April 7, 2013 Great Bend, Kansas Chase: Misfortune Turns to Fortune

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Great Bend, Kansas supercell

Its was the first real chase of the 2013 season. I awoke early that morning and checked some weather data to see where our target zone would be. Wichita, Kansas was the target that day and the time of arrival was going to be around 4 pm. Usually 3-4 pm is a great time to stage up for a typical chase day considering thats when most storms tend to fire off. Unfortunately storms fired off a lot earlier than I expected that day and by 1:30 pm there were already sever thunderstorms near Wichita, Kansas. We were a little over two hours away from Wichita, Kansas and the rate the storms were moving east there was no way we could catch them.

I kept my course into Kansas and headed to Greensburg. Me and my wife leslee discussed our next course of action from there. At this point I was feeling somewhat discouraged but was holding onto a glimmer of hope that storms would possibley form in western Kansas not too far from our current location.

I called the national weather service out of Dodge City and talked to a meterologist on staff and discussed the current data and what were our options at the time. After looking at some data myself and talking to the meterologist it appeared that supercell thunderstorms could form late that afternoon near Ness Cit , Kansas. So we rolled the dice and headed north west about an hour to Ness City. As we got close my wife shouted “look! Look over there!” Her shaky fingers pointed to a giant cumulous cloud town shooting up in the atmosphere like a rocket! A sight for sore eyes for this anxious chaser.

I then drove towards this might storm in the making taking some some advice from my wife on the optimal route to take to get there. We found ourselves beneath this small storm within minutes.

I pulled over on the side of the road to get us in prime visual view of this already majestic looking storm. Even though structurally this storm was not all that big, the enviroment this storm was in was explosive and the potiential for this storm to become a tornadic supercell thunderstom was favorable.

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Early stages of the Great Bend, Kansas supercell

The camera crew set up a time lapse shot and marveled at this storm as it rapidly grew and consumed the barren Kansas plains. After only a few minutes the storm had grown to magnificant proportions and began racing accross the plains at speeds of close to 50 mph. We jumped in the car and tried to keep up.

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Golf ball hail stones from the might Great Bend supercell…

We noticed in our pursuit of this storm that it was already leaving behind great evidence of its power buy the layers of golf ball and larger hail stones on the road we were traveling. Large hail stones are a great indicator of a powerful updraft of a storm which is a strong vertical area of air lifting the perception up in the atmosphere where the air is much cooler causing at times large hail to form and drop from the skies once the weight of the hail stone is heavy enough to overcome the strong rate of wind.

We kept flying down the roads and I kept my eye on radar to see if this storm was showing rotation and where our target zone would be next. Upon looking at this I saw an area on radar where winds were moving quickly in different directions in a tight area, often an indicator or a tornado or an area where one would form. This area is often where a wall cloud is located. A wall cloud is a lowering beneath a supercell that is rotating and often is in the area where tornados form.

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A funnel forming near a wall cloud of a supercell thunderstorm near Great Bend, Kansas

After a few minutes we located the wall cloud near Great Bend, Kansas and maneuvered into position to get close to the area of circulation. I pulled to the side of the road. The Kansas wheat fields surrounded our vehicle in all directions, a sight almost as majestic as the storm itself. I step out of the car and the wind stops. Not one blade of grass fluttered and the only sounds were birds faintly chirping in the back ground. As we stand in awe it suddenly happens… multiple funnels lower towards the ground and are rapidly rotating. We are stand in silence. I am thinking to myself “am i too close?” Only a few hundred yards away is an impending tornado. Trying to reach it self to the surface of the golden wheat filled plains… but on this day it was not to be and the funnels as quickly as they formed were back tucked up in the dark stormy skies.

great bend kansas profileIt was an exciting and successful chase day no doubt and one of the best first chases of a season I had ever had. I couldn’t help but to be excited about the chases that lied ahead of us in the season.

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The season is here!

I must start by saying for those of you who might be curious… the Beneath the Anvil feature film is being produced as we speak. In fact cameras are shooting me as I type this haha. I would like to thank everyone who is supporting us either financially or even just supporting us by fellowing our progress. If it were not for you guys this film would not be happening. The documentary will capture storm chasing in a way that I think has never been attempted. I could not be more excited to get this season underway! We have already been on one chase, although Im not counting it as a chase technically. We had just got off work and got in bad position over a 100 miles from the supercell. We tried catching it for a bit hoping the storm would stall just long enough for us to catch it, but after 30 mins we had to let the storm go. Sometimes as a storm chaser you have to know when to let go and wait to chase another day. 

