Category Archives: Cameras

11May2016 Wednesday: Rumble in my ‘hood

Thunder and lightning are at my door. Nothing severe here, but I feel like I’m being teased. Note: the two odd-shaped polygons in the center circle are the city limits for Naperville, Illinois (where I volunteer for the emergency management agency’s weather desk) and neighboring Bolingbrook, where I live.


I’m going through my pre-vacation checklist. I just finished one deceptively small item: cleaning my Nikon camera lenses, a two-hour job, thanks to not doing it in a very long time. Beats having dirty lenses!!

Here’s what’ was left of a much longer list when I started my work day:

  • Re-check with Tempest office – confirm all paperwork, T-shirt size (medium) etc. in good order. Let them know I am driving down, not flying – Thu
  • Respond to introductions (email) once they arrive – Wed
  • Computer and media checks:
    • Test laptop  – done
    • Test 3 TB hard drive – done
    • Format memory cards (an evening’s work) – Thu
  • Prepare vacation task list for work – Thu
  • Clean and check all Nikon lenses and camera – done
  • Utilities, etc. in VACATION mode – by departure date
    • Mail held at post office – done
    • Water –  a.m. of departure day
    • Gas – water heater – a.m. of departure day
  • Update travel plans with my U.K. contingent:
    • Sun 08 May – done
    • Wed 11 May – done
    • Fri 13 May
    • Sat 14 May
    • Sun 15 May

Amateur Astronaut Checklist – 2015 edition

Every year my gadget collection evolves, as gear wears out or needs a technology refresh to keep up with new capabilities in the field.  The following checklist (and its predecessors) have been my constant companion for over 10 years:

The ever-evolving checklist, obviously technology-driven

The ever-evolving checklist, obviously technology-driven (click to enlarge)

Without the list, I’d be rushing off on certain mornings, only to return to the motel where I’d left a key piece of gear.

I learned the lesson years ago when a member of the tour staff left an expensive camera in Norfolk, Nebraska.  We returned several days later to collect the missing camera, but only after frantic phone calls and changes to our positioning strategy to allow the return. While the camera had been turned over to the local police department, it could have just have easily disappeared.  After witnessing the anguish suffered by my chase companion, I decided not to repeat his experience. Thus, the list was born.

07 May 2013 – CHASE 2013 – DAY 7

07 May 2013 – CHASE 2013 – DAY 7

06:47 – Wake, shower

08:15 – As I’m toweling down from my shower, I get a call from Danny: briefing over. I had written 08:30 down. Oh, crap! “Run, Forrest, run!”

08:30 – Depart Plainview, heading north to Kansas.

10:22 – Continue north from Amarillo,TX, after a stop for bathrooms and a McDonald’s run.

_____ –


11:00 – stopped at (adjacent) Walmart and Verizon stores in Dumas, TX. Dang! They do not carry the myCharge device I wanted to buy. Jenna is getting good use out of mine, but I still need one, too. I’ll try to find one later.

11:40 – Angled northeast toward Guymon, OK on US54.

12:06 – Cross into Oklahoma at

13:30 – Lunch at the Subway in Hugoton, KS

14:00 – Continue north on KS25 through Ulysses, KS. Developing storms are building to our north.

15:00? – pit stop at Lakin, KS

16:05 – Headed north from Scott City, KS

16:15 – east on KS4 toward Healey


1745 – Heading south towards Dighton on KS23, we briefly encounter quarter-sized hail. (I submitted an mPing report.)

1806. – Charged east of Leighton toward Ness City. Trying to get ahead of our hailer.



______ – We catch a photogenic storm. Many photos, which Jim Reed will critique for me.


23:00 – Arrive At Dodge City Days Inn. A neighbor is engaged in a knock-down, drAgged-out argument; the hallways look like something from The. Brady Bunch era. Wow!

23:30 – We grab dinner at Applebee’s, then turn in for the night.

