Sunday 18 May 2014

2014 Chase Day 6 - Busby (MT) and Broadus (MT) to Rapid City (SD)

Finally a chase day! We began where we left Day 5, in Gillette (WY). Spent the morning getting prepared; food from Walmart, filled the tank with petrol and then sorted various things inside the chase vehicle (now named 'Steve Western'). We had a few hours of waiting while the atmosphere ripened, so naturally we visited McDonald's in Gillette (WY) to eat some lunch and make use of their free WiFi to keep up to date with any potential developments.

After lunch we decided to head west a bit to Buffalo (WY) and reassess the situation; shallow convection was beginning to develop over the Rockies to our west, and for the first time this trip it actually felt quite warm and humid outside! We nudged further north to Sheridan (WY), before crossing the border into our 6th state of the trip - Montana. Any further north and we'd soon be in Canada!

A nice-looking supercell was beginning to form ahead of us over Lodge Grass (MT), drifting northeast. It was already ahead of us, so we began to chase it from the rear, heading east down Highway 212 through Busby (MT) and Lame Deer (MT) towards Ashland (MT). It looked visually and on radar like it was weakening, and due to the poor road network we decided to hang back and let it move away. A new cluster of already-warned severe thunderstorms were developing over Billings (MT), so we turned round and headed back west towards Busby (MT) once again.
The Lodge Grass (MT) supercell
The updraft looked very healthy of this distant supercell, so we parked up on the side of the road and sat for an hour or so, with no internet or phone signal, and let the storm get closer. Initial radar scans suggested it would remain to our north and we'd be fine sitting on Highway 212, but it became apparent after a while that it was heading more ESE and would also be affecting Highway 212. Lots of lightning was visible, and some nice lowerings also developed in the distance underneath this beast, but with no internet (radar data) for over an hour we had no idea what was going on and had to chase the old school way...
Really nice updraft and inflow of approaching Billings (MT) supercell
Radar grab of approaching severe thunderstorm; we were just west of Ashland heading east to keep ahead of the storm
We had to keep ahead of this storm or face being slammed by what was later confirmed as ping pong sized hail and 70mph winds. So we raced eastwards through Ashland (MT) towards Broadus (MT). We gained a little bit of time (travelling at 70mph while the storm was at 40mph) with the meso following right behind us, beautifully formed. A quick fuel stop in Broadus (MT) as the locals started to get excited at the impeding storm (dogs less so), and we continued southeastwards, stopping occasionally to watch the storm approach and then nudge a little further southeast.

Supercell at sunset, passing over Broadus (MT)
Evening lightning, illuminating the storm structure east of Broadus (MT)
Some spectacular structure to end the day, and as always a constant flashing of lightning from all over as the sun went down. We left the storm behind us and drove for a further 2 hours, very tired, to Rapid City in South Dakota (state tally now up to 7) to ensure we were slightly closer to the risk area for storms on Monday. We still have some way to travel south in the morning to get into position for Monday's storms in southeast Wyoming or western Nebraska, but very pleased with how the day went and happy we finally got to chase something after almost a week of nothingness!

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 9
States visited: 7
Distance driven: 1932 miles

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