5 day filming on the plains!

Initial Target: ummm… Nowhere?
Starting From: Altoona, IA
Ending: Altoona, IA
Overnight Stay: Wichita, KS, Kansas City, KS
Storm Intercepts: Lyons, KS
States: Iowa, Kansas, Missouri
Miles: 1009

Summary: Filming a 5 minute short segment for MIC.com, sponsored by Captain Morgan Rum. Whaaaaa?

I hardly know where to begin on this one.
MIC.com approached the Iowa Storm Chasing Network about shooting a segment for an upcoming pre-election show about “Swing States”. We strongly encouraged them to hit us up next Spring (a.k.a. “Storm Season”), but since the show was going to be politically-oriented, it was pre-election time, and Iowa is a “swing state”, it was basically “Film the first week of October, or nothing”. So film we did!

MIC flew in a producer/director, talent Seena Jon, and two cameramen. It was an amazing experience. Despite the political slant, I felt like everyone who came in (from Brooklyn, NY) was genuinely interested in storm chasing. They interviewed me and Zach Sharpe the first day, and held off interviewing Dan Auel until later in the week

It was OCTOBER. In Iowa. Sunny blue skies and cool temps. Autumn harvest was underway, but this was a story about STORM CHASING. So what to do?

We packed up and headed to Kansas, of course!

Seriously, we did.

Although chances for tornadic weather decrease in the Fall/Winter, the possibility is not zero. I had been keeping my eye on a particular weather pattern for the past 5 days, and it seemed like a deep trough would fire storms in Kansas and Oklahoma on Tuesday the 4th. We headed to Wichita on Monday the 3rd. Zach had to stay behind due to a scheduling conflict, so it was only Dan and I for this chase.

Pressure to perform (forecast-wise) was intense, because the SPC (Storm Prediction Center) for DAYS had an ENHANCED risk on the KS/OK border, but data (to me, at least) suggested storm initiation along the cold front over 100 (road miles) away. I am not an SPC chaser, but tend to second-guess myself any time I am so far away from where they have painted a pretty tight bullseye. On the day of the event, data STILL suggested I was correct. I decided to start out by playing the middle, and we took off in the morning for Kingman, KS, about 45 miles due West of Wichita. In Kingman, the camera crew interviewed Dan in a nearby park while I reviewed the latest forecast data and surface observations. The latest SPC update *STILL* targeted the KS/OK state line, but surface observations indicated we should head north to where I originally chose yesterday as the target region. This was not to the time to lose confidence; I have done this a hundred times. North we went, after applying RAIN-X to our windshields and being mic’d up by the soundman.

Right about the time we arrived at Lyons, we saw agitated cumulus with some crispy turkey towers so storm initiation looked to be coming soon. Here was where an interesting conversation occurred – our host said the clouds looked like regular old clouds to him. The contrast between our perceptions was noteworthy, as we explained what we were looking for.  We repositioned a few times, and did a “stop and look” several times. Finally, echo tops started appearing on radar, and we knew we had a storm only 10 or so miles away. The chase was ON!

Soon enough we found ourselves within sight of the modest-looking cell with a clearly-defined inflow band and scrubby wall cloud. We positioned on a gravel road south of the cell to shoot video. (note: This was a cold front play; storms were not expected to remain discrete and we expected a line to fire from NE to SW and travel roughly East). I wasn’t surprised we got on a cell, but this one looked like it actually had a chance to produce. We had plenty of CG lightning, backing surface winds, and there was definite rotation in this system. The camera crew was ecstatic, when suddenly along came Kelley Williamson from The Weather Channel (Kelley is an acquaintance of mine, and had recently debuted his own show “The Storm Wranglers” a few days before). Kelley turned on his emergency lighting, honked and waved as he passed (see pic below). One of the cameramen recognized Kelley and said “I saw him on TV!”. At that point I felt like my forecast was officially validated. *WHEW!*

We chased just like we normally would, and much to their credit, we only had to slow down a handlful of times so the camera support vehicle (Lincoln Navigator) could keep up with us. The cell we were on was Severe-Warned and we had a pretty tight looking velocity couplet (see pic below) – we had poor visibility where were were located (rain wrapped) but that velocity couplet alone (70ph gate to gate shear) had me convinced we had a great circulation and possible weak tornado in there somewhere.

Sadly, we had several issues going on – darkness comes quickly in October, the entire line was beginning to fire and turn into a squall, we were beginning to be overtaken by rain, and we were running out of decent road network north of Bennington. We called the chase well before darkness so we could get the crew ahead of the rain for a wrap-up.

We parted ways after the wrap-up, and the camera crew and host left for Kansas City. Dan and I stopped for dinner in Lawrence, KS, then spent the night in a hotel in Kansas City, coming home the next day. This storm was a technical bust, but I was pleased with the outcome for an October chase.

The final product can be found HERE (it’s on Facebook and you probably have to be logged in to see it. Sorry – not my rules)
It had 2.5 MILLION views before it was no longer featured on the Captain Morgan site!

MIC.com production crew
MIC.com production crew
Somebody's watching...
Somebody’s watching…
Filming the wrap-up
Filming the wrap-up
Camera gear is heavy
Camera gear is heavy
Awesome day
Awesome day
Storm Wrangler Kelley Williamson from The Weather Channel waves hello.
Storm Wrangler Kelley Williamson from The Weather Channel waves hello.
Filming Dan
Filming Dan
Well, hi there....
Well, hi there….
Seena watching the storm
Seena watching the storm