Junk Storms in Eastern Oklahoma

June 1, 2011 by · Comments Off on Junk Storms in Eastern Oklahoma
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Dewar to Wainwright OK
22 May 11

SHORT: Agonizingly slow-developing small cell Henryetta-Okemah followed by beefier but disorganized storms same area.

LONG: Once we got awake and organized, the Ozarks of SW MO and far NE OK seemed too far (and too unfriendly terrain-wise). Any nearer target for the day was rather nebulous, given the lack of a sharply defined boundary ahead of, and of strong lift along the Oklahoma segment of the dryline. However, we pulled out of Norman to the sight of towering Cu up and down a SW-NE aligned dryline located to our SSE through NE. Despite the SSW winds to its E, high SRH beckoned in eastern OK; and the dryline’s confluence (and convergence) zone became better evident with time during the afternoon in both clear-air mode reflectivity and VIS satellite imagery.

As the day before, following close behind (but not too close, since I was consuming pork rinds): the Dude, Three Chicks and a Dog chase team. And yes, given that we were headed to eastern OK, it was fitting that I was wearing a cartoonish “EVERYONE LOVES A REDNECK” shirt DF gave me as a birthday gift.

We waited at Ada only a short several minutes before towers erupted into a Cb to our NNE, S of I-40 and E of the dryline. Meanwhile a growing left-mover was charging NE from a splitting process down along the Red River, while the right-mover was dying. With nothing in between, we targeted the cell approaching Henryetta.

On composite reflectivity, the storm seemed to level off at under 50 dBZ for well over an hour, despite a healthy (if episodic) chimney of towers shooting forth into its anvil. With MLCAPE up to 6,000 J/kg in its presumptive inflow region, this didn’t resemble the thermonuclear detonation, as have other storm initiations on giant-CAPE days in the same area like 26 May 1997. Instead, when we got closer to the storm between Henryetta and Okemah, it sported pulses of small updrafts.

As we positioned along US-69, the W edge of the Bigfoot jungle beyond which chasing in OK is just not worthwhile, another storm erupted to the immediate SW of the original cell, to our W, and also near Henryetta. To our N, through haze and intermittent low clouds, we also could see the top 1/2 of the tornado-warned supercell SE of TUL, itself headed into horrendously rugged terrain N and NE of Fort Gibson Reservoir. We let the base of this new storm get closer; but it remained rather flat and featureless, with only shallow, transient and innocuous lowerings.

The atmosphere from the new Henryetta storm southwestward past Ada then erupted almost all at once, using up a raft of that giant CAPE air in massively multicellular form. We gave up on the chase day, shot a gap through the big mess, and headed home.

Only after arriving back did we learn that a few hours NE of our junky storms, in Joplin, a rain-wrapped EF5 tornado engulfed much of Joplin, causing the worst tornadic death toll in the modern weather-warning era. Clearly the environment was a good deal different from there to where we had been–much of it on the storm scale. Horrible fortune played a part too; the same tornado several miles N or S would have missed town, likely causing few if any casualties. In a year of rotten placement of several cities with respect to the tornadoes that would strike them, this was the worst in terms of human toll.

Fun with Small Nebraska Panhandle Supercells

July 14, 2010 by · Comments Off on Fun with Small Nebraska Panhandle Supercells
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Harrison-Gering NE, 19 Jun 10

SHORT: Intercepted 3 nontornadic supercells in Nebraska Panhandle, one after dark near BFF.

LONG: A cold front had swept out of the Dakotas following our last storm intercept day. That stabilized the air mass for awhile and gave a couple of non-chase days for laundry, sightseeing, relaxed travel SW toward an eventual central High Plains target area, and photographing abandoned buildings of various kinds over the Dakotas and western Nebraska: an old schoolhouse, a long-disused, small-town rail station,a barn, the back door of another barn, a mostly intact farmhouse, and a gradually collapsing old house looking in and from without. Elke and I hadn’t been back in the Dakotas for a few years; and while storms beckoned us away, it was great to see the northern Plains again, especially in such a verdant, moist state.

The front’s trailing remnants stalled across the central High Plains beneath favorable mid-upper flow for supercells, while easterly and southeasterly flow to its N would yield decent low-level hodographs. A textbook, multi-day, central Great Plains upslope pattern was setting up, and we had time to participate before the chase season closed out. The main concern on this day was a lack of more robust moisture, but I wasn’t concerned much about whether we would see a storm form, given favorable upslope flow into the higher terrain of eastern Wyoming. We left PIR by mid-morning, targeting the Wyoming/Nebraska border region, with a short venture into the whimsical (but fun) tourist trap of Wall Drug.

