After going all the way to North Dakota for a “cap bust” — when warm air aloft prevents updrafts from rising enough to create storms — and briefly contemplating an eastward jaunt toward Wisconsin and Illinois for severe threats on what would have been the start of an early trip home, we headed south and west for Kansas instead. We actually caught up to some late-day convection near the Kansas-Nebraska border that provided a spectacular sunset and lightning show as we headed south to our lodging in WaKeeney, Kansas. Outflow winds hurled some tumbleweeds at us as we made our way south — it wouldn’t be a trip on U.S. 283 without a little of that.
WaKeeney holds so much history for the Hokie Storm Chasers. We were here in 2007, waiting in the parking lot of this very Super 8, before a 5-hour long storm chase that yielded mouth-dropping, mothership supercell structures and a couple of tornadoes in the country north and west. And then there was 2008, when we stayed here 2 nights and witnessed as many as 10 tornadoes close by — one at extremely close range a few miles south of here. We returned from that nerve-wracking storm intercept to find the door of the hotel lobby blown in, the store across the road heavily damaged, a van with windows blown out, and bleeding students from another chase team in the lobby. That trip provided those students a view into the full intensity of Plains severe weather.
But today — much to the relief of many folks here asking us about why we’re here — we’re only passing through WaKeeney, headed west to catch whatever supercells can develop along the terrain features of eastern Colorado and then slide eastward over the open Plains. This is likely to be our last stand for storms on a June 2011 trip that has faced a challenging weather pattern but yielded a few intense intercepts and lots of truly gorgeous scenes amid many hours on the road as a violent spring yields to a hot summer.
— Kevin Myatt