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468x60tornado2000.gif (4792 bytes)

 

The
tornado

chasers

20000517cloud300.JPG (12456 bytes)
Chasing storms in Nebraska puts the team under a dark cloud - but no tornado. (Bill Steigerwald - Post-Gazette)

Day 6 - May 18
Surveying the damage
Brady, Nebraska - 2 p.m. CDT

At what's left of Brad and Janine Stickelman's brick house, the path of the yesterday's malevolent tornado is easy to track. It came from the southeast over some low hills, ripping down power lines before slicing across a farmer's field as flat as a desktop.

20000518bsinterview 2-0607.jpg (26769 bytes)
Sue Taylor and her daughter heather being interviewed atop the rubble of their house in Maxwell, Nebraska. (Bill Steigerwald - Post-Gazette)

Lifting enough topsoil to make a quarter-mile brown swath in the green seedlings, it flipped a 300-foot-long sprinkler like a toy, snapping it into several pieces.

It bore down on the Stickelman place like a giant weed whacker, shredding the oasis of cottonwoods and locusts around the house. As the Stickelmans hid in the basement, it yanked off their roof, blew out their windows and reduced their sheds and outer buildings to misshapen balls of heavy-gauge tin foil.

It tore out some more power lines for good measure, then twirled off at 40 mph toward its rendezvous with the the woodframed home of Sue Taylor five miles west.

Chris and Brian, investigated the scene with Allan, Geoff, Nancy and Bill Tabor, the Texan who was still with us. As workmen in a pickup truck dragged the bushy top of a severed cottonwood down the road, they estimated that it was an F-1 on the Fujita Scale. Small but impressive enough for the Stickelmans.

When the tornado made its surprise visit to Sue Taylor's home near the town of Maxwell, she was standing in her front door with her daughter Heather, 22. The only thing Heather had time to do was close her eyes. In the roaring maelstrom of dirt and smashed furniture and household goods, she felt herself being thrown all over the place. When everything stopped she and her mother found themselves with a collapsed house on top of them.

Heather had scratches on her face and bruises and cuts on her legs. Her mother had a small gash near her eye. Her mother's menagerie of farm animals and pets survived, except for Snowball. The goose was found lying dead in a pile of rubble that included five or six smashed automobiles.

When we arrived, a dozen volunteers from the Salvation Army and elsewhere were towing cars away, using a chainsaw to make sense of the downed tree limbs and trying to free Klondike the goose from under a six-foot-tall layer cake of house parts.

Sue and Heather Taylor were retelling their 60 seconds of horror to the local media -- and anyone else who came by -- in great and eloquent detail.

Sue Taylor had no medical or household insurance. The Salvation Army seemed to have everything in hand. But the team, which is naturally sensitive to the victims of tornadoes, decided to give her a check for $200 from the MESO account. Bill Tabor and Geoff each kicked in $40 in cash.

Geoff spent nearly an hour interviewing the Taylors and videoing the extrication of Klondike. He hopes to sell the footage to one of three TV documentary companies he knows of that are looking for "survivor's stories."

The Taylors' stories had all the right elements, he said, speaking with the confidence that comes from having great experience in human disasters of all kinds:

dot.gif (78 bytes)An amazing escape.

dot.gif (78 bytes)Their ability and willingness to explain it to people.

dot.gif (78 bytes)Plus her animals survived and people are into that, said Geoff.

The only missing ingredient, he said, was footage of an actual tornado.

But getting good tornado footage is why he is vacationing in Tornado Alley in the first place. He and the MESO team -- with six days and 2,450 miles of chasing under their hoods -- still have another whole week to capture their twister.

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 6 - May 18
The day after
Homestead Cafe, Gothenburg, Nebraska - 11:30 a.m. CDT

It’s about 45 degrees -- windy and rotten The chase is officially over, at least for this week. The same storm system that destroyed Brad Stickelman’s home near Brady, Neb., yesterday afternoon and generated 27 severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings across Nebraska yesterday is going to hit Missouri, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois later today.

