Sunday, June 08, 2008

Nebraska Supercells

DAY 11 JUNE 4, 2008

In the morning, we hung around at the motel in Oakley, KS. I noticed contrails in the sky, a good sign that it was cold enough up there. We ate lunch at a truck stop nearby, then headed northeastward to get in position for the storms. We wanted to be north of the warm front. A dryline bulge was also setting up near the triple point low and the trough was expected to move in from the west and should be in the plains tomorrow. Tornado watches had been issued for central Nebraska.

Pam took the wheel and we went on the dirt roads in Kansas. Ahead of us was a big muddy mess. Hmmmm. A rental van that had been hit by a tornado and dented with hail. A muddy wet road. Hmmmm. Pam was too tempted to drive through it. SPLASH! Well, we made it without getting stuck, but the van sure got filthy! Mud splattered all over the windows. Hey I thought we rented a blue van and not a brown one! We continued north of hwy 283 and stopped in Prairie Dog State Park for a little bit to stretch our legs and move around a bit. One look at the van made me laugh out loud. It was just covered in mud! I guess now we can blend in with the local traffic.

A thick cumulus field was setting up nicely. Jack and I downloaded some models. CAPE was approximately 5000-6000, dewpoints were 16 behind the dryline, while they were in the 60s ahead of it. Now that was quite the dryline! The centre of the low was forecast to be in northwest Kansas by the evening.. Ron noted a line of storms starting to go up in northeast Nebraska, so things were starting to pop.

At 3:45 CDT, we crossed the Nebraska state line. By now, the cumulus field was growing, forming turkey towers. Some of the towers were showing signs of wind shear as well. All good signs. Unfortunately we hit road work and had to wait about 10 minutes for the lead car to let us go through. I hate it when we get stuck in these things.

Finally, we headed north on hwy 183. Ahead of us was one of the first storms of the day to go tornado warned. It was one county away, so we figured we should try to intercept it. Not too long after, another storm goes up further north of the other storm. By now, they both had hooks. We wouldn't be able to get to the second storm, so our only shot for now was the one west of the Kearney area.

We took some back dirt roads. As we neared the storm, structure was starting to show, so we pulled off the road and walked up on a hill (when you need flat land, you don't have it, and when you don't need it, you have it). The storm was starting to look great now. We stood in the strong inflow watching a wall cloud and then a funnel cloud try to form. A thin long beaver formed pointing towards the precipitation. I heard a familiar sound I have not heard since 2006... the constant low thundering sound of the hail shaft. A heavy rain and hail core could be seen in behind the structure. A few CGs struck. Ron said the supercell was 65,000 feet tall according to the Baron. Wow! Talk about updrafts! He also said that there was approximately 3 inch hail in the core. By now, several supercells were training one after the other, so this storm was just our first picking of the day.

As the core neared us, we decided to take off and head west to the next storm. Unfortunately for us, there was no low level jet for the storms to play with. Where is that trough when you need it? As we skirted the core, we saw a small fire caused by some gas lines. Luckily, a sheriff was further down the road so Ron told him about it. The sheriff was glad we brought that information to him, so he told us that our first storm had a funnel cloud reported. Jack turned the van around and we headed back east.

Unfortunately with this many storms around, it is hard to decide on which storms to go after. Ron kept checking on the Baron but there was not much else happening, so we decided to continue west again. Oh wait a minute. Now our first storm has an inbound and outbound couplet on the Baron, with 120 mph shear! We pulled into some small town to fill up on gas then went back east to our initial supercell. One lesson learned here is to never leave your initial storm.

All of a sudden the storm started to turn right and move east towards Kearney. Just what they need, another storm to clean up after, I thought. As we went through the Kearney area, the storm had evolved into a shelf cloud. We turned onto another road and pulled onto the shoulder to watch it move in. A couple of other chasers were nearby as well. Great, the storm was becoming outflow dominant. We took off eastward again on I80 and saw the shelf cloud morph into a classic roll cloud. We made the decision to give up on this storm and head back west to the other storms coming up this way. Ben thought he saw some rotation nearby so we pulled onto the shoulder. Unfortunately a sheriff pulled up in behind and said over his speaker "Driver you must move your vehicle, you cannot park here." Jack took off, which was the best thing to do. Why risk getting thrown in jail over something as small as that and not get any storms period? Sure we felt we were perfectly fine where we were, but we wanted to obey the law to avoid any complications.

Further down the interstate, we saw the tops of our initial storm get lit by the setting sun. Off to our west was another storm and from a distance, I could tell it had some structure to it. As we neared it my jaw dropped. It was a georgous barell shaped rotating mass of cloud. I tried to grab stills but since we were driving, they came out blurry. Plus it was getting dark out. Ron wanted to position us under the storm. As we went under it, we could see the entire base was rain free! WOW! It was just unbelievable that this big thing was not dropping any rain at all. We kept our eyes peeled for any sudden changes such as funnels and downbursts. We pulled onto a dirt road to take some pictures. It was just eerie and awesome at the same time. The winds were on the cool side but light. Almost like the calm before something big happens. We hung around for a little bit more, then Ron said we should go further west because a much bigger storm was coming up this way. This LP supercell was just not going to produce, but it sure as heck was eye candy!

Our next storm intercept was going to be the one that came up from the Denver area. Ron said this storm had been going on for hours. We saw lighting in the distance but the light show grew more intense as we neared the storm. We decided to park off on the side of a small road to try our hand at lightning shots. Great bolts were striking everywhere and everytime lightning flashed, I could see that some neat structure was hidden in the dark. I managed to grab some great lightning shots, which turned out to be the best ones I have ever taken. In some photos, it appeared that the storm had a stack of plates, three dramatic teirs formed. Some chasers or storm spotters pulled in behind and we had a small chat. They informed us that a tornado was going to be near Farnam, about two miles away. We decided to intercept it but changed our minds since Ron was worried about getting stuck in a muddy road at night with a tornado threat.

We continued back east and saw some CGs strike just off in the distance. We basically followed this storm all the way back to Lexington, where we planned to stay the night at a Super 8. In the parking lot, there was a large rain puddle that we went through. The water went up onto the hood with a big splash. Weeee that was fun! Let's do it again! The rest of us unloaded the van, and Jack went around to drive through it again, with Ben filming it this time. SPLASH! Now that is one way to clean a dirty van!

Today was a great day despite not seeing any tornadoes. If the low level jet had moved in, these beautiful storms would have been truly amazing. I was still happy with the shots I got though. Hopefully tomorrow would prove to be our big tornado day.

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