Thursday, September 18, 2014

How the dream became The StormCruzzer

Growing up, I was the child whose parents would always have to say "shut the door" or "get off the porch" or "come inside now," as thunderstorms rolled in. It was some kind of combination of their raw power, yet beauty, that was so enticing. The first powerful weather event I can remember, was Hurricane Floyd in 1999. I was only 9 years old, but clearly remember sitting  by my den window, watching the trees bend and hearing the crack of branches as they came crashing down. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel made landfall in North Carolina, and tracked straight over my hometown of Poquoson. We had moved into our new house the night before, and had nothing unpacked, so I sat on the only chair in our Forida room and just watched the wind batter the trees for over six hours. I was hooked. From that point on, I made it my goal to study meteorology in college, and pursue some kind of hands on career dealing with storms. Once I was old enough to get my license, I would drive around in and "intercept" every tropical cyclone and snow storm I had the chance to. I had been brainstorming some ideas to make a vehicle to be able to withstand more powerful storms, until I found the Discovery TV Series, Storm Chasers. I watched all 5 seasons, and my ideas changed enormously. I learned much more about storm chasing, and became interested in chasing super cells, and not just tropical cyclones. In 2013, I was lucky enough to take part in a storm chasing class/trip with Virginia Tech, and learned more about the ins and outs of chasing. I went into the chase contemplating whether or not I should really put all the time, effort, and money into building a storm chasing vehicle, but I made my choice 3 days into the chase. On May 31st, 2013, we were in El Reno, Oklahoma, trying to decide whether we should go north or south to get out of a dangerous chase terrain area, and decided to go south. Just hours later, a massive 2.6 mile wide tornado devastated El Reno, and killed and injured many experienced storm chasers, including my "storm chasing idol," Tim Samaras. After this incident, I put safety to the top of my priority list. 

I had been comparing potential base vehicles, using price, durability, stability, and reliability, and opted going for a big 4x4 truck. Chevy's silverado 2500/3500s have the lowest center of gravity stock, so I was hoping to find a good diesel and dually to start off with. Again, I went with the dually for stability. It just so happened that later that fall, my uncle was looking to sell his 2011, Silverado Duramax Dually. It was a dream come true. Not only did I find the truck I wanted, but I knew its history, and how well he maintained it. In September of 2013, it was mine. 

I started working out the specifics of what I was going to do with the truck, and in what order. Once I figured out the basics of what I wanted, I started to contact companies to see if they would be interested in sponsoring. I sent out roughly 15 emails to 15 different companies, and was shocked when I got quick responses with offers in the range of 10-50% off! With only 6 months until the chase, I made a list of the most important modifications to work on first. These included; Rhino Lining Extreme Paint Job, Lift kit and tires, CB and Ham Radios, Camper Shell, and side steps. 

The first thing we did was go to a local truck shop, as they had the A.R.E. Z-Series Camper Shell that I was interested in. They ended up having the side steps I wanted, so we ordered those as well. We dropped the truck off a week later, and it was ready in no time.

We then decided that the next best step was to add the protective bed liner. We ended up going with Rhino Lining, because of their warranty, and the durability of their "Extreme" version.

After talking to several companies about lift kits and tires, we decided to go with a Cognito Motorsports 4" lift kit, with 35x12.5x17 Mickey Thompson Baja ATZ P3 tires. Many people question why I would want to lift the truck, when I'm going to be in higher winds. After watching hundreds of hours of storm chasing videos on TV and YouTube, I decided that having the capability to get to any storm, and get out of any sticky situation, was more important. This came in handy multiple times when we chased in May of 2014, as we were the only ones capable of getting close to a few storms as they were forming, and we didn't have to worry about getting stranded on a dirt road like most other chase vehicles.

Next, we installed our CB and HAM Radios, antennas, RAM Laptop Mount,  Kenwood Navigation System, and wireless internet signal booster.

At this point, we had everything we needed for our first chase session. We traveled 5000+ Miles in 8 days, and had a blast.

