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Field Program

[Image Description: Two MCC members taking a brief break; one is sitting on a rock, the other is standing nearby. They are both in their uniforms, looking out at the expansive, mountain view surrounding them.]

A Lesson in the Weather of the Great Plains

A panoramic view of town from an overlook.

Pulling into the tiny town of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, our WRT was ready for a week of spraying invasive species in the sunny plains. Our first day started off strong with scouting at two locations to make a game plan for the week; we planned on targeting pale yellow irises at the Agate Fossil Bed National Monument and a few types of thistle and other invasives at the Scottsbluff National Monument. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans for us. On the way back to camp that night, we were hit by the first hailstorm of many to come. This one was mild enough to drive through and left us with a fun story; the next few were not so kind.

After one successful day of spraying, we got back to camp and finished our usual dinner and dishes chores just as giant raindrops began pelting us. We all ran to huddle in the rig while it passed and were almost immediately hit by the apocalyptic sound of the town's tornado sirens going off. We were lucky enough to be at a campsite with concrete bathrooms so once again we were running through the rain to shelter, where we’d spend the next four or so hours.

That night was spent listening to hail hammer the campground, watching tornados pass around the town on radar, and intermittently heading out to see the storm clouds before being sent straight back in by another tornado warning. We were fortunate to have no injuries and no serious damage- 3/4 of our tents were hit hard but our rig made it through with windows intact and the tornados ended up just skirting the town each time. Our field coordinator in Bozeman was on the phone off and on all night making sure that we were safe and would be taken care of, which was a huge comfort and made us all feel a lot more safe so far away from home base. Our project partner with the National Park Service wasn’t quite as lucky, and we ended up with the next day off work while he took care of the damage to his car. We spent the day taking care of our own damage and trying to get ready to get back into the groove of work after a stressful night.

The rest of the hitch went smoothly, with us spraying over one hundred gallons collectively on invasive plants and helping protect native prairie and riparian areas. A few rattlesnake sightings and a few dozen tick scares later, we’re on our way back to Bozeman to rest up for the next hitch. Despite (or because of) the unwelcome interruption to our work, this was most definitely a hitch packed with new experiences and one that we’ll have stories to tell for for years to come.