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May 2004
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About Felix

felixblog_IMG_3015I always thought I was a dog person. I grew up with dogs, and only dimly remember a cat that adopted our home when I was little. I called her Kitty and loved that she would come on my bed, purr loudly and make bread with her front paws.
Then I married Kevin, and joined Felix's household. Now let me tell you about Felix - He sleeps all day, and loves to perch in either the kitchen or bathroom window and survey his domain. If he senses another creature out there he gets very excited and has a very special meow for these occasions. He loves shrimp and cantalope, and he knows that he is the true head of household. He is extremely vocal - he always meows and calls at us even if it is just to say "hello". When he really wants something then he is noisy and loud. He is the only cat I know who comes running when he is called. I am completely smitten. (No really?)

Things to do in Denver...

sm_web_copyright_butterfly1One of the most satisfying and fascinating couple of hours is to go to Denver's Butterfly Pavilion. The butterflies are so pretty and will pose quite nicely for some pictures. Today I dropped Kevin at the Butterfly Pavilion while I had some errands to run and he spent 2 hours photographing the butterflies. Here is one of his pictures.

Check out here for more information on the butterfly Pavilion

Tornado Warning in Downtown Denver, Colorado June 9th 2004

I was at work when the sky in Downtown Denver turned that wonderful shade of green and then the sounds of tornado sirens filled the streets. I work in a store with nice large glass store front windows. We had a dozen people taking shelter from the marble sized hail that dumped down on the 16th street mall. This is not a good place to be in the case of a tornado.
What amazed me was the panic I shared with others as the sirens went, and it was announced that a tornado warning was being issued. The feeling was unlike the feeling I get when I am storm chasing with Kevin. I guess it has something to do with a feeling of helplessness. In our car we are usually in a part of the country where we have very good visibility, we are mobile, we generally have access to a lot more information. Contrast to being in a store without easy access to a car or other mode of transport, with shitty visibility (high rise buildings block line of site) and a complete lack of adequate information.
I immediately knew where I wanted to be - not in a store in the middle of a city, surrounded by people. I wanted to be in my car with Kevin out there.
While people scurried to and fro, and our customers continued to shop (nothing seems to get in the way of a good shop) I got on the phone to Kevin, who was also at work. His work had reacted to the Tornado warning in a more drastic way and had herded them into the center of the building and wanted them to keep away from windows. Now I know this is sensible advice. I know it. I don't want people not to follow it. But for a chaser, cooling one's heels in a city and not looking out the window is just torture. I called Kevin to see whether he had access to more reliable information. He managed to get the storm on radar, which did indeed show the typical "bow" shape that is typical of a rotating supercell i.e. tornado's are likely. I then hear from a coworker that a funnel cloud was spotted in Lakewood. I wanted to see whether there was any information about that. While I was chatting to Kevin, the Tornado Warning expired and I could go back to my coworkers and tell them not to panic - that there were spotters and people out there keeping their eyes on the skies to warn others of approaching severe weather.
This experience gave me an appreciation for what normal people go through when tornado warnings are given out. It brought home to me why people react to storm chasers the way they do. But if I had a choice I would not be in a city, waiting, I would be in my car, on the open plains, chasing.

Tornado look alikes

I found a very interesting site that sets out some common identification mistakes people may make in reporting a tornado. Check it out here

It is amazing how much you have to really look at formations. The skies can play tricks on you. The best thing is to stop and take plenty of film - either photographs or video. We carry binoculars so that we can check for rotation and debris.

Tornado Safety from The ONION

Only "The Onion" can come up with this...

1. In the event of a tornado, lie down in a ditch. If you are already lying in a ditch, do not attempt to sit up.

2. The most important thing is to stay calm. This will be difficult, since you are almost certainly going to die

3. Tornadoes spook easily. Firing a few warning shots into the air is usually enough to scare them off.

4. Live a little, for once: strap yourselv to the roof of you house and rage at the heavens.

5. Prevent tornadoes before they happen: Make sure that warm, moist air fronts do not converge with cool dry ones.

6. During a tornado, the only safe place is in my loving arms. Come here, baby.

7. If a tornado strikes your home, even your basement could be dangerous, so construct a basement for your basement.

8. If you spot a tornado always remember to yell "tornado" and run like hell.

For real safety tips on what to do go here.

