Storm Chase 2003: May 20 - May 23

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

May 20: Travel day and detention

Tuesday, May 20 was a travel day; however, the day became much more interesting. We all met outside the Guest Inn in Norman after checking the latest weather data, forecasts and computer models. No severe weather was expected, but there was a slight chance of storms in eastern New Mexico or west Texas by Wednesday or Thursday. We decided to head to Amarillo, Texas to get in position for Wednesday. Our group consisted of George Kourounis and Ron Gravelle from Canada, Jack Kertzie and his son-in-law Rob Pollanz from upstate New York, Scott McPartland and two of his friends, Peter Ventre and Brian Crean from New York City and producer Becky Lee and a film crew from Pioneer Productions. The drive to Amarillo was easy. We stopped at a gas station and marveled at the tacky gift items including angels with butterfly wings that light-up, plastic Indians and even a "clown in a can." The clown was particularly scary. When we arrived in Amarillo, we had some time before the dinner reservations. Becky Lee, the producer, wanted some shots of us looking toward the sky and filming. We took a short detour north to find a quiet open area for the video. We stopped along a road near railroad tracks. Jack noticed a parked freight train nearby with two attached antique passenger cars. One of Jack's hobbies is filming trains, and he told us that the set-up was highly unusual. We set our cameras on tripods near a barbed-wire fence while the Pioneer crew filmed us from various angles. I noticed someone filming us from a front window in one of the train passenger cars. I waved but he didn't wave back. When we were almost done, what appeared to be a police car pulled up and two uniformed men (1V) got out. One looked very stern and was gripping a M16. The car had US government plates, but the men's uniforms had the name of some company (I forgot the name). They wanted to know what we were doing and asked us for ID's. One initially seemed annoyed and asked, "is there an American citizen here?" since the first ID's checked included the film crew from England (2V) and George's group from Canada. The security officials were polite though stern. We were detained (3V) there until the ID's and our stories verified. The vehicles were also checked. (I accidentally left the camcorder on and obtained the pics of questioning; faces of the agents blurred using Photoshop) The whole time, the guy with the gun stood at the top of the hill. Apparently, the fenced in area was operated by the Department of Energy (4V) (We later found the sign). There was also a nearby military post. Unbeknownst to us, the terrorist threat level was increased that afternoon. I don't know if or how the train relates to the whole situation. Eventually, we were allowed to complete filming under the watchful eye of the security force. They also told us the local county police were coming by to check us out but then told us we could leave. We quickly left before they changed their mind. I am glad that people are watching for unusual activity, and I guess we looked suspicious near that government facility.

We drove straight to the Big Texan and were only five minutes late for our reservations. The Big Texan is an Amarillo institution that is popular with tourists and locals. The restaurant is a large two level hall surrounded by deer and buffalo trophies along the walls. They are known for big steaks, desserts and of course, the 72 oz steak that is free if you can eat the whole thing plus baked potato. Unfortunately, no one attempted it that night. Rattlesnake is also on the menu. I tried it a couple of years ago. It is very bony and tastes like chicken. We tried to get the British film crew to eat Rocky Mountain Oysters but they already knew what those were. Tuesday is Opry Night and the restaurant had a whole series of country and western music acts (5V), cowboy poets and vocalists. Besides our table (6P)(pic 1)/(7V)(pic 2), of 12, there were many other tables filled with storm chasers and storm chase tour groups. I guess there were about 80 chasers in the restaurant. We were even given two step lessons (8V).After dinner, we joined Jim Leonard, Charles Edwards, Mike Theiss and several other veteran chasers including Matt Crowther from the Weather Channel to discuss the upcoming forecast. Wednesday was now looking like a complete lost cause. George also showed some of his Oklahoma City video with boards and debris flying over his head in a nighttime tornado.

1V 2V 3V 4V
5V 6P 7V 8V

May 21: Landscape photography and interviews

There was absolutely no chance of severe storms in the area. I spent the morning checking and rechecking weather data and then compared my forecast to the other guys. Today would be a down day. After breakfast, our group visited a windmill farm to take landscape photos. I used this opportunity to increase my portfolio of outdoor scenes. During that stop, Becky Lee and the crew from Pioneer Productions interviewed each us about storm chasing. They are producing a documentary about storm chasers (part of three 1 hour shows) that will be shown on the Travel Channel in Fall 2003. After filming windmills, we took a drive south through the Palo Duro canyon region and photographed mountains, rock formations and cactus flowers. We also tested the light system on George's storm chase vehicle for the film crew. The day ended with dessert back at the Big Texan. This time, somebody (not our group) ordered and ate the entire 72 oz steak within the hour period. He didn't look sick. At least when we were watching him.

