Set yourself free.
Whatever you’re pursuing has the power to do this. It can certainly test your perseverance, buckle your strength and hurt you along the way. But in the end, when you know what you love, passion wins.
The Plains are only one thing that makes me feel free. It brings me back to an almost primitive feeling that I am free to wander. In my final Valparaiso University Convective Field Study, this was in search of the violent yet picturesque storms that never fail to bring me back to my zen. Though we crossed through 10 states, most of the interesting days this time were found between northeast Colorado and northwest Kansas, conveniently right along the I-70 corridor.
On the first “chaseable” day of the trip, despite a rather unexciting surface pattern, a promising wind profile and extraordinary model consensus kept our hopes high. Today was likely one of my favorite forecasting successes; in the morning, I was able to nail down (with some guesswork of course) that I wished to be in Oakley, Kansas by 6:00pm. Come 6:20pm, we had made it to the south side of Oakley with a powerful supercell bearing down on us.
After struggling to keep ahead of it, we were now positioned with a pair of developing tornadic circulations almost due west of us.
Then came one of the rare instances that I felt in danger. A group decision was made to head north into Oakley to escape the tornado, assuming it was moving due east right at us. I began fearing it would instead take a sharp left turn and barrel right toward the town we were headed to. Fortunately, we made it through town safely. However, Oakley was indeed hit by the tornado mere minutes later.
This day featured much the same weather pattern, promising that a similar storm would travel down roughly the same area. Knowing this, we headed into Colorado and watched as a beautiful storm took shape off the Front Range.
After struggling chaotically to organize itself, it quickly became a supercell near Last Chance, Colorado.
Front and center is what could be considered a failed tornado attempt.
The supercell trudged on as we approached Joes, Colorado.
It inhaled dust periodically.
Its core was mean and menacing.
Inflow bands into the storm had a dramatic stepped or tiered appearance, choppy like the ocean.
Once the storm passed over us, the sky was filled with dark drama.
We then decided to drive out ahead of the beast to Idalia. The view was incredible, with rotation evident clear up and indefinitely over our heads.
The storm was sucking a dark band of clouds into its belly.
It became a monster as we dove south ahead of it. After several failed attempts at producing a tornado, we believed it was time to just sit back and enjoy a beautiful, non-threatening show.
As soon as we let our guard down, a hazy, hard to distinguish tornado was reported deep within the storm.
It was briefly more visible, but the parent storm itself still stole the show.
The last “chaseable” day of the trip, we were greeted once again with conditions coming together for a beautiful storm, this time nearly stationary, over northwest Kansas.
A few showers began to form. This one got rather intense, a shaft of hail barely a quarter mile wide. For the little town of Utica, this meant sunny skies for the eastern residents and dented cars for the westerners. This is why forecasting is hard.
Utica got all sorts of weather today.
Looking behind, a mean looking storm was developing.
Rain bands curved and swayed in the wind.
Closer to the storm, rain bent inward into its core as it developed rotation.
Rotation peaked and consolidated into a tiny funnel cloud.
Now the whole storm began to slowly spin.
It struggled to retain supercell characteristics, but was regardless beautiful, a UFO hovering over the fields.
My time here once again has reminded me that my heart is in the Plains.