Sunday 26 May 2013

2013 Day 19 - DAL to LHR via IAH

We caught a small 'Express' (i.e. very cramped) plane from Dallas Love Field (interesting airport, very quiet but hey it means you get through Security in no time!) to Houston International Airport. We grabbed some lunch in Terminal B (from McDonald's of course), and then changed to Terminal C to board our plane to Heathrow.
Apparently the flight's departure was delayed due to the plane overheating (as they informed us in the departures hall, which was very reassuring!) so we had to wait for it to cool down. It was a very long flight, with a few short naps at times, and we must've circled Heathrow airport for about half an hour before landing.

Nonetheless, I'm glad to be back on home soil, but at the same time sad to leave the storm chasing adventures behind. This has been a trip like no other, plenty of excitement mixed in with some sadness in relation to the events of 20th May. Either way I am looking forward to returning again sometime in Spring 2014...

Saturday 25 May 2013

2013 Day 18 - Weatherford (TX) to Dallas (TX)

Our last full-day on American soil, and I felt it fitting to enjoy my last McDonald's meal in the same place as I ate my first during this chase, at the aptly-named 'Weatherford' (TX). En-route to Dallas (TX) we decided to double-back on ourselves and visit Lake Mineral Wells State Park. It was a nice enough place, we enjoyed another 3-hour walk although the walking paths appeared to be old river beds - very spongy, and flooded in places. Needless to say it ruined a pair of my shoes ha!

Non-severe thunderstorms were beginning to form yet again nearby, so we nipped back into the car and drove the rest of the journey to our pre-booked hotel outside DFW airport. In the evening we visited the 55,000 seater Cowboy's stadium in Arlington (TX) to watch Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Florida Georgia Line live on stage - great fun, and a really good atmosphere. The 90min drive back (the bulk of it spent getting out of Arlington (TX)) wasn't such fun!

What a great way to end what has been an epic trip...

Friday 24 May 2013

2013 Day 17 - Abilene (TX) to Weatherford (TX)

The nearest severe thunderstorms today were forecast to be up in Kansas and Nebraska, too far north to chase considering we needed to be in Dallas (TX) by tomorrow evening. So instead we decided to chill today and head slowly eastwards to Weatherford (TX), where we'd planned to spend the night.

En-route we grabbed some lunch in Eastland (TX), and then chose to drive north on 16 and Highway 180 to visit Possum Kingdom State Park. Unfortunately by the time we'd arrived there were numerous non-severe thunderstorms in and around the vicinity, so we decided to ditch the idea and just head to Weatherford (TX). The one time when we didn't particularly want a thunderstorm nearby!
We arrived here early evening, checked-in to a hotel and chilled for the rest of the day, including sorting out our baggage ready for our flight home on Sunday morning. A nice line of intense thunderstorms passed through Weatherford (TX) during the evening, with very heavy rain, frequent lightning and strong winds, which was a nice treat!

Thursday 23 May 2013

2013 Chase Day 16 - Amarillo (TX) to Floydada (TX), Post (TX) and Abilene (TX)

Today was our last chase day, so naturally we were all fairly excited and perhaps desperate at the prospects of seeing a tornado, given the lack of them visually on all past chase days. Today looked perfect, strong sunshine, nice dryline to play with upslope flow over the Caprock, and over the vast plains of the Texas Panhandle - far from any major metroplex and the consequent damage and destruction. This is what storm chasing should be like, slow-moving pictureseque tornadoes over open fields not causing any damage.

Anyway, we left Amarillo (TX) around midday and dropped southeast towards Clarendon. It was tricky choosing a starting location today, we had to compensate between road access, location near dryline and a large enough town for mobile internet access so that we could keep an eye on observations/radar etc! We did have some data outage time on the journey to Clarendon (TX), so once we arrived and received the latest radar scans it became clear a cell had developed much further south than we anticipated, northeast of Floydada (TX) and northwest of Matador (TX).

We quickly headed southwards on 70 and 256, and it became apparent en-route that the cell had attempted to produce funnels, and was subsequently tornado-warned. On radar it also appeared to be attached to a residual outflow boundary from the previous night's thunderstorms over Oklahoma - insane! The storm was moving incredibly slowly due south, so we had to make a decision - take the eastern road and slide down the eastern side of the storm through heavy rain to get to the southeast side, or take the western route in clear air and then drive east along the southern periphery of the storm. I chose the western route, so we drove west on 256 to Silverton, then south on 207 to Floydada (TX).

