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Texas Hill Country & Storm-Chasing

Part 14:  Day of the Greensburg Tornado

 

The models for Friday and Saturday, however, were predicting major tornado outbreaks for northwest Kansas and eastern Colorado, so we were anxious to see what would play out (I wish I had written down all of David's colorful metaphors, such as "Black Hole," "Death and Destruction," "Armageddon," and "There won't be a Kansas any more!")  The main thing he was worried about on Saturday was the fact that the "chaser convergence" would be the equivalent of a Harpy Eagle showing up at Santa Ana: it would be bumper to bumper traffic, probably, and that mostly storm-chasers!

  Unfortunately my allergies (or crud, or whatever it was) had settled in my voice box so I was unable to talk (figuring that maybe that was good news for David and Roger J), but I was hoping it wouldn’t damper (no pun intended) the rest of the trip!  Little did we know how prophetic David’s cute little descriptions would turn out to be: after spending the night in Hayes (I think), Kansas, David gave us a mini-lecture that morning in forecasting, and then we eventually made it east to where a line of severe storms was supposed to form that afternoon and evening. Caryn (Roger’s wife) was bringing out a handful of on-call chasers, so we all met at the motel (she wasn’t afraid of catching my Crud so she got a big hug J) before heading out. At several stops we crossed paths with Josh Wurman and his Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW), along with the same "impenetrable" tornado-mobile we encountered on the first storm-chasing tour (this time going through the Wendy’s drive-through; I’m sure that made their day). Someone was quite happy to interview Caryn’s youngest client (a little boy about eight) next to the tornado-mobile!

     

David gives us a lesson in forecasting before we head out to the field while Alister expertly packs the van!

         

Lisa shoots Little Roger next to the famous "Twister-mobile" at the Wendy’s drive-through; this vehicle was designed to drive right intotornado and is equipped with an Imax camera!  The film team traveling with Josh Wurman’s group interviews our youngest on-call storm-chaser!

There was some concern amongst some of the folks that a major tornado event might frighten the boy for life (but some youngsters get hooked for life that way--go figure), so perhaps fortunately for him (and maybe disappointingly for the on-call folks) we had nothing of the sort that night: we chased some nasty-looking storms that gave us some pretty structure and scary-looking scud, and even a mid-level funnel, but no tornadoes. A Harrier lazily hunting was a new trip bird. Perhaps this was the night we spent in Hayes, because as we were getting ready to wrap up, Alister was watching another storm south of us which had developed into a monster tornado bearing down on the city of Greensburg, and described his heart catching in his throat as he watched that thing hit the town on radar. It was after dark, and we found out the next morning that it was almost two miles wide and all but wiped out the town, killing at least ten people. David surmised that had the tornado hit in the daytime, a lot of chasers would have been killed as they would have tried to get too close and would probably have gotten caught up in it, as a hapless Sheriff’s Deputy did as he tried to warn people of its approach. (Click here to read a local report of the story.)  Gary had gotten separated from us, and while he thankfully didn’t wind up in the Greensburg area, he did find himself in the middle of a tremendous hailstorm!

   

We gather to watch a developing storm just north of where the deadly Greensburg tornado hit.

     

Surf's up!

    

Scary-looking scud and mid-level funnel  

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