High Plains Drifter

disclaimer:  "The meteorological views/forecast thinking expressed are those solely of the author of this blog
and do not necessarily represent those of official National Weather Service forecast products,
therefore read and enjoy at your own risk and edification!"

May 3, 2010

Chase Trip Day Nine (May 2) Summary [13 images]

High-based storm & lightning near Grainfield, Kansas

(rest of images at the bottom of this post)

I was not expecting much on this day given dewpoint temperatures in the mid to upper 30s across much of western and central Kansas, however there were going to be storms based simply on the notion that temperatures in the mid levels…500 to 700mb… were still very cold.  500mb temperatures were going to be around -22 to -23C.  The problem was that there wasn’t much of a focus for initiation to zero in and target on for chasing.  Where was the best storm to photograph going to end up being?  The environment looked equal just about everywhere from southwest Kansas into south-central Nebraska.  I decided to use the RUC model as my guide as it was showing a corridor of southeast winds with a little bit better moisture… say mid 40s dewpoints… advecting back into west-central Kansas around Ness City perhaps.  As it turned out, these winds never really materialized, and winds were quite light everywhere.  The first storms developed farther north… north of Hill City, and this is where I was led.  I made it to Hill City and eventually Norton, going after some briefly strong storms just into Nebraska near Alma.  By the time I reached North I drove east to get into better position of these, but as I was doing this, those storms eventually waned with a bunch of other scattered weak convection developing to my southeast, south and southwest.  Where to now?  There was no need to be this far northeast when I could be a bit closer to home to photograph essentially the same convection.  So I headed back southwest.  I followed Hwy 9 west-southwest to Hwy 23 north of Hoxie as this areas was convecting better than any other, so I thought what the heck, I’ll just get closer to this stuff.  I went south to Hoxie and eventually Grainfield when the “storm of the day” for me came into view to my southwest.

I wanted to get into a decent position for this cell, so I drove south on an unpaved county road southwest of Grainfield.  I stumbled upon my shooting location of choice.  A farm field with old corn stalks and an old barn making for a fantastic foreground subject.  I used this old barn to my advantage — it certainly made the shoot!  I set the D200 up with the lightning trigger and let ‘er go to work while I roamed around with the D3 to get some compositions of this old barn and the storm.  I managed to get a few cloud-to-ground images from this storm with the barn off to the right.  I think these compositions with the storm, lightning, and old barn work best as 2:1 crops in post-processing, which is what you’ll see in the album of images from this shoot.  One of the frames even has me in the shot, which actually kinda works in a way for perspective!  I felt pretty satisified with this and decided not to get greedy and begin my way back home.  I went south on Hwy 23 to Gove only to find that it was closed south of Gove.  I was forced to turn around and head back to I-70, but the next storm that developed in the cluster was producing some decent lightning frequency, so I gave it one more attempt to photograph just northeast of Grainfield this time along Hwy 23.  I was at this location for probably 15 or 20 minutes before the lightning activity waned.  At that time I decided to finally head on back to Dodge.  This was exactly the kind of shoot I was hoping for, but honestly wasn’t expecting.  I think one or two of the images from this day are Portfolio-worthy.

Begin:  Dodge City, KS (home)
End: Dodge City, KS (home)
Day Nine Mileage: 431 mi.
Trip Mileage: 4085 mi.

13 images from this day’s shoot:

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May 2, 2010

Chase Trip Day Nine (May 2) Forecast

Filed under: Early Chase Trip 2010 — Mike U @ 11:51 am

Most likely the last day of the chase/photography trip — Western Kansas. I am at home in Dodge City to begin today, and it appears I do not have to go very far at all for potentially photogenic storms.  Some residual low level moisture with dewpoints in the mid-40s were located across central Kansas late this morning.  Surface winds are expected to become southeast or east-southeast which may draw some of this moisture back west into portions of southwest Kansas by late this afternoon.  The latest 15z RUC suggests that strongest surface convergence will occur in west-central Kansas perhaps around Ness City to Dighton, and it develops some convective QPF in this area by late this afternoon/early this evening.  This is an extremely marginal day for strong/severe storms, but an isolated hail storm or two cannot be ruled out, and could be somewhat photogenic.  I will likely leave Dodge around 2:00pm or so, or perhaps later based on hourly analysis.

