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.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Cap is breaking

DAY 10 JUNE 3, 2008

Today, Ron was sure we would be in for some rotating storms to our south. He had narrowed one area down (there were five potential areas for today). One of them was down in Missouri but that was too far of a drive, so the next reasonable option was to stick around eastern CO and western KS.

We got to sleep in today (Ron especially was pretty tired), so we left the motel at 11am MDT and headed into Burlington, CO to get some lunch at a Burger King. The cumulus field today was definitely better than the previous day, which had a 5C inversion. A trough was going to be moving in from the west, so we were expecting some pre frontal storms today, hopefully ones that would rotate.

After lunch, Felix wanted to film us along a dirt road outside of town by a field. That took about an hour, and we managed to get a nice tan. I continued to watch the cumulus field develop and some towers were going up to our west. We sat around for a bit more while Ron downloaded some models. The mobile internet connection on his laptop was giving him frustrations earlier. It always works when you don't need it, and it never works when you need it the most. Due to the time it took for Felix to film us, it set us back in time for catching up to any of the storms to our south.

We drove southward anyway and decided we go for ice cream in Lamar. Ron decided to go for a nap in Felix's car. A little bit later, Jack mentioned a tornado warning went up for the storm to our south, so he told Ron over the walky talkie. Ron came back to the van and we went after the storms to our south. We would skip Lamar and go slightly east into Kansas and head south. Storms were also going up just southeast of us, but appeared elevated. Hail shafts could be seen and a small hailbow formed off to the east. Ron looked to the west and said, "There!". A small wall cloud with a funnel cloud be seen off in the distance, but the funnel cloud eventually disapeared. The wall cloud was also losing its shape as we neared it, but Felix was getting excited nonetheless.

We crossed into Colorado. The storm still seemed to be high based and it was starting to weaken. Dang it, not again! We gave up on that storm and headed back east into Kansas. Back and forth, back and forth. Getting dizzy yet?

On the storm to our east, it looked like a wall cloud formed beside the precip core on the south side. And it was also weakening. Go figure. We filled up with gas in a small town back in Kansas and Felix and our group parted our ways. We saw a bit of mammatus from the storm off to the east. Well now it was time to travel back north again. Yeah I know, we just came from there. A developing bow echo was still going strong with a couple of rotation couplets that the Baron had picked up. We noted a bit of structure and banding on the storm once we neared it. It was all clear sky in behind, so when the sun set, the fields became really constrasted against the dark sky. It was a beautiful prairie scene! A partial rainbow formed to our right. We saw some scud rising and a wall cloud was trying to form. There were a few TVS markers on the storm and Ron mentioned that there were inbound and outbound winds. If it was going to produce a tornado, it would have made for a beautiful Kansas scene. Unfortunately the storm didn't really do much more and we called off the chase. As we were getting closer to the core, I attempted to get a long exposure of it with some lightning. It got very windy and tried to knock over my tripod. By the time I set up, it started to rain, so my attempt failed. We booked rooms in Oakely for the night.

All in all, it was nice to see something in the sky again. Today was going to be a good sign of things to come. Instability was in the air and today's convection helped break the cap a bit. Tomorrow and the next day looks to be much more interesting as the trough sets in from the west. Stay tuned.

Cap: Boom or Bust

DAY 9 JUNE 2, 2008

There were two areas of interest today, one to the north and one to the south. Dynamics favored rotating storms for the south but the cap was stronger, while the cap was weaker but less chance of rotating storms to the north.

We departed from Ogallala, NE at 11am MDT. It was a bit of a bumpy ride, it seemed the balance was off on the tires. In Sidney, we grabbed a Pizza Hut buffet lunch and went to go for an oil change and have the tires looked at but we couldn't find a place that would do it quick enough. We continued south and stopped at a Super 8 so Ron could get some wifi to check the models. He was still a bit uncertain of which target to pick today. While he was doing that, I was doing some sky reading. It seemed that things would definitely rotate today... we noted a small cumulus actually rotating in the shear environment. The sky was pretty clear still, a telling sign that the cap was in place and would be stubborn to pop. But if it went, things would get real interesting.