20000517cloud1.JPG (8138 bytes)
The team pauses while chasing the storm system in  Nebraska. (Bill Steigerwald - Post-Gazette)

We could have driven east to these states in time to continue the chase if we had left about three hours ago.

Brian says that it is too far even if they didn’t have to go back to Wichita tomorrow to meet six other members of the MESO team.

They’ll be joining Chris, Brian, Geoff and Nancy for another full week of chasing in Tornado Alley.

After breakfast, we’re going out to what’s left of Stickelman's  home near Brady, about 20 minutes away, after a tornado destroyed it yesterday. It's not for rubbernecking reasons, but because the team can learn about yesterday’s storms. By seeing the damage to a stout brick house, they can estimate the strength of the twister that hit it.

The Fujita Scale, the standard way of measuring the power of a tornado, is a damage scale. The only way you can measure a tornado is to see what man-made things it destroys.

(Complete story on Brad Stickelman)

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
Tornado survivors
Gothenburg, Nebraska 11:33 p.m. CDT

We've abandoned plans to head for Missouri and instead will stay at the Gothenburg Super 8 motel. Also staying here: The Stickelman family of Brady, Neb. Their home and those of three other families in and around Brady were destroyed by a quarter-mile wide twister around 4 p.m. CDT. No one was injured. We saw the storm on radar but couldn't get to it safely. We'll head east tomorrow.

And the steak was terrible.

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
No twister tonight
Gothenburg, Nebraska 9:29 p.m. CDT

The big black cloud just sort of fizzled out. It took off like a giant flying wing to the east, and the decision was made not to pursue it because it was not going to spawn any tornadoes.

After 11 hours of storm chasing, we stopped at the Homestead Cafe in Gothenburg, Neb. We're refueling ourselves 318 miles north of where we started the day in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. It looks like steak for the fourth night in a row here in the heart of Beef Country – an 8 oz. sirloin, salad bar, choice of potato and coffee or tea for $9.50.

After dinner, we’ll drive as far east as we can along I-80, perhaps all the way into Missouri, to get ready for tomorrow’s hunt.

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
As the storm turns
North of North Platte, Nebraska 8:04 p.m. CDT

We are watching an incredible bunch of lighting flashes about 30 miles away. We are still literally under a large black cloud that, according to the radar data pulled down from the Internet using cell phones, is a mesocyclonic cell, which means basically that it’s rotating.

And if it’s rotating, it’s potentially able to create a tornado. There is a chance, but it’s not a real powerful cell. It’s bitter cold still. It’s amazingly cold. It can’t be more than 40 degrees now.

From right to left as far as I can see is a gigantic, charcoal black cloud that fills 160 degrees around me. And actually, the cloud is growing as we look at it. It’s oozing and climbing higher. It’s pretty cool.

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
The storm cells
North of North Platte, Nebraska 7:20 p.m. CDT

The huge wave of dark clouds was what is called a gust front coming through, the temperature fell to 40 degrees outside as it rolled over us – a bitter cold. We crouched in the cars with the heaters on full blast trying to warm up. We’re on a hilltop with wheat-colored grass all around and the team’s looking at their radar screens now. They say there’s another cell farther to the north that we can catch. We heading out now …

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
The storm cells
North of North Platte, Nebraska 7:05 p.m. CDT

We’re on I-83 heading north from North Platte and there’s lightning all over the place, this is a very powerful storm system that we’re heading under.

The team’s decided there’s a cell ahead that we can reach ... there’s lightning from cloud to cloud and cloud to ground and now we see there’s an immense storm cell behind us. I’m trying to see it the rearview mirror better.

It’s huge. The team’s slowing down now. It’s all black from ground to sky here and there’s no light under this --- strangely, it’s not dark --- but there’s no hint of sunlight. We’re on a hill here and we’re coming to a stop now and the storm cell behind us is simply immense, it’s like a giant wave out there. I’m getting out of the car for a better look ...

