2010 Chase Season Dénouement

August 14, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Summary 

22 Jun 2010
Southeast WY to North Platte NEb

SHORT: Outflow-dominant supercell observed twice — once in SE WY and another in NEb Panhandle. Gorgeous sunset supercell S of Paxton NEb.

LONG: We were hoping for one final photogenic supercell for our chase vacation, and instead got two.

A piping hot lunch at a local cafe in downtown Sidney NEb, featuring a platter of smashed and fried Rocky Mountain oysters, settled down hunger’s restlessness just long enough for us to watch satellite imagery on the mobile phone, seeking first signs of convective initiation on the Laramie Range to our W. This area would experience favorable upslope flow, decent low-level shear and deep-layer winds, along with sustained surface heating in the absence of any appreciable, antecedent cloud cover, but moisture seemed a tad on the scant side. Once the first towers started to fire NW of CYS, we hopped onto I-80 and roared westward.

By the time we got to Pine Bluffs WY, deep towers were visible with glaciation to our NW. We could see the cloud bases easily, so we fueled at a truck stop there as I chugged down a cold, delicious A&W float. I also reserved a room in LBF for the night using a combination of forecast storm motion and positioning needed to go back home the next day, while watching for a storm to congeal and organize from the agitated area. Soon, it did, and we took off W through Burns and then N, retracing in reverse a segment of our chase path from the tornadic Chugwater event two days prior.

True to the lack of more robust moisture, the bases seemed uncomfortably high, and I was troubled further by how fast the cells started moving E off the mountains as we approached. Was the convection already spewing outflow? Yes! We barely beat the storm to the intersection of WY-213 and WY-216 W of Albin, near which I shot this photo looking W. Yes, there were updraft bases all right, but they were being undercut very quickly by wickedly cold currents hurtling SE from the precip cores. We headed E on 216 to Albin, having to make a decision there either to:

    1. Take unpaved back roads and stay closer to an outflow-surfing wind and ice machine, risking its outrunning us for good somewhere not far E of the WY-NEb border, or

    2. Shoot back down to I-90 and bust eastward at higher legal speeds so we could stay abeam and eventually get back ahead of the storm on a north road.

Although I’ve seldom seen such an outflow-dominant storm recover to produce tornadoes, it has happened on one occasion. Furthermore, such storms can produce interesting and sometimes beautiful cloud formations, especially out on the high plains. The decision was easy.

Meanwhile, before zooming down to the Interstate, we watched the storm cross the road to our N, spying a suspicious-looking but very short-lived formation buried in a mesocyclonic notch region (enhanced crop-n-zoom of previous image). That feature quickly vanished, and the whole messy and wild-looking process roared past.

By the time we got just the few miles S to I-80, the storm already had gotten well off to the NE, brilliantly festooning a deep blue sky (wide-angle view from I-90 near the border), with a high and ragged base visible on the trailing flank. That, along with the main updraft base of the storm to our left, were visible as we cruised E to Sidney, then N toward Gurley — in the process retracing a late-day segment of our trek from the previous season’s intercept of the LaGrange WY supercell. For our nearly continuous view of the updraft while driving, and several chasers who were closer at that time and didn’t see any tornado, I had to question the “sheriffnado” reports just E of the border in NEb.

We got directly ahead of the storm again E of Gurley, watching its somewhat-lower base with a small, shallow wall cloud developing to our WNW (wide-angle view) while a deck of low clouds formed overhead. The storm itself was decelerating markedly, and its own outflow boundary appeared to outrun its main reflectivity area (and mesocyclone aloft). I got a dread that the supercell wouldn’t last much longer; and it certainly did not. A zoom view shows the wall cloud that was surrounded by translucent precip. Within minutes, a fuzzy gray bowl of precip appeared right in and under the wall cloud, descending and expanding and obliterating the wall cloud as it reached the ground, and making a splendid example of a tornado look-alike.

Was this a descending reflectivity core (DRC) that came down in a very deleterious place for any low-level mesocyclone’s development and survival? It sure seemed as such. Here’s the view 3 minutes later, when the precip core further expanded and utterly obliterated the cloud base where the wall cloud previously had dangled. Within 11 minutes more, the outflow had gone past, the low clouds cleared away to reveal an astonishingly rapid storm demise!

