Category Archives: Kansas

I Like Ike

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There are Presidential Museums for every President that served over the past 100 years, usually located in or near the their “hometown”. Some of the more memorable presidents from the 18th and 19th Century also have museums dedicated to their lives and accomplishments. While some of these museums are located in or near major cities, there have also been a good number of presidents who came from small towns. Their museums can sometime be interesting places to stop while traveling.

The first time I ever visited a presidential museum, I was driving from Saint Louis to Chicago on Interstate 55, a drive that had become familiar and dull to me. It was a July day and temperatures were close to 100 degrees. I knew both me and my car needed a break in the middle of the afternoon. So, I visited the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, a museum I would certainly recommend. I love stopping at places like this on a long drive, allowing the body to move around a bit, and stimulating the mind with some historical information.  So, on my drive back to Denver from Kansas City, I decided to stop at the Eisenhower Presidential Museum in Abeline, Kansas.

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The museum is located in the EXACT SPOT that the former president grew up.

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On the museum campus is Dwight Eisenhower’s boyhood home, and, with admission, visitors get a brief tour of the house.

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Map from Museum’s Webpage- does not include parts of I-35

The museum is only a few miles from Interstate 70. As president, one of Eisenhower’s signature accomplishments was the signing of the Interstate Highway Act in 1956. So, it seems fitting that this interstate highway system would find a way to serve the town Eisenhower grew up in. Arriving here without using the interstate would feel wrong in a way.

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Every president, no matter the background, has two stories. A story about what they did before they became president, and the story about what they did as president. Before becoming president, Eisenhower was known primarily as the general that oversaw the Allies European Victory in World War 2.

In fact, Eishenhower’s military career, and exhibits regarding World War 2, appear to make up the largest part of this museum. Later in life, Eisehnhower himself considered his role in the military as the most significant one he had played. In his retirement, he preferred to be addressed as “General Eishenhower”, as opposed to “Mr. President” (which is how former presidents are usually addressed).

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After helping start the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he decided to run for President of the United States in 1952. The museum portrayed him, in a way, as a reluctant president. There is no way of knowing what truly is inside anybody’s heart. However, the way the story is portrayed is not of a man with a strong desire to become president, but of a man who spent his entire life fulfilling the various duties to which he was called. After being called to do so by countless associates, supporters, and both major political parties, leading the nation, as president, was just the final in a series of duties he was called to and performed over the course of his life.

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The entire life story that is Dwight David Eisenhower felt like a story out of a completely different time in history. This idea seems almost like a long-dormant old folklore in American culture. The hero turned leader. A person who wins the adoration and respect of a large group of people based on some heroic acts and then goes on to lead decisively, yet not divisively. A person who sincerely tries to lead all the people, rather than just the ones that are supportive. And, a person who finds a way to be both transformative and a consensus builder with views that are strong without being extreme.

[I will leave the exact details of his presidency to the history books and the museum itself.]

This feels, in a way, like the exact opposite of what has been going on recently. When it comes to this idea of a military veteran/ war hero president, there are plenty of examples throughout history, but no clearer example than Eishenhower.

I do not want to make this another angry political blog (there are way too many as it is), but I do not consider our current president, nor his predecessor, to be a hero, at least not in a general sense like the heroes past. Sure, both men are heroes to a subset of our population. However, both men were also dismissive, and sometimes in a nasty way, to other groups of people within our country. Being the first president of mixed racial background, or the first non-politician president may be important steps for our country. But it’s hard to consider being a community organizer or a business tycoon “heroic” in the traditional sense.

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There is a time and a place for everything. Maybe the middle of the 20th Century was the time and the place for the hero. It could be seen throughout the culture of that time; the Western Hero/Villain movies, characters like the Lone Ranger, and such. Our society has changed significantly since then. Movies this decade more commonly feature protagonists with some form of character flaw, and antagonists who draw some amount of sympathy based on their life experiences or perspectives.

