Welcome to our September 2023 edition, Gregg!

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Hi Gregg: I know you live in Southern California during the non-chasing season, and you just got hit with Tropical Storm Hilary. My question is: Just how strange was getting a tropical storm in the Southern California desert, historically? I don’t seem to remember this occurring before.

-- Linda Miller (Kansas City, MO)

Thanks for the question, Linda. I live in Palm Desert, 125 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Since we average just 4 inches of rain per year here in the Sonoran Desert, recording more than 4 inches in less than 12 hours as Hilary roared through was very strange indeed. It was certainly a novel situation to need sandbags!

Quite a few homes were destroyed by flooding and mud around Cathedral City, just a few miles to the northwest. Some roads were so severely damaged that they're still closed, several weeks later.  Beyond the inordinate amount of desert rainfall, here are a few other facts that make Hilary stand alone in Southern California’s weather history:


  • This was the first ever Tropical Storm Watch -- and subsequently Tropical Storm Warning -- ever posted for Southern California by the National Hurricane Center.

  • Although the storm was a Category 4 hurricane over the ocean to the south, it made landfall in Mexico's northern Baja California peninsula as a tropical storm and maintained tropical storm strength while crossing into Southern California.

  • Storms of this kind tend to miss our area primarily because we usually see cooler ocean temperatures and prevailing westerly winds. Since the sea surface temperatures were only between 67-72 degrees, this helped weaken the storm as it moved closer to the coast. However, this time the prevailing westerly winds that push hurricanes out into the Pacific were further west due to a large ridge of high pressure over the South Central U.S. That -- combined with an upper-level low pressure area to our west -- created a corridor for the storm to be pulled north and east as it arrived in Southern California.

  •  In fact, this low pressure caused thunderstorms in the Coachella Valley a couple of days before Hilary arrived. This confused many people who thought that Hilary was already here, when in fact the real storm hit a few days later.


So, as you can see, there were many things that had to happen for Hilary to maintain its strength as it moved north and plowed into Southern California. I can't say this won’t ever happen again -- because it probably will -- but I suspect it will be quite a long time before all the necessary factors line up to steer another tropical storm toward Southern California.

Questions? Ask Gregg!

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Let's face it: There's a lot of down time between our adrenaline-pumped chases each May. Half the fun is revisiting old road haunts and discovering new locations to eat, drink and be merrily entertained. Because F5! goes where the wind blows, we've cataloged hundreds of towns, restaurants, bars and hospitality venues over approximately one million square miles of the Great Plains in the past 24 years. Each month, we'll revisit some of our favorites.


August 2023 issue: UFO Capital of the World (Roswell, NM)

July 2023 issue: The Big Texan (Amarillo, TX)

Garden of Eden

Lucas, KS

Last F5! visit: 2021

If there's a unifying theme among the places that tend to leave the most indelible mark upon us in the F5 community, it may be an appreciation for the eccentric. After all, that's probably how a lot of our friends and loved ones view us. Who else goes running toward a tornado when the rest of society is beating a path in the other direction?

"Eccentric" certainly covers the life and personality of Samuel Perry Dinsmoor (1843-1932), an Ohio native who joined the Union Army as a teenager, fought in the Civil War for three years, raised five children with a wife to whom he was married for 47 years, became a sculptor in his 60s and, after his wife died, fathered two more children after he turned 80 -- with his second wife, who was in her young 20s (see photo below).

"Eccentric" also covers Dinsmoor's most enduring legacy: The Garden of Eden, a collection of political and biblical themed cement statues surrounding his home in Lucas, KS.

In 1907, at the age of 62, Dinsmoor began construction of this unusual site by building a structure of limestone logs (some up to 21 feet long) for his family home. Then, using 113 tons of cement, he built 40-foot tall trees to hold the larger-than-life figures for his sculpture garden. He stopped working on the sculptures in 1929 after he went blind.

Today, tour guides help visitors become fully aware that every part of every cryptic sculpture has meaning about Populist politics, modern civilization, and the Bible that connect like a dot-to-dot puzzle.

Dinsmoor also built a mausoleum to house his mummified remains. Always a jokester, he claimed he would wink at anyone who paid to tour the garden.

While he was building his legacy sculptures, locals tried to run him out of town. But his vision endured the outcry; a century later, the Garden of Eden -- which supports itself on $6 admissions for adults (just a dollar for kids) -- is the town's main attraction. And Lucas now bills itself as the "Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas."