Altus Night Lightning

January 27, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Summary 

Altus OK
26 Apr 14

SHORT: Weak diurnal storms NW TX, brief supercell with lightning burst near LTS.

LONG:
Elke and I were off on this day, so we decided to go for a country drive to enjoy a fine Saturday afternoon and evening. That country drive involved heading SW from Norman, specifically to the warm sector ahead of the dryline near Vernon.

Because of a lack of richer moisture, prospects for anything tornadic didn’t look promising, unless a ribbon of higher mixing ratios could arrive just in time for that “magic window” of evening hours, when the boundary layer starts to decouple but the surface parcels still may be available to storm inflow. That scenario appears in wishes more than in reality in springtime regimes involving early-stage or incomplete moisture return, so we simply headed out in hopes of seeing some photogenic convection.

Wandering some backroads S of Vernon, we saw several nondescript cells bubble up and down in a SSW-NNE-oriented train. Most appeared rather mushy, befitting the lack of more intense CAPE, and didn’t exhibit any structure that compelled me to take more than a few test shots to make sure the camera was working. Still, we found a couple of remote spots away from highway traffic and enjoyed some time in the great Plains wind, as we enjoy every spring.

As the sun set, a newer round of storms was firing on the retreating dryline farther W–mainly SSW of CDS. We headed back into Vernon for some dinner at a greasy-spoon cafe, monitoring convective trends and plotting a course to observe the most intense cell after dark near LTS (an easy drive to the N) if it survived. By the time we got to LTS, the storm had been a marginal supercell but already was weakening, and another one mostly hidden to its NW was ramping up, moving mostly away from us, and starting to produce hail.

Regardless, we parked off a dark dirt road a couple miles SW of town and watched the slowly decaying original storm sail NNE to our SW, W and N, producing a few photogenic lightning flashes along the way. The second of them that I chose to keep (above in the header, and linked here), was the most fascinating. It appears to be a downward-directed attempt at a step leader that never contacted the ground, then got lit up as a secondary branch by a conduction connection (crawler style) somewhere deep in the cloud material above. The groundward-aimed scythe shape, as viewed laterally, makes me wonder how it would have appeared to a fortunate observer standing directly beneath–fortunate not to have been touched by the leader!

A few more flashes and the storm was done…and so were we. We headed home after a decidedly stress-free storm-observing trip having spent plenty of quality hours traveling together as a happily married couple.

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Our PING trail for this day. [PING date is ending date in UTC.]

Pray for Rain

January 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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Southwest OK
23 Apr 14

SHORT: Pleasant storm trek to southwest Oklahoma, intercepted three photogenic storms with varying supercell characteristics.

LONG:
After a rather long chase-free winter and early spring, Rich Thompson and I has a rare juxtaposition of mutual days off with the potential for supercell development along the dryline, and in one of our favorite storm-intercept areas: southwest Oklahoma beyond the Wichita Mountains. We headed out the familiar I-44/FSI/US-62 path well-trodden by generations of intrepid storm observers, hooking NW out of LTS to intercept an early, promising cell that peeled off the dryline and across the Texas border to our WNW.

Sure, we figured this day to have low tornado potential, given marginal low-level shear and the likelihood of high cloud bases. Nonetheless, there’s nothing like the excitement of anticipation in drawing closer to a developing storm on the first chase day of the year. It’s a sensation that cannot be experienced more than once per year–the promise not only of a storm awaiting through the low clouds and a decreasing number of miles down the road, and of what my lie beneath still unseen, but of an entire new storm season now kicking off in earnest.

Our storm obviously had a high base as seen headed west on OK-9 out of Mangum, and we stopped a couple miles E of Vinson to admire the view. The storm turned rightward and moved almost due E, Nof Mangum and toward the Granite area, but with its core of rain and severe hail right over OK-9 near Granite. This forced us to loop around through Mangum and NE past the badly drought-depleted Lake Altus, meeting what now was a very wet, messy, windy, outflow-dominant storm near Lone Wolf.

Even with a mesocyclone apparent in person and on radar, we didn’t desire continued engagement with this storm given: 1) its chaotic, heavy-precip structure, 2) its projected core path right over the best road ENE toward HBR, and 3) other storms developing in a better environment to the SW. We plunged back SSW toward LTS, going through a couple of heavy flanking-line cores to the Lone Wolf storm that reinforced our decision to bail.