As our culture progresses, we enter a period where maybe we should not look to a hero, but within ourselves. Most of the problems we face today are not as straight-forward as a General coming in and defeating Nazis. They’re more complex, like structural racism which results from the cumulative effect of people’s individual attitudes and pre-conceptions, the negative emotional and communal effects selfishness and the accessibility of smart phones create, or the susceptibility of those that feel disenfranchised to messages promoting radical and sometimes violent behavior. They are not solved by a leader, an army, or a bunch of laws. They are solved by each person’s behavior, one by one, day in and day out.

Barbecue and Beer in Kansas City

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Kansas City is one of several places in America known for their barbecue.  Recently, Travel and Leisure magazine ranked it America’s best city for barbecue.  In other rankings, the city almost always places in the top 3-5.  While barbecue is sometimes the subject of fierce debate, Kansas City has a distinct barbecue style that appears to always be part of the discussion.  Regardless of how any specific barbecue fan feels about Kansas City’s sweet, savory, and saucy barbecue style, it has certainly earned significance in culinary circles, and it certainly has its fans.

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I came to Kansas City with only one food agenda… I wanted barbecue.  I did not bring up any specific places or dishes.  I just knew I wanted barbecue.  I’d leave the rest up to the locals.

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The first place I found myself was a place called Joe’s.  I was already encouraged by the name.  For some reason it feels like the restaurants with the best local food in the United States are named just someone’s first name (examples [1][2][3]).  I wonder if this is the same in other countries.

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We waited in line for close to an hour to eat at Joe’s.  This may be partially due to the fact that it was Memorial Day Weekend.  But, I cannot imagine that this line is too much shorter on any other Saturday in the summer.

Without even making the specific request, I found myself at one of Anthony Bourdain’s 13 places to eat before you die.

One can clearly see that this is the kind of place that values their sauces, and a variety of sauces.  This contrasts the barbecue style of Kansas City with some other places, where I was told there is greater emphasis on the meat itself, how it’s cooked and how it’s spiced.

The portion sizes ended up being somewhat deceptive.  I ordered the rib dinner, which included a half a slab of ribs, Texas Toast, and a side.  It did not look like a lot of food, but I found myself fuller than I had felt in quite some time!

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The next day we went to a barbecue establishment with a different feel.  Whereas Joe’s is actually in a gas station, and in Kansas, B-B’s is in Missouri, and feels more like what most barbecue places I’ve been at feel like.  The walls are more densely decorated than an Applebees, and plastic red and white table cloth covers the tables.

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Side note:  While technically, Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri are two different municipalities, they don’t feel too different.  If it weren’t for the highway signs, or the road named Stateline Rd. I would probably be unaware that I am entering a new state.

As if traveling food shows were somehow my destiny for the weekend, B-B’s Bar-B-Q was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive Ins and Dives.

It was another phenomenal meal, but once again, I overate.

In addition to eating more than I typically do, I drank after both meals, much of it being in the form of beer.  Beer, of course, is one of the most filling forms of alcohol.  So, while my tastebuds enjoyed this entire experience (Boulevard Brewing makes some excellent beer), my body was not happy.  I came away from this weekend not knowing how people here are able to eat and drink this way on a regular basis.

Despite this, it was still an amazing experience, and I got to see other things that Kansas City has to offer, including their downtown and historic Power & Light district (there has to be a reason for this, but I did not bother to look it up).

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One thing that plagues the modern world, and particularly my generation, is mental exhaustion.  Our minds are exhausted from the information overload which often results in analysis paralysis, which becomes extremely inefficient and exhausting.  When planning activities, we often give ourselves the following choices:

First is to select an activity that is familiar.  One that has already been done, and we are familiar with.  With this, we get a good experience without exhausting our minds planning.  However, there is no expanding our horizons.  Choosing all of our activities in this manner will inevitably lead to a rut.

The second is to do extensive research, spending hours on Yelp, Tripadvisor, and similar sites.  This, will usually ensure a good experience, but at the expense of exhausting research and planning.

The other option is to just wing it, making quick selections based on gut instincts.  This minimizes the exhaustion in selecting activities.  However, it can often lead to sub-par experiences.  I used to love to eat at randomly selected restaurants in the central business districts of small towns.  This practice lead to some unexpectedly amazing experiences.  But, there were quite a few disappointments as well.

My experience in Kansas City provided me with yet another reason community and trust are so valuable in our society.  By knowing people who are knowledgable on the subject of barbecue, I found myself at two truly great barbecue places without having to spend time researching places.  I relied on the knowledge of others.  This is something I hope we all can do more often as we seek out new places and experiences.

Across Kansas on Interstate 70

IMG_9831People generally don’t seek out the opportunity to take a road trip across the state of Kansas.  It is certainly not on the list of scenic drives in the United Sates, and will never compare to the majesty of places like the Pacific Coast Highway, Yellowstone, the Adirondacks, or the Grand Canyon.  Getting across Kansas on Interstate 70 takes, at a minimum, five and a half hours, with each mile often looking quite similar to the mile before it.

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However, this is still a heavily traveled road.  In fact, each year more people end up passing through Kansas along this route than end up visiting some more scenically spectacular, but far more remote, places like Crater Lake or Big Bend.

Each year, millions of Americans end up traveling across Kansas on I-70, or along similar routes across the Great Plains, mostly passing through on the way to some other destination.  After all, Kansas is the site of the mid-point of the continental United States.  It is naturally going to be on the way to and from a lot of places.  Any cross-country road trip does require trekking across the Great Plains.

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Frequently in life, people will look at what is directly in front of them, whether it be their homes, their jobs, a social situation, or even a specific event, see it as less than ideal, and insist on remaining focused on what makes the situation, well, less than ideal.  This is the easy way of handling such situations.  It is a trap I often find myself falling into.  However, while it is comforting to endlessly lament a circumstance, it is not productive.  It does nothing to improve the situation at hand.

Kansas itself, in a way, knows what it is.  It is not the peaks and valleys of Rocky Mountain National Park, the majestic maple trees of New Hampshire in autumn, or the amusement parks of Florida.  Most people here are driving through, and most of the accommodations along the interstate are clearly geared at travelers.

And, occasionally to people who need to get out of the car and explore some things along the way.

Kansas also seems to be a place that embraces what it is.

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As well as what it once was.

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Even if in many cases its significance then is no different than its significance now; a place people generally pass through on the way to somewhere else.

In my own experience, what typically happens on drives like this is strikingly similar to what occurs in the process of meditation.  As is the case when I attempt to rid myself of unnecessary distractions, turn off all forms of entertainment, and reconnect with my own mind <link to disconnect to connect blog>, I get anxious at first.  I long for something, anything to emerge to entertain me.  I need to adjust.  To let go.  And after that process, I get to a place where I can finally see the beauty of the surroundings.  After driving across this landscape for a couple of hours, I saw this place for what it truly is, actually quite beautiful.  As was the case on previous trips, I spent some time just soaking it in.

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I am reminded that, when we embrace our situations for what they are, even if they are not what we had hoped for, we can often still find some beauty in it.

It may not be what we had hoped for, but, as long as we continue to move, our destination will eventually be reached.

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And, sometimes even the journey to the destination gets a bit more interesting.

One thing many do not realize is that the section of Kansas that follows the Kansas River, from Manhattan, through Topeka and Lawrence, and into Kansas City is far more lush and hilly than other parts of the Great Plains.  The area ends up feeling way more like the Midwest.

May 10, 2017: Funnel Cloud in Southeast Colorado

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May 10th was kind of a strange storm chasing day for me.  It was the kind of day that calls into questions a whole bunch of things for me.  What assumptions I make.  How I go about making decisions.  Both with regards to where and when to chase, as well as about life in a broader sense.

There are so many things that end up factoring into when and where people chose to chase severe thunderstorms.  I had chosen to go on this two-day chase (see day one) partially out of frustration I was experiencing back home.  It was one of those situations where I felt like it would just be good for me to do something I had not done in a while, for a change of pace, and I had yet to chase in 2017.

