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  • Writer's pictureMichael Thornton

Chasing storms in a 20-year-old truck

Hey everyone, I know it has been about 4 months since I last posted on my website, but I am back today to share a new story with you guys! This past week the transmission on my 2000 F250 began to act up. My chase vehicle was sort of popular in the "F250 world" because it was a 20-year-old F250 that was outfitted to chase severe weather across the entire United States. If you want to read about the setup inside my vehicle you can do so here. [My chase setup] We are not here today to talk about my setup, but rather what it was like to chase severe weather and drive over 100,000 miles or 160,934 kilometers in 4 years.

The date is February 28th, 2015, I am a Senior in High school on my way to Green Bay, WI to pick up a beautiful bright red 2000 F250 XLT. I am filled to the brim with joy because this F250 is my dream vehicle. Nothing could take the smile off of my face that day.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, the original 5.4L V8 had a massive oil leak, which meant that in a month's time the engine in my F250 had almost blown up. My uncle who is a mechanic inspected the engine and found metal shaving in the oil. The engine was beyond repairable. I looked at my options and decided that it was best to get it a remanufactured 5.4 engine for the truck. After almost 2 months on May 20th, 2015 the F250 would be back in action.

Heading West

On May 19th, 2016 I would wake up in Stoughton, WI and head Southwest to the great State of Oklahoma. The main reason for traveling down to Oklahoma was to actually look for apartments, but that quickly became an afterthought after I looked at the Storm Prediction Center's website and saw 3 days of severe weather potential. On May 21st, 2016 I would chase in the Texas Panhandle. This would be my 2000 F250's first real chase. At the time I was a total SPC Chaser (A person who solely chases based on where the SPC has outlined a risk for severe weather, rather than looking at weather models) so I left Norman, OK around 10 am and headed West towards the town Kerrick, TX in the Northern part of the Texas Panhandle. Around 5:29 pm I would intercept a Severe Thunderstorm near the town of Exum, TX. This storm would move into the town of Hartley, TX where I would experience my first-ever hail storm. Surprisingly with 2 inch in diameter hail the truck's windshield would hold up just fine. Around this time I was completely awestruck. Here I am in a 15-year-old truck at age 19 doing what I have always wanted to do and that was chase storms. It felt like an absolute dream come true.

The storm began to die down and with no other storm near me to chase I called it a day and began to head back to Norman, OK where my hotel was. As I was traveling down Highway 87 near the town of Masterson, TX a beautiful lightning bolt illuminated the night sky. I instantly shouted out "WOW" because I had never seen an anvil crawler before.

For the next 2 days, I would travel from Norman, OK to the Texas Panhandle and chase severe weather. I quickly began to notice how bad my truck's MPG really was. My 5.4 engine averaged around 8-11MPG. Which meant that I could chase for almost 4 hours or drive 275 miles before I had to get gas again.

Disaster in Missouri

When you mention the date May 24th, 2016 to a storm chaser they think of one thing and that is the Dodge City, KS tornado outbreak. I, on the other hand, will always associate May 24th, 2016 with my transfer case and driveshaft exploding outside of Springfield, MO which almost killed me.

On the morning of May 24th, 2016 I woke up in the city of Springfield, MO. I was supposed to be heading back to Wisconsin as my trip to Oklahoma had ended, but an early morning storm coming from Western Missouri caught my attention, I chased it for a while until the storm began to weaken and head North towards the town of Bolivar, MO. I turned around and began to head back East towards I-44 when all of a sudden the transfer case and driveshaft exploded while driving on Highway 13. I quickly began to panic as I had no idea what had just happened and my first thought was that I had blown up my engine.

After making a call to my Step-Father I decided that it was best to drive my truck into Springfield, MO where I would park it at a Philips 66 gas station. From there I would go into the gas station and buy a bag of popcorn. This part is really random, but that bag of popcorn was so darn good so I have to mention it. I would take a look under my truck and see a huge piece missing from the vehicle and a chain coming down from the truck, I didn't realize it at the time, but I was actually looking at what was left of my transfer case, which was very little. One trip to Goodyear and a junkyard driveshaft and transfer case later I was on the road again. I thought that my bad luck had ended. My drive back to Wisconsin was going great until a GPS error got me lost in East St.Louis, IL. While driving somewhere in between St.Louis, MO and East St.Louis, IL I encountered a woman in a Monte Carlo who was driving much slower than me and ended up cutting me off, because of this the brush guard on my truck ended up slamming into the back of her Monte Carlo, completely destroying it. Thankfully everyone was fine and my brush guard single handily saved my truck.

9 months of chasing = 25,000 miles

For me, the 2017 chase season would begin on February 28th, 2017 in Arkansas. This would be the beginning of almost 9 months of storm chasing in my now 17-year-old F250.

The date is March 28th, 2017 there is a Moderate Risk over much of Northwestern Texas for the chance of tornadoes, large hail, and damaging straight-line winds. This day will stick with me forever. Late that afternoon I chased a High Precipitation Supercell near Crowell, TX. In between the town of Lockett, TX, and Vernon, TX I unknowingly drove over a piece of glass that was on a dirt road.

This would come back to haunt me later that night. As night fell the storms began to become too difficult to chase due to other storms merging with each other and the limited road network in Southwestern Oklahoma left me with no other choice but to call off the chase. Around 9 pm I was driving on Highway 62 in between Snyder, OK and Indiahoma, OK when my Right Rear tire blew out.

Having never experienced a tire blowout before I had no idea what had happened. The last thing on my mind was a tire blow out because all 4 tires had been replaced in November of 2016. When I pulled over I inspected my vehicle and saw that the explosion had completely torn off my fender flare and even tore a huge hole in my quarter panel. Moments after I had pulled over an Oklahoma Highway Patrol Officer saw me broke down on the side of the road and tried to assist me but the damage to my truck was too severe. That's when the patrol officer called "Marlow's Service Center" in Cache, OK. That night the owner of Marlows Service Center brought a flatbed tow truck out into a Severe Thunderstorm, loaded my vehicle on the tow truck in the Severe Thunderstorm and towed my truck 3 hours North back to Norman so that I could sleep in my own bed. We shared stories about severe weather events on the ride back into Norman. Sadly, I do not remember either the trooper's name or tow truck driver's name, but I am thankful that they were able to assist me that night. Sadly, that same night 3 storm chasers would pass away in a Multi-Vehicle accident.

At the end of 2017, I would chase in 7 different States, and put over 25,000 miles on my F250. I would chase a High Precipitation Supercell in the Texas Panhandle and watch as a rain-wrapped tornado would destroy parts of Elk City on May 16th, 2017.

The end of an era

In 2018 I wouldn't chase much in the 2000 F250, not because anything was wrong with the truck, but rather because of the lack of storms.

2019 was the final chase year for my now 20-year-old F250. In only 4 years I drove over 100,000 miles, chased 82 Severe Thunderstorms, 2 tornadoes, documented 11 different floods, and destroyed 1 windshield, in this vehicle. This truck went absolutely above and beyond given its age, and I do believe that you can chase storms in an older vehicle because my truck is proof of that, but if you are going to chase the way I do you must keep maintenance at the top of your priorities. Sadly, I have had problems almost every month with my vehicle since November. This isn't because it's a Ford, but rather because the truck now has 236,000 miles on it and I have decided to go separate ways with it. It's been a good run with this chase vehicle and I am thankful that it performed the way that it did and allowed me to see the United States. If you enjoyed reading this blog post don't forget to heart it and leave a comment! Be sure to sign up as a member on the website so that way you can stay up to date when new blogs are released!

Thank you for reading,

Michael Thornton


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