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dispatches: May 2008

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25 MAY 2008

May 23: Lightning in Rockledge, Florida
Love that lightning: It doesn't compare to the freakin' tornado wedgefest in the Plains this week, which work commitments kept me from chasing, but at least there was some nice lightning here in Florida on May 23. At first, Cheryl Chang and I checked out the storms. Then I stuck around a parking lot while the last one came through close to midnight, and I snapped lightning photos in Rockledge. Hope we get lots more picturesque storms this summer. See the May 23 lightning photos or all the 2008 chase reports.

19 MAY 2008

May 13: Approaching fire in Grant-Valkaria, Florida
Fire and rain: The post-chase melancholy has set in, especially since it looks like there will be major severe weather in the Plains later this week, and I won't be there. We finally had a little rain here in central Florida this weekend after the conflagration of the previous week. A lot of people's lives went up in smoke. I got to witness first-hand the drama of watching a farm in the path of the flames. There was something terrible and inexorable about the fire, especially when, on that quiet dirt road, the crackle of the flames was so audible and then their bright orange tongues shot through the trees. The long grass was so crunchy underfoot, it seemed it would take little for all of it to burn. Fortunately, a helicopter, some trucks and some good people stopped the advance.

I do not feel as if I am advancing at all. Self-pity is a bore, but I really should be able to make room in my life for as much chasing as I want to do. The job at the moment (and for a long time) prevents it. It's not just chasing ... it's the thing I love, experiencing the storms and nature in its purest form. And life is so short, and my mother's death earlier this year haunts me, underscoring the point.

11 MAY 2008
Update: I've now posted photos from the May 8 chase. Meanwhile, I'm back home ... I started the epic drive on Friday, deciding the Saturday storms would be hard to chase, and I didn't anticipate how everything would come together to produce a tornado outbreak. That I realized Saturday morning when I checked data on the road - but I'd already driven all night, so I was too close to home to turn back. I hate to see all the destruction from the tornadoes from Saturday. It's so hard to prepare for those kinds of fast-moving storms.

So for now, my Plains chase is over. I look forward to Florida storms this summer. See this year's chase photos to date in the 2008 chase reports.

8 MAY 2008

May 8: Wildly rotating storm in western Kansas
The spin: The spin is the thing, and finally, I saw some real rotation and the classic signs of tornado formation in a storm in western Kansas, south of Dighton and northwest of Dodge City, as my Plains chase winds down. No tornado, but there might have been one in the rain and hail; several power poles were snapped in the area. And the whole thing evolved into a beautiful laminar shelf cloud that raced south. I am too tired to post all the pictures right now, but I have posted photos from the past few days. See them in the 2008 chase reports.

7 MAY 2008

May 6: Amazing lightning east of Lubbock, Texas
Redemption: It's 2:30 a.m. central time, so I don't have the energy to post all the photos from Tuesday's chase ... they'll come soon, but check out the lightning! Let's just say, for all the perceived tornado potential - with the seeming right combination of upper-level winds, moisture, etc. - it sure was a cluster day. Clusters of storms, or clustersomething. But the lightning I saw as I drove east of Lubbock was tremendous and redeemed my day. The best stuff was when I was still driving and it was happening all around me, the kinds of close bolts that cause a concussion like a cannonball. B-BOOM! Impressive. I got several good shots and will post some when I have a chance to do a proper Web update. Looks like one more chase day, anyway... but there's no guarantee of its quality given all the current storms steamrolling through the area.

6 MAY 2008

Big hail on May 5 outside Roswell, N.M.; I believe there were at least baseballs in the storm. Click for larger image.
Hail avoidance: The Cinco de Mayo chase involved no Mexican food, tons of driving, little sleep and a monster supercell. I got on it a bit later than I would have liked, in Roswell, New Mexico, where it had a pretty laminar look that I only caught the tail end of. I attempted to follow it northeast and saw the disaster it left in its wake - lots of disabled vehicles and lots of big hailstones by the side of the road. I watched the storm just behind it for a bit as it spun an interesting wall cloud - next to a stunning curtain of white hail - and as soon as the first hailstones started falling around me, I bailed. I decided it just wasn't worth it. I've had my car destroyed before, and I didn't want to go into the belly of the beast on a road in the middle of nowhere that would soon be in darkness. Instead I went straight east out of Roswell, and got a nice phone update on the beast from Bill Hark, who was looking at the amazing radar images. The storm cluster was so huge that I got a neat look at its south side even on that road, and got some cool after-dark time exposures. But eventually I headed to Lubbock to stay ahead of what was becoming a line. I'll post more photos later; I'm pretty tired. There's no point in putting out a Don't Disturb sign at the Motel 6 because many of the screaming guests have the motto "Disturb All the Time." Today looks like an interesting chase, too, and I have to summon up a few brain cells to do a forecast.

