You Decide

June 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Summary 

Dumas-Stinnett TX Supercell and Tornadoes, 18 May 10

SHORT: Witnessed intermittently tornadic supercell (specific tornado count uncertain) from NW of Channing TX to NE of Stinnett before losing it to darkness and a road void.

Rich Thompson and I (the Two Chumps) headed out of Norman with modest expectations for a dryline supercell chase day in the Texas Panhandle, given the “recycled” nature of the moisture (dew points in the 50s to near 60, left behind by prior convection over Oklahoma, though enticing levels of shear helped me to convince Rich that it was worthwhile to head west. Jack Beven linked up with is at Battlestar Norman for the trek out, following us in his rental car.

The storm of this day would exceed expectations, frustrate us, fascinate us, play hide-and-seek games with us, and flabbergast us in many ways, and overall, definitely was worth the trouble! You’ll soon understand why my efforts at photographic forensics has taken so long since, and why I’ll shamelessly borrow Fox News’ favorite slogan for some of the strange and mysterious phenomena we witnessed.

Our general target area was DHT, where we hung about a bit, and where several runs of the short-fuse HRRR had predicted a locus for 2-3 dominant late-afternoon supercells over the western and northern Panhandle. Foci for convective initiation seemed rather nebulous, except for the diffuse dryline far W of us near the NM mountains, and a confluence line with some cumuliform cloud enhancement to our near S.

Once some high clouds thinned enough over the confluence line, towers deepened rapidly, and the first storm of the day erupted merely 25-30 miles to our SSW. This seemed too easy — a rapidly intensifying storm in our general forecast area of the NW TX Panhandle.

We charted an intercept course between Hartley and Channing, and soon had a nice view of the young tempest’s already supercellular appearance (looking W from ~6 N Channing at 1658 CDT). Nearly continuous rumbles of thunder high up in the anvil and vault regions signaled essentially continuous zips of lightning, indicating an active ice-particle charge separation region and, along with its clearly supercellular inclinations, active generation of even bigger ice particles (namely damaging hail) aloft. This storm’s inner forward flank absorbed a growing cell originally to its S, and seemed fortified instead of handicapped by the encounter. It clearly wasn’t fooling around.

Content to let the storm churn along slowly toward us, and across the dissected scablands of the Canadian Breaks, we observed a few obvious (albeit scuddy) wall clouds and mesocyclonic occlusions, each with more sustained and well-defined low-level rotation than the previous. In this example (looking NW at 1722), behold the scuddy wall cloud at distant left, which was rotating with a well-developed clear slot cutting in front, while a newer, flatter, larger base and wall cloud formed at nearer right. The right circulation would become the dark, menacing photo you’ll see later (Dumas mesocyclone), while the one at left would persist for many miles and minutes, and yield our first unambiguous tornado.

By the time the newer mesocirculation passed US-385 just to our N and headed toward Dumas, we were ready to maneuver that way, when the older, more deeply occluded one tightened up rapidly, and began spinning like crazy. Cloud condensation reached most of the way groundward with and a funky little tail cloud at rear and dark shards of scud in the foreground for added spooky effect [looking NNW from 7 N Channing at 1734). Between that shot and this one, at 1735, a brief dust spinup occurred beneath, indicating the first tornado of the day (albeit cheesy). The low-level circulation crossed the road to our NNW without obvious dust or debris, then got partially rain-wrapped to our N and NNE. From within the murk appeared a very obvious, low-hanging condensation funnel with intermittent wisps of dust and condensation spinning at ground level beneath. Time of this undisputed tornado stage was 1744. Was this a second, separate tornado or an extension of the earlier one, the interval merely being too weak to be visually manifest? We report, you decide.

Atmospheric vortices aren’t always clean-cut, nor are they easily segregated from one another in tight, cleanly demarcated spectral bins. If the head-scratching already underway on weren’t enough, the remnant circulation moved farther ENE, away from us, wrapping in more rain, without obvious debris or condensation. Then…

What in the hell was this? Check out the enhanced version. Location of the feature was about 9 NNE of Channing, time 1749, still in that old meso that wouldn’t die. The scuddy, fat cone was rotating (not very fast); and instead of spinning up debris, was hoisting condensation off what looked like the SW edge of a bank of hail fog! Tornado or not? We report, you decide.

Tornado #1, (or was it 1.5 or 2 or 2.5 or 3?) duly documented, we bailed E along FM 722 to regain position abeam of the eastern (younger) mesocyclone. Stopping near Middlewell, we did just that, but found also a low-hanging pillar of condensation that intermittently extended to the ground from the old circulation, now to our NW (time 1757, see enhanced version). Another tornado? The same one? None at all? We report, you decide.

Finally, that area began to lose definition, and the separate, very obvious, big, intense, strongly rotating and probably tornadic eastern mesocyclone matured to our N (and about 7 WSW Dumas). Here’s an enhanced crop-n-zoom. It surely looks like there’s a condensation pillar in there, planted on the ground. Real or Memorex? We report, you decide.