(More photos soon)

06 May 2013 – CHASE 2013 – DAY 6

06 May 2013 – CHASE 2013 – DAY 6

10:00 – We sing Happy Birthday to Bill Reid, our meteorologist and main guide. Bill does the weather briefing: chances for storms are rising, chance of severe to be non-zero, too.

11:00 – depart Van Horn, TX for New Mexico. We are positioning to be close to the OK/TX Panhandle – western Kansas area tomorrow.

_____ – stop at Guadalupe Mountain (highest point in Texas) for photos.

_____ – stop at NM/TX line for photos of the welcomes signs.

13:45 (CDT) – stop at Danny’s Place (REAL PIT BBQ) in Carlsbad, NM (the one with the famed Carlsbad Caverns).

17:45 – Exit Roswell, NM via US70N. Fueled up. No aliens sighted.

_____ – ___

_____ – ___

_____ – ___

_____ – ___

02 May 2013 – CHASE 2013 – DAY 2

02 May 2013 – CHASE 2013 – DAY 2 – Heading to the Big Bend

0700 – I’m awake! Did morning chores. Pulled myCharge, iPhone, camera batteries off their respective chargers.

0800 – packed everything but computer gear and iPhone. Transferred Nikon D7000 photos to my portable hard drive. Made shrunken copies of key photos for the day. Updated my blog entries for yesterday

1030 – meet others at the van to load up for the day.

10:35 – Do weather briefing. No expectation of storms for 2-3 days, at least. We will head to Terlingua,TX where we’ll set up our.base to explore
Big Bend National Park.

10:40 – Headed to The Beehive for lunch; arrived 20 minutes later. Excellent brisket and great stories about Albany and the restaurant from the owner, Ali (who came 33 year ago from Iran).

12:50 – stop for damage photos and video at a local oil company, Sazama Fuel & Oil. Departed Albany westbound, toward I-20.

14:36 – Continuing west on I-20, passing through Sweetland.
50 minutes later, exit at TX350 (Big Spring) for provisions.

15:51 – Continue west.

16:00 – Dust streaming across the interstate. All that is left of a lake north of us is a pitiful lakebed dotted with old tires and the dust spewing at us.


18:45 – We do a 20-minute Walmart stop in Fort Stockton then head south from I-10 on US67.

_____ – we stop the McDonalds in Alpine for dinner (a grilled chicken Caesar salad for me).

21:00 – Arrive at our motel near Big Bend National Park (in Terlingua, TX). Unload gear, set up chargers, turn in for the night. (I briefly tried to find a view of Saturn, but low clouds and trees are blocking the view until hours later.)

01 May 2013 – CHASE 2013 – DAY 1

01 May 2013 – CHASE 2013 – DAY 1 – Oklahoma and Texas

06:15 – Wake; morning chores;; pack bags

07:30 – Drop bags at Holiday Inn; return rental car

08:00 – Return to Wyngate via shuttle; eat breakfast.

08:30 – Walk to Holiday Inn; meet other chasers; do introductions and safety briefing,

10:30 – Pack vans, grab cameras and head for Wichita Falls , TX then toward Abilene.


12:50 – Rest stop then lunch 20 minutes later (just north of Wichita Falls, TX).

13:20 – Continue southwest from Wichita Falls on US277.

15:12 – stop at Munday for bathrooms, fuel, food. Continue southeast

17:15 – turn back north from Albany on US283. Storms with 55,000 foot have developed along I44 in southern OK, with the line spreading into our area. We are in a severe storm watch box.

18:00 – sky stop. We see a storm with a hard back sheared, take photos as it evolves.

20130501-135701.jpg18:30 – depart south on US283 as the cold outflow breeze of the storm invades.


Air being pulled up into the storm

Air being pulled up into the storm, near Throckmorton, TX, 01 May 2013

19:35 – we duck south, bit by bit, trying to keep out of monster (2.5-inch or larger) hail. At one point we can to the hail roar of the storm. (Hail roar is the sound of large hail hitting the ground, cars, rooftops, etc. It can sound like thunder only it can last for minutes at a time.)