Ron finally decided that we head south and east, hoping that the strong cap would budge and give us good storms later in the day. On hwy 36, we saw some really old cars stuck in along the banks of a dried up river, probably to help prevent erosion. The people out here sure have interesting ways to use their resources, that is for sure. We continued east into Kansas and stopped in Colby to have something to chew on at, yep, a Sonic at around 8:30 CDT. We watched the sky and Ron continued to update himself on models, satellite and radar feeds.

We saw some development to our west back in Colorado, just east of Denver (go figure!), so we decided to try our hand on catching up to it. So we head back on I70 west. As we were nearing the supercell, it started to look very promising. Ron was hoping to get us into position to see a nighttime tornado. We were about a half hour away from the supercell when it started to turn right and hook. Dang it! Why can't these things just wait till we get there?! Well, it looked like a very healthy supercell so our hopes on catching something interesting remained high. At one point it had a v-notch and it was 60,000 ft tall. Beautiful! Unfortunately it appeared some small towns where in the path of this tornado warned storm.

Then something unexpected happened. A microburst occurred just northeast of the supercell and it started to collapse. Noooooooooo! Not only did we miss any potential tornado, but we missed the storm when it was at its best thanks to the microburst. The cold air have pushed everything away that the supercell needed to survive on, such as inflow. We took some back roads and saw a little bit of lightning and pulled over to observe and photograph lightning but that didn't even go as well as I had hoped because the storm was dying. Unfortunately by now, it lacked structure and good bolts. Boooo, Hissss, Roar! We gave up on our frustrating day and spent the night in Limon, CO at an Econo Lodge.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The storm that almost did it

DAY 8, JUNE 1, 2008

Today, we met Felix from France. He was going to follow us on our chases for the next couple of days.

We left Liberal, KS to heard north on hwy 83 and stopped in Garden City for a data stop. Since we pulled in late, Ron didn't get a chance to check on the models. The poor man needed some sleep! He is one dedicated individual, but if he wanted to sleep, he must have been very tired. We did one more stop in Oakley so Ron could get more updated models and analyze them, while Felix filmed him. A cirrus cloud deck with a nice cumulus field was setting in, and a solar halo formed.

We headed west on I70. Pam mentioned she had to go to the bathroom, so we tried to look for one opened in a small town called Kanorado. This placed looked a little poor and to our surprise we coudln't find any decent bathrooms, so we continued to Burlington, CO to eat lunch at, you guessed it... Sonic! That place is great when you need a hot meal right away at a good price.

Ron decided to drive with Felix, while I helped Jack navigate us north to Julesburg on hwy 385. I was constantly checking satellite and surface winds. Things were coming together nicely, with southeast surface backing winds. SPC issued a tornado watch for west of where we wanted to go. Storms were firing up in northcentral Nebraska in Cherry county and creating an outflow boundary, while another storm was developing near Scottsbluff, NE from upslope flow. I figured the outflow boundary would track west as the Scottsbluff storm tracked eastward. It was only moving ENE at 29 mph according to the Baron. I watched the storm on radar as it continued to organize better and turn supercellular. It eventually looked like it was going to split and become a right mover.

When we got to Julesburg, we continued north towards the storm. The storm looked like it was back building and the anvil just kept pushing out rock hard. We took some dirt back roads and saw some beautiful structure, including two wall low bulky wall clouds. We turned left on another back road to try to get closer to the wall cloud. I happened to look up above us and see a pointy funnel cloud almost right above us. I told Jack to stop now. We watched the funnel cloud but it dissipated, so we continued on. It seemed to remind me of what happened in Pratt, KS on Monday. Off in the distance, we saw a downburst form. We had to cut through part of the rain and hail core. I really wanted to get us to the other side of the core, but the road options were a little less to be desired in this area. I saw a road that went south on Streets and Trips, but it was just a cattle road. Great. Jack said we were getting too far from where we wanted to be, so we pulled over. Ron came back to ride with us and try to find a way to get on the other side of the core. We turned around to get back on an actual highway.

