Oklahoma and Kansas storm chases and landscape photography explorations
(including Monument Rocks): May 13 - 16, 2005

chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D.

May 13, 2005: HP Supercell near Altus, Oklahoma

Today was a very hectic day as I had some early morning patients to see before my vacation started. There was a possibility of storms in southwestern Oklahoma, probably the last decent storms in Tornado Alley for a while. Thanks to my then fiancé, now wife Ginny, I was able to get to the airport and take an earlier flight. Chasing was a possibility. I arrived amazingly on time in Oklahoma City at about 3PM. Storms were already starting to form across southwestern Oklahoma and northern Texas, and a tornado watch was issued for that area. After some delays at the rental agency and getting the Mobile Threatnet satellite weather working on the laptop (it worked at home), I was on the road. Several storm cells had already formed. I wanted to target the most southern storm with unimpeded warm moist air flowing into it. It would surely tornado, but it was near Quanah, and moving southeast. I wouldn't be able to reach it before dark. I settled on a fairly isolated storm in western Oklahoma near Mangum. It was moving east southeast. I was already heading southwest from Oklahoma City toward Lawton. I then turned west and intercepted the storm near the town of Altus, Oklahoma. Unfortunately, it didn't produce a tornado. At least, the storm (1V) was interesting with striations and frequent lightning. I carefully avoided the hail while setting up for nice video. I followed the storm until dark, then headed back to Oklahoma City. The southern storm did produce some tornadoes. Oh well. I spent the evening watching tornado video (2V) with Dave Lewison and Scott McPartland who had their vehicles trashed by 4 and half inch hail after filming a big tornado near Plainview, Texas on May12. Their chase season was over prematurely; mine was just beginning as a "death ridge" moved across the Plains.

(1V) (2V)

May 14, 2005: Amarillo, TX

I checked out my equipment and prepared for the slight chance of future storms. Dave Lewison, Pete Ventre, Scott McPartland and I had lunch with Jim Leonard and some other storm chasers. Jim, who is one of the most experienced chasers, runs Cyclone Tours. We met the new group of tourists (3P) who were getting T-shirts and talking about the upcoming chase season. We also examined Scotts hail-damaged vehicle in the daylight. There were deep fist-sized pits across the hood and other surfaces. Amazing. I was bummed I couldn't come out a day earlier, but I was not sorry I missed the hail. Dave and those guys left a week early because of the expense of fixing the vehicle. We said our goodbyes and I left OKC for Amarillo to get in position for Sunday. I spent the evening at The Big Texan watching a cowboy band and a couple of guys attempt to eat 72 oz steaks within an hour. One was successful.


May 15, 2005: Texas Panhandle landscape photography

Today was a relaxing day in the Amarillo area. After checking the morning data, the only area with even a slight chance of severe weather (no chance of tornadoes) was in far southeastern New Mexico. Not worth the trip considering I would be heading back to this area for Monday and farther north for mid-week. I registered for another night at the Big Texan Hotel. I spent the morning setting up my XM MobileThreat net to work with a separate Delorme Street Atlas program. Computers are a pain. Everything worked at home but stopped when I arrived on the Plains. Part of the problem was a program that lost the licensing code that I originally used when I purchased that program. Software companies use elaborate codes and licensing to prevent software piracy. I chose to do the right thing and buy programs only to be hassled by these methods. The codes don't prevent piracy. I could obtain any commercial program pirated if I chose and the program wouldn't stop working and require the activation code to be reentered if I changed my system configuration.

I spent the afternoon searching for a ghost town west of Amarillo and photographing landscapes. The town was gone except for a marker. I still enjoyed the adventure of exploring the backroads of Texas. I drove for a couple of hours and never saw another car. I passed by fields of wildflowers, pastures full of cattle and wheat. I learned that town of Hereford is the beef capital of the United States.” At least that is what their sign states. Interestingly, I never passed a house with a lightning road. In rural Virginia, lightning rods are common on houses yet the storms are much worse in Texas.

For dinner, I returned to the Big Texan restaurant. During my absence, the parking lot had filled with storm chase tour groups. The vans and minibuses were covered with antenna, decals and logos. These were mostly chasers I didn't know except for Roger Hill of Silver Lining Tours. Roger, who had recently looked at the data, was more hopeful for the next few days. Maybe he knew something that I didn't, or he was just being optimistic for his tourists. I left as the roving cowboy band played "Ghost Riders." I was curious about changes in the evening's weather models and why Roger was optimistic. I had previous checked data and was quite depressed over the long term chances of severe weather. Prospects can change with each run of weather computer models and there is always hope.

(4P) (5P)

May 16, 2005: Landscape photography in western Kansas (Monument Rocks)

The very slight chance of severe weather evaporated, and I used the day to get in position for possible severe weather in Nebraska and South Dakota on Tuesday. There was no rush and I could take time to explore and photograph the area. When I left Amarillo, it was windy and cool with drizzle. The sun soon appeared and I was buffeted with a constant 25 MPH southerly wind for the entire trip. I passed a parody (6V) of Carhinge in Conway, Texas. Kansas is mostly grassland with occasional trees near houses or dry creeks. I passed many abandoned farmhouses (7P)(pic #1) and (8P)(pic #2). I read somewhere that a lot of the family farmers have gone out of business and/or sold to large corporations. The land is still used but the houses are left to decay. North of Garden City, I passed by several pheasants along State Road 83. These are beautiful and graceful birds that shine green and brown in the sunlight. I tried multiple times without success to get a photo. They won't stay still.

South of Oakley, I took a detour down a maze of dirt roads to visit Monument Rocks, also known as the Chalk Pyramids. They are past a low lying area and the largest natural stand of trees I've seen since Oklahoma City. The rocks have weathered out of the surrounding soil over millions of years. This was a great photo opportunity and place to explore. After an hour, it was time to continue to drive. I stopped for a quick dinner in Colby before continuing into Nebraska. I wanted to see the “world's largest prairie dog and rattle snake exhibit” near Colby but it was closed. I passed the picturesque town of Oberlin, Kansas, known for being the site of the last Indian raid in Kansas (1878). While driving in northern Kansas and Nebraska, I noticed that many of the farmers plant a wall of trees on the north side of there house, presumably to block the cold northerly wind. All the entrance ramps on Interstate 80 have gates that can easily be closed. I guess the highway is frequently closed during snow storms. I thought about the hardships the pioneers endured while settling this area. Although beautiful while cruising down the road in May, this would be a very miserable place during the winter if one was walking or riding a horse. My day ended in North Platte, Nebraska.

Monument Rocks close-up photos on Fuji Velvia ASA, scanned from slides.

(6V) (7P) (8P)

There are always new places to explore while chasing, even during nice weather.

(V -- Video Still. P -- Scanned from slide, Fuji Velvia 100)

Next Page: May 17, 2005

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