Day 16 - Mind blowing

19 June 2010

Checked out of our hotel on time today. Pockets laden with fruit and other breakfast treats. We were pleased to see the car was still there after last night's potentially violent windstorm. In fact, it didn't even look like it had been cleaned much by the rain. I guess we didn't get hit as hard as anticipated. The grimy motel across the road was also still standing. Starlight Express. What a motel. We had originally thought about taking it for the night - motels of this calibre are often a lot cheaper, and to date we can only speak good of them. The only difference between these and the higher budget branded hotels is that they don't provide breakfast, but they are always clean and fresh and usually with 2 double beds - so you can imagine the size. They just don't look all that from the outside. Starlight Express on the other hand was in a league all of its own, with classy coloured flashing lights around the neon motel sign! I actually quite liked the lights but we thought it wise, in light of the approaching storm to put ourselves to bed in a place that may be still standing in the morning if the worst was to happen!

All would have gone to plan if 2 things hadn't happened. Firstly, some overnight storms in Kansas were still really going for it and were blocking our quickest route. This was a full on event and severe weather warnings had been issued for the part of Kansas we needed to drive through to get to Nebraska. Some roads had been shut due to flooding and according to our equipment, our journey through this line would take us through what appeared to be 4 areas of rotation. Not an appealing option. So we sat it out in the car in a safer area until the worst of it passed. That added an hour. I then was so busy writing the 'tornado' blog day that I completely forgot I was meant to be navigating and took us half an hour further north than we needed to be, so add another hour.

However, all was not lost. We weren't as far west as first planned but it looked very much like things were already starting to happen on the border between southern Nebraska and northern Kansas, not too far to our south. It was looking good and some nice discrete cells were forming. We grabbed a few bags of crisps for dinner, some gas and hacked it south. There was a great fast highway that would take us south but it was going to be tight to get under the storms before they themselves crossed this very road. We cleared the majority, but for the last 20 miles decided to deviate and chose a road that would take us a little further east before looping us back around onto our original road choice. We made this decision based on what we could see on the radar. The leading edge of the storms were virtually on the road now and it could have put us firstly, in a dangerous position and secondly, needing to turn back around further on down the road, ultimately losing even more time.

The speed limit is not always obvious on these smaller back roads and there were no other cars to take the lead from, so we took it at an urgent, but probably just about legal limit. When suddenly over the brow of the hill behind us came a car and he certainly was in a hurry. As he sped past us, we could see the now familiar arials on his roof etc and knew straight away, either storm spotter or chaser! Good to know we were headed the right way and we upped our speed a bit to follow suit.

This lead us to be in the most prime position for what was about to happen. As we approached the main road we originally planned to stick on, a road that ran through a town called Concordia, we could see the huge leading edge of the shelf cloud from the supercell looming in the vicinity, at a height that was visible for miles. It was enormous and menacing and really close too. We approached the town slowly and awe struck. We knew we had to play this carefully. There was a crossroads in the middle of the town. We needed to reach this and turn south, leaving us on the south east side of the storm. It needed to go to plan. It was a closing door, but it was closing at a pace where we could probably just squeeze through. Tornado sirens were screaming in the town. It brought back the memories of Bridgeport from a few weeks ago. We haven't heard tornado sirens since then. I don't like them. They scream panic. We kept our heads though and stuck with the plan.

It's hard to describe just how eerie it is driving into a scene like this. Crosswinds are rustling leaves and debris all over the road and way above the tallest buildings and wrought iron structures of water towers is a huge enveloping black cloud, well defined around the edges and turning the whole area into darkness. Street lamps come on and the tornado sirens start screaming. The mass of cloud itself doesn't look like it's moving exceptionally quickly but this is deceiving due to its constant growth with momentum. You realise that at the heart of this mass of rotating cloud wall, cyclonic winds are building, but it's hard to judge exactly where this could be happening. It could be the other side of town or it could be around the next right turn. That's the creepy thing about being in a town when this is happening; you have to follow the roads and can't just flee in any desired direction. There are other cars on the road and often traffic. Sometimes you have to wait for a red light and every second takes forever. No one ever seems to lose it whilst driving, but there is a subtle sense of urgency and panic on the roads to get yourself out of there as quick as you can, but respectfully.

We got to the crossroads and we turned left as planned to get on the main road south out of the town. We did this in time and pulled the car in at the side of the road still pointing in the direction of safety. These were the scenes behind us.

A tornado had been reported shortly before our arrival. Hopefully it touched down before it hit the town but there were plenty of signs it may touchdown again. We were so close to the potential action and had to be completely aware of everything around us. Adrenaline was pumping and survival instinct was working overtime.

Our radar showed us to be in a safe position but it was obvious that other storm cells were maturing nearby. One storm's canopy seemed to be moving over our planned escape route so we trusted our eyes and legged it out of there. The outflow winds from this storm were immensely strong further on down the main road and it was touch and go. Lowerings from the cloud bases were hovering above us. It was impossible to identify rotation looking up at such a speed so we just kept our heads and drove through it, quickly. A little further on, the winds were picking up sand and dirt from the fields on the edge of the town and blowing them full force across the road. The grit and dirt was smacking the car and it became a full on sandstorm.

Within an hour or so we were fully in the clear. We fuelled up once again and made our way closer to where we envisaged we'd need to be tomorrow, to potentially do it all over again!

It was night time now but the skies were lit up with the most amazing lightening. The flat landscapes lend themselves well to depth of field and in the distance we noticed more activity about 40 miles away. One of the storms was hooking round, a feature that is often noticeable on the radar and a storing indication of potential rotation within a portion of the storm. The radar backed up what we were seeing in the distance and a touchdown was apparent. We were safe enough to stop for photos. This is a photo of what was previously a tornado in the distance, lit up by lightening. At this stage the tornado was starting to rope out, losing it's definition but still a sight all the same.

Today was unbelievable and as many people warned may happen, I can truly saw my mind was blown.

Cammie x

SPC Day 1 Weather Outlook as at 06:00UTC (01:00 Central Time the night before)

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Sat June 2010

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Sat June 2010

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