Today we are headed to somewhere of the vicinity of Wichita, Kansas to stage up for what might turn out a decent chase day! It’s looking like a nice dryline setup that could yield our first supercell of the season. Odds are definitely not in our favor but its sunday and we are off work so we will definitely take that chance today. I will do a full blog report tomorrow of the days success. Hopefully Ill be telling the story of first supercell chase of the season…

 

To all my Word Press friends…

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All we need is $2,500 more dollars and this film gets funded! We are already up to $4,500 which is the good news, the bad news is if we cant get the rest of the amount raised in 14 days the film won’t happen. The full amount has to be raised for the director, Chris Jenkins, to get the film funded. You will not be charged unless the full amount is raised. This is going to be a very special film about me, my lovely wife and our good friend Dave and our storm chasing adventures this coming spring. It will be a journey like no other and all we need is your help to make this dream a reality! There are some epic incentives for all the people who donate 🙂 here is the link to the video trailer and the link to donate below.
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/937420421/beneath-the-anvil

“Beneath the Anvil” Feature Film

dsc_0288.jpgCheck out link below! 🙂

I am very excited to announce that a talented film maker, Chris Jenkins, will begin the incredible journey of creating a full length documentary about supercell thunderstorms and our storm chasing journeys. He will begin filming this April and will be on every chase with us until the middle of June. He plans on creating a film on storm chasing in a style and way that will make it quite different compared to other storm chasing documentaries. The film will be titled “Beneath the Anvil”.
We need all the help we can get to fund this project. Listed above is a link for the video trailer for the Kick Starter project. Please feel free to watch the video and share with all your friends! Go to the Kick Starter sight to donate. Any amount would be greatly appreciated. Even if it’s only $1.There are many exciting incentives for people who choose to donate. The film will only get produced if the budget is met. You will only be charged if the budget is reached. If you don’t feel like donating, we understand. But even if you can’t donate, you can at least help us get the word out by sharing the link above.
We have also started a website which is beneaththeanvil.com
Feel free to check it out!
Thanks for all your support!

-Blaize Justice

Unexpected Twins: North Amarillo Storm Chase- April 10th 2012

The best chases are often the ones that surprise you. Our chase north of Amarillo, Texas was no exception.

It was a spring day like any other in Amarillo. A chance of storms but little to any chance of supercells. Normally, I don’t even check radar on those days but out of curiosity I did. I saw a very nice and somewhat organized storm north of Amarillo at approximately 4:00 pm. I called my wife and told her as soon as she got off of work it was go time.

I pick her up a little after 5 and at that point I was going crazy having have waited over an hour and watching this monster mature. We headed north and right away upon leaving city limits we see a textbook wall cloud with rapid rotation. It was at that point we saw the perfect structured supercell we had been searching for. I can’t explain the exhilaration you get when you spot a wall cloud on a chase! It’s so amazing and the best natural high there is. You see this potential, this chance of a tornado happening right in front of you and the anticipation charges your soul and alerts all senses. Let me clarify that a wall cloud (rotating updraft) is generally at the right rear of a supercell and that is the part is the area where tornadoes form. To see it in person as a chaser means that you are in the right spot to see the excitement.

Little did we know this beauty would end up producing a couple of funnels… at once

The storm’s beautiful structure left us watching in awe. I can’t help but think to my self, “How in the world this is happening?”. The conditions in the atmosphere where not very supportive of supercell development yet here it lies before us.

Nothing quite like a Texas Panhandle thunderstorm. They always seem to reflect such beautiful colors…

After a few moments the wall cloud dissipates but I notice instead of its normal, north-west movement, the storm decided to head south-west meaning a potential new wall cloud might have formed on the other side. So we press on and try to navigate to the other side of the storm. Successfully we do, without punching the hail core typically located in the middle of the storm. We travel a few miles north and there it is, a new wall cloud. Rotating and looking as though it will produce a tornado at any second. It doesn’t, rather, it dissipates. The wall cloud moves to another location and so do we. We are still trolling the right side of this storm and trying to keep up and we then find a new wall cloud and this time a funnel is dropping from it. We are so excited! It’s a perfect tube of smooth condensation. My wife and I watch and just get lost in its graceful beauty. We encourage its lowering and beg it to drop further, screaming frantically for it to do so. I was hoping, deep down in the pit of my stomach for it to touch the ground so my wife could see the pure beauty. In years past I have gone on many solo chases and have seen them all alone or in some cases with one of my chasing buddies.