As we left Wall Drug, convective towers bubbled over the Black Hills, but struggled amidst the lack of moisture. Moist advection started to solve that problem by the time we got down to around Harrison NE, with a discrete storm erupting to our SW over eastern WY and a short line of some overshooting cells to our NW (closeness exaggerated in the zoom view) across northeast WY, W of the Black Hills. Although both eventually would yield supercells, we went for the cleaner, more moist target to the SW.

We found a one-lane dirt road between Agate Fossil Beds and Mitchell, off NE-29 — no crowds, no traffic, nothing but us, a vast rolling prairie, a storm organizing into a slowly moving LP supercell, and dozens of different bird species joyously singing across the mild breezes.

The chase season to date, and the vacation in particular, had featured lots of driving and moderately- to fast-moving storms. This was a most welcome relief! We stayed there for nearly an hour, just enjoying the peace and solitude, punctuated only with an occasional rumble of thunder from the small, high-based supercell. It didn’t matter at all that this storm likely could never produce a tornado. The soothing salve of the Great Plains in springtime worked its rejuvenating magic on us, and we experienced the most pure, relaxing enjoyment in the face of a storm all season so far. It was a deep-tissue massage for the soul, a reconnection with why we’re out there to begin with.

I also, finally, had a chance to set up our new HD video camera on a tripod, and let it stand there and roll (our first video shooting in several years). [I eventually will construct some time lapses from this footage.] We had received this as a gift shortly before leaving on our trip, and I hadn’t really had a chance to learn how to use it right, amidst all the more active chasing we had done so far. The main intent of this video camera will be to shoot HD time lapses for our own enjoyment and perhaps uploading online; but first priority will be still photography. In this case, our video will feature a chorus of birds in stereo, the breeze, and an approaching storm.

As the first supercell grew more feeble, another small storm erupted very nearby to its S (and our SW), upon which I re-aimed the video and still cameras. This wide-angle shot shows both cumulonimbi at once, and illustrates how neighborly they were. It’s as if one was asking the other, “Would you like to come in and sit a spell? I’ve made some fresh lllllll-lemonade!” (quote [tm] Ryan Jewell). Instead, the northern storm shriveled to vaporous oblivion, leaving the southern one to spin along for a little while NW-N of Mitchell (and by the time of this shot, SSW of us). We finally decided to head S before the storm crossed NE-29, reserving a motel in the BFF suburb of Gering (which wasn’t easy due to all the hail-claim adjusters in town), packing the tripods, and beating the thin hail core across the road. This second supercell soon raised its base and weakened (view looking NE from a few miles E of Mitchell). It was time for some supper in nearby BFF.

As we dined, convection began popping up all around, almost at random, as if a pleasurable rash. Most of it was weak and inconsequential. One storm, however, took good root and became dominant to our WSW. We had some trouble finding the place of lodging we had reserved in Gering (in a neighborhood just W of downtown, but also just a few blocks from the entrance to Scotts Bluff National Monument, as it turned out to our good fortune). After we checked in, we headed over the hill S of the bluff to watch the now-weakening storm move in from the W. Its lightning slowed down dramatically as we set up tripods (of course), but not before one spectacular spark sliced through the twilight sky beneath for sloping base of the forward-flank anvil area. We also enjoyed seeing the apparently dying supercell’s remains float overhead beneath the moonlight, then headed back to our room.

While we were inside, unpacking and unwinding, I noticed lightning activity picking up outside. Another storm? No…after we gave up on it, the supercell rejuvenated and drifted just to our N over BFF, sparking anew from within! Out the door and right back up the hill we went, this time on its E side, to watch the spectacle. Once again, as we got set up, it weakened, but not before producing some nice intracloud flashes around a moonlit main updraft tower that was drying up from below.

I didn’t think to bring the new camcorder back out, and hadn’t yet tried the video functions of the 5DM2 still camera. So, instead, here’s a poor-man’s time lapse I constructed of still photos of the weakening storm moving away from BFF, where it had dumped hail up to baseball size. More work for those hotel-hogging insurance adjusters!

HP Heaving on Hutchinson

July 9, 2009 by · Comments Off on HP Heaving on Hutchinson
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15 Jun 9
Central KS

SHORT: Observed skinny supercell from N between Scott-Ness Cities. Performed an end-around intercept on HP supercell-turned bow from E of Kinsley to HUT. Munched by bow/HP hybrid in HUT.

