Thursday 31 May 2018

Day 5 - Travel Day

THU 31 MAY 2018

Nothing much to report for today, as we headed north from Woodward (OK) to North Platte (NE) to get into position for the potential round of storms on Day 6 in Nebraska. En-route we picked up Berni King in Hays (KS) who will be chasing with us for the next 2 weeks.
SPC Forecast
SPC Tornado Probability Forecast
The weather throughout the drive was hot and sunny with very little cloud at all, increasing amounts of cirrus visible as we approached North Platte in the evening. Fingers crossed for an active day of weather tomorrow!
GPS tracker

Day 4 - Texas Panhandle

WED 30 MAY 2018

We headed west from our hotel in Woodward (OK) to Boise City (OK), via lunch at Guymon (OK). Storms were beginning to fire over the high ground in Colorado and New Mexico, slowly drifting east towards us. We waited a bit, then nudged south to Felt (OK) to watch developments.
SPC Forecast
SPC Tornado Probability Forecast
Our location (blue circle) near Felt, watching a line of storms approaching from the west
We had good views of the bases of 3 separate thunderstorms, the southern two eventually became severe-warned. The storms began to form a line, rather than anything discrete, and we tracked them for several hours eastwards as they continued to intensify, favouring the southern cell as it had both the best look on radar but also theoretically the best availability to warm, moist air to feed on as there were no other cells south of it to compete with.
Multiple rotating updrafts were visible near Conlen (TX)
As the storm was near Stratford (TX), it developed some notably low cloud bases, but this soon lifted leaving some stunning structure which you'd need to be many miles away to be able to capture it in one shot (rather than underneath it as we were). This storm had reportedly tipped over a semi lorry and snapped some power poles due to the strong winds on the rear side of the mesocyclone, while producing some very large hail too.
Lowering cloud base looking north from east of Stratford (TX)

Greenage! Usually an indication of large hail
Big storm following us southeastwards
iPhone pano looking north to the east of Spearman (TX), once I'd managed to get rid of mosquitoes having a feeding frenzy!
We'd now booked a hotel in Woodward for the night once again, but then had an issue trying to keep ahead of the storm due to the road network. I'd managed to work out if we could get to Hollis (OK) before the storm we should be able to reach our hotel before the storm ploughed through town - however, it was going to be an incredibly close call as to whether we'd be able to beat the storm, and as we approached the outskirts of Hollis we had to park up and let it pass in front of us to avoid our vehicle getting wrecked from large hail.
Our position (blue circle) relative to the hail core, which was moving ESE-wards
Once it had passed we then tried to find some hail in Hollis - there were a few tree branches down in the road, and quite a bit of leaf shredding from hail impacting trees, but the largest hail we could find in a quick search through the grassy verge as it poured with rain was 1.16 inches in diameter (nearly 3cm). We finally made it to Woodward after midnight, very tired, and arrived at our hotel a few minutes before a new thunderstorm rolled in.
GPS tracker

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Day 3 - NW Oklahoma

TUE 29 MAY 2018

Long drive this morning from our hotel in Goodland (KS) - where we had been woken a couple of times during the night as several thunderstorms passed over the area - to our lunch target of Dodge City (KS). Up until this point an old outflow boundary had been sitting close to the Kansas / Oklahoma border, and a couple of thunderstorms had tried to develop along this boundary, lifting to the northeast.
SPC Forecast
SPC Tornado Probability Forecast
Phone pic of a thunderstorm developing near Buffalo (OK)
We continued to head south into Oklahoma, and parked up just outside Buffalo (OK) watching a thunderstorm slowly developing to our north. It was hot: 91F.
Having looked at various observations, we noted how things had improved at Dodge City - in fact the local weather office also pointed out that it appeared the OFB may have passed through Dodge City since their winds had swung back round to the SE. A couple of supercells began to form north and west of Dodge City, and had a nice hook on radar too - I started getting twitchy, contemplating heading back north where conditions were likely just as favourable for tornadoes. (In hindsight, we should've stayed in Dodge City as there were tornadoes from several supercells near there)

