DIY Road Life; Dodging a Tornado on the way to the 2016 LoDo Bass Bash

This is a blog that folks have requested to see…the story and the video footage of the tornado that spun up during the trip to the LoDo Bass Bash. I’m learning Adobe Premiere right now, so this created a great reason to practice video editing and get this blog written.

Here’s the gigs. At least two of three that weekend.

No sweat, I’ve done this trip before in SuperVan 1.0.

This road trip was already…shall we say “extra special”….for various reasons. For starters, we were only a few hours into the trip when we dodged a bear. To be accurate, a 300 pound piece of road kill…an intact dead bear…in West Virginia.

The road we were traveling did a sloping curve coming down a mountain, with the turn heading out over a beautiful scenic bridge spanning across a gorge. We came around that curve, and there was a dead bear in the road. This was early enough in the trip that my companion was still learning what kind of driver I was. Things were uneventful to that point, so he had started to chill into the momentum of things. He was staring at his phone…and then suddenly screamed when I put the van into evasive maneuvers.

I yelled “BEAR…” as I swung hard left into the passing lane and then recovered…at which point he looked back to confirm the presence of very large bear carcass partially sprawled across the right hand lane of two possible lanes we could use. A grey Jeep Cherokee was pulled over about a quarter mile ahead of us. Apparently they had not been nearly as lucky…the front end of their vehicle was now laid out all over the road…in front of their vehicle. The dead bear was intent on having it’s revenge. Thankfully no one had been in the left hand passing lane so I had the room to pass it….no revenge was extracted on SuperVan 2.0.

The next point of surreal happened somewhere in the midwest; we saw a 70’s Ford van running on the highway covered with 200 plastic bald eagles. Yup, there is a sentence I never thought I’d type. If you Google “bald eagle van” this is this first image that will come up;

In that random ADHD way that musicians tend to think at times, I was immediately reminded of the Simpsons’ episode where Bart catches the Christmas tree on fire. Yeah, if this Ford ever goes near fire…it’s just going to…melt. Steel frame coated in melted plastic…cue the thick black smoke.

My companion did a quick Google search. The bald eagle van lands in a lot of other people’s blogs as a “sighting” with a picture. And it’s seen all over the country…but there’s little information. A sighting parked outside a restaurant, a sighting where it is boondocking in a Walmart parking lot. And so on. But finally…the van’s secrets were yielded by Google…Mike Cheshaek from San Jose, CA, is the owner. And apparently he is on a roadtrip to a high school reunion in Dover, DE. He wants to take in all the states in the northeast that he has not visited yet. You go Mike. All I can think is…I know what my MPG is with a cargo carrier on my roof…*shudder*

In case you are the rare case that simply hasn’t had enough of this vehicle, here’s more pics here. We matched pace with it on the highway for awhile….long enough to get over the shock value and laugh about it. And Google it. Repeatedly.

Another interesting part of this trip were the three storms that happened. Each one surpassed the previous in terms of danger and intensity. The second storm saw a tornado spin up in the late afternoon. Storm number three will get it’s own future blog entry…it definitely merits it.

The video starts out with footage showing the weather conditions early in the afternoon. Windfarms, clear prairie skies…perfect day. You’ll see how things transitioned as we moved throughout the day. By late afternoon, it because apparent things were going downhill. The sky had gone from “tranquil sunset over the prairie” to “Behold the Eye of Sauron”. Here’s some iPhone pics from that day.

I started getting increasingly concerned about the appearance of the sky as we drove, so I asked my companion to monitor the weather on his phone app. He checked it, and nothing was out of the ordinary; a thunderstorm was firing up. So he went back to texting folks. My instincts were screaming otherwise. I had already outrun a waterspout out at sea in a boat when I was a teenager. This sky was NOT ok.

My attention shifted when a Ford Expedition roared past me. They must have been doing well over 100 miles per hour. They booked past me like I was standing still. Another car passed on my left…again…moving at excessive speed. Speeds that were not typical of folks trying to cross the prairie and get to the city in timely fashion. These were “we gotta get the fuck out of here” speeds.

I checked my rear view. No headlights behind me for quite a distance…the traffic had stopped coming and there was a large gap now. The people who had been behind me had just passed me. My instincts were now screaming…we were literally the last gazelle out on the plains on this stretch of road…and I had a feeling there was a lion looking for dinner. Folks around us knew something that we did not.

I accelerated, “check your phone again…”

He looks up from Messenger, “I just checked it.”

“Look around…look at the traffic. Look behind us. Something is very wrong. We’re the only ones out here now. Check it again.”

He was moving too slow for my liking as he was in a conversation with someone, so I started to accelerate AND reach for my phone in the dash mount…at which point he realized he’d better get on it.

The next check of the weather app confirmed my fears. Previously the radar map showed a storm. Now, a bold capital letter “T” was on the radar map over the storm. A tornado had spun up, and warnings were being posted to take shelter. Like everyone else on the road around me, I was pushing the van harder towards whatever lie ahead. There was no cover out here, save for ditches on the sides of the road.

We were moving west while the tornado paralleled us moving east. We watched, hoping it would not change direction and turn south. I asked my companion to break out the camera and start filming. I start spinning Celtic fusion on the CD player to keep the mood light. That pretty much failed, so we opened the windows to remove the glare of the vehicle console from the footage that was being shot. The roar of the wind from both the vehicle speed and the incoming storm was spectacular. For this reason, I removed the audio from the video footage.

One of the performers at LoDo texts me…the pre-party was starting.

“Where are you?”

“I’m a little busy right now. Outrunning a tornado. Talk to you later.”

The lights in the field were houses or lights from tractors that were still out in the fields harvesting or plowing. You can see the lightning illuminating the inside of the super cell. As the storm plays out, watch the left side of the screen for moments of contrast between the super cell and the afternoon sun.

The storm stayed parallel to us, on a track east, and passed us by. Giving us a great story, great footage and giving me a reason to see how the new SuperVan performed…because…emergencies do come up.

Bonus; it was still afternoon fading into evening as the storm hit. So the sun gave us a great post-storm light show.

On our way home, we were on this same road. It was only a two days later. I had forgotten all about the storm until I was startled by the sight of a house with it’s side blown clean off. Nearby were two shiny grain silos, the domed tops were crumpled in. It looked like a giant had come along with a baseball bat and hit each of them on the side.

Roadway “daylight” footage shot by Brittany Frompovich. Storm footage shot by Stan Miles.

2 Comments on “DIY Road Life; Dodging a Tornado on the way to the 2016 LoDo Bass Bash

  1. Holly crap! Dark as night…with electric light….too close. Good ‘ol Mother Nature….to keep us humble! Did you notice that green haze in the air….that i’ve always seen associated with Tornado’s?

    Great footage………..long trip too.

    1. I think this storm skipped the green haze phase (which I have seen in other weather events) and went very, very quickly to “Eye of Sauron is Upon You” phase rapidly.
      Thanks for reading!

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