Thursday 11 June 2015

Day 15 - Southern Nebraska

With a lack of flow aloft, despite favourable backed surface winds, today always looked a bit messy with disorganised convection - hence the debate on whether to drive all the way back to Nebraska just of a messy chase day. Nonetheless, we came here to chase so chase is what we shall do, regardless of setup!

A long drive from Fort Collins (CO) to our target at North Platte (NE), through persistent rain and a cool 17C. We grabbed some lunch in Sidney (NE) which was THE most disappointing McDonalds of my four years chasing in the plains - undercooked fries, food cold, very slow service and numerous flies near the food preparation area. Anyway, I digress - thunderstorms had already initiated near North Platte (NE) before we arrived there, and given their slow motion there was a significant risk of flooding in the area.

Storms quickly grew upscale into a general large cluster across a good portion of central Nebraska, and began to race eastwards at a much quicker pace. We headed east with them, occasionally parking up and letting strong cores to move overhead with hail and strong outflow winds, ending the day at Grand Island (NE). Had hoped to go out once the storms had passed to shoot some lightning at night, but sadly they lost their lightning activity and left just a general area of persistent rain over us.
10 June 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map

2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 16
Applebee's tally: 12
Distance driven: 6,858 miles
States visited: 8

Tuesday 9 June 2015

Day 14 - Position Day (NM to CO)

TUE 09 JUNE 2015

Treated today as a position day ready for our last chance at severe weather tomorrow (Wednesday) in Nebraska and/or Kansas. Long slog north from Albuquerque (NM) with the primary aim of Cheyenne (WY), but turns out all the hotels are fully booked there (presumably some event on) so we've stopped at Fort Collins (CO) instead.

Not much to report weather-wise, the usual thunderstorms over the Rockies to our west on our journey north gave some CG lightning, making it 15 consecutive days of lightning visible (i.e. every single day of the trip thus far). Let's hope that trend continues!
Pileus cap on convection in New Mexico
Altocumulus waves above the Golden Arches at Raton (NM)
09 June 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map
2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 15
Applebee's tally: 11
Distance driven: 6,364 miles
States visited: 8

Day 13 - New Mexico

MON 08 JUNE 2015

As the weather starts to wind down towards the end of our trip, expectations of any significant severe thunderstorms are quite low. There was a risk of marginally-severe thunderstorms in New Mexico today, as upslope flow generated thunderstorms which then moved SEwards across the eastern Plains of NM. Main threats were hail and gusty winds.

Starting the day in Colorado Springs (CO) we headed south down I-25, grabbed some lunch in Raton (NM) and then inadvertently core-punched a slow-moving intense thunderstorm just north of Wagon Mound (NM). This storm dropped copious amounts of hail, some pieces up to 3cm in diameter, to a depth of several inches. Consequently, traffic became almost stationary, some cars had slid down the side banks while others were stranded in the middle of the carriageway, struggling to grip/move. With the temperature having fallen from 24C prior to just 7C, hail fog began to form adding difficulty to the driving. I believe after we'd passed through ploughs were then sent out to clear the hail on the road.
Thunderstorm as seen from Watrous (NM) looking ENE
Copious amounts of hail on I-25 north of Wagon Mound (NM)

Copious amounts of hail on I-25 north of Wagon Mound (NM)
We followed this storm southeastwards towards Tucumcari (NM), albeit with road options rather sparse and mobile internet signal (for radar data) non-existent in rural New Mexico. It developed a nice gust front, and continued to drop a lot of hail. Eventually we left the storm to drive to Albuquerque (NM) where we had already booked a hotel for the night, and were greeted on arrival by a nice sunset...
Sunset in Albuquerque (NM) 
08 June 2015 Route Map (GPS failed so had to do it by hand!)
2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 14
Applebee's tally: 10
Distance driven: 5,842 miles
States visited: 8

Monday 8 June 2015

Day 12 - Eastern Colorado Part III

SUN 07 JUNE 2015

Another day in Eastern Colorado, albeit much quieter. Lunch stop was in Limon (CO) where we met up with Claire Hudson for a while in the afternoon. Being in the post-frontal environment, with the cold front now straddling the OK panhandle/SW KS into NM, severe thunderstorms were always going to be marginal, and in the end any storms that did develop were largely sub-severe. 