5 MAY 2008
More pix: I just added a couple of photos to the page of roadside attraction pictures after wandering aimlessly today into eastern New Mexico and around the Texas panhandle. I saw lots of antelope and ended up at The Big Texan in Amarillo, where the Cloud 9 Tours group was also enjoying some steak. I'm hoping today will be good chasing. Meanwhile, my e-mail is full of bounced spam - someone's spoofing my account and making it look like I'm sending out loads of junk mail. It makes me crazy. All spammers should be hung by their toes.

Where the buffalo roam
4 MAY 2008
Just posted: I've been sightseeing as I meander west in anticipation of the next storm system. See the fun collection of roadside attraction photos.

3 MAY 2008

Sedan, Kansas' yellow brick sidewalk
Chasing choices: People who don't chase storms sometimes wonder how I can't see a tornado when there are dozens reported on a particular day. It looks easy when you see all those red triangles on The Weather Channel or Storm Prediction Center maps. But what the maps don't tell you is (1) a lot occur at night; (2) if they are in certain parts of the country, like the South, they may hide amid trees and hills; (3) some are wrapped in rain, even if it is daylight; (4) not all reports are valid; and (5) even if they are visible, you have to be in the right place at the right time.

Sometimes a chaser decides it's just not worthwhile. I wasn't the only chaser to choose not to try to chase the squall line in Arkansas and environs today. Even though there have been several tornado reports, I would have been dealing with the aforementioned trees and hills. Not only that, but I would have had to drive many hours on little sleep, through a squall line going only slightly slower than myself, meaning I would have been driving in horrible rain etc. for a long time; and after all that driving and marginal chasing, I would have had to return back west to be in position for what I hope will be a better (and more visible) chase in a couple of days. And there are the gas prices.

Bright sky in Norman, Oklahoma
So after Thursday's chase and late night and not quite enough sleep, I decided to take it easy and amble from Kansas down to Norman, Oklahoma, on Friday. I always seem to come back to Norman at some point while chasing. On the way, I stopped in Sedan, Kansas. It's a cute town with wonderful old buildings on the main street and a great art deco theater, among other things. Hollywood location scouts should give it a look. It also claims to have the longest yellow brick road - as in "The Wizard of Oz" - but I must admit that the "road" was a disappointment. It was a sidewalk along a city block, populated by bricks with donors' names on them. It was a valiant effort, but it would not be an efficient way to reach the Emerald City. I don't think Dorothy and her friends could link arm and arm and still fit as they skipped toward their destiny.

2 MAY 2008

Oklahoma's first commercial oil well in Bartlesville, with clouds
The day after: The day after the first chase of the year, that is. I am trying to achieve that Zen balance between overwhelming anticipation and extreme pessimism. The results of yesterday, May 1, met me in the middle. I started the day in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and moved west and north to meet the dryline and what I thought was the best potential near the Oklahoma-Kanasas border. See the photos and chase report. I saw a great rotating storm, but I did not see a tornado (a spinup was reported with my storm; perhaps I wasn't close enough to see it). And actually, because it was so gorgeous, with its crisp anvil, aggressively bubbling flanking line and a short period of flying-saucer-like laminar beauty as it moved with the line of storms, I wasn't disappointed when I saw the grainy twilight tornado video from Oklahoma on The Weather Channel this morning. I had a good chase. Now, there will be a lull of at least a couple of days. I guess I'll set out from my current stop of Independence, Kansas, and dig up a few more Tornado Alley tourist attractions to see. I enjoyed seeing Bartlesville's oil well in Oklahoma yesterday. But one can gaze upon Cawker City's big ball of twine just so many times before it becomes too dazzling to bear ...