We cut through the hail core once more on I80 and pulled off on the shoulder under an overpass to wait out the hail. It was starting to accumulate. Once it let up a bit, we headed back west and south to get a better view of the wall cloud. By now the Baron was showing a hook forming and a tornado warning was issued. The supercell was turning right, as I had thought it would do. The RFD opened up and kicked up a whole bunch of dust in the fields so high it went up into the wall cloud. Ron got us in position where the inbound and outbound winds were meeting. If it was going to produce a tornado, it was going to do it nearby, so we had to keep our eyes peeled. There was a lot of inflow and outflow kicking up dust and a few times it almost looked like something was going to develop. We continued north. No tornadic vortex signatures were indicated but some shear couplets were picked up, although nothing too dangerous. We re-entered the hail core one last time. It was amazing that our windshield held up. We figured it would have a few weak spots because of the chips in it. Once we got out of the hail core again, we saw a nice bell shaped storm to our south with lightning flashing in it. Beautiful! I wanted to get a shot so Ron pulled over for me. I had to stand under the back hatch, but I was still getting a bit wet. I managed to get a couple of good stills with the bell shaped storm and cloud to cloud lightning.

We stayed in Ogallala, NE tonight at a Super 8 and plan to head due east tomorrow's moderate risk. Oh yeah, did I mentioned I typed this at 2 am? I don't need no stinkin' sleep!

Binger, OK Supercell

DAY 7 MAY 31, 2008

We left Lamar, MO and headed west to Oklahoma on hwy 166. We decided to go wait for a little bit in Wakita, OK at the Twister Museum while Ron checked the models. The sky looked capped today but indices and dynamics for a tornadic supercell were there. A boundary was off to the southeast. Ron expected the action to occur in southcentral Kansas and northcentral Oklahoma. We decided to head a bit more west to get closer to the dryline bulge. We pulled in to Alva, OK for a mid afternoon lunch at Sonic and hung around there for a bit. I took wind, temperature and humidity readings. The winds were coming from the east northeast and it seemed a bit dry, but some towers were starting to build along the boundary.

We pulled into a McDonalds after to get wifi so Ron could get an update on the models. I noticed something building off in the distance along the boundary. Some of the TCU was starting to explode and anvil out! I called everyone over to have a peak. It was such a great thing to see, given it was getting later in the day and we were about to give up. We continued to watch as it grew more. This storm went up in less than a half hour, which indicated that the updrafts were quite strong. Jack brought up the Baron to see what it was doing on radar. It was southeast of our initial target, but it was only about 60 miles away and probably the only storm of the day. Ron's words? "Ok let's go."

On our way south on hwy 81 through Enid, the sun began to set, creating a beautiful sunset with the supercell. The storm was 60,000 feet tall already! The sun set but we did not give up on the chase. At first lightning couldn't be seen, but as we got closer, lightning illuminated the supercell's features... it seemed to have a classic barberpole effect and beautiful updrafts! Oh I was it were daytime! We pulled west at Minco on hwy 152 to get to the south side of the storm. A low big bulky wall cloud could be seen near Binger. We pulled onto a dirt road to watch the wall cloud and grab lightning shots. Later we decided to continue west to get closer to the rotation. We pulled over and got out of the car. The first thing I noticed was a tornadic roaring sound... the winds in the vault region of the supercell were cranking! A large rotating wall cloud hung low to the ground. I did another attempt to get lightning shots with the wall cloud, but after I took the first picture, my camera decided to not cooperate. I wanted to keep the shutter open on bulb but it shut closed on me without letting go of the shutter cable release. I couldn't figure out why and I was getting worried that my camera was screwing up, so I tried putting in a new memory card. It still did the same thing, so I threw in a new battery, but it still did the same thing! "Gosh darn it why of all times must it do this?!", I thought.

After taking a better look, I realized that I must have accidently switched camera shooting modes and my settings changed on me. Doh! I set it back to manual and continued to get another atempt, but the rain started to come down. I played back my pictures and realized that I actually did manage to get one picture of a CG right beside the bowel shaped wall cloud. Awesome!

It was close to midnight now, and we still had to get back to Liberal, KS because Ron booked rooms there. We were supposed to neet Felix from France, who is doing a severe weather documentary. We had a 4 hour drive to do, and it looked like we would be pulling into the motel at 4 am. Oh dear!

We called the chase off and stayed at a Super 8 in Liberal, KS. We were getting very giddy from such a long drive and pulling in very late. It looked like a nice place to stay but too bad we would only get about 4 hours worth of sleep!

Ron was planning to target northeast Colorado and western Nebraska tomorrow.