Positioning near Martha, we turned W toward a newer, also high-based storm, encountering this impassioned plea in a church parking lot. Southwestern Oklahoma was (and still is) mired in a devastating long-term drought, the last of this intensity being during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. Supercells or other isolated thunderstorms really aren’t the solution to the drought for the farmers and ranchers there. While a supercell can drop a narrow swath of temporarily beneficial heavy rain, that only briefly helps those who happen to be in that swath–that is, as long as the storm doesn’t also offer damaging hail, severe winds, and/or a tornado. Within a week or less, the ground is dry again.

A nearby spot away from the busy highways offered us a casual and quiet place to watch this initially nondescript storm develop a strikingly beautiful cloud arrangement, including a nicely tiered and textured arcus accentuated by the light of the magic hour. Meanwhile, to our N, the storm unleashed some CG action over the Okie red-dirt countryside.

With the sunset hour at hand, we did a small jog to the E toward Friendship, catching the weakening storm base’s permeation by a few minutes of warm rays, before heading back down to a newly showery US-62 for the ride home. We thought that was it for the chase day, until one cell developed near the highway, became dominant, and cruised NE toward the Wichita Mountains.

Even though Rich had to be back by midnight for a shift, we had just enough time cushion to do a zigzag N out of Cache, past the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge visitor center, and E a short distance to a vantage for watching the storm drift over the Wichitas. It turned out to be a severely tilted, marginal supercell, the main updraft region completely displaced in the vertical from any part of the anvil–even most of the backshear.

Serenaded by the wind and occasional crickets, we watched the beautifully striated storm emit a few brilliant lightning flashes that illuminated its stacked low-level structure–all beneath stars that speckled the cobalt sky of deepening twilight. All in all, this was not a bad way to start the aught-14 chase season–one that would turn out to offer very few tornadoes but an unprecedented variety of striking storm structure.

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Our PING trail for this day. [PING date is ending date in UTC. Any pings after 00Z were pasted onto this map as well.]

7-11 Lightning

July 5, 2014 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Summary 

Norman OK

SHORT: Highly electrified twilight storms near home.

LONG:
If one can define a “storm chase” as deliberately driving away from home in pursuit of the experience of storms, this was my shortest chase on record. I have several vantages pre-selected in the Norman area for viewing and photographing the sky under various situations–day, night, lightning, arcus, rainbow, mammatus, sunset, sunrise, east, west, north, south–views not available from my largely forested property. However, none are as close as the one I used on this day–a previously unused, ad-hoc perspective less than a linear mile away. I typically don’t post these short “chases”, but this is a worthy exception.

Seeing a large storm erupt on an outflow boundary to the SE, and flickers of lightning within, I didn’t know how long it would last, so a SE vantage several miles away wasn’t going to do. I exited my neighborhood and headed to a hilltop that–while not ideal due to a rather cluttered acreage in the foreground–offers the advantage of speed of access. It also would help as new storms developed to the SW–convection that would have been much more distant and less photogenic from even farther E.

First, the sky to the SE offered a rich, deeply textured and rapidly evolving panorama of convective, stratiform and electrical tones. To get a fuller idea, please see this Javascript time lapse of the full series of still photos of that storm. [You may need to tell your browser to enable Javascript if it doesn’t come up automatically.] What a wonder that was, and all in the soft blue ambiance of early twilight!

As that storm was weakening, I started packing my gear, when I noticed flashes in weaker convection to the SW and SSW (along the same boundary). The updrafts looked skinnier and not as intense, yet suddenly…BAM! A discharge brilliantly flung well away from its originating cloud area. Time for action! I hurriedly twisted around the tripod and camera, realigning, re-aiming, hoping and wishing for more. I started interval-shooting too, which caused me to miss a few of these spectacular “bolt-from-the-blue” discharges, but which also allowed for two more very brief time lapses. For once, I also managed to capture the most amazing stroke of the whole sequence.

Consider my photographic desires fulfilled. The cells kept blasting forked strokes far out through clear air, out of upper reaches of the convection, while also splendidly illuminating the cloud structures from within!

One of the most dazzling lightning strikes I’ve ever captured on film or digital media then burst forth from the opposite side, forking for many miles across clear air between cloud and some very unfortunate ground target. That left me exuberantly breathless, mouth agape, absolutely astounded that a “mere” summertime multicell could put on such a dazzling performance. Its thunder, though originating many miles away, reverberated through the air, felt within while echoing from laterally and behind. Finally, the storm had one more electrical javelin-throw in its arsenal before weakening.

Those two short time lapses I promised? The first is here, and the second is here, containing each of the strokes pictured above, but in larger format whose animation you can adjust.

The trip back home took all of two minutes. The “chase” yielded the only Image of the Week that I posted within less than an hour (the site goes by UTC time, hence the “12” date), and it’s not hard to understand why so little deliberation was needed.

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