April 2012. April 14, 2012, to be exact. A day that I will probably never forget as long as I shall live.
Hell, I'll probably be telling this story to my grandchildren one day. It's been three years since that fateful day, and I still get the heeby jeebies whenever I think back to that harrowing day ...
The morning held promise: it was only seven o'clock A.M. and already the ingredients were starting to come together. Relative humdities coupled with upper level dynamics combining to make for a potentially dangerous weather scenario. WINDY. SE breezes sustained at 25 m.p.h, gusting to 45. It was so humid out I could feel the sweat prickling my skin. It was hard to breathe: the air felt incredibly stuffy, much more than usual.
For several days, the NWS had been predicting a severe weather outbreak possible across the area. This morning, they'd increased the likelihood from a SLT RISK to a HIGH RISK.
All modes of severe possible, including the chance of long lived supercells, large, damaging tornadoes and massive hail.
It was only the middle of April, yet it felt more like August. The air temp was already in the seventies, with highs projected to be in the upper nineties.
Extremely unusual. Hopefully the cold front that was forecasted to come through later this afternoon through mid evening would knock temperatures much closer to normal.
I figured I would be chasing later that day, so I gahered my gear (laptop, the latest weather maps, junk food, Cokes, bottled water, cell phone, portable weather radio, etc.) and called my chase partner. His name was Grahame. Nice fellow, although he was gay.
Yet despite his tender, "girlie" nature, Grahame loved weather: the wilder, the better. He had been born in Darwin, Australia, known as one of the premier "hot spots" for lightning/severe storms, so he knew storms and how they oparated. Nothing got his blood pumping faster more than a good old fashioned "flang-fest", he often told me.
'Flang': Australian for lightning.
Grahame was more than ready to join me for a potential chase. When it came to storms, he was like a kid in a candy store: he couldn't get enough.
Not even five minutes later, there was Grahame on my doorstop, ringing the door bell. His sea-green eyes glittered with joy and I could see his heart hammering underneath his tee-shirt. Grahame was all arms and legs and as skinny as a pole. He had more energy than i knew what to do with, but I was glad I had him along: he was something of an "expert" on severe storms. He knew storms like his own mama.
We exchaned hellos; I then explained the situation to my buddy. Grahame pumped his fist in the air and bellowed: "RIGHTEOUS!! RIGHTEOUS!!" I could tell he was thrilled with the setup.
After we plotted our maps and decided on a possible target, Grahame and I went to my favorite hangout: Rosie's Mexican Cantina. I brought some extra cash, so we could eat.
I ordered myself a taco supreme deluxe and for Grahame, a bowl of chili con carne. Grahame loved chili.
We stayed at the eatery for a good part of the morning, all the while, searching for clues in the sky out the window. So far, the sky remained a colorless, dull blue, the kind you see on hot summer days where the humdidy is high. Maybe a few skimpy clouds dotted the sky, but nothing more than that.
Noon. The conditions remained favorable for possible storm development later on, but the sky acted as if it couldn't get its act together.
I was beginning to grow discouraged. It looked like it might shape to be a "bust", meaning that the cap was stronger than the cape: the higher the cape (and the lower the cap), the more probability of storm development. Cape is the amount of instability present. Cap is a 'lid', a layer of warm air that can suppress thunderstorm development.
If a storm manage to get going and bust through the cap, it could be violent.
Grahame tried to change my spiraling mood with awful jokes about Australians or singing tired old country songs that were before my time. He was a terrible singer. That didn't help much.
One hour passed. Then two. Then three. Three o'clock now, and still nothing to be seen in the wide-open Kansas skies. It remained as cloudless (and uneventful) as ever. It was quickly turning into a very boring day. That was when I suggested that we go back home; there would probably be no storms, even though the NWS said otherwise, I kept telling Grahame.
The weather radio toned. Tornado Watch, effective immediately, to last until 1 A.M.
NOW we were getting somewhere.
That's when I saw it. A big, beautiful cloud punching upwards. A towering cloud that was rapidly evolving into a cumulunimbus, or thunder head. We could see it evolving every few seconds it seemed. From a sunny, pristine white, the cloud was quickly changing colors: grey, and getting darker by the second ... and growing rapidly in size.
Soon, thunder growled in the distance. Yellow and red bolts of lightning danced from the clouds, giving a promise of rain (or perhaps, some severe activity). All of a sudden, things were starting to look up!
Grahame was so excited at seeing the cloud he started clog dancing right in the parking lot of Rosie's Mexican Cantina, all the while, letting out war whoops. I looked at my chase partner like he had rocks in his head.
Swear the dude was nuts.
He was acting like it was his birthday, Easter, Christmas, and the Fourth of July all at once. He was as happy as a kid could be ... only he wasn't a kid: Grahame was in his early 40's.
~To be continued.~