What we didn't realise was that we were obviously on the outflow side of the storm, and it had kicked huge quantities of dust into the air due to the vast expanse of flat, dry soil in the Panhandles. Driving became very tricky and nerve-racking as we entered a wall of brown/orange dust, visibility became near zero, and to top it all we were buffeted with 60+mph outflow winds from the left. About 10 shaky minutes later we were finally ahead of the outflow (and dust!) and raced south until we arrived in Floydada (TX). Here we quickly filled the car with fuel, then headed further south to Ralls (TX) on Highway 62 to keep ahead of this dust storm, sadly it seemed to get ever closer, and we really needed to be on the opposite side of the storm where inflow winds were dust-free! Once in Ralls (TX) we chose Highway 82 east to Crosbyton (TX), but the outflow was approaching too quickly from the north (this didn't help with limited data coming through due to the poor mobile network signal in the area).

We needed a route south again to get ahead of this thing, it just wasn't possible to see the storm at all because there was a massive wall of dust preventing us from viewing it. A Farm Road south to Post (TX) seemed to be the best option to keep ahead of the storm, but this road also bent slightly to the southwest - not the most ideal direction when we needed to head east at some point. Once we were in sunny Post (TX) we had a quick nip to the loo (perhaps not quick enough?) and then raced eastwards on Highway 380. Unfortunately the outflow (and all it's dust) caught up with us and we were once again engulfed by thick dust and very strong winds. According to Spotter Network at some point along this road we must've passed Paul Knightley and Helen Rossington, fellow UK storm chasers, since they were subjected to three smashed windows from stones being picked up by the strong winds. Problem was it was so dark with very poor visibility you couldn't see the vehicle in front of you if it wasn't for their red rear lights.

Again, we had to head south, this was far too messy and already a new supercell to the east of this one had developed and was taking over as the dominant cell (and was also tornado warned). We just couldn't see a thing of the storm beyond this dust, making it potentially quite dangerous seeing as we had a lack of up-to-date data and there may have been a tornado around. We selected 208 south to Snyder (TX), amongst other storm chasers it seemed, and managed to get ahead of the haboob and took a quick photo of it (below). It was very strange just before we managed to get ahead of it, we had strong winds coming from the east with plenty of dust, then suddenly this changed to strong westerly winds with large volumes of dust, and during the transition (a matter of 15secs or less) a dusty landspout formed in a field to the right. Sadly it all happened too quickly to capture, especially with so much dust about!
Photo of the haboob associated with the thunderstorm outflow, and a schematic to explain the processes that were occurring
As we approached Snyder (TX) yet again it seemed a whole line of thunderstorms were forming between these two supercells, and other cells arriving across the border near New Mexico. This was forming yet another MCS, and being on the forward side of it it was coming straight at us, with all of it's dust as well. We needed to head southeast as quickly as possible, and decided it was probably best if we found a hotel awning in Abilene, checked-in for the night and let the storm come over us. It became a race against the clock along Highway 84 and then the I-20 as we tried to stay ahead of the storm, some parts of it were still warned for large hail and tornadoes, in fact some damage was reported at Rotan (TX) with winds recorded in excess of 100mph.
Radar of the developing MCS and our location (blue) trying to outrun it to Abilene; red polygon denotes a tornado warning near and to the south of Rotan

We arrived at the hotel in Abilene about 20 mins before the storm arrived, but boy did it pack a punch with torrential rain (and a flooded hotel car park), and very strong winds that began to rip the roofing off of a neighbouring hotel. Thankfully no hail was left in the core that went over us, but just 10 miles down the road there were reports of baseball-sized hail!
Needless to say we were sick at the sight of dust by now ha, and were fairly disappointed at the lack of anything nice structure-wise or funnels for our last chase day.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

2013 Day 15 - Wichita Falls (TX) to Amarillo (TX) via Palo Duro Canyon State Park

A nice relaxing and much needed "down day" today as we ambled our way northwestwards to the Panhandle with a destination of Amarillo (TX) for the night. We stopped en-route at Childress (TX) for some lunch, and then visited the Palo Duro Canyon State Park for a casual 6 mile walk in 93F (34C) heat (needless to say 1.5 litres of water was consumed throughout the 3 hour walk). It was tiring but great fun, with some amazing views followed by a steep climb to the summit of the 'Lighthouse'. We also spotted a Google Street View vehicle in the car park being prepared for filming, so who knows in the future you may be able to see us and 'Avenger' embedded on Google Street View!
Various views of the Palo Duro canyon
Myself looking over the canyon from the 'Lighthouse'

It was nearing 6pm before we eventually left the canyon and drove the 30mins to Amarillo, checking into a hotel and then visited a local Applebee's on the Soncy side of town for a proper 'sit down' evening meal, one which we had not indulged in since North Platte (NE) some 5 days ago. Somehow we managed to waiver the cost of our meals and 1 dessert thanks to our very nice waitress because it was at least 30mins from when we ordered our food and it still hadn't turned up - I'd normally wait an hour or so back in the U.K. for my food after ordering, so it was very nice of them to give our meals to us for free!

Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and sorted out where to head for tomorrow, our last chase day of this trip...

Tuesday 21 May 2013

2013 Chase Day 14 - Ardmore (OK) to Terrell (TX) via DFW (TX), then Wichita Falls (TX)

It was a tricky start to the day - the SPC had issued a fairly large MDT area across north/northeast Texas and into neighbouring Lousiana and Arkansas. A casual look at the various model output first thing in the morning caused some confusion - there would be a squall line on the cold front, that was a-given, as it continued to accelerate southeastwards across the area through the day. Some forecast output was suggesting the potential for isolated tornadic supercells ahead of the front in the MDT area, so we drove south to Denton (TX) where we had to make a decision as to head either southeast or southwest, preferably avoiding the DFW metroplex.
It was annoyingly cloudy, and none of the models that I had looked at were producing anything east of Dallas - it was all further west, as per the existing radar returns. So we decided to head west via Decatur (TX) to Bridgeport (TX), where we had a quick lunch stop, swapped drivers and reassessed the situation.

Amongst the squall line/cold front over NW Texas was an embedded 'severe thunderstorm' warned cell. I thought it might be worth a try to play with this so we continued to head west to Jacksboro (TX), and then south towards Mineral Wells (TX) to get a closer look. However, it soon became apparent that this squall line was accelerating eastwards, and if we wanted to stay in the dry, warm air ahead of it for any potential discrete supercells then we needed to head east - and quickly!

We did generally quite well, passing through Weatherford (TX) with the squall line not too far behind us, but as expected the traffic in the DFW metroplex slowed us down such that it began to rain from the leading edge of the squall. We persevered through Dallas (TX) and down Highway 80 where I decided to call the chase off given how close the squall was, and how disappointingly cloudy (i.e. lack of insolation) it was ahead of the front - nothing was going to develop ahead of this fast-moving beast of a squall line.

Instead, we continued driving until we reached Terrell (TX) to get far enough ahead of the line of storms to park up in a hotel car park and let the squall pass over us. I knew we needed to be in the Texas Panhandle for Thursday's storm potential, so it made sense to give up chasing early today (2pm) to head towards the Panhandle for more discrete supercells on Thursday, rather than playing with this mess. By now there were reports of 80+mph winds in parts of this squall line, and some sizeable hail with powercuts and fallen trees in northern parts of the DFW metroplex. Thankfully the part of the squall that was to pass over Terrell (TX) wasn't warned, so I felt reasonably happy with parking the car in the open car park and letting the QLCS (quasi-linear convective system) pass over.
QLCS moving over us (blue circle). White crosses are lightning strikes, red circles are other spotters/chasers GPS locations

It actually took quite a while to catch up with us, so we must've made some good ground driving since we were sitting in the Terrell (TX) car park for about 20-30mins before any rain arrived. Winds picked up in advance of the rain, and a nice outflow boundary gust front passed overhead. Then we had to endure about 45 mins of very heavy rain, very strong winds and frequent (occasionally very close) lightning, before it eventually cleared to our southeast, with quite a few CGs noted on the back edge. Behind the front it was beautifully calm and sunny, with a flicker of CGs on the back edge of the QLCS as it continued to move away. Admittedly it was great fun, but I was still rather disappointed at the major hype of the MDT risk area, having still felt a little down following the previous day's events in Moore. Part of me wanted to go back home to the U.K., we'd had several days chasing tornado-warned supercells but had so far not seen any tornadoes, nor had very much sleep.

Nonetheless, I knew we were flying back on Sunday and that our last chance for chasing would be Thursday, so we drove the 200-odd miles to Wichita Falls (TX) back through the DFW metroplex, and along Highway 287 past the likes of Bowie (TX) and Henrietta (TX), the latter reminding me of a chase we had last year where we let a supercell pass overhead. We checked-in to a hotel early, which apparently already had British storm chasers staying (never found out who they were), and enjoyed an early evening and a longer sleep.