The first funnel forming…

It was dropping from the sky and in perfect pencil form she continued to descend. But then, to the left another funnel begins to drop! They dance in the sky together and flirt with the idea with touching their  tornadic tails on the soft grassy plains below. I scream, “We are going to have twins!”. My wifes laughs and says humorously, “We are? I had no idea!”. The funnels are hovering over a deep canyon and as a result never quite touch but we are so invigorated by the experience.

Twin funnels forming north of Amarillo,Tx

On a day were storms were unlikely, supercells nearly unimaginable two funnels dropped. That, my friends, is what its like to chase in the Texas Panhandle. There are two things I have learned over the years when chasing here, expect the unexpected and always keep your eye out for changing conditions in the atmosphere during spring and early summer months. Lightning could strike or in this case, a couple of funnels.

Chasing Storms and Finding Roots: Mason,Tx Chase- March 19th 2012

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A beautiful sight, Texas Bluebonnets and a supercell…

I couldn’t put into words how meaningful and special this chase truly was. Not only was it the first chase of the season, but it was with someone very dear to me, my aunt Salinda.

I woke up that morning of March 19th and was still groggy and honestly sore from the previous day chasing. Its crazy, but with the tension of muscles during intense moments of chasing and driving hundreds of miles, you can sometimes really feel a chase  and it’s effects on your body the next morning.

I take a seat on the couch, flip open computer and check the SPC (Storm Prediction Center) website and there it was, slight risk of supercell thunderstorms in the area of my hometown in Abilene, Tx! I have always wanted to chase this area but have never gotten the opportunity to chase in this area. Let me add that the day before, I told my wife I was not chasing for at least a couple of days to recover mentally from our chase. Needless to say it didn’t take me long to change my mind.

As the season began, me and my Aunt Salinda were talking on the phone almost daily about different storms hitting the U.S. and I would also share with her stories about the chases so far in the season. I called her after the Knox City chase and was telling her about how cool it was and went on to tell her that one day, if the storms are going to be near Abilene, I was picking her up and taking her on her first storm chase. Little did we know that opportunity would come the very next day. So that morning after checking SPC I called her up and told her guess what… pack what you need, i’m picking you up in 4 hours and we are going chasing. There was one problem, it was already noon and so I was going to have to fly if we were going to catch the storms likely initiating around 3:00 or 4:00 pm.

Image I got to Lubbock, Texas about 1:30 and noticed a restaurant off of the highway at the Chisum Travel Center in Lubbock called Klemke’s BBQ Joint. I will say right now what followed the next few moments would change my taste buds and life for that matter…forever. Despite me being in a hurry, my stomach did not care and BBQ was just what I was craving. I walked in the door and smelled this appetizing, smoky aroma that consumed this little travel center. I was cautious considering the location of this BBQ joint, but I was also hungry enough that I really didn’t care either. So I walk up to the counter and this older woman with a sharp southern accent and southern charm to match, takes my order. I see on the menu a BBQ Jalapeno Sausage Sandwich and naturally I order two of them. After a couple a minutes my order was ready and the simple brown paper bag with its glorious contents was laid on the counter. I get in my truck and am back on the road. I open the container and realize right away that this sandwich is a two hander. So as I steer with my knees I take the first bite and am immediately blown away! There was an actually snapping sound as I bit into this amazing jalapeno sausage. The sauce was a smoky, sweet and subtle compliment to the sausage. Though this is a small chapter in this epic chase story I had to mention it considering it was the best sandwich I have ever eaten 🙂

I arrive in Merkel, Tx by 4:00 and pick up my aunt. We then head towards Clyde, Tx where some storms have already developed but it isn’t long before I realize the storms have formed a line (very bad, I only chase isolated supercells) and I quickly stop to see what we do next. I pull up radar and then see a storm that has formed south of San Angelo, Tx and another close to Junction, Tx. (very far away) So traveling faster than I’d like to admit, we head south.

Along the way we pass through a town called Llano, Tx, one of my favorite little towns in all of Texas. I then began to explain to my aunt how for some reason I have always got this warm, happy feeling whenever I have passed through this town. She chuckled and explained to me that in fact several of my family members were actually from there and were buried there. I couldn’t believe it, all these years and I never knew that! So here I was passing through towns where my family roots began with my aunt by my side as we approach this mighty supercell. It was truly special to say the least.

