Dinner, Drink and a Beautiful Storm, Please

July 1, 2009 by · Comments Off on Dinner, Drink and a Beautiful Storm, Please
Filed under: Summary 

10 Jun 9
Liberal KS

SHORT: Intercepted and photographed spectacular LBL area supercell/bow after dinner.

The previous day’s chase to Osage County had left us (Elke and me, with David and Samara Fogel) out of position for any play in northeast CO or the NEb Panhandle. Still, vertical shear looked to be favorable for supercells over a broad area of the central and southern plains, from NEb to southwest MO to southwest TX. Problem was, so much would depend on prior convective processes, and it looked simply like a damn mess.

Morning found us in between several conditional target areas, somewhat closer to MO. We didn’t wish to jack around with trees and hills anymore, after two chase days of doing so. The next nearest target appeared to be the “bent back” frontal segment extending W near the KS/OK border toward SE CO. The eastern part of this swath (if not all) seemed utterly doomed when we left PNC after lunch. A huge shield of clouds and light to moderate rain covered most of west OK and northwest TX, the north part of which would cover and stabilize out earlier morning’s preferred zone from LBL-P28.

Ironically, just NW of PNC, we passed a few chase vehicles headed E, toward the 5% TOR outlook area. We plowed on through the grunge, not optimistic about seeing any storms at all this day, and simply aiming to get a room in LBL to position for the next day. If we would see a storm…bonus.

After emerging from the enormous precipitatus crappus area, we cruised up the Okie Panhandle toward our intended bunks, basking in bright sunshine of the post-MCS subsidence zone, and watching distant multicell towers form and grow across extreme SE CO and west KS. The boundary was obvious to our N through distant WNW, as a more cloudy area with low scud indicating richer lifted moisture, compared to the dry air in which we drove. Still, the uninspired mood, set by the atmospheric sludge through which we had driven, discolored our prognosis to the point of complacency.

From that framework, and because they simply looked like crap, we were unimpressed by the speckled, disorganized, multicellular appearance of the distant storms — both visually and via radar. We got rooms in LBL, relaxed a bit and prepared to go to dinner at the Applebee’s on the N side of town. Shortly before going inside to eat, I took note of a relatively intense short line of reflectivity about 50 miles to our WNW, but didn’t quite reckon that it would latch onto the boundary I knew existed in front of it. I knew the shear was good along the boundary, but our cool surface temps (low 70s) didn’t impress me much.

In short, I did put 2 and 2 together. Problem was, the solution was 6.

As we sat to sup, a supercell spun up. The short line segment to our NW had latched onto the aforementioned boundary and got very happy for a brief interval.

Meanwhile, obliviously imbibing on various cold beverages and chewing the fat in two different ways, the four of us basically had checked out of atmospheric reality for awhile. We were finishing our dinner and drinks (not near a NW facing window) when Keith Brown called DF to report that one of the storms in that previously junky area had coiled itself into a supercell, and best of all, was just a few miles NW of LBL. A quick run outside indeed confirmed the truth — a banded, striated mother-ship with a wall cloud beneath, and we were standing into its immediate proximity inflow. Holy rotation, Batman! We paid the tabs and scrambled into our vehicles so fast I didn’t shoot stills at this stage. We just had to get outta town…

Fortunately we were near the N edge of LBL and could drive into the open country fast. It was a good thing that I don’t drink, because it was time to chase, and for me to be a designated driver! By the time we got to where buildings, poles, lines and so forth weren’t directly crisscrossing the view, the wall cloud was gone, the nearest (southern) storm more outflow-dominant. Yet the storm graced the southwest Kansas sky with wonderful structure, compelling us to mark a route to stay ahead of it.

Meanwhile, the northern storm — here seen at 122Z from our first good vantage just N of LBL — would produce a brief, rain-wrapped tornado 22 miles N of LBL and 6 minutes after that photo (according to the national storm report logs).

Instead, we observed and photographed a beautifully structured and at times wildly banded southern storm’s evolution, classic to HP to bow in rapid succession, from several vantages N through E of LBL. In the last shot and in this later one when the storm was more linear, diffuse flashes of in-cloud lightning added an internal light and surreal character to the scene, while the longer twilight exposure accentuating some of the rich coloration available.

What a delicious dessert! By the time we got to Meade Wildlife Area, SW of Meade, darkness had set in, and we turned S to get out of the way and head back toward our lodging in LBL via Forgan OK. This wasn’t the first time Elke and I had grabbed a room and dinner before intercepting a daylight storm; we also did so for the amazing Carhenge Supercell last year. It’s not common to execute a chase this way! Elke summed up her perspective well, in that it was the first time she had been on a storm intercept “a little warmed” by wine.

