Mesmerizing Mammatus Moments

July 5, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Summary 

Pritchett CO Supercell
Assorted Storms and Sunset from Boise City OK to Liberal KS
11 June 11

SHORT: From McPherson KS, drove almost directly to Pritchett Co, saw brief tornado with supercell due W but no photos due to untimely town transect. Supercell died, as did another SW of Boise City. Intercepted back side of Turpin storm, photogenic outflows from trailing squall line. Amazing mammatus sunset followed by fun dinner with CoD crews in LBL.

This was a splendid first day on the High Plains for us in 2011! The day after hanging out in the beautiful Flint Hills, Elke and I headed W out of McPherson KS on the most direct route bypassing DDC to our target area of SE CO. We stopped along the way just briefly for fuel and to photograph an abandoned shed.

As we got to Syracuse KS, storms already had formed N of the RTN Mesa and W of US-287 in CO, our decision being to intercept the northern storms in a better road network, or the southern, newer storms that promised more unimpeded inflow for longer. We quickly decided on the latter and went S and W through Springfield to Pritchett.

Despite the densely wrapping hook echo on reflectivity displays, we didn’t expect anything substantially tornadic from the southern storm W of Pritchett, which by now had evolved into a mature, intense but high-based supercell. Alas, right as we started to enter town from the N, Elke noticed a conical funnel under the base to our distant W, protruding about 1/3 groundward, with a dust whirl beneath and thin, translucent debris sheath extending between dust whirl and condensation funnel. Of course, it had to be while we were trying to get through the only town within many miles; and I only caught a couple of brief but unmistakable glimpses between buildings. So did a cop; for staring that direction, he tore out of a nearby alley, sirens and lights blaring, briefly blocking the road before drag-racing Duke Boys style around a gas station and vanishing in a dust plume of his own making.

By the time we exited the S side of town, the tornado was gone–no photos, only memories. All visible vortex traces vanished into Colorado-thin air before I could call it in; but I did so anyway. The PUB forecaster seemed relieved that the warning verified, even if by a brief cheezenado.

We cruised W to an observing spot E of Kim, admiring mammatus to our N more than the increasingly featureless and drab storm now devolving to our W. A broad mass of showers and thunderstorms was growing to the older storm’s SE and dumping cold outflow into its inflow–certain doom for a once-powerful and briefly tornadic storm. Where next? Plenty of daylight, and we were storm-orphans. Cells were firing in the north-central Panhandle of OK, far away but reachable; and we could see the anvil of a persistent, solitary but undoubtedly very high-based cell to our S in NM. We had to go to Boise City for a chance to peek at either; so back we headed to the far fringes of our current home state.

Fifteen to twenty minutes spent at the front of a stopped line of vehicles, waiting for a flagman and pilot car on US-287, either cost us an inflow view of an intense supercell later or saved our necks; I’m still not sure which! By the time we got out of that, the remnants of the NM storm passed by CAO and came into view–not surprisingly, a widespread virga bomb dumping downbursts…albeit a wonderfully textured and photogenic virga bomb.

After fueling in Boise City, we targeted the supercell approaching LBL along the KS/OK border, glimpses of which we could see to our distant E and ENE ever since being stuck in the conga line on 287. Along the way to GUY, I couldn’t resist quick stops for two Great Plains specials: a striking scene of an abandoned barn high in late-day sunlight, as if sailing through an ocean of golden wheat, and from N of GUY, a high-based but beautiful Cb to our distant SE near Booker (the next storm W of what became the Follett supercell).

We headed NE from the GUY bypass toward Optima, greeted by the development and maturation of a pretty front-lit and under-lit arcus from the tail end of a short squall line to our W, NW and N. The earth, desperately dessicated and thirsty as you see, was about to get a much-needed drenching and quenching.

That’s what was happening behind the “Liberal-Turpin” supercell that, once we got to Hooker, was E of the road, sitting directly astride US-64 between Hooker and Turpin. Its meso wrapped across the highway to our E, blocking ready access. Police had US-54 blocked heading NE toward LBL, probably because of (by now) very old information about the supercell; so we turned E toward Turpin, creeping up to the back side of the raging HP monstrosity, able to see only scud and wrapping precip rolling southward in surges around the otherwise unseen mesocyclone. I knew what that meant, and considering past lessons, we weren’t about to core-punch it for any price or dare.

If we had arrived 15-20 minutes sooner, without the earlier traffic blockage N of Boise City, we might have made it; but then again, we also might have missed the amazing sunset show that followed. And that would have been a damn crying shame!

Instead of pondering could-have-beens, we admired still more outflow, this being the curiously lit E side of the arcus from the squall line to our N, looking past Hooker. We let that shelf roll over us for some eerie illumination, then plunged through the wet but harmless band of precip to get to our lodging in LBL.

