Wednesday, July 27, 2011


(ABOVE: My first, and hopefully only EF5 tornado I will ever see. Two days after the Joplin tornado, we witnessed this deadly EF5 rated tornado near Guthrie. The tornado is hidden in the rain and just looks like a scary cloud.)

There's not much to say. Not many words are needed to describe Joplin.

When a tornado basically removes half of the homes on the south side of town, you don't feel like talking.

These pictures are from my two trips to Joplin following the May 22, 2011 tornado.

As a scientist, I examine tornado paths and compare them to radar and other data so that I can be a better meteorologist and broadcaster.

As a weatherman, I snap pictures to educate school children and answer questions from civic/church groups. Education, awareness and having a plan of action are the best survival tools.

But as a person, it kills me every time. The car gets quiet. Chills, loss of appetite, the "what would we do", "how could this happen" type statements.

I have toured each F5/EF5 tornado damage path within our region the last 15 year. There haven't been many: Jarrell, TX in 1997, south Oklahoma City in 1999, Greensburg, KS in 2007 and now Joplin in 2012. My chase team also witnessed the EF 5 tornado which passed from Piedmont to near Guthrie this year.

These pictures on this page are just a few of zillions. I've tried to compare areas of Joplin to Tulsa neighborhoods for perspective.

Though some folks might frown on this and might not be able to stomach it, I do recommend a trip to Joplin to see for yourself.

Everyone tells me that it's worse than pictures can show. You won't want to eat. You may get sick. It's that bad.

A "Tornado Warning" will probably mean more to you. You probably won't yell at the TV as much when we're interrupting your favorite program with weather bulletin.

If you choose to tour the damage, you will truly respect Mother Nature's power. You'll be amazed by the huge contrast from deadly EF5 obliteration to untouched survival.

Joplin will take your breath away. George

NOTE: CLICK ON ALL PHOTOS FOR LARGER IMAGES. Though you may not want to seem them that close.

(BELOW: The damage survey and aerials. The tornado took a horrible track for Joplin. It formed along the city limits, quickly intensifying. The most intense, EF5 damage was about 6 miles long. To put this in Tulsa terms, think of a tornado forming at 41st and Riverside, moving straight east, peaking in damage at Promenade Mall. Everything between 45th and 35th streets removed-- that's how the Joplin tornado compares.)


(ABOVE: This intersection compares to 41st and Harvard in Tulsa. Before the tornado, the trees were so thick you couldn't see very far, but now what's left of the bottom floor of the high school (brown bricks in distance) can be seen about 1 mile away. BELOW: That's a Chevy 2500 series 6 wheeled truck upside down in an Arby's parking lot. I was told that six people died here. )


(ABOVE: This is EF2-EF3 damage. I will show this in presentations as why you should seek shelter on the bottom floor instead of the top floor. BELOW: Two weeks after the tornado, power lines are installed. This part of Joplin resembles near 11th and Sheridan in Tulsa. )


(ABOVE: Signs of life when we visited 6 weeks after the tornado. Some of the trees are surviving, but the neighborhood scars are permanent. BELOW: Look at concrete parking barrier on the bottom left! The other half of the concrete block follows the metal wire and is wrapped around the top of the tree.)


(ABOVE: Pictures like this one make you cringe. This Walgreens "missed" the worst of the tornado. However, debris missiles can cause grotesque injuries. BELOW: 4 crosses were at the remains of this brick home. And those used to be 100 year old trees, a densely forested neighborhood. These homes compare to midtown Tulsa.)


(ABOVE: This sounds morbid, but we were nearly playing a guessing game trying to figure out what model of cars these used to be. Maybe a 1990 Nissan Sentra? We couldn't tell. BELOW: EF4 damage in part of Joplin which resembled near 71st and Memorial in Tulsa.)