Once again, we were faced with two interesting target areas — the “north play” near what turned out to be a warm frontogenesis zone along the KS/NE border, and the “south play”, along the prior day’s OFB over SW KS. I didn’t like the south play as much because of the forecast (later observed) smallness of hodographs and persistent SW flow right through the boundary for hours on end. Nonetheless, we headed that way from Oakley (despite being closer to the northern play) after three trends appeared:

1. Winds began to lighten N of the old boundary but not to its S (speed convergence) and

2. Midlevel (i.e., 500 mb) winds appeared stronger farther S, as proged, although low level shear and SRH were bigger in the warm frontogenesis zone, and

3. Storms erupted to our S.

I wanted to hold out longer for the N play, but convective bombs going off were too tempting when compared with the “pancakus” Cu around us and to the N. I’m not sure we would have gone all the way ENE to HSI for that amazing warm frontal storm, but we were in ideal position for the NW KS activity later.

A lone supercell formed N of GCK, here shown at wide angle from N of Scott City, then a separate, zoom view of the backside updrafts. In the background, another cluster of convection SW of GCK could be seen; those eventually would hog the inflow and choke off out storm. As we drove past its near N side, the updraft looked rather skinny, but was quite intense. Then too many other storms formed in too close a proximity to its SW-SE, and we had to make a choice — go back N toward the NEb border (no deep towers yet visible) or go a long way E then S to get ahead of the lead storm N of DDC. As we headed E past Ness, the lead storm started absorbing cells of assorted sizes to its E and “jumping” mesos eastward, forcing us to go still farther E before dropping S.

We finally did so through Larned, St John and Sylvia, encountering a few hailstones of unknown size in the far forward flank (heard ’em loudly, didn’t see ’em). Heading S toward St. John, I finally got a view of the business end off to the SW — a dark, menacing, HP supercell, absorbing yet another storm (itself with a high but circular/rotating base) into its forward flank. I might have seen the tornado near Macksville as a persistent, gray on darker gray, bulbous form back there in the mesocyclonic murk several minutes later (no photos…very low light, moving). It was about the right distance, direction and time.

We stopped briefly S of St. John to view the dark menace approaching, then headed E and NE toward HUT to stay ahead (wide-angle photo looking WNW from near Arlington KS). Finally deciding this wasn’t worth going any farther E, we found a protective place and let Stormzilla move over. A sporting goods store on the S edge of HUT was kind enough to let us park under their front porch overhang, right against their doors. It’s not often you get to just stand there well-covered in the lee side of a building, relax, run out now and then to shoot some photos of the oncoming HP/bow Stormzilla, and then let it blast you, no worries.

This was one case where having the I-Phone radar provided assurance we wouldn’t be in a truly dangerous part of it (using the DDC radar, since ICT’s 88d timely fried its antenna motor over an hour before). The apex of the bow passed just to our S, the bookend vortex ( old meso from HP phase) just to our NW and N ( here lit by some anthropogenic glow from the W side of HUT), and we sat in an intermediary channel of estimated tropical storm force (~40-50 kt) WNW winds for about 15 minutes. Power went out there and everywhere else we could see during the maelstrom.

After the wind-whipping, we headed back toward GBD for lodging. A couple miles S of Sterling KS, the solar orb appeared below the razor’s rear edge of the MCS anvil shield and above the top of the far-away deck representing storms in northwest KS. This started up a brief but dazzling double rainbow, its hues warmed across the entire palette thanks to the low sun angle. We stopped to appreciate and photograph it across a deeply golden wheat field foreground, with a strip of green corn in the distance. The wheat looked well-nigh ready for harvest.

Then came dinner in GBD, where we parked next to yet another among many “look at me” chase vehicles hereabouts in the Plains. This one was festooned with Skywarn stickers, assorted “Storm Chaser” decals, a “J2” decal (as if this was one unit of some sort of team…suuuuuure), and an assortment of anemometers, antennae and PVC tubing atop. Upon closer inspection, only one antenna had any wiring leading inside the vehicle; and the anemometers and tubing were wired up to absolutely nothing. Posers. The large stencils on both sides of the rear windows for a local janitorial service cinched the deal. Yep, we found none other than the Janitor Chasers — keeping you safe and clean!

We ended the evening watching and photographing mainly in-cloud lightning and occasional LTGCA filaments from a band of elevated storms that formed just south of town (and later moved N). It was a neat show, as seen from the open field behind the GBD Wal-Mart. [Mr. Jewell knows exactly where this is.]

Be advised, if you must travel through GBD anytime soon, the main E-W route is torn all to hell, and down to one abominably rough lane each way, for about 1/2 mile W of downtown. Keep your windows up too, for the long puddles in the adjoining swales of construction mud smell like the bowl of a bus station commode. But our lodging was good, and cheap (<$50 again), and that line of elevated cores provided a thunderous late-night lullaby.

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