Sunday, May 24, 2009

Major Wall Cloud au Revoir

With just seconds remaining in the 2009 storm chase, Lebron Trimble hits a late 3-pointer...from not just mid-court, but from the Denver Aiport! While awaiting my flight home, over a cup of coffee at the Pour la France cafe', I hear a rumble, then a roar as a heavy storm passes over the circus-tent-like DIA airport. It is about 2 PM and I check the radar while using the free wifi. I see a very nice deep red hook echo, right over the top of us. After finishing my coffee and blackberry scone, I saunter down to the west side of the airport. There in front of me is the best looking wall cloud I have seen all trip, including last year, and the year before.

Unfortunately, I had packed my Nikon D40 camera in my luggage, not wanting to haul it around for 5+ hours. So, without my camera, I had to rely on my Motorola cell phone camera and video. As you can see, the photos do not do the storm justice.

The alarms went off at the airport while I was filming. A tornado warning was issued. I was standing on the far southwest corner of the airport terminal. I took a couple shots, then moved out onto the parking structure to get an unobstructed view. It was a picture perfect location. If only I had kept my Nikon!
I phoned John and Scott to see if they were on it. I got voicemail, but it turned out they were north of the storm and not in the best position for seeing it. They eventually got around to the west side of DIA and got a good view. Shortly thereafter the storm went outflow on us.

An hour later I was on SWA Flight 2757, pinned between a screaming 2-year-old with a cap pistol, and a chatty lady complaining about the delay while trying to use her cell phone in flight. Home please.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday in Colorado

It is my last day of "chasing". Unless Lebron James shows up for a last-second three pointer to save the trip, this could go down as the best weather trip ever, for a tourist. The saving grace was that we were not stuck in some hell-hole town, or part of the southwest devoid of semi-civilization. The second positive was that I brought my own laptop and could partially escape back into small portions of my goings-on during the down time. No more being held hostage to repeated replays on ESPN and CNN, or reading the Groundhog Droppings Weekly from the local town.

Our rental period is up on the Jeep EcoDevastator, and this being the Memorial Day weekend, there were slim pickins from the local Avis outlet in SheepNuts, KS. So, John had to take the local's upgrade from tractor, as pictured here. Today, while the dewpoints are high, there is little shear, so we hope to catch some "land spouts" in eastern Colorado. While not technically tornadoes, finding one of these mini-twisters would make for a nice ending. Either that or we hit the Boulder Brewpub for a few cold ones.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nature Saying "Go Away!"

Some storm chase trips are good, some are poor, and occasionally one is a complete bust.

I've always analogized that the creation of a severe storm (and tornadoes) is much like baking a cake. You need all of the proper ingredients, at the same time, at the same location. If you consider the plains as the big mixing bowl, you then need to add moisture, wind, sheer and some heat in the right ratios before you can even begin to get a severe storm.

Our 2009 baking season saw our milk being hijacked by a tropical depression in the gulf, with the mixer (wind) tickling the belly of Canada most of the time. We were basically sitting in Nebraska with a bunch of flour on our face.

Here are a couple of images which seem to indicate we should just pack it up and go home.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finally - Positive Vorticity

We're not actually storm chasers, but we did stay at a Holiday Inn Express!

Ogallala's best attraction --->

The chase is heading south....both literally and figuratively.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mini Gym Showdown at Hojo's

Today started with the best chance of good (bad) weather since our arrival. There was actually a slight risk of severe with a grand 2% chance of tornadoes. But that is for the other blog.

We spent the night at the same HoJo Express. Due to an ongoing calf strain I had decided to take the day off running. Instead I headed down to the "mini gym". Mini gyms be definition are typically two to three pieces of aerobic contraptions designed to tire out the visitor. No weights or other high-insurance premium devices allowed. I needed my daily hit of endorphins so I decided to take my virgin trek on something called an elliptical machine.

There was nothing really elliptical looking about the machine. It looked like a combination of a stairmaster and cross country ski machine. What the heck, as long as it did not irritate my calf. Soon after getting on the machine, a woman began using the treadmill to my left, and some slightly overweight 30-something guy parked himself on the Lifecycle.

I was doing my best to look like I knew what I was doing, ellipticating like a pro. I was checking my heart rate for the second time when I noticed 30-something guy started picking it up on the cycle. Treadmill girl was also moving along at a nice clip. Not wanting to get left behind, I increased my ellipticating rate. 30-something shifted into a faster gear and we eyed each other.....male competitive gene kicking in!!

