Sunday 25 May 2014

2014 Chase Day 13 - Bust in TX!

Day 13 - an unlucky number? Well today it certainly was. Similar to yesterday, there was a tornado risk along a slow-moving frontal boundary draped across the Big Bend into the Hill Country. We'd chased in the area yesterday, so I wasn't that keen to do it again given very little internet signal and hills everywhere. We ate lunch in Fort Stockton (TX) while a supercell rapidly fired up northeast of Marathon (TX) and in no time had 3 reported landspouts. Naturally we drove quickly south to the cell, but by the time we got there the cell had completely died - most unusual for it to die so quickly. Furthermore, there was a lot of stratus, fog and drizzle.

We wandered eastwards to get to the other side of the frontal boundary (the more favourable side for seeing any tornado development) but throughout the 90 minute drive it was just full on stratus, with one 10min window where we drove through a very heavy shower with a lot of surface water on the road, about halfway between Marathon (TX) and Sanderson (TX). We knew realistically that the only way we'd get any internet signal was to head towards the nearest interstate (I-10) near Sheffield, because we couldn't see anything would be developing with this extensive stratus cover down in southwest Texas.

Driving northeast from Dryden (TX) to Sheffield (TX) we soon saw the effects of the 5 inches of rain that had fallen in the area yesterday - lots of sediment and rocks deposited on the road in places where running water had temporarily flooded the road, plus a bridge that was on the verge of collapse. A civil engineer parked next to the bridge informed us that it was 'officially' closed but since no-one had cordoned it off yet he let us pass through - it would've been a very long drive back round since there are very few roads in this area.

Finally on arriving in Sheffield (TX) we received some 3G signal and had a quick look at the radar - and it was still looking dead, nothing going on whatsoever - apart from a very nice-looking supercell over Mexico that would be moving into the far southwest of Texas, some 3 hour drive away, which looked like it could be producing a tornado. A quick scan of the high-res models, and I decided to nudge north to Midland (TX) in the hope that something may drift out of New Mexico later this evening, and also placing us in a good starting position for tomorrow.

A really nice supercell had fired over southeastern New Mexico, near Carlsbad (NM) and the temptation to drive a further 110 miles towards it was incredibly great. Photos were being posted on social media of this storm, and it did look pretty darn impressive - I can't think of any other occasion where I've felt so torn to really want to chase a storm, but knowing sunset was in 30mins and it'd definitely be dark by the time we got there. Eventually I gave in, booked a hotel in Midland and watched it on radar, eventually dying. Shame, else it was a stormless day, the first in 7 days!
The supercell over New Mexico as the sun set in Midland (TX)

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 16
States visited: 9
Distance driven: 4,942 miles

Saturday 24 May 2014

2014 Chase Day 12 - Fort Stockton (TX) to Sanderson (TX) and back

I find every day myself questioning our decisions and whether we could've chosen a different, better storm to follow etc. Today was no different, and for quite a prolonged period of time we had no internet   which meant no fresh data on what the storms we were chasing were doing, or if any better storms had developed elsewhere. But most days it seems, despite the questioning of your decisions, in the end you tend to still do fairly well - just go with your instincts etc.

Starting in Hobbs (NM) we travelled quite a distance south into Texas - the majority of today's action was progged to be on a rapidly southward-moving outflow boundary associated with the previous night's convection. Some models also simulated another round of storms over New Mexico during the evening, so we were torn between waiting for the majority of the day to see if anything fired up over New Mexico, or race southwards to try and get on the other side of the outflow boundary and try our luck with an environment more favourable for tornadoes.

We had a quick lunch stop in Monohans (TX) - McDonald's of course - and then made the decision to try and get to the south side of the outflow boundary/cold front. It took some time since the front was also moving southwards away from us, but between Fort Stockton (TX) and Sanderson (TX) we managed to break through to the other side, having driven through some heavy rain and small hail from a developing storm. Cloud bases were very low over the multiple hills that make up the Hill Country, with plenty of rotation going on and a couple of attempts at forming a wall cloud.