We knew we had to be in NM tomorrow, so chose a cluster of storms leaving the Rockies between Pueblo (CO) and Colorado Springs (CO) and drove farther south to get into it's path and let it come over us. We parked up in Kit Carson (CO) and watched the storm approaching - sadly the main core slid to our south, but it had a nice gust front for a time, and then the outflow winds started to pick up quite a bit of dust. A little bit of lightning and some light rain, and it had all cleared eastwards to leave a nice double rainbow as the sun came back out.
Gust front approaches Kit Carson (CO)
Double rainbow appeared as thunderstorm cleared to the east of Kit Carson (CO)
Now spending the night in Colorado Springs (CO) with the aim to head south into NM tomorrow. Debating whether to try Nebraska on Wednesday, considering we need to be back in Oklahoma to fly home on Friday morning. Else not much going on apart from a few sub-severe storms maybe. Chances of catching a tornado this year are looking pretty slim right now...
07 June 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map
2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 13
Applebee's tally: 9
Distance driven: 5,339 miles
States visited: 8

Sunday 7 June 2015

Day 11 - Eastern Colorado Part II

SAT 06 JUNE 2015

A lot of chasers were heading for Nebraska today as the far northeast corner had a 10% hatched (ie significant) risk of tornadoes, and indeed all the indices looked favourable - was very tempted to head that way too, but knew we had to be in Colorado again on Sunday so didn't want another very long drive to disappointment - and indeed, it turned out it would've been a massive disappointment as hardly any tornadoes occurred there!

Meanwhile we drove west from our overnight stay in Burlington (CO) with the aim to grab some lunch and refuel in Bennett (CO). Some showers kicked off over the Rockies and drifted ENE'ward across the Palmer Divide, so we nudged a little farther south to Kiowa to see if anything would develop. At this time they were just a few thundery showers, so we headed back north again to follow a thunderstorm near Denver airport. It had a wall cloud, but soon weakened.

By this point it was mid afternoon, and we began to wonder if anything interesting might develop today - half tempted to book into a hotel early. However, the first line of showers we had initially 'chased' near Kiowa (CO) rapidly organised itself into a discrete supercell to the NE of Limon (CO), and shortly after became tornado-warned. There was one report of a brief rope tornado, but am yet to see any evidence to prove this.

We had to race eastwards to get ahead of this supercell which was shunting east at a good 40mph, road options were limited so it involved some dirt roads at times too, but we managed to get ahead of the storm and remain ahead with good team work between driving/navigating and keeping an eye on radar trends. The storm tried to form a funnel cloud at one point, and as the storm neared Burlington (CO) it began to form some incredible structure with a rotating mesocyclone, but was also becoming very outflow dominant. We headed to Kanorado (KS) and stopped to observe a stunning gust front beneath the tight rotating mesocyclone. Shortly after it rapidly began to weaken as it merged with storms approaching from the south west.
Funnel cloud forming for a time to the north of Bethune (CO)
Supercell just to the north of Burlington (CO)
Outflow-dominant rotating mesocyclone approaching Kanorado (KS)
Just when we were about to give up for the day we were treated to a spectacular display! Sadly no tornado, but the structure was worth the chase...
06 June 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map
2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 12
Applebee's tally: 8
Distance driven: 4,995 miles
States visited: 8

Saturday 6 June 2015

Day 10 - Eastern Colorado

FRI 05 JUNE 2015

What a frustrating day! We began in Hays (KS) and had to drive a good 250 miles to get into position in Colorado. Initially our target was Limon (CO), and we arrived in good time around midday, parked up under a sheet of stratus at 500ft with drizzle - thinking it'd be a while before anything developed due to the extensive low cloud and low temperatures (16C with a dewpoint of 15C etc, so very moist). But no sooner had we parked up than a tornado-producing supercell had developed over the Palmer Divide, so we raced northwest towards Strasburg/Bennett (CO) and dipped south to get onto this storm.

