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.

In the Dust Bomb

July 23, 2013 by · Comments Off on In the Dust Bomb
Filed under: Summary 

Protection KS
18 May 13

SHORT: Intercepted outflow-dominant mess of storms in SW KS with gustnado and dusty air currents.

LONG:
Favorably strengthening mid-upper level winds were expected to boost deep shear atop an increasingly well-defined dryline that, by mid-late afternoon, would set up on the east edge of the central and southern High Plains, near 100W. We had diagnosed an 850-mb dry slot left by an earlier wave aloft that was likely to lead to a shallower and more easily mixed moist layer over potential NW TX and western OK dryline targets, leaving is with western KS. The closest available part of western KS to us was southwestern KS. Hence, that was our rough target on this “day before the day”. Very rich moisture and backed surface flow were expected to reach parts of west-central and southwest KS before dark, but could it get there in time to be tapped by storms that likely would fire off the dryline beforehand?

Out the door early enough, Rich and I headed up the Northwest Passage, fueling and meeting the esteemed storm-observing firm of Fogel, Fogel, Weitzberg and Brown (and two heavily panting leonbergers) in WWD. There, we all were greeted by the full-body, hair-dryer feel of 96 degree F air blowing past. When the car thermometer (which is fairly well-calibrated in Norman to the nearby mesonet site) hit 101 deg F just across the KS line, between Sitka and Protection, we knew that was just too warm to preclude serious outflow from eventually taking over any storm that developed in that environment. However, we also expected richer moisture (supporting 70s F surface dewpoints farther E along the border) to advect into the area after peak heating, thereby lowering LCL and boosting CAPE. Which process would prevail first?

We all headed E back into the mid-90s heat, and a shady rest area near Coldwater where the big dogs could get out and walk some without suffering heatstroke. There we also met Ryan Jewell, watching towers bubble up and occasionally glaciate along the dryline from NNW-W-SW. The gathered crew (four of whom are pictured here) represented a large collective of storm-observing experience, which makes some of our decision-making this day even more peculiar! Since they may not wish to be positively, pictorially identified with this chase day, we may only know their monikers (l-r) simply as Big Dog Daddy, Downtown, The Roach, and Jumpin’ J-Hawk, with Gran Rogelio behind the camera.

Patiently this motley bunch awaited the arrival of the better moist layer that we could see in the form of haze and lower-based cumuli off to the E and SE. One of these, the high-based little Cb pictured here, moved NNE and eventually evolved into the Rozel cell. Had we known what it would do, we would have followed this seemingly pathetic little plume with mouth-foaming fervor. Alas, on this day, we simply did not. With this cell moving closer to the moist axis, I still can’t fully explain why we chose to go SW toward the bigger, messier activity coming out of the Panhandle and still in the drier air, except for some hopes it would not get outflow-dominant before reaching the richer moist layer we could see to the ESE.

Meanwhile, a storm farther N (and legitimately out of reach) was already tornado warned and apparently producing rain-wrapped circulations as it approached I-70. Longstanding convection in the northeast TX Panhandle and extreme northwestern OK was growing in size and depth, glowing with blood-red reflectivities on radar and a deepening visual darkness in the southwestern sky.

Someone mentioned the possibility of anvil shadowing cooling the temps, lowering LCL, weakening mixing, and perhaps allowing the moist layer to advect into the inflow region relatively unadulterated. It wasn’t bad reasoning, per se, but the large size and SW-NE, quasi-linear orientation of the cluster to our SW should have been a clue that it wouldn’t wait for the rich moisture before spreading its load of outflow all over the surrounding countryside.

As we approached via southwesterly zigzag, the cluster seemed broad and disorganized with some updraft area on the south and east sides. When we stopped, S of Protection, the updraft area obviously was getting undercut by outflow, and the high-based, multicellular mess started its predictable forward-propagational heave. Cold outflow blasted past us to the E and SE, and a weak gustnado buzzed eastward across a field to our NE.

Dust rose from roads and fields, jacked skyward and forward in dense plumes, scenes from the Grapes of Wrath swirling through our minds as ribbons of fine soil blasted past. J-Hawk photographed and sepia-toned two of us pathetically immersed in the lofted dirt.