Since then, I have been communicating with potential parts companies, and have gained 3 full sponsors! Magnaflow has come aboard and is helping sponsor with a DPF back exhaust kit. Iron Cross Automotive has offered to provide heavy duty bumpers, side steps, and lights. And EFI Live has provided us with hardware for their Flash Scan system!

We have added our sponsors decals to the camper shell windows of the truck, and will hopefully have many more to come!

To be continued...

- Travis

Saturday, June 28, 2014

(6/28) Tropical Update: invest 91L off SE Coast

Saturday (6/28) 10am Tropical Update
An area of low pressure (officially invest 91L) has developed off the GA/SC coast along the cold front that crossed our area Friday morning.  This time of year, washed out cold fronts/stalled fronts are usually the features to watch for tropical development across the Gulf or off the SE coast.

It's in an area of very warm Gulf Stream waters which could lead to some slow development over the next few days.

The National Hurricane Center is currently  giving it a 30% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours.

The latest tropical models have this system drifting south a bit before getting picked up and carried northeast as our next front advances into the area next week.  Regardless of development, showery conditions with gusty winds will be possible across coastal areas through the weekend and into next week. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Day 7: Homeward Bound

Well....our wishes for much better weather today weren't too fulfilled. Our excitement for the day- we finally got a hold of some decent sized hail.
We left Clovis, New Mexico this morning and made our way south aiming for the general area around Midland, Texas, hoping for some discrete cells to fire. We were afraid the several inches of rain that moved through the area overnight would rid any areas of possible instability, and we were right. We still pushed on knowing we could catch at least one storm or two. Once south, we locked eyes on the northern cell of a line, which was starting to veer off from the rest.
From looking at the VIL, Vertically Integrated Liquid, we realized there may be some good sized hail with it. From then on we played tag-a-long with the cell, sticking right behind it, looking for any fallen hail.
With that cell starting to die, and our other options looking unreachable and not very promising, we took a break to focus on the weather for the next few days. There's an Upper Level Low lagging over the Four Corners region (we were hoping for it to eject east faster) 
which is inhibiting a big chance for severe weather. Although there's a slight risk in the south-western Texas area through Memorial Day weekend, we've decided that chasing after shelf clouds and/or little cells that may produce hail isn't the most logical decision. So, after a week of getting the feel of chasing on our own, we're headed back east. Although none of us want to leave the Plain States, we're on the way back. 
The goal of this trip was to get our name out, see a tornado or two, enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature, and most importantly, have fun and stay safe. After making several new connections and gaining almost 100 more followers, sighting two tornadoes, and seeing some beautiful cloud structures, we feel accomplished. 
We will absolutely be back out west in the years to follow, and are already looking forward to it. We plan to stop a little north of Dallas for the night, and make it home in the next day or two. 
Thanks so much for sticking with us this trip; we hope its been as much fun for you as it has been for us! Until next year, keep up with the truck progression and our local chasing!

-Katie, Hans, & Travis

Friday, May 23, 2014

Days 5 & 6

Thursday, May 22nd
Our day yesterday was so uneventful, we forgot to blog about it. We left Limon, Colorado with plans to migrate south until we ran into something promising.  We found ourselves in Dalhart, Texas waiting to static punch an oncoming cell from a shelter. 
At first, it looked like we were in the perfect position to be overtaken by the heaviest rain and hail, but the storm had other plans. It started to back-build to the southeast and we were left with only strong winds and some rain drops. 
Disappointed, we headed south with plans to stay in Plainview, Texas for the night. On the way, we were pleasantly surprised when we drove straight into near blinding rain and pea-sized hail! Even though that doesn't sound too exciting, with our lousy day up until that point, we were happy for anything. We found an overhead shelter in Amarillo and waited out the heaviest rain, which was a blessing to the area which is facing a historic drought. 
After our fun in Amarillo, we headed south to our hotel for the night in Plainview, Texas. 