Thinking that was it for our chase season, we headed E toward LBF, only to see a stunning and spectacular convective eruption to our SE, S of Paxton, beneath a waxing gibbous moon and shortly before sunset. As this storm evolved into a short-lived supercell, we admired the amazing spectacle from a corn field a couple of miles S of the Interstate, until an inverse relationship between amount of sunlight and mosquitoes hastened our resumption of the trip. What a wonderful way to close out the last chase of Spring 2010!

When we settled into our room in LBF, the clerk remembered my call and said we were smart to do what we did many hours before; all the rooms in LBF were booked up solid! After 11 p.m., we noticed a dramatic increase in lightning to our N-W, as storms erupted along the outflow boundary. While cruising S of town in search of a good vantage in that direction, the storms weakened again, precluding any decent lightning photo opportunities, though we did salvage a nice look at lunar crepusculars around an altocumulus deck.

This was a rewarding day, one that left us in ideal geographic position to do something we had wanted for a long time: pick up a stone fencepost from one of the quarries near RSL. It would be right along the way home the following day. Our adventure in doing so was a marvelous glimpse of Americana, chronicled in more detail in this BLOG entry. The dénouement had been written on our chase season – one that was, at times, agonizingly frustrating, and at others, as fulfilling as can be. What adventures await in 2011?

Two Tremendous Supercells Blast Past

May 10, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Summary 

Red Rock and Warner OK, 10 May 10

SHORT: Two quick-shot intercepts of very fast-moving supercells with intense inflow and severe RFD surges, but not obviously tornadic at those times.


This was my first storm chase of the year, where with Ryan Jewell and Corey Mead, we executed a nearly flawless intercept strategy of what essentially was one of the very few nontornadic supercells of this day, near Red Rock, OK. On this highly dynamic, high-risk afternoon for a tornado outbreak, it was obvious that storm motions would be very fast — 50 mph or so — leaving no margin for error and rendering the storm intercept strategy to a form resembling the matador waving a red flag as the bull charges past.

Of course, had we been perfect seers of the future, we could have sat around the Lake Thunderbird dam on the E side of Norman eating potato chips and bon-bons, leisurely relaxing to some Engelbert Humperdinck music all afternoon, ignoring violent-looking storms elsewhere while waiting for the supercell that would produce the east Norman tornado several hours later. Being meteorologists and not fortune tellers, however, we still had a good chase forecast and intercept strategy for two extremely severe supercells that didn’t happen to be producing noticeable tornadoes at the times they roared past us, about 3 hours and 125 straight-line miles apart. Believe me, the path we had to take between them was no straight line.

We left Norman shortly before 1400 CDT (19Z), targeting the area between GOK-PNC for storms that would develop from the agitated convective area already evident along the dryline over NW and W-central OK. The tornadic Wakita storm was too far away, so we targeted the area N of SWO for extrapolated motion of a struggling, strongly sheared echo WNW of OKC. We met the warm front along I-35 W of SWO, waited a bit for the nascent storm (still well to our WSW) to organize, then headed NNE to Ceres. As we did so, and as the storm moved into the warm-frontal zone, it quickly organized into a very robust supercell, exactly as expected.

Parked along US-77 at Ceres, we began to see the distant supercell tower emerge from the murk and head right at us. It took mere minutes for the base to appear over the horizon, wide and thick, with a small wall cloud and absolutely howling inflow winds. As the inflow backed out of the E, the storm was doing the “big suck” at multiple levels. A cloud deck from the SW and S raced toward the N and NNW at frightening speed into the forward-flank/vault region, causing the sky to “move” faster than anything I’ve seen overhead sicne Hurricane Andrew.