Both sweating profusely our eyes met again, and it happened. I bared my teeth and shouted "That all you got guy!!??" and surged into full speed. Guy responded and shifted into Lance Armstrong Jr mode and we both were neck and neck, going full out in the little mini gym. Sweat was flying and I was sure I was going nowhere faster than either of them. After about a minute of this we noticed treadmill-girl shutting down, rolling her eyes and heading for the door. I think I won.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wait More, Rush More

It's Tuesday, 98F outside with some small towers going up and down to the west; 55 dewpoint. We sit at our laptops at Dunn Brothers Coffee on Omaha St in Rapid. Waiting.

Just got back from killing time at Mt Rushmore. Quite impressive actually. We were able to finally use some of our cyber film and take a few shots of nature at her best, including some rare man-modifications of such. The lot was half full of cars from every state cept South Dakota. They seen it already. We did the "strenous trail" hike to and from the base of the hill. We took photos from every possible angle as I secretly played "Where's the Fit Guy" in this crowd of mega-sized tourists.

We thought about going into the Crazy Horse park but when we were told it was $27 per carload we did a Ewe-ee. For $10 we got to see four complete presidents, we weren't ready to shell out nearly three times that for one partially chiseled native American - more of a Crazy Head at this point. We spent our money on a coupla Quiznos in Custer.

On the Road to Rapid

After luxuriating in Boulder for a couple days it was time to suffer a bit. We hitched up the EcoDevastator and headed north to Rapid City (which is neither). Before departing civilization we grasped one last crumb of city life - a stop at a wonderful local bread-making cafe - The Boulder Bread Company. I took a picture of the place as a reminder of good food, before heading into the land of chicken-fried steak and Conoco coffee. (Click on image to see dirty look from counterlady). :-p

We tried to hit this place for lunch on Sunday, but they were closed. So, we included it as part of our Monday brunch. It was worth it - Lemon-honey poppyseed scone for me, and carrot-raisin-calorie-antimatter for John. Not only were the bakery items terrific, they also had fresh Peets coffee on tap.

After loading up on carbs and caffiene, we headed north on HW 25 towards Cheyenne. We passed the time listening to a book on tape "Artic Drift"; something about a plot to illegally sequester CO2 which seems to be resulting in increased global warming. Fun.

Lunch in Cheyenne, then a late dinner in Rapid (they just call it Rapid up here) at the Firehouse Brewery. Mediocre beer...but better than no beer.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday at the Millenium

After yesterday's exhausting non-chase from Denver to Boulder, we decided to take it down a notch and take a non-chase off day. After tolerating the brutal conditions of the Boulder Courtyard, John wanted to experience a bit of luxury. He recalled a fine place right on the Boulder Creek, called The Millenium. The days of $29 rooms during storm chases are officially over.

After checking in and moving to our near-creekside room (shrub view) it occurred to me that this was the very same hotel I had snuck into mid-run Saturday to use the bathroom. Luckily, none of the staff recognized me.

While the rooms were nice, they were again forcing us to rough it once again. Unlike the Courtyard, this place had to audacity to charge for internet access! After an hour of unsuccessfully trying to connect to "Free Public WiFi" which I found, I made John cough up the $9.95 to gain www access. My first stop on Firefox was Yelp, to warn others of this major lodging shortcoming. I then went onto EBay to buy my daughter a 4'x12' tumbling mat. I find I have no time at work to buy such things. That's what vacation is for.

Not only did we have to pay for the internet, this place also had the dreaded one-cup coffee makers, again rendering our basket filters useless (who drinks just ONE cup!?) . Not to worry, for I have an engineering degree from Cal Poly and we take classes in food survival engineering. I quickly rigged up a prototype drip coffee system using a water bottle and a piece of cardboard from our microwave popcorn box. I named it Water Bottle Drip Coffee Maker 50000. I add "5000" to the end of all my inventions to give them a high-techy sound.

Well, the WBDCM5000 had a flaw - the filter sank down to the bottom of the bottle and allowed grounds to enter the cup. Also the lateral stability left something to be desired, plus the cardboard support device got wet. Thus the development of the... SCDCM5000 (Soda Can Drip Coffee Maker 5000). This was like step two in the Three Little Pigs - moving from cardboard and plastic to...aluminum.

The SCDCM5000 was fabricated from a club soda can by cutting off the bottom using a pair of John's toe nail scissors. The bottom section was poked with holes and taped facing the can opening of the larger section. The added aluminum flare centering system proved useful in allowing the device to be implemented on a variety of cup sizes. John agreed to test this device and was quite satisfied with its performance. I did not tell him about the toe nail scissor part.

Saturday in Boulder

If you are going to do a non-chase, it is best to do it in Boulder. Great weather, great food and super running. While the jet stream and dew points were doing their thing in separate parts of the country, John and I were taking advantage of the wonders of Boulder. After loading our Jeep EcoDevastater...hybrid....with food and assorted beverages, we headed to our campsite for the night - the Boulder Courtyard.