So, I went to chase on a Tuesday and Wednesday with only a slight risk for both days, something many people with jobs tend not to do, particularly when the outlook shifts so far away from home on the second day.

In fact, I was not even sold on chasing again on Wednesday, as leftover storms from Tuesday would prevent the area that I had originally thought would have the best dynamic setup for storms from developing the instability needed to fuel them.

I decided to stay out partially because of the more optimistic outlook from the Storm Prediction Center, and partially because I got an email from a friend, telling me he was excited about the outlook… in Southeast Colorado.

Still, I decided originally to target Southwest Kansas.  Given the outlook, the best place to be would have been well further south, at least into the Texas panhandle.  But, you know, those life considerations.  I did want to make it back to Denver that evening.

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Whenever in Western Kansas, I always kind of think the same thing.  This place is flat, but it is not as flat as Florida, or Northern Illinois.  People often assume the place is flat.  But, according to a study in National Geographic, Kansas is not even in the top 5 flattest states.

One aspect of storm chasing that is often missed by people watching storm videos, or the movie Twister, is the fact that storm chasing involves a lot of driving, and it also often involves a lot of waiting.  On many days, chasers pick a “target” location, where they believe storms are likely to form, and sit there, sometimes for hours, waiting for them to form.  Because it was unrealistic to get down to the Texas Panhandle and still get back to Denver in the evening, we chose to sit in a town called Ulysses, Kansas because my favorite weather website had analyzed another boundary near there.

Ulysses, by the way, was named after Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War general and 18th President of the United States.  Why a place like this cares so much about this historical figure from Galena, Illinois confuses me a bit.  But, at least the town had highways in all four cardinal directions, and an empty field with a cell tower, so we could look at weather information while we wait.

And, this requires patience, and continued belief that the right location had been chosen.   But, May 10th was not a typical day.  Storms started to form in this region, first just clouds, and then even some small thunderstorms.  I was even proud to have seen a storm  start to produce rain before the RADAR images even began to reflect it!

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Now, that’s what I call “catching initiation”.

The problem is, we caught the wrong initiation.  These storms would never amount to anything.  In fact, they were so small that when I zoomed out on a RADAR image, they were barely visible!

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It turned out that, despite the fact that some of the sites I typically look at for weather information indicated some potential, we were in “no man’s land”.  The boundary I thought was situated near the CO/KS border was actually farther West, and storms were forming … in Southeast Colorado.  So, we had to adjust, headed back into “Colorful Colorado” (although today it would be “Colorful” for different reasons).

It was there we saw the main feature of the day, a funnel cloud near the town of Lamar, CO.

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For a while it looked like it was rotating and trying to form a tornado, but from experience I know that in Eastern Colorado only 1 in 8 of these actually turn into tornadoes.

The entire day was kind of a head scratcher.  What did my friend see that I didn’t?  What did he see that SPC kind of didn’t?  Why did so many storms form north and west of where the outlook was?

Why did my the information sources I typically point to lead me kind of to the wrong place?

I also wonder if I was chasing the right way, and for the right reasons.  The weather bends to nobody’s schedule.  The weather doesn’t care about personal preferences, conveniences, one’s life situation, or ego.  We have tools that provide good guidance into what is going to occur.  And, those tools pointed to a clear spot that they were correct about, as the biggest cluster of tornado producing storms of the day formed in Northwest Texas, near Childress, crossed into Southwest Oklahoma, and produced tornadoes.  That just didn’t fit into my plan.

The chase ended up turning into somewhat of a metaphor, for life decisions in general.  When we chose to take part in an activity, of any kind, we get the most out of it when we are willing to go “all in” per say.  This is true of jobs, hobbies, relationships, you name it.  We have to be willing to adjust, and consider a whole bunch of circumstances and other factors.  But, sitting in the middle, waiting for two or more different opportunities to possibly manifest only works well for a little while.  In the end, a choice needs to be made, and even if it is not the ideal choice, the fact that a choice was made produced a better outcome than having allowed the entire day to lapse without making one at all.

