Samara Fogel Photography: Blog en-us (C) Samara Fogel Photography (Samara Fogel Photography) Thu, 22 May 2014 14:59:00 GMT Thu, 22 May 2014 14:59:00 GMT Shaking Off the Rust 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. 

Nebraska Sidney storm chasing supercell Thu, 22 May 2014 14:59:16 GMT
A Slow Start and a Little Bit of a Vent Coming into this year’s chase trip I was in part excited, and in part disappointed and apprehensive. For the first time in several years, I am only chasing for one week. Why would that lead to disappointment, one might ask? Well, before the trip even started, I was mourning the end. Two weeks of chasing is both enough and too much. One week isn’t either. One week isn’t enough. I asked myself in the weeks leading up to the trip whether it was worth it at all since it was unlikely that I would be as fulfilled this year as I have been in previous years. This is especially true in the follow up to last year. 


I decided to go chasing anyway. How could I skip it? It’s who and what I am. It’s in my blood. It’s become a part of every fiber of my being. I love it. 


While we were on our drive out, Dave's article about storm chasing, Once More Into the Breach, was published on The Mantle, an online forum for progressive (and often liberal) human interest stories and critiques. It is a beautiful representation of what chasing is like and I was thrilled to see that quite a few of my photos had been featured in the article. With my cousin's permission, I posted the link to the article on my Facebook page because I wanted others to have the opportunity to read this article. I was (and still am) proud of his writing and my photos.


It wasn't at all surprising that several members of the storm chasing community shared the article, even though it was written with the average reader in mind. What WAS surprising, however, was a comment one one such chaser's post made about my photographs. He said that he remembered one of my photos (it happened to be the cover photo for the article) from last year's Moore Tornado on May 20th. He stated that he remembered that I "had that very image...up for sale" the day after the tornado. He went on to say that he "just thought it was incredibly bad taste," even though he "admired the photo." While I don't really give a fuck what people think about me and my morality, I wanted to address that issue. ALL of my photos are for sale. Every. Single. One.  After processing a number of the Moore photos, I put them up on my website for my friends and family to see. Due to the nature of the storm, and the media frenzy that came with it, there was some expressed interest in some of my photographs so I included a little blurb at the top of the gallery that told people to contact me by email if they were interested in purchasing a digital copy of the image. I wasn't deliberately marketing my images. I wasn't selling them to the highest bidder. I wasn't contacting media entities and telling them that I had tornado photos for sale. I was simply putting my images on my own website for people to view. If someone came to me and wanted to buy one, I would have sold it, of course. If that makes me a callous, unfeeling person, then so be it. I never responded to that comment because I didn't want to get caught up in the dramatic bullshit that this person so clearly wanted to occur. However, I did not want to let that issue go unaddressed. I do hope that someone shares my point of view with him, but if not, I'm ok with that, because, as I said, I don't really give a fuck what he thinks. I do, however, give a fuck what my friends and family think...mostly. :)


Once we were in Norman, Oklahoma, we were ready for our chase to begin. Enter a lack of moisture in the plains. Sigh. No moisture equals no storms. No storms equals no chasing. No chasing equals sitting in Norman, Oklahoma for three days. While it was lovely to spend time with Roger, Elke and Donna, it was not what I had planned for my annual trip out to The Plains. By day 2 of sitting around, I was starting to get antsy and irritable. While we were were in Oklahoma City, we did visit the site of the El Reno tornado. We saw where Tim's car crashed on that fateful day. We saw where we generally were and retraced our steps. We saw the house that got blown to bits in the video footage. It was a bit cathartic to see the place that changed the face of chasing for so many. 


On Sunday afternoon, we began to head north with final destination of somewhere along the Nebraska-Wyoming border. We planned to spend the night about halfway, and ended up in Colby, Kansas. It was an uneventful drive, but it felt good to get out on the plains.


Let the real chasing trip begin. 

El Reno Once More Into the Breach driving storm chasing Tue, 20 May 2014 14:52:11 GMT
A Year of Firsts This year was a year of firsts. Firsts for me, as a relatively new chaser (only 5 years under my belt), and firsts for the three men that I spent two incredible and horrifying weeks chasing with.  

For the first time, I had a distinct sense of my own mortality and that of the people I was with. On the night of April 30th, my sister went to the emergency room complaining of a headache. She was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation with an associated aneurysm that was bleeding. My parents and I rushed to Dayton, OH to be by her side as she underwent surgery to repair what they could. It was the hardest week of my life. I'm happy to say that she is now well on her way to a full recovery.  This obviously left an enormous impression on me as I left for chasing this year. I, for the first time, was very aware of the fragility of life and how vulnerable we are to things that are out of our control. 


This vulnerability became even more evident while observing the Moore Tornado, and in its aftermath. This was the first time that I'd ever seen a tornado do damage. It was Keith's and my first EF5 (and subsequently second with the El Reno Tornado). It was the first violent tornado that we all saw go through a major metropolitan area. It was the first time that I watched a tornado and cried instead of celebrated. It was the first time that I've experienced pieces of people's lives falling around me. 


My own mortality became even more pronounced immediately after Moore when we had our first major close call when the storm we were driving through became much more severe and tornado warned right over our heads. Our second close call was the when the roof hit our car in Texas. Our third was the hailstone. I'd never even had one close call before, let alone 3 or 4. 


This year also marked my first and second wedge tornadoes. The Bennington Wedge was joyous, exhilarating, emotional, and relatively safe. I loved that day.  It was like Mother Nature knew I needed a pick-me-up, and obliged. She's a cruel bitch though. My second wedge almost ended up being our undoing. We didn't even know it was really a wedge until later, though I'm fairly certain that I saw it from a distance once we escaped its path. 