BELOW: You want to play the guessing game? What model of car do you think this is? You can see my father-in-law below looking for clues. We found a logo on the steering wheel. And a rain gutter in the back seat. )

ANSWER: the above car is a late model Toyota Corolla.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bicycling: Tour de Paris... Texas

(ABOVE: Russ McCaskey and me pose for a CORNY picture.)

KJRH news anchor Russ McCaskey approached me a few weeks back about the possibility of riding bicycles through Paris. Ahhh, wow! Imagine the views of the Eiffel Tower, the vistas and city streets of downtown Paris. The idea of carving your way thru the city's historic structures while the Tour de France is also ongoing.

Well, maybe someday I can do the above in Paris, France. But for now, you can do all of those things in Paris, Texas...with the joy of 100 degree Texas heat!

Tour de Paris is a non-competitive bicycle ride which begins and ends in Paris, TX at the civic center.

Paris is less than 3 hours away from Tulsa, and it's the closest cycling event in Texas from Tulsa.

Scheduled the third Saturday in July, the ride's timing coincides with the Tour de France ongoing overseas.

About 1,000 cyclists participate in Tour de Paris with rides ranging from 20 to 68 miles. The 30 year old event has grown into a big deal for the town: We listened to local radio promoting it while signs and banners welcomed bicyclers.

Russ and me, along with his brother Lance chose the 57 miler, one of four lengths offered.

The ride begins on the south side of Paris near Love Civic Center. After a detour to circle downtown, the ride turns southwestward making a figure 8 pattern in rural Lamar county before returning to town.


About our day:

Russ and I left Tulsa near 4am and arrived in Paris for breakfast before 7am. We then drove to and registered at the Civic Center. It didn't take long to register.

The staging area for each distance was well marked on the street outside the civic center. Cyclists gathered accordingly.

Tour de Paris began sharply at 8am. Drummers from the high school band pounded out rhythms along the starting line. We were sweating before we started pedaling as the morning temperature was already a warm 78 degrees.

A clean start to the ride... Our herd of bicycles steered northward toward downtown.

This was really cool.... We circled the Paris city square as the downtown district embraced the ride.

Hundreds of locals gathered in downtown to watch us on our bicycles. Folks of all ages waved little American flags, and couples smiled from their lawn chairs-- I've never seen so many folks from the "general public" come out to watch a non-competitive ride! The cheery, parade-like atmosphere made me smile too.

After circling downtown we accelerated and headed toward the country.

(BELOW PICS: After a non-heart healthy breakfast and pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower (notice the cowboy hat on the tower), the Tour de Paris begins with a tour of Paris)

We left town, trekking southwest along State Highway 19/24. For safety, the highway was narrowed so that cyclists could enjoy a wide shoulder plus one lane of traffic-- we had no issues with cars the entire route. We left the highway after several miles and cycled down Farm to Market roads. (FM roads are secondary, mostly smooth roads.) Only local traffic was allowed, so we didn't feel like we were competing with cars.

Lots of police.... state, county and city officers protected highway intersections for the entire route- that's nice to see; you don't see that on every ride!

There were a bunch of rest stops! After the ride got into the country, stops were offered about every 7-10 miles (instead of every 10-15 miles like most events).

The stops were quite welcomed too as temperatures climbed. Local scouts, civic groups and churches volunteered....extremely well supported, very impressive! A few unmanned, intermediate stops also popped up.

The course was well marked. Easy to read signs and arrows pointed where to go. Signs also marked how far you were to the next rest stop.

We saw plenty of brown grass (see pics) and dry, rocky creeks due to the drought. The FM roads across the farmland offered little to no shade. Plenty of corn though!

Our 57 mile course was generally flat with only small rises and valleys. The middle 10 miles proved the most hilly, but the steepest climb registered only 4-6% grade. The climbs I'm used to around Tulsa can be tougher than 10-12%.

The biggest downhill was just after the mile 40 rest stop. I coasted to 32 mph during the near 100 foot drop. The last half of the ride heads generally north, so a south wind provided a tail wind.
At the half way mark my average speed was in my comfort zone of 17mph. Wind wasn't a big deal, but the heat was brutal. The temperature read out on my bike computer climbed toward the upper 80s by 10am.

