I flew out of Richmond Friday afternoon after an hour delay thanks to President Bush. He flew into Richmond to attend a fundraiser and all air traffic in and out of the airport was stopped. I guess he didn't want to brave the awful Friday traffic heading south from D.C. I was able to make my connecting flight but many other people missed their flights to Atlanta. I did have a view of Air Force One landing and Bush leaving in the motorcade. It takes a lot of cars to move a president. There are a wide variety of opinions regarding President Bush but everybody can agree that Air Force One is pretty cool.
I arrived in Wichita, Kansas and prepared my equipment. After several days of analyzing long range computer forecast models and discussing the chase possibilities with more experienced chasers, I finally decided to start my two weeks. The weather patterns have calmed after an active early May. There were some northern Plains chase prospects Sunday through Tuesday as a trough was expected to move through Tornado Alley. My main concern was lack of decent moisture to help fuel the storms. I expected supercell thunderstorms but tornadoes would be less likely. I chose to leave on the 18th because after Tuesday, the trough shifts eastward and chase prospects end. There may not be another decent trough until early June after I was scheduled to return. The long range forecast models have been especially inaccurate this year and vary widely between each run. This hadbeen frustrating for planning.
Since there was no significant chance of severe weather, attended Rocky's annual storm chaser picnic. Rocky, a chaser who lives in Piedmont, has been hosting an annual storm chaser picnic for the last several years. This year, over 60 chasers including ones from Switzerland, England, Germany and Denmark attended. It was nice to some friends that I haven't seen in a year (with the exception of Jim who I saw earlier this year and during a trip to the Keys with my wife in August) Everybody watched videos of some recent tornadic activity including some video in high-definition. Charles Edwards of Cloud 9 Tours had some wild video. One unusual video showed a newswoman getting ready for a live shot as a lightning flashed in the background. Her hair suddenly stood on end. She casually brushed it back several times apparently unaware that she was in great danger. Luckily, she wasn't struck by lightning. There is a famous picture of teenagers with their hair standing on end while hiking. Moments later, they were struck and killed. I also enjoyed checking out Rocky's storm shelter. Thanks to Rocky and his family for hosting the party. I drove back to Wichita to prepare for chasing early the following week.
Everybody should have a storm shelter. Rocky has one below-ground. There are also above-ground reinforced "safe rooms." Most hotels in Tornado Alley have posted action plans in case of threatening weather.
This was a relaxing day to get in position for Monday and Tuesday. I slept in and then had a nice run near the Wichita airport. The forecast for Monday was especially difficult. The better upper level winds were far to the north in South Dakota though moisture was slightly better to the south in the Texas Panhandle. The better day for chasing would be the following day on Tuesday and I didn't want to get out of position. I decided to head west and check more data in Dodge City. I also hoped to get some landscape images for my outdoor photography collection. In Pratt, I found a restaurant relic from the 50's with a sign far more intriguing than the surrounding boring chain restaurants. I had to try Donald's Serva-Teria. According to the waitress, the restaurant had been there since 1952. Most of the customers were far older than the restaurant. The buffet brunch was $7.99 and included fried chicken, ham, meatloaf, vegetables, salad and desert. It was quite good. I was also happy that I ran earlier Sunday. This was not health food. I continued west watching the scattered trees change to mainly grass and wheat. With decent rains, Kansas was especially green this year. I arrived in Dodge City and checked more data. Nothing changed my forecast. I had two target areas: Wall, South Dakota and Tulia, Texas. The distance between them forced me to decide that day. Although the South Dakota target had more tornadic potential due to much better upper level winds, I would be very far away to chase Tuesday when there would be greater opportunities for tornadoes. I decided on the southern target. I planned on staying in Dodge City but most of the hotel rooms were booked. Many people from the Greensburg disaster were staying in the rooms. Super 8 wanted almost $80 for a 4th floor room with no elevator. Other hotels were around $100 if they had vacancies. I bailed and drove to Liberal, Kansas for the night.
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