Monday 20 May 2013

2013 Chase Day 13 - Moore (OK) and Paul's Valley (OK) to Ardmore (OK)

Even though we started the day in the middle of the SPC's MDT area, I knew we had to be much further southwest for storm initiation (ideally west of Oklahoma City once more) for the best tornadic potential. Multi-model consensus suggested a fairly early initiation time of 2-3pm, so I chose Chickasha (OK) as our starting position and we subsequently drove from our hotel in Tulsa (OK) down the I-44 Turner Turnpike towards Okalhoma City, then south on I-35 through Moore (OK) and into Norman (OK) where we stopped for some lunch (about 1pm). I remember commenting on how nice a day it was, with the extensive morning stratus now breaking with some chinks of blue sky appearing. It's amazing how quickly things can change...

I began to worry that Chickasha (OK) may be too far west and was half-tempted to wait in Norman (OK), but knew at the same time that given the largely urban and populated area it wouldn't be ideal chasing territory, so we nudged a little further south to Purcell (OK). We only waited about 15 mins before cells were already firing on radar and visibly as a row of anvils to our west, so drove south on 74 to Maysville (OK), paused to check the latest situation, and then west on 19 to Lindsay (OK). We could see new updrafts going up to our north and managed to capture a photograph of them (below).
Updraft towers of the Newcastle/Moore (OK) supercell, prior to turning tornadic
We pulled over on the side of the road just west of Lindsay (OK) to view the developing mesocyclone, albeit very high based, on this storm that we were aiming for. The storm was still moving northeast, so we drove north on 76 to follow it, passing Mike Bettes and Dr Greg Forbes of The Weather Channel fame. However, it quickly became clear that the new supercell over Newcastle (OK) and one near Marlow (OK) were the main players, and this one we were chasing was dying very quickly. We had to make a decision - head north after the Newcastle cell, or south towards the Marlow one.

I chose not to go any further north after the Newcastle (OK) supercell, even though it was only 20-25 miles away, because I knew it would pass over a heavily urbanised/populated area of Moore (OK), which would not be ideal for chasing, especially with rush hour approaching in an hour or so. Instead we headed back south and east on 39, 59, 122, 24 and 74 back through Maysville (OK) towards Elmore City (OK). En-route we could hear on the radio that a tornado had touched down near Newcastle (OK) and was heading straight for Moore (OK), and we knew this didn't sound good. At the same time, the Marlow cell became tornado-warned also, although no reports of an actual funnel at this stage. We went through some rain between Maysville and Elmore City, then headed west on 29 into the rain-free inflow.

Stepping outside the car (amongst many other chasers and law enforcement on the same road) it felt very warm, humid and very windy with strong southeasterlies. We could see the ragged wall cloud through a gap in the trees to our northwest, and kept a close eye on it as it continued to try and become better organised. Suddenly the winds turned westerly and it felt cooler, so we jumped back in the car and drove east, back through Elmore City, before stopping the other side to observe. Still no significant development was occurring from the base of this storm, just a very threatening-looking cloud base. All the while we were hearing of the devastation being caused in Moore at exactly the same time from the EF-5 tornado, and this had already begun to affect our mood.
Nice green tinge - hail anyone?
Once again warm inflow winds turned to cool outflow, while it was also apparent a new cell was approaching from Duncan (to the southwest of the original cell) with a new meso and wall cloud to our west. This eventually became the dominant feature as we continued to nudge-stop further east on 29 towards the I-35 intersection. The wall cloud was starting to look better and more promising for tornadic development as it neared I-35, and we dived north on 77 to Paul's Valley (OK). The coverage of the Moore tornado on the radio suddenly changed (briefly) to the storm we were chasing, with the residents of Paul's Valley being told to get into their shelters. Unfortunately there were just too many trees and very few opportunities for us to park on 77, so we had to head back south towards Wynnewood, along with many other chasers.
The closest this supercell came to producing a tornado, between Elmore City (OK) and Paul's Valley (OK)
It appears the cell was really ramping up, and by the sounds of chasers on the News9 live radio coverage it sounded like it could drop a tornado at any minute - but it didn't. The storm itself continued to head ENE towards Stratford (OK), while we had to take a rather long route round due to the poor road network locally, via the 29 east then 177 north. Radio coverage turned back to the Moore event which was (thankfully) coming to an end by this stage, but new details of casualties and damage were forever being added through the following hours, and our moods kept changing more to sadness than excitement. This wasn't fun, and part of me just wanted to stop chasing for the day and head to a hotel.

What we hadn't kept an eye on was the developments further south - other initially discrete supercells had merged into a massive MCS/line, and had effectively developed to the south and east of the cell we were chasing, cutting off it's inflow and causing it to rapidly weaken. We gave up on this storm, and after having a quick look at the forecast for tomorrow we decided to drive towards Paris (TX) to spend the night, enabling us to be in a good enough position for tomorrow's activity in parts of northern Texas.