The El Reno Tornado also ended up being the first tornado to claim the lives of storm chasers. 


I'm alternately haunted and elated by images from this year's chasing trip. Elated by the incredible beauty of the plains, by supercells in South Dakota and Nebraska, by some of the most incredible lightning I've ever seen; by the nearly stationary wedge in Bennington; by my amazing photo shoot of abandoned buildings in Salina. There was so much that was positive about this trip including the incredible camaraderie and love between those of us in our car. We laughed and laughed and laughed. That’s a huge part of what I’ll take away from this year’s trip. Yet every time I close my eyes I see flashes of some of the scenes of horror that we witnessed. The tornado going through a subdivision on May 20th. The roof hitting our car on May 21st. The damage path of Moore along Interstate 35. El Reno. That's the one that I can't stop seeing. I can't stop seeing the house or barn being sucked into the tornadic circulation. I can't stop seeing the image of the cars that were rolled, tossed, and crushed. I need to stop reading about it. I'm driving myself crazy. I will stop. Eventually. I guess I'm not ready to let it go after all.


Even with all of that, I'm not ready to call it quits on storm chasing, there's too much beauty and good in the hobby. Especially since I keep telling Dave and Keith that they shouldn't quit. I am ready, however, to seriously think about our responsibility and obligation to the public good in all of this. 


2.6 miles Bennington KS EF5 El Reno Salina driving nature storm chasing tornado Sun, 09 Jun 2013 02:22:00 GMT
A Miscalculated Risk You know how I said that sometimes what you ask for isn't what you want after all? I'm saying that again to the jillionth degree.  


Friday, May 31st was my last real storm chasing day before going home and I wanted it to be a good one. SPC issued a moderate for severe over central and eastern Oklahoma and conditions were ripe for tornadoes. While sitting in a gas station waiting for storms to initiate, I jokingly said, "come on, atmosphere! Give me a show on my last day!" I got much, much more than I bargained for. 


We left Ada, OK around noon and headed west. When we stopped for gas, Keith noticed that towering cumulus were forming to our north and starting to show up on radar, so we headed toward Union City. There were three separate storms that began to merge, and had three separate mesocyclones. The storm remained this way for the rest of the day, and ultimately went on to produce three tornadoes, one from each mesocyclone. 


After turning north on Route 81, we pulled onto a dirt road a few miles north of Union City and waited. The storm was visibly rotating and the inflow winds into the storm were the most intense that I've ever experienced. It started to rain so I got back in the car, and Ross had to help me open my door because the wind was too strong for me to do it alone without it ripping from the hinges. The meso on the westermost part of the storm was wrapped in rain and very difficult to see into. Dave and Keith both said that there had to be something in the rain because of the strength of the inflow and the signatures on radar. While standing outside the car, I looked north and noticed the ridiculous line of chasers and locals who were driving past and pulled over to watch the storm. 

Impending Tragedy

Keith and Dave decided it was time to drop south and get out of this beast's way, but we could stop and snap a few pictures and video along the way. They both said that we would be going under the edge of the meso, and would take a couple of the rain curtains. No big deal. This wasn't anything any of us hadn't experienced before. We pulled out and began heading south, stopping alongside a large field. As soon as we stopped, we looked over to a clearing in the rain, and the tornado was right there. The colors coming out of this storm were so incredibly intense, that they almost seemed peaceful. How could such a beautiful cerulean blue be violent?

The storm had taken a turn to the south and was coming straight for us, and at a much faster speed than it was moving previously. Because of this, Keith began telling Ross to drive as fast as he could. Now, Keith is THE calmest navigator while chasing. He never yells, never freaks out, and always lets the driver know exactly what's going on and what to expect. Not this time. As the rain curtains started rotating faster, the wind got stronger. Ross was flooring the gas and we were only driving 60 miles per hour. Keith kept telling Ross to drive faster. Cars were pulling out in front of us, stopping in the middle of the road, and the rain was blinding. The car was moving sideways and Ross said that he could feel it starting to tip over. I remember saying, "my ears are popping, my ears are popping!" and I knew that was a very bad thing. Then, a barn or house, I don't know which, blew apart. For a split second we all expected the house to blow into the road and we would be absolutely fucked. But instead it was sucked into the tornado, about 300 yards in front of the car. I said, "that house. oh my god, the house. oh my god, oh my god." Ross was driving as fast as he could and it didn't seem to be fast enough.


Except, it was. 


Keith was so rattled that he declared us done with this storm, and we started dropping south. There was so much gridlock. The weather reporters were telling people that they couldn't survive a tornado of this magnitude unless they were underground and if that wasn't a possibility, they should drive south. We went south until there was no more traffic, and no more threat of storms. As we came away from the storm, my husband texted me and asked me to check in every 30 minutes, just in case. He also told me that a tornado warning was in effect for Madison County, Illinois, and that a tornado was in progress near St. Louis. I said, "someone check the radar for St. Louis. Please. Check it right now. Please." Keith pulled the radar up on the computer and I knew as soon as I saw it that I had reason to worry. Keith confirmed that it was, in fact, heading right toward Matt's hometown (everyone is fine, thankfully). 


Once we were south enough, we stopped at a gas station in Lindsey, OK. The emotion of the past 2 hours hit me as soon as I got out of the car. I walked into the women's room, closed the door to the stall, and started to cry. I was completely overwhelmed. I walked out and stood by the car.  Keith came out of the gas station and I turned to him and said, "I just keep seeing the house..." He replied, "Samara, say what you have to say. Put it out there, get it out. And then let it go. If you don't let it go..." It was wise advice. I'm still trying to let it go. 


We were lucky. I didn't realize just how lucky until Sunday morning when we found out that Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young died in the tornado. The National Weather Service just announced that they've upgraded the El Reno Tornado to an EF5, and radar data shows that it was the widest tornado on record at 2.6 miles. 

