SALINA, Kan. - Dick Waddell asked about the aerials on the roof. He said "aerials," not "antennas."
"We're going to go look for tornadoes," Dave Carroll said as he prepared to close the hatchback on the van in the parking lot of a Mount Vernon, Ill., motel. The Pulaski County High School meteorology teacher and the 11 members of the storm-chasing team he leads had spent the previous night there, en route to Kansas in two vans. "This a good time for you to look for them, eh?" said Waddell, a New Zealander traveling through the states.
Waddell's question was that of an inquisitive visitor, but worded differently, it hangs in the minds of many storm chasers this spring. Persistent winterlike weather patterns have squelched many of the thunderstorms that typically rumble almost daily across the Plains in May.
The storm-chase team that left Blacksburg on Sunday traveled under bright blue skies and through cool winds Monday, reaching Salina, Kan., late in the day.
"If we weren't storm chasing, this weather would be perfect," Carroll mused at one highway travel plaza in Missouri, a bit wistful to engage in another of his interests: hiking.
But conditions were coming together, somewhat imperfectly, for possible severe weather in southwest Nebraska or northwest Kansas by late Tuesday. We decided early Tuesday to head toward McCook, Neb.
A low-pressure system pulling a cold front was heading out of Colorado toward the region. A dryline, or the dividing point between very dry air from the West and moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, was also expected to form. Somewhere along this dryline, supercell thunderstorms were expected to form, though the chance for tornadoes was considered low.
So by Monday evening, a more intense focus developed among the chasers, with some poring over weather information, preparing for what would likely be the first live storm chase for many of them on Tuesday.
"I hope you see one, and we don't," Waddell wished the group back in Illinois.