Storms With Abnormal Structure

One of the things that makes this world so amazing is the fact that we never cease to encounter surprises.  No matter how well we get to know a subject, any subject, we will encounter, and observe, from time to time, that which does not fit closely into the patterns we have learned.  We will periodically be tested, in our knowledge, and forced to rethink, and once again reason out what we have seen based on our critical thinking skills and understanding of our favorite subjects.  Like the psychologist that talks to someone new and says “I have never seen this before”, these experiences rekindle the passion we have for that which we love, remind us how complicated the world really is and how little we really know, and remind us about how interesting of a place the world truly is.

The 9th of May 2017 was a confusing chase day for me.  It is one that I am still trying to figure out, much in the same way the scientific community is still trying to determine why some storms produce tornadoes and others don’t.

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The day began with a slight risk across Eastern Colorado and New Mexico, and reason to believe, based on model output and expert opinion, that it could be a decent setup for a storm chase in East Central/ Southeastern Colorado.

The day ended up being one where I followed over half a dozen storms, over the course of the afternoon and early evening, northeastward, from near La Junta, Colorado, to just north of Goodland, Kansas.

Regardless of where a storm was positioned, both relative to other storms, and relative to atmospheric boundaries such as dry-lines (the boundary between moist and dry air), which are credited with creating the lift in the atmosphere that often creates storms, all the storms would behave in much the same sort-of standard but sort-of not manner.


They would cluster together and come apart.  They had the standard boundary one would observe between the inflow and outflow portions of the storm.


Some would even show something that look like a “lowering”, which is often an indication of the mesoscale rotation that causes tornadoes.

But, these “lowerings” would show up in some strange sections of the storm, including in the front part of the storm.  This is absolutely nothing like how anyone is taught that a “supercell” thunderstorm operates.

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In the end, storms did occur, but largely outside the region SPC highlighted that morning.

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And, in the areas of Colorado and Kansas I had chased, nothing more than a couple of hail reports.  Although, I am quite certain that there was far more hail than what is shown on this map, as I recall driving through some areas where hail covered the ground, including multiple areas near Burlington, Colorado.


I watched these storms tease us all day.  Everything just seemed, well, weak.  In a typical tornado situation, these random-ish clouds that form around a storm, often referred to by chasers as “scud” (I don’t know why), rise and rotate, indicating that there is indeed, the vertical motion and rotation that produces tornadoes.  But, today, the rising and rotating motion in these storms all seemed, well, just weak.  It reminded me of a relationship, or a friendship, that just fizzles away as soon as any small change occurs.  It was not that there was any kind of real force or circumstance pulling these people apart.  It was just that whatever connection they had was not strong at all.

That is the way it was with these storms.  Something about the entire setup made them behave differently, but I throughout the evening, as I watched the final storms roll away into the sunset.  I could not formulate the full reason as to why these storms behaved so differently from a standard severe thunderstorm situation.


I am still wondering.  Often times severe thunderstorms don’t materialize because one key “ingredient” was missing.  Shear, instability, a good boundary, etc.  And those often lead to what is refereed to as a “bust day”.  It’s just sunny.  Or drizzly.

May 9th was not a complete “bust”, as there were storms to look at all day.  They likely never became severe because everything about the storm setup was just kind of weak:  Weak to moderate instability.  Border line helicity.  A sort of weak boundary.

And, just like the storms themselves, with multiple areas of quazi-rotating clouds, the atmosphere as a whole had no real focus.  Often times, severe thunderstorms draw upon air from hundreds of miles away for energy.  This produces scattered, but strong storms.  With hundreds of active storm cells, there was less energy for each individual storm.


Of course there are other theories.  After all, it could have all been the lack of low-level shear.  But, in the end, it felt as if the entire day was telling me something.  It was like a crash course in how to create, well, mediocrity.  Have only part of what you need before you proceed.  Focus on nothing- just spread yourself real thin.  And, choose to follow some of the rules, but completely disregard others.