When I look at this map, and guesstimate where we were (I think right inside the bottom part of the tornado track as it crossed Route 81) before  leaving, I am so grateful. We all believe that the tornado was an EF5 when it passed behind us on the road as we drove south. I'm thankful that Dave and Keith trusted their instincts and we left when we did. The Tornado Hunters from The Weather Channel were only a minute or two behind us and a little further north on 81. If Dave and Keith didn't make the call when they did, our story would have been very different. Had Ross not been a rockstar behind the wheel of the car, our story would have been very different. This was a humbling experience, and a terrifying one. I can close my eyes and conjure the image of the house getting sucked in toward the tornado at any time. I try not to, though. I'm trying to let it go. 


We take risks when we chase. You cannot put yourself in the path of a violent tornado and expect it to be a risk-free endeavor. There is inherent risk. We also take calculated risks, such as the one we took the day of the rogue hailstone. We (nearly everyone in the chaser community) miscalculated the risk on this storm. No one expected it to expand as rapidly as it did; to accelerate as rapidly as it did; to turn the way it did. Some of the best chasers in the country miscalculated as well, and paid for that miscalculation with their lives. We were lucky. We weren't smarter or better. Just luckier. 


My heart goes out to the friends and families of Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young. 

2.6 miles EF5 El Reno Union City driving nature storm chasing tornado Wed, 05 Jun 2013 16:37:13 GMT
Making the Most Delicious Lemonade The morning of May 28th was awful. I got into an argument with my husband, ripped 2 contact lenses, had to watch freaking out dogs in a hotel room while Dave and Ross went to repair the windshield, and had cold water in the shower. I was in a horrible mood. I was grumpy, stomping around, and snapping at everyone in my way. I couldn't get out of my own head and was unable to care about storm chasing. I whined my way through getting breakfast at Starbucks and felt completely shut down while sitting in the car eating while Keith and Dave figured out whether we should go northwest into Colorado to play the upslope or stay local in Salina and see what develops. Once they decided that we were staying in Salina, my mood actually worsened because I was sick of that city and wanted to LEAVE.


Since we were staying in Salina to wait for storm initiation, Ross suggested that he and I go on a photography walk and shoot this old, abandoned grain elevator area and railroad tracks. Within five minutes of shooting, I was in a better mood. The area that we walked around was a wealth of photographic opportunity. Everywhere that I looked there was something to shoot. We shot for about an hour, and by the time we got back to the car, I had taken 225 photos and was in a fantastic mood. 

Unused Tracks in the Sun

Almost immediately after Ross and I got back to the car, Keith and Dave decided it was time to leave because storms were starting to go up north of Salina. Thus began the easiest chase in history. 

After going north and meeting up with Roger, we continued on to the Bennington, Kansas area. As we approached the storm, a brief tornado touched down and lifted. That was just the beginning. Once we pulled over, the show really started. The storm had incredible structure. The inflow stingers looked like a hand. 

A tornado!

And the structure!

While we stood there and watched, the tornado continued to grow in size. 

It was around this point that I turned to Dave and said, "Dave, Thunder's ashes. It's time." For the past three years since Thunder's untimely passing, Dave has brought some of his ashes on our chasing trip. He wanted to spread his ashes into the strong inflow of a tornadic storm. We had the road mostly to ourselves, the inflow was strong, and the people were right. It was time. As he shook out the ashes they were carried into the storm and we all stopped what we were doing to say goodbye. Ross and I walked over and put our arms around an emotional Dave, and Keith put his arms around all of us. It was the perfect storm, and the perfect people. These were the people who loved Thunder the Storm Chasing Dog best. I'm honored and privileged to be counted among that group. 


It was a few minutes later that the storm formed my very first wedge tornado. Mind. Blown. 

Shortly after this, the tornado became completely rain wrapped and we could no longer see. We tried changing positions, but it didn't help. That was ok. We watched this tornado stay practically stationary for 35 minutes. It was perfection. 


This day started out as one of the worst days I've ever had while chasing, and ended up as one of the best. 

Bennington KS storm chasing tornado wedge Mon, 03 Jun 2013 20:00:28 GMT
A Rogue Hailstone We started the day in Kearney, Nebraska with plans to chase in northern Kansas. Storms began forming around Smith Center, Kansas so we headed south toward them. We immediately noticed the vast number of storm chasers on that storm. People were driving like maniacs and there were way too many people who thought they needed to announce their intentions by plastering their cars with decals, images, and even flashing lights. 


Shortly after we arrived, the storm produced a dusty spinup tornado. A little while after that, a weak tornado formed in the distance over the local grain elevators. 

We continued chasing this storm and stopped to take a look at the storm to see what we could see. While we were standing there, the rotating rain curtains became much more intense, and the wind into the storm picked up. Keith and Dave made the decision to drive away, and while we were driving, Keith was able to get video of a very large, violent tornado. Since I was driving, I was only able to catch a glimpse of it. 


Once the best part of the storm was over, Roger suggested that we head back north and west and shoot the storm from the back in the light of the setting sun. We knew we'd be going through a little bit of the core of the storm, but no big deal. So I'm driving normally, when BOOM, a rogue baseball sized hailstone hits the windshield right in front of Keith, cracking the windshield. Shit. 



After this, we were all pretty bummed, so we headed back down into Salina for dinner and sleep. 

Cora, KS hail storm chasing tornado Mon, 03 Jun 2013 00:19:54 GMT
Food for My Soul Storm chasing is grueling. Most people I speak to about chasing don't realize how exhausting it really is. It's a lot of work for very little reward.  You spend 10-15 hours in the car everyday, eating crappy food, not getting enough sleep, and putting yourself in high stress situations again and again. The goal is always to see a tornado, but occasionally the universe gives you a non-tornadic gift of a stunning supercell. Days like that, especially in the high plains of Colorado, South Dakota, and Nebraska are good for the soul. They help me recharge, refocus, and reflect. We were lucky enough to have two of those days in a row this year. 