9P 10P 11P 12P
13P 14P 15V 16V
17P 18P 19P 20V

May 22: Storms in Kansas

We left Amarillo for Dumas, Texas and then passed through the Oklahoma Panhandle and into Kansas. Our target was northwestern Kansas for a slight chance of severe storms. Approximately 18 miles south of Sublette, we saw a few faint cumulus. We stopped in Sublette to check weather data and obtain supplies. At the gas station (the same one where Dave Lewison, Chris Kridler, Steve Sponsler and I were munched by the May 27, 2001 derecho), we ran into Warren Faidley. He is well-known chaser based in Arizona. We checked our road options (21P) and continued north on 83. At 4:25PM, we sighted some towering Cu (22V) west of Scott City, Kansas. Other chase groups were parked along the road. The clouds were high-based. We drove west on a dirt road, then north on 25 watching sheared towers (23V) develop. We passed the very tiny town of Russel Springs Kansas at 5:15Pm and continued to Colby (24V). We checked data in Colby and waited. Eventually, an isolated storm formed to the northeast. The storm was far away; however, it was the only storm in the region. The storm was moving slowly to the southeast. We blasted east on at 7PM, hoping to intercept the storm. By 7:30, we could see the storm (25V) in the distance. At 7:51, we were near Collyer, Kansas on I-70. The storm initially was crisp and had a single updraft. We were hopeful that we could intercept the storm (26V). Then it collapsed. Arrghhhh! There were no other storms except for a withered storm (27V) far to the west that was illuminated by the setting sun. We stopped in Hays, Kansas and watched a beautiful sunset (28P from the hotel.

21P 22V 23V 24V
25V 26V 27V 28P

May 23: Storms in Texas

We started the day in Hays, Kansas. According to the data, there was a slight risk of storms through the western Great Plains, from western Nebraska to western Texas. Low level moisture was slowly returning to the area. Unfortunately, there was still no main focusing mechanism except lift from the mountains to the west. High level winds were fairly weak. Our initial target was near Goodland, Kansas and towards the Oklahoma panhandle. Storms would develop late in the afternoon. We had time to have a leisurely breakfast with the Pioneer Production crew who have been with us for the last couple of days. Becky and the crew were heading north to spend time with Jeff Piotrowski, another well-known chaser from Oklahoma

We drove south on 183 and then southwest on 56 toward Dodge City, Kansas. Central Kansas is rather pretty with green fields and wildflowers. Along the way, we were able to check data on the road. Ron was able to keep continuous internet access using a cell phone modem. In Sublette, Kansas we refined our target area (29P) to between Guymon and Boise City in the Oklahoma panhandle. There was better moisture and winds. Storms were already developing in eastern Colorado and we hoped they would move east. When we arrived in Boise City, the sky was covered with the anvil from a storm to the southwest. It was dying a slow death according our radar reports and visually from Jason Persoff who was to our south. Jason, who was with Olivier Staiger from Switzerland, arrived in Boise City and we discussed the forecast. We checked additional weather data (30P) and radar images (31V). We hoped that outflow (cool moist air) from the nearby storm would trigger more storms to our immediate east in unstable air. Additional chasers also dropped by the gas station including several in a black Humvee. Our group moved to a field near the town to watch the sky. We waited and we waited but nothing happened. By evening, there was less heating and it was obvious nothing would develop in our area. We left and headed south to Amarillo, Texas while Jason went slightly west to watch a slowly developing storm. It looked bad from the start and Jason later called to tell me it died.

As we approached Amarillo, we could see a storm developing over the city. We were about 60 miles away. We soon heard reports of hail and high winds. This was a severe storm but not a supercell. The storm was moving north-east and we could never catch it. The backside of the storm (32V) turned orange in the sunset and we stopped for photographs. Sometimes, the storms are more interesting from a distance especially when illuminated by the setting sun. We ate dinner at Golden Corral. My first balanced meal with actual vegetables in several days. We returned to the Motel 6 in Amarillo. While checking in, the film crew from Pioneer Productions and Jeff Piotrowski showed up. Jeff stated there was a fairly good chance of severe weather for the next day. After that, there will probably be none until early June (after I leave.)

29P 30P 31V 32V

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

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