Update on Belleville Tornado

Mike Peregrine the other chaser in our area has confirmed that the wedge that Kevin and I saw was in fact a tornado. Here is an excerpt from an email I received from him. Check out his website and video of the Belleville tornado.

"Hi Sally - we were just south of the 36/81 interchange on 81N. You can take a look at a short clip of my video of this particular event on my website, ... we have the entire life of this tornado from start to finish and had a good vantage point. It was indeed rotating. It started as a typical wall cloud (easily recognizable as such), which then touched down in a narrow vortex that rapidly grew in size to what is seen in your photo. You can actually catch a little of the rotation in my video clip on the leading (left) edge of the tornado ... in the video, you can also make out the circular bands within the meso above the tornado, indicating strong rotation as well. This appeared to be in an open field - and it did not hang out long. We also thought it was headed for Belleville, but it either dissipated or veered eastward before reaching the city limits. I am quite convinced that it was a tornado and that the circulation reached ground level, even though the winds next to the surface may have not actually been very intense. It makes sense, actually - because we had followed right behind the most intense rotation up until that point, seeing nearly every tornado produced - and at that time, the west side of the meso was occluding. It still looked wild enough in the clear air that this is what everyone was paying attention to ... but the strongest rotation had already passed along to the northeast of the occlusion. I will be showing my video to Mike Akulow in the Topeka field office for his thoughts on this question as well, but so far they continue to call the event a tornado based on our reports alone.

Best regards,

Storm Chase May 29th, 2004, Belleville Kansas

May 29th, 2004 Belleville, Kansas
We left Friday May 28th, 2004 at 7pm MST. We arrived Hays Kansas 2am (CST) and checked into our Motel 6. We could not get our computer to work which was frustrating. Next time wireless here we come! Saturday we headed east towards Salina. At the Salina Public library we checked forecasts, chaser forums and data on various websites. We had a quick picnic, and experienced strong hot wind - good for storm building. We had to choose - either head north to Concordia and use that as our base for chasing, or head south. We opted to head north to Concordia. We arrived in Concordia just in time. We then decided on a circular route to Belleville. We headed north up the 81 and then turned west at the 148 through Norway, and Kackley. We then turned North through Courtland to intercept the 36. We headed West toward Montrose before turning around. West of Belleville we spotted a glorious storm approaching- funnel clouds were developing all around us. We videotaped what looked like multiple vortices. We were about 6 - 10 miles away -visibility was not good we battled to spot any touchdowns, or debris clouds. It was on the 36 that we saw a suspected wedge tornado heading towards Belleville. We were approximately 6 -10 miles away from Belleville. It seemed to dissipate before reaching the town. Tornado sirens were sounding, and the sky was green, dark and treacherous. We kept getting blasts from inflow/ outflow (the wind direction was all over the place). We attempted to head north up the I-81 three times. Each time weather, and wind made us stop and turn tail. A semi was overturned and we saw twisted metal sheeting torn by the wind from sign posts.

We eventually managed to get through and decided to head north into Nebraska where we hoped to bail out of this storm chase, and find a nice quiet peaceful campsite. This was not to be. I was Chief Navigator, and I had us travel North to Hebron NE along the 81. By this time it was night and extremely dark. We then turned west along the 136. We hoped to get to Hastings before turning north to Grand Central. It was not to be. The weather radio warned us that a storm system was about approaching Hastings and it had hurrican force winds. By this time it was night fall, pitch black with NO visibility. We were in the middle of nowhere, with no exit route. This is a bad idea. Note to self: Always have an exit route. So we decided that hurricane force winds were not for us, We turned around and headed back. The trouble was we headed back into a line of thunderstorms, and tornado warning areas. We got onto the 81 and turned South, and hoped to reach the safety of a Motel. We had no access to weather data, or maps apart from what we were hearing on our trusty weather radio. We drove through the most appalling hair raising weather - driving rains, high winds, hail, horizontal rain, you name it- made the more awful by the fact that we were driving blind. We reached a Motel in Belleville - No Vacancies. I think with the bad weather warnings posted everyone had headed for home and shelter. Our next attempt to find room of at the inn was met with the same-. In the end we called a Best Western in Salina which had rooms and made a reservations. Eventually we made it - quite frazzled, and humbled. Bed and sleep never felt better.