The area of strong rotation began to fill in some with what looked like rain-wrapping condensation, toward the already well-warned burg of Dumas. We tried to get through and E of town before it did, but upon penetrating the starboard rim of the bear’s cage on the S side of town, wisely decided otherwise, and bailed back S. A tornado was reported in Dumas, though little damage was done (according to later reports). We had to go all the way down to Four Way, E to Lake Meredith and N on FM 1913 to TX-152, removed from good view of the storm’s rotational underbelly until this striking wide-angle scene 19 miles E of Dumas.

We headed a mile W and another half mile N on FM-1060 and let the storm, which had begun to accelerate eastward, move almost directly toward us. Meanwhile, dozens upon dozens of chase vehicles materialized on the roads all around, including what appeared to be the full V.O.R.T.EX.-2 fleet. Fortunately, unlike the next day, everyone we saw was well-behaved and the traffic did not impede either safe viewing or, when necessary, safe escape.

As we waited, a broad, ragged but very strong area of rotation cranked up at cloud base, a skirt of lowered cloud material orbiting the boundary-layer mesocirculation center at eye-popping speed, the inflow at our backs rapidly evolving from stiff breeze to assuredly severe levels. This transformation was amazing. We struggled to stand upright, my vehicle rocking in roaring inflow winds that whistled and jostled power lines overhead. The storm was doing what Erik Rasmussen once termed the “big suck,” a frequent harbinger of imminent tornadogenesis. We were confident it was about to plant the “big one” any minute.

Instead, it teased us with a small one, and not in the main merry-go-round either. At 1911, a funnel appeared under the rear (NW)-side tail cloud, at center in this 70-mm wide angle, a faint column sheathed near ground by dust and/or precip evident beneath in this enhanced crop-n-zoom. That “cheesenado” moved S and vanished quickly behind the increasingly precip-filled, spinning carnival ride of rain curtains and dust daubs orbiting the main circulation.

The blasting inflow winds subsided only when the rear-flank gust front approached our location, so we headed E on 152 toward Stinnett. Along the way, another faint but unmistakable dirt daub appeared near the leading edge, in the distant NNW, lasting 2-3 minutes. Look beyond the third fencepost from the left in this shot. It probably was just a gustnado, but at this point, who knew? How many tornadoes had we seen? You decide. By now we were certain only in our uncertainty. It would get no easier!

A more intensely rain-wrapped and turquoise hue fell over the storm scene as we stopped to view the storm from both a scenic overlook W of Stinnett and from TX-136 N of Stinnett. Flaunting a flash of comic cruelty, almost exactly between those shots, and as we were passing through town with no good view of the main mesocyclone area, the storm produced a visible cone funnel and brief tornado that some other observers saw from N of town.

Parked about 3 N Stinnett, a gigantic road void preventing the storm from being followed farther E, we let the main mesocyclone pass to our N and NE, hoping for a view into the circulating pillars of rain and hail from the SW or W. Meanwhile, as the rear-flank region passed over, a thin, snake-like funnel contorted itself in the turbulent, non-mesocyclonic cloud base less than a quarter mile to our W. Rich was on the passenger (E) side and didn’t see this, but I did alert him. Dying as it moved overhead, I felt as if it posed no appreciable danger, though Charles Edwards (who was to our S) drove up a few minutes later to let us know that he had seen the flanking-line funnel over us too, and was somewhat concerned for our welfare. It struck me as, at worst, a “Weaver walk-through”. A brief shot of hail up to 1.25 inch diameter passed across us also, visible in this shot as bridal veils of hailshafts cascading into the fields to our immediate SE.

Meanwhile, something very suspicious appeared behind the precip curtains, and in the area of rapid mesocyclonic rotation a few miles to our NE. What was that? Some nearby observers swore it was a rain-wrapped, multi-vortex tornado, and maybe it was. Here’s the enhanced version. Time was 2001.

We report…

As the whole area retreated off into the roadless prairie wilderness of the Canadian River valley, a more well-defined wall cloud appeared behind the precip (enhanced image), perhaps with some spinups beneath.

…You decide.

Whatever happens NE of Stinnett stays NE of Stinnett. 🙂 Actually, that’s not far from reality. That area is a vast, roadless tract of grass and scrub, on which even an aerial survey might not help forensically except for the most violent of tornadoes. We may never know for sure what was happening inside that furiously rotating cascade of hail and rain.

As we prepared to head S through Stinnett to find lodging in Pampa, we noticed that another, more ragged storm to our W had begun to rotate visibly at cloud base. It obviously was drawing in just enough unstable air for survival, from above or S of the shallow outflow boundary left by the big departing supercell. As the shrinking circulation passed to our N, with a ragged wall cloud, we did experience brief retreat of the boundary last us, and warm and moist S winds. This area merged with the W side of the bigger storm in that void, and in increasing darkness, while we high-tailed it to food and motel in Pampa.

