Thursday, June 22, 2017

Just Another Speed Bump

If you've read my last blog, you know that I've been having issues with my back for roughly the past two years. Back in August 2016, I had a bilateral microdsicectomy on the L4-L5 disk that was supposed to fix my herniated disk. I started having issues with my back again, and from November-March I had multiple MRI's and appointments with my neurosurgeon who performed my surgery that previous August. After being told multiple times that nothing was wrong, I was faking it, and I was being ridiculous and needed to man up, I finally went to see a different doctor, who performed a simple bending X-ray to check on the stability of my disks. My L4 vertebrae was unstable and unaligned, and the disk was slightly re-herniated, and we decided that a second surgery was needed to correct the mistake from the first. May 10th, 2017, I had a spinal fusion of L4-L5 to permanently fix the instability and remove the possibility of having another problem with the disk. Today (June 22nd, 2017) I had my 6 week post op appointment, and everything looks great and I'm back on track to having full mobility and strength in no time. I no longer have to wear my back brace and have no limits on what I can do, and at this point, any physical activity will only strengthen the ligaments and muscles in my lower back. Because this was my second surgery on the area, not only did he have to perform the fusion, but he also had to remove a lot of scar tissue, especially from my left side, so my sciatic nerve on my left side is still very sensitive. I actually just regained the ability to put my sock on my left foot without much pain this week. I feel like I've wasted away a lot of the past year, but as I start PT soon it's only up from here, and I can start to put this whole debacle behind me. But enough about that, lets get on to the plans for StormCruzzer!

With most of the past year spent trying to get my back fixed, StormCruzzer is nowhere near where I had planned. But then again, when does anything ever go exactly as planned? Back in October 2016, we had a booth at the Poquoson Seafood Festival that was a huge success. At the time, we were in the planning stages of giving paid storm chasing tours to the public this past spring, but my back had other plans. Luckily, we had Alex Thornton (a fellow meteorologist and great friend), officially join the StormCruzzer business, and he was able to take the StormCruzzer out for 5 weeks this past spring to chase with other fellow Virginia Tech students and alum. Overall it has been extremely dull storm season, but they still managed to get some pretty awesome footage and bring the StormCruzzer back in one piece!

That brings us to now, and boy do we have some huge plans for the next year and a half! For starters, we're making four big changes/mods to the truck in the next two months.

1. We're replacing our current camper shell with a much tougher, better organized, and easily modifiable camper shell. (Pictures to come at the end)
2. We're fishing our bullet resistant debris guards for the cab windows. With the new camper shell having no windows, it's a lot less time work to worry about.
3. We're finally wiring up all off-road LED lights to a much better control panel. Eight LED pods mounted on the roof rack, 20" light bar and two fog lights mounted in and on the front bumper, and two reverse lights on the back bumper, wired into an easy to use touch screen control module.
4. We're adding a 60 (and maybe another 30) gallon gas tank to the truck to allow us to go longer between fill ups while chasing, which could be crucial in getting to a storm on time.

We're putting a bit of a rush on these mods to try to get them all ready before the peak of hurricane season, where the'll all be extremely handy. This hurricane season will be similar to the last, where we will chase any hurricane that makes landfall on either the East Coast or Gulf Coast, as long as the truck is ready. We were in consistent 75-80mph gusts and near 100mph consistent wind tunnel effect winds in Hurricane Matthew last fall, so we feel extremely comfortable getting up close and personal in the vehicle in anything under a Category 4. We'll still Chase Cat 4-5 storms, but we'll stay a little further from the eye than we would normally.

We have a booth again this year at the Poquoson Seafood Festival, and by that time we will be officially selling seats on our Spring 2018 Storm Chasing tours. As soon as the Seafood Fest is over, we're making the biggest modification of all to the StormCruzzer; we're stretching the cab of the truck to add a third row of seats! When we're out chasing, especially if we're giving tours, our number one concern is safety. In the words of Dave Carroll, one of my professors and storm chase leaders at Virginia Tech, "There's always another storm. You only have one life." We've struggled for a while deciding the best way for us to give storm chasing tours. Should we go with two armored vehicles? Or should we buy a van and armor it instead? Ultimately, we found a way to get the best of both worlds, and stretch the StormCruzzer. We'll have the ability to bring a larger group with us like we would with two vehicles, while having a much more comfortable and safe ride than we would in an armored van. It also brings down the overall price, allowing us to charge less per person for a week long tour. While the truck is being stretched and the entire interior is taken out, we're also getting a full interior roll cage installed. Will we ever need it? The chances are extremely low. But does it hurt anything? Nope! It's just an extra safety feature that we want to install that will hopefully never be used.

