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Great Plains Storm Expedition Log : May 26-27, 2001

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Saturday, May 26

After a week of agonizing over the long-range forecasts for the Oklahoma/Kansas area, I wasn't sure I was making the trip at all. But suddenly things finally started looking somewhat good on Friday night, and Saturday afternoon I was heading west.

Near Morehead, Kentucky around 3:30pm, storms were beginning to fire up all around, and I pulled over and took a shot of an exploding cell to the southeast (at right).

I made it into St. Louis, MO at around 9:30pm Central Time, and snapped a couple shots of downtown (left) while taking a break from driving. The rest of the night was long. After stopping at several campgrounds and cheap hotels, all completely booked, I ended up grabbing 3 hours of sleep at a rest area near Joplin, MO.

I finally rolled into Oklahoma at 8:00am Sunday morning (right) and arrived in Tulsa at 10:00am.

Sunday, May 27

After services at Gracemont Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, OK I get a call on the cell phone from Bill Coyle from Virginia Beach, VA. He and Dave Crowley, along with the rest of our chase group, are near Amarillo, Texas heading north for a SPC high risk area in southwestern Kansas and western Oklahoma. Bill's wife Amy is still at a relative's house in Tulsa, and is eager to join us for the expedition. So, after picking up Amy, we are now heading west across the prarie toward Woodward, OK.

After several cell phone contacts with Dave, we planned to meet up with the rest of the group somewhere in western OK or southwestern Kansas. That was the intended plan, anyway.

The scenery in western OK was interesting, with red mesas rising from the plains near Mooreland (right).

My cell phone went completely out of range west of Enid, OK and rendered our unit without communication, so when we arrived in Woodward to get our next update from Dave, Bill and the team, I had to feed $3.70 worth of quarters into a pay phone to coordinate our meeting place of Buffalo, OK. For some reason the thought didn't cross my mind that I could have just bought a calling card, which would have prevented the situation that would develop as the evening progressed.

By now a line of strong storms was in western Kansas moving southeast. After feeding another $1.00 into a pay phone at Buffalo, our meeting point was moved to Ashland, Kansas, so we continued north. As we crossed the Kansas-Oklahoma border, bright lightning strikes began to flash ahead of the line, and by Sitka, KS we could see the advancing edge of the storms and knew that we would not meet up until after the line moved through.

We stopped and took some video and digital pictures of the strong gust front developing ahead of the line (at right) which was quite an amazing sight. The wind was beginning to pick up considerably, and we soon found out that it was a good thing we stopped before continuing west to Ashland.

Had we not stopped, we would have been caught in a powerful blast of 85-110mph straight-line winds that enveloped the rest of our team just 10 miles to our west. We could see the dirt and dust swirling up from the ground to our west (left) as the wind ripped across the plains.

The rain came shortly afterwards, and we slowly moved toward Ashland at 40mph as the wind rocked the truck. Meanwhile, the other two chase team vehicles were getting hammered and taking damage from wind-blown debris only a few miles away. Jon Person's Toyota 4Runner (Unit #2) suffered a rear window blowout (right). Jon's 4Runner has seen its share of bizzare chase damage, including being hit directly by lightning during an expedition in a previous season. The strike blew all four tires, pitted the wheel rims, and sunk a huge dent in the roof where the CB antenna once stood. The whole event was caught on videotape, which has been seen on countless 'Reality TV' shows and weather documentaries.

Today Unit #1 came away with 2 windows and the windshield scratched and nicked beyond repair.

At Ashland, we stopped at another pay phone to work out our next meeting point, but the phone wanted $4.40 to make the call. We didn't have that much change, and there wasn't one place open in this small town. To complicate matters, the needle on my gas guage was VERY close to empty. Looking at the map and judging from the lack of open gas stations in Ashland, I didn't think that there would be anywhere to fuel up close by, other than back in Buffalo to the south. And I even doubted I'd make it there, but we had no other choice.

Thankfully, we made it to Buffalo, but right as a unbelievably strong cell - likely the same one the rest of our team endured - roared into town with 70mph+ winds.

I fed some more change into the phone, but Dave's cell phone was out of range. Just then an empty cardboard case of beer, driven by the wind, slammed into my leg, which in fact stung quite a bit!

By this time the wind was making the situation a little dangerous. The power was flickering and the gas station's sign and canopy were rocking with appalling amplitudes. I expected the canopy to come down any second. But I was worried that if the power went out, the gas pumps would be out of commission, leaving us stranded. So I paid for $10.00 worth, grit my teeth, and went out to the pump in the height of the storm. The flickering power locked up the pumps, which had to be reset by the attendant - which meant another dash inside the store and back out to the pump.

Thankfully, the power stayed on and we averted a stranding. But when I went to try again and call Dave and the team, the phones were dead. And with my cell phone being long gone since Enid, we had no choice but to go south to Woodward.

The drive south from Buffalo was in the middle of this storm- no visibility, heavy rain, roaring wind and hail, dodging tree limbs sliding across the seemed to take forever. It turns out that we basically were staying right in the core of the storm as we moved south with the cells.

All this time Bill and Dave, having not heard from us, were getting understandably very anxious. And their experiences with the storm in Kansas made them all the more worried, so much so that they had resorted to calling the Highway Patrol and manually searching the ditches along the roads in southwestern Kansas.

We made it to Woodward and finally made contact with Bill and the rest of the team. After a long, tiring drive, we were at last part of the convoy at Dodge City, Kansas at midnight.

NEXT: Bust day, classic LP Supercell, OKC lightning show >

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