Though pleased with our chase overall, and satisfied that this day did more than we expected with “recycled” moisture, we lamented that we could muster nothing more than brief spin-ups that were hard to see, and how on earth we ever could get a photogenic tornado to fill the camera lenses. Alas, thanks to family matters and work obligations, we were unable to chase on the days later in May, in SD and in the SE corner of CO, that provided many other storm observers with some of the most strikingly picturesque tornadoes documented this decade. Still, it was nearly cathartic to get out on the wide-open High Plains again, and a far bit less stressful than the unprecedented and dangerous circus of storm-viewing traffic that would dog us in OK the next day.

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!

Stormy Sunset Salvation

June 30, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Summary, Uncategorized 

9 Jun 9
Northwest Osage County OK

SHORT: Killed Kay County supercell as it moved into Osage County. Intercepted complex multicell/supercell cluster from two sides near Webb City, with brilliantly sunlit convection astern.

A couple days of prognostications indicated the best play on this day would be the frontal zone from the central high plains to the Ozarks, preferably W of I-35 where the road network and terrain each are friendlier. Analyzing the situation from our prior night’s lodging in SLN, it became screamingly apparent the too-well organized morning MCS was spewing lots of cold outflow and shunting the effective frontal zone well southward across south KS. The western part was being shoved into drier warm sector air with more westerly sfc component, while at least the middle segment seemed to be interacting with a sfc moisture plume characterized by mid 60s to near 70s F dew points. A mesolow also was forming W of ICT, potentially concentrating convergence in its vicinity from the area S of HUT through the ICT region.

Armed with that concept, we (Elke and I in one vehicle, Two Fogels/Two Dogs team in the other) headed for our target area of south-central Kansas, with a great lunch at the IHOP in HUT along the way. Scattered Cu dotted the SE-SW horizon in a band obviously corresponding to the outflow boundary. As we waited for initiation near Cheney Lake Dam, the boundary continued to sag S, and the winds actually backed from ENE to N. Oh no…the mesolow not only was riding the slowly progressive boundary, but moving E thereon! Meanwhile the warm sector winds to our S still remained out of the SW, with a more southerly component hanging in there E of PNC to BVO. Time to move SE and stay ahead of the mesolow…

As we cruised E from Conway Springs, storms erupted to our E along the boundary, and to our S over north OK. The former would have a shot if it could stay on the boundary (big “if”), while the latter erupted in the hotter, deeper mixed boundary layer, but more discrete with less undercutting potential from the outflow boundary. By the time we reached WNF, we decided to go after the Okie storm, now right-moving over Kay County all by its little lonesome.

Dodging a few small, transient left splits, we maneuvered with steely determination E and S toward Webb City OK, in the beautiful, green-carpeted, southwestern Flint (Osage) Hills. The storm maneuvered E toward our location, into better storm-relative sfc winds, larger hodographs, and lower LCLs, with a stone cold death wish…for itself. Just as we got in good position to its ESE: shrivelus convectus minimus!

A messy complex of storms behind it, to our WNW-SW, became better organized, even sporting decent gate-to-gate mesos for short periods along a curving, embedded cyclonic shear zone. With sparse roads and a good W view (albeit with a hazy boundary layer), we let the initially distant assemblage of bases and cores — including one striated but small updraft cylinder — move our way. Very briefly — less than a minute, a finger of cloud condensate connected ground and ambient cloud base to the very distant WSW, but it was just too far away to ascertain whether this brief feature was rotating — a scudnado or the real deal. By the time I ran across the road for a better photo angle, it was gone.

After that, the storm cluster and its precursory anvil CGs drew closer, forcing our southward retreat to US-60. What appeared to be an anchor supercell on its SW flank grew feeble quickly (again, upon entering more backed surface winds and greater moisture…go figure), allowing us to “core punch” its moderately rainy and baseless carcass driving W on US-60.

By now, the sun was getting lower, and we decided to bunk down in PNC instead of driving up to 2.5 hours out of the way (to home), given the more western location of the next day’s forecast area.

The best part of the chase day, as often happens, came behind the storms, near sunset. The newly soaked, rolling green hills and valleys smelled a fresh and invigorating earthy aroma. Mild, moist air came to life with the calls of bobwhite quail and many wild songbirds, while a couple dozen nighthawks arose from the fields and flew off toward the setting sun.

Out across the big eastern sky, a beautiful double-rainbow festooned the back of the retreating storms to our E, followed by marvelous layers of light and shadow across the sides and tops of big new towers forming another anchor storm. Across a few fleeting minutes, the sunlight tones warmed considerably, reflections off the big towers in turn lighting those beneath and casting ever deeper hues across the scene. Finally the show ended, but not before a brief blaze of bronze from the final rays of the day.

It was a neat way to salvage an otherwise disappointing chase day and an egregious atmospheric underperformance compared to the 15% sig-tor outlook that had been issued for central KS early in the day. 😉

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