We aren't sure on the amount of storm chasing tours that we'll be giving in Spring 2018, but the number will be somewhere between 2-8. Two is worst case, eight is if everything goes well leading up to spring. Either way, we should still be out chasing for nearly two months, capturing and bringing you the most extreme weather footage we can encounter.

July-November are TBD.. We're working on something huge, and want to make sure it's official before we announce it, but it'll be a huge leap in exposure for StormCruzzer and the storm chasing community, that's for sure.

That's all I have for now, I'll post updates over the next few weeks as we make progress on making the StormCruzzer more hurricane proof. Hopefully we'll get a chance to test her out in one later this summer/fall!

Bed cover from ARE we're installing soon (Click to enlarge)


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Journey That Led Me Here

*This is more of a Blog post about my past 10 years than a FB post but if you should definitely keep reading :)*
The post is a brief overview of my path to and through Virginia Tech,  the making of the StormCruzzer and StormCruzzer LLC, and the progress and struggles that I’m dealing with now Some of the following will be pretty hard to talk about.

I want to get something off my chest, and I don't mean it to brag whatsoever, I'm saying it because I want you to know you can do literally anything you set your mind to.

Growing up, I had always loved extreme weather. My first memory of weather occurred when I was very young. It was the first time I was allowed to stay home alone and my parents headed out to dinner. A severe thunderstorm came through, and I was scared to death. I called my parents asking how soon they would be home, telling them about my fear of the storm. The thing is, this whole time, I was sitting right beside our storm door, eyes glued on the branches swaying and snapping in the winds, and heavy rain blowing sideways.

Fast forward a few years to when I attended a college fair where Virginia Tech had a booth. The main attraction of their booth was a display of their upcoming Meteorology program. I had always loved extreme weather and grew up a huge Hokies fan, so it was the absolute perfect combination. Sadly I didn't care or try too much in high school, so my grades weren't high enough to get into Virginia Tech straight out of high school. The meteorology program was supposed to start in fall of 2008, so I was pretty upset. I attended Thomas Nelson and enrolled in their 2+2 program with guaranteed acceptance into Tech as long as I kept a 3.5GPA. A year and a half went by and Tech still hadn't gotten their meteorology program. I changed my area of focus to architecture, then engineering at TNCC, and almost gave up on meteorology. I enjoyed engineering, but I didn't have the passion about it that I did meteorology.

I decided to attend Coastal Carolina University to study Marine Science, as they have an awesome Hurricane Research Center, and multiple upper level meteorology classes. My first year at CCU was amazing. Amazing friends, classes, atmosphere, campus, sports, everything was great. It was my first time living away from home so it was a huge learning experience, and that seemed to help get me through. The second year, however, wasn't so good. 90% of the friends that I made the previous year either graduated, transferred, or dropped out. I went through a very rough stage of depression, and was at the breaking point when I randomly got on Virginia Tech's website. THEY WERE OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCING THAT THEIR METEOROLOGY PROGRAM WAS STARTING THE NEXT FALL! I was ecstatic! I called my parents immediately (it was around 3am) and told them the news. We talked over the next few days and decided that I was going to come home to work on some of the pre-requisites at TNCC so I wouldn't have to take them at Tech.

Fast forward to 2012 and I was working on my first semester at Virginia Tech. I had finally made it, but the journey had just begun. My professor for a couple of my meteorology classes announced that each year he leads a storm chase class out in the mid west. Somehow I hadn't heard about it until then, and I geeked out. I applied for the class, was accepted, and went on a chase that following Spring.