We took a road northeast part-way towards Sheffield before stopping and reassessing. Parking up for a while, the storm was getting closer, and while it probably stayed just to our north, it was also backbuilding and we ran the risk of getting hit by hail/rain from these storms instead. Without any fresh data for an hour or so, we blindly drove further south into Sanderson (TX) where we briefly received some internet signal - a quick refresh of the radar and it was one messy line of severe thunderstorms, the one we were nearest also tornado warned!
North of Sanderson (TX)
North of Sanderson (TX)
North of Sanderson (TX)
We drove west towards Marathon (TX) to (a) try and get a better view of the storms given the fact there are hills everywhere! and (b) to try and get around the western edge of this line such that we could head back north again should anything more discrete develop over New Mexico. Given the mess, we continued to head north and booked into a hotel in Fort Stockton (TX), but given it was still quite early in the evening (20:30 CDT) I refused to quit so early, thus we parked up outside Fort Stockton (TX) and tried to shoot some lightning from these storms that were to our southwest. Looking back through the set they make a pretty cool timelapse, so putting all 530 photos together (contains flashing images, naturally):

One of the lightning shots, taken from Fort Stockton (TX)

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 15
States visited: 9
Distance driven: 4,560 miles

Friday 23 May 2014

2014 Chase Day 11 - Carlsbad (NM) to Hobbs (NM)


Today was initially more of a position day for the weekend as the risk of severe weather had now shifted into the southern Plains of New Mexico and Texas. We drove south for 4 hours from our starting location in Rotan (NM) with an initial destination of Roswell (NM). En-route some decent convection was developing over the mountains to our west, but we carried on further south where instability was forecast to be better.

A few storms had fired off over the mountains to the southwest of Roswell (NM), so after a quick fuel stop we drifted west into Hope (NM) and sat for a while. Unfortunately these storms were just pulse-type and were dying fairly quickly. There were some other storms near the border of Texas and New Mexico around Eunice (NM), so we drifted back east and then south to Carlsbad (NM). It was at this point we were beginning to feel like it would be a bit of a bust day, so we had a search for some hotels online and booked a room in Hobbs (NM) knowing that with it being Memorial Weekend hotels would be busier and more expensive than usual.

A long-lasting storm was now approaching from south of the Texas border, with a trajectory just west of Carlsbad (NM). With not much else to play with at the time, we thought we'd park up in it's path and let it come over us. Thus we drove a short distance southwest to get into it's path in about 40 minutes time or so, when it suddenly became tornado warned! According to Spotter Network we were one of the only two spotters near this storm, so naturally we became rather excited. We parked up and let the storm slide northwards to our east, keeping a close eye on the base near the updraft for any possible rotation.

New updraft towers were rapidly growing all around us, while 2 new supercells were approaching from the west, and within 30-45mins or so all the cells had merged into one large MCS, producing very large hail in places. Thankfully we were positioned just west of the complex to avoid any severe weather, but as the storms merged and drifted northeast over Carlsbad (NM) they produced a lot of rain and surface flooding, accompanied by frequent lightning and probably some hail.

Our hotel was booked in Hobbs (NM) which was unfortunately the other side of this now line of storms, thus we had to effectively follow these storms all the way to Hobbs (NM). They were only moving at 30-40mph, so we parked up a couple of times to try and get some lightning shots as darkness fell, although annoyingly a broad area of precipitation on the back-edge of the storm meant that the majority of lightning was just flashes within the cloud rather than actual visible strokes.

Woke up several times overnight as multiple rounds of thunderstorms moved through the area, they appear to have been more severe to the west of us with Roswell (NM) recording the highest amount of rainfall to fall in a 24 hour period on record, at 111.5mm. Previous record was 110.2mm back in 1991.

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 14
States visited: 9
Distance driven: 4,189 miles

Thursday 22 May 2014

2014 Chase Day 10 - Bennett/Strasburg (CO) storm

Initially we had planned to drive 6-7 hours southwards, once we'd dropped Kerry off at Denver (CO) International Airport, to chase some storms in the Texas/New Mexico panhandle region which would also put us in the right place for the next few days of chasing. However, a closer look at various forecast models, including the SPC and local NWS office's discussions, suggested it may be worth hanging around near the Denver (CO) area for some afternoon storms that had a low (but non-zero) chance of tornadic potential.