Massive dust-bombing wasn’t why we drove over 200 miles, though it did offer its own interesting photographic adventures. Nonetheless, this was the hand we pulled from the deck. Richer moisture did move into the inflow layer of this storm complex, but by then it evolved into a raging, N-S squall line that ate up every other convective attempt in its path (including the tornadic Rozel supercell that had gotten entrained into its N edge). One last view of the convection at sunset, from near Camp Houston OK, and it was time to plod home, regrets over choosing the “wrong” storm tempered by hopes for the next couple of days of potentially significant tornadic potential closer to home.

Unremarkable Colorado Storms

July 24, 2012 by · Comments Off on Unremarkable Colorado Storms
Filed under: Summary 

Northern CO
6 Jun 12

SHORT: Intercepted initially interesting but mostly nondescript convective junk in NE CO.

LONG: The decent storm potential in central and northern Montana had been too far away to reach on previous days without insane, all-night driving marathons. Furthermore, on the 4th, Elke and I had to replace a nearly-blown tire on our vehicle in Ogallala anyway, removing all temptation to bolt 600 miles NW and back again in three days. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for we found a cabin by the shores of Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska, and spontaneously reserved two nights there–relaxing, exploring the scenic, the powerful and the peculiar, and spending much-appreciated time together with moments like this–all while awaiting the chase potential forecast to be nearby on the 6th and 7th. We had been wanting to make more than passing time at the major High Plains reservoir for years, and finally did! It was well worthwhile. I’ll vouch for the good food at the Hill Top Inn, above the Dam. I also will vouch that if you swim in “Big Mac” in early June, as I did, the water’s still rather cold.

The 6th came, dawning brightly in the southern Sandhills, and we aimed our grille SW toward NE Colorado. A well-defined low was set up in the DEN area, with a convergence line arching N and NE toward the Pawnee National Grasslands. My forecast was for weak deep-layer shear during midday, improving through the afternoon, and marginal moisture. [Questionable moisture would be a meteorological problem that we would wrestle through virtually the entire vacation.] It looked like a decent setup for nonsupercell “landspout” action early in the convective cycle, then maybe a supercell by evening.

We timed it great for any early spout action–except there was none. We targeted the boundary between Wiggins and New Raymer, and got right under and next to the very first deep tower, following it NNE as it evolved into a Cb. The base seemed rather high and small even for a “Colorado landspout” day. It just couldn’t produce a tube before merging into a growing, semi-contiguous line of cells that evolved along the boundary. Only one of them showed any promising hints of possible supercell evolution before it, too, got gummed up with precip and outflow. The whole convective plume got very mushy and nondescript from every vantage we had. This was one of the very few chase days when I only shot a couple of photos, total, and that may have been two too many.

Seldom has a Colorado chase day with any storms at all yielded so little. Why do you think I offered you several photos from the lake? :-)

Though a supercell later would form down there (shortly before dusk), nothing of note had evolved yet to our distant SSW, near the Palmer Ridge, by the time we decided to head N toward the next day’s play in the SE WY/SW NEb Panhandle area. Eating dinner at the Pine Bluffs Subway, we saw the Palmer Ridge supercell get cranking on radar, by now too distant to catch. One storm in the northern part of the line did move past our location with some marginal hail and nondescript structure, prompting a vanload of British-sounding tourists in the parking lot to snap photos in every direction.

We finished our sandwich dinner, then headed to an old motel on the edge of Kimball, at which we stayed before. Less than an hour after we checked in, the power went out to the whole town, and stayed out until sometime well past midnight. For a short while, in-cloud lightning flickered from two storm clusters to the N and W–including one MCS that dumped heavy rain on CYS. Hoping for some lightning shots to save the day, those didn’t even materialize–lots of low scud and precip precluded any photogenic lightning action. So we just went to bed, fairly early for us. At least we didn’t travel terribly far and did get a good night’s sleep!

The next day would prove to be far more adventuresome, in both frustrating and elating ways…

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