Outflow Dominant Storms, Sunset and Lightning

June 20, 2006 by
Filed under: Summary 

SW KS, OK/TX Panhandles and W OK, 16 Jun 6

Witnessed initially promising supercell gust out badly as it moved from SE CO into SW KS. Heavy dust, numerous gustnadoes. Tiny left mover in NE panhandle. Photogenic sunset scenes and nocturnal lightning.


We left GCK intending to go to GUY and re-evaluate. At the GUY library we noticed storms building in NE NM near CAO, back in the dry air but moving NE toward the triple-point sfc low (dryline + cold front). Early initiation! Sometimes this does good things in the “bent back” area of an upper wave and near a sfc low, so it aroused out interest. Also, TCu could be seen building SSE down the dryline, into the DHT area and into a small triangle of strongly heated air that had developed to the W of the band of elevated clouds and precip. We decided our initial target would be the storms (by then) moving across Cimarron County OK, toward the SE part of Baca County CO, with the option to drop E and S later after anything else along the dryline.

By the time we left the library the storm showed a reasonably pronounced hook and low-midlevel meso as it cruised W-N of Boise City. I was concerned about dew point depressions and LCL height but hoped the storm would maintain supercellular characteristics long enough for us to get there and enjoy it for a little while. Heading NW then W on OK 3/US 412 (Northwest Passage) we could see a sharp anvil with overshoot and backshear off to the WNW. We also saw more towers building to its immediate S, in particular, a separate small anvil that had me concerned about an eventual linear evolution.

[Sorry, no photos at all of this storm or its effects…I was driving the whole time!]

We bolted N through EHA to intercept the storm in NW Morton County, as the storm entered its fourth state in two hours. Flanking towers were apparent feeding into the supercell from the SSE side, with a line of more towers connecting that flank to the S side of the other (southern) development. We hoped this wasn’t a line developing along outflow.

Our hope was dashed. As we finally got out of the sunlight and under the nearly meridional anvil plume, we could see a ragged, rounded, scuddy wall cloud under the SE-flank, but also, an arcus cloud to its S surging E and NE with scud rising rapidly above vertical columns of lifted dust. The meso was undercut really fast, just as we were getting into good viewing position, and the chasers became the chased.

The storm vomited a hefty load of cold outflow beneath itself and all over us, slamming and then rocking the car with what probably would be measured as severe gusts if we were driving a MM vehicle. Turning E and going 70 mph on what initially was a paved, unmarked road (with no speed limit signs), I felt only faint headwind with my hand out the car window. The dust plumes were thick, sharply defined and very turbulent, occasionally shearing up some equally pronounced gustnadoes. The car kept getting spattered with a mixture of wet-then-dried dust and rain-mud, making gustnado photography through the window a futile endeavor.

The pavement ended and we slowed considerably, but were fortunate that the gravel and dirt were well-packed with excellent traction. [KS Atlas and Gazetteer, as it has in the past, erroneously labels this a paved road all the way through to the next highway E.] We reached that eastern highway, a N-S road through Rolla, and evacuated the area, not seeing any storm intercept future beneath an ever expanding pool of 58 deg F surface outflow, reinforcing a cold front.

Back to GUY we went, minus two hours and a third of a tank of fuel. We could see some development SW of town but knew this new storm would be undercut by the onrushing arc of northwestern outflow that met us again during refueling. We bolted SE and watched that happen, before encountering a tiny little (anticyclonically) rotating updraft near Gruver. This was a dying remnant of an old storm split, calved deviantly leftward off another storm still farther S that had we could see had met its rainy demise. From Spearman, more storms could be seen going up to our WNW, but behind the OFB+front (denoted just above the surface by that stratiform cloud band).

We saw west-edge towers of other storms in the eastern Panhandle, to the distant S. Being late in the day by then, we decided to head SSE toward Miami TX to either intercept this activity shortly before sunset (if it remained viable) or experience the sunset on its backside. The combined anvil canopy of the two complexes (northwestern storms and those over the eastern Panhandle) did yield a nice mammatus display (looking E and looking NW from 20 NW Miami).

After hearing that storms in the eastern Panhandle complex were moving NE at over 50 mph, we lot interest in getting ahead of them, instead settling for the sunset opportunities. The burn areas NW of Miami seem to have recovered well, but charred trees and the charcoal remains of wooden fence posts could be seen all over the roadsides.

To pass some time before sunset, and fill our hungry bellies, we made a mistake that would haunt us both at the back end for three days thereafter: eating at the little cafe in downtown Miami. The food was old, greasy and bland, the corn (which Elke didn’t eat) brown and mushy instead of yellow and crisp, the green beans (which I did eat) obviously dumped from a steel can, the chicken-fried steak as soft as the mashed potatoes, the frying oil probably having been re-used numerous times with inadequate refrigeration. I hope the good folk of Roberts County aren’t accustomed, or worst, resigned, to eating that crap.

Not only was the food lame, the ~17 year old waitress/cashier seemed as dumb as a box of rocks: semi-literate and incapable of simple arithmetic. The girl couldn’t read her own handwriting, and neither could I; so I explained, at the register, what she had served to us and how to tally the total (including an impromptu primer on the meaning of percentages). She seemed awestruck by the concept of moving the decimal point. Take my advice: Don’t eat at the little corner cafe in downtown Miami TX.

Next we headed to NE Gray County for sunset photography, ignorant of the distress that would be inflicted on our gastrointestinal tracts over coming days. Instead it was a relaxing and enjoyable visit to an America as bygone as the day soon would become.

The old, abandoned, wood-and-tin grain towers of Laketon testified wistfully to a more prosperous era, speaking in the language of sheet metal rattling in the breeze and thick wooden timbers creaking under gentle, imperceptible sway. Both western and eastern buildings seem destined for collapse in the next big downburst, if not sooner. Surprisingly, they are located beside a section road and a highway with nothing to keep out over-adventurous kids and teens. Barring that unfortunate occurrence, they will serve their remaining days as roosts for the barn owls and swallows, and havens for the mice and insects (respectively) that nourish them.

Our last daylight sight on the Great Plains this spring was a fantastic sunset, including a brief scene where the orange orb seemed snugly swaddled in insulating blankets, as if it were a well-fed and content baby falling asleep for the night.

Instead of heading to I-40 and charging full-bore through the building MCS between us and home, as we often have done in the past, we decided to take a more time consuming but casual and enjoyable approach, creeping up on it, observing an photographing a little lightning at one spot until it receded eastward, then doing the same again and again, incrementally, even into western OK around midnight.

Stopping to shoot lightning is a great way to break up the monotony of a long drive home at night. Finally, we caught a gap between some of the cores and got home at around 3:30 a.m., weary but satisfied from a long time away from home, yet willing and ready for one more “gentleman’s chase” the next afternoon.


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