After several days of chasing, I needed a down day to rest, do laundry and reorganize my equipment. I checked into the Big Texan Hotel for two nights. Gotta love a hotel room with a spotted cow hide patterned bedspread and saloon doors to the bathroom. I had lunch at a small barbecue restaurant on the southside of Amarillo. Doug's BBQ is in a glorified mobile home by a shopping center and seats about 20. There was a steady stream people coming in and getting take-out. The restaurant was highly recommended on some storm chase lists, and it was very good. Barbecue in Texas and Oklahoma is beef ribs or shredded beef while in Virginia, barbecue is usually pork. That evening, I received a call from Charles Edwards. He was also in Amarillo and was taking his tour group to the Big Texan for dinner. I joined them, and we enjoyed swapping stories about recent chases. Nobody in our group would eat the free 72 ounce steak. George Kourounis, who was working with Cloud 9, tried last year while filming for his television show and failed. Eventually, a burly guy with tatoos and a beard got up on stage. He was initially cocky, smiling and talking while stuffing his face. At one point he choked because he was talking to much. That scared him, and he became more serious. Soon, he looked pained. The guy became sweaty, hesitated and eventually gave up. Definitely more bark than bite. Later, a chaser from another group tried and failed. For those who haven't heard, if one can eat the 72 oz steak with the baked potato in an hour, the meal is free. The contest is done on a stage and broadcast over the internet. Many have tried and failed, but others have survived. There is a book with the names of those who succeeded along with their ages and comments. Most are men and the ages vary. I saw one as old as 65. I think the youngest is 8. The record time is about 9 minutes. One comment: "I hate steak." There were about 50 storm chasers in the restaurant including a group of ten from Italy.
I had a leisurely drive from Amarillo, Texas to Salina in north-central Kansas. There was a slight possibility of storms in far northwest Kansas, Nebraska along with the Dakotas, but I decided to blow off the marginal possibilities to get in position for better chasing later in the week. I wanted to do some landscape and other photography. I drove through Liberal, Kansas, then northeast on 54. I had to take detours in the Texas Panhandle and later near Salina due to flooding from storms on May 23. My route took me by the devastated town of Greensburg, Kansas. Although 54 through town was still blocked, I was easily able to circle around on some back roads. I could have taken one of those roads into town, but I didn't want to get in the way of the clean-up. The road north did have a distant view of the town, and I took a few photos. I was saddened to see the damage but glad so few lives were lost due to early warning. I later talked with the owner of a convenience store who proudly showed me her new weather radio. She bought it after the Greensburg tragedy. Hopefully, many other people have also bought weather radios. I continued to Pratt, then northeast on 61. The route is listed as a scenic highway. I passed rolling fields of wheat and other fields with cattle. I hoped to take a lot of pictures, but the lighting wasn't good. When I neared the town of Arlington, I saw a small sign for “Carolyn's Essenhaus.” This was intriguing and it was dinner time. Arlington is like many small towns across the Plains. Most of the businesses are boarded-up or in their final death throws as people drive to nearby Walmarts and other chains for shopping. (This might change in the future if there is a major disruption in gas supplies) Carolyn's Essenhaus is a busy little restaurant and bakery run by a Mennonite lady. The food was all home-cooked including the usual chicken fried steak. The special for Friday was something called Verenike. Of course, I had to try it. As I suspected, Verenike is German cuisine. It is a fried noodle surrounding cheese and covered with gravy containing onion and ham. I was reminded of the cheese buttons that I had last year in a South Dakota restaurant and hunting lodge. The Verenike was filling and delicious. An older couple sitting at an adjacent table asked me if I liked the Verenike. We had a long conversation about storm chasing and recent storms. They have a farm about 15 miles away that was hit by a small tornado a couple of years ago. The couple is friends with Carolyn, the restaurant owner, who later came by to talk. She had some interesting stories about doing missionary work in South America. Another couple nearby joined in the conversation. One of their daughters and her husband recently moved to Richmond. Eventually, I had to resume my trip. I was very impressed by how friendly everyone was in this part of Kansas. I ended the trip in Salina at a Holiday Inn Express. Most hotels were already booked, and this one was also filled soon after I made my reservation. I hate paying $78 for a room that is no better than in some of the cheaper hotels. There are four pillows per bed but I only need one. I'll be back to Super 8's. The following day held some promise for chasing.
May 26 was a very marginal day. I had spent the night in Salina to split the difference since I was considering chasing in either Iowa or west Kansas. I checked additional data in the morning and neither choice was good. Western Kansas would put me in better position for Sunday or as a travel day to head north for Monday. I drove to WaKeeney, Kansas and waited and watched. As I expected, no storms. I photographed butterflies and shot some video of a dust devil. I drove to Colby and met Jason Persoff for dinner. He is a physician with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, and had started his storm chase vacation. I ended the day in Goodland, Kansas.
