June 3: Epilogue, back to standby mode
I parked the car in front of the house and turned off the ignition at 9:45PM last night, officially bringing an end to our 2006 trip. I was too tired to bring everything inside, a task I'll save for later today.
At first thought, we could draw the conclusion that this year's trip was at the least a major disappointment, and at worst a disaster. We saw no tornadoes and had major vehicle problems that stranded us for four days. But the reality is, this is storm observing. There are good years and bad years, and the bad years are nothing to get upset about. Tornado intercepts are rare events, so a dedicated observer must endure the bad years to accomplish that goal.
Futhermore, there were plenty of positives this year - the main one being the abundance of incredible lightning. I was able to gather a large amount of amazing lightning footage that I'd never be able to find east of the Mississippi. We also did very well with our forecasting and positioning - we were in the right location nearly every storm observation day. If major tornadoes had happened, we more than likely would have been able to catch them. We also were able to travel with one of the more technologically advanced setups, with internet access nearly the entire trip. In all, I'm satisfied with the 2006 season and am ready for next year.
Looking at the long-range models, a large west-coast trough is trying to take shape in the June 12-16 time frame. That week is already occupied with whitewater rafting and a Pittsburgh trip with my family, so any secondary Plains storm observing expedition will have to wait until after the 17th. By that time, we'll be past the climatalogical peak for tornadoes in the Plains, and any event would likely be either marginal and/or in the far northern Plains - much too far away for a short-fuse trip. At this point, nothing short of a surefire, synoptically-evident multi-day outbreak anywhere south of the Nebraska-South Dakota border will get us back on the road. It is this slight possibility that will keep us from shutting down our spring storm season operations completely until July. We'll keep the blog and the expedition tracker on standby for any such change of plans.
As for the car, it just finished driving the 1,400 miles from Bismarck, North Dakota to Charleston, West Virginia, with a half dozen hours of driving around touring downtown Minneapolis, Chicago, and Madison, for a total of around 1,600 miles in two days. No problems at all, except -
Ever since the fuel pump swap, the fuel economy has plummeted to an alarming 17MPG or less on the highway. I was averaging 23MPG before the repair, even with our full rooftop cargo carrier (I normally get 25MPG average on highway travel). We'd need to fill up every 5 hours or so of 70MPH Interstate driving. Now, we need to fill up every 3.5 to 4 hours. Our wind configuaration going home was actually more favorable, with a 5 to 15mph north to northwest tailwind behind the cold front the entire way from Minneapolis, and the Twin Cities to central Ohio is almost perfectly flat terrain.
So, in addition to having the Charleston dealership check the integrity of the old pump, I'll have to have them work on whatever is killing my gas mileage. It won't be free, that's for sure. Will Firestone or the Bismarck Ford service department help us out? I guess I'll find out on Monday.
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