Back Home Again

June 15, 2004 by
Filed under: Journal Entry 

Elke and I are back from our chase vacation and feeling refreshed again, just to have been “out there” on the Great Plains — this time ranging from Stephenville TX to Minot ND (first time in ND!) and from Farina IL to Pine Bluffs WY.  Several tornadic storms gusted out upon our arrival, but fortunately the Big Springs one didn’t.  [We did, however, abandon it after the long-lived hose because it was headed into utterly horrific road gaps andterrain-obstructed visibility of the Sand Hills.]  We saw a handful of other tornadoes this year — mostly distant, brief, and/or poor contrast.  We got to the Minot ND, Patoka IL and NW IA supercells immediately after they quit producing hoses, with a different strategic or atmospheric factor to blame for our tardiness each time.  On other days, such as 12 June, we were on one or more nontornadic supercells (i.e., Fairbury NE then Manhattan KS) while another far away (Mulvane) did its tornadic dances.  We saw a handful of tornadoes but missed lots, lots more.  These things happen at times, seemingly in streaks, when one spends enough years doing this, so no use being too upset for too long.  On one day
Rich and I did something uncharacteristically aggressive and insane, and are grateful to be in a position to tell of it so that others may avoid the same mistake.

So it was, to say the least, a bittersweet season.

However, an abiding moment, always etched in time, revealed itself one afternoon over the east arm of Lake Sakakawea S of MOT.  We landed in the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge at a dead-end dirt road, thwarted from closer intercept of a spinning disc of straited cloud plates to our N, and its resilient, long-lived wall cloud.  Spent of its tornadic glory, the free convection above the plates tilted itself at angles approaching 60 degrees from vertical, sunlit and aglow in the warm and waning rays.  Somehow the whole storm assembly — wall cloud, plate stack and leaning plume of towers — survived through sunset, spinning its way across the northern skies beyond shimmering waters that reflected the wave-cut hues of a stormy sky, waters also teeming with both diving birds and jumping fish.  Far removed from the highway, the noises consisted only of splashes on the big lake’s surface, and the calls of the hundreds of aquatic birds.  It’s a scene unlikely to occur more than once in a lifetime.

Fascinating also was the process of discretely propagating tornadic storms — a process welldiscussed in the CFDG annals and in literature (Jarrell, Lake Whitney, Collinsville and such).  I had never witnessed this phenomenon produce tornadoes first hand, however, until 11 June.  We saw one bonafide tornado in the distance near Otho IA (S of Ft. Dodge) from this process, and several other cyclonic cloud base circulations as the convective system zippered southward toward Boone IA.  [One of those circulations produced a shallow but well defined cone funnel, lit pink in the setting sun, N of Boone, that someone else reported as a tornado.]  As each circulation tightened, it either would produce a funnel/tornado or (more often) would be smothered by the next core developing immediately adjacent to its S.  The arcus on a grand scale was scalloped, arching inward toward each circulation then outward again around each core, conjuring immediate thoughts of the conceptual LEWP model from radar meteoroology, coming to life vividly and from horizon to horizon across the sky.

Elke and I will post more detailed and photographically illustrated daily SUMMs on the web over the summer as we get the opportunity, address(es) TBA.  ITMT it was good chatting with several CFDG folks out there (i.e., Paul Sirvatka, OF Leonard, Dave Gold, The Chaser Formerly and Once Again Now Known as Matt (Biddle), Tim Samaras, Steve “Rich and Roger Damn Near Killed Me” Hodanish, Har_ld Richter, Ryan Jewell, BC, Ed C, and surely a few others I am not recalling at this moment.
Back to the Okie summer and a lawn badly needing mowing after 5.21″ of rain in our absence.


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