April 9th was a chase day for me close to home (within an hour and a half drive of Dodge City). I had a pretty good feeling that at least one severe storm would form along the dryline in Kansas, and thus opted to make this my chase target versus a long, expensive, and draining drive to chase storms in northwestern Iowa. There were numerous tornadoes observed by many storm chasers up in northwest Iowa on April 9th. There were not as many storm chasers in Kansas on the 9th, and as a result, I managed to get some more unique images of storms. Unfortunately, there was only about a 15 to 30 minute time frame where the storm I chased revealed some photogenic scenes, so I tried to take advantage of the opportunity. The storm was a marginal supercell storm that produced up to golfball size hail as it tracked northeast from Greensburg to Stafford, Kansas. I first intercepted the storm when it was in its formative stages south of Greensburg — viewing it from the distant east near Belvidere. The storm was moving rapidly northeast at 40 to 45mph or so, which is not the type of storm chasing I like to do. I knew this coming into the chase, though. It was along the Hwy 54 corridor around the Cullison area when I photographed some brilliant scenes just as the sun was beginning to set. Crepuscular rays were very prominent both downward and upward in direction at points. After the sun set, however, the good photography opportunities diminished, especially considering the main storm to my north was not getting any better in overall structure and whatever structure there was — was being masked by other convective development to its west-southwest. I decided to stick a fork in the remainder of the chase as I headed north toward through northwestern Pratt County. A word to the wise: If you really like the adventure of traveling on thick sand, then drive through the Pratt Sandhills Wildlife Area northwest of Pratt — otherwise, avoid at all costs! Especially when storm chasing.
and do not necessarily represent those of official National Weather Service forecast products,
therefore read and enjoy at your own risk and edification!"
April 10, 2011
February 27, 2011
First storm chase of 2011 — sub-severe storms from northern Woods County, OK into Barber County, KS
Sunday, 2/27 was my only day off work during a long stretch of day shifts, and I was swaying back and forth on deciding whether to dedicate the day to a storm chase or not. When I went to bed Saturday Night, I was not anticipating chasing, but was willing to re-consider if things shifted farther to the west. Well, the RUC and HRRR models early Sunday morning were shifting the surface moisture and convergence farther west into northwestern Oklahoma. Also, the remnant cold airmass had lingered around a bit farther south deeper into Kansas, and it appeared that the warm front would not lift back north into Kansas at the surface. The mid level jet streak was also poised to come across West Texas a little bit later and perhaps a bit farther south, so all this led to the possibility of a focus farther west for mid-afternoon strong to severe storms. I decided to target far Northwest Oklahoma based on agreement between the RUC and HRRR model runs, which seemed to be fitting observations and my conceptual model of how the wind, temperature, and moisture field would evolve. I expected a narrow tongue of mid-upper 50s dewpoint air to make it back to Harper County, OK.
The moisture did make it back into far Northwest Oklahoma by early afternoon, but the deep and extremely intense westerly momentum across West Texas did not allow the moisture to remain back west over the far western counties of western Oklahoma. South-southwest winds at the surface were shunting the 50s dewpoints a county or so farther east, and the corridor of southeast winds were not really materializing in the Gage/Laverne areas. I was expecting (and hoping) the initial towers to develop near Lipscomb, TX and then move across the Laverne area and eventually Buffalo, OK and points northeast from there. What ended up happening was towering cumulus development occurring farther south and a bit east in the well-mixed air. The initial group of tower cumulus developed from Arnett to Cheyenne, basically at the longitude I was already at. I needed to adjust east. So I did just that, and when I reached Buffalo there was an elongated cluster of poorly organized bases to my south-southwest. I continued east to near Camp Houston and watched that area develop a little bit more, and radar indicated taller growth into the mid-levels. I was basically right along the front, but the winds just north of the front were becoming southeasterly up to the KS border. I liked this. I thought that if this storm could form rapidly, it may just take advantage of this mesoscale sweet spot from northern Woods County into southern Barber County, KS. I took a gamble with this first development, seeing as the second area of cumulus growth and echo on radar was quite a ways to the south still. (this southern storm near Vici, OK ultimately developed into the long-lived supercell and “storm of the day”). I figured, “bird in hand”, so I’ll play with this thing closer to me and already an established storm.
