headed west, hoping to catch another discrete cell before it joined the line.

We continued along I-80, and took the I-76 split into CO. We dropped south on US-385 and then west out of Holyoke, CO as the line continued to produce more rain, and less severe warnings. Based on this, we turned around and decided to spend the night in Holyoke, CO.

The Burge Hotel in Holyoke was built in 1887, and was undergoing some remodeling, but not enough to lose the original charm. What a neat place! We ate dinner at ‘The Skillet’ and then a few of us went to shoot pool at a local establishment.

May 24, 2009

After a breakfast buffet at ‘The Skillet’, we left Holyoke headed north up US 385 towards the SD/NE/WY tristate area.

In rural Nebraska, we made a brief stop at the Car Henge:

I managed to pick up a few more counties in Nebraska, and once we arrived in Chadron, we ate lunch at the Walmart again and trekked west.

Today ended up being frustrating, as no storms were severe, but rainy blobs went up everywhere. At one point, we were in a doughnut hole of sunshine where there was rain in all directions. We drove through Lusk and headed towards Rapid City, yet again. This time it was a raining mess, with pea-sized hail mixed in. We stopped for a few minutes to let the worst of the precipitation pass, though a few brave motorcyclists did not.

A quick dinner at Quiznos and we were back on the road, stopping for the night in Wall, SD. While in Wall, the mess that had been spawned throughout the day drifted through as a squall line:

May 25, 2009

No trip to South Dakota would be complete without a trip to Wall Drug in Wall, SD. They have everything, literally. It’s like a block of unadulterated American capitalism, and it made me happy.

We had to make a choice today. We could either chase similar storms into North Dakota, and then start the trek home, or we could chase nothing today and head south to Texas for tomorrow’s setup. Neither looks super promising.

We decided to head south. I drove east on I-90 until we got to US-83. We stayed on US-83 all the way to Liberal, KS. Throughout that trip, we ended up driving down a squall line, and it rained almost the entire way.

In Oakley, KS, we tried to get dinner at a truck stop, only to find they did not have power. We ended up stopping at a Wendy’s in Scott City, KS, and then spending the night at the Ranch Hotel in Liberal.

We managed to capture a few radar images along the way:

May 26, 2009

Today was our first warm day on the trip. So far, we’ve woke up a bit chilly every single day. Today it was warmer and humid, with some light cumulus clouds in the sky as far as the eye can see. These were good signs.

We left Liberal, KS and headed south towards Childress, TX along US-83. We stopped at a Dairy Queen for lunch and reevaluated the situation. It was pretty obvious we needed to get southeast. I targeted Denton, TX, only because I didn’t think we could make it east of Dallas in time.

After a few hours of diving, I saw a cluster of storm chase vehicles at a rest stop; it was my old friends from Virginia Tech! We stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes. They invited us to tag along, and handed us an FRS radio to keep in touch. Because we had been experiencing trouble off and on with our Autonet Mobile Wireless Router, we accepted and followed them a bit west into Jack County, TX.

The Jack County storm fell apart, and the biggest storm around was headed into Dallas. Nobody wanted to chase in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. VT was about to give up and call it a night, and we were about to start trekking east when one of the VT students yelled ‘It’s splitting!!!’ Sure enough, the Dallas cell split, and there was a left mover headed our direction. We loaded back up and headed to a rural area just southwest of Decatur, TX, along FM-51. From here, we got to see the cell pass over the road in front of us:

For a few minutes, this cell had a rotating wall cloud. As we watched, there was a warm burst of wind (a warm rear-flank downdraft!) and a clear slot opening. Despite these classic signs, the storm did not tornado. The precipitation core was starting to approach us, so we made a U-turn and headed northeast on US-287. Soon, we heard reports of golf-ball sized hail near Decatur, so we bailed just in time! After a few minutes of driving, we stopped again to take a peek:

Eventually, we left there and somehow (due to some windy back roads) looped behind the storm and watched it spiral its way north as the sun was setting.

The action for the next day was going to be much farther south, as this frontal boundary meandered towards the Mexico border. Based on this, we decided to get south of the Dallas area, rather than having to deal with it the next morning. We had a quick dinner at an IHOP, and ended the night in Ennis, TX.

Dad was able to grab a few radar images throughout this chase. Thanks Dad!!!

May 27, 2009

Today was an exceptionally frustrating day. Between the late night last night and the issues getting on the road this morning, things weren’t as they should be. However, we pressed on, as we needed to get west of San Antonio today.

We ended up trying to chase in the Hill Country of Texas. We kept trying to get to the southeast of a few developing cells, but it was like chasing in the mountains. You could only see the storms on the peaks, and there was nowhere to stop and evaluate. We flew completely by radar and the road atlas, only to find that most of the roads were merely paved switchbacks and we could not keep up the speed we needed. We crawled along at like 15 mph many times.

We finally gave up the chase, opting to turn in a little earlier in a major city, San Antonio.

May 28, 2009

Not a whole lot going on today. We spent some time getting part of the way back to Socorro and chasing “lightly” should storms develop.

We left San Antonio on I-10 and headed towards Sonoroa, as it was in a slight risk area. It looked like the largest threat was hail. We ate lunch at a steakhouse there and then headed north to San Angelo.

In San Angelo, we evaluated the storm threat and decided it was better to head towards Brownfield for the night, a probably half-way point between San Antonio and Socorro.

May 29, 2009

Today marks the end of our chase. There’s plenty I would do again, and plenty I would change for next year.

We left Brownsfield at around 9:15 am, and after making a brief stop in Roswell, pushed on to Carrizozo to eat our last lunch as a group at the Four Winds Cafe. Finally a patty melt with green chile!

We arrived at around 3 pm and unloaded, formally concluding storm chase 2009!

June 13, 2009

We were at the Defeat Autism Now! conference in Norman, OK when a moderate risk was raised for western OK and the eastern TX panhandle and northern TX. After the conference, around 5, we heard people saying there was a tornado 4 miles west of Norman. Obviously, the people there did not know the difference between a tornado warning and a tornado watch box, as a watch had just been issued.

We fueled up and headed south west towards Lawton, OK. There was a cell in northern TX that was moving northeast, and it had a nice hook. Unfortunately for our chase, the cell was along a stationary front and was only moving approximately 4 miles an hour, meaning our interception would be well after dark. At Lawton, we doubled back and called it a night.

June 14, 2009

We left Norman, OK headed back home. We were under a moderate risk, and soon a tornado watch box. We basically stayed on I-40 on the way back, stopping somewhere near McLean, TX to take these photos:

After a few stops, we continued on towards home, pushing through a nasty squall line that had developed at the NM/TX border:

This concludes the 2009 Storm Chase!

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