Friday, May 23rd
We got off to our slowest start yet this morning, pushing our checkout time down to the minute. We kept waiting for something, anything, to give us an inclination of where to head for the day. With no location seemingly better than another, we headed west to where the sun was already shining, hoping to find some towering cumulus. After a quick stop for lunch, we saw one reachable cell and decided to head for it with nothing to lose.
I can't tell you where we ended up because I've never felt so lost in my life. We ended up traveling 50+ miles on bumpy, muddy back roads lined with nothing but cactus and jackrabbits. 
Here are a few more pictures of the middle of nowhere. We continued to play catch-up with the cell to our north, waiting to encounter hail. Although we only ran into light rain, Travis and Hans still had a great time traversing the water-logged roads, as I sat passenger, fingers crossed that we'd make it to the next highway.

Here's a video of our adventures. Tonight we're stationed in Clovis, New Mexico waiting on clearing skies so we can hopefully see a historic meteor shower! Tomorrow is a new day, with anticipations for better weather. 


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day 4: Denver Storm

We started off our day dropping southwest from Sterling, CO towards the Denver area.  Our plan was to camp out somewhere just east of Denver to catch storms once they crossed the metro area.  As you can see below, we weren't the only chasers with this plan (each red dot shows a chaser).  Several cells started firing along the eastern slopes of the Rockies shortly after noon (mountain time).

It wasn't long before the Storm Prediction Center went ahead and fired a tornado watch for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

We quickly got in position to intercept the southern most cell which became the most impressive one of the bunch.  It wasn't long before it was tornado warned.

The storm had pretty nice structure with a decent wall cloud and a huge rain/hail shaft on its northern side.  

At times, the storm had a large hook with signs of strong rotation.  It ended up passing right over the KFTG radar site east of Denver (big black hole below).  Rain wrapped around the southern side of the hook echo (and at times around the entire storm) preventing the best visuals into it at times.

At one point later during the storm, we watched a wall cloud rapidly form down to the ground.  It was amazing how fast this happened (from nothing to the picture below in about 30 seconds).

This ended up being the storm's last grasp as soon after, convection started moving in from the south and filling in-between (right over our location).  This cut off any safe viewing of the storm (probably wouldn't be able to see much with all the rain anyways) so we decided to bail southwest and call it a day.

Below you can see just how quickly the convection formed into one large clustered mess...

Overall...another good day.  There were quite a few reports of some sort of rain-wrapped tornado with this storm.  This seems probable based off radar imagery.  It will be interesting to see if the National Weather Service out of Denver/Boulder confirms one did in fact touch down.

You can find some of Katie's higher quality pictures here.  Today we'll be wondering south across eastern Colorado...conditions aren't looking the most favorable for tornadoes....but we'll see what we can find supercell wise.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Storm chase: Day 3

I'm a bit too worn out to write a long blog tonight (even though I most definitely could after nearly 5 hours of nonstop storm chasing).  
We wondered across far western Nebraska as cumulus clouds started popping to our west.  We ended up on some roads (more like trails) that definitely gave us the "out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere" feeling.
Yup, just us and the cows!
After filling up with gas in Torrington, we noticed a cell popping to our west that quickly went severe warned.  
We quickly made the decision we'd head that way since there didn't seem to be much going on farther south.  It strengthened pretty quick and soon had a bit of a hook on it. 
We were able to get into position and snap some shots of our first of many wall rotating wall clouds descend from the sky.
Below is a picture of the first cell wall cloud...
And another....
Another cell started forming off to the southwest of this one and we were forced to make a decision which one to go after... We opted for the most southern one since we figured the inflow would remain healthier on it.  
Once we were in position, we once again got amazing pictures of a rotating wall cloud.
At one point, we noticed lots of dust and dirt being picked up from the ground underneath it.  With it's position under the rotating wall cloud, it was possibly the beginning stages of a very weak tornado...some other chasers reported the same thing, but tough to tell with just how quickly it happened.
The spin up quickly resided but the wall cloud continued to impress.  At a few points it seemed as if it was trying to lower again and produce a funnel.

We played cat and mouse with this cell as it dived southeast...multiple times showing a lowered base before it would rise again. 

Towards late evening, the cell fell apart and we decided to call it quits and head to our hotel in silver, Colorado.. We will be within a couple hours driving distance of our chase zone in northern Colorado/southern Wyoming tomorrow.  Overall a nice day! -Hans