It had by this point produced a brief tornado, but just left a rotating wall cloud embedded within this thick stratus. It also felt very cold outside, very odd for storm chasing as usually storms need a good warm, moist inflow to sustain them. The first supercell rapidly died, but another developed to its south so we waited and watched this one develop a rotating wall cloud - but failed to produce. A third supercell develop to the south, so we headed towards this and followed it for a while - but again it failed to produce.
Rotating, low wall cloud of the second storm, south of Bennett (CO)
By this point storms were firing in eastern Colorado to the southeast of Limon (CO) in 27C air, not this cold 16C we were in, so we ditched the first storms and headed southeast after the second batch in what should be a more favourable environment. We refuelled and grabbed a quick bite to eat in Limon (CO), before heading east to chase these storms. It was once again very messy, the circulations on radar were embedded within rain and so it was hard to tell exactly where to head/look. We chased for several hours, saw some rotating wall cloud at times, but it was just too difficult to get close to the circulations to get a better look without being too close.

Three tornadoes were captured by other chasers, who in my opinion probably were too close at times given the very messy setup. The storms began to line out, as usual, so we ditched the line knowing the tornado risk would rapidly decrease, and headed north to a lone storm that had a tornado warning near Eckley (CO). It had a very strong inflow, but at 16C still it failed to produce an actual tornado. We waited a while, and then noticed the road we had parked on was 'County Road Y', or, as the sign abbreviated it to, 'CR Y'. We found it rather amusing given the incredibly frustrating day we had just experienced, driving 643 miles and not seeing very much! Grr. Onwards and upwards I guess... On the flip side, there were plenty of other chasers, including tour groups who do this constantly every year during storm season, who didn't see anything either so in some ways it's reassuring it wasn't just us!
Inadvertently parked next to this sign near Eckley (CO), which happened to state exactly how we felt! Cheeky bit of lightning in the corner too...
05 June 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map
2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 11
Applebee's tally: 8
Distance driven: 4,525 miles
States visited: 8

Friday 5 June 2015

Day 9 - Kansas

THU 04 JUNE 2015

Wrong decision today - we started at Castle Rock (CO) next to the Palmer Divide where a couple of supercells were likely to develop in the afternoon/evening with perhaps a tornado. However, conditions looked much more favourable for tornadoes in northern Kansas/southern Nebraska with better backed surface winds and an old boundary; so we drove for hours eastwards to get into Kansas. En-route a couple of supercells developed in eastern Colorado, both became tornado warned and the southern one, just southwest of Limon, produced 8 spectacular tornadoes, including an anticyclonic one.

However, these were a good 3 hour drive back to the west and all we could do is sit in the sunny skies in Kansas (the atmosphere was very capped despite there being 4,000 J/kg CAPE) and hope something might develop (while feeling increasingly disappointed that we'd missed out on some spectacular tornadoes not far from where we had stayed the previous night).

This is what 4,000 J/kg CAPE (convective available potential energy) looks like when capped, and 2 hours later with the cap eroded = explosive development!

Stopping in Hoxie (KS) a nice cumulus tower started going up to our south, and very quickly become a significant thunderstorm. Since it looked nice visibly, we decided we'd commit to this one, and drove south to get closer. It became tornado-warned, and had a very high-based wall cloud at times, but sadly never produced a tornado. Meanwhile another discrete low-precipitation (LP) supercell to our northwest had some stunning structure, was also tornado-warned but to my knowledge also failed to produce.
Severe thunderstorm (became tornado-warned) near Utica (KS)
Mesocyclone visible associated with the Utica (KS) severe thunderstorm
Yes we saw some nice thunderstorms, and a lot of lightning come the evening hours, but couldn't help feeling disappointed and kicking myself for not staying in eastern Colorado and missing out on those tornadoes - still, you live and learn! Tomorrow (Friday) the tornado risk is mainly in eastern Colorado again, and chances are every chaser and their cat will be there so fully expect the roads to be very busy with chasers in the Palmer Divide vicinity...
04 June 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map
2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 10
Applebee's tally: 8
Distance driven: 3,882 miles
States visited: 8

Thursday 4 June 2015

Day 8 - Palmer Divide

WED 03 JUNE 2015

First we had to get our chase vehicle checked over by the rental company to ensure it was roadworthy, after the deer-induced damage from last night. They said as long as the headlights were working properly then the car should be fine to drive. We aim to get the car replaced at Denver airport at some point, but for now it is driveable and we have storms to chase!

