Storm Chase 2002: May 17 - May 21

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

May 17 - 20: Awful weather (clear, sunny and cool)

I arrived in Norman, Oklahoma late Friday evening on May 17 after an uneventful flight. Bringing chase equipment on an airplane can be difficult especially with the new security measures and decreased carryon allowance. I was excited about two weeks of storm chasing but concerned about the lack of severe weather possibilities. A strong cold front had removed most of the moisture from Tornado Alley and return moisture from the Gulf was blocked. Temperatures were unseasonably cool.

There was no chance of storms on the 18th and 19th. I spent Saturday checking equipment and doing some last minute studying of weather forecasting techniques. I met up with Dave Lewison and Chris Kridler that afternoon and we discussed the pitiful forecast. It was great to see old friends. That evening, we had dinner (1P)with Mike Theiss at Outback Steakhouse. He was helping Charles Edwards and Jim Leonard with Cloud 9 Tours. The new tour group had arrived and we had fun watching Charles and Jim give their orientation talks. As usual, they had another good group and we hoped they would also find some good storms during the next two weeks. We stayed up with them checking data and discussing chase prospects. The next day, I spent some time taking pictures of wildflowers. The indian paintbrush (2V) was especially beautiful in the Norman area. At lunch, I met up with Chris and Dave along with Canadian chaser George Kourounis and a couple of his friends. George enjoys the electronic and technology aspects of chasing and has a customized chase vehicle (3P) covered with weather sensors and antenna. He has 800 Watts of floodlights mounted on the vehicle. It looks like a UFO at night. Chris showed her chase vehicle covered with hail dents (4V). That evening, we had pizza and watched The Simpsons. The next day would be a travel day as there was a remote possibility of storms in Wyoming and Nebraska on May 21.

On Monday, May 20, Dave and Chris and I left Norman after a brief stop (5P) at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) to buy t-shirts. We headed toward northwestern Kansas, stopping along the way at tacky roadside attractions. The weather was clear and cool with an increasing wind. In Scott, Kansas, we found the Storm Machine Shop (6P). Unfortunately, no machine could create any storms out of the dry weather we were experiencing. We crashed out in Goodland Kansas for the night.

1P 2V 3P
4V 5P 6P

May 21: High winds and dusty storm in Nebraska and Wyoming

The chase day started in Goodland, Kansas. After viewing the giant reproduction of a Van Gogh painting on an easel (7P), Chris, Dave and I headed north into western Nebraska in hopes of storms firing in eastern Wyoming. A surface low was strengthening and strong winds were blasting from the southeast. Normally, southeast winds are good for chasing as they bring moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. These winds were dry as moisture return was blocked.

As we continued through Nebraska to the towns of Sidney and Scott's Bluff, the winds increased sending tumbleweeds and debris across the road. The sky was whitish gray from dust. The whole region was in a severe drought which caused large quantities of dust to be blown by the winds. We stopped several times to measure and experience (8P) the wind. The gusty winds were strong enough to blow a person a few feet (9V) while jumping. We measured sustained winds in the upper 30's MPH and a maximum gust of 52.7 MPH.

Just west of Fort Laramie, Wyoming we stopped to watch a storm (10V) on Route 26 by the railroad tracks. Visibility was terrible because of the dust. There was little thunder or rain. We repositioned ourselves to a dirt road 6 miles west of Torrington, Wyoming and waited for the storm to arrive. It was heralded by large billowing clouds of dust and dirt (11V) mixed with tumbleweeds. At times, I could barely see Chris and Dave (12V) through the dust. A small gustnado blasted over our vehicles which rattled with debris. Eventually, the show was over. There was some lightning and a little bit of rain. The day ended with dinner at Pizza Hut with Scott Blair and several other chasers.

7P 8P 9V
pic by Chris Kridler,
used with permission
10V 11V 12V

(P -- Photo) (V -- Video Still)

Next Page: May 22, 2002

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