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The remains of a brief tornado that touched down outside of Mason,Tx

The skies grew darker and darker as we approached Mason, Tx. I could see it was definitely a high precipitation supercell (very dangerous to chase) and visibility was low. I check my radar and see that the storm had went tornado warned. My heart races, I can’t see any structure of the storm through the rain but could tell on radar that a tornado was very close. I nervously drive though the thick rain shaft and then it happened. A break in the rain, a lull in the wind and a clearing to our west revealed an epic site, a tornado on the ground. I scream to my aunt “There it is! A tornado on the ground!”I hit the brakes and pull over, frantically trying to find a camera. My aunt says calmly “I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it… wow.” There we stand, in the area where my family roots began, beside my aunt on this lowly road outside of Mason starring a beautiful tornado as it briefly touches the ground only to go back up into the sky. It was a truly perfect moment. If I would have gone one mile an hour slower that day we would have never seen it. If I didn’t stop to eat that mouth-watering sandwich, this moment might not have ever happened. We chased a little while longer but tornado never made another appearance . Just to have that moment on the side of the road and see it for only a moment still made my year. It’s a memory I am proud to have shared with her and a memory in chasing I will cherish forever.

Chasing storms and finding roots in my favorite destination, beneath the anvil…

The Best Regret: Knox City Chase- March 18th 2012

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(above)Beneath the anvil of the Knox City, Tx supercell (below) wall cloud with rapid rotation. Image

What was so great about the month of March was the storms that were observed so early in the season, to be able to chase four storms by April was a great bonus! Normally in years past it has been until April that I have got into any stellar storms, this year was a nice exception.

On march 18th we headed to Shamrock, Tx as a staging point and we were not alone. We pulled into town and there must have been over 200 chasers! I love that moment when you pick a staging point and there are tons of chasers around (sometimes), it lets you know you weren’t alone in your judgement. Although from that point on during the actual chase I could do without some of those crazy drivers around.

We stopped at a McDonald’s (free WiFi for good radar signal) and took a look at some radar and decided what to do from there. Nothing was showing on radar but we decided to leave the crowds behind and head to Childress, Tx where I was thinking some storms might initiate. About twenty minutes into our drive near Wellington, Tx we observed a large cumulus tower forming fast and was already producing a thick anvil. its location was south of Childress, Tx. So onward we went and arrived south of Childress to meet this monster up close. It had a very large rotating wall cloud and a nice,dark, well defined rain shaft. Me and my wife pulled over on some old ranch road and watched in awe. I really felt like this beast could produce a tornado any moment, but it didn’t. My storm gut was telling me head to Hollis, Oklahoma and I Informed my wife maybe we should shoot for there, but shortly after we discussed that option I glanced at the radar and saw a huge storm developing near Knox City, Tx. Being anxious, we just drove straight to what was developing.

About thirty miles from Knox City we saw that the storm went tornado warned. Adrenaline started to pump, excitement filled the air. I told my wife “This could be it, we might see a tornado this early in the season!”. We drove through the curvy roads and hill surrounding Knox City area to try to get in position to see the rear of the storm where the potential tornado would be. As we came up on this hill and through a clearing we  finally got a good glimpse of the storms structure. We could clearly identify a wall cloud rotating very rapidly. I looked over at my wife her eyes were so big, she had the look of awe, fear and respect. I kept screaming at the storm “Do it! Do it!”. It was so majestic, so violent, so graceful but a tornado was not to be.

As we get back into the truck I receive a text from my friend, Meteorologist Chris Kimble. The text stated “I hope your in Hollis, Oklahoma!” regretfully I picked up my phone, pulled up radar and saw what was very strong velocity on radar indicating a real possibility of a tornado. I kept thinking to my self that I should have trusted my gut. I should have just headed to Hollis to begin with! Turned out a tornado had been spotted and it was a storm with beautiful and epic structure.

One thing I can say is that every year I have noticed a pattern when storm chasing season begins, it’s a pattern of anticipation. Each storm chased seems a little stronger, more unique and more likely to produce a tornado until the big moment arrives. I love this build though, the hunger it brings, the climatic build to the perfect chase. It often plays like a great movie script where the best chase happens at the perfect time of the season and right when you are thinking it will not happen, it does. Even though I felt some regret, overall I felt calm and collected. I remembered that this was all part of the story of the season.

I was telling a friend just the other day that as long as I see a wall cloud on a chase, I will always be satisfied with that chase. Just seeing mother nature create such amazing storms is more than enough and I hope it always will be.