I went north on N2230 Rd a few miles east of Camp Houston and followed it north into Kansas. Of course, by the time I reached the storm near the KS border, it was beginning to fall apart. It still maintained some structure as it neared Aetna, but it was just so small. I then opted to go east on Hackberry road (instead of continuing north on Aetna Rd. to Hwy 160). The storm continued to move quickly northeast at around 40 mph or so, and as this was going on, the storm to the south, about 60 miles south-southeast of me was beginning to ramp up quite a bit. I continued to observe updraft pulses with the storm just north of me, but the contrast was poor. I came across some roaming bison on this open range that Hackberry Road meanders through. That was pretty cool. I was out of position with the southern storm farther away, and on a day like this when storms were moving 40-55mph, early decisions you make in the chase will largely impact what follows because there is no room for error. I committed too soon on this chase on a storm that was too far northwest with respect to the warm/moist sector. The storm to the south-southeast of me had much more real-estate of CAPE to work with, but the storm was fighting all this intense westerly component low level flow. That kind of bothered me and was one reason why I second guessed the storm. The southern storm ultimately became a very nice looking supercell on radar and an eventual tornado producer that a number of storm chasers saw. Of course, the way I chase, I seek “the road less traveled”, and again it bit me. Nevertheless, it was great to get out and dust off the cob webs (including my forecasting skills!) and kick off the 2011 storm chasing season. Photos from the chase below:
September 18, 2010
September 13th was my first storm chase in about two months, and I decided to chase on a day off work as the meteorological setup looked pretty good for photogenic supercell storms near the Kansas-Nebraska border. My original target was from Holdrege, NE to Phillipsburg, KS, but storms started to form well to my east and south by 2:30 to 3:00pm. After having a brief lunch in Holdrege, I decided to go after the first development to my south that were down in the Stockton area. There were other better looking storms well off to my east a little over 100 miles away, but I decided not to go after these in hopes that the closer storms to my south would eventually organize and interact with the 70 dewpoints that were found from Concordia to Salina. These storms never really developed, and after becoming frustrated impatient, I headed east toward a small supercell storm north of Beloit. It took me a good hour to get into position, and by the time I got there, the storm was on a downtrend, but still revealing a nice hail shaft as the storm continued southeast into southern Cloud County, south of Concordia.
As this storm was dying, another marginally severe storm formed to the west of Concordia, and I made my way to Highway 9 for the intercept. The southern portion of the storm was of most photographic interest to me, so after driving through Concordia, I bolted south on Hwy 81 and took some images of the new updraft that formed on the south flank. This was probably the best storm updraft structure I saw on this chase. It didn’t last long, though, and the storm approached Hwy 81 in a weakening state. I decided not to pursue it any further and headed west on Hwy 24 to photograph the backside of the decaying, very small rotating updraft. One rogue “bolt from the blue” came out of this weakening storm from storm summit which would have made for probably the best image of the year if I had been fortunate enough to capture it. It was a fantastic lightning flash with the storm structure and the landscape.
I then decided to head home and maybe grab some dinner and catch a glimpse of the Chiefs game in Great Bend, but on the way, more marginally severe storms developed to my distant west-northwest as I left Beloit heading to the south. After driving south of Lincoln, KS awhile approaching I-70, I decided to do a little night photography of these distant storms. Lightning eventually became very proficient as the storms approached I-70. A long, tiered shelf cloud emerged as I was shooting to the east of Wilson Lake with some sporadic distant CG’s. My last shooting location was along I-70 at the Smoky Hills Windfarm where I managed to get a few images of the approaching shelf cloud with some lightning illuminated storm structure along with the wind turbines. All in all, a marginal chase for me, but it was good to get out and shoot again… it had been awhile. I usually do not like to go more than a couple months without shooting something weather related or landscape/wildlife related.