However, this looked easier than it actually was. Firstly, we had to navigate around this cell we had been chasing to avoid it's remaining hail core - this involved driving north on 177 to the Canadian River, then dropping back southeast on 3 towards Ada. Then we had to somehow core this MCS line to get on the other side; we had two attempts, the first attempt down 377 until we went into very heavy rain and hail, where we decided to turn around and go back towards Ada. The second attempt took us down 3 until we reached Tupelo (OK) where we once again went into some hail and heavy rain. This wasn't working, so we parked the car underneath a petrol station canopy and waited 30-45mins for the rain and hail to gradually ease off to our east. There was no physical way we could get through this line of storms (with rotation and large hail in places), the western edge was all the way back to Wichita Falls in Texas, miles away!

Plan B lead us towards Ardmore (OK) which gave us a fast route south ready for the next day on the I-35. Thus, once the hail had passed we headed back north to Ada on 3, then southwest on 1 (including the very strange Chickasaw Turnpike), 7 and 77, and then the I-35 to Ardmore (OK). While unpacking the car a rogue couple of thunderstorms with small hail passed over the area, so we temporarily put the car under the hotel awning until it eased! We went to bed still feeling very sad and shocked at the tragedies of the Moore tornado, with continued coverage on radio and The Weather Channel.

Sunday 19 May 2013

2013 Chase Day 12 - Edmond (OK) and Shawnee (OK) to Tulsa (OK)

Woke up early after very little sleep following the late arrival at the hotel the previous night. A quick look at the charts and we knew we had a long drive on our hands, to get us south to DFW airport to drop Matt off and get back up near Oklahoma City - promised to be a 6 hour drive or so. I chose to do the first leg to Dallas, but struggled and had to swap after crossing the border into Texas due to tiredness.

We quickly dropped Matt off at DFW, then spent what felt like an age trying to get out of the airport and through the metroplex. The SatNav was struggling to understand where we were due to the vast quantities of new elevated road being built, above existing roads. Lesson: Dallas is a nightmare to navigate unless you plan to stay on the same road through the metroplex!

Anyhow, we drove quickly north on I-35, across the border back into Oklahoma. By now it was after 1pm and the models were suggesting a reasonably early kick-off. We grabbed a bite to eat at Marietta (OK) and continued heading north. By 2pm we could already see some anvils in the very far distance, and on radar some echoes were beginning to show in a NE-SW line to the west of Oklahoma City. Not long after, the northern cell near Edmond started to look very promising on radar, and was eventually tornado-warned. Listening to the commentary with Gary England from News9 on the local in-car radio revealed that this cell had already dropped a tornado and caused some damage on 2nd St in Edmond (OK) - the very road we had spent the previous night in a hotel at!

We tried as quickly as we could to head north and get near this cell, but my main worry at the time was that the cell looked like it was heading straight east, and would cross the I-35/I-44 Turner Turnpike before we could get onto I-44. The dilemma was also whether it would be worth heading north after this supercell, or hang around Norman where cumulus towers/anvils were still going up to the west in the hope that a southern cell would be the dominant one later in the afternoon.
We hedged our bets on the Edmond cell, and chose to take the I-240 to the SE of OKC, then some various small roads north towards Choctaw (OK) and Jones (OK). By this stage the tornado was already across to Luther (OK) (just north of I-44) and continued to head in an ENE direction. There was no visible confirmation from our location about 10-15miles away due to the vast quantities of trees and hills in this part of Oklahoma! Persevering, we continued to head north to Luther (OK) (the tornado was by this stage heading towards Wellston (OK)).

It became clear, being consistently behind this storm, that it wasn't going to be possible to outrun it, and we were beginning to run out of fuel, so we made the decision to find a gas station, fill up and then head south after a new supercell near Norman (OK) which had developed. Finding an open gas station was proving harder than we first imagined, as it appeared a lot of them had temporarily closed to shelter from the storm. Thankfully we found an open one in Chandler (OK), then headed south towards Meeker (OK) and Shawnee (OK).

On our route south we could hear on the radio that a tornado had touched down over Lake Thunderbird, and although was moving slowly ENE, was heading directly for Shawnee (OK). I began to get nervous about how quickly we could get to Shawnee vs how quickly the tornado would get there, but thankfully we arrived about 15 mins before the tornado did, enabling us to get to the south of it and park up. It was rather eerie being able to see powerflashes, instantaneously being described on the radio too, but without being able to see the actual tornado due to the expanse of trees! There was significant 'chaser convergence' on the south side of the storm along Highway 9 and 177, and we parked in a parking lot somewhere in southern Shawnee to let the storm pass eastwards to our north.