This will be the last forecast post of my storm chasing/photography vacation unless things change in the models — mid level temperatures will be warming with no increase in moisture.  A front will move into western Nebraska late Tuesday, but there won’t be any moisture to speak of… not even mid-upper 40s dewpoints more than likely.  I will be coming back to Dodge City after today’s chase and spend the final two days, Monday and Tuesday, at home getting ready for the start of upcoming midnight shifts which begin Wednesday Night.

Chase Trip Day Eight (May 1) Summary [21 images]

Filed under: Early Chase Trip 2010,Photography — Mike U @ 11:35 am

Northeast New Mexico/Southeast Colorado Snow Showers.

(rest of images at the bottom of this post)

May 1st, which was day eight of my storm chase/photography trip, was actually quite a fun and interesting day photographing scattered snow showers with ambient surface temperatures in the mid 40s to lower 50s.  Given the continued dry environment in the low levels… with dewpoints in the mid to upper 20s… these showers would allow temperatures to wet-bulb down into the mid to upper 30s.  The environment was characterized by very cold temperatures in the mid-levels for the second day in a row with 500mb temperatures of -22 to -24 C.  All it took was just a few hours of insolation after sunrise to get the initial cumuls to develop over the higher mesas across northeastern New Mexico.  Knowing this in advance with the models all showing convective precipitation developing by 18z in this environment, I decided to depart Clayton during the late morning hours for Capulin Volcano to do some sightseeing and photography, knowing very well that I would have some interesting sky to potentially photograph to go along with the landscape.  It ended up working out just as I had hoped.  I arrived at Capulin around 12:30pm or so, wandering around the rim of Capulin on the 1-mile loop rim trail photographing the varioius showers.  These showers were so small, it actually made for better photography, because I could fit the entire shower… and sometimes two… in one ultra-wide angle frame.  One of the stronger showers to the west developed a small anvil and even some mammatus.  Showers with contrasting white snow shafts against an otherwise fairly blue sky…and warm-colored ground…made for good images.  I left Capulin and headed north to Folsom then briefly northeast from there to get under a heavier shower that was along and just south of Hwy 456.  I started to hit the moderate wet snow about 3 or 4 miles east of the Hwy 551 junction.  It snowed just heavy enough to create a light white blanket on mainly elevated surfaces.  I found a small row of hay bales which made a great subject with a light coating of wet snow on top.  I then turned around and decided to head west along Hwy 72 across the Johnson Mesa to Raton.  I then went north to Trinidad and was hoping to stop by for a quick bite to eat and a beer at the Trinidad Brewing Company, however apparently this place is now closed.  Since the brewpub hunt was a bust, I continued my merry way back to the east on Hwy 160 stopping occasionally to photograph more of the showers.  One stronger cell developed just north of Kim early in the evening, and I even chased this for a brief time before it died.  All in all this was quite a fun day of shooting!

Begin:  Clayton, NM
End: Dodge City, KS (home)
Day Eight Mileage: 461 mi.
Trip Mileage: 3654 mi.

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Chase Trip Day Seven (4/30) Summary [19 images]

Filed under: Early Chase Trip 2010,Photography — Mike U @ 1:00 am

No storm day, drive to Clayton, NM photographing scattered showers with landscape of Western Oklahoma Panhandle.

(rest of images at the bottom of this post)

I slept in until noon and got a new tire put on my Jeep first thing.  Cumulus were developing from northeast to southeast, and after I got back home around 1:30pm, I quickly packed things up again, looked at a couple of analysis maps, including the short-fuse composite and 1km visible image, and decided to head east toward Pratt and get closer to the agitated cumulus.  Problem was that the convergence zone was shifting rapidly east to Wichita… and the original focused area of cumulus near Coldwater and Pratt waned with renewed cumulus developing well to the east in the Hutchinson to Newton areas.  I abandoned this jaunt about 30 minutes into the drive after realizing this would be a fool’s errand.

