Finally a weekend chase opportunity, only took until June to happen. My initial target was somewhere west of Des Moines, Iowa, preferably in southwest Iowa. Friday night’s model run was showing really good ingredients in that area as well as in Kansas. However I wanted to target Iowa to avoid the massive chaser convergence that would be in Kansas. The SPC had a moderate risk posted for the same area so I knew I was at least thinking somewhat on the right track.
I got up at 6:00am on Saturday morning and prepared for the chase. After a stop at the ATM and then the gas station ($2.34/gal), I hit the road at 7:00am. I took I-74 west towards the great state of Iowa, checking data every once in awhile. When I checked the latest Day 1 outlook, I noticed it had been upgraded to a high risk. (yippeeee!) Thoughts of May 29, 2004 came to mind as I proceeded westward. As I was driving, I kept text messaging Skip Talbot to find out his location. Despite him leaving his home in Bolingbrook, IL much later than me, he ended up getting to Iowa before me. When I got to the Des Moines, IA area, I called him to find out where he was going to target. He informed me that the latest model runs were keeping everything further south into KS/MO and that he was heading to the KC area. At first I wasn’t sure about going that far, but I’d already gone this far so might as well keep going.
I hopped on I-35 from Des Moines and headed south towards the KC area. Having not had anything but a bag of potato skins and a gatorade, I was quickly getting hungry. Skip called me when we got into NW Missouri and said they were stopping for food at a Wendy’s in Bethany, MO. I met up with them shortly after and we enjoyed a very yummy meal. Data was very spotty but Skip managed to get online and get some radar updates. There appeared to be a few cells trying to get going in KS, so we plotted a course to St. Joesph, MO and would reevaluate the situation once we arrived. We left Bethany, MO around 3:25pm and headed south on I-35 and then headed west on US 36 to St. Joesph. We passed through and then stopped just over the border in Wathena, KS. I finally acquired a data signal and was just in time to pick up a tornado warning on the cell entering Brown county. (the county just west of us!) I relayed the info to Skip and we headed WNW on US 36 towards Brown County.
As we headed west on US 36, I was hearing reports on the scanner of a confirmed tornado near Robinson, KS. As we neared, we were finally starting to see some of the base, but no tornado was visible. We pulled off the road just west of the Sagebrush Rd. at 4:35pm. There was alot of rotation in the clouds above us, but there was no tornado. I got out and took some stills and setup the tripod for video. No sooner did I get the tripod ready and it started raining pretty good. (I never seem to bring my jacket on these chases) Another chaser pulled up across the road from us and asked if we’d seen the tornado. I frustratingly yelled back “NO!” to him as I dashed back in the car. We decided to follow the storm to see if it might redevelop, so we headed east and then zigzagged north on SR 7. We stopped near Iowa Point, KS around 5:05pm and observed the storm from the backside as it hurried away from us. The road network here really sucked and there was the task of crossing the Missouri River.
Skip was the only one with a working data connection, and he was having a hard time keeping the connection. We decided to head north on SR 7 into Nebraska and then head east over the Missouri river. We passed through an Indian Reservation with signs that said ‘Flood Area Ahead’. (not exactly what you want to see when it’s pouring down rain!) We headed east on US 159 and then went north on SR 111. We pulled off in someone’s driveway out in the country to stop and check data again. While we were sitting there, we encountered a brief period of small hail. (probably a tad bigger than pea sized) We were trying to decide which way to go from here as everything was really going linear at this point. There appeared to be some individual cells popping up to our NW in Nebraska, so we decided to go north and see what we could find. We continued on SR 111 and then jumped on I-29 to head northwest.
We crossed the border into Iowa and briefly stopped south of Sidney, IA to observe our dying storm. (very pretty looking though) We both nearly lost the front end’s of our cars from a huge hole in the road. Anywho, we proceeded north and stopped in Sidney, IA to get gas and find some data. The roads were not labeled very well, so we ended up going down the wrong way of a one way street. I nearly had to jump the curb to avoid colliding with a truck. Cell data was non-existant, so we started roaming the town for open WiFi spots. We split up and eventually Skip found a nice high speed wireless connection in front of someone’s house. 🙂 The cell we were watching had split, and the left-mover looked pretty decent so we decided to go after it. We headed back south and then headed west on SR 2 towards Nebraska. Skip checked data along the way and the cell appeared to be weakening.
At this point, we were calling it a chase and decided to stop in Nebraska City, NE for some much needed food. We were thinking of KFC, but it was not being visibly spotted despite it being on our maps. We finally decided on Pizza Hut since pizza is always a good meal to end a chase on. As we were eating, I glanced over to one of the TV’s and it had the weather channel. They were showing the normal ‘local on the 8’s’ segment, and then all of a sudden they switched to amazing video from a tornado in Brown County, KS! Our jaws dropped and it almost ruined our appetite. We had missed this awesome tornado by about 15 minutes. We just shook our heads and finished our meal. As we walked out of the Pizza Hut, we were treated to an awesome display of mammatus clouds. (must be my year for mammatus!) We drove outside of town and shot some pictures as the sunset really enhanced the mammatus clouds.
We were anxious to get back to Illinois because there was a good chance of severe weather there on Sunday. We poked our destinations into Street Atlas and the quickest route for both of us appeared to be back through Iowa on I-80. We made our way back north on I-29 and then hopped east on I-80 around Omaha, NE. I received a call from Mike Cox in Des Moines asking me to stop by on my way back home. I said my goodbyes to Skip and Bob on the ham rig as they continued on past Des Moines. I arrived around 11:30pm in Des Moines where I met up with Mike Cox. He is a paramedic for Fraser Medical Services, so I got the whole tour of the facility. After finally figuring out the soda machine, he showed me some video of the tornado I had missed earlier in the day. Once again, it made me sick to think we’d gone all that way and missed the spiffy tornado by 15 minutes.
It was getting late and Mike needed to get ready for the next day of work and I needed to get back to Illinois. I departed Des Moines around 12:15am and continued east on I-80. I made a gas pit stop in Williamsburg, IA around 1:30am and then kept on going east. I made my way into IL around 4:00am and was getting very tired. I stopped several times along the way to rest my eyes for a bit and to get more caffeine. 🙂 I continued ESE on I-74 and stopped off NW of Peoria to take a couple pics of the sunrise. When I got to Peoria, I noticed some cells trying to do something south of me. I briefly thought about chasing them, but radar wasn’t showing much promise with them. I finally made it back to Champaign around 7:45am Sunday morning. The threat for storms had shifted more to the east, so I was going to take a well deserved nap and figure out things later.
Well this was a fun yet frustrating chase for all involved. It was nice having Skip and Bob out there with me, more fun that way! While we missed the nifty tornado in Brown county, it was still a decent trip. The mammatus at sunset were a well earned treat for us. Thanks again to Skip and Bob for tagging along as well as Mike for the hospitality and can of Mountain Dew. 😉 At least this trip to Kansas I didn’t get stuck in the mud, so I have to mark that as an accomplishment. 🙂
Total Mileage: 1,225 Miles