July 24, 2010
I left Dodge City shortly after 3:00pm for a target around Colby, KS where a warm front was lifting north into northwestern Kansas. When I left, the first storms started developing west of Oakley, and I thought I would be in business with a nice storm to chase and photograph through the evening. It didn’t turn out that way as the initial storms never matured. More storms formed near McCook which also failed to materialize. The most organized storm was a left-mover that was moving fairly quickly due north toward North Platte, and since it was the only game around worth following, I went for it. By the time I reached I-80, though, the storm was still some 50 miles away to my west… still moving north, and after driving north about 10 miles north of Gothenburg on Hwy 47, I realized that this was a fool’s errand, especially considering the increased low stratus cloud cover ahead of the storm in the sand hills. I abandoned this and headed back south… aimlessly wandering about southwest Nebraska in dire hope of photographing something of interest in the sky. It wasn’t to be until I reached McCook. I had thought about staying in McCook for the night as I had thought there would be a chase potential the next day (Thursday, July 22) in western Nebraska. I looked briefly at the new model solutions and decided to just give up on this chase as well as the next day and head on back home. Before that, though, one storm was producing some decent, but infrequent staccato cloud-to-ground lightning. I didn’t get any of the staccatos captured on camera, but did manage one and only one cloud-to-ground flash, as you see below. I started the drive back home after this storm weakened shortly after this image and got back to Dodge about 2:30am or so.
July 15, 2010
Severe storms formed along a weak cold front across southwestern Kansas on July 14th. I targeted the Scott City, KS area and was hoping to see a landspout tornado from the first storms that developed, however that did not occur as precipitation loading was too much in the first big storm near Scott City and outflow dominance prevailed quickly. I followed this storm to near Garden City then went after another more isolated storm near Johnson, KS. Another small storm formed near Ulysses at sunset which provided amazing warm hues and I managed to capture a lightning flash from this small storm amidst the amazing colors. This was a fun little summer storm photography shoot!
June 30, 2010
The long-lived, significant tornadic supercell of 31 May 2010 will go down as probably my most thoroughly and successfully documented significant tornadic supercell in my 13 years of storm chasing. There were three distinct phases of this storm chase, and as such, I will document this account and share my images in 3 parts. The first phase (Part 1 of 3) was the time frame from roughly 2:45pm to 4:30pm which included a 20-minute tornado southwest of Pritchett, Colorado. The second phase was a long period from 4:30pm to about 7:00pm when the supercell was non-tornadic but still cycled through several significant occlusions, one of which was very close to being tornadic (Part 2 of 3). Lastly, the Campo, Colorado significant tornado, the hallmark moment of this supercell, will be documented in Part 3 along with the post-tornado sunset structure as the storm rolled southeast into the Oklahoma Panhandle northeast of Boise City.
Part 3 of 3. 7:00 to 9:00pm CDT (The Campo Tornado)
(times CDT unless otherwise noted. numbers in brackets refer to the image number in the embedded image album at the end of this post)
Once I reached Hwy 287 again after spending some time just east of there on County Road C, I decided to just find a nice viewing area along the highway and pull off to watch the structure evolve to my north. I was actually observing the new lowered area directly up the road to my north initially… and not the more occluded area behind it and to the west a little bit [1,2]. The occluded area behind was showing a marked increase in rotation and just moments after noticing thing and it catching my interest, a nub funnel had developed . Well in just 10 to 15 seconds, this initial nub funnel cloud continued to stretch, becoming a much more formidable funnel cloud [4-7], and eventually a fully condensed funnel all the way to the surface. Initially, I was shooting with just my D3 and the 14-24mm ultra wide lens, but once I saw the funnel develop, I grabbed the D200 with the 18-70mm lens and and both wrapped around my neck to shoot with. I didn’t realize until after the fact that my D200 was about a minute and a half ahead of my D3, which made chronological sorting my images in Lightroom a challenge. I remained at this location for the first 10 minutes of the tornado, and little did I realize the first 6 or 7 minutes that the tornado was closing in on my location. The first stage of this tornado from about 7:09 to 7:11 or 7:12 featured this absolutely glorious, tall elephant’s trunk that angled slightly to the west from cloud based [9-14]. This offered wonderful composition opportunities at around 50 to 70mm, both vertical and horizontal.