Lunch was once again in McDonald's in Aurora (CO), while a few cells began to form over the Front Range and drift slowly northeastwards. Eager to get on a storm early today, rather than miss the fun as per yesterday, we drove southwards to Franktown (CO). By this point we could see a new storm developing to our northeast, strengthening on radar. We nudged a zig-zag north and east to try and get to the eastern side of the storm - but of course that meant driving through the downdraft at some point, which gave us a period of heavy rain and quite a bit of small hail. Suddenly our road became a dirt road too, which added to the fun of trying to drive on a hail-covered road.

Eventually we made it through to the northern side of the cell, but a new storm developing over Denver (CO) had suddenly become tornado-warned, heading for (once again just like yesterday) the International Airport. Our position now west of Bennett (CO) meant that we were sandwiched between the two cells - so we stayed put, with clear visuals of the bases of both storms in case any funnel decided to have a cheeky go at developing. We drifted a little further west towards Watkins (CO) to get a better view of the Denver cell, but it was weakening and looked less-impressive visually. Meanwhile the other cell now south of Byers (CO) started to look a little more promising with briefly some better structure. But it didn't last long, as multiple new cells were rapidly developing to the south and west of this main cell, and within no time they had all merged into a large MCS (mesoscale convective system), producing golf ball sized hail in places (and were ultimately severe warned for such).
Interesting lowering of the base of the Denver (CO) storm. Note also the vehicle in the foreground...
Meanwhile in the other direction, the Bennett (CO) storm base was getting interesting...
Mammatus on the Denver (CO) storm as it passed over the airport
Denver (CO) storm to the west
Strasburg (CO) storm as seen from Bennett (CO)
With this mess it became apparent that both (a) a tornado was looking increasingly unlikely and (b) we needed to escape sharpish or get into some very big hail as the storms approached from the south. On multiple occasions we were stuck in heavy rain and small hail, and were thankful that it didn't get any bigger. We decided to cut some of the journey time to New Mexico by doing some of the drive this evening while we still had a few hours spare, but unfortunately it meant driving through Denver (CO) right in the middle of rush hour, which wasn't ideal. Otherwise we had a relatively smooth journey south down the I-25, across the New Mexico border bringing our State tally to 9 now.

We're now staying the night in a Steve Western hotel in Raton (NM). Very comfy beds, could stay in these all day if we didn't have to chase again tomorrow!

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 13
States visited: 9
Distance driven: 3,619 miles

Wednesday 21 May 2014

2014 Chase Day 9 - Denver (CO) supercell

Today was forecast to exhibit the best potential for a tornado of the Chase thus far, primarily in northeast Colorado where moist upslope flow over the Rockies, coupled with the Denver Convergence Vorticity Zone (DCVZ) significantly increases the risk of tornadoes being spawned near and to the east/northeast of Denver (CO) from any well-organised supercells that happen to drift across the particular terrain in this part of Colorado.

Beginning in Cheyenne (WY) we drove for an hour or so southwards, stopping for some time in Greeley (CO) for lunch in a well-known fast food establishment. A cell had already formed to the southwest of Denver (CO), and was also severe-warned, but was not chaseable in it's current location since it's progged trajectory would take it through the Denver metroplex - not ideal chase territory.

We waited a while, but it became clear that if any storm was going to produce a tornado today it would be this one - the only problem being we were to the north of the cell, which was moving northeastwards, and the only way to get to the tornadic part of the storm (the southeast quadrant) involved a rather long-winded journey east and then south around the periphery of the storm - going down the western side would see us get slammed by large hail in the Rear Flank Downdraft (RFD). So we had a painfully slow journey east to Brush (CO) and then south to, ironically named, Last Chance (CO). During this journey we heard that 3 brief, rain-wrapped tornadoes had touched down in Denver (CO) from this supercell, along with copious amounts of hail at the airport, causing flight delays.
About as good as the supercell got - rotating wall cloud visible
We arrived at the storm as it was passing just north of Byers (CO), and within 20 minutes a well-defined, rotating wall cloud had developed in front of us. The inflow winds were insanely strong, never felt anything like it before. Unfortunately it failed to produce a tornado, and although we sat very close to the mesocyclone for another 2 hours, very slowly moving eastwards along the road (since the storm was moving at just 10-15mph), it failed to produce a tornado - it did, however, have several attempts at reforming the wall cloud. There were multiple chasers all along Highway 36, just a continuous stream of headlights visible parked on the side of the road, all watching the storm. Even Doppler on Wheels (DoW) turned up and decided to park in front of our vehicle.
Doppler on Wheels (DoW) parked in front of us
Gradually with time multiple new cells began to form to the south and southeast of our main supercell, all eventually merging into one long line of thunderstorms, which effectively killed our supercell's inflow as they moved at a faster pace to the northeast and into northwest Kansas. An early finish to the day, we decided to turn around and head for a hotel in Aurora (CO) ready to drop Kerry off at Denver International Airport tomorrow morning.