To many, staying at a Marriott may not seem like roughing it, but you must consider this place had NO in-room microwave, and worst of all...NO free breakfast. To make things worse, the in-room coffee maker was one of those lame one-cup models, preventing us from making out mega-java Peet's cup of mud.

Lunch was partook (?) at Salvaggio's Deli on Pearl Street. Wonderful Italian sandwiches and local sugar-cane sweeten sodas.

Late in the afternoon we jumped out the back door of our campsite motel and did a 8+ mile jaunt on the trail along Boulder Creek. Neither of us set any PRs on this run, but again, the worst run in Boulder beats the best run in Oklahoma most of the time. I had planned to run a 5K that morning, but our 2 AM arrival the night before, and morning temperatures in the low 40s quickly convinced me to spend more quality time with my sheets.

Dinner was at a nice Italian restaurant, followed by an 8:30 showing of Angels and Demons.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Day One - Hurry Up and Wait!

It was a typical start. Even with no impending storms looming on the horizon, there was always an urgency to get going. With just over an hour to make it to the gate, John insisted on expediting the process and insisted on valeting the car at the off-site garage - Expresso Parking. Thom wheeled his 98 Lexus into the covered garage and flipped the keys to the friendly attendant. Luggage was tossed onto the waiting shuttle bus. We were ready to fly! .....

The shuttle departure clock ticked down from 5 minutes 45 seconds as we sat staring at each other. John was tapping his foot, glancing at his watch. Martin, the cheerful bus driver slowly put the bus in gear and flew out of the garage. We are rolling now!. Approaching the exit, Martin slammed on the breaks and shoved the bus into reverse. He backed up to three women unpacking their trunks. Anything for additional tips. The women, obviously unaware of the important nature of our quest, and clearly new to the scene of actually rushing, took another 5 minutes to get their gear in order. To Martin's credit, he rushed out and grabbed their luggage and all but carried them into the van.

Martin blasted away again, down the road to the terminal. But wait, a long cut! For some reason Martin decided to take a circuitous route to the airport, revisiting the same stoplight-of-doom we had spent nearly a week at just 15 minutes ago.

Finally, at the terminal we lugged out 43 suitcases to the curb-side check in. There was no curb side check in. This is Southwest Airlines, fool. Fortunately, there was no line at the automated bag check in. Unfortunately, we had no automated bags. Nevertheless, we flung our bags onto the scale, while John worked his magic on the computerized check in. After selecting "No bags" and middle seats in the smoking section of a delayed flight to Kabul, I pushed John aside and finished the task.

After checking our IDs the attendant cheerfully informed us that the flights were an hour delayed. Oh well, at least we now had time to enjoy the airport cuisine before departure. Of course our gate (#32) was the very last one on the tarmac.

The flight went very smoothly as we both nodded off in aisle 10, enjoying our gourmet 100-calorie thinchips and 14 peanuts. We arrived at DEN around 11:30 PM, again at the VERY last gate on the tarmac. I think John inadvertently checked the FULL-AEROBIC option on the flight plan.

We race-walked through the mostly-empty terminal to the infamous DEN shuttle trains. Again, we stood waiting for about 10 minutes listening to the prerecorded public announcements nagging us not to try anything suspicious. The short ride on the train left us off at the baggage carousels...all 25 of them, with little indication of which one our bags might appear at. I always wondered why there were no baggage roller coasters, or baggage bumpercar rides.

To its credit, DEN has the most efficient baggage system, and we have yet to wait for a bag on numerous trips. They can even expedite the losing of your luggage if they wanted. We grabbed most of our bags and raced out into the cold dark evening, to locate our Avis shuttle bus. I love shuttle busses.

We had chosen Avis over Hertz this year due to some Free Day coupons I had acquired on EBay, which provided up to a full size vehicle at no cost. I kidded John that they would be out of full size and offer to upgrade us to some gas guzzling behemoth at "no additional charge".

Upon our arrival at the desk, the chirpy Avis deskperson quickly informed us that there were no more full size cars but...."at no additional cost"....he would upgrade us to one of the following: a Chevy Suburban, a Hummer H3, or a Jeep EcoDevastater Hybrid. We chose the Devastater and headed off into the dark lot to look for our global-warming contributor.

We arrived at the La Quinta around 1:30 AM just outside the airport. John had received a free night here due to a service faux pas from his last visit. Something to do with finding unauthorized fluids on the bed sheets.

Today we are off to a strenuous day of bike trail chasing, followed by some theatre action and fine dining research. Boulder is a nice place to non-storm chase.