One day in the life of a stormchaser
July 01, 2003
I caught up with a storm east of Liberal, KS on Saturday and chased it west (yes, west) for about 3 hours. Never before have I seen a storm threaten to tornado for such a long period of time and not do it.

About 20 minutes after dusk, I positioned myself about 1/4 mile east of a violently rotating wallcloud....although, it was not a classic wallcloud; more like just an updraft area in what had become an MCS mess....hell, maybe it was a tornado, LOL, I'll have to look at the tape....on the southern outskirts of the Liberal metroplex. As I sat there facing west, the inflow picked up until my car was rocking back and forth. Then some hail started banging on the car, so I got out of, I was on a dirt road, although it was quite rocky.

A little later, I went back into Liberal to get a room for the night, and went to a motel on the west side (where I had previously stayed, and liked) and found that all power was out on the west side of town. No matter, the power would be restored soon. I still checked in even though they couldn't even make me my own key (because of no power), and they let me in with a "master" key. They mentioned that the 2-story building part of the motel had had its roof removed from a May 15 tornado.

After unloading the car, I headed out to get some dinner. It was around 10, and the only thing I initially found open was McD's, so I went there. I guess because of the outage, there were about 5,000,000 people there. Forget it. I headed up the main street going north to try to find something else, and after a few blocks, the street was barricaded off, so I went down a side street, then headed north again. The streets were flooded in this neighborhood, but there were a lot of other residents driving down them anyway, the water was only about four inches deep, and I stall my car after a few blocks of this in the middle of an intersection.

It was no longer raining hard, so I figured the water may recede soon. Nope. Cars and trucks drove around me constantly, leaving wakes that slosh and rock the car gently back and forth. One guy stops, says "You can't get your car started, dude??", and is never seen again. A half hour later, I took off my sneakers and put on my cowboy boots and waded through the water to push the car to shore. The water penetrated my boots in about one second. After pushing it to shore, I let the car sit for about 15 minutes to see if it might dry out a bit so as to enhance ignition probabilities. Nope. It wouldn't even crank at first, as if it was seized, but then did, and about 15 tries later, I had it running, but there seemed to be water vapor emerging from the exhaust. The electric radiator fans were now dead, so it quickly overheated, and I turned on the heater full blast to keep it somewhat cool as I tried to navigate my way around Liberal without driving through any more floods.

This took another half hour, as every street in town seemed to be flooded. There were also downed tree branches everywhere, and I was dodging them, and city trucks moving them. The dashboard also told me to check my oil now. I ignored that one. I just wanted to get food and get back to the room. I went to a gas station that had a couple of sandwiches left, but I won't eat those things without tons of mayo, so I asked the woman there if she had any mayo. She grabs one little packet and begins to hand it to me, and I tell her that I needed 12. I said I wanted the two sandwiches also, and she put it all into a bag.

I get back to the motel, and the power is still out, so I go to the office and have the woman walk over to my room to let me back in. I park the car in front of the open door, engine running, heater on full blast, car windows closed (it is still raining), headlights on (shining light into the room so I can see the sandwiches I wish to eat). After using 5 mayo packets for the first sandwich, I find that I only have three left, so I start dipping the other sandwich in some cheese dip. I can't get on the internet without the phones working, so I call a friend to ask her to get on Yahoo Messenger to tell my girlfriend that I'm OK, because my g/f has no phone.

The power was still out when I went to sleep about 2:00. Still no A/C. It came on about 5AM.

Worried as I was about my car's engine when I woke up, the first thing I notice when I open the motel room door is that I have a flat tire, a brand new tire which was mounted on the car Thursday.

I made it home. Saw about 15 train cars that had been flipped over from wind between Optima and Guymon on the way.

But, I may be done chasing for the year. The car may be really messed up. I'm taking it in to the shop tomorrow. Hope it's nothing serious.

I love chasing!!! What a life!!!

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Some tornado termsn99nt301302003-07-09 12:30:52