Times on map are Mountain Daylight Time. Numbers refer to image numbers in the embedded album at the end of this post.
At around 7:13pm or so, it finally kicked up a nice visible dust cloud at about the time the condensation funnel widened and become ever so slightly truncated near the ground [15-24]. This stage lasted until around 7:15pm or so and then a very dark, dusty debris cloud formed as the tornado was approaching Hwy 287 to my north-northwest [25-29]. Since the tornado was getting a little closer, the condensation funnel was becoming a little more spectacular. As the tornado was approaching the highway, there were more and more chasers bailing south, and since I stayed put a little bit longer, I got a number of wide angle images of the tornado with storm chaser (and non chaser) vehicles going south on the highway.. as well as the green highway mileage sign “Springfield 29, Campo 7″. At around 7:17pm or so, the tornado crossed Hwy 287, and around this time, a huge surge of dust from the field in front of me blasted across the highway in a 60-75mph west RFD [34,35]. In image 35, you will see a vehicle’s headlights totally immersed in this RFD dust advancing east immediately ahead of the tornado itself. I was still outside of my Jeep photographing all of this just right up the road, and after Image 35, I bailed ass south about a half a mile, but not before getting in on some of that dust. The wind was so strong, I could hardly open my driver side door and my glasses wanted to blow off my face. I estimated the wind to be about 65 to 70 mph or so. This was just a narrow RFD jet, and I got out of this RFD surge only about a quarter to half mile south on the highway, where I stopped again.
Times on map are Mountain Daylight Time. Numbers refer to image numbers in the embedded album at the end of this post.
The tornado was now getting into a bit better light as I photographed it just east of the highway to my northeast [36-40]. At times, the foreground lit up in brilliant saturated greens/yellows with a wonderfully contrasted white/light gray tornado condensation funnel in the background complete with a dark brown dusty debris cloud. This was just simply amazing! Soon, though, another big RFD surge can rotating around the tornado and I got blasted again with 60 to 70mph wind gusts from the west-northwest. This time, I had to take my glasses off and just carry them in fear of them being blown off onto the highway and break. This wind was damn strong, slightly exceeding the crazy inflow winds I experienced with the Bowdle supercell on May 22nd. I am guessing the peak wind gust there where I was at was near 75mph. It was time to move south again. The tornado either dissipated or completely wrapped in rain, and I stopped again a couple miles south before re-emerging again shortly after 7:30pm to my east-northeast as a white tornado somewhat wrapped in rain with a rainbow off to its south. I had totally filled up my compact flash cards, mainly due to the fact that I still had some images from a previous chase on there that I forgot to delete off a couple of the cards. I finally lost sight of the tornado shortly after this time and I made my way down toward Boise City then drove east to catch back up with the storm. Sunset light was simply amazing with beautiful hues of gold, orange, and pinks as the high-based supercell continued to march east. I finally ended the chase as I approached Hwy 136 and made my way back home…completing the most amazing high-based tornadic supercell intercept in my 13 years of storm chasing.
June 27, 2010
Day Ten (June 26th) — HP Supercell from Tripp to Freeman, South Dakota
After dropping Evan off the day before, I decided to make one last go at a decent chase setup on Saturday, June 26th, which was my second to last day of my vacation. I left KC around 7:30am hoping to get up into the Yankton-Sioux Falls area by early to mid afternoon which would give me plenty of time for repositioning if needed (say, farther west deeper into South Dakota). I reached Vermillion and decided not to go any farther north as an outflow boundary was pushing slowly south from early day elevated convection north of I-90 in east-central South Dakota. The thermal nose and highest dewpoints (mid 70s!) were pointing to a location from Lake Andes to Tyndall, SD, so after lunch in Yankton, I decided to head to Lake Andes. I drove about halfway to Lake Andes when a surface-based cumulus field was developing along the outflow boundary. For fears of overshooting possible chaseable surface-based storm development, I decided not to drive any farther west and just hung out around the Tripp-Parkston area.
