Tuesday, August 24, 2004

My first chase vehicle

Here are a few pics of my first storm chase vehicle, and several important lessons learned:

I bought the '87 Chrysler Lebaron from my granddad when I graduated from CSU. I used it for a few storm chases in El Paso County before Sun moved me to Broomfield. It got me within 3 miles of a tornado at Ramah, which is the closest I've been to a tornado so far.

The important lessons learned came on a storm chase a year or two after my move to the Denver area.

  1. Get familiar with the local roads, and have a really good state atlas
  2. Stop chasing when the Sun sets, no matter how close you THINK you are
  3. Take a chase partner, so one person can look at the skies while the driver looks at the road
  4. If you don't watch the road, you may run into flash flood waters. Going faster won't keep your car from flooding any less
  5. Your wife won't appreciate you calling at 10:30pm saying you need a ride, because you are stuck 90 miles from home
  6. Storm chasers always help other storm chasers! But don't push your luck...

So those are my lessons learned, and here's the story:

There was a pretty good storm forming over Brighton after dinner, so I got clearance from my wife, and was off! I followed the storm right up Hwy 76 to about Hudson. It was a pretty major road, so I was pretty comfortable, but then I heard on the weather radio that it was getting severe near Pleasant Valley. I just happened to see the sign, and took the turn.

It was getting dark, but I was so close, I could taste it. It was kind of cool to watch the lightning and look for tornadoes between the lightning strikes. Unfortunately, the fields had taken all the water they could hold, and started spilling over the roadway, and I didn't notice until I plowed through it, just before entering the town of Pleasant Valley.

The Lebaron plowed through OK, since it was only about 5 inches of water, and I made it into town. I passed a Fire Engine that was directing traffic because of a power outage, and then my car promptly died at the side of the road.

This was a Very Good Thing, because if I had picked up the pace and kept going, I would have wound up in another flooded roadway, this time under 2 feet of water!

At this point, I called my wife with a Ham Radio/Phone patch, and told her I was stranded. She said, "Well, you better find a way to get here then, because the kids are in bed and I can't come get you."

Thankfully I found another storm chaser, who had stopped because of the flooded roadway, and found out he lived in Boulder. He was willing to drop me home, since it was on his way, and chat about chasing all the way home! He had a snorkle on his Toyota, and the first flash flood I had driven through had now turned into 3 feet of water. He plowed through to my amazement, and we headed home.

His vehicle had been struck by lightning a few weeks earlier, and he caught it on tape! Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the link to the video...

The next day, my wife took me out to pick up my car. It was the quietest 90 minutes of my life...

Following that adventure, I agreed to take a chase partner, never chase at night, and get a vehicle that could handle it.

Stay tuned for my next post about my new chase vehicle!

See also:

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