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
The storm cells
Outskirts of North Platte, Nebraska 6:33 p.m. CDT

We’re leaving the nice weather hole, watching a wall of low, charcoal gray clouds approach … we’re driving right at them, heading to North Platte, Nebraska. We’re rolling along at 85 miles looking to get off I-80 to head north. We're passing North Platte. There’s some lightning and, under the lid of gray clouds you can see a band of clear air. I’m now driving the team’s OZ car with Allan in the back seat and Geoff in the front passenger seat. When we pass under one of the charcoal gray clouds the wind picks up and the temperature drops … and then we’re through it and things become milder again on the other side. We’re taking the next exit now to head out on Route 83.

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
The storm cells

Lexington, Nebraska 5:50 p.m. CDT

We’re 10 miles west of our last position still between the two storm cells. The wind has dropped a little. It’s relatively quiet in this zone … it’s raining a little and there was all kinds of hail here. There’s hail the size of a little baby chocolate Easter eggs scattered in the grass. We can see bad weather north, west and east of us. South, there’s a gap of big white clouds and blue skies. It’s not raining at all right now, but it’s three hours to nightfall and there’s still plenty of ugly weather coming. The team is sorting out the next move, checking the radar reports.

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
The storm cells

Lexington, Nebraska 5:28 p.m. CDT

We’re just at the Lexington exit on I-80 west of Kearney -- we’re are in the middle of two gigantic storm cells and it has started to blow very hard as we’re driving.

Now we’re seeing a gigantic dust storm, it’s lifting a bunch of dirt from a field into the air. And we’re watching very tall cumulus clouds that may contain the start of tornadoes. We’re surrounded by very nasty storms and its blowing 45 - 50 miles an hour as we roll down I-80 west now to circle around the cells in hopes of chasing a tornado. It’s just starting to hit.

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
Tornado warning
Kearney, Nebraska 4:35 p.m. CDT

It's 4:35 p.m. I-80, west of Kearney, Nebraska.

The sun is almost out and there's no rain. The road is dry, and OZ, BASE and TAIL are speeding along in the fast lane at 85 mph straight into the coming storm system.

The team did not stop at a motel for a phone line after all. Bill Tabor's laptop -- which he keeps facing him on his passenger seat as he drives -- showed what Chris said is a profile of a tornado cell about 15 miles to west/northwest of Kearney.

It is hidden behind a line of rain squalls. We can see that storm system to our right as we drive. We're trying to get on its southeast side, which is the safest position to be in when you're chasing tornadoes.

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center    Kansas  weather      Nebraska weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
Tornado warning
Kearney, Nebraska 4:05 p.m. CDT

We’re at a gas station at the I-80 exit in Kearney. It’s 74, windy, and just started to rain lightly. Clouds of many shapes, including towering cumulus thunderstorm clouds, are coming out of the west.

A tornado watch has been issued for Wallace, in Lincoln County, a town 90 miles west of our location. There are severe thunderstorm warnings to our west and north. And the tornado watch for central Nebraska and slice of northern Kansas continues until 8 p.m. Central Time.

And there’s also a tornado warning for central and eastern Kansas, which includes Medicine Lodge – our base until this morning – until 9 p.m.

Brian says that these distant warnings will soon be our own local warnings in Kearney. The team is going to get a phone line in a hotel nearby, check weather and radar data, and plot their next moves.

- Bill Steigerwald

  Storm   Prediction Center         Kansas  weather
Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14


Day 5 - May 17
Tornado warning
Route 10, Southern Nebraska 3:38 p.m. CDT

We are heading north on Route 10 in southern Nebraska, near Kearney, heading for I-80.

Forty minutes ago we crossed into Nebraska on U.S. 281, whizzing past the farm home of Willa Cather, then crawling through the little town of Red Cloud, with red brick paved streets.

Severe weather warnings are starting to be broadcast on the radio. At 3:36 there was a severe thunderstorm warning six ounties to our west and a tornado warning -- meaning that a tornado has been spotted or is on the ground -- has been issued farther to the west, just across the line in Colorado.

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 5 - May 17
Tornado warning
U.S. 36 near Smith Center, Kansas - 2:38 p.m. CDT

We’ve stopped by the side of the road east of Smith Center, Kansas.  Bill Tabor has grabbed a strong cellular signal for his laptop on the front seat of he car and he wants to download the latest weather data. Cellular phone signals are tenuous out here in the middle of the countryside.

