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Friday, June 05, 2009

TORNADO CHASE: Week 2;day 5


We arrived in Limon, Colorado to use the facilities, eat some lunch, and stock up on beer. I have to say, when Limon says they have a travel plaza, they aren't fucking around. A massive complex of stores and eateries awaits the weary traveler. The national Weather Service vehicle with the crazy looking weather gadgets on the roof of the vehicle and US government license plate sat in the parking lot, its weather vane spinning ominously. Some in group speculated that it was a part of Vortex II. Our group head past some more storm chasers to have some lunch at Denny's.

During lunch, I discovered that 2 out of 3 people in my chase vehicle were Second Lifers. Funny how things work out, huh? But, true to my word, I won't be telling who they are... and they won't be sharing photos or info about me. Just goes to show that it is indeed a small grid... erm, world.

Anyway, everyone was about half finished with lunch when we got the word. We quickly paid up and exited the Denny's and there it was, to the west, and nice super cell. Rotation in the cell had been reported. We loaded up, loaded the vehicles, and began to chase.

We parked on the side of the road when we got in a good viewing position. Again, we saw storm chasers all around. While we were peppered with rain, a look at the doppler radar showed us this storm was not very organized, and was breaking up. We decided to head to another cell that was forming and gathering energy.

On the way, a few folks had to use the restroom. So we drove through the storm we were going to observe to Kiowa, CO to find a pit stop. During the drive through the storm, the temperature dropped from around 74 degrees to 50 degrees in under 3 miles. The supercooled rain began to pound the car, followed by slushy pea sized hail that was large enough and cold enough to fog up the windows of the vehicle for a few seconds every time it hit the windshield.

In Kiowa, I splurged on munchies buying my first bottle of soda in the entire time since I left Reno. I also bought some munchies such as chipotle cheddar party mix, garlic rye crisps, and a peanut butter chocolate ice cream cone. I only say this, because I have been in vehicles every day for the majority of two weeks now and have tried to be good and not eat junk, but it didn't even matter.

Combine the nonstop vehicle travel and the obvious lack of exercise with the fact that I have quit smoking in the last couple months and am almost off the nicotine patch and I can tell you my "figure" is wrecked. OK, my beer drinking doesn't help, either. The seat belt accentuates my beer belly and it feels like my pants are cutting off the circulation in my legs. Sorry for sharing, but southern/Midwestern food combined with non stop vehicle travel does have some effects, and I do fear that as cool as this trip has been, it will be quite the ordeal to get back to my fighting weight when this is over. And much like you, I am not getting any younger ;)

As we were leaving the gas station in Kiowa, a woman asked us if we were storm chasing (obviously not bothering to read the signs on all the vehicles.) We confirmed and she said we were obvious as pretty much all 16 of us were staring at the sky. She actually exhibited a trait that locals seem to share when the storm chasers arrive in their towns. I expected them to curse us and view us like a bad omen; a black cat crossing their path. I couldn't have been more incorrect as many people were very excited to see us and more than happy to share their experiences with us. I also will say, just once, that a "Tornado Chaser" sign on a vehicle is a better chick magnet than walking the cutest puppy dog in the world. Nuff' Said.

Back on the chase, we got into position to view the next supercell. Again, we were just up the street from more storm chasers. I got some nice video as I am now starting to get a feel for taping weather and retaining the elements that i want to retain. I try to keep a high shutter speed for details and it is often a battle between iris size and shutter speed. The real difficult part of weather video is the rapid and drastic shifts in light. Even in the same frame half of the scene can be bright as a sunny day and the other half can be dark as night. Capturing the details of the clouds while retaining the beautiful colors has proven to be the biggest challenge... but getting that shot has proven to be immensely rewarding. Even though we have had no tornadoes at this point, he experience has been invaluable and I will certainly leave with excellent experience in a new facet of my craft.

Again, the storm was unorganized and began to break apart. There were 2 cells very close together that we were deciding where to view from. The lack of roads and the fact that the 2 cells were so close together posed a problem as the storms would be difficult to view. We made a decision and moved out to an old dirt farm road and parked across from a group of cows. One of the meteorologists decided to go pet the cows, which could have ended unwell as right before he passed the 2nd fence to approach the cows, the bull poked out of the middle of the herd, and aggravated, herded the females together with his horns while he snorted at our meteorologist.

We moved further down the road to view the next, more hidden cell and stopped at a dirt road cross roads. Several farmers passed us in their truck, and much to my surprise, waved at us enthusiastically as they passed. I expected an ass full of buckshot, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The last cell on radar completely broken apart, we moved towards Kansas for our lodging.

Goodland, KS was our destination, and we found the only place we could have dinner; "Crazy R's." A local legend, this place was large with a variety of bottled beers and "pops," steaks, and interesting specialties such as "Chicken Fried Bacon." As much as I love bacon, I went with the Crazy R burger. Deep fried pickles and Texas toothpicks started us off right. The dining room was decorated with strange antiques lining the walls, corners, and hanging from the ceilings.

The owner, "Crazy Rod," even came out of the kitchen to pay us a visit. When we remarked that his long, grey hair looked like the hair of one of our clients, he remarked that it wasn't even his real hair, it was just stapled to his hat. He also shared with us that the only place hair grew on his body was his ass, and that it was like a forest down there.

We politely thanked him, paid, and left. We moseyed on to another quiet night at our Comfort Inn. The final two days of the chase season looked to have great potential. We would be chasing through Colorado again, Kansas, and possibly Nebraska. These final two days would hold the best chance of the entire season to see what we all came for...

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