20:30 – We stop west of Albany,TX, where we witness a spectacular display of spider lightning. I have embarrassing camera issues here, because I miss a control setting. Our team leader helps me figure it out, but I miss the best part of the lightning. To add insult to injury, the Storm Prediction Center indicates an unfavorable weather pattern (for storm chasers) for at least three days. I feel terribly frustrated.

Still, I captured a little bit:

Spider Lightning,

Spider Lightning, 01 May 2013, just west of Albany, TX

22:30 – We depart for our hotel after a fast food dinner at the Dairy Queen in Fort Griffin.

23:00 – We check into The Ridge Motel in Breckinridge,TX.
23:46 – turn in for the night. I’m exhausted physically and emotionally.

30 April 2013 – CHASE 2013 – Arrival

30 April 2013 – CHASE 2013 – Arrival

TODAY”S activities:

05:00 wake up
05:10 morning chores
05:20 Take trash to the curb
05:30 Airport limo arrived. My favorite driver, David, is driving. We talk about friends, relationship maintenance, and life on the trip to O’Hare.
0615 Arrive O’Hare. Due to my tripod case looking like a gun chase I check that along with backup photo gear. ($60 to check two bags! Highway robbery!!) I also end up gate-checking my carry-on bag (with my primary camera gear). I try to hide my displeasure and eventually settle in for the flight. Regional jets are more intimate than their massive cousins, but I always suffer separation anxiety when I travel separately from my most expensive toys.
__ Wheels up and on our way. Our compact yet comfy Canadair CRJ700 angles southwest toward the heart of Tornado Alley. As I sip my diet tonic water — scored a full can! — I chat with the flight attendant and compare note on her Canadair vs. the ski-equipped KC-130 aircraft of my Antarctic era. It seems that both planes began their lives as cargo aircraft are were later retrofitted with seats for passengers. (Learn something new every day!)

_____ arrive at OKC. To my chagrin, I discover my rental car location is not at the airport, but a $20 cab ride away. What’s more: the airport rental agent had put through the charge already, so I had to have him back it out.

_____ drove downtown. Ate lunch at Thai Kitchen (a recommendation from my Thai can driver). Great meal and great price. I guess the detour to the rental car served a second purpose. Lesson: Learn to make the most of detours; sometimes the scenic route turns out better.

_____ Consulted Google Maps to find a photo store. All the signs (Yelps, reviews, etc.) point to Baker Camera in Yukon, a short hop west of OKC. Upon arriving I make two wonderful discoveries: 1) Yukon is Garth Brooks’ hometown (“teenage!”) and 2) Hank Baker, the owner of this oasis of prosumer Nikon and Canon gear, is also an accomplished storm photographer.

_____ Swing by the Sam’s Club off McArthur Blvd. to pick up protein bars. Imodium (just in case), dried mangoes, and a jar of marinated asparagus.

____ Back to the Wyngate for a brief unwind.

_____ Go to the Texas Roadhouse. Celebrate Willie Nelson’s 80th birthday with a Skinny Margarita. A 12-oz. ribeye, and a cup of chili.

_____ return to the hotel. Charge up phone, photo and video batteries and myCharge (iPhone charge bank). Check the forecasts and models. Looks like we’ll dive south into Texas for our first chase day.

22:00 Turn in for the night


I usually read along with the flight attendant while she (or he) goes through the safety card. Besides the fact every plane is a little different, I’ve always considered it polite to pay attention to a person when they speak. Usually, the safety briefing is pretty repetitious, but today I found something new:

It never occurred to me that a person with a pacemaker would be required to turn it off during the flight! Everybody got a good laugh when I pointed this out. Now my joke collection has a pacemaker joke. “Who’d w thunk it?”