After leaving Liberal, KS on 5/24, we headed up into Northwest Colorado where we had a fairly uneventful and unsuccessful chase that ended in North Platte, NE. Since I'd gotten very little sleep the night before, I tried to go to bed early-ish and I missed an incredible lightning show. These things happen. 


The next morning, we woke up in North Platte to absolutely incredible weather outside. It was truly spectacular. Low 80's, sunshine, with a nice cool breeze. Perfect. I spent some time in the morning talking on the phone to my husband, whom I've been away from way too much this month. It was lovely. We got on the road around 11am, and headed north out of North Platte to meet Roger in Chadron, NE to chase in northern Nebraska/southern South Dakota. I was really excited about this because these are two of my favorite states, especially South Dakota. It ended up being one of the most beautiful chase days of the trip. 


After seeing some towering cumulus up north near Rapid City, SD, we decided to head in that direction. I had never been to this region of South Dakota, and it was truly spectacular. We were on the edge of the Black Hills and the Badlands, and I need to return to explore both. We went north out of Rapid City and began chasing one of the most beautiful storms I've ever seen. The landscape was perfect, the storm was perfect, and the lighting was perfect. The lightning, however, was trying to kill us. There were several really close lightning strikes that sent us all scurrying back to the car. 

As we continued east on 90, the storm began to dissipate, and we ended up on a hill looking out over the Black Hills, watching the sun set behind the tilting updraft of the dying storm. 

After the sun set completely, we went back west on I-90, had dinner in Rapid City, and drove back south toward Chadron where we stayed in the surprisingly nice, Western Inn. 


The next day was a similarly beautiful chase, except this time in Nebraska. We drove back to North Platte and waited for storms to initiate. Towers began going up a little east of us, so we headed back down to I-80 and blasted east. There was this huge, explosive updraft, with a great anvil above it, and nothing was showing up on radar! All the science guys in the group were a bit perplexed; until we got to the storm and realized that it was a LP (Low Preciptation) supercell which was hardly raining at all. But it was so beautiful. 


In the end, even after a couple of chase days without tornadoes, I felt healed. In many ways, the Moore tornado damaged my soul and my psyche. The two days of beauty in the High Plains helped to heal me a little bit. In the words of Roger, I needed some "High Plains Therapy."

nature storm chasing tornado Thu, 30 May 2013 15:13:07 GMT
An Active Pattern We've been lucky this year. The pattern has been active and we've had stuff to chase nearly every day, which is awesome! Unfortunately, that leaves little time to write my blog. I'm doing laundry this morning, so hopefully I have a few minutes to catch up. 


After the Moore Tornado day, we headed south and ended up in a town called Rosebud, TX, where we chased a bitty little storm onto a dirt road. It didn't do very much and we let the fairly weak core come over us. As we were waiting for the storm to arrive, I hopped out of the car and snapped a few pictures of the approaching gust front. 

Shelf Cloud over Country Road Once that was done, we headed north and spent the night in Waco, TX, where we had dinner at Chuy's (yum!) and went back to the hotel and drank beer and watched the Moore video footage. 


After leaving Waco, we took a travel day to head to the southern panhandle, and stayed in Wichita Falls since we planned to chase the panhandle the next day. Although we didn't see a tornado, this may have been one of our craziest chase days. We headed west toward Jayton, Texas chasing a tornado warned storm. The storm looked ok on radar so we were hopeful. We tried to get around the storm on a north-south road, but it began to accelerate toward us. The storm was spitting out intense outflow and we began seeing debris in and around the road. The dust started to kick up, decreasing the visibility in the rain even further. Dave and Keith were estimating outflow gusts up to 80mph, so we decided to turn around and let the storm go because it was becoming too dangerous to continue. We couldn't get ahead of the storm, and there was concern that there was a tornado wrapped up in all that mess. About 5 minutes after Ross turned around,  a corrugated steel roof came flying toward us and hit the front of the car. We hauled ass out of there as fast as we could and made it to a McDonald's, where we checked out the car and discovered that there was a hole in the front bumper and the headlight lens was shattered. It could have been much, much worse. 


We headed up to Liberal, KS, where we stayed at the Super 8 Motel. The reviews were decent on Trip Advisor, so we decided it would be ok. It wasn't. At 2am, I went to crawl into bed, and a cockroach crawled out. Of my bed. A cockroach was in my bed. I screamed and proceeded to stand and stare at the bed for the next 30 minutes until Dave got back from walking the dogs. We switched rooms, and got a terrible night sleep anyway. The next morning, Keith and I go talk to the manager about the incident, and she says, "So, did you, you know, save it?" 

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Did you save it?"


"Oh, well usually people would put it in a cup or something."

"No. I didn't do that! It crawled out of the bed and ran away. I didn't chase the goddamned thing! Who does that?"


We wound up getting the room for free, but seriously? I'm still shaking my head about that. 

driving storm chasing tornado Mon, 27 May 2013 14:50:50 GMT
The Dark Side of Storm Chasing Sometimes the thing we hope for isn't what we want after all. 

Yesterday was our third chase day and we got more than we bargained for.  After seeing three piddly little tornadoes near Wichita on Sunday the 19th, the best of which was a brief ropy thing that I was only able to photograph through the windshield, and missing the main events down in oklahoma, we were ready for something big. We got something big. The only halfway decent photo was this one of a brief, weak tornado. Weak Tornado with Dust

We started the day in Tulsa, OK and neither Dave nor Keith were convinced that there would be any storms worth chasing. They felt that since the cap wasnt very strong, lots of storms would form at once and we would have a big mess of severe thunderstorms. As we drove west on Interstate 44, I was driving and Keith was in the command chair. Dave and his friend Ross were sitting in the backseat. As we started approaching the Oklahoma City area around 1:30, Keith began seeing small storms popping up on radar. Since it was so early, Keith and Dave were not hopeful that the chase would be anything worthwhile.