A storm rapidly developed to my west-southwest and I was perfectly positioned. I noticed on SpotterNetwork I was the only one out here close to this new rapidly developing storm as most other chasers were staging in Sioux Falls. As expected, visibility was fairly poor given the very high dewpoints. I didn’t really like this, from a photographic standpoint. This was NOT a structure chase, I was totally in “tornado photography” mode at this point, and pretty much told myself that once this storm became outflow dominant or an “HP” beastie, I would most likely jump ship early. I stopped southwest of Parkston watching the storm develop, and it had that very nice “constant grumbling” sound that signifies a very healthy updraft. The storm was rather elongated and it was also moving fairly quickly once it developed. I didn’t like this. Upper level winds were not all that strong, so the storm would have to become “anchored” in order to put on a nice show of tornadoes without much precipitation screwing things up. That was not the case. The storm was moving fairly quickly, and since the anvil level flow was not that great, the storm-relative anvil flow was meager at best, and thus given the tremendous dewpoints, the storm quickly became an HP. I had to navigate some county roads east of Parkston since Hwy 44 was blocked about 15 miles east of Parkston. I drove first north of Hwy 44 to Milltown then south of the highway in hopes of getting a better view of the storm. At this point, the storm re-organized and appeared to perhaps right-turn a little bit. There is a county road along the James River (County Road 11) that I thought would be a great road to take to get southeast of the updraft area, but after a couple miles of this road heading southeast, it was blocked as the Wolf Creek was flooded over it. So much for that idea. Now I had to retreat back to Hwy 44. Fortunately, I passed a local along the county road and asked how much of Hwy 44 was closed and he told me that if I just went a quarter mile east to the next section line road it would take me back to Hwy 44 where it wasn’t blocked. Whew. So I got back to 44 and continued east. By this point, all the chasers were on the storm, most of them on Hwy 44. A big nasty outflow surge was pushing east along the Hwy and an occluded area was noted to the northwest where there could have been a tornadic circulation. It was so poorly visible and wrapped in rain it was hardly worth taking the camera out of the bag. Nevertheless, I did take a few images. This was around the 5:25 to 5:30pm or so, which was near the time that Andy Gabrielson reported a brief cone-shaped tornado as he was much closer. I took a look at his youtube video, and yeah, there was probably a weak, brief tornado in there, but I couldn’t see it from my perspective.
That was it. Shortly after this as I continued east on Hwy 44, the storm became less and less interesting as it was becoming a big wind and rain machine with a huge wet RFD taking over the storm. Another small storm developed behind it which I was tempted to chase briefly back west. I then just decided to head south, semi-blowing off the rest of the chase in favor it driving in the direction closer to home. A more isolated storm was approaching Yankton, and I went after that. I entered Yankton from the north and got into the core of this storm in Yankton with some half-dollar size hail exploding on the main north-south road in town. There was a very brilliant double rainbow as I entered town, and I should have stopped to photograph this, as this was the most photogenic thing I saw all day. I continued east a little bit on Hwy 50 to Gayville which was the farthest east I would go and ultimately blew this storm off too given the very poor photography potential. This was essentially the end of the chase. I grabbed a crappy Applebee’s dinner in Norfolk (par for the course for the day, I suppose) then continued on to Kearney. I didn’t get into Kearney until about 2:15am since more storms formed very near me along the advancing cold front… and with the full moon out… provided for some interesting late night photography. Nothing outstanding, but did get some distant lightning/moon illuminated storm structure north of Grand Island, NE.
Start: Overland Park, KS
End: Kearney, NE
Day Ten mileage: 848 mi.
Chase Trip mileage: 4800 mi.