This was an amazingly dynamic situation on the storm scale, and we were confident we soon would witness a tornado. Somehow, despite occasionally very fast vertical and horizontal motions, it couldn’t tighten up a succinct and persistent cloud-base circulation for the longest time. We had to drop S to OK-15 and E past Red Rock to keep up with this warp-speed hyperstorm, knowing we would lose it soon in the roadless void near the Arkansas River. While bottoming through a creek valley (of course) a well-defined funnel cloud appeared to our WNW, which Corey and I saw (Ryan was driving). [This probably was the same one Steve Bluford saw also, as his chase account through this part of the storm’s lifespan strongly resembles ours.] Sorry, no photos — we were trying to get back up to higher ground.

The funnel dissipated fast, and in its place, an extremely intense RFD blasted through that area and around a new occlusion cycle, very rapidly lofting a dust plume (looking NW at 1653 CDT — exactly the same time that this “debris” was reported as a tornado by some spotters). A new occlusion set in to our N, and the storm raced off into the Osage Indian Reservation into colder air, with no way to continue visual engagement.

We decided swiftly to attempt to engage storms that were well S of us, moving through the I-35 corridor near OKC, since we had a few hours of daylight left and (given friendly roads) time to get ahead of them — even at the crazy speeds they would be moving. Unfortunately the roads weren’t very friendly. The traffic lights of Stoolwater slowed us down, and a bigger obstacle slowed us down more. Our initial thoughts of getting ahead of this now-tornadic activity W of Lake Eufaula came to a screeching halt S of Bristow, where an illuminated sign warned of a bridge out on the road ahead (S) of us, and recommended a detour westward along a road we already had passed! Wrong, wrong and hell no! Our dogged determination sent us along some winding roads in SE Creek and NW Okmulgee Counties that, at best, can be called wretched, including one marked as paved on our DeLormes that was a very rough gravel road. Meanwhile the storm to our S and SSW was producing a massive tornado near Tecumseh, and more eastward toward Henryetta.

Thanks to Ryan’s fantastic driving, we survived another horrible, unmarked east road that was supposed to be paved, but instead, was a narrow gravel lane in a canyon of trees. It was like driving through a rain forest in the rain, except for the hail that began falling on us from the northern reaches of the Tecumseh/Henryetta storm’s forward-flank core. Now realizing we couldn’t even get ahead of the storm at Checotah, we zoomed E and SE through a small part of the far-forward flank core and popped out along US-64, a couple miles N of Warner. The meso was 7-8 miles to our W, but took less than 10 minutes to reach the road just to our N, roaring past with damaging RFD winds that caused power flashes along the road. Before it did, I was able to snap a few photos in very low light, one of which revealed a very short-lived funnel (looking W, severe enhancement-crop) that I don’t think any of us noticed at the time. It was in the right area, with rain curtains wrapping furiously around the rapidly occluding mesocyclone region.

In the next shot (looking NW), that area was occluding deeply at left rear, as the new mesocyclone organized at near right, just a couple miles away. As with the Red Rock supercell, the inflow winds were very intense — probably damaging by themselves, and the RFD blast was stronger still, producing power flashes along US-64 to our N. We watched this storm race past us at incredible speed, toward the Snake Creek Wilderness area and into Arkansas.

Headed W on I-40 near Checotah, the sky treated us to a brief but splendid display of sunset pastels and cloud textures (horizontal wide-angle, then a vertical shot a couple minutes later), as if offering up a colorful measure of minor consolation for missing the tornadoes of the day.


[EDIT] A helicopter video link on the KWTV website shows that the funnel that we saw while driving through some bottomlands near Red Rock was a brief “cheezenado” (faint swirls underneath); and another chaser also saw that. [Click on Video Gallery link number 9 at upper right…don’t know how to direct-link to it.]


This still was not the same feature that was reported as a tornado, however (based on matching times). The time of the funnel was a couple minutes earlier — about 1650-1651 CDT.


[EDIT 2] Ryan Jewell was shooting video for us and posted three snippets from those portions of this intercept near Ceres and Red Rock. These are NOT time lapses! They’re real-time cloud motions.

Looking W from near Ceres. Ryan is clearing dead weeds out of the way!

Looking overhead from near Ceres as the storm approached.