The next day (Sunday) was calm, mild and benign. Who would have thought that only 8 hours previously all hell had broken loose?
For that day 92 tornados were reported. Check out the report here.We can't wait to go storm chasing again.

We are busy sorting through photographs and video. Will post them soon (once Kevin helps me capture an image off the video.) For some idea of what we were seeing check out this site. This site has extensive photographs taken by a more experienced chaser in our area. The photo's to look out for are the one's of the wedge- like suspected tornado approaching Belleville. The reason I say "suspected" is because neither Kevin nor I could see any rotation/ debris from our vantage point. It helps having other chasers in the area who can confirm sitings as well as damage paths. We did not see any of the other reported tornado's report by this storm chaser. Read his chase diary. It makes interesting reading.

A short note about Storm chasing

Why Storm Chase?
This is a very dangerous hobby. It is not for the fainthearted. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes cause terrible and devastating damage to homes, buildings and often result in human fatalities. In light of this reality it is quite insensitive to refer to storm chasing as a "hobby", to be overjoyed at the sight of dark, ominous mothership storm clouds, to feel the thrill of the chase and to feel excited at the touchdown, rotation and debris cloud of an approaching tornado. Hearing and seeing reports of damage, injuries and fatalities is sobering. That's why the more eyes and ears that are out there seeking and chasing storms the better. Chasers and spotters are most often on the front line. Tornado reports from spotters and chasers are vital for adequate warnings to those in the path of destruction.

Recently and not so recently storm chasers have received some negative press. In any community there are always a few bad apples - the yahoos that want another notch in their belt, another "story" about how close they came. These yahoo's care little for the communities in the way. They get in the way of emergency vehicles, and never bother to make the call to warn of approaching destruction.

The majority of chasers are not like these yahoos. They are passionate and prehaps a little crazy, but they will stop to make the call, to help those in distress. I know which kind of chaser I want to be!

Stormchasing requires wheels preferably 4x4, a weather radio, a mobile phone (to make the necessary emergency calls), good map books, GPS, compass, camers (digital) inclu video camera, tripods and a laptop. Chasers can work solo, or in teams. Some chasers even offer chase tours. If a laptop is not an option, then access to public libraries is a must. You can have all the bells and whistles, or you can rely on sight, intuition and luck.

Kevin and I are not in the bells and whistle category. We don't have a 4x4 prefering instead my mercury tracer christened "Lizzie". We don't (yet) have a laptop, we carry a computer with us, which we plug in during our Motel stays. We rely on stops at public libraries to try and get data. Obviously we are extremely limited - when libraries close we are out of luck. Our weather radio is vital. For us Lady Luck plays a huge role in determining whether we have a successful chase or not. Sometimes technology can be overwhelming. I like to stop the car, get out and FEEL the wind, the temperature, and the moisture in the air. Not very scientific- but wow to feel a sudden blast of hot air out of a storm is awesome.

For those of you who are wondering- why storm chase? There is something extremely satisfying about deciding where you think severe weather is going to occur, driving many many miles to get there and be right on target! There is another side to this of course - driving many many miles and getting nothing.
Here are some storm chasing links:

Try Stormtracks We find this an important resource. It carries great information and FAQ's about storm chasing, equipment and forecasting. Click on "forums" for forecast discussions under "target area". Here more experienced storm chasers and forecasters share their thoughts on where severe weather will occur. For novices like us this forum is invaluable. Also click on "Data" for some great links to weather sights - this information provides the nuts and bolts of forecasting.

Reading and researching weather and forecasting is vital. My storm chase bibles are "Storm Chasing Handbook" by Tim Vasquez ISBN 0-9706840-7. The other book is "Weather Map Handbook" by the same author ISBN 0 9706840 4 5. Check out his website here

There are a load of different computer programs out there. We use Digital Atmosphere. But there are many different products available.