Just when I was concerned that the entire Northeastern section of Colorado had turned into one giant feedlot, yesterday I was able to go on a storm chase, completely (albeit barely) confined to the Northeastern Plains of Colorado, without encountering a single feedlot. This is phenomenal news! There actually is room for more! If someone were to get elected Governor on a platform of wanting to reduce the price of beef to a dollar a pound and literally stop caring about the quality of the food we are consuming- it could be done!
After seeing the hail shaft pictured above, one of the first major events of our chase was getting tumbleweed stuck in the grill of the car.
Tumbleweeds are often found in this part of the country. In modern society, they have become synonymous with isolation, desolation, and decay, often portrayed as showing up in the wake of an economic decline or some kind of abandonment. However, in this situation, the presence of tumbleweeds blowing across the highway was actually a positive sign for our mission, which is to see really cool storms. The tumbleweeds were actually blowing across the road at this time of day because powerful inflow currents had developed, which fuels storms. If I ever needed more reassurance that I had blazed my own path in life, and not followed the track that everyone else does, this is it. I am in Northeastern Colorado and on a mission where seeing tumbleweeds blow across the road and get stuck in the car is a major positive sign. Because it led to this.
These funnel clouds did not quite reach the ground, but were still really cool to see. These storms were seen near Sterling, Colorado. Apparently, there is something about the location of this town that makes it especially susceptible to tornadoes. I wonder if that is why their roads are in bad shape, and their light cycles are timed in such a way that it seems like they try to virtually guarantee that you will stopped at over 50% of all traffic lights in town.
We tracked the storms north out of Sterling (after we eventually got out of Sterling), towards the Nebraska border, where we saw a couple of other cool features. First, some downdrafts, which are what leads to strong wind events, and then another funnel formed on the storm. This funnel was rather small. All this indicated that the atmosphere yesterday was marginally fit for tornado development, but not anything like the atmosphere that lead to the gigantic tornadoes in Oklahoma last week.
Unfortunately, when you get out into this part of the country, good paved roads can be quite far apart from one another, in some cases over 20 miles. Storms don’t really care where the roads are. So, in this case, to continue to follow the storm circulation northeast of Sterling, we ended up having to take dirt roads. The chase kind of ended on a dirt road that was literally less than half a mile from the Nebraska border. At this point, we had kind of decided that we had already seen some really nice storms and it would be good to get home at a reasonable hour. The storms we were looking at had kind of become one big cluster, which makes them hard to see anyways.
For people hoping to get to as many states as possible, something like this would be frustrating. It actually reminds me of a chase I had in 2003 where we spent a good deal of time in Nebraska, and on something like three occasions (on different days too) came within a mile of the border with South Dakota, but never entered the State. I guess that would piss off people wanting to get to as many states as possible, but I have been in Nebraska a whole bunch of times, even been bored on a drive between Denver and Chicago where Nebraska, along I-80 feels like it goes on endlessly. A couple of decades ago someone wrote a comedy song called “Interstate 80 Iowa”, basically mocking that 90% of what you encounter on that drive is corn. But, when it comes to boredom, Interstate 80 Nebraska kind of blows Iowa out of the water!
Our final destination was Fort Morgan, where we went to a local pub to get some food. This was around dark, so kind of late. While there, another storm rolled through, producing some pretty major winds. When looking outside at the wind, some of the locals at the restaurant looked at me and replied “Welcome to Morgan”. This seemed to indicate to me that they knew we were not from the area and that those from the area do not even blink at stuff like this anymore. We were something like 75 minutes East of Denver, but in a whole different world. Upon reflection on this, I guess this Fort Morgan town can kind of be thought of as where “tornado alley” begins, with it stretching eastward from there to Missouri. Pretty neat for a not all that exciting town.