Fifteen years ago, I had my first stormchasing experience as part of the KVOE News Team.
It did not go well.
Storms developed the afternoon of May 8, 2003, near Emporia and pushed rapidly — I mean 60-70 mph rapidly — to the northeast. The supercells had organized well enough to drop a tornado in western Osage County within a few minutes of passing Emporia. And eager to prove myself to my relatively new bosses, I said I’d go chase.
OK, get this straight. The storms already have a roughly 20-mile head start. They were moving at cross angles to the regional road network at up to 70 mph. They were moving away from Emporia.
And I said I’d go after them.
Yeah, right. Not a smart move on my part.
And it didn’t take long for a Hail Mary stormchaser moment to go thoroughly wrong, although my safety was never a concern. I had been on the road for less than 20 minutes and losing ground with every mile. I made a fateful turn from a gravel road to a paved road in a last-ditch effort to make up some ground. Shortly after making the turn, I began hearing a grumbling sound underneath my car. For gravel, it would have been no big deal. On pavement, that sound only meant one thing: a flat tire.
I cussed — a lot — and got to work changing the flat.
My simmering blood pressure climbed closer to boiling when I learned the supercell that dropped a twister near Reading had also birthed a second, stronger, much-longer-lived tornado as I was straining against the lug nut wrench. I admit I ignored a few phone calls from the station (and flat missed some others) as I finally got the tire changed.
Thankfully, the tornado missed Lyndon, although it gave town residents quite the show as it passed the town. All I could think at the time, however, was this was my chance to contribute to our storm coverage…and instead I was stuck on the side of an unfamiliar road, bringing back with me nothing more than a sad stormchaser fail story.