Looking NW from near Red Rock at tremendous RFD surge and occlusion process

Arkansas Valley Supercells of Colorado

July 2, 2009 by · Comments Off on Arkansas Valley Supercells of Colorado
Filed under: Summary 

11 Jun 9
Olney Springs to Lamar, CO

SHORT: Four supercells and one possible/weak “cheezenado” photographed in and near Colorado’s Arkansas River valley between PUB-LAA. Jaw-dropping storm structure at times.

Elke and I again formed a caravan with the Two Fogels/Two Dogs chase team. We targeted a compromise area of eastern CO near the Palmer Divide, in order to remain within reach of almost any possible initiation area.

V.O.R.T.EX.-2 and the Bovine Butt Spew

Off toward LIC we went, but not before seeing a practically ceaseless stream of V.O.R.T.EX.-2 vehicles cruising with apparently focused determination SE past LBL. I asked Elke (and also DF over the radio):”Where the hell are they going, and why?” At first we were quite puzzled, but ignored what we saw and just kept on with our northwestern bearing. I later guessed (correctly, for once) that they were targeting a very conditional tornado potential in the eastern Texas Panhandle.

One lesser-known hazard to dodge while chasing: bovine diarrhea. In Scott City, some moo-cow on the second deck of a cattle truck blasted a brown liquid cascade out of one of the ventilation holes, staright down toward us. The side of the truck was covered with similarly colored fans of dried residue emanating from the same general area. We were quite thankful that later rain washed off any related residue from my vehicle.

As we headed W on I-70 toward LIC, we noted that early-initiation over the Front Range already was getting messy and turning into a conglomeration of storms. You know what that means on the high plains of Colorado: outflowus barfus windbaggus. One really nicely spiraled bow echo, evident in reflectivity imagery NW of LIC, told us all we needed to know about the potential N of the Palmer Ridge: zilch, nyet, nein, nada, (and for Joisey boys like DF) fuhgeddaboutit.

Southward we plunged toward Ordway and the remaining area of relatively high CAPE and backed sfc winds in the Arkansas River Valley. As we did so, we passed through some outflow from Palmer Ridge storms, and…BRR! Get the polar bear parkas out — 47 degrees F…no thanks! As did the cow before, now did the atmosphere there.

A Tale of Two Supercells

Shortly N of Ordway, a solitary, compact, well organized storm became apparent visually and on radar to the distant SW, over Hodo’s hometown and well removed from that wretched outflow pile to our N. We could see a broad updraft base in the distance, and even a ragged wall cloud attempt or two as it was exiting the PUB area.

We set up 2 NNE Olney Springs to let the storm (Storm 1) come toward us, occasionally photographing the broad but rather featureless updraft base, while DF’s big dogs played in the roadside dirt and weeds. The storm seemed to be drawing in a blended boundary comprised of a cumuliform banded horizontal convective roll (one of several HCRs appearing in reflectivity imagery and evident with eyeballs) and a differential heating zone under the anvil. Might these have contributed to its eventual dominance and longevity somehow?

As Storm 1 chugged along toward us, another supercell (Storm 2) quickly developed nearer to us, and to the SW. Within half an hour, it went from mere towers to a banded and visibly rotating storm with a nice precip cascade from the forward-flank, anvil/vault region. We thought Storm 2 would screw up Storm 1 (wide angles looking SW and looking NW respectively, from near Manzanola), but for the next 1.5-2 hours, they marched along the valley in tandem, often merged at 40-50 dBZ on radar but visually distinct, both sporting occasional rotating wall clouds of verying sizes (wide angles looking SW and looking NW respectively, from W of Rocky Ford) and nicely banded/vaulted structures.

We cruised down US-50 a step ahead of this rotating tandem of tempestuous tumult, stopping for photos of both these storms in several locales. Their structure got more amazing each time, and I often found myself turning N-NW for Storm 1, then WSW for Storm 2, then back and forth again. Double the flavor and double the refreshment! I was longing for two sticks of Doublemint. 😉

Spectacular Storms Multiply and Merge

Another supercell formed SW of Storm 2 (we’ll call it Storm 3), also exhibiting a vaulted and somewhat banded appearance for a short time. Storm 3 (here seen “below” — actually beyond — storm 2) would get undercut by the RFD outflow trailing behind Storm 2. Storm 4 formed as a short-lived supercell with obvious cyclonic shear in SRM imagery, almost under the anvil precip from Storm 1. Storm 4 lasted just long enough to produce a very low hanging wall cloud well NNE of Hadley, which I also shot from a great vantage of all the storms 2 WSW Hadley.

