From Multicell Garbage to Electrical Spectacular

June 13, 2006 by
Filed under: Summary 

Northeast CO, 11 Jun 6.

SHORT: Somewhat scenic, high-based, daytime multicell with supercell attempts along I-76. Spectacular anvil crawlers after dark.

LONG: We headed up I-76 toward the CYS Ridge target area and waited on a hilltop N of Ft. Morgan. And waited, and waited, and waited, in the baking sun. Storms were forming in a convergence zone between DEN-FCL, but we ignored them for a long time because of weaker moisture, hoping for development to our N.

Finally we grew impatient, and with eyes still trained longingly to a northern sky devoid of deep moist convection, we decided to backtrack toward DEN to investigate that activity. After a couple of hours of observation, we noticed development way off in the distant N, on the N edge of my original target area, but it was too late. I knew a good supercell was possible up there in the better moisture, and was hoping that whoever was there enjoyed a good show. Apparently such was the case. Chalk up another testament to the virtues of sticking with your forecast area.

In the meantime, we relaxed on a well maintained dirt road 7 NW Hoyt: just us, the wind, occasional distant thunder, and a horde of small black beetles migrating eastward as if to run away from the slowly approaching storm.

For a short time, this was a place to rediscover the wide views of Great Plains skies, treeless and filled with the tumult of convective power, hardly a building or wire in sight. It wasn’t hard to step back in time and envision this sky seen by the pioneer families venturing for the first time into this big and open landscape, storm and mountains looming in the near and distant west, obstacles temporary and permanent looming above and beyond, respectively, compelling a decision to forge forward or to turn back, or perhaps even to set root here in a place that was, at once, starkly beautiful and unmerciful.

So we observed and imagined, simultaneously appreciative yet wishing for much more from the atmosphere. A dense core with occasional “rainshaft-nadoes” gave someone some valuable rain as more thunder crackled overhead from unseen anvil crawlers. Our storm(s) developed a fair sized updraft base and an inflow tail and tried to rotate; they may have, weakly, before eventually gusting out.

A new storm formed along the NE edge of the complex near Brush, with a somewhat colorful shelf cloud. Still, we were disappointed as we headed back into Fort Morgan, wandering the roads between there and Brush in vain attempt to find short-fuse rainbow photography views unobstructed by trees, wires and buildings. [Yes, we found perhaps the one area of eastern CO where this is a major problem.]

However, as often is the case, our disappointment turned to elation. We finally found a fairly open view about 2 E Ft. Morgan. A few nice sunset photos were followed by an absolutely dazzling show of anvil crawlers and mammatus from dusk to dark. The back side of this MCS was strobing almost continually, with at least 2-3 good crawlers per minute shooting across a sky of mammatus and ebbing twilight. I shot more crawler photos in 30 minutes than in all my years of chasing prior as the last evening light faded to night. Occasionally a CG would erupt beneath, but offset about 45 degrees, from the locus of a simultaneous crawler discharge.

Much of the action originated from the same region to the E or ESE, as the complex slowly receded, making the choice of sky sector an easy one. Still, even a 17-35 mm lens wasn’t enough to capture some of the most brilliant discharges that swept almost from horizon to zenith and beyond, while reaching north and south in search of electrical equilibrium. About half the crawlers were accompanied by a single, staccato CG, with few or no forks (still another fine example), reigniting a longstanding curiosity I’ve had about the connection, if any, between the two forms of lightning strokes.

A short drive back to Denver and several days of R&R followed before the storm intercept vacation would wrap up.

===== Roger =====

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