In addition to coming into this trip apprehensive about timing, I was also scared. The last day of my chase trip last year was horrible and ended up with me having a breakdown in a gas station in Lindsey, Oklahoma. I was no longer confident that we wouldn't get hurt. It almost ended the chase careers of two guys who love it more than anything. Fear is a powerful thing. We all did ultimately decide to chase this year, but with far less enthusiasm than previous years. Coming into the trip Dave and Keith made some decisions about chase strategy as a result of El Reno. We were no longer going to tangle with HP (high precipitation) supercells. We were no longer going to try to snuggle into the NOTCH and run the risk of getting munched. HPs now meant that we would back off a bit and aim for structure. That was fine with me since I hate HPs. Hail scares the crap out of me and they can be nasty hailers. We were also no longer going to cut through the core of a storm to try and see a tornado. The risks were no longer worth the reward.
After leaving Colby, Kansas on Monday morning we turned north and headed toward Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I'd never been that far west in the Nebraska Panhandle and was awed by its spectacular beauty. As we were driving north, away from the interstate and away from the rest areas, I could feel the stress leaving my body. I live 12 miles west of New York City and commute to work most days. I manage, but I do not love it. I regularly experience a sense of awareness and unease at the crushing humanity all around me. I spend many of my days wishing that I could be somewhere else, but with the people that I love. As I looked out over the rolling hills of the shortgrass prairies of the Nebraska Panhandle, I could breathe. I didn't even realize that I was holding my breath until I felt like I could breathe. For the first time in a year, I felt like I had space to breathe. The stress and anxiety of the daily routine melted away and I became Chaser Samara instead of the person that I become in between chase trips.
We spent many hours sitting in Scottsbluff watching a pattern that was nothing less than annoying. Storms would form in Wyoming, start to gain strength and intensity, then as they neared our location, they would wither and die. We decided to get some food (yay for Culver's cheese curds!) and take the dogs to pee and give them water. We headed to a local park where we walked around outside for about 10-15 minutes and decided to call the chase. Nothing was happening and we were bored and frustrated. We settled upon heading west toward Cheyenne, Wyoming where we would get a hotel and dinner, and set up for the next day. We put the dogs in the car and Dave checked the radar one last time, expecting to see more of the same crap we'd seen all day.
Something had changed. Suddenly a storm was crossing into Nebraska and gaining intensity so we decided to go after it. Then, lo and behold, another storm was becoming severe warned! We decided to try and go after the southern storm so we blasted south on Route 71 toward I-80 in an attempt to get around the storm to view it from the southeast side. As I was driving, the storm accelerated in speed and began encroaching on the road. There was some minor rotation, and a LOT of RFD dust and wind. Some of the dust was fanning out in a way that appeared as though it was rotating (it wasn't) and we began to take some soft hail. Splat, splat, splat, THUNK. Thunks are never good and we knew we needed to get out of the way fast if we wanted to avoid the dangerous part of the storm. It wasn't a tornado risk at that point, but there was some big hail and there was nothing around find shelter if needed. So I drove. Fast. Other chasers were also driving very fast to get out of the way of this rapidly intensifying supercell.
When we finally made it onto 80 East, we drove for about 10 miles or so and parked on a hill and decided to let it come to us. It was absolutely gorgeous.
Once it began to get closer to our location, we headed another 10 miles east and stopped again. This supercell had beautiful structure and colors with the sun setting behind it and bathing the base in a soft orange light.
After leaving this stop, we continued east, but were losing light and the storm was losing its shape. Meanwhile, the storm near it was tornado warned, headed in our direction, and we only had 1/4 tank of gas. We drove and drove and drove and there was NO GAS. How can a major interstate not have any gas stations for 30 miles? We finally found an open gas station, pumped gas VERY quickly, and dropped south out of the way as it was getting dark and the roads left us little choice. It never produced a tornado and began to lessen in strength. After taking a wrong turn many miles later, we were turning around and realized that we could see this beautiful back-sheared anvil of the storm lit up continuously by lightning. It was the perfect end to the day. We wound up circling back around and went north to Sidney, NE for a late dinner and spent the night in Kimball.
The rust was officially off.