Those Wonderful Hours Away From The Station
By “Mainstreet” Marshall
Professional Storm Chaser, Fire Chief and Gnome Wrangler
For some, off-duty hours are used to work a second job. For others, it’s a chance to start a business. But for a lucky few…the days off are used for escape. Some of us use the time to climb on our Harley and hit the road. For others, the subtle movement of a fishing bobber on a glass-smooth lake surface captures our hearts. But for me, none of the regular diversions have much appeal. Nope, I’m looking for Dryline Magic.
My interest lies west of Interstate 35 which is also known as the “Great Wall of Chasing”. The “wall” runs from Laredo, Texas northward to Salina, Kansas, with a few change-ups along the way. We call it “the Great Wall of Chasing” because east of I-35, the terrain is comprised of trees, hills, cities and people…all impediments to chasing tornadoes at reasonable speeds. West of I-35 lies the prairie. Few trees, fewer people, roads laid out in a nice orderly grid and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It’s a great place to forget your worries and enjoy an America that few city people ever get to see.
Each spring, the warmth of the Great Plains beckons me, for I know, that when that warmth clashes with the cold air coming from the Rockies, we will have that “Dryline Magic” and there is nothing like it anywhere else on the planet. Most of us are familiar with the ingredients for tornadoes and severe storms but there is a special area where those rules of nature don’t necessarily apply.
The Dryline is a phenomenon that sets up in the western plains in the spring.
West of the line, the dew points may be in the 30s, to the east they may be as high as 70 and the area that separates those two air masses may only be 20 miles across. When a disturbance in the atmosphere goes across the Dryline, a massive supercell may erupt, and THAT is what I’m after. The storms that go up here are frequently alone, standing out there with few other clouds around to inhibit the view. While many chasers, in fact most other chasers seek a tornado, I’m something of an oddity among chasers. I’m a structure freak. I love a storm that’s pretty. Don’t necessarily care if there’s a nader under it, as long as it’s pretty.
Some DryLine Magic
Those of you who live in the east and have never ventured out to the great American plains, haven’t a clue what these monsters could look like. Our storms out east are usually lost in all the other clouds…not these guys.
Prior to the advent of Doppler Radar, locals knew that these areas were prone to massive storms on short notice, but no one really knew why or how. With Doppler radar, minute disturbances in the atmosphere can now be tracked.
I’ve been a Storm Chaser for many years…even before the movie “Twister” came out. Chasing severe storms comes naturally to me. My father grew up in Oklahoma and I spent many a summer there as a kid. My Dad loved a good storm and we spent many hours sitting on the porch, watching Mother Nature’s fireworks. It wasn’t until 1972 that it occurred to me to get in the car and actually follow the storm. Imagine my surprise when I discovered other wackos…err I mean researchers who also chased after the storms. Before “Twister”, you never told “civilians” what you were doing. If you did, they would inevitably all ask the same question…”what do you do when you catch one?” In the post “Twister” world, not only do they understand what its all about, they pay me good money to take them out to see the storms up close and personal!
I guess you could call Storm Chasing the ultimate sport. Other sports have become so well regulated that they are a mere shadow of their former selves. Not Storm Chasing! It’s you and your gadgets versus Mother Nature, going nose-to-nose on the biggest playing field on the planet…and this spring looks to be the Super Bowl of Storms thanks to a very strong La Nina. I’m counting the days!
And this is my target! We call this a “Mother Ship”
National Geographic photo
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Firegeezer adds: Steve’s posts are archived under the category Gnome Report. You can click on that category over on the right sidebar and scroll down to last year’s storm chase to sample his “escape.”