Since storm chances were very low, I decided to blow off potential chasing in the northeastern Colorado/Nebraska panhandle to get into position for Monday. This would be a very long drive to South Dakota. Jason Persoff decided to give the panhandle a try since he had just arrived and wanted to see some convection. While getting ready to leave the hotel in Goodland, Kansas, I ran into Dave Hoadley. He is one of the first storm chasers and had recently driven out from Arlington, Virginia to chase for a couple of days with some friends including a photographer from Channel 9 in Washington D.C. He was targeting northeastern Colorado. I drove north along empty country roads occasionally stopping to take pictures. The terrain consisted of rolling grass-covered hills with occasional trees in valleys or near houses. In Ogallala, Nebraska, I had lunch and again checked data. There was a marginal chance for supercells, but I decided it was not worth chasing. I continued north, briefly stopping in the town of Arthur. It was weird to see this small town of several blocks in a square completely forested like a town in Virginia yet surrounded by barren hills. I drove north, then west. With abundant low-level clouds, long distance visibility was difficult. Suddenly, a severe thunderstorm warning came across the radio for west of Ogallala. I turned on my XM radar and there was a line of storms extending into Colorado and an isolated storm west of Ogallala. Arrghhh!!!. I was too far away. I called Jason to give him some updates since he would potentially make an intercept. The storm became briefly tornado-warned, and there was later a report of a small tornado. Jason saw a brief funnel but missed the earlier tornado.
This is what I missed. Jason, who also missed it, found this image. Again, THE FOLLOWING 3 IMAGES ARE NOT MY PHOTOS
Tornado by Robert Henson
Many times, non-chasers have closer encounters with tornadoes.
Cheyenne County tornado by Christine Bond: Pic #1 and Pic #2.
The EF-1 tornado touched down by County Road 149 in extreme east-central Cheyenne county, Nebraska, 3.5 miles north of Lodgepole, or 18 miles east northeast of Sidney.
Oh well. Such is chasing. I continued my trip north through Valentine, Nebraska and into South Dakota. I passed a number of prairie dog nests. They are quite cute. The hamster-like critters stand by their burrows on their hind legs. If one comes close, the sound an alarm and run inside. The alarm is a high pitched barking. I had a brief dinner in Murdo, South Dakota. I love I-90 where the speed limit is 75. Traffic is minimal and I can drive very long distances. I arrived at the Super 8 in Pierre, South Dakota. While unloading my equipment, I heard, “Bill!” I tuned around and saw Mike, Oliver and another chaser who are also staying here. Mike Theiss is from Islamorada, Florida and has chased many hurricanes and tornadoes. He took the famous footage of a car floating through the lobby of a hotel in Gulfport after Katrina. Oliver is from Switzerland and chases eclipses around the world in addition to tornadoes. Monday was expected to be a good chase day.
A morning check of the data revealed a somewhat more marginal day. I decided to chase all the way to North Dakota since longterm prospects during my chase trip were poor. I had to chase any possbilities. An upper level trough was approaching the northern plains along with an influx of Gulf moisture on the low-level jet. Shear was not good, and I was concerned about the cap and the timing of the approaching upper level dynamics. I started in Pierre, then drove north on 83, passing Calico's where I found the Cheese Buttons in 2006. The Mound City restaurant was closed on Monday. I was looking forward to having that unique German dish. I continued north, briefly stopping to photograph some American flags at a Cemetery in Selby, SD on Memorial Day. It is important to remember those who have given their lives in combat for the United States. I crossed into North Dakota. While waiting for storms to develop just south of Jamestown, I watched birds along the many lakes and ponds. I've never seen such a variety of birds in the United States. There were many types of waterfowl, but they were hard to get close enough for a photo. Unfortunately, there were also huge mosquitoes. I found the only restaurant in the small town of Gackle, ND and continued my wait for storm development. Eventually, a tornado watch was issued to my north and there was the possibility that the cap would break. I drove north toward the town of Mchenry, North Dakota. As some anemic towers formed, I ran into Charles Edwards and his tour group, Cloud 9 Tours along with George Kourounis, Mike Theiss and Olivier Staiger (Klipsi). A few storms developed, and they were isolated. I followed the storms northward. They intermittently strengthened but nothing happened. I broke off the chase between Devils Lake and Grand Forks about 59 miles from the Canadian Border. Charles and George were also very annoyed that they drove all the way to North Dakota for nothing. I turned around and started my long drive southward eventually stopping in North Sioux City, South Dakota sometime in the middle of the night for much needed sleep. I had high expectations for some interesting storms and was bummed that I drove all the way to near the Canadian border in North Dakota only to bust.
All images Copyright 2007 William T. Hark. Except as indicated with (V), all images are from a Nikon D200.
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