I had grown up watching the Discovery TV Series "Storm Chasers," featuring Sean Casey and his TIV2, Reed Timmer and company with their Dominator vehicles (Both Sean and Reeds vehicles are built to intercept tornadoes), and Tim Samaras, an engineer turned storm chaser, who put his engineering knowledge to work helping lead the field in ingenuity. Tim wasn't just about the adrenaline rush. He loved researching the science behind it. He holds the world record for recording the fastest pressure drop, with one of his probes measuring a 100mb drop in pressure in just 12 seconds. Tim was one of the most well respected, and even careful/safe chasers there was. He was my storm chasing Idol.

On may 31st, 2013, we were in El Reno, Oklahoma with the Hokie Storm Chasers, when we decided to dip south. We saw a very high potential for a dangerous weather outbreak, and due to the terrain, road network, and chaser convergence (traffic from storm chasers), we decided to play it safe and catch other storms that we forecast to initiate further to the south. As we watched our storm grow, we noticed a monster storm parked directly over El Reno. The radar velocity signatures showed a probable tornado, but we didn't know just how bad it actually was. After our storm died out, we took to social media to search for facts and pictures about the El Reno storm. We saw reports of a massive tornado (sometimes hard to take serious sometimes with the amount of false reports that come in), and kind of brushed it off until we saw more and more reports of injuries and even a few deaths. Later that night, we heard the awful news that Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young were killed in the tornado. This hit me pretty hard as he was my idol in the storm chasing community.

I had thought about making my own storm chasing vehicle eventually, but that trip solidified my decision, and caused me to completely revamp my process and final project. Tim Samaras and company were trying to outrun the tornado in a Chevy Cobalt down a dirt road when the tornado overtook them. Reports from a car of similar size and weight 100 yards ahead them said that the driver had the petal to the floor and couldn't surpass 45mph, due to low traction and an extremely strong head wind. I went from wanting to build a vehicle just to chase in to wanting to build a tank of a vehicle, with enough power to push through almost anything, while remaining safe, reliable, durable, and still comfortable. After the chase, I spent the rest of the summer devising different vehicle builds, scrapping them, and revising a few different plans until I got to the point where I was extremely happy with the end result. I had planned on spending maybe $10,000 on the vehicle after buying it to beef everything up to make it safer, etc.. I decided to go with a Silverado 3500HD Dually for many reasons which I won't go into in this thread (could write a full essay on why I chose that vehicle), and luckily enough, my uncle was actually selling his 2011 to buy a newer version. We purchased the truck and went to work.

First off, let me start by saying that I never imagined I would actually get to the point where I owned the base vehicle to build up to storm chase, let alone get to where I am now. I had been working throughout high school and some of college so I had a good bit of money saved up for the vehicle. I was also lucky enough to have my wonderful parents throw in some bonus cash as an early graduation present, to get the vehicle project off the ground. The first year, we planned on just lifting the vehicle, Rhino Lining the body of the truck, and installing radios and laptop mounts so we could communicate and gather information about the storms and atmosphere quickly. In November of 2013, I spent 20-30 hours writing up and sent out roughly 100 emails to all sorts of different companies asking if they would be interested in sponsoring the vehicle. As the project was extremely new and truck was currently completely stock, I wasn't expecting much, as I had nothing to show but the truck. I though that if anything I might get a 5 or maybe even 10% off discount. I received no after no after no after no, but wasn't too worried about it. I hadn't put too much work into it, and had thought it was a long shot anyways. Then one night I got an email from a company telling me they were extremely excited to jump on board with the project, and of course I was ecstatic as well. I got a call from them a few days later, and received a 25% discount on my purchase of a lift kit for the StormCruzzer. I started to get a couple more emails coming in with offers like 25, 33, even 50% off some products, and felt like I was in a dream. I never would have imagined I would have my own sponsors.

Fast forward to May 2014, and I had three paralyzing anxiety attacks, three days in a row. I had never experienced one before, and thought I was having a heart attack at the time (so did the paramedics the first time I was in the ambulance with them). The attacks were so bad that I would pass out, and become completely paralyzed, and could literally feel the adrenaline pumping through my stomach and chest (I thought I was bleeding internally at the time because it was so bad). The following week, I was extremely emotional and my hormones were all out of wack. I would cry when I was happy, cry when I was sad, cry when I was mad, and had no idea why it was happening. I ended up having to withdraw from that semester at Tech to go home and recuperate. I was in no condition to drive, so my amazing Dad actually came to pick me up. On the way home, I got an alert of a tornado warning nearby (we were near Richmond), and at the snap of my fingers the anxiety was 100% gone. I went into storm chase mode and navigated us safely home. The remining 2 hours of the trip I had no anxiety problems whatsoever. Two weeks went by. and it was time to make a decision. We had planned on conducting our first solo storm chase out in the Mid-West, but weren't sure if it was going to happen due to the anxiety and severity of the situation. after talking with my doctors, and explaining how the storms helped me cope with the anxiety, we decided that I was okay to chase. We conducted our first chase that year, and I had 0 problems with my anxiety over the whole 10 days.