We left Nebraska to drive back into colourful Colorado - a quick bite to eat in Fort Morgan (CO), and then nudged south to Keenesburg (CO) where we sat for a good hour or two waiting for initiation. Easterly upslope flow over the Rockies would then develop a few thunderstorms, which as they moved farther east and across the Plains were expected to turn severe, with a fairly high tornado chance expected also.

A few showers/storms attempted to form, but collapsed back down again several times, before one near Castle Rock (CO) began to be much better organised and long-lasting, and soon became severe warned. We decided to give this one a go, albeit some 60min drive away, but we got there in good time. En-route a new cell had developed to the west of the original one, but given the fairly rain-free bases we positioned ourselves to be sat between the two cells to keep an eye on both bases.
A rather outflow-dominant severe thunderstorm behind a church near Franktown (CO)
The first supercell weakened very quickly as it drifted east towards Limon (CO), while the second supercell started to become very outflow dominant. Still, we stuck with this one as it was literally the only severe warned storm for at least 100miles around, if not more. It did get better organised as it moved between Franktown (CO) and Elizabeth (CO), with a visibly rotating wall cloud, but eventually died a very rapid death in roughly the same place as the first supercell - presumably moving into an environment where there was more capping.

All in all a bit of a disappointing day, not just for us but for most chasers that were out and about in Wyoming and Colorado, given the environment something didn't quite play ball and there were very few supercells to chase.
03 June 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map
2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 9
Applebee's tally: 7
Distance driven: 3,367 miles
States visited: 7

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Day 7 - Nebraska panhandle

TUE 02 JUNE 2015

Difficult picking a location today due to a rather broad area at risk of severe thunderstorms - the best chance for a tornado would be up in North Dakota where low level winds are most backed. However, we need to be in Colorado for tomorrow's higher risk of tornadoes, and so ND wasn't really a viable option to get back to CO in time. Western Nebraska showed promise of developing thunderstorms, albeit with a lower tornado risk.

So we drove south from our overnight stay in Rapid City (SD) and grabbed some lunch/refuelled in Chadron (NE). Storms were yet to initiate, so we parked off the road to watch the cumulus on the western horizon begin to tower. A couple of storms in Wyoming were now becoming severe warned for large hail and strong winds, heading in our general direction, while more cells began to develop just to our west in Nebraska. We drove towards them, some developing supercell characteristics at times, but eventually all these storms merged into one large cluster of severe thunderstorms.

Severe thunderstorm near Marsland (NE). The turquoisey green colour is indicative of a lot of large hail...
Sitting to the south of these storms and looking north, a lot of 'greenage' was visible indicating the presence of large hail. They became outflow dominant, with a gust front racing out in front of this cluster, picking up a lot of dust. We continued to drive south and eastwards ahead of this cluster, attempted to intercept a lone supercell south of Gordon (NE) but this quickly became engulfed by the large thunderstorm cluster rapidly moving in from the west.
iPhone pano of the outflow from the severe thunderstorm near Marsland (NE)
We reluctantly gave up chasing these storms to make the 2 hour drive to North Platte (NE) where we had booked a hotel for the night. En-route, a couple of discrete supercells had developed in the southwestern panhandle, so we made a slight detour west to get a little closer and watch the frequent lightning flashing away as the sun set in the background.

Then began the fun... as we drove back towards North Platte (NE) a deer decided to run across the road as we drove past - slamming into the front driver's side of the vehicle and causing some damage to the car. I was a bit shaken up, pulled over immediately to assess the damage (see photo below), albeit hard to do in the dark. The car looked driveable, and we still had 80miles to go until our hotel, so I drove slowly back to the hotel and gradually calmed down. Will have to assess the damage in the morning and probably get our 3rd hire vehicle of this chase at some point... (and rather ironically, the only tornado reported was indeed in North Dakota near the town of Killdeer - what are the chances of that...?!)