We are one mile from the geographical center of the contiguous United States.

We’ve been crossing a broad, gently rolling plateau of short green grasses and dirt brown squares. It’s almost as devoid of humans as a photo by Ansel Adams.

Every 20 minutes we fly past an old Kansas lady crouched over the wheel of a Chevy sedan or a farmer lugging a fat water tank in a pickup truck. Oncoming traffic is so light it’s almost nonexistent. The town of Smith Center, "A Town for all Seasons," has a movie theater on its main street but no stoplights.

As we pass through Smith Center the hot wind is turning the leaves of the trees inside out. Distinct clouds are now hovering on the northwest horizon and bulbous mammatus clouds are hovering right over us. They don’t look particularly ominous but they are sure signs that the atmosphere is unstable and turbulent.

The air feels electric. The sun is starting to make brief appearances. And we find   out from Chris, who is also using a laptop, that at 2:30 p.m. a tornado watch was issued for this area by the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 5 - May 17
Still heading for Nebraska
U.S. 281 north of Osborne, Kansas - 1:37 p.m.
CDT

Osborne and its monogrammed water tower, sidewalks and crazy agri-buildings is 10 miles in our our rear-view mirror.

We’ve gone 192 miles since we didn’t have time for breakfast.

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 5 - May 17
Still heading for Nebraska
I-70 north of Medicine Lodge, Kansas - 12:28 p.m. CDT

We stop at the Total Truck Stop and Café, in Bunker Hill, Kansas, to hook up to a phone line for access to the Internet and weather reports.

20000517concordia2.JPG (20100 bytes)
Chris Howell checks the weather on his laptop, with Allan Detrich, left,  and Brian McNoldy. (Bill Steigerwald - Post-Gazette)

When Brian, Chris and Bill Tabor use a laptop to check the latest weather data, they decide on a more westerly course.

Forget Salina. Forget Concordia.

The new data, especially the loop radar showing the cloud cover parting over western Kansas and Nebraska, convinces them to shift west in their quest for the perfect storm breeding ground.

Brian says everything "looks great for extremely violent weather -- hail, high winds and tornadoes."

We are now backtracking a mile or two on I-70 through Russell, Kansas, yet again. There we’ll dash straight north on U.S. 281 into the sunny underbelly of Nebraska.

We will be passing very close – maybe within a mile or two -- to the geographical center of the contiguous United States – talk about Middle America.

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 5 - May 17
Still heading for Nebraska
I-70 north of Medicine Lodge, Kansas - 11 a.m.
CDT

Hello again Russell, Kansas, boyhood home of Bob Dole.

Goodbye again Russell, Kansas.

We’re now headed east on I-70 toward Salina, Kansas, at a steady 79 mph on cruise control. Before we left the gas station in Great Bend a half-hour ago, Brian used the dusty hood of the Chevy minivan to explain with a map drawn in the dust on the hood just why we are going north.

We need to get on the other side of the warm front that stretches across Kansas from east to west. A cold front angling in from the west like a backward slash on a computer keyboard should spark thunderstorms in southern Nebraska, where conditions are favorable, especially the winds. It should all happen by dinnertime.

Our new flight path is east to Salina on I-70, then straight north on U.S. 81 toward Concordia, Kansas.

We’ve now stopped at the Total truck stop in Bunker Hill, Kansas, where the team hopes to find a phone connection to check the latest weather data on the Internet, using a laptop computer.

 

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 5 - May 17
Heading for Nebraska
U.S. 281 north of Medicine Lodge, Kansas - 10:10 a.m. CDT

With eyes to the gray skies we zoom back up U.S. 281 -- a typically flat, straight two- lane Kansas highway – heading north toward Nebraska, retracing yesterday’s fruitless excursion.

Leaving Medicine Lodge, the clouds were almost as thick and threatening as yesterday. It was gray and muggy and already in the low 70s.