Once we returned, I went to work on continuing to design the StormCruzzer. I was also working part time as an intern at WeatherFlow, so I was building up funds to spend on the vehicle. Over the next two years I sent out 1000s of emails to different companies asking if they would be interested in sponsoring our project. At the start, 99% of them said no, but as we added more and more to the vehicle and the companies saw promise, more and more wanted to come aboard. During this time, I was still struggling  bad with anxiety. My social anxiety was extremely bad, to the point where I would think everyone was constantly staring at me and judging me, and it caused me to miss a great deal of classes. I didn't do so well with the classes with participation grades, but the classes I could study and do work from just at home in I did alright with. I spent the summer of 2015 brainstorming different paths to take StormCruzzer with a great friend, Hans VanBenschoten. Our plan was to start giving storm chasing tours in 2017, and work on private forecasting and student outreach until then. We started our private forecasting business in the fall of 2015, but living 300 miles apart, dealing with school and resulting anxiety, preparing for tours, a back injury, and much more, we decided to put it on hold. It was out first “failed” business venture and may not be the last, but it didn’t stop us, and didn’t hinder us. We used it a learning experience and have gained a lot of new knowledge since. 2015 and 2016 we again chased out in the great plains, and had tremendous success. We caught an amazing anti-cyclonic tornado in Simla, Co., sold the footage to The Weather Channel, and shared our video with Thompson Reuters who then distributed the footage world wide, where it was aired on major news networks in over 20 different countries. All the hard work was starting to pay off! Although it had gotten much better, I continued to struggle with school in a few aspects due to my anxiety.

In the Fall of 2016, after 8.5 years of college, I finally graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Meteorology. My dream had finally come true, but my journey has only begun.

A little bit about where both StormCruzzer and I am now:

In Sepember of 2015, my lower back gave out while playing basketball. It was the first time I had experienced any nerve pain (didn’t know that was what it was at the time). I had broken bones playing sports in the past, but a broken bone compared to what I experienced was maybe a 2/3 out of 10, this being a 10. I went to an orthopedic doctor there where I got an x-ray and was told nothing was structurally wrong. They chalked it up to a pulled muscle and told me I was fine to resume normal activities. I injured it again playing football later that fall, and then again in the gym in the spring, and each time they told me it was just a muscle and told me not to worry about it. Summer of 2016 the pain got so bad that I went in for a second opinion to a doctor here at home. I had severe nerve pain all the way down both legs, and had trouble even going on a 10-minute walk. I was given a steroid injection, and when that didn’t help, the doctor ordered an MRI. I went in to get the MRI read and found out that I had a severely herniated disk at L4-L5. The doctor that I was seeing had just retired from his surgical practice, so he referred me to a different doctor and set me up with an appointment with him for the following day. I went in the next day, and due to the severity of the problem and timing with school closing in, decided to have surgery the next day. Surgery and recovery went well at first, and I even got back to feeling 100% roughly two months after surgery. I went on a 31-hour Hurricane Hermine chase and 63-hour Hurricane Matthew chase just two months after surgery, and had absolutely no pain. I was ecstatic. About a month later, the pain started to come back, slowly at first, but continuously.  It continued to regress, so I made an appointment with my surgeon to get checked out again, and had an MRI scheduled. The results came back with nothing structurally wrong, so I was discharged. Jump ahead three weeks and I had a good amount of relief from the pain, and after talking with my physical therapist, decided that I would be okay to go on a storm chase down in Dixie Alley. The chase went well and I had minimal pain for most of the chase. A couple days later, the pain came back, worse than it had been since surgery. A week and a half later, I made another appointment with my surgeon due to the severity of the pain as I was sure that I had reinjured it in some way. At the appointment, I was told that nothing was wrong and not go come back in unless the pain was 10/10 and I couldn’t walk. The main reason for the appoint was to get advice on what to do next since the pain was so bad, so I was extremely displeased with how I was treated. The physician’s assistant completely threw out all my symptoms and rushed me out of the office and told me once again not to come back. No progress was made in trying out to find out what the next step should be. I was pushed under the rug again and told not to come back. After a few second opinions and unnecessary drama, I was scheduled for another MRI and appointment with the surgeon.  Again, I was told that nothing was structurally wrong and was rudely rushed out of the appointment, and told that I “need to man up because at this point I’m being ridiculous,” but after a heated conversation I was finally scheduled with a pain management specialist. Why they couldn’t have just done so two months prior, I still don’t know.