We stopped at a gas station immediately after getting on I-35 to fuel up, get snacks, and use the restroom. As soon as we got back in the car, a little after 2:00, Keith noted that the storm was severe warned and we needed to move. So I continued driving into OKC. At 2:40, when the storm was tornado warned, we were sitting in stop and go traffic on the freeway. In pouring rain. With hail. In a tornado warning with a confirmed large tornado in progress. Awesome. We got off the highway ASAP and headed East. Traffic on the local roads was a snarled mess as people tried to get out of the way of the impending storm. We got caught in a line of cars at a red light and tensions began running high. All I could see in my rearview mirror was the blackness of the approaching tornadic supercell. We knew there was a large tornado back in the rain and we were sitting ducks. 

Once we were through the light, we turned right onto East 149th Street and pulled into the edge of driveway to a horse farm. From this vantage point, we were able to see the tornado as it approached. 

RFD Anticyclonic RFD Debris Cloud Around Tornado Debris Fan with Barn Losing Contrast Debris Once the debris from the tornado began falling around us, we headed further east and watched it rope out from the car. The tornado lasted 50 minutes and carved out a path of destruction 17 miles long, and up to 1.3 miles wide. It's been rated as an EF5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. 

This was the first tornado that I've seen do damage. We knew this large, extremely violent tornado was going through Moore, but at that time, we didn't know the full extent of the devastation. All I knew was that I was watching a tornado destroy a subdivision right in front of my eyes. The people who lived in those homes lives as they knew it were over at that moment. All I could do was hope and pray that they were in their basements or tornado shelters. I knew I was likely witnessing loss of life. I knew that I would also never be the same after seeing that degree of horror. There was no celebration while watching this tornado, only tears. 

City Moore Moore Tornado Oklahoma storm chasing tornado Wed, 22 May 2013 16:00:30 GMT
A Lazy Blogger's Final Thoughts I've been a terrible blogger for the second half of my trip. Chasing this year was not easy. It was an exercise in futility, frustration and patience. We drove all over The Plains; from Bismarck, North Dakota to San Antonio, Texas. We went to bed late and woke up early. All to try and catch that elusive storm. We watched storms evaporate before our eyes.  We were foiled nearly every step of the way. Either the moisture was too low. Or there was no flow. Or it was too cloudy (too cloudy for storms! seems wrong, doesn't it?). Or too hot. Or too cold. Whatever the reason was, this year was HARD.

We also had challenges that had nothing to do with weather. Dog challenges, sleep challenges, food challenges, various aches and pains, forgetting stuff (like my glasses) in hotels, spiders in hotel rooms, lack of air conditioning, etc. You name it, we struggled with it. We snapped at each other, we bitched and moaned, and our attitudes sucked.

But if you asked any of us where they would rather be, I would bet money that the answer was exactly where we were (albeit, with storms). On a particularly frustrating day, Keith overheard me saying, "This sucks! I don't know how much more I can take!" He asked me later on what I planned to do about that and if I was planning to leave early. My answer was "Of course not! What if I leave early and that's when something happens?" Because you never know what can happen.

Sometimes storm chasing isn't about the storms at all; it is about the people that you meet along the way. In Salina, Kansas, we met a Polarity Therapist who works with animals. He came to our hotel room and worked with Porthos' bum leg. I've never seen that stressed out boy so relaxed. After he left, Porthos got up and played with Trego. In Seymour, Texas, we met Sheriff Bob Hensen. Sheriff Bob told us all about the tornadoes he remembers from growing up in Texas, how he drank red tank (pond) water and slept in the dirt and ate food from the chuck wagon on his family's property. He had kind eyes and as soon as he drove away, I wished I had grabbed my camera and taken his picture.

When I created this blog four years ago as a way of keeping my friends and family up to date on my chasing adventures, I thought I was being clever by calling it "There's No Place Like Home."  I was scared of tornadoes and other natural disasters. I was scared of what I might see. It was a play on the Wizard of Oz that made sense to me.

It no longer makes sense. I love home. I love being close to my family. I love my husband and my dog. And holy crap, I love my bed. But now I say, there's no place like the plains. There's no place like South Dakota, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma. There's no place on earth that rivals the beauty of the plains during a storm. Last year I fell in love with South Dakota. This year I left of piece of myself there. Coming home, back to the noise and congestion of NYC, makes me long for quiet of the plains. No matter what life brings me, kids, family, money issues, I will do whatever I can to make sure that I can go on my chasing adventures every year. It rejuvenates and revitalizes me. I love it with every fiber of my being.

Samara Fogel Photography - Storm Chasing 2012 Gallery

South Dakota The Plains storm chasing Sat, 02 Jun 2012 13:36:00 GMT
Day 6: Tornadoes after Dark After such a shitty week of driving all over the place, we decided to catch up on some sleep and get a late start back to Norman to drop Keith off and pick Emily up. There was a Day 2 general thunder risk so we figured that if we saw something along the way, we would chase it, but we were not hopeful.