A new chaser, Bill Tabor, has joined us. He drove up overnight from Austin, Texas. Tabor had gone on an uneventful chase one day last May with the team after he and Allan connected on the Internet. Tabors’ Isuzu Rodeo is the last car in our well-synchronized, 78-mph procession.

Allan’s Trooper is setting the fast pace for obvious practical reasons. On his dash are the global positioning gizmo and, more importantly, the ever-vigilant Uniden radar detector.

From the rented Chevy minivan where Chris, Brian and Nancy are, Nancy calls on the two-way radio. She says each vehicle should be given a nickname for communications purposes. Allan’s three suggestions -- Rabbit, Lonneybin and Mad Dog, which Bill Tabor preferred to be called -- are rejected in favor of Oz, Base, and Tail.

A few minutes later, as we approach Great Bend, Tabor gets on the radio to pass on the opinion of his storm-hunting buddies back home in Texas. One of his friends favors the Wichita and northern Oklahoma area.

Another likes southern Nebraska along the Kansas border, which is our destination – and which is where the lightest part of the sky is.

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 5 - May 17
The hunt is on
Leaving Medicine Lodge, Kansas - 8:30 a.m. CDT

To steal a sports cliche, it is game day.

This is the day the chasers have waited a year for.

The day of bad weather and thrills Nancy has daydreamed about all winter as she sold Chryslers in Upstate New York.

The day Brian and Chris know will put their meteorological knowledge to the ultimate test.

20000516looking.JPG (13134 bytes)
Nancy Bose is hoping for a bad weather day. (Bill Steigerwald - Post Gazette)

The day vacationing photojournalists Geoff Mackley and Allan Detrich hope will reward them with spectacular images of one of nature’s most fearsome, most potent and most illusive acts of mayhem.

Tornadoes will show up somewhere in Tornado Alley today. Everyone knows it. The TV weather maps have big red warning blobs in the wheaty gut of America. It happens every May.

Tornadoes are the Uncertainty Principle writ large. They come to Tornado Alley by the dozens each spring. It’s a statistical certainty. A sure probability. Where will they strike? North central Kansas? Southeastern Nebraska. The Oklahoma Panhandle? All of them, none of them, and anywhere else.

What day? What county? What little flat town’s tornado siren will die sounding the alarm? Forget it. That’s why the weathermen splatter those blobs across two and half states that make Pennsylvania look like something Ted Turner owns. That’s why chasers have to be very smart and very lucky to get their Great White Tornado.

Today the boredom ends and the excitement begins. The team members are already packing the cars. No long breakfast at the Indian Grill. Warm and cold fronts are colliding over central Nebraska and Kansas. The jet stream is right. Heat and energy to fuel the coming severe thunderstorms have been building up for days.

Late last night Brian and Chris decided that central Nebraska was going to be the place they should be by late this afternoon. All the ingredients for big storms will be here in central Kansas too. But the cloud cover will be too thick. The sun won’t be able to bake the flatlands to sufficient temperatures.

So long Medicine Lodge. We’re driving north and a little east to near the Nebraska-Kansas border, where it’ll be sunny and hot before nature’s hell hits the fan.

"They’ll be some big -time chasing going on today," promises Brian with big smile.

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 4 - May 16
Good news, bad weather
Medicine Lodge, Kansas -11:30 p.m. CDT

Tomorrow it looks like we're going to be up and finally chasing storms.

Based on Brian and Chris' late night data-checking tells them that the place to be tomorrow afternoon is central Nebraska. We'll probably abandon the friendly folks of Medicine Lodge right after breakfast and go straight north, retracing today's trip.

Too much cloud cover down here, Brian says, and that will keep the surface temperatures from reaching their optimum levels.

Nebraska will be sunny. In other words, in the crazy game of tornado chasing, we'll have to go where it's sunny tomorrow to have a better shot at finding a tornado.

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 4 - May 16
On the road
Hays, Kansas - 6 p.m. CDT

HAYS, Kansas -- At 5:30 p.m., we are in Hays, Kansas, just a few miles west of Bob Dole’s home town of Russell. We are 140 miles north of Medicine Lodge. The sky is a solid, ugly gray. It is muggy and the stiff wind is hot.