But, we'd committed (as had a lot of other chasers) to this storm near Buffalo and watched it gradually evolve into a high precipitation beast. We met up with Dave Ewoldt and chased in convoy for the following 4 hours or so, working southeastwards through Freedom (OK) to Waynoka (OK). Several times this storm had a low, rotating base, there was a report of a brief rope tornado east of Waynoka, but we couldn't see it amongst the wall of rain/hail. Tennis ball sized hail was reported with this storm at times. Some damage occurred in Waynoka, but more likely strong winds on the back side of the mesocyclone than from the brief tornado itself.
Looking north near Buffalo (OK)
Looking north near Waynoka (OK), around the time a brief rope tornado was reported
Tornado warning (red polygon) issued for Waynoka (OK). Our GPS position blue marker
The storm started to weaken so we left it to head back west to Woodward (OK) where we'd booked a hotel for the night. A new thunderstorm developed over Mooreland (OK) and became severe-warned as we approached. We core punched, a lot of rain and hail (reports of 1 inch hail) and a lot of surface water in the town, but it dried up as the sun was setting on approach to Woodward.
Core punching a hail core over Mooreland (OK). Our GPS position blue marker, as we drove E to W through it
GPS route tracker

Monday 28 May 2018

Day 2 - Colorado Landspouts

MON 28 MAY 2018

Two potential targets today - somewhere near WaKeeney (KS), and points south along the dryline in Kansas, or Palmer Divide and points to the northeast in NE Colorado. SPC had a broad 5% tornado risk in the morning, but we opted to head for Limon (CO) and play the Colorado target primarily because of the visible outflow boundary over NW Kansas that was slowly creeping into eastern Colorado, and the fact that at the time the HRRR model had been consistent on developing a couple of supercells near the Palmer Divide.
SPC Forecast
SPC Tornado Probability Forecast
As we left our hotel in Goodland (KS) the SPC increase the tornado risk to 10% over NE Colorado, strengthening our decision to go east was the right one - was still slightly torn to hang back and head southwest in Kansas. On our drive into Colorado we encountered thick stratus, and much lower temps  (nearer 16-18C, a bit chilly considering it was 35C the day before!). Plenty of moisture available then, but would there be sufficient cloud breaks to allow heating and therefore thunderstorms to develop?

I started getting doubts about whether we'd made the right decision, and noticed each new run of the HRRR model was backing off the idea of anything developing over the Palmer Divide. We eventually made it to Limon to refuel, but then headed back east in the direction we'd come from to Bovina (CO), where we parked up for a bit. We had driven quite a bit westwards so was essentially committed to whatever developed in Colorado, rather than heading back and chasing in Kansas.

Clouds continued to break, and convection began to fire along and north of the outflow boundary, visible as a broken line of developing cumulus. Paul Knightley and Helen Rossington joined us for a bit and we observed how much shear was notable in the cloud structures. A thunderstorms was gradually developing to our north, so we nudged east to Stratton (CO), then north towards Kirk (CO), giving us an option to head west towards a now severe-warned thunderstorm near Cope (CO), or east to another thunderstorm near St Francis (KS), just over the State border.
Phone pic of convection beginning to develop to our north, from Bovina (CO)
Numerous reports of landspout tornadoes started coming out from an updraft base north of Flagler (CO), to our west, that was yet to produce any precipitation on radar! We opted to head west towards this developing storm, but by now we had lost mobile data coverage, and so began a 2 hour chase in the dark using just visual clues in the clouds to determine where to drive to.

As we approached Cope (CO) I could see a beautiful landspout to our south, sadly we couldn't stop for photos, but once we did stop a few minutes later there were 2 landspouts on the ground. This storm continued to produce multiple landspouts, and we lost count - we think we saw 4.
Twin landspouts north of Flagler (CO), as seen looking south from near Cope (CO)
While we had been watching this storm way to our south, a second area of rotation was approaching us from the west. It was a big rain monster, very dark and very menacing. Lots of lightning within the wall of rain to our west, and within the rain we could just make out a cone-shaped tornado, but blink and you missed it because it was soon engulfed in rain.
Phone pic of the rain monster approaching from the west
By now this thunderstorm was fast approaching us, pea-sized hail and rain started to fall, some the hail began to get bigger, so we headed back east to re-position a couple of times, to observe the fast motion in the clouds, and areas of rotation. Another tornado formed, this time a rope, and extended down to the ground. We were getting pummelled by rain and hail coming in horizontally in strong winds, but had to watch this tornado as it moved across a field right next to us, less than 100 metres away! Impossible to take photos because of how much rain was falling onto the camera lens etc, but we could see dust debris being picked up around the base of this weak tornado - eventually it dissipated and we dashed east to get out of the core of this storm. The closest I've ever been to a tornado, and it was awesome!
Rope tornado eventually drifts across the field right next to us, picking up dust debris  - near Cope (CO)
So ends our tornado count for the day - at 6 - as we nudged east and then south to keep ahead of this developing line of thunderstorms. We ended the day at the same hotel that we started at, in Goodland (KS), as a thunderstorms with small hail moved across the city. Since it was Memorial Day, most restaurants either closed early or weren't open at all, so it was McDonalds for dinner - the 2nd of the trip!
GPS tracker