We were in two rooms that night so the next morning Keith calls Dave around 9:30 to say that we needed to leave ASAP because the setup for southwestern Kansas looked promising. I don't think we've ever gotten up and out so quickly. 
I am sure glad that we did. 
I was driving and I hauled ass from Des Moines to Russell, KS. As we were heading west into Russell on I-70, we could see the sharp edges of the anvil for storms that were already in progress. Almost immediately after pulling off of I-70 we saw a small tornadic circulation/gustnado
We blasted back west on I-70 a few exits and saw a bit more low level rotation. The storm was pretty high based and we weren't hopeful that it would produce. We waited on it a bit, but then decided to target the southern storm in the line of 3 isolated supercells that was down near La Crosse, KS because there was already a confirmed tornado in progress. I drove south, and as we were driving, we noticed that the middle storm looked interesting, so we pulled off onto a dirt road to take a closer look. 
And there it was. Our first tornado of the trip!  YAY!!!!
We decided to continue south toward our target and watched the tornado rope out behind us. 
Almost as soon as we stopped just outside of Lacrosse, we spotted a funnel. That funnel quickly became a cone tornado as it became truly dark. I was shooting at anything from 12,000 to 25,000 ISO and using lightning as a flash in order to get any images at all. 
Just before we left the storm, it fattened up into a big, fat, cone. 
At that point, hail started falling out of the anvil so we decided to head east out of La Crosse. The lightning was pretty intense and all of a sudden, in the distance, we were able to see the tornado still in progress! So we stopped again and got out of the car to take pictures and video of the tornado roping out. 
We were then lucky enough to see two tornadoes in progress at the same time; the original La Crosse tornado and then a small, skinny ropy thing from the new meso area. 
All in all, we saw six tornadoes. The main La Crosse Tornado lasted 54 minutes long. We were with it almost its entire lifespan. It was incredible and exhilirating. I wish the tornadoes had occured even 40 minutes earlier. I'm not proud of the photos that I took, though I'm happy to have anything at all. 
It was an incredible end to a difficult week 1 of chasing. We traveled a lot of miles for very little reward. 

View Storm Chasing 2012 Week 1 in a larger map

This made it all worthwhile. 
La Crosse tornado Russell tornado driving storm chasing tornado Sat, 26 May 2012 13:45:00 GMT
Days 2 - 5: You Never Know After our first day of chasing we headed up north to position into North Dakota. We took two travel days and positioned ourselves in the Bismarck area. Nothing happened in Bismarck other than leaving my glasses in the hotel and needing them shipped back to Norman. Sigh.

 We dropped south, saw a pretty lightning show, and spent the night in Aberdeen, South Dakota. From Aberdeen we continued to drop south and headed east into Iowa near Sioux City.

From there we chased a small storm northeast from Nebraska into Iowa. We were in decent position initially, but because we had to cross the Missouri River, we  didn't have a good road option and let the storm get out in front of us. The storm motion was moving northeast at around 45-50 miles per hour and we just couldn't catch up with it, so we let it go.

The Day 2 Convective Outlook showed a moderate probability of severe in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. We hemmed and hawed over it and decided that since we had seen a big fat nothing, we needed to try. Because you never know what the atmosphere will produce. We headed into Des Moines to start to position for our trek up north.

The only thing that we saw in Minnesota and Wisconsin was a messy storm that produced quite a bit of lightning. Minnesota is pretty.

By this point we were all done. Over it. Tired of driving a jillion miles everyday to see a thunderstorm. Morale was pretty low in the car.

We headed back to Des Moines and spent the night and with a plan to drive back to Norman the next day.

driving nature storm chasing Fri, 25 May 2012 13:45:00 GMT
...And it begins again I started my annual chase trip with the normal amount of anxiety. Anxiety about leaving my husband, anxiety about leaving my dog, anxiety about sitting in a car for two weeks straight, and anxiety about being tough enough to handle the chase.

Within minutes of starting our first chase on Saturday, the rest ceased to matter for a little while.

The storms weren't anything to write home about. They were weak, non-tornadic, blobs. It didn't seem that there would be any sign of the big old supercells (and hopefully tornadoes) that we drove halfway across the country for. I didn't care. I was in the plains. I was somewhere that people and buildings weren't closing in on me. I could breathe the air and not worry about what carcinogenic fumes I was inhaling. All of my stress seemed to melt away.

We started off in Norman, Oklahoma around 2pm and began to head west. We stopped for lunch in Seiling, OK and decided to chase a little cell southwest of Elk City. It wasn't anything special, but I did get some pretty mammatus clouds. I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever seen them.


We decided that the cell at the southern end of the line looked a little healthier so we started heading in that direction.

We stopped to take a structure shot as the storm was passing over a wind farm with the sun setting behind it.


Since this storm had a little more umph than the previous one, we decided to stay on it. We turned down a dirt road that had farm fields on either side, and an abandoned house a bit down the road. As we turned onto the road I noticed that the sun was setting and you could see it through the core of the storm.

We decided to re-position to get some more wide angle structure shots of what had surprisingly become a supercell. We stood up on a hill, with Elk City below us and watched the storm come in as the sun was setting. For awhile there was a pretty good wall cloud on the storm, but no one thought it would produce a tornado. 
Once it became too dark to shoot anymore, we called the chase and headed into Elk City for dinner. We core of the storm was between us and there was larger hail than we anticipated. Nothing huge, but it was LOUD as it was hitting the roof of the car.


clouds nature storm chasing Mon, 21 May 2012 14:30:00 GMT
Well, Discovery Replied It's not much. It's a pretty canned response that basically tells me that they're not going to do anything. But at least it's a little bit of acknowledgement. I guess.

Dear Ms. Fogel,

We sincerely appreciate you taking the time to contact us and for bringing this matter to our attention.

The production crews on Storm Chasers follow strict safety protocols for themselves and those around them.  If one of their vehicles is operated in an unsafe manner, we take those issues seriously and take appropriate action to address, which may include replacement of the driver involved. Please know that your letter has been forwarded to the production team for

Again, we appreciate your interest in Discovery Channel.