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 12
States visited: 8
Distance driven: 3,248 miles

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

Monday 19 May 2014

2014 Chase Day 7 - Bridgeport (NE) and Sidney (NE) to North Platte (NE)

Starting the day in Rapid City (SD), and knowing we had a good 5-hour drive south to get into position for today's storms, we had to quickly get ready to leave and aim towards an initial starting point of Scottsbluff (NE). Showers were already developing to our west over the Laramie range in eastern Wyoming, and drifting to the northeast, and although they looked structurally strong the surface air was too dry to sustain them, resulting in them eventually 'raining themselves out' and leaving mere anvil debris.

We grabbed some lunch in Scottsbluff (NE) - McDonald's of course - and refuelled before waiting on the side of the road just west of the town, hoping something might get a little better organised. In fact we waited for several hours, a new cell going up over Wyoming and drifting northeast towards us but weakening all the while. The general trend was for the cells to be tracking further south with each new one that developed, so we nudged eastwards and parked up north of Bridgeport (NE), alongside 4 or 5 other chase vehicles including a British group!
High-based convection northwest of Scottsbluff (NE)
Another long wait, and one of the high-based 'showers' started to produce a nice-looking meso, and after another 20-30mins a few flashes of lightning were observed. It was at this point that both this cell we were watching (S1) and a new one some way to our southwest (S2) both became severe-warned for hail and gusty winds. The southern cell (S2) by far looked the healthiest, so we decided to quickly drive south towards Sidney (NE) to get ahead of it. En-route we drove through the town of Bridgeport (NE) where S1 produced an amazing mothership-mesocyclone right over our heads! So close it was impossible to capture it all in shot...
S1 meso starting to form from a high-based supercell, rain curtains visible. Base of S2 also visible in distance on left.
Mothership mesocyclone overhead in Bridgeport (NE)
Panorama of overhead mesocyclone in Bridgeport (NE)
With S1 weakening on radar, we still favoured S2 and headed south, arriving in Sidney (NE) ahead of the storm. This enabled us to drive east ahead and more-or-less parallel with it, with S2 behind us and S1 still visible to our northeast. Some impressive structure was visible from S2, while S1 suddenly regained strength and became tornado-warned (radar indicated, no tornado was ever confirmed). Fancying our luck at chasing S1 again, we headed east to try and intersect it as it continued it's journey southeastwards towards the road we were on - we just need to get ahead of it, or face being slammed by large hail from either S1 or S2 given their close proximities.
Heading south to Sidney (NE), with S2 still to the west of the town
Heading south to Sidney (NE), with S2 still to the west of the town
S2 moving over Sidney, nice updraft and mesocyclone visible
As the evening drew in, lightning began to flash much more frequently, and reports starting coming in of golf and tennis ball sized hail from the Sidney (NE) storm. S1 weakened and we thought it'd be fun to park up somewhere and let the storm come over us, seeing as S2 was now heading too far southeast and effectively away from us. We headed for Sutherland (NE) but realised the storm was still too far north for the centre to pass overhead, so nudged a little further east to Hershey (NE) and then to North Platte (NE) where we parked in a hotel car park, booked a room, and sat in the car waiting for S1 to come overhead.

There was a nice gust front with outflow winds picking up significantly, bringing a lot of dust and general rubbish, but apart from a few flashes of lightning and a little bit of rain it was a fairly insignificant storm - I've seen more action in a British storm! Nevertheless, it was another great day of chasing, albeit a bit of a late start and anticlimax at the end. More chasing days to come hopefully...

