June 1: Minneapolis, Chicago, almost home
The saga continues. We finally drove the Freestyle out of Bismarck at 7PM on Wednesday afternoon. After the fuel pump arrived in the morning and was installed by Firestone, the car still would not start. The mechanics were stumped, and eventually towed the car to the Ford dealership. After 5PM the Ford service department's senior master technician was assigned to our car. After 5 minutes he had located the problem. The inertial fuel cutoff switch (designed to cut power to the fuel pump in the event of a crash), located in the molding in the front passenger area, had worked loose from its connector. The Firestone techs had remembered to reset this switch, but not to check the connector. So, we're not sure if the fuel pump was ever bad to begin with. Tired of being stranded in North Dakota's tiny capital city for four days, we paid the $627 repair bill to Firestone and with great joy headed west. We took the old pump with us and will have the Charleston Ford dealer test it. If it turns out to be good, Firestone should refund us the bulk of our repair bill. That's a potential headache I'll worry about later. For now I'm glad to have my car back and on my way home.
The one thing that made the Bismarck stranding bearable was the fact that we didn't miss any tornadoes as a result. In fact, we didn't even miss much in the way of photogenic storms during the time we were stuck in North Dakota. In a way, we might have actually saved money by not spending $150 a day in fuel making daily marathon drives to South Dakota, Kansas, Texas and Colorado, as we likely would have if we had remained in an active chase mode. If I'm eventually refunded my repair bill, the breakdown might actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
We stayed last night in Minneapolis, and spent the better part of this afternoon touring the city at the guidance of Doug Keisling. We're now in Chicago, at our final hotel stay of the trip. Matt is getting on a plane from O'Hare to Raleigh tomorrow so he can make it back home in time to see his girlfriend Beth before she leaves on a long trip of her own. I'll be dropping Tom off in Huntington tomorrow evening when we finally arrive back in West Virginia, and I'll be back in Charleston late on Friday night to bring our 2006 storm observing expedition to a close.
As for as the rest of our observing 'standby' period that ends on June 12: the forecast models show little promise for anything expedition-worthy in the next two weeks, which means our 2006 tornado season is all but over. As always, we will be keeping an eye on any surprise setup that would be worthy of us making a quick 2 to 4 day trip back to the Plains before July 1 - but at this point in this already tornado-less storm season, even that seems highly unlikely. More than likely, we'll just start saving our money for next year.
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