Viewer Relations
Discovery Channel
TIV discovery channel sean casey storm chasers Fri, 15 Jul 2011 05:45:00 GMT
Open Letter to Discovery Channel Regarding Incident with the TIV I sent the following letter off this morning to the executives at Discovery Channel, Executive Producer of Storm Chasers, Ronan Nagle, and posted it on Facebook in multiple places. I have little faith that anything will come of this, but I think it's important to get it out there.



Discovery's leadership is dedicated to upholding the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct.”
This is a direct quote from www.discoverychannel.comIn my experience, the people who represent the Discovery Channel brand are not upholding these standards.
As a fellow storm chaser and photographerI understand Sean Casey's passion for finding and filming the best storm, for getting the perfect shot. I can even understand bending a few rules to ensure that he is in the best possible position to get that shot.
I do not, however, understand how he and his Discovery Channel film crew can so recklessly endanger the lives of other chasers and local motorists. In the past I've heard stories of irresponsible behavior on the part of Casey and his crew. This also is not the first time I have witnessed them practicing hazardous behavior. In fact, Casey and the Discovery Channel personnel that accompany him are now well known in the chase community as a collection of menaces who show no regard for human life.
May 30, 2011 was something different, though. Something much worse.
In the car with me were three other chasers, a total of 40 years of chasing experience between us. With limited road options, we found ourselves fleeing deadly hail up to the size of grapefruits. The TIV and Discovery crew were driving very slowly on a two lane road and refused to let us pass them. The Discovery crew drove for an extended period of time on the wrong side of the road, filming the TIV and completely blocking our ability to pass. When they decided to fall in behind the TIV and I attempted to pass them, they sped up and aggressively blocked us. Finally, I was able to get around one of the Discovery film crew vehicles. Immediately, the driver flew up behind us flashing his high beams. He passed me again, cut me off in doing so, and slammed on the brakes so that they were doing 20-30 MPH below the speed limit.
At a major intersection in O'Neill, Nebraska, the Discovery crew stopped and intentionally blocked the road so no one could get past them. I was forced to drive off the road on their right to get east, so I could continue to try to get away from the hail. Again they raced up behind me flashing their high beams. This time, they were so focused on our car that one of the Discovery crew Suburbans nearly crashed into the TIV.
Does Discovery actually advocate this outrageous, unacceptable, and downright dangerous behavior? Regardless of the answer, you must put a stop to it. There should never be a shot that is so important that the lives of the people around the Discovery Channel crew are put at risk. There should never be so much blind recklessness that the dangers to others are totally discounted. Will you not do anything until someone is killed as a direct result of Sean Casey and the Discovery Channel’s dangerous and maniacal behavior?
I understand that there is inherent risk in storm chasing. That risk was significantly compounded for us on the cited day by Sean Casey and the Discovery Channel film crew. While they have the luxury of driving a tank-like-vehicle and trucks with custom hail protection, we are not so fortunate. Their actions were directly responsible for hail damage sustained by our vehicle. We were lucky, this time, that it wasn't much worse.
I urge Discovery Channel to take a close look at your mission statement and your claims to “uphold the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct.” Is it truly your policy to adhere to these standards, or are these just empty words intended to portray an image you have no honest interest in ‘upholding?’ By employing individuals who do not honor that mission statement, it speaks volumes about the network as a whole. There is nothing professional or ethical about behavior of this kind. Please do not condone it by allowing it to continue.
Thank you for your crucial attention to this matter.
Samara Fogel
TIV discovery channel sean casey Tue, 28 Jun 2011 06:00:00 GMT
Day 13: The Perfect Ending We headed out early because Dave and Keith both believed that our best chance of storms was in northern South Dakota.

As we crossed the border into South Dakota it became clear to me that this was a special place. The terrain changed and the grass became greener and the sky seemed bluer. Even the air smelled sweeter. Of course the mosquitoes were also like little helicopters, but you can't have everything, right?

One of the most interesting things about driving into South Dakota is that you have to drive through the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations. The dichotomy between the luscious and beautiful landscapes and the extreme poverty is startling. I had always heard stories about the conditions on the reservations, but this was the first time I ever witnessed it firsthand. It's very clear to me now that the White Man totally fucked the Native Americans. One has to hope that the extreme beauty in some way makes up for the extreme living conditions. It was eye-opening and heartbreaking.

After driving through the reservation we continued north on US Highway 83. We stopped for hours in Selby, South Dakota at a teensy little gas station. Selby is the county seat of Walworth County and has a population of 642. It's mind boggling to me that this is considered a big town! This is the heart of downtown Selby!

After spending several hours at the gas station we were thisclose to giving up and heading back south to a hotel and dinner. As we were about to make hotel reservations, Emily says, "look over there! some convection!" Sure enough, after a glance at radar we made the decision to head north to the border of North Dakota. 
During this drive I completely fell in love with the Dakotas. I have never, ever, been to a place so beautiful. The terrain became more rugged and rocky. The colors became brighter and the air became even sweeter. 
As we made our way north the storm came into view and it was back lit by the sun starting to set in the west. It looked like spun silver and gold. It was indescribably beautiful. The entire time I was driving I was just staring out the window and saying, "wow" every few seconds. Whenever I thought it couldn't possibly be any more beautiful, it was.
By the time we got to the storm, any danger had passed and we hopped out to take pictures and video of such an incredible scene. The colors were outrageous. I've never seen anything like it anywhere in the world. It was so incredibly beautiful that I nearly cried. I've never had such a visceral and emotional response to a landscape. 
We finally decided to leave this incredible place, but the sunset made us stop to take more photos.