Hot diggity dawg…supercells galore, and we were seeing them all! Party time in the Arkansas Valley — that is, unless one was a corn grower.

From that same spot, we let Storm 2 approach and the almost completely connected Storm 1 move to our N, each of which also was closing in on the other. The whole interaction, visually, reminded me of football where the safety “angles toward” the flanker running down the sideline, except in this case, the two would merge into one uber-player, instead of one knocking the other out of bounds.

Storm 4 soon got overwhelmed by forward-flank precip from Storm 1, which still was spinning along nicely despite its Siamese twin relationship with Storm 2. At times a thick cloud band connected them, as if they were born partners in serving up a multi-course meal on the smorgasbord of spectacular skies (and atmospheric violence in the form of gorilla hail, for those unfortunate enough to endure their cores).

Probably a Weak, Cheesy Tornado

As the two supercells began merging near Hadley, the easily identifiable remains of Storm 2 just to our W and the more dominant Storm 1 to our N, a peculiar event happened that you may have noticed in the bottom-middle of the last shot (super enhanced crop-zoom thereof).

That feature was rotating, and very obviously — a tapered, helically spinning and rapidly rising column of occasionally smooth, sometimes ragged and always rapidly evolving cloud material right under the Storm 1 wall cloud (another super-enhanced crop). Time was 0038Z, distance was about 4-5 N of Highway 50 and NW of Hadley. We didn’t see debris, but for a very brief time, had ragged condensational connectivity with both ground and wall cloud. If it was a tornado, as also suspected by a couple of other trustworthy observers I know who were located to its SE and E, it was a cheesy and inconsequential one; and nothing to get too excited about. Still, I’m about 80% confident this was a weak tornado.

The Storminator

Contrary to my earlier hypothesis, Storm 1 (the old PUB supercell) took over and gradually absorbed Storm 2, turning in an absolutely jaw-dropping, prolonged display of structural delights, beginning near Las Animas soon after the merger. The combined storm, which mostly was the original Storm 1, liberally festooned itself with bands, striations, differential light effects, and occasional strongly rotating wall clouds wrapping up on its N side. These wall clouds quickly would get enshrouded in precip-filled occlusions downdraft cuts that coiled completely around their front (E and NE) sides, as viewed from the ENE on Highway 50 between Ft. Lyon and Hasty.

All the while, we blasted through one memory card after another shooting the amazing visual show at wide angles, sometimes zooming into another short-lived but rotating wall cloud. For a short time, the N side of what now was the only remaining storm (Storm 1) lit golden and orange in the setting sun W of LAA, while a very low-hanging and rotating wall cloud dangled beneath the N side of the spiralling pinwheel of supercellular glory.

Finishing up in Lamar: No Rats or Roaches

We let the storm go at LAA due to darkness, grabbed a $44 (incl. tax) room that (unlike the field project’s nearby accommodations) did not have spiders, roaches and mice. We then had a nice dinner at a restaurant in LAA. The place was about to close as we walked in…but stayed open at my request to feed a large number of arriving chasers after hours — including people pulling up from Bill Reid’s and Charles Edwards’ tour groups, a V.O.R.T.EX.-2 stereo-videography subgroup led by Jim LaDue, and us. It was good to see Dave Lewison and Rocky again, along with photographer extraordinaire Brian Morganti.

We also saw Mikes Foster and Coniglio there. They, as well as Mr. LaDue, let me know that the project had gone down to Canadian before doubling back, confirming my earlier suspicions. Boy, did V2 ever put in a long day. Several of them saw us turning N out of LBL as they headed SE, and perhaps wondered what the hell we were thinking. 😀

What a fantastic and rewarding chase. It was the second day in a row of gorgeous, sculpted storms out of two days so far on the High Plains. This is why we love to be up there, west of 100W. If the season ended then, we would have been content, but in the end, we were very glad it didn’t!

Next Page »