A little back story on the pain. It’s not just “my back hurts.” If you’ve ever experienced nerve pain before you understand where I’m coming from. I have constant nerve pain radiating from my lower back down into my legs. If I move or twist the wrong way, I have a severe shooting pain in my lower back that feels like my body is being cut in half.  I cannot sit for more than 20 or 30 minutes without extreme pain, and without my legs going to sleep.  For the past weeks I have been working from home, mostly in bed, and until last week, I was in bed for 16-18 hours out of the day, getting up every once in a while to get everything moving and keep from getting tight. For the most part, I work from my computer, and am unable to get much work done sitting down, so I have to resort to working while lying in bed.  

As of writing this post, I’m scheduled to start Physical Therapy again March 6th, and am currently waiting to hear back from the Pain Management Specialist about my appointment with him. I’ve been working the past week on strengthening my core and stretching everything out, and have managed to slowly start to ease the pain. I still cannot sit for long at all. But the overall pain is down from a 7-9 to 5-7, which is a huge improvement. I’m now able to work and focus without the help of opiates, and am making progress in the right direction.

As for StormCruzzer, we’ve had to put public storm chasing tours on hold due to my back pain. Although it is a pretty big shot to the gut, as it’ll be the first year in 5 years that I haven’t done a big great plains chase, but in some ways it may be a blessing in disguise. With finishing up school, dealing with my back problems, getting ready to start a new job, and a myriad of other things, and figuring out if I would even be able to chase, the tours have been on the backburner this winter. I started working full time as a Financial Planner with Vector27 Financial Group in January, so luckily I do have a steady job to keep me going throughout the next two years (and hopefully many more to come), and also to make money to put into the StormCruzzer and potentially next vehicle J. Having the tours start in 2018 instead of 2017 gives us much more time to get ready for the tours, work on the vehicle/s, and get more storm chasing footage for advertisement (Alex will still be chasing this year).

I know this post is pretty ADHD and jumps around a bit as I kind of just added in excerpts as they came to me, but I want to close with the main reason I started writing this blog. I saw a video by Mike Rowe from last year where he was telling people to not follow their dreams because it will ultimately lead to failure. I say screw that. If you truly want something bad enough, you’ll do what needs to be done to make it happen. It took me over twice as long to graduate from college as most people, but I finally accomplished it. Did I think about giving up and calling it quits? More times than I can count. Did I fail along the way? You bet I did. Are there days where I feel like giving up now due to the back pain? For sure. But what keeps me going is the fact that when I get old, I don’t want to look back and say “I gave it my best shot,” knowing that I really didn’t. I want to look back and say “I did that,” and feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing that I strived to do what I love and never gave up. I also want to say that there’s no way I would be where I am now without the love and support of family and friends and mentors that I’ve met along my journey thus far. Frank (Doc) Malone has been a mentor and teacher when it came to building the StormCruzzer, so I want to give him a huge thanks for that. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Day 8

Sunday can best be described as a whole lot of action without all that much chasing.

We woke up at our super 8 in Guymon, OK and decided our best option was to hang in the area until something fired in the vicinity.  We went ahead and booked our room for the next night. 

We periodically checked radar and mesoanalysis through the morning into the afternoon.  Several cells fired to our northwest across eastern Colorado, one of which quickly became tornado warned up near Lamar.  We weren't all that thrilled with chasing this because it was a mess on radar and looked to be lining out.  