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 10
States visited: 8
Distance driven: 2,382 miles

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

Saturday 17 May 2014

2014 Day 5 - Estes Park (CO) to Gillette (WY)

Today was a positioning day ahead of the first potential severe thunderstorms expected on Sunday. Having spent the night in the beautiful surroundings of the Rockies, a quick gym session and we were on our way northbound through Colorado and back into Wyoming. The route took us north parallel to the Rockies on our left, with ample convection developing over the higher terrain and drifting east towards us, albeit very high based. We witnessed a couple of heavy showers as these drifted over, the mountain peaks still covered in snow.
Nice anvil as a shower brews over the Rockies
Plenty of convective cloud atop snow-covered Rocky mountains 
Cheeky scud...
Not a lot to report about the rest of the 7-hour journey northwards, once we'd left the Laramie mountains behind the cumulus field became very broken with sunny spells to end the day. We did stop at Douglas (WY) McDonald's, taking our tally up to 8, and enjoyed another steak at Applebee's in Gillette (WY) in the evening (while once again being asked to pay for the bill before we'd finished eating?! Turns out this is to ensure Applebee's get their money in case the customer has to 'leave in an emergency').

Frustratingly one of the upslope-flow showers in southeast Wyoming became organised enough to warrant a severe thunderstorm warning for gusty winds and hail just south and west of Cheyenne (WY).  With this being many hours to our south there was no way we could chase it, and in the end the storm didn't last very long as soon dissipated as it crossed into Colorado, albeit leaving a carpet of hail over some locations.

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 8
States visited: 5
Distance driven: 1460 miles

Friday 16 May 2014

2014 Day 4 - Cheyenne (WY) to Estes Park (CO)

Time is flying past and still not one single thunderstorm to be witnessed. Since we were in Cheyenne (WY), after a cheeky gym session I contacted Don Day (chief meteorologist for Red Bull Stratos and owner of DayWeather Inc) to ask if we could visit the DayWeather office to see how a similar size privately-owned weather company compared with Weatherquest back in the U.K. I'd met Don previously when he gave a talk to the East Anglia Centre of the Royal Meteorological Society back in November 2013 about the Red Bull Stratos mission, and as ever he was incredibly friendly and welcoming.

DayWeather is based in an old airport control tower overlooking Cheyenne Regional Airport - the new control tower being located on the opposite side of the runway, and a couple of storeys taller. Nevertheless, the old tower gives 360 degree views across southeast Wyoming, stretching to up to 60 miles away - perfect for a weather forecasting office! The tower has several floors of office space, including sound-proofed high-tech radio broadcasting booths. It was a really interesting insight into how a similar-sized company operates on the other side of the pond. I took away some notes of things we could perhaps implement at Weatherquest, and hopefully we'll be able to return the favour to Don and the gang.

Next we headed south back into Oklahoma to Estes Park (CO) where we'd plan to spend the night in the surroundings of the Rocky Mountains. The road from Loveland (CO) to Estes Park (CO) takes you through a river valley in the Rockies, with steep mountain sides on either side of the road. The scenery, however, was spectacular, and made a welcome change to the rather flat, open Plains that we had seen so much of thus far. Snow-cover summits became visible as we pulled into McDonald's (it'd be rude not to!) in Estes Park (CO).
Man meets nature in the Rockies at Estes Park (CO)
Some sunshine makes all the difference!
After chilling in the hotel, we walked down into the centre of town and had a couple of beers in one of the local bars; a great atmosphere with very friendly people always happy to talk to you and interested in what brings us to the area.

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 7
States visited: 5

Thursday 15 May 2014

2014 Day 3 - Hays (KS) to Cheyenne (WY)

Another non-active day weather-wise, so we decided to head farther northwest to get into position for *hopefully* something worth chasing on Sunday. Driving west along the I-70 from Hays (KS) after what was a chilly start with temperatures down to 4C (39F), we paid a visit to McDonald's in Colby (KS) to make good use of their $1 drink offer once more, before continuing across the border into Colorado. By this stage there were signs of snow patches on south-facing slopes either side of the Interstate, and some of the patches looked surprisingly deep.
Patches of reasonably deep lying snow over the high plains of CO and WY
We continued to wind our way west, then north, through Greeley (CO) with the destination aim of Cheyenne (WY). A quick visit to use the free Wifi in McDonald's at Eaton (CO) (and purchase another drink) we eventually arrived in Cheyenne (WY) by evening. The route north of Nunn (CO) and across the CO/WY border reveals some fantastic scenery with the Rockies to the west, with patches of snow all over, again some reasonably deep. Another juicy steak was enjoyed at a nearby Applebee's in the evening, although I am intrigued as to why they are so insistent on giving you the bill before you've even finished eating your meal?!

