Friday, 22 May 2009 – One Really Long Day

Today actually started yesterday.

I got up early for work, drove into downtown Chicago, worked my last day in the office before vacation.  Then, I walked 5km in the Chase Corporate Challenge (a race/walk to help the Chicago Food Bank and qualify runners for the national and international race bearing the same name).

My original plan was to drive home, grab a few hours sleep, wake a friend at 3 a.m. for a pre-arranged ride to O’Hare International Airport, and fly to Oklahoma City.  I was still so awake from the 5K walk, that I asked my friend to take me to the airport Thursday evening. So we went!

I could not sleep in the airport, so I just waited until the check-in counters opened around 4:30 a.m., flew the first leg to St. Louis Lambert Airport. There, I grabbed breakfast at the Chili’s Too restaurant at the airport (where the waitress really had to hunt to find jalapeno peppers for my eggs). Who knew it would be so hard to find a pepper at Chili’s (where the word ‘pepper’ is all over the menu)!

From there it was on to Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers Airport. I rented a car so I could run errands.  I made a run to Oklahoma University in Norman, OK (where I bought some used meteorology textbooks at a great price). Then I swung back towards downtown and continued to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.  I’ve been to Oklahoma City dozens of times, but never made it to this amazing place before now.

Here’s a smattering of the 50 photos I took (at multiple exposures, making over 200 images):

NCWHM - Pepp the Pup and her 'Pop'

NCWHM - Native America outerwear NCWHM - Prosperity Junction (Western Town Recreation)

NCWHM - Bronco Rider #3 NCWHM - "Trail's End" statue (marble)

(Right-click on an image and select View Image to enlarge any of these photos.)

At the end of the day I was fall-down tired, but the day was very gratifying.  After putting in so many long days for other people (at work, at church, etc.), it felt really good to put in a long day for myself. My feet were tired (after the 5K walk and trapsing around the museum for 2 hours), but my spirit was filled with great memories.

Thursday, 21 May 2009 – Half-Assed Astronaut?

My most and least favorite part of packing for a chase trip is getting all my gear ready for the journey.  When I use my own vehicle, the space is divided 3-5 ways, so I take multiple camera bodies, at least two camcorders, and tons of maps.

I pack much lighter for trips where I fly, as the chase van’s space id divided 8-10 ways. Every piece of gear must have a real reason for being there. Except for batteries and media, there is no duplication at all. If something breaks in the field, I either go without or buy a new piece of equipment in the field (mailing the broken one home for later repairs).

Even so, my gear make me look like some kind of “half-assed astronaut (a term I’ve borrowed from the movie Jaws, since it fits so well). Here’s what the well-prepared ‘half-assed astronaut’ lugs to the field: a camera, a camcorder, tripods. laptop, cell phone, extra batteries and memory, and a few books (in case the gadgets do not provide enough entertainment):

Thursday, 28 May 2009 – Interim Update

Apologies for not keeping this up.

We have had a demanding travel schedule and have seen no significant severe storms.

The weather pattern has been uncooperative, with the 500mb winds way up in Canada, instead of across TX,OK,KS,NE,SD where we could use them.

I will add detailed entries tonight, if we arrive before 11pm at our hotel (which has not happened yet).

From Del Rio, TX (staring across the Rio Grande) – Lisa

CHASE2009 – PROLOGUE #1 – Pre-chase preparation – round 1

Another Season of active weather is in full gear, and I am ready to join the fray.

This Year’s chase approach

Since my regular chase partner is unavailable when i have time off, I am using my fallback strategy: go with a commercial chase tour (my old favorite, Tempest Tours).   Beyond that, I will be limit to weekend chases (with a long-distance trip for Independence day weekend, weather permitting).

Given that my regular ‘commuter car’ — a 2001 Chevy Prizm that has never had a moment of trouble until now — is not in running condition, my chase vehicle is my temporary commute vehicle.  I use a separate vehicle for chasing to avoid risk to the car I use to go to work, but cannot realistically exercise that option now. Once my tax refund arrives, I’ll fix the Prizm and revert to the old vehicle strategy.

Pre-season training and certification

As in past years, I have done some pre-season training, highlighted by the Advanced Spotter Training seminar that DuPage County (Illinois) Emergency Management Agency (DCEMA) sponsors annually.  This year, the training counts toward my biannual spotter re-certification, so I do not need to re-do the basic spotter training class. As usual, the DCEMA folks rounded up some excellent speakers and the talks were educational and informative.  I even sat a few seats from a fellow survivor of the 1967 Belvidere, Illinois tornado, the storm that is probably responsible for setting my path toward storm chasing. (OPTIONAL: Insert Twister / Helen Hunt joke here.  Cool).

[SIDE NOTE: YouTube has a couple of Belvidere videos here and here, if you want to learn more.)

The annual WGN9-TV/FermiLab severe weather seminar acts as the other part of my training refresher (especially the presentations on lightning, tornado injuries, and storm safety). Some high precip storms came through the area (drenching us when we entered the build at 5pm).  The local chasers were easy to identify: all had a ‘should I stay or chase’ look on their faces. Nothing like have a good storm during the storm seminar to confuse the die-hard weather weenies!

The 6-10pm presentations ran so late that Ron and Cheryl Schmalz (my local chase partners) and I left early to get our first real meal of the day.  The evening meal at the local Sonic, the post-storm sounds and smells, and my van full of chaser gadgets made it feel like the end of a chase day.

Cheryl was fortunate enough to win on of the weather radios that was given away. (I believe that brings the unofficial radio count for the Schmalz household to 20 or so!)  I’m sure she and Ron will enjoy many hours of use from the new radio, as they are very active in storm spotting for their community.  They are both terrific examples of the many selfless individuals who give their hearts and hands over to the cause of keeping their neighbors safe when the skies grow threatening.

More pre-chase preparation

Hopefully, before the trip, I empty out the 2008 chase video from my HDD camcorder, prep my cameras (including the Pentax 14M-pixel K20-D), and get my chase laptop rebuild (as it is a bit too-crash prone to use in the field right now).  I also want to update my chase pages, espeiclly the tools section.  I’ll be using some Tim Vasquez weather book for inspiration in that area.

Stay tuned for more updates soon!