Sunday 27 May 2018

Day 1 - NW Kansas

SUN 27 MAY 2018

A broad risk today from SE WY through W / SW NE, NE CO into W KS (and further south along the dry line into the TX and OK Panhandles). The HRRR model had consistently flagged up a decent supercell potential in SE WY, but that would be too far to drive from our starting point. Initially had NE CO as our target close to the surface front, but concerned by how the models (and reality) fast made the storms into clusters than anything discrete.

SPC Day 1 Forecast
Therefore, didn't feel the need to rush anywhere and so after a chilled morning in Burlington (CO) getting our chase vehicle ready, we headed east to Goodland (KS) to buy some supplies from Walmart. Ate lunch there in Arby's and sat for a while watching some towering cumulus attempt to build to our west, only to keep getting detached. It was hot: 95F with a strong SE wind. Meanwhile numerous tornados were occurring in SE WY - but hey no, would never had made it there even if we wanted to, so not feeling too disappointed we missed out on that.

We followed our slowly-developing thunderstorm northwards to St Francis, and then across the state line to Haigler in Nebraska (so already ticked 3 states off in under 24 hours being in the U.S.). It was clear that what once had a promising base, began to disintegrate - these storms were struggling for moisture somewhat. It was also at this point that we lost any mobile internet coverage, and then spent an hour driving through parts of southern Nebraska desperately trying to get some data to get an update to the radar.
None of the storms nearby looked particularly promising, so after a while we decided to head back to Goodland (KS) where we could refuel and knew there'd be data at least, and then re-assess from there. While refuelling we were hit by an outflow boundary from storms to our east - winds gusted over 60mph with dust being kicked up.

Next, a drive east down I-70 to Colby (KS) to try and get some lightning shots from a cluster of severe-warned storms - they seemed to die very quickly. Felt a heat burst from one of them - amazing how it was borderline chilly and then suddenly this hot air rushes past you, before turning chilly again.

I'd been keeping my eye on the TEC (tail-end Charlie) storm near Stratton (CO) as it had been holding together quite well for some time - eventually this became tornado-warned near Burlington (CO), with other storm spotters reporting suction vortices on the ground. We decided to head after this storm as it looked a lot healthier than anything else on radar - it was over 60 miles away, but we made it, and then tracked it north to St Francis over the following 2 hours or so.

Our location, north of Colby (KS), in relation to the tornado-warned storm near Burlington (CO)
Didn't see a tornado from this storm, but plenty of low scud lifting into in the base, and what appeared to be perhaps a gustnado on the ground. Nice display of mammatus, and plenty of lightning, we eventually ditched the storm and headed back to Goodland for the night, where we bumped into Nathan Edwards.

So, storms on our first chase day - not a bust!

Possible gustnado from a supercell north of Burlington (CO), backlit by lightning and twilight
Evening mammatus display above our chase vehicle

GPS tracker

Saturday 26 May 2018

Day 0 - LHR to DEN

The start of a new chase season!

Nothing too exciting to report today - just a travel day to get from Heathrow to Denver, and then on to our hotel for the first night in Burlington (CO). Our flight was delayed by almost an hour before we finally took off - initially because a few passengers had failed to make the flight, so their luggage had to removed from the hold. Then we had to wait a long time in line before we took off - but eventually we did, and some 9 hours later we landed in Denver, on what was a relatively smooth flight with very little in the way of turbulence. Stunning views of the Rockies as you approach to land - something that isn't on offer at Dallas Fort Worth (where I usually enter the U.S.).

Picked up our hire car, the beast that is a white Chevrolet Tahoe (not pictured), and then drove east for 2 hours 30mins to our pre-booked hotel in Burlington. The sky was full of high-based convection with tonnes of virga - no lightning, but one decaying high-based shower produced a heat burst, with a marked increase in wind speed at the surface and temperature shooting up from 78F to 86F (26C to 30C).

Finally arrived in Burlington, and after a quick bite to eat (the first obligatory McDonalds of the chase!) headed to bed having been awake for 23 hours or so.

McDonalds in Burlington (CO)
Next few days look like there'll be some activity to chase in the high plains, which can only be a good thing given how (relatively) quiet the season has been so far...