Fun fact of the day: We're currently higher than Ben Nevis - Cheyenne is ~1,800m ASL, Ben Nevis being a mere 1,344m.

Weather-wise, each day has produced numerous high-based showers, but nothing spectacular, due to a lot of cool, dry air at the surface. It is hoped that as the upper pattern changes over the weekend, the upper ridge will shift a little further east allowing the mean flow to back to the southwest, advecting warmer and ultimately more moist air across the northern Plains. This coupled with any shortwaves in westerly flow aloft could allow isolated severe storms to develop across western Nebraska/eastern Wyoming/South Dakota on Sunday afternoon and evening. It looks like a case of waiting patiently for the cap to be eroded locally...

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 5
States visited: 5

Wednesday 14 May 2014

2014 Day 2 - Irving (TX) to Hays (KS)

Woke early on Day 2, and checked to see if it was worth driving a long way east to play with a rather messy cold front. In the end decided it wasn't, so instead we spent the morning in Irving (TX) setting up the chase vehicle with in-car internet (using both Verizon 4G and AT&T 3G) and buying some snacking provisions for the journey.
Storm Chase 2014 (L-R): Myself, Kerry and Chris
After lunch we headed north for a 9 hour drive on the I-35 through Oklahoma and into Kansas, then on the I-135 and I-70, finally ending the day in Hays (KS), arriving at 9pm. Some very high-based showers produced a few spots of rain on the windscreen, with some nice rain curtains and virga visible over parts of Kansas as the sun began to set in the evening.
Decaying shower behind a wind farm in Kansas (taken on iPhone while travelling at 65+mph)
We did stop at two McDonald's en-route, but only to take advantage of their $1 for just under 1 litre of Coca Cola deal, taking our 2014 tally to 3 now, but with the proviso that we only purchased beverages. After checking-in at a hotel, we enjoyed a nice, juicy steak at a neighbouring Applebee's. All-in-all a relatively quiet day given the rather unexciting weather pattern currently over the Plains.

STORM CHASE 2014 STATS thus far
McDonald's tally: 3
States visited: 3

Tuesday 13 May 2014

2014 Day 1 - LHR to DFW via ATL

Myself and Chris were treated to a couple of rumbles of thunder from a weak lunchtime thunderstorm over Norwich on Monday (12th), and a cheeky couple of flashes of lightning as our coach to Heathrow drove along the northern portion of the M25 - a good start to the trip perhaps?

Much of Day 1, understandably, was spent travelling to Dallas Fort Worth airport, stopping at Atlanta en-route and changing planes. The whole process was reasonably easy, including the ESTA visa waiver verification which is now largely electronic-based. Flying with Delta for the first time, was very impressed with service and large range of films available to watch etc; was a little more nervous about peanuts being handed out mind you!
Our plane was a little late leaving Atlanta, for unspecified reasons, but we landed in Dallas only about 10 minutes later than scheduled. A quick hop on the airport shuttle to the Car Rental lobby and in no time we were the owners, or hirers, of a blue Hyundai Tucson. Meanwhile some very elevated convection gave a few spots of light rain, and a mammatus show.

Keen to sort out some in-car internet in case we needed to chase eastwards early on Wednesday, we tried to find a nearby Verizon store to buy/activate a Mifi unit - but as usual the Dallas roads lead us round in circles, although there are notably fewer road works compared to the past few years, but it is still as equally confusing to navigate around the metroplex!

We managed to find a Verizon store literally as they were closing, and after pleading they were incredibly helpful in sorting out a Jetpack in 30 minutes, with a reasonable data plan. Deciding to start the storm chase as we mean to go on, we popped into the McDonald's opposite to add one to the 2014 branch tally. 2013 ended with a tally of 19 different branches in 21 days, so it'll be interesting to see how 2014 pans out...

McDonald's Chase 2014 tally up to 1 by the end of Day 1