The “Liberty’s Crown” Storm

August 29, 2008 by
Filed under: Summary 

…and a Few Other Supercells from KS to the TX Panhandle

20 Jun 8

SHORT: Observed series of HP supercells from SW KS to Pampa TX.


We slept in late at Kit Carson CO, still intending to meander in the direction of central OK while keeping our eyes out for interesting skyscapes. Supercell potential still existed on this day, another round of NW flow aloft characterized by marginal speeds but strong directional shear, and worked-over air with scant moisture, portending high-based and/or outflow-dominant storm modes. Foci for low level forcing were very uncertain and nebulous. As a result, so was our storm observing strategy for the day, if one even can call it a strategy: Point homeward and pick off whatever may happen along the way.

A critical decision from the start was to head to LAA and eat lunch there, instead of at the restaurant adjoining our motel in Kit Carson. Doing the latter might have bought us an hour or so of valuable time, and almost certainly would have allowed us to see and photograph a few “landspout” tornadoes just a few miles from town!

Instead, we headed S, with a few deep Cu (that later became the spouty towers) off to the NNW and NW. After a decent lunch at a family restaurant in LAA, I noticed a pile of fuzzy looking Cb about 50 miles N-NW. By then the spouts already had finished, and the storms were amalgamating an outflow pool. I hadn’t looked at reports yet, and still didn’t know about the spouts. But we decided to push S and hold out for any later development away from the “junk” to our N.

After a short construction delay on US-287, we encountered a photogenic wind farm just W of the highway and N of Springfield, festooned with assorted farm windmills that made nice foreground objects for the big electrical turbines: 1, 2, 3.

After that photo shoot, I made one more mistake: Looking at the storm reports page and seeing those spouts, whereupon my mood plunged straight into the sewer. At Boise City, we decided to get some dessert at Diary Queen, along with one more data check. A supercell had emerged or evolved from the midday storms near Kit Carson, and was plunging SE toward SW KS. Another, smaller, discrete supercell was forming rapidly immediately to its E, and fortuitously, we were in prime intercept position. The old Kit Carson convective complex burned me once, but we would get a second chance to make lemons from lemonade with it.

So we charged NE from Boise City to get in front of the mess of storms, thinking, “Maybe we can salvage something convectively photogenic over the High Plains before we head home.” When ensured was a series of HP supercells that formed a baton-handoff process from the original Kit Carson-to-Stanton County storm down across GUY into the northern TX Panhandle. The CO/KS border supercell already was starting to gust out when we got in viewing position (looking WNW). That second supercell that formed to its E, N of Rolla, gave us a very photogenic, multi-hued shelf cloud over wheat field scene. Another storm developed quickly in the warm sector, just ahead of the outflow boundary from the first supercell and SW of Rolla. This storm quickly began rotating, taking aim on GUY.

We headed into GUY for a bathroom break — a really quick one, because the rotating skirt of the newer storm was spiraling its way toward town, and looked like it meant serious business. After navigating the seemingly ceaseless string of unsynchronized Guymon stoplights, we escaped town just in time, watching from the E as the west side of town got gored by the nasty, deep, dark, butt-munching HP.

We briefly saw Paul Sirvatka’s COD crews E of Hardesty. They were turning N (apparently giving up on the storm) while we turned S to stay ahead of it. Granted, it was on the way home for us (and their N turn, likewise for them), but this chase day simply wasn’t overwith! The GUY storm’s hand-off progeny moved SSE across Srn Hansford County to our WNW with a sharks-tooth shelf below some midlevel banding. Headed S on US-83 with the storm to our WNW (crappy picture while moving), the objective was to go to PPA — in its path — and let it roll over, hoping for some LTG action both in front and behind the complex. We also decided to bunk down in PPA instead of driving home through the night in the lightning and rain, then head to Norman the next day under more safe and alert circumstances.

We got to PPA well ahead of the onrushing HP’s, so we snagged a cheap motel room before taking up a position on the NW edge of town to let the convection roll in. It was a sight to see — a striated storm lighting up the sky and ground with mainly in-cloud electric discharges and moving right toward us. As it approached, the storm took on a more wet, outflow-driven appearance. One brilliant eruption of in-cloud anvil lightning overhead set the ground aglow, with fainter discharges inside the storm reversing the usual dark-ground/bright-storm nighttime shot just enough to make the scene look very strange, surreal and ominous. It gave me one of my personal favorite shots of the chase vacation by virtue of the combination of crazy cloud structures and unusual distribution of night light. As the storm got closer, it gusted out some more, but its midlevel skirt took on a spiked, Liberty’s Crown of Thorns appearance that I’ve never seen before, much less photographed. Here we were, almost 35 collective chase seasons between the two of us, still marveling with amazement at a brand new scene!

The lightning stayed in-cloud as the storm closed in, Liberty’s crown spreading overhead. We broke down the tripods and headed to town for dinner, ending up in the dying storm’s moderate rain as yet another supercell developed to its (our) WSW. The back side of the complex didn’t offer any decent crawler shooting, so we turned in for the night, and celebrated before departing the next morning with our last Allsups burritos of the season.

One of the amazing experiences of storm observing is the domino effect, or cascade of events, from one convective process to another, each dependent on the stage before in its precise alignment, location and strength. And so it was this day. The end result of those midday, nonsupercellular tornadic storms we missed outside Kit Carson was a great skyscape after dark on the outskirts of Pampa TX, after nearly nine hours, four states and 300 miles.


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