This tour’s leadership includes veteran chaser and guide, William (Bill) Reid and drivers Bob Smith (a wildlife biologist) and Bill’s colleague, Rook, who used to work with him as a contractor meteorologist before the National Weather Service and FAA thrust the job of observations and Forecasting on air traffic controllers at small airports.
The rest of the team is a mix of returning chasers (like David Balfour and myself), first-timers from the UK and Australia, and a handful of sky-lovers from all across America (most of whom have had some kind of tornado encounter during their lives). About half of us are degreed scientists (meteorologists, biologists, chemists). Several of us work in IT. Many of us have desk jobs (and need a little excitement to break up the hum-drum routine). There are 16 of us altogether, two full vans of people.
Our vehicles are comfortable 15-passenger vans with broad windows to offer a clear view of the sky from every seat. Over the years, the technology has evolved, so each van has onboard WiFi connections to the broadband modems used to download weather maps and forecasts, view BIll’s many chase trip logs, and exchange email between our laptops (and smartphones) and the outside world. Everybody has a little nook for camera gear and the snacks we carry (as real meals will be few and far between once the atmosphere recovers).
The weather briefing is a little bleak for the first half of the trip: Sunday’s tornado barrage in Nebraska has scrubbed the moisture out of the Great Plains, leaving us only a low potential to see severe weather far to our east (in the ‘jungles’ of Missouri). A strong ridge — the chaser’s arch enemy! — will dominate the plains for 4-5 days thereafter. We get a refresher on the ingredients for severe weather, so we will be reminded when the outlook for chaseable storms improves.
The shirts (pictured at right) feature tribute to engineering whiz and self-taught meteorologist Tim Samaras (left), his son and photographer Paul Samaras, and Tim’s longtime chaser partner Carl Young. Also depicted is one of the ‘turtle’ probes that this team would anchor in the path of oncoming tornadoes to measure temperature, wind, and barometric pressure. One of thsee 40-pound probes, an original design by Tim Samaras, took the first readings from inside a tornado (as well as video inside the funnel from ground level). The November 2013 National Geographic magazine talks about the life and death of Tim Samaras, who had received several recurring grants from ‘NatGeo’ for his groundbreaking weather research and amazing photos of his work.
1045 – We depart for southwest Missouri, where our best chance — but not a great chance— for some storms exists.
1223 – as we approach the outskirts of Tulsa, light rain starts
1238 – Heavy rain as we pass through the Tulsa metro area.
1450 – cross into MO on I-44. For about 45 seconds, no rain, then car wash 2 begins.
1510 – we make a 10-minute pit stop at flying J in Joplin, MO, where and EF-5 tornado plowed through on 22 May 2011. The regional hospital in Joplin was so badly damaged, that they had to tear down and build a new one. Many people lost their lives that day. I was out with the Tempest Tours team chasing that day, but was near Southwest City, MO, several counties to the south. Today, the storms are only delivering rain and LOTS of lightning. Apparently, delivering lightning is a local specialty.
1525 – dpt Joplin for points east.
1541 – We take the Sarcoxie exit south.
1544 – Travel east, out of Sarcoxie
1600 – Cross highway MO37
1607 – Arrive at Pierce City, MO
1617 – Depart Monett, MO, eastbound on highway on H. The radar show several storms, but nothing is rotating:
1631 – We move south, past Verona, continuing eastbound on US 60E. Trying to get ahead of the outflow boundary into warm air, where we might see some lightning and hail together. We are briefly pinged by pea-sized hail.
1700 – We enter Springfield, MO from the south. We have abandoned hope for today being a good severe weather day, at this point. It looked like we might see some good storms on the front of the outflow boundary, but they never materialized. We had a brief encounter with a storm that was dropping piece sized hail near Monett, but that is all. Mostly driving through a long car wash, getting wet, and everybody getting my impromptu mini-lecture on how all the various radar screens — reflectivity, base velocity, storm relative velocity, etc. work.
1745 – Check in at Days Inn (near huge, new Bass Pro store). WiFi here is DaysInnBassPro ( YES, really).
I wonder if I’ll be logging into FishNet. (LOL) The storms slog slowly to the east, but weaken as they go. (Yawn!)
1900 – Meet for dinner. We eat at a local sports bar and grill, Bair’s. I opt for the buffalo chicken salad, a luxury meal compared to the convenience sore meals that lie ahead. We watch the Boston-Montreal hockey game (a warmup for Bill’s game, the L.A. Kings vs. the world). Bill jokes about the Cubs wasting all those runs, as the rain approaches. If the game is rain out before the 5th inning is done, it’s a ‘no-gamer’. (The Cubs go on to slaughter the Cardinals 17-5 in 9 complete inning. Nice try, Bill!) I remind Bill how much I’m looking forward to the Blackhawks-King series for the conference finals, should each of us cheer our respective NHL favorites on to victory.
EOD – We return to the motel. Here our route for the days ends.
We blow off a little steam with a lobby party. This particular Days Inn sells a little alcohol at the front desk.
|Start||Oklahoma City, OK|
|Route||I-44,US-60,many side roads|