Storms in Northeast Kansas
by Michael Tillotson
Monday, June 21, 2010, 2:59pm
It looked like a decent chase day, and it would a "local" chase, according to Benjamin. We didn't plan to go much more than an hour or two from Kearney. Luke and Josiah didn't come this time, but our sister Kristin and Peter came along for the ride.
We headed south of Holdrege and watched storm clouds start popping up. Benjamin had his eye on a storm building to the east, so we turned onto highway 136 at Alma.
I believe it was south of Franklin that we hit our first storm.
We abandoned this storm for a better one that had developed further east. It had an obvious hook on it near Jewell, KS.
In an effort to get closer to the storm, we took some less favorable roads east. Thankfully it hadn't rained here yet.
There were groups of people stopped along the road watching the storm. Some people were parked in the middle of the road, forcing us to drive in the grass to get around them.
We caught up to the storm and stopped for a restroom break and took some photos of the nice wall cloud. Peter was being train for tripod duty, so he was in charge of setting up and taking down the tripod whenever we stopped. He got pretty fast at it by the time we were done.
We drove through Concordia as the storm closed in. TornadoVideo.net's Dominator was just ahead of us.
Driving through Concordia
The storm was getting exciting here. We were watching the rotation over our heads for any sign of tornado formation.
The core of the storm was nearing us, so we took off east before it hit. We didn't want our dad's vehicle to get hammered by the hail. (My vehicle is out of commission due to transmission failure).
Kristin and Benjamin survey the sky
There was a spin-up on the ground just a few yards in front of us. Benjamin was watching the cone form up above, but I was watching the ground circulation. I grabbed the camera and got out to get a photo, but it was gone. Didn't last much more than 10 seconds. The Dominator pulled up shortly after.
We came to a place were several power poles in a row were snapped off, and some of them were stuck back into the ground where they were broken off.
At this point we decided it was time to head home. We drove along the southern edge of the intense rain as we headed back to Concordia. The sunset was beautiful as it shown through the rain.
Concordia looked like a war zone. Branches and were down everywhere. We stopped at a gas station to get something to eat, but we had to wait a few minutes while the girl at the counter got the cash register running again. On the way out of town we had to re-route to get around downed powerlines. Just outside of town we saw a grain bin that had been blown over.
Water was across the highway in some places. We were pulling into Randall when suddenly we saw rushing water across the road. I couldn't stop before we had gone several yards into the new river. It wasn't very deep at that point, but as I inched forward it kept getting deeper. Benjamin and Peter got out and waded ahead to see how deep it would get. It came up to their knees in the middle, so we realized we shouldn't attempt it. It looked like a river just flowing from between the houses and across the road. I've never seen anything like it. A man in some kind of machine pulled up beside us and told us that even if we could make it through this spot, we wouldn't be able to make it past the next flooded area. He told us the best thing to do would be to go all the way back to the road north of Jamestown, twelve miles away. A man in a white pickup pulled up alongside the first man and he wondered if we could just go to a road three miles back. "I wouldn't send anyone on those roads in a car like this", the first man said.
We thanked him and headed back down the highway. We knew our car could do a gravel road just fine, so we checked the first road north that we came to. It was just a minimum maintenance road, so we kept going. At two miles from Randall we found a gravel road. I should have taken better note of the fact that the guy in the pickup was talking about a road three miles east, not two. Maybe that one would have been gravel all the way through.
But this road was great. We just had to go two miles north before we got back to a paved highway, and no need to go all the way back to Jamestown.
We were passing some farm buildings and a line of trees and the gravel abruptly turned to the color of dark chocolate. It took me a whole second to realize that it wasn't gravel. Hitting the brakes confirmed it. The brakes didn't do much besides make us slide at an angle into the ditch. The ditch wasn't more than a slight depression at the edge of the road, and my wheels stopped part way in the weeds at the edge of the wheat field. I put the car in reverse to see if the weeds under the tires might give me a little traction. Not a chance.
The next option was to get out and push. When I stepped out my shoes sank in the mud. Kristin sat in the driver's seat while Benjamin and I pushed. When Kristin pressed the gas, we were bathed with muddy water from head to toe, but the pushing was in vain.
We were stuck.
My reputation with my passengers was very poor at this point. I do not have the heart to repeat the things that were said to me at that time. I deserved it.
We had no choice but to walk the muddy road back to the farmhouse just a few yards up the road. Benjamin, Peter and I walked back up the road while Kristin waited in the car. To our dismay, there wasn't any house. Just a barn and a light illuminating the barnyard.
We were stuck in the mud out in the middle of northern Kansas in the middle of the night, far from help.
I like adventure. But I hate having adventure at other people's expense. The worst part about it was that it wasn't my car. I wasn't sure that all my companions were enjoying it much either.
We have some friends in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Kristin had a brilliant idea to call and ask them to drive the hour to come and rescue us. They seemed almost excited at the prospect of coming out to save us from the mud.
"It was a dark and stormy night..."
After the rain and hail had stopped, I got out and walked back up the road to take some lightning shots. Here are a few of them.
You can see the lightning reflected in the floods of water in the valley
I was very dissappointed that this lightning bold wasn't fully in the frame. :(
We were very happy when our friends showed up around midnight. They had made preparations in case we had to spend the night at their house and return later to extract our car. However, we decided to see if we could push it out with the extra hands.
It took us maybe five minutes to push the car back to the gravel road. It took a little effort to keep the car from sliding into the ditch as we went.
We are forever grateful.
We got home around 4:00am.
Next time I drive a gravel road on a stormy night I'm keeping my eyes peeled...