Once we were finally able to tear ourselves away, we dropped back south and spend the night in Murdo.
]]> Mon, 06 Jun 2011 15:00:00 GMT
Day 12: A Skinny Tornado After spending a couple of days in the Nebraska Sandhills we headed south toward Interstate 80 to do some actual storm chasing. Our first stop of the day was the gas station in North Platte. Most people don't realize how much time is spent sitting in and around gas stations when storm chasing. It's a LOT. After hanging around for awhile storms started to go up southeast of North Platte.

I was more nervous during this chase than previous chases because for the very first time on an official chase, I was not driving. Dave was driving, and while I know that he has done this a zillion times and knows what he is doing, it was still scary for me. It was a loss of control that I've always had while chasing. It was interesting to give up that control.  To entirely put my life in the hands of someone else (albeit someone I trust implicitly) in a situation that for years terrified me. Yet another lesson learned on a chase trip.

So we chased this storm through the town of Lexington, Nebraska and came through some tiny little hail. As the hail got bigger we decided that we didn't want a repeat of O'Neill and the softball hail so we left that area and headed out of the core. From that area we had a pretty good view of the storm approaching.

We moved further east to allow the storm to come to us and sat on a dirt road for awhile. The storm didn't look great and none of us were particularly hopeful.

But then, all of a sudden, through the rain, appeared a skinny little funnel.

That skinny little funnel eventually (we think) became a weak tornado. 
It only lasted a minute or two, but it's still a tornado. 
I just really like this structure shot. No particular reason why.
At this point the storm completely evaporated and we headed back to North Platte for the night. While we were at dinner another cell formed due east of us along Route 80. We opted to let it go and have dinner. 

]]> Sat, 04 Jun 2011 17:15:00 GMT
Day 11: Driving through the Sandhills I love Nebraska. Really. I know it's weird. When I mention that Nebraska is my favorite state people look at me like I'm crazy. But that's because all they see is the flat stuff on Route 80 as they go speeding through the state. When you head north things change. When you go north on Route 83 things become really interesting.

The Sandhills are a part of Nebraska that used to be covered by a large ocean. What remains is the sand and the dunes. There's a peacefulness that exists there that I just can't describe. It's all cattle ranches and wild landscapes. The photos don't do it justice.

After leaving the sandhills we drove to Valentine, Nebraska and spent the night. On the way we encountered this old abandoned house that appeared to have a newish roof. Since my new photographic obsession is old abandoned houses, we had to stop.
]]> Fri, 03 Jun 2011 17:15:00 GMT
Day 10: A Ticket, Hail, Tornado, and RAGE Yesterday's chase day was intense. We experienced softball sized hail, tornadic circulation at close range, and some ugliness on the part of other "chasers."

We headed Northwest to O'Neill, Nebraska from Omaha. I was driving and cruising along at 80 MPH when I was pulled over for speeding. Sigh. Into the glove compartment with the other ticket. It's part of the cost of chasing, I suppose. 
We finally get into O'Neill and continue northwest into Atkinson. We weren't hopeful because the storms started off looking like they were going to merge into a squall line almost immediately. That didn't happen and a couple of them began to look like messy supercells. We stopped to take a bunch of photos and video, but when we started getting hit by cold outflow instead of warm inflow we decided to leave that storm, let it go past us, and wait for the next one.

As we're driving down this narrow country rode toward Highway 11 at a decent speed (though nothing excessive), I see a GIANT hailstone hit the road in front of me and explode into a zillion pieces. I say, "uh, was that hail?" Keith says, "I suppose it could have been," as we both see another GIANT hailstone hit a pond and produce a splash that went at least 3 feet in the air.

Oh shit.

I start flying down the road and huge hail is falling all around us. I just want to get the hell out.

But I can't.

I can't because Sean Casey and the TIV and the Discovery Channel Crew are blocking the whole road. They refuse to let me pass because (I assume) that it will ruin their shot. When I finally get around one of  them, they come flying up behind me flashing their lights and freaking out and generally trying to run us off the road. By this point everyone in the car is screaming obscenities, I'm leaning on the horn, and we all want to KILL the discovery channel fuckers.

As we finally make it to the intersection of Highway 11 and Highway 20, the TIV and crew are blocking the intersection. Large hail is still falling around us. I say "fuck it" and go around them on the grass. They get so pissed off that one of the Discovery film crews nearly drives right into the TIV. It would have been poetic justice.

Hail is still falling all around us so we decide to take cover. The only place we could find was a under a tree on someone's front lawn. It was our only option. I would have driven right into a random person's garage had it been open. This hail was huge.
















Once the hail danger passed, we decided to head back into town to see what was coming next.
We decide to go after the next cell in the line and take this road that appeared paved on the map. It would have been fantastic, except the pavement ended. I had to drive us on muddy, rutted, dirt roads as a rotating supercell heads our way. Dave and Keith tell me to turn left, and as I do, we all see a disorganized tornadic circulation kicking up dust right in front of us. 
 We backtrack and get the hell out. 
At that point the storm began to lose strength and show signs of becoming outflow dominant. We decided to let it get away from us and shoot pictures of the outflow sky. It was really incredible. 
All in all, this was one of the tougher and more stressful chases that I've had. 


]]> Tue, 31 May 2011 17:30:00 GMT
Days 5-7: Goodbye and Bust I don't have much to say here. We haven't seen a storm cloud in days. It's been pretty rough. There's been a whole lot of staring at the sky while parked at various gas stations around Oklahoma and Kansas.

I said goodbye to Ellie and Ella yesterday. Sadness. I love my girls.

 While waiting for storms to initiate we were parked outside of a gas station in Arkansas City, KS. People were working on the roof of a house across the street. The entire family was sitting in this truck for hours watching what was happening. At one point it looked like the mother and son were having this serious conversation on the back of the truck so I snapped a picture. It tells a story.
]]> Mon, 30 May 2011 01:00:00 GMT