On the radio we could hear that the tornado had cross the intersection between the I-40 and 177, with numerous lorries turned over but we still couldn't visible see it. Shawnee (OK) is quite an elongated N-S town, and the tornado grazed the northern section of the town, while we sat in the southern portion. A new meso began to form on the southwestern side of the supercell, and we could visibly see this as it was much closer so we waited to see what it could produce. It began to form a ragged but clearly rotating wall cloud, but that was as far as it went in terms of tornadic potential. The original tornado began to be rain-wrapped as it moved northeast of I-40 since this new mesocyclone to the southwest was taking over as the new storm.
A combination of chaser convergence, evacuating locals and emergency responders meant for very busy roads in south Shawnee (OK), with new wall cloud forming in the background
New rotating mesocyclone attempted to organise, but failed to produce a funnel over Shawnee (OK)
We decided to follow this portion of the storm, keeping it to our north, as we took a succession of east and north roads, eventually getting on the I-40 and heading east to Henryetta (OK), where we exited onto Highway 75 northwards. We stopped a couple of times on the side of Highway 75 between Henryetta (OK) and Okmulgee (OK) to observe the wall cloud attempting to form and then weaken, and eventually had to let the meso pass over the road to our north. It was now getting close to 8pm or so and darkness was approaching, while the storm was weakening on radar, and visually, producing a lot of lightning and rain, but the hail risk seemed to be diminishing. Feeling tired following our short sleep the previous night, we chose to leave the storm and drive north to Tulsa (OK) and check-in to a hotel relatively early (turned out to be about 10pm by the time we arrived).

NB: In hindsight we should've waited in Norman (OK), refuelled and remained with the southern cell from it's conception which would've significantly improved our chances of seeing a tornado today as it crossed Lake Thunderbird. Out of the whole trip, this day remains as the most disappointing in the sense that it was the only real day where we were close to a tornado but couldn't see it visibly...

Saturday 18 May 2013

2013 Chase Day 11 - North Platte (NE) to Bucklin, Greensburg and Coldwater (KS), then Edmond (OK)

A little disappointing today given the hype from various sources. It was tricky trying to find a starting location, since overnight the majority of models indicated the best conditions for tornadic supercells had shifted further south from the Kansas/Nebraska border to south central Kansas, or even northern Oklahoma. Consequently, we made an early start from North Platte (NE) with an initial destination of Minneola (KS), ETA near 12:30pm - several hours before anything was due to develop.

We arrived in Minneola (KS) on schedule, and waited a couple of hours in a derelict petrol station forecourt for things to kick off. The low cloud, mist and drizzle of the morning had finally dissipated, leaving clear blue sky and strong sunshine. We could see the beginnings of cumulus attempting to develop to our W/NW, presumably along the dryline. Mesoscale Analysis indicated we were sitting in an environment with nearly 5,000 J/kg CAPE, but conversely it remained heavily capped for the time being. Cumulus began to try some more vertical development, but kept being shredded and sheared off to the northeast.

We knew we need to keep close to or just ahead of the dryline, which was slowly encroaching from the west, so near 3pm we decided to nudge a little further east to keep ahead of this cumulus development. We parked up in Bucklin (KS) and kept a close eye on the sky, the cumulus starting to tower more and looked more promising...
Skies to the west of Bucklin (KS)

Storms began to fire off in central parts of Kansas, northeast of Garden City and heading northeastwards. We wanted to keep on the 'potential' southern cells, so nudged further east once more and settled at Greensburg (KS), a town destroyed by an EF5 tornado on 4th May 2007. It was clear a lot of other chasers had a similar idea, you could see them parked across the town, and at least 20 chasers were dotted about on Spotter Network.

A storm developed near Bucklin (KS), heading slowly northeast, but looked poorly-organised on radar. Some chasers went after this, but a lot stayed put in Greensburg (KS). There was a cluster of storms over northern Oklahoma about to cross the border into Kansas, so we decided to head south towards Coldwater (KS) and chase these, hoping that since these were the southernmost cells then they'd have the best inflow. We found a large cluster of chasers at a crossroads just south of Coldwater (KS), observing the now line of thunderstorms off to the west and southwest, constantly flashing away with lightning. These weren't looking that promising for tornadic development sadly, and we decided that the best potential for this would be on the southern end of this line of storms.
A wall of rain, hail and lightning to our west, near Coldwater (KS)
The road network either took us west straight into the storms (with large hail) or south for quite some way to enable us to get onto the southernmost cell. We took the south route into Oklahoma, then east towards Buffalo (OK), and then back north on 183 towards Protection (KS). We were getting into the rain at this stage, and started to get some small hail fall on the car... I decided to pull over and let the main core cross the road in front of us, to avoid any of the hail getting larger and damaging the car. There was plenty of lightning with this complex, but it didn't look brilliant for any tornadic development sadly.