Chase Trip Day Eleven (June 27th) — Drive Home
There was a slight temptation leaving Kearney, NE this morning of chasing later on this afternoon/evening in eastern Colorado as the NAM model was fairly aggressive with storm development. Meager CAPE was an issue and the overall wind shear was not all that great either. As I was driving south into Kansas, I made the ultimate decision to just head on home, as the setup was way too marginal to chase given I would have to drive back to Dodge City after the chase since I was due back to work Monday morning the 28th. I got back to Dodge City around 3:00pm or so. Photographically, this was a fine chase trip… certainly not the best ever, but it was fun to spend some time with my good friend Evan Bookbinder for a week on the road. This will conclude organized storm chasing for the 2010 season as summer sets in. There will probably be a few more spot chases from July to October to complete 2010, as in year’s past, on days off work perhaps.
Start: Kearney, NE
End: Dodge City, KS (home!)
Day Eleven mileage: 313 mi.
Final chase trip total mileage: 5113 mi.
June 26, 2010
…Southeastern quarter of South Dakota…
I am at a rest area along I-28 as of 10am CDT and am targeting South Dakota for today’s chase. Abundant moisture with lower 70s dewpoints will yield SB CAPE around 4,000 to 5,000 J/kg which will combine with adequate deep layer shear for fairly aggressive severe storms including perhaps tornadic supercells. One thing I don’t like to see is the expansive mid level cloud cover and light shower activity from western Nebraska into the western half of South Dakota… seemingly moving into the target area. We’ll see how that evolves as the day goes on, but all the models show pretty vigorous convective QPF signals this afternoon/evening, especially across eastern South Dakota. Find the convergence and easterly low level winds for the best shot at a tornadic supercell.. more later.
June 25, 2010
…Day Eight (June 24)…
This was a bust. Our first true bust day of the trip where we decided to make a chase day out of it despite it looking marginal. We had already committed south instead of heading into the northern plains (North Dakota/Montana) so we tried to make go out of a marginal upslope opportunity. It turned out nothing developed, although there was a brief attempt at a storm near Last Chance early in the evening as we headed east in I-70. By that point, we had pretty much called off the chase and headed to KC so I could drop Evan Bookbinder off to concluded his portion of the chase trip given the marginal prospects to end the trip (for tornadic storms).
Start: Denver (Westminster, CO)
End: Hays, KS
Day Eight mileage: 430 mi.
Chase Trip mileage: 3635 mi.
…Day Nine (June 25)…
Friday, June 25th was the drive back to Kansas City to conclude Evan’s chase trip. We parted ways at his house in Lee’s Summit, MO mid-afternoon, and I made my way to my parent’s house in Overland Park. Will resume chasing on Day Ten (June 26th) in Nebraska, but more on that in the Day Ten forecast post.
Start: Hays, KS
End: Overland Park, KS
Day Nine mileage: 317 mi.
Chase Trip mileage: 3952 mi.
June 24, 2010
Evan and I are in Westminster, CO at the same place we stayed in several days ago. Today is a very marginal day for supercells, but we will give it a shot. The target area we are considering is east of the Laramie Range north or northeast of Cheyenne where the Laramie Range convergence line will develop once again as southeasterly low level flow develops upslope converging with westerly momentum farther west in the mountains of south-central Wyoming. Mid 50s dewpoints will likely pool northeast of Cheyenne and the hope is that one decent convective storm forms over the Laramie ridge and rolls northeast onto the adjacent plains along I-25 from Cheyenne to Chugwater to Wheatland and perhaps points east of there. Will head to Cheyenne by mid to late afternoon.
Day Seven (June 23) Down day summary:
Since Evan’s Sprint phone was malfunctioning, we needed to address this issue before carrying on with activities for the day. We spent the better part of the midday and early afternoon hours doing that in Denver. After that we checked in to the motel in Westminster and then drove to Boulder to eat at BJ’s brewery on Pearl Street where we enjoyed the food, the sights, and the sounds that make Pearl Street what it is. I had a Totonka imperial stout which was pretty darn good. After that we made our way to Coors Field to watch the Rockies and Red Sox game. It was a very entertaining ball game with bottom of the 9th inning win by the Rockies from two home runs deep into right field.
Begin: Cheyenne, WY
End: Denver (Westminster), CO
Day Seven mileage: 183 mi
Chase Trip mileage: 3205 mi