McCOOK, Neb. - Mississippi State isn't having a great storm chase season, either.
At least 30 storm chasers converged on a McCook, Neb., motel on Sunday. The 12-member team from Southwest Virginia reached southwest Nebraska a few hours after 18 chasers, led by Mississippi State University meteorology professor Mike Brown, had staked out their position there.
"I'd classify this as pretty normal," Brown said. "We've chased on three of 11 days. Last year was abnormally chaseable. We chased on 14 of 16 days."
Both Maria Floyd and Dave Carroll, co-leaders of the Virginia group, have taken classes under Brown. The Mississippi State group did see a weak tornado near North Platte, Neb., on May 17, the same day the Southwest Virginia team followed a severe storm farther south. The North Platte sighting was a dust whirl with no visible funnel, Mississippi State chaser Dustin Maddox said.
The region where Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado meet is the latest area where the Southwest Virginia team, made up primarily of New River Valley high school and college students, hopes to catch up with supercell thunderstorms after three bust days and two travel days since last week's hail event near the same area.
Reminiscing about last year's trip was a big part of the day for the five returning members of the chase team. A year ago to the day, on May 22, 2004, the team led by Carroll had a close encounter with a powerful tornado in Harlan County, Neb.
The highlight of the day for many was a stop at Bosselman's Travel Center just south of Grand Island, Neb. The massive travel center is more like a combination airport terminal and mall than it is a truck stop, with several food outlets, a game room, a large souvenir shop and other amenities.
More importantly for five chasers from last year, it's where the Harlan County chase began, as the 2004 team waited at the travel center for severe weather to develop, then made a run southwest on a developing supercell that would go on to spawn multiple tornadoes.
Also, the 2005 chase team, en route to McCook, retraced some of the same highway route into Harlan County, giving Carroll, Maria Floyd, Seth Price, Ethan Knocke and Erich Dalton the opportunity to recall, step by step, the tornado they saw at close range in 2004.
The 2004 team's tornado sighting occurred on the last day of a chase trip that had, at one point, included four consecutive busted chase days. So, as the 2005 team enters its last three days on the Plains, that memory gives it renewed hope.
For the rest of the trip, it's likely that the Virginia team will focus on the High Plains from western Nebraska south through eastern Colorado, western Kansas, and possibly into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles by Wednesday.