Once the storm had crossed the road we drove quickly north on 183, the road surface was very poor (in the process of being relaid) and there was a lot of surface water on our side of the road, making it very difficult to drive straight. The storms were already beginning to line out into an MCV, and we could see that two discrete supercells near Hays in central Kansas had already produced tornadoes - we were very gutted deep down that we didn't head north from Greensburg (KS), but these storms were really too far away to be chasing after now, especially seeing as all of these individual cells were now beginning to form one massive line down the entire width of Kansas.

We knew our best hope of seeing anything interesting would be with the southern cell on this line, with the best inflow, but we were currently west of the line (which was travelling eastwards), and at some point we would have to plough straight through the line of storms in order to get ahead of it. At the same time we were running out of fuel, so we drove quickly north back to Bucklin (KS) then east to Greensburg (KS) where we fuelled up, then dropped back south to Coldwater (KS) - talk about going round in circles!

By this stage in the evening (near 8pm) it was becoming clear that we'd missed our chance of a tornado today, and while still behind the line of storms to the east we enjoyed a lot of anvil mammatus being lit up by the setting sun, while also producing some powerful positive lightning at times. Matt had a flight to catch from DFW the following day (19th May) so it made sense to complete half the journey to Dallas this evening such that it wasn't such a mad rush the following day. I decided to head to Oklahoma City as a destination for our overnight stay - this involved driving through this line of thunderstorms to get ahead of it. We did so, it was a difficult period of driving with very heavy rain, frequent lightning but thankfully no hail!
Sunset-lit mammatus near Coldwater (KS)

We headed east through Medicine Lodge (KS), Anthony (KS) and Wellington (KS), before joining the I-35 and heading south across the border into Oklahoma. It was here that the car was being buffeted by incredibly strong sidewinds from the west, and I found it very difficult to keep the vehicle in lane. Very surreal experience, no rain or lightning, just incredibly strong winds. As we neared Oklahoma City the winds began to ease a little, but instead we ploughed through a cluster of thunderstorms on the northern edge of the city. By now it was getting close to 1am and we were all very tired - in fact half the car had been asleep for several hours while I had been driving!

The next tricky bit was finding a hotel that had a room available! It turned out that a lot of southern Oklahoma City had powercuts from the earlier thunderstorms, so everyone had swarmed into northern areas for hotels, including a significant amount of storm chasers. We lost count as to how many hotels we had stopped and asked at, but eventually near 2am we finally found one with a vacant room in Edmond - hurray! Needless to say we all fell asleep very quickly after what had been a very tiring (and disappointing) day...

NB: In hindsight we should've stopped in Dodge City (KS) at lunchtime and eaten some food - we hardly ate anything all day! We could've also headed north after the tornadic supercells instead of the mess further south. But that's easier said than done knowing we had to drop Matt off at an airport the next day...

Friday 17 May 2013

2013 Day 10 - Lake Scott State Park (KS) to North Platte (NE)

The nearest thunderstorms today were forecast to be either another 9 hour drive from our current location in Hays (KS) to northwest Nebraska, or back down in north Texas. So instead we decided to enjoy a "down day", and visit a local state park en-route to our planned destination for the forthcoming night in North Platte (NE).

So, we visited Lake Scott State Park halfway between Oakley (KS) and Scott City (KS), which allowed Hannah to indulge in some lake swimming practice once more. It was a very picturesque park, with steep-sided hills and a fairly large lake in the valley.
We spent a couple of hours there chilling and topping up our tans, before driving a couple of hours north across the border and into Nebraska, towards North Platte. The terrain changes from flat Plains horizon to horizon to some quite noticeable hillier parts as you enter Nebraska.
Lake Scott State Park (KS)
Lake Scott State Park (KS)
We checked into a hotel early (the most expensive hotel of the trip thus far at $137!) and seized the opportunity to eat some proper 'sit down' food rather than the fast food while chasing that we'd become used to over previous days. A really nice, juicy steak at Applebee's was exactly what the doctor ordered, accompanied by a fantastic atmosphere - something unlike you'd experience in any restaurant or pub in the UK. We're now spending the evening deciding where to head to tomorrow in order to be in a good position - the SPC has issued the first MDT (moderate) risk of severe thunderstorms so far this chase, so excitement levels are elevated in anticipation for what tomorrow may bring!

