As things wind down, we are sad to be making our way back to Annapolis. There are many experiences from this trip that I will always remember, especially 11 May 2014. On this day we followed a EF-3 tornado across Nebraska. As we watched the storm form, little did I know that we would soon be inside it. As we blasted across the dirt roads of Nebraska we continued to watch the storm intensify. With the storm 3 miles just to our North, we headed East. As we crossed the county line, the road suddenly changed to mud and power lines went down 150 yards ahead of us. Core Punch Cooper braked on the muddy road. As soon as we stopped, we saw the line of sprinklers to our left flip over. Within the next 45 seconds we saw a the roof of a farmer's barn, 300 yards to our starboard, blow across the field. Nearly 15 seconds after that we saw a brief (15-second) tornado touch down 200 yards to our port. All of this was in the "rear-flank downdraft" part of the storm -- but only 3 miles to our north, this storm produced an EF-3 tornado. Once the winds died down, Hank, Anthony and I got out of the van and ran ahead to confirm that the power lines crossed the road.We saw they did and that we could not proceeded further East. We then turned and started running west, back to the van. As soon as we turned we were hit by the strong winds of the next storm. We could barely make forward progress on the muddy road because as we ran forward the wind kept blowing us back. Finally we got back to the van to find that we were stuck and the storm was headed just North of our location. As everyone piled back into the van more rear-flank downdraft winds reached us. The wind was blowing the door open so hard that it took two of the strongest men, Hook Echo Hank and I, to close it. After the storm subsided, Downdraft Dean and I sprinted to the house where we saw the barn fly away from. We checked the property to see if there were any hurt people. We did not find anyone. Soon Triple Point Borrego came running over telling us we needed to get back to the van because another storm was headed toward us. We sprinted back across the muddy corn field and got back into the van. Once the next storm went by us, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the intermittent rain and mud moving our van back to the gravel road. We ended up calling for a ride into York, NE. The walk from the van to the truck reminded me a little bit of the "trail of tears", walking through the cold pouring rain and ankle deep mud. Overall I will always remember this experience because it was a great adrenaline rush and the I saw the team grow. As we spent the next two days in the hotel waiting for the muddy road to dry, we all became much closer and laughed about our past experiences. I also found that even when things seem tough, we just have to make the best out of them. This is important in my profession because I will face many hard situations and I must be able to make the best of them.
Since the start of the trip I have seen myself grow in scientific knowledge. At the start, I knew some of the basics about the atmosphere but now I feel that I have a strong base in predicting severe weather. One prime example of this is that one day after looking at models, the team decided to go west of the NOAA tornado contour for the day. As we were waiting for storms to form, NOAA issued a tornado contour for the area we predicted. In a way, we were a step ahead of NOAA, at least that is the way I like to think of it. I will continue to use the knowledge I learned on this trip to watch for the probability of storms at my home this summer. I have always seen severe storms but now I know what actually makes them what what to look for.
Lastly, I feel that this trip helped me significantly grow as a leader. Each day one student lead weather and one lead logistics. It was up to these students to choose a chase area, watch for updates on the weather, plan gas/food stops, and book hotels for the night. I feel that these opportunities helped to prepare me for my future as a leader in the military. I will be faced with similar situations as a officer. My favorite day as a lead was on 10 May as the logistic lead. We passed through my home town of St. Louis and proceeded to the Orrick, MO tornado.
This was by far one of the best experiences of my life and I want to do something similar again soon.
Mammatus cloud Marino
Below is a picture of us and the van on the muddy road after the tornado.