Tried to take a vacation…”Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”
I don’t chase at night?
Saturday, Memorial Day Weekend—when everyone worthy of the name stormchaser was arrayed from Beatrice to Oklahoma City, looking for and catching hoses aplenty. And I would have been out there, too—except this Saturday was the day I hauled the family to Chillicothe, Missouri for our annual family reunion. I read the 1300Z SWODY1 and noted that North-Central Missouri was in ‘only’ a MDT risk…This had MCS/flash-flood written all over it.
And I must admit that I was somewhat relieved, since I was away from home, in lousy storm-chase terrain, and driving Wifey’s 2003 Ford ‘Red Barchetta’ Windstar. I found out the hard way November 2003, chasing the Weeping Water TOR, that Windstars make good sails but lousy storm-chasing vehicles.
All afternoon EAX was saying ‘storms in the CWA after 4 A.M‘, confirming what I suspected—those supercells in KS and NE would head east and become a squall line overnight. Therefore, we went about our business, radio off, TWC ignored, but watching the winds and clouds. I did manage to cadge an Internet connection for about 15 minutes and took a look at SPC’s 2000Z SWODY1 (which was more optimistic than EAX) and the Stormtrack.org forum, which hadn’t mentioned North Missouri at all.
I came out of Wal-Mart about 5-ish to see CU off to my southwest, SVRs and TORs in a Kansas City-Atchison-Saint Joseph triangle, and us in the middle of a Red Box! Six O’clock—camped out in front of the television at the house we were staying—watching Kansas City television stations going ape…and sending up helicopters!
Two thoughts were going through my head: I hope whatever is causing these storms to trigger doesn’t unzip further to the east and vector toward Chillicothe (since we were on the second floor of the Worst Western); and these news-crews and helicopters are making this just like being there! Kansas City’s coverage makes Omaha television seem like a community college AV department by comparison.
I wandered outside to get my only digital photo—and my only structure shot of the day:
Eight O’clock, and I make two decisions: Wifey and the kids will be okay in Chillicothe, and I’m going to head to Cameron on US-36 to see what I can see. Told Wifey that I would do Cameron and back, no back roads, no Kansas City, no Lamoni, no divorce…
Chillicothe to Cameron is only forty miles, but even with the light fading, I didn’t see any lightning until twenty miles from Cameron. There were two separate mesos paralleling I-35 up from the KC metro, Plattsburg got whacked by a downburst long before the first tornado hit there. A Saint Joe station’s reporter had to take the ditch when a TOR said hi in Plattsburg. I couldn’t believe that these storms were both TORs, and both long-track and consistently producing. And heading generally toward Cameron…
EAX updated the TOR for the Cameron area, saying the storm would cross I-35 just south of town…extrapolating that meant crossing US-36 on the east side of Cameron…and I was on the east side of Cameron at the time… However, the rain had stopped and I was getting a great view of the cloud bases, and there was nothing to the immediate south or southwest that looked like anything other than stratus. I needed to find a high spot. Took BUS-36 into Cameron, crossed I-35, still nothing S-SW.
Nine O’clock, west side of Cameron. Within seconds: I finally see a lowering—off to the southwest of Cameron, EAX nowcasts the tornado on the ground near Osborn, and every fire/rescue unit in the Cameron fire barn bails out like a jailbreak right in front of me. Sooo, west on 36 for a little bit…
That’s not a wall cloud…that’s a bloody wedge! Okay, Damon. Time to use your brain around this bad boy. Sure, I could drive right up to it—but limited-access means you have limited-ability to turn around! I looked for lanes in the median…continually driving west…oh, yeah, there’s a wedge coming across the highway—which will I come across first—a ‘nader or a cut-across?
Found a lane, banged a u-ie. Top of a hill, frogs croaking and Cameron sirens…atomized rain and the ‘waterfall’ sound off to my west. First time I’ve been close enough to hear it! Way too dark for stills, so I locked the autofocus on the camcorder and pointed it west:
The first EAX survey said this storm continued on and wound up in Weatherby and Santa Rosa. These ‘caps from I-35 north of Cameron were impressive but I couldn’t see any ground circulation:
Drove up to the next exit on I-35. Weatherby is about five miles to my right—this wasn’t the meso that whacked it. EAX’s second survey found a gap, and indeed there was about an hour between the two storms, (More on that later…)
By this time, I was getting rain showers between me and the wall cloud, and it was becoming more sub-parallel with I-35 with time. I was heading back to Cameron when the girl on the Cameron radio station sighed and related another TOR warning for around Osborn! I went back to the same spot I’d been an hour before, noticing tree debris that hadn’t been there…a small tornado had just gone through, dissipated, then reformed and went on to whack Weatherby and Santa Rosa. I did see another tornado form NNW of me. I waited for five minutes to make sure, then called 911. Five minutes later, EAX issued another TOR, cop-reported west of Maysville—this would have been it:
(EAX never confirmed this.)
Back to the motel to await the middle-of-the-night MCS.
BOANUS COVERAGE; 2004-05-30
Sure enough, the MCS woke me up at 5AM. Later, I looked at the tree damage from a tornado that had hit Chillicothe five days before while I watched what I assumed was the cold front finally coming through. The wind shifted, cloud bases rose, it felt drier…
1130 CT, I was at the Golden Trough—Corral…noticing a rain shower and a little thunder. Elevated, I assumed, post-frontal…but the sirens went off! Everyone looked at me like I was the freaking Storm King as I headed back to the car to listen to local radio. I had packed the cameras and the NWS radio away—after all, the front had gone by, right? But Red Boxes don’t lie…
Here’s a digital shot of a wall cloud that had passed already:
Nothing to the west, I told the family to get their sunblock as I resumed my raid on the dessert bar…