As we entered LBL, it became glaringly obvious that a spectacular sunset show soon would ensue on the back side of the storm complex. The low, golden sun shone through the last curtains of trailing precip, and also through those, we already could see a field of mammatus aloft through chunks of ragged scud clouds evacuating eastward.

We secured our room keys from our favorite little motel there, then headed N of town for a gorgeous Great Plains sky of sunset mammatus that made the entire convoluted trip, every minute of it, worth its unforeseen destination in images such as this. Yet photos, beautiful as they may be, only can convey two dimensions of one sense: vision. This was not just a scene, it was an experience.

Land parched by drought sprang to life in a soothing blend of sound and aroma, cool and moist, as thoroughly refreshing to me as to the dozens of western meadowlarks celebrating in song across every compass point. I longed for the physical capacity to inhale ceaselessly, so as to miss not a millisecond of moist, earthen scent flowing across cool breezes, while sunset’s golden and reddening glow reflected first off the moving tapestry of mammatus clouds above, then off the land below and all around. For a fleeting few minutes, arms spread wide into the breeze, eyes gazing aloft, ears in stereophonic reception of the avian chorale’s cheerful spontaneity, smells of freshness and cleanliness and life, I ventured into a timeless place far outside the confines of self. It wasn’t the first time under such circumstances, either.

Let me assure you, when you are open to releasing your shackles of distraction and worry, and diving headlong into an experience of this nature, every sight, sound and breath swirls together as one multidimensional immersion in full appreciation reaching far beyond words and images. It’s a conscious decision, a gift to accept, an act of release and absorption, letting go and drawing in. These are the occasions when we let go unconditionally, in spiritual as well as sensory ways, bathing in a rejuvenation of sorts that cleanses all accumulated grime from even the farthest crevices of our being. If this is but an ephemeral and incomplete preview of heaven, count me in when the time comes.

Then came the slow descent back into reality, as the colors faded and a growling stomach begged for tangible nutritive sustenance. I noticed, via SpotterNetwork, that Paul Sirvatka and the CoD crew were headed into LBL from the S, so I called and invited them to join us for what turned out to be a fine dinner with enjoyable company.

HP Heaving on Hutchinson

July 9, 2009 by · Comments Off on HP Heaving on Hutchinson
Filed under: Summary, Uncategorized 

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.

Northern Burlington at Sunset

July 7, 2009 by · Comments Off on Northern Burlington at Sunset
Filed under: Summary 

14 Jun 9
Eastern CO

SHORT: Saw high-based, outflow dominant storms from the distance in central Colorado, evaded eastward, waited for other storms to form but not long enough. Treated to wonderfully colored sunset at Burlington CO.

Elke and I had a good breakfast at the Memories restaurant in Ft. Morgan (highly recommended), before dropping S toward Last Chance to await storm formation possibilities either on the CYS or Palmer Ridges. While sitting on a hilltop between Last Chance and LIC, we saw a very distant Cb explosion to the NNW, which I-Phone radar revealed to be a rapidly evolving supercell near Chugwater. That was out of reach, realistically, and so was the potential afternoon target along the boundary in SW KS.

We waited longer for Front Range and/or Palmer Ridge storms, dropping S to LIC for shade and better data access. While there, a tornado-warned line of storms quickly fired over the DEN metro area (producing that funnel near downtown and Coors Field). I was disinclined to run immediately after that activity, given its linear and likely high-based character.

We kept waiting at LIC for closer development, which did happen to our W and SW. Alas, it was linear too! Still no photos for the day yet…the activity was distant, but I already could see a shelf cloud emerging through some mild haze WNW-SE of us. I envisioned an unfriendly wall of outflow surging E across central and eastern CO, so we threw in the towel on active chasing for the day, perhaps a little too soon.

We arrived at ITR, got a nice and cheap motel room, and ate dinner at the slow and overpriced steakhouse there (not recommended!). We clung to hope for at least an interesting, shelfy sunset. Meanwhile a couple of brief supercells appeared near the tail end of the line before being munched by the meso-beta scale cold pool (these were the storms observed by BillR, MattC and MikeU).

Even the linear MCS appeared to weaken as it headed toward us, but we went to the N side of town to watch it roll past anyway. The sky was remarkably hazy for eastern CO, but once the gust front hit, the view cleared a good deal. A line-echo wave pattern (LEWP), with a brief and embedded supercell to our N, sent a rear-flank augmentation overhead just in time for the setting sun to shine through its precip curtains, opening up a brief bu dazzling splash of warm coloration in the rain curtains.

As the reds began to fade, the blues deepened in the nooks and crannies of the overhead shelf cloud’s turbulent underbelly, compelling a wide angle shot of the beautiful and unusual scene. It was a fantastic way to close out what had been a rather uninspiring storm day.