The chase team gets a clerk at a Comfort Inn motel to let them use a phone line in one of the empty rooms to check weather sites of the Internet.

The Weather Channel is saying there is a very strong potential for new, severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes in the high plains tonight — specifically the panhandle of Nebraska. That’s what the Internet sites that Chris and Brian are looking also at are saying.

But that is three hours away. By the time they would get there, it would almost be dark. Brian says it is not worth driving north. If tornadoes materialize, they’ll do so at night. You can’t chase tornadoes in the dark.

Tomorrow they have to be back in the Medicine Lodge area, where conditions are looking very, very good for very bad weather. We’re heading back to the Copa Motel.

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather



Day 4 - May 16
Looking elsewhere
Copa Motel, Medicine Lodge, Kansas - 12:30 p.m. CDT

What to do? Where to go today?

We’ll keep our rooms at the Copa, because Medicine Lodge is still going to be the place to be tomorrow. But Chris Howell is sick. He’s been throwing up all morning and is still sleeping.

After checking the latest computer models, Brian McNoldy thinks a trip to Hays -- 100 miles north on I-70 -- would be a good position to be in by 4 p.m.

He says the cap—a layer of warm air that traps the juicier, more unstable air near the ground from soaring higher to create monstrous thunderstorms—is just too strong to break hereabouts.

Chris, rising from his sick bed with his hair spiked like a punk rocker, agrees with that assessment.

But after he looks at the convection inhibition data on the computer screen he suggests a better plan. They ultimately decide to head for northwest Kansas, near Goodland.

It’s more than 200 miles away, and it’s not a sure thing. But it’s better to be there where there might be something than here where there’s likely to be a fourth day of nothing.

-- Bill Steigerwald

  Bill's prologue         Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 4 - May 16
Ignored by Mother Nature
Copa Motel, Medicine Lodge, Kansas - 10 a.m. CDT 10 

Bummer. Weather changes fast—and Mother Nature pays no attention to the computer models and predictions of the scientists in their research labs. Today is looking like it’s going to be a bust.

Last night at midnight Chris and Brian were upbeat. Based on the weather models and data they were downloading and pinning up on the walls of their room, they thought nasty thunderstorms would fire up at 7 p.m. just 50 miles east of here. Tornadoes were not even out of the question.

But this morning everything’s changed again. Conditions are not so favorable for severe storms around here. One weather lab is saying the big storms will be up in Nebraska, too far away to pursue.

Brian says he wants to see the new computer models when they start showing up around 11 a.m. We may have to move west, Brian says, but tomorrow still looks good - so far.

-- Bill Steigerwald

Bill's prologue        Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 3 - May 15
Ready to roll
Medicine Lodge, Kansas - 9 p.m. CDT

The whole country knows now that Wednesday will be the big day for bad weather in the Great Plains.

Meanwhile, Chris and Brian will continue their studies, pulling down and printing up sheaves of data readouts from such esoteric Internet sites as the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.

Its map of rainfall predictions for Wednesday noon through Thursday evening create a green banana over Kansas and Oklahoma that sits atop Medicine Lodge.

But tomorrow afternoon severe thunderstorms are expected in central Kansas. If they're a reasonable distance away -- three hours or 180 miles -- they'll probably chase them for a mix of practical and pleasurable reasons.

For Brian and Chris is a scientific way to learn about weather by experiencing it. Nancy also appreciates the science. But she loves the adventure and the beauty too.

Rain storms, lightning shows and crazy clouds are truly food for her soul. She loves all of Mother Nature's nastinesses, big and small. Tornadoes like the one she's planning to encounter somewhere in central Kansas Wednesday afternoon are the icing on her cake.

As Nancy writes tonight in her newsletter the MESO mailing list "we're all anxious, and beyond ready; the wait for big weather has been handled well by one and all, but like the atmosphere, we need something HUGE now to re-establish our balance. We are, more than ever, ready to roll."