A cell eventually fired along the far southern edge of this line in the far southeastern corner of Colorado. Since this cell wasn't impeded by anything to its south, we decided to dart north into southwest Kansas to catch a quick glimpse. 

As we got into position, another tiny cell began popping just ahead of it which we could visibly see just to our west.  We decided to pull off and watch as it grew and eventually got absorbed into the line.  

At this same time, a few cells began firing behind us (to our southeast).  It was amazing how quickly these were climbing.  They were clearly organizing on radar so we decided to bail off the line and go check them out.  

As we dropped south and eventually east  towards liberal, velocity scans indicated 2 separate areas of of which was quite strong.  This really grabbed our attention and it wasn't long until the stronger area became tornado warned.  

As we passed through Hugoton, we had to make a decision regarding which cell to pursue.  The northern cell lost its tornado warning with both now severe warned.  We could see the bases of each so we decided to keep tracking east keeping an eye on both. 

We got to the point where we were (safely) sandwiched between each cell moving east north east.  We pulled off the road where we could look to our left and see the wall cloud of the northern cell or to our right to see the wall cloud of the southern one.   

At different times, each cell showed signs of becoming the dominant cell making our best positioning move a tough one... a great predicament to have.  The couplet on the southern cell eventually tightened up so we dropped south to just north of liberal to grab a better look.  As we re-positioned, we saw a skinny rope tornado drop for about 10-15 seconds.  Unfortunately, our gopro on the dashboard of the truck didn't quite pick it up.  Jeff Frame (@VORTEXJeff) got a quick picture of it below...the skinny rope down in the center.

The cell had a ground scraping wall cloud here and an amazing mammatus field... By far the best I've seen.  Unfortunately, the sun was now setting and we weren't thrilled with the idea of chasing a tornadic supercell into the night.  We pulled over and watched lightning light up our cell as it dashed away.  It was soon after that reports and pictures of a large wedge tornado with it started coming in.  It certainly would have been nice to have a few more hours of daylight but that's just how things are sometimes. 

We only had a 45 minute drive back to our hotel in Guymon making this by far our shortest mileage trip of the chase.  That on top of everything we saw, we certainly consider it a success.  

Below are some pictures taken by Alex over the course of the evening:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Day Four

It's Alex, checking in again! 

Day four was not as active as day three (find that tornadic supercell recap here) but it was nowhere near disappointing. We set ourselves up well the night before by settling down in Fort Stockton and did not have to rush to catch anything. The storms came to us! We hung around Fort Stockton till around 12:30pm watching storms around us attempting to break the cap(hinders storm formation). Then finally, our first cell formed just north of the town we were in. Because we were so close, we were able to get into position quickly. We watched this cell for about 30 minutes. I was even able to get a stream running from Periscope since we actually had cell service. The storm had periods of good inflow but this was soon cut off by other cells that formed nearby. When the storm was healthy, I was able to snap a few photos of the structure that we were able to see.

After the death of our main storm, we decided to go check out another one that was forming just east of Fort Stockton. Once we got to the back edge of the storm, we realized that not much was going to come of this cell. Since we knew this would be the last storm for the day, we decided to drive further into it and see if we could catch a glimpse of the hail while parked. Radar had indicated quarter sized hail, which we knew the StormCruzzer could handle.( *note* do not do this with your car, it will get messed up) We were personally interested to see if we could verify the hail size and report it to the local NWS station. We were able to retrieve a few pieces of hail as the storm passed over us. Most of the hail was indeed .25 inches in diameter. However, We did retrieve some pieces that were about an inch in diameter.

Overall I would call this a successful chase day! We will likely be leaving Fort Stockton today and heading north to set up for the next system!

Be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day Three (second day chasing)

Alex Thornton checking in....
Day two consisted of a ton of excitement and a good bit of disappointment as well. When we woke up in Odessa yesterday, we were already in a great position. The conditions were great for the formation of severe thunderstorms and possible tornado activity. We waited in Odessa until around noon before making our first move. The HRRR and NAM had both hinted at a long living cell that would set up south of Highway 10 around McCamey, Texas. Therefore, when we started seeing cells popping up in that general area, we blasted south to try and catch it. In the process of doing this, I lost my hat out the window while taking some pictures(R.I.P). Soon after setting up in a position where we had a good visual, we spotted our first Tornado.

