The convective outlook for the day called for an enhanced risk and the main reason I decided to make the overnight drive from North Dakota to Wyoming.
It was a long night of driving through some terrible weather and I was tired, worn down, and zombie-like as I pulled into the outskirts of North Platte, Nebraska. Parked on the side of the road with one eye open, I tried to watch the sunrise but my eyes felt like heavy weights were attached to the lids and I easily fell right into a cat nap. Waking up minutes later in a panic state, I thought I had slept all day. It was time for coffee.
With my extra large cup of fresh coffee, I drove west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I didn’t make it far. Driving on the freeway, I kept seeing these wonderful blue signs that read “Rest Area.” I was in a trance everytime I saw the sign. Did someone unleash a genie on me? What was going on? The lush green grass, trees, shade, cool weather, snack machine, and bathrooms were a powerful magnet and I was cheap metal. Oh, I couldn’t resist. I had to take another cat nap but this time with my boots off, on the cool morning grass, and under the shade tree. I woke up and I swear this little robin was watching me the whole time. I could hear him chirping while I was napping and it was enough to keep me just above the point of falling into coma. I watched this little fellow for a while and thought about the idiom “A little bird told me.” With no more time for day dreaming and bird watching, I said goodbye to Mr. Robin Hood, jumped in the chase rig, and drove to Cheyenne. Perhaps a little bird told me it was time to get to the target area.
Arriving in Cheyenne, I stopped for fuel and attempted to finalize a more specific target area for the day. Driving around Cheyenne, I found a place off the beaten path to park and enjoy the large cumulous clouds floating across a big blue sky. Watching the sky, I got a sense the day would be filled with an adventure.
Relaxed, but chomping at the bit to get on a storm and shoot, I decided to drive to Laramie, Wyoming. It was still early in the day and I could see some cumulous cloud buildup to the west. Arriving in Laramie, I drove north towards the edge of town and watched a cell move across the range. It was pretty spectacular to see the amazing blue sky with streaks of white fluffy clouds rolling across the range as far as the eye could see. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary on radar and I had a gut feeling nothing was going to pop. I decided to move on and drive to Chugwater, Wyoming. Along the road to Chugwater, I saw several chasers parked and staged waiting for a storm to develop so I stopped to reassess my target area. The storms near Chugwater looked decent, but the storms firing off of the front range near Denver looked much much better.
I thought the front range would be a better option so I jumped back on the highway and drove south. This was a gamble, but I was all in for Denver. An area near Denver had gone severe warned and I thought if I stayed on the highway, I should be able to make good time to the new target area. I thought the timing was good but in reality it was extremely bad. Driving up to to Laramie then to Chugwater put me right in the middle of the Denver rush hour traffic with a severe storm barreling down on the city. The traffic was moving painfully slow due to the rain and hail. I kept thinking, did I make a bad mistake by driving directly through Denver? Should I have gone around the east side of Denver and avoid this traffic? It was difficult trying to navigate through Denver solo, watch the radar, the traffic, and being stuck behind painfully slow traffic. It put me right on the edge of yelling out a bunch of frequent and profane expletives. Then, a chase rig with a bumper sticker that read Texas Storm Chasers drove past me in the fast lane. I eventually jumped right in behind them and drafted like I was in NASCAR. Heck, we were probably all headed for the same supercell and a little drafting on the freeway is fun. The traffic was frustrating but I eventually came up on this amazing supercell east of Denver.
As the sun crept closer to the horizon, it made for a spectacular sky and I enjoyed the supercell with a small group of chasers. At times it was a little spooky watching the base rotate above and I honestly thought a funnel cloud would appear. Looking around and seeing the excitement on their face was priceless. We all had smiles on our faces from ear to ear. This spectacular storm didn’t produce a tornado but I felt pretty lucky at that moment to be standing under the base of that monster. It was a good day of chasing.
Overnight Drive: 675 miles / 9 hours 47 minutes
Sterling, North Dakota to Valentine, Nebraska: 491 miles (7 hours 41 minutes);
Valentine, Nebraska to North Platte, Nebraska: 131 miles (2 hours 6 minutes);
North Platte, Nebraska to Ogallala, Nebraska: 53 miles (53 minutes)
Chase Day: 499 miles / 9 hours 27 minutes
Ogallala, Nebraska to Laramie, Wyoming: 218 miles (3 hours 16 minutes);
Laramie, Wyoming to Chugwater, Wyoming: 68 miles (2 hours 46 minutes);
Chugwater, Wyoming to Bennett, Colorado: 213 miles (3 hours 25 minutes)
Chase Day: 1,174 miles
Total chase miles: 4,173 miles
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