Storm Chasing in Kansas and Nebraska

Yesterday, for the first time since moving to Denver, I went storm chasing.  Thanks to the movie Twister, the discovery channel’s TV series on storm chasers, and other media, most people are familiar with the practice of storm chasing.  Basically, it is groups of people driving around looking for severe thunderstorms.  Seeing a tornado would typically be the biggest prize of all, but I have seen some really amazing non-tornadic storms in the past, including one that where we measured 71 mph winds from our vehicle.  I used to chase storm a lot more back in college and graduate school, but the combination of a more regular work schedule (essentially the real world), being around less meteorologists, and higher gas prices have made this a less common occurrence for me.

One of the things I find the most interesting about storm chasing is that it commonly takes you to places you would not otherwise visit.  Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are most common on the Great Plains, an area a lot of people just fly over.  As a result of storm chasing, I have actually spent considerable time in the Great Plains from Texas north to South Dakota.  Yesterday’s chase was no different, as our initial target was near the borders of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska.  We head out East from Denver on I-76, exit at Fort Morgan to take U.S. 34 East to Wray, CO.  On the way there, one thing I keep seeing is cows.  These gigantic lots of cattle seem to show up everywhere in Eastern Colorado.  I remember seeing a few on previous storm chases, and a couple of big ones when I went to Greeley last year, but I must have come across something like ten of these between Fort Morgan and Wray.  These cows are kept in close quarters, and are most likely injected with some kind of hormones to maximize their growth.  They are probably not the best for you, and Chipotle and other restaurants take pride in not using beef from lots like this.  But, I guess it puts food on the table for some people who cannot afford to pay more for grass-fed or free range beef.

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We spent a little bit of time in Wray, CO waiting for the storms to fire up.  Wray, CO is also quite an interesting place.  It is in the Easternmost part of Colorado, less than ten miles from the Nebraska border.  In the Republican River valley (North Fork), it’s elevation is only 3500 feet.  It would take about three hours for someone to drive from Wray, CO to the mountains.  In fact, within the state of Colorado, it would be nearly impossible to find a settlement farther away from the mountains than Wray.  In essence, it is the most un-Colorado like place in Colorado.  This must be especially difficult for people from Wray, or Julesburg, or Lamar, or any other small town in the easternmost part of the state.  I can imagine that anytime anyone tells people they are from Colorado, they will would be immediately asked about skiing, snowboarding, hiking, or any of the other activities that are associated with mountains, and therefore associated with Colorado in the heads of almost all Americans.  People from there must get tired of having to explain to them that while they are technically from Colorado, they may as well be from Kansas given the nature of the area.

Most of yesterday’s chase was spent in the northwestern part of Kansas, kind of along U.S. highway 36.  After initially going East from Wray (into southwest Nebraska) to find atmospheres with more moisture and greater favorability for severe storms, we went South to chase a few storms that had popped up in northwest Kansas.

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The storms we found were quite large, but did not produce tornadoes.  The tornado producing storms actually ended up being in two places.  One farther Southeast from where we were, along I-70 between WaKenney and Hays, and another up in the Nebraska panhandle.  Although we did not see any tornadoes, we did see some major storms.  Additionally, we learned something about storm chasing.  Being from the midwest, I am use to chasing faster moving storms.  Storm motions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin, storms tend to move 30-40 mph quite frequently, and sometimes even faster.  When storms move that fast, it is important to stay ahead of the storm if you want to keep following it, and I’ve lost storms by falling behind before.  The storms we chased yesterday were moving quite slow, 10-15 mph.  We ran into trouble by trying to hard to stay ahead of the storm instead of going straight towards it.  It is kind of like the difference between playing fast-pitch baseball and slow-pitch softball, a major adjustment.

Hopefully, I’ll get another chance to chase this year, but I have a lot of other travel plans for June, much of which will be to places I have never been to before.  I’m still glad to have had a learning experience if nothing else.