 Because we were there from the very beginning, we were able to give early warning to the surrounding towns and their law enforcement. Soon after making our report, the cell was Severe Warned and also Tornado warned. The tornado lasted somewhere around 5-8 minutes and we watched it from start to finish!

We repositioned ourselves further south(storm had southward motion) and observed the cell as it matured even further. The structure that we observed was amazing. I was able to pick out every textbook structure that supercells usually have. This cell continued to be Tornado warned as we watched for the next few hours. 

In the process of observing we came in close contact with many anvil lightning strikes which inspired us to move further south. One strike(which we caught on camera) was easily within 20 yards of the truck as we were all sitting inside. *Sidenote* seconds before the lightning struck we all heard a static noise and had the full on experience of the hair on our arms sticking up. 

After moving south to get further from the lightning threat, we were able to find another good vantage point and pulled off the road. At this point, the cell was still tornado warned and more chasers began to show up. This is also the point where we began to be out of cell service and would be for most of the day. 
The radar images that we did get minutes before indicated an area of strong rotation and hook echo. The only problem was, rain was hindering us from seeing much into the inflow area of the storm(best viability spot). We could see a pronounced base and brief periods of a hanging wall cloud. 
Before too long, some of the rain cleared out as it neared our position and we were able to make out our second tornado of the day. We were able to watch it for a few minutes before rain made it too hard to see once again. We also think that it soon dissipated after this. 

As the cell got closer, the structure became amazing!

As the storm continued to move south east, we noticed that we needed to move further south in order to not get caught up in what was more than likely 1(+) inch hail. In the process of doing this, we came in extremely close contact with the business end of the storm. 

The structure found in this part of the storm was unreal. We were able to safely get south of the storm and eventually get further east. We also found ourselves getting low on gas and had to make some difficult decisions. We ended up jumping off the storm and heading to Sanderson, Texas to fill up on gas. From here we headed to Fort Stockton to get a hotel room. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chase Day 2

We left our hotel room in Tulsa, OK Monday morning at 10am central time.  Although it appeared a few severe storms would fire in western Texas by afternoon, we still had quite stretch to get out there.  We decided this would be another “travel day” and any on-the-go intercepts would be a nice bonus.

As we crossed the Oklahoma/Texas border, we noticed some higher topped cumulus starting to go up in far southwestern Texas which early morning runs of the HRRR and High-Res NAM had hinted at.  It became clear that we’d have a shot to chase these for a few hours before we lost daylight.

Shortly before 6, the prominent cell became tornado warned near Pecos.  We were still a few hours away in Big Spring but continued our race southwest.  When we got to Odessa, we dropped south to Crane before edging west and then southwest towards Imperial.  It was from here that we had a few good looks at the leading edge of the storm.

The road network certainly wasn’t the greatest and we were also forced to detour around a construction zone that had stopped traffic.  The storm really slowed due to lack of much midlevel flow allowing us to navigate right around the anvil.  By this time, a few additional thunderstorms began to pop to our south…eventually merging with our cell and forming a bowing segment.  It was here we decided to call it quits and head to find dinner and our hotel for the night in Odessa, Texas.  Fortunately, it looks like we are well positioned for Tuesday meaning we’ll have our first true chase day without much traveling to our target.
After knocking out another 648 miles, we’re pretty pleased with how the day turned out.  It would have been nice to have a bit more time to look into the inflow notch, but also feels good having our first plains super cell (tornado warned at that) under the belt. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

StormCruzzer Chase Day 1

We departed Blacksburg Sunday at 11am with a goal of making it to western Missouri. We ended up pushing all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma...totaling 1102 miles for the day.  Part of our decision to take the northern route revolved around the opinion that it's a more scenic route (most notably crossing the Mississippi River in St Louis.  Below are some pictures from our day. 
St. Louis Arch

Since we didn't pull into our hotel in Tulsa until 4am local time, we made a decision to grab a few more hours of sleep this morning and not depart until 10.  We would have needed to leave around 7am if we wanted to get to western Texas in time for storm initiation.  Since our Tuesday target is western Texas anyways, any storm we happen to catch this evening will just be an added bonus.  Our first full throttle chase day will be tomorrow.