Our deer-damaged Dodge Durango...
02 June 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map
2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 8
Applebee's tally: 6
Distance driven: 2,868 miles
States visited: 7

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Day 6 - South Dakota

MON 01 JUNE 2015

Definitely the best day of the whole chase thus far! After some lunch in Gillette (WY) we could see some convection forming close to the South Dakota border, so we nudged a little farther east to Spearfish (SD) with some reasonable road options. The scenery is stunning in this part of the world, lots tree-covered hills and dips - but not ideal chase terrain. En-route one of our mifi units said that it had run out of mobile internet data - rather strange seeing as we only purchased it just 4 days prior. So we stopped at the Verizon store in Spearfish (SD) and spent an hour in there sorting it out.

However, nothing much was happening weather-wise by the time we left the store, so in some respects it served as a time filler while we waited for storm initiation. By this time (4pm) there was a lone storm north of Rapid City (SD) pulsing as it formed over the Black Hills and ran off to the east, collapsing only for another cell to develop over the same area and out to the east etc. From our vantage point in Spearfish (SD) it had a nicely-formed updraft and was the only bit of convection with a reasonably low base - a few other showers had formed, but were 'raining themselves out'.

We decided to head south on I-90 towards this storm, which subsequently became severe warned for large hail. The core of this storm was right over and just to the east of the interstate, so we pulled over before reaching it to assess what to do next - technically we were on the wrong side of the storm (the northern side) and needed to get through into the inflow portion of the storm to have the best seat if any tornado were to be produced. At this moment the sun came out and an incredibly bright rainbow formed right in front of us, lasting for a prolonged period of time.

Double rainbow near Piedmont (SD) with rain/hail curtains behind
Anyway, we eventually core-punched the cell and luckily only experienced some small bits of hail and heavy rain, but by this point this storm was becoming much better organised with a mesocyclone forming - the birth of a supercell. We pulled over just on the northern fringes of Blackhawk and there we sat for ages watching the rotating mesocyclone, since the storm was hardly moving. This also meant that areas directly underneath the storm received a lot of rain with attendant flood risk, and reports of baseball to tennis ball sized hail.

Short timelapse of the rotating mesocyclone close to Blackhawk (SD) 

The mesoscyclone tried numerous attempts to form wall clouds, but alas failed to produce a tornado (which was always a low risk today anyway). There was a lot of chaser convergence with this storm, but on the whole everyone played well as we shifted slightly further south once the storm started to make a little progress farther south. Eventually the storm started to split in the evening, and then line-out, losing it's supercell characteristics and then rather quickly died a death, with the main active thunderstorms running off well to the east of Rapid City (SD). Soon after we booked into a hotel in Rapid City (SD) which means a drive to the east Tuesday morning to get into position...

Rotating mesocyclone close to Blackhawk (SD) 
Chaser convergence just south of Blackhawk (SD) [Photo courtesy of Nick Parnell]
01 June 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map
2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 7
Applebee's tally: 6
Distance driven: 2,420 miles
States visited: 6

Monday 1 June 2015

Day 6 - Northern Plains!

MON 01 JUNE 2015

Had a little play with some non-severe storms in eastern Colorado yesterday (Sunday), they were very outflow dominant (temp dropped from 27C to 13C) with a nice gust front kicking up dust, and a lot of rain but not much hail. We chased the line of storms down to Limon (CO), parked up and let it come over us - if nothing else, it cleaned the numerous bug smears on our windscreen!

Outflow-dominant thunderstorm approaching Limon (CO) [Photo courtesy of Nick Parnell]
Sunset by the Rockies [Photo courtesy of Nick Parnell]
Given the storms were moving into a more favourable area for tornadic development, albeit very small, we were torn as to whether to continue chasing them, or start heading back north to get into better position for Monday's risk. Looking at how outflow dominant they were, we eventually decided to ditch the storms and head north back past Denver (CO) to spend the night in Cheyenne (WY).

So here we are Monday morning up earlier than any of the days so far, to drive 4 hours northwards to Gillette (WY) where we plan to have lunch and assess how things are shaping up. Chance for supercells with large hail and gusty winds, and perhaps a tornado, across the far NE of Wyoming and across into the Dakotas during this afternoon and evening.

Tuesday and Wednesday looking even more promising at the moment, so here's hoping for a few active days coming up! So far we've witnessed a thunderstorm every single day of the trip....

31 May 2015 GPS Tracker Route Map

2015 STORM CHASE stats thus far:
McDonald's tally: 6
Applebee's tally: 5
Distance driven: 1,991 miles
States visited: 5