Tuesday 20 May 2014

2014 Chase Day 8 - Yoder (WY) and Scottsbluff (NE) to Broadwater (NE)

Today's setup was very similar to the previous day's - limited amount of surface moisture, but with enough upslope easterly flow over the Laramie mountains to develop a few scattered supercell thunderstorms given favourable lapse rates and deep layer shear. Starting in North Platte (NE) we knew we had a reasonably lengthy drive to get into position for the afternoon's kick-off, so after a quick gym session and a 3 hour drive along I-80 (half of which seems to be coned-off for construction work but with no real evidence of anything actually being done) and we stopped in Cheyenne (WY) once again to grab a bite to eat (have a guess where!) and refuel.

Storms were firing and becoming more organised earlier today compared to yesterday, and there was already a severe-warned storm over Wheatland (WY) to the north of Cheyenne (WY). Most models had two distinct areas of storm development in their simulations - one to the north of Cheyenne (WY), and the other much farther south near Denver (CO). Knowing that these storms near Wheatland (WY) may be the only ones we could chase today, we quickly drove northeast to try and get ahead of them. The terrain in southeast Wyoming gave excellent views over long-distances, allowing us to keep a close eye on any developments underneath the mesocyclone.
Base of the supercell near Yoder (WY)
We parked up near Yoder (WY) for a while to let the storm get closer to us, some occasional wall cloud development occurring but nothing much more than that. We could already see a new discrete supercell developing (S2) in the distance to the southwest of this initial storm (S1), and this too was exhibiting some wall cloud development at times on the horizon. For the time being we remained with S1, slowly following it northeastwards across the border in the Nebraska panhandle. It tried multiple times to produce a wall cloud, but never lasting very long. Soon after, a tornado warning was issued for the storm, apparently based on 'storm spotters sighting a tornado near Mitchell (NE)'. We had had a clear view of the mesocyclone and overall base of the storm and had seen nothing in the way of tornadic activity, so we were rather puzzled. Nevertheless, we pursued to chase eastwards into the town of Scottsbluff (NE) where vehicles were travelling in all directions, causing long queues - it was if the town was evacuating, while tonnes of residents were standing on the streets looking at the approaching storm. Still no sign of anything remotely tornadic on the storm from a visual standpoint, but we continued to crawl eastwards through the town to get to the other side.
'Tornado warned' supercell near Scottsbluff (NE)
S1 supercell to the northwest of Bayard (NE)
The tornado warning soon expired, and even at the end of the day there are still no reports of any tornadoes sent in to the SPC - thus one can only presume that a chaser became a little prematurely excited, somehow got the message across to a local NWS office and then they issued a warning. S1 was still tracking northeastwards, and our roads east and north soon became non-existent, with only south or southeast routes available. Since the two storms were getting ever-closer we decided to ditch chasing S1, and instead focus our attention on S2, the southernmost cell which still looked pretty good both on radar and by eye in the distance.
Train, stop sign and approaching S2 supercell near Broadwater (NE)
Approaching gust front from S2 supercell near Broadwater (NE)
It was weakening as it approached, however, and as the two cells continued to merge it became clear that this storm was slowly losing it's identity. To make the most of it we stopped a few times to have a stab at some lightning shots as the sun went down behind the storm, and then once the storm was close enough we parked up in Broadwater (NE) and let it pass overhead. Lightning was frequent, and quite close at times, the winds were a little gusty but nothing too severe, and there was a spell of moderate rain with some small hail mixed-in.
Approaching gust front from S2 supercell near Broadwater (NE) 
Approaching gust front from S2 supercell near Broadwater (NE)
Once the storm had passed the fun and games didn't end there - we still had to find a hotel for the night. We drove quickly south to Sidney (NE), but everywhere seemed to have no vacancies, so the only other option where there would be multiple hotels to try was another 1hr 30min drive to Cheyenne (WY). It was a tough drive, struggling to concentrate and not fall asleep, and we asked at 6-7 different hotels before we finally found one that had just 1 spare room!

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 11
States visited: 8
Distance driven: 2,926 miles

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