-- Bill Steigerwald

Bill's prologue        Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather
  


Day 3 - May 15
Time Drills

Outside Medicine Lodge, Kansas, 6:00 p.m. CDT

Here in the low foothills outside of Medicine Lodge, eight hawks are circling a butte in the distance. We’re on a 1,500 acre cattle ranch with 160 stripper wells pumping oil and natural gas.

We came out here an hour ago because the chase team wanted to run drills on deploying OZ, short for Observation Zero, Allan Detrich’s Lexan-domed camera platform. He has placed a $2,000 Sony digital video camera inside with a very-wide angle lens, in order to catch a tornado actually rolling right over OZ.

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Allan Detrich, Chris Howell (in black hat) and Brian McNoldy practice rapid deployment of the OZ video dome intended for placement in the path of an oncoming tornado. (Bill Steigerwald, Post-Gazette)

During the three practice deployments Allan and others took turns. They snipped the plastic fasteners, unhooked the elastic straps and lugged OZ some 30 feet, set it down and used two sledgehammers to stake it into the red-brown ground with five hard steel spikes. Their times were one minute and 20 seconds, 1:05 and 0:45. There were no points for style given but they were very pleased with the time.

Also inside the dome is a Tin Man figurine and a sophisticated homing beacon that will help them find OZ if it does get whisked away by a tornado.

We’re now headed back to Medicine Lodge and everyone is looking forward to Wednesday. They know from experience that what might happen that afternoon could make all the waiting and preparation worth while.

-- Bill Steigerwald

Bill's prologue        Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 3 - May 15
A history lesson
Medicine Lodge, Kansas,  4 p.m. CDT

Brian McNoldy and Chris Howell are hoping history will repeat itself Wednesday, the day they expect big thunderstorms to spawn tornadoes not far from where they are sitting.

Last year the team had a close encounter with several small tornadoes near Coldwater, Kansas, not 20 miles from here. It was no accident: They crunched data for three days and had its location pinpointed so well they knew what county in Texas its birth cloud was born in.

Under the right conditions, a tornado-spawning storm can almost literally come out of a blue sky. A single, innocent-looking fluffy cumulus cloud that from the ground is the size of five full moons can, in less 30 or 45 minutes, become a massive, towering, severe supercell that can produce a tornado in the next hour.

That's what the team hopes for Wednesday. They plan to spend tonight and tomorrow testing their gear and girding their laptops for battle.

For now, read Bill's complete account of last year's excellent adventure.

-- Bill Steigerwald

Bill's prologue        Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Day 3 - May 15
Morning readings
Medicine Lodge, Kansas  9:08 a.m. CDT

The morning starts up with a down note. There will be thunderstorms, but nothing that will produce anything close to a tornado in Kansas. The team got out of bed this morning to evaluate the reports from overnight and agreed -- nothing promising today. The weather is about 62 degrees, a nice clear day.

Nancy is so desperate for bad weather, she’s planning to go and look for thunderstorms in hopes of finding lightning to photograph, maybe heading east toward Wichita. Brian McNoldy and Chris Howell, who won’t even look out a window at those anymore, would rather watch Jerry Springer and analyze weather data.

But it’s eight thumbs up for Wednesday, with a lot of factors coming together. "It’s going to be awesome," says Brian.

The big event today will a practice deployment of OZ, the observation camera dome that Allan Detrich hopes to plant in front of an oncoming tornado. Among other things, Allan wants to establish exactly how long it might take to anchor the dome – when a mile-wide twister is coming at you at 50 mph, timing is very important.

But for right now, it’s another breakfast here at the Indian Grill across the parking lot from the motel.

-- Bill Steigerwald

Bill's prologue        Team locator map      The Chase Team   
Dispatches from May 13-14
Kansas weather


Bill's links for your own chasing enjoyment

Tornado Chasers
The MESO Team
Tornado Alley
Tornadoes
Extreme weather
NOAA
NOAA tornadoes
Intellicast weather
Storm prediction center
Preparedness guide
Unraveling the secrets
Tornado damage scale
Monthly tornado chart
Online tornado FAQ
About tornadoes
Central Plains radar

NWS Storm Center




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