The last 15 miles were the least fun. Our speed dropped as we melted in the heat. Temperatures climbed north of 90 degrees. The black asphalt did a fabulous job of absorbing sunlight and reflecting the heat into our face... not sure I've ever sweated so much! Russ and I agreed later that this was the highest index we've ever cycled.

(BELOW: Tour de Paris tours the countryside of Lamar county in northeast Texas. Cyclists are given the entire lane to ride. Officers make sure the intersections are bicycle friendly. Plenty of smiling faces at rest stops.)

The last rest stop was at mile 50, and we remained there the longest-- we really didn't want to leave the giant box fans and portable air conditioners!

Every support person seemed to enjoy the cycling atmosphere despite the heat. You could load up with plenty of ice, water, sports drinks and homemade snacks.

We continued to slow down (about 12-13 mph) during the last miles. Visible, rising thermals created wavy lines in our vision. It felt like riding across a fire pit! My on-board thermometer peaked at 108°! The temperature fluctuated as much as 10° depending on the color of the pavement.

We were briefly confused in the last miles as you are directed the "wrong way" (see below pic) on the shoulder. We rode back into town on Highway 19/24 going north in the southbound shoulder. Police and pylons kept cars separated from the bikes. This was done to prevent you from crossing the 75mph highway twice within a few miles. 

We finished the ride after nearly four hours. Cheerleaders from Paris High School celebrated and high-fived us at the finish line. Portable, outdoor, overhead sprinklers cooled us down in the civic center parking lot. Lance, Russ and me just stood there in the cool mist... we didn't want to leave!
The civic center offered a free lunch with smoothies after the ride. We enjoyed the air conditioning and gobbled up homemade burgers.


Overall, I give the Tour de Paris four out of five stars. The only demotion is that the generally flat terrain and open farmland isn't the most exciting. But overall, it's certainly more scenic than  "Hotter than Hell" in Wichita Falls.

Lets change the rating to a 4.5. The superb support, safety, smooth roads and smiling faces go along way-- I'll be back again. :)

Thanks for reading, George.


Event: Tour de Paris

When: third Saturday in July

Where: Paris, TX at Love Civic Center

Time: Mass start at 8am

Registration: on-line or on-site

Late registration: $35 (in 2011)

Course: mostly easy... flat course to easy rolling hills

Biggest climb: 100ft

Steepest climb: only 4-5%

Terrain: farmland, corn! very little shade

Timing/chipping/numbers: no timing. You wear numbers.

Restrooms: at Civic center for begin/end of ride. Porta-johns at rest stops.

You get: event t-shirt

Support: little provided-- change your own flat. Richardson BikeMart van was seen for big repairs.

Rest stops: very well supported! Pickle juice, fruit, homemade goodies. Water, sports drinks. Lots of volunteers Box fans to cool you down! Portable A/C at the last rest stops!

Traffic: no issues. Few to no cars on route. Local traffic only on FM roads.

End of ride: All you can eat burgers inside the air conditioned civic center.

Favorite things about the ride: high school band at starting line, circling downtown Paris in front of a crowd, the awesome rest stops with portable A/C, well marked course with police and sprinklers at end of ride.

 [On a unrelated personal note I remember Paris from years ago. Their high school defeated my high school (West Orange-Stark) in football for the 4A State Championship in 1988. I had a college friend named Jason Stephens who played for Paris, and he reminded me several times who won! (This is your Jason who played 3B for the Texas A&M baseball team if any Paris area folks are reading this.]

(BELOW: I've never seen dry creeks this far east. My thermometer registers 105° off the pavement at high Noon. Highway 19/24 is protected for cyclists. At the finish line, Lance, Russ and myself cooling down!)

(BELOW: Pickle juice!, An Aggie refusing shade under a Longhorn tent, and Russ McCaskey felt like death.)