2009 Season Opens Early

February 11, 2009 by · Comments Off on 2009 Season Opens Early
Filed under: Summary 

Central OK Supercells, Bow and Lightning
10 Feb 9

On day-2, the best target area appeared to be north TX or the Red River region, based on doubts about the ability of the moist sector to return northward appreciably into OK. Those doubts, in truth, were unfounded. Not only did the 60+ degree surface dew points make it to the Red River, they reached I-40, and the inflection point between the returning moist-sector dew point gradient (also perhaps a weak warm front) and the dryline itself exerted a decisive influence on the events in central OK. When the atmosphere amends your forecast for you, you must be flexible enough to adapt your target area and strategy! I adapted northward 160 miles, but in hindsight, 15 more miles would have worked out best.

After joining Bryan Smith at Battlestar Norman around noontime, we watched the bend-o-the-boomerang leap northward with astonishing speed from the Nocona/Bowie area to west of Norman, whereupon two storms quickly formed and cruised NNE, then NE. Bryan, his wife Carolyn and I headed W then NW to Mustang, with the idea of sampling some of this “early stuff” before catching the “good stuff” farther S, in what we thought was better air, later. Then came the tornado warning and reports for the storm to our NNW and N, just out of reach. We were unwilling to stern chase it through a metro area, but briefly glimpsed some lowerings in the distant N, under the updraft region and through the murk.

Our concentration turned to the next storm headed our way. A couple miles back S of Mustang, we watched it cruise by to the W while experiencing bone-chilling cold temps of 55-59 deg F in the rainy easterlies. The inflow air, left behind by the Edmond storm and rained into from heavy anvil above, felt like the breath of the Abominable Snowman, and our storm looked the part. That storm roared past, and we headed down to just SW of Tuttle to watch the “Anadarko” storm cruise toward some point a few miles to the W. It had more interesting banded structures aloft, and a rather large base. The inflow temps were in the upper 50s at this point, and we weren’t optimistic of its chances to ingest better surface air. As the storm repositioned itself to our NNW, and the inflow veered to SSE and S, temps jumped into the 60s, and low level structure improved dramatically (17 mm wide angle and super-enhanced crop), with a clear slot and narrow, short-lived, nearly ground-scraping lowering. That lowering didn’t appear to rotate much, if at all, and soon became somewhat clunky looking and scuddy. Nonetheless, any storm that looks like this deserves some scrutiny, especially when nothing else farther S shows much promise, and an earlier storm along much the same track produced a hose.

So much for hesitation to chase through the OKC area. With this storm being the only thing going that was worth tracking, we wheeled up OK-152, I-44 and I-35, watching ragged wall clouds come and go, and hitting much colder air N of Edmond (back into mid-upper 50s F). This was our last view of the storm, from the SSE, with a sfc temp of 55 F, between Edmond and Guthrie. It looks like a ground-scraping wall cloud, and maybe it was, but a lot of that looked to be an artifice of high RH in cold temps (a.k.a. rain and hail fog the updraft was ingesting).

Ryan called to inform us that nothing of great importance was happening within daylight’s reach, and(as we suspected) the activity to our SW had gone linear. Phooey on that! Bryan’s head was spinning by now, given that he had worked a 12-hour overnight shift and had been awake all day since, so I dropped him and Carolyn off at NWC he could get some long overdue sleep. On the way down I-35 from OKC, we could see a small tower try to develop just S of Norman (and ultimately fail), as well as a deeper Cb with overshoot in the very distant S, which became the tornadic Lone Grove storm after dark.

With a well-developed bow echo now charging NE toward Norman, I shot a quick dark-storm-looming scene looking SW over the facility, then picked up Elke and the kids at home. We headed over to the mysterious and legendary Tower of Doom (TM) to take RJ up on his invitation to watch the show roll past, capturing a few aerial lightning filaments looking W under the gust front and looking E into the trailing precip.

Sure, we didn’t experience the rush of excitement of those who were fortunate and willing enough to brave the urban storm intercept earlier. But this, remember, is February. To have a couple of rotating storms, a bow echo and some lightning cinched 10 days after January means the 2009 season is off to a mighty fine start. This was a way to “tune up” for the meat of the season in another couple of months, but perhaps more importantly, a soothing atmospheric poultice, applied to an accumulated ache of yearning built over months of frigid deprivation, for the unrivaled amalgam of brute force, sinuous dynamism and imposing beauty that is the supercell.

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