Twilight Delight

July 6, 2012 by
Filed under: Summary 

Western OK
19 May 12

SHORT: Intercepted series of cells along broken storm line from Vici-Elk City OK, culminating with very picturesque tail-end supercell in sunset and twilight.

LONG: The forecast for severe-storm potential appeared all along a cold front from north-central KS to NW and W-central OK, with moisture I would characterize as sufficient but not ideal (in keeping with the general theme for the season so far). I figured that storms in KS would have somewhat more cross-boundary flow early, but still eventually line out, and that high-based storms could fire in the intense boundary-layer mixing regime of the dryline–S of the front in the GAG-CDS corridor, during 22-0Z. Some nicely sculpted structures would be possible for any convection that lasting into twilight when shear by most measures would improve. Flow should back into this area around 0Z, enlarging hodographs. So, the choice of targets was farther in KS early, or later in western OK. We chose the latter.

The Two Chumps headed NW through Seiling, observing a line of nearly equally deep towers gradually building against the stout cap. We were followed within a few miles by (and eventually in tandem with) the Two Dudes, Two Dogs and a Cousin chase team featuring David and Samara Fogel, Keith Brown and the equine-like canines Porthos and Trego. As we headed W from Seiling, a few of the deeper towers ballooned into full-fledged cumulonimbi, their anvils gradually amalgamating together amidst upper winds that had a strong component parallel to the front.

We pulled over just W of Vici (pronounced Vy Sigh, often heard as Vaaaah Saaaah), in the cooling shadow of the young line of storms. A large, lone, grumpy Charolais bull, just on the other side of a barbed-wire fence, seemed annoyed by our presence, but left after I threatened to kick its ass. [This is true. No bull. Ask Rich.] We basically were watching somewhat disorganized convection (view to our SW) and biding time (time lapse of the northern convective sky).

Once the line of cells began stairstepping back to the SW, while translating eastward, we charted a southward course to keep ahead of its anchor area. This resulted in several stops between Vici and I-40 along OK-34. One encouraging sign for the future was this high-based, short-lived cell exhibiting a small occlusion near Camargo. Another cell, looking NE from near Moorewood, was even larger, also bearing a short-lasting clear slot.

More storms were getting organized on the new tail-end area SW of Moorewood, but slowly. We sat on a dirt-road hilltop about a mile off the main highway, enjoying a marvelous 360-degree view of the rolling landscape and skyscape from just within some refreshingly cool outflow air, and listening to the birds and the breeze. I also shot a series of photos for a time lapse of a turbulent and deeply textured updraft, roiling atop some outflow from the increasingly electrified cells to the NE. The elevated base offered some eerie and fascinating lighting as it traveled to our N. I even managed to capture a shot of the mysterious, legendary and little-understood Humanoid of the High Plains!

Finally, a newer, anchoring cell to our SW (and NW of Elk City) started showing some tail-cloud features, striations and a broad base, indicating that perhaps the first sustainably supercellular storm was underway. We vectored S for intercept operations, stopping briefly in the forward flank’s path for a view at the BS Ranch (very appropriately named, given the company). The storm was passing over the Red Hills Wind Farm at the time, growing but acquiring more of an HP character by the minute.

The supercell moved E toward Foss Lake, so we dropped to its S and SE for some wonderful structure, lighting and lightning displays, starting with this view looking N from near Elk City. Before we turned E on I-40 to zip ahead of the storm again, the areas all around the rain-wrapping mesocyclone underwent a stage of furious sparking–much to our delight, since we weren’t in the target zone of the barrage.

The Interstate granted us a fortuitously well-positioned opportunity to get ahead of the supercell for a sunset show, which we did (barely) just N of Alfalfa. Through diaphanous veils of rain and hail, the glowing orb shone resplendently golden, while a tiered stack of vaporous wheels slowly turned high above. Meanwhile, pivoting one’s attention from west to north, it was an astounding scene: the translucently rain-wrapped mesocyclone region, swirling in sunset hue, also offered a bowl-shaped, slowly rotating lowering and partial clear slot–the closest this storm ever came to producing a spinup. The more distant wall cloud actually was part of a different storm, also organizing as a supercell, but only briefly. This also might be the only time I photograph two mesocyclones and a CG in such light!

Where we stood for nearly too long, bedazzled in rapt admiration of the scene above, the core nearly caught us. Another several miles down the slab, then north, took us to the outskirts of Clinton, buying us a few more minutes of twilight time in the company of a truly marvelous storm (wide-angle view looking W, wide-angle view looking NW).

Darkness fell, and with it the end of both the supercell and our active intercept pursuits, as the storm was starting to gust out and merge with convection forming behind it. We headed over to Elk City for a celebratory dinner, encountering a remarkably dense barrage of small to marginally severe hail along the Interstate and in town. After dinner, we parted ways, the bigger chase team headed northward for Dakota days while Rich and I spent the night in Shamrock in advance of the next day’s annular solar eclipse chase.

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