Thursday 16 May 2013

2013 Chase Day 9 - NW Kansas MCV

We decided the previous evening that we'd spent far too much time in Dallas doing nothing, so decided to get up early today (6am) and drive the 9hr journey to northwestern Kansas where there were hints in the models of a weak trough in a larger scale upper ridge which may develop some thunderstorms.

We drove north on the I-35, passing through Oklahoma City (OK), Wichita (KS), then north on the I-135 and west on the I-70 to Colby (KS). Keeping a keen eye on the radar en-route, we noticed an MCV forming in NE Colorado severe thunderstorm warnings on the southern most cells with the best inflow, although the constant backbuilding behind a pretty decent outflow boundary meant the strongest storms kept extending further and further southwestwards.

We parked in Colby (KS) and sat for a while, deciding which route would be best to keep up with the storm (since the storm was moving E/SE we were actually trying to keep ahead of it, rather than chase after it). At the time there was warm inflow winds, but eventually everything went calm and suddenly changed to cool outflow winds which picked up significantly as the outflow boundary came over us (visible in the clouds above too).
Outflow boundary approaching McDonald's at Colby (KS)
We moved southeastwards to a DIY petrol station between Colby (KS) and Oakley (KS) where we parked up and let the outflow boundary move back over us, to feel the change in wind. By now there was frequent CG lightning from the line of storms to our northwest.
Stitch panorama
A video still of myself looking northwest towards the line of storms, with a CG visible on the left
We attempted to intersect the outflow boundary twice more, but sadly the poor road network in this part of Kansas meant that we had to park up next to a derelict building on Highway 83 between Oakley (KS) and Scott City (KS) and let the line of storms pass eastwards in front of us to the north.
Weak CG on right
Weak CG on left
Line of rain curtains to the west
Thunderstorm to the north paints the perfect picture behind a derelict house
Thunderstorm cell to the east
Rainbow at sunset, with frequent CGs behind
The Sun was beginning to set at this stage, so we were treated to a bright orange sunset to our west, frequent CGs to our north and east and a short rainbow for a period of time too. As darkness approached we headed west and north towards Hays, driving right through the line of storms with heavy rain and frequent, close lightning.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

2013 Day 8 - Dallas (TX) Tornadoes, chase partner swap

Today served as a rest day more than anything else - the two Chris' departed early in the day and headed south to Houston to fly back to Heathrow, while myself and Matt were stranded in a hotel near DFW airport with no vehicle, waiting for the 2 Hannahs to arrive later in the afternoon where we'd pick up our hire car.

Unfortunately today happened to produce several tornadoes just west and southwest of Dallas, and naturally Matt and I were very gutted we couldn't chase these. But hey ho, this weekend looks good for a more widespread outbreak of severe storms. We did get treated to some very gusty winds, heavy rain and close lightning while at our hotel during the evening, and thankfully all the hail and tornado-warned cells stayed to our south as I was slightly nervous about our hire car getting hail damage on our first evening ha!
Our new stormchase vehicle, 'Avenger' (named because it's a Dodge Avenger)

Tuesday 14 May 2013

2013 Day 7 - Galveston (TX) to Dallas (TX) via NASA's Johnson Space Center

Myself and Matt needed to be back in Dallas by Wednesday to be able to collect the two Hannah's from the airport, so we drove north from Galveston (TX) towards Dallas (TX) via Houston (TX). En-route we made an impromptu detour off the I-45 to the NASA Johnson Space Center in southeast Houston.
On site, we visited Mission Control and the astronaut training facilities, along with a tour of the main site. We also watched a short film in a large theatre about past missions and how technology has changed over the years.
Mission Control exterior
Tour Tram

Mission Control

Mission Control

Mission Control

Training Facility
Training Facility

Training Facility
Training Facility
Training Facility
Training Facility
Saturn V rocket, built for Apollo 18 but scrapped due to budget cuts
Saturn V rocket
Saturn V rocket
Saturn V rocket
Saturn V rocket
Grabbing a bite to eat at a space-themed McDonalds, we continued to head north on I-45 towards Dallas, and spent the night at a hotel near DFW airport. The DFW metroplex is a serious maze of roads, tonnes of elevated interstate which makes it highly confusing to navigate around the city as new roads are constantly being constructed!
Space Center McDonalds