Friday, May 30, 2014

Bennett and Strasburg CO. 5/21/14. (Also known as the day the circus came to town.)

Clearly something was chewing through my GPS receiver to produce the pretty little pattern you see here. Let me assure you we weren't making North/South trips while varying our East/West by fractional degrees. But it does make for a cute "Etch-A-Sketch" like drawing.

Expecting initiation in the mid-afternoon hours, we took our sweet time leaving Goodland allowing us the chance to see things in the daylight hours. The Texas chasing group was driving this vehicle as part of their convoy. I always enjoy looking at other folks handiwork when it comes to building urban storm assault vehicles. Clearly, some time and thought was put into the design of this rig.

After breakfast, we wished the Texas group who were huddled around their laptops in the hotel's commons area "good luck my partner reminded me she wanted to see the "giant" Van Gogh painting located in town.

Now why Goodland Kansas for the "Giant" of Van Gogh is anybody's guess. But there it sits. I'm sure it's a great source of civic pride to the residents of Goodland. Especially the nearby businesses of:

"Bill's Shootin' Shop"


"Bubba's Meat Block"

Both literally a stones throw away from the easel of giant sunflowers. Go see all three the next time you're passing through Goodland!

Clearly the Storm Prediction Center was hedging it's bets with a Day 1 forecast like this. But clearly the area of focus was about 130 miles away from our past evening's lodging.

Our initial plan was to travel west on 70 to Limon CO. From there we'd determine an intercept route. As we traveled, it became fairly clear initiation was occurring earlier than expected just to the southwest of Denver. I have a HUGE aversion to chasing in large metropolises unless I live in it. Even then, I'm not too keen about sticking myself out in traffic where the clueless rule.

And so the decision to stay out of Denver entirely worked in our favor when we reached Limon. After a "topping up" of the tank, we scrambled north on 71 toward Last Chance. You know? for being so close to Denver, Highway 71 is about the most desolate stretch of road I've chased on since back when I chased west of Watertown SD a few years back. Wind farms to the right, and prairie to the left with a smattering of abandoned roadside farmhouses just to complete the look. Kind of a beautiful desolation yet, I don't know if I'd want to be stuck out on that road for the little traffic we encountered even in the mid-afternoon on a weekday!

By the time we'd made the turn to westbound 36 out of Last Chance, the structure of the storm now beginning to pummel the Denver metro was just mesmerizing. So much so that neither of us managed to get a photo of the towers that we were soon to be under.

Our timing was going according to plan with us intercepting the storm in the town of Bennett. Upon our arrival, we were met with a nice little non-rotating wall cloud that was beginning to get its act together as it entered town. We decided to stop on the shoulder just prior to entering Bennett to get some photos and have a closer look at the wall cloud and scud being lifted into the storm.

And then it began:

The "Spectacle"

2 DOW trucks, an OSU phased array flat panel radar, Met classes, Tour vehicles, News vehicles, and last but not least, individual chasers from around the country hoping for something to produce and put the tornadic dry streak to an end... I wouldn't be exaggerating to say hundreds of people took part in this parade of weather sensing and recording hardware on wheels.

I guess I've been spoiled with chasing in the northern plains. I've never experienced anything like this. I will say however, that people were mindful and considerate of those side of the road observers when they entered and exited the parade and drivers drove slowly through areas of viewers. I would've hated to see a situation that could have easily gone poorly if a vehicle became disabled and many vehicles trapped behind it as Hwy 36 was the only game in town if we needed to suddenly sprint from the area.

What appeared to be a promising cell at times, both showing rotation and lowering, became outflow dominate and continued to rain large chunks of hail to those unfortunate to be under the main core as it passed. We decided to avoid that drama and blasted our way east back toward Last Chance.

There were a few tense moments when we decided to bolt north out of Last Chance on Hwy 71 when we learned that the cell we had just been chasing went tornado warned and would eventually cross our path if we didn't "expedite" our travel north.

And of course, We come across this 18 wheeler riding a continuous 56 MPH up Hwy 71. Making it difficult for those in the know to get around it and avoid chaos. We never saw anything resembling a tornado or funnel because everything was wrapped in rain but we weren't going to poke the bear by attempting to get near it either.

We settled on Sterling CO. as our stop for the evening letting the remnants of the storm roll over us.

Come to wake up the following morning to a number of official vehicles outside our hotel room where some road work was taking place. 

Then we find out it's the local Hazardous Materials Team.

I don't want to know.

Some video of the day:

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