Friday 19th May 2017
Let’s not make any bones about it… today’s travel has been the thing of legends. We drove over 2000km, possibly over 2500km. When we left Winnipeg at 10pm last night it was about 7 degrees. When we got into Oklahoma City it was almost 20 degrees higher.
The reason for our mad dash was because it looked to be one of the best chase days of our entire trip, and all the action was happening around Oklahoma City. So we had the mad decision that if we left right as Kim finished work we *might* just be able to catch the storms as they fired in Oklahoma.
We took it in turns to drive / navigate (I.e. Keep the driver awake) whilst the other two slept in the back. Due to the complications of renting a car with a non-Canadian driver’s license, I was the only person not to drive and instead took a couple of extra shifts as navigator.
We didn’t stop. As we drove south, updating Facebook with various check-ins, people asked us if we’d checked out some local attraction or other. The truth was, we didn’t even have time for a sit down meal. We ate gas station food all day, and had about as much time at a location as it took to fill up the gas tank.
I had no problems with US Customs. I’ve heard so many horror stories of late of people crossing from Canada into the US but perhaps it was the time of night (about 1am) or the crossing but I was through in about 20 mins.
We drove through North Dakota and South Dakota overnight, then proceeded into Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Up until then we seemed to be making good time. Storms were due to fire at around 4pm and we looked to be hitting Oklahoma City at around 4:30pm. But as we moved into Nebraska and Kansas we seemed to lose about an hour.
We checked the models along the way. Oklahoma always looked the best target but, as we drove through Ohio, I had an idea to check out the corner of Missouri and Arkansas. The models looked good but ultimately, the road network meant there wasn’t going to be much time saved, despite it being a physically closer target. Also given that we’d be chasing in the hilly, wooded Ozarks rather than the plains surrounding Oklahoma City, the latter target still remained more favourable to us.
As I wasn’t driving I was put in charge of finding accomodation, which I was happy to do. I came out here armed with a load of apps, determined to get us some good last minute bargains. Given I found the hotel I’m currently sat in, writing this, I think I can say I did a very good job… and more importantly at a good price.
We stopped briefly for one of our many put stops near Wichita, Kansas to see a line of storms firing along the boundry there. Shannon said we should consider them but we ultimately decided to continue to our original target.
But as we got close to the outskirts of Oklahoma City, it became clear that the Kansas storms were getting organised. This is where they seem to be gathering in strength. It usually mannifests itself in the storm clouds looking crisp.
So we turned around and drove North.
Yep, after close to 1700km, we turned around. Storm chasing is about religiously sticking to your guns whilst not being afraid to change your target based on visual evidence.
The Kansas storms seemed to die as we drew level with them, but by the time we returned to Wichita, one storm was looking really organised and throwing down some nice wall clouds. In the distance I’m pretty sure I saw a brief rope tornado but given how tired I am I wouldn’t trust myself.
We managed to stop and get some timelapse of the storm. No idea of how it looks, but interested to see how it turns out.
Radar was showing us some weak rotation. That doesn’t always mean a tornado but the signs looked good so we set off after it.
This trip is a learning experience for all concerned. It’s a trip for us to make safe mistakes without taking any crazy risks. And we made a couple of mistakes today, the first of which was chasing storms. With hindsight we should have gone to a main road and then used that to get ahead of it. Instead we went via back roads, few of them paved, and as result we could never close the distance on the storm.
When we finally did get to the main road, we found out that because it was a toll road there was no way onto it from our location. By this time it was late, sunset not long away, and we’d fallen behind the area of interest.
The other mistake we made, was my own. After finding us this hotel at an absolute steal, I booked it to secure the rooms because they didn’t take any money… unless you tried to cancel, in which case they charged you the full amount.
Whilst I’m not sure it would have helped with our plans tomorrow, we should have got a hotel in Wichita. Instead, we had one in Oklahoma City, some 3+ hours away. So despite chasing this storm almost all the way back to Emporia, Kansas, we had to drive to Oklahoma City to get our hotel.
In many ways, it wasn’t the worst move. Tomorrow looks like we’re heading down into Texas, heading even further south to around San Antonio. We then have a few days downtime which we plan to spend in and around Texas doing some photography stuff (I’ll do some video and timelapse). We still have a 7 hour drive ahead of us, having to leave at 9am (when I have videos to make, videos to upload and The Climb to schedule).
But after a day like today, a seven hour drive seems somewhat sedate.
If you want to follow more of my journey, then be sure to check me on my social channels. Likewise, if you’d like me to expand on any point mentioned above, please say so in the comments.
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