So I started looking at things and decided that I was going to do some hiking in the Caprock Canyons or Palo Duro Canyon the following day since it appeared the next chasing opportunity would be Sunday the 2nd.  I had to head back to Dodge and pick up my hiking shoes though, because in the rush to leave, I forgot to pack my hiking shoes.  I looked at the models one last time and thought that sightseeing/hiking and photographing some of the showers around Capulin Volcano the next day (Saturday 5/1) would be the most interesting thing to me… so that’s what I decided to do.  After I picked up my shoes I set off south toward the western Oklahoma Panhandle.  Showers had developed in the cold air aloft, around -22 to -24C at 500mb, which were producing some nice virga shafts when I reached the Oklahoma Panhandle.  My route took me to Guymon then west to Boise City.  One of the more interesting things photographed was a decaying shower that was elongated east to west in a peculiar wave structure, kind of like Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, but the wavelengths were quite long and didn’t “break” like K-H waves usually do.  It was interesting nonetheless, whatever nomenclature you wish to attach to it!  From Boise City I continued west to the New Mexico line northeast of Clayton and photographed fairly colorful virga/rain/show showers to the distant north from a location between Clayton and Kenton.  I tried to use some foreground subjects to my advantage to enhance the images, like usual.  I also used the circular polarizer for most of my images as well.  Overall, the sunset colors were sub-par given the sun going behind clouds as it was setting after 8:00pm (CDT).

Begin:  Dodge City, KS (home)
End: Clayton, NM
Day Seven Mileage: 346 mi.
Trip Mileage: 3193 mi.

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May 1, 2010

Chase Trip Day Eight (May 1) Forecast

Filed under: Early Chase Trip 2010 — Mike U @ 10:38 am

More of the same:  Glorified High Plains Rain Showers! Very cold air in the mid levels on the order of -22 to -24C will continue across the central High Plains.  Showers will develop first over the higher elevation of the Raton Mesa then spread east into southeastern Colorado and eventually far Southwest Kansas by early evening.  My trek today will take me to Capulin Volcano first, then following these showers and hopefully some good photographic light back into far southwest Kansas.  Will be overnighting back home in Dodge City tonight.  Sunday continues to look interesting across Kansas, mainly central KS perhaps around Salina, as some residual low level moisture sneaks back northwest beneath the very cold temperatures aloft creating CAPE around 1000 to 1250 J/kg.  The NAM has been persistent in developing a “QPF bomb” during the 00z to 06z time frame, so I think some organized deep moist convection will likely occur… just a matter of where at this point.

Chase Trip Day Six (Apr 29) Summary [20 images]

A dryline bust saved by late storm initiation on the cold front at Wilson Lake, KS.

(rest of images at the bottom of this post)

My target all along was the dryline just south of the cold front — somewhere from Great Bend to Pratt.  I didn’t waver from this target, except briefly right after I had lunch in Hays when cumulus was already forming from west of Salina to east of Hoisington.  I drove south from Hays after lunch, which pretty much sealed my fate for chasing the northern storms that 97% of the other chasers were chasing.  Once I reached La Crosse, KS, I turned east to Hoisington watching the southernmost cumulus congestus to my east-northeast.  Briefly, I thought this would be the intercept.  I then noticed more aggressive cumulus growth to my south in my original target, so that was the clincher for me.  I blew off that congestus to my east-northeast and dropped south from Hoisington.  1km visible satellite also confirmed this nicely with a clumping cumulus field centered across Stafford County and points south-southwest of there to between Greensburg and Pratt (4:30pm).

I made it down to Stafford which was where I decided to stage between 4:45 and 5:15pm.  Nothing was happening with my cumulus field to the west through southwest… and I was becoming increasingly anxious.  The best convergence on the dryline appeared to be shifting north a bit, so I moved back north and sat again along a farm road from about 5:30 to about 6:30.  I spent most of this hour interrogating the models for the next couple of days of my vacation.  Still nothing to my west through southwest.  In fact, what cumulus was developing was quickly turning into a big area of virga.  This wasn’t good!

The NAM and GFS models were insistent in vigorous convective development in the 00z (7pm) to 03z (10pm) time frame… right around sunset, with the southern edge of this vigorous development right about Great Bend.  I felt very confident storms would eventually develop, but along the cold front instead.  The cold front was slowly moving south toward the best dryline convergence.  It was just a matter of time before initiation.  In the meantime, I trudged north on farm roads (7:30pm), watching this huge area of virga shower activity from my northwest through southwest.  You could make out some bases in spots, but nothing that said “come chase me” yet.  It was just about to go.  So I continued my merry way north (8:00).

Once I reached I-70 at around 8:30pm or so, the atmosphere finally let loose:

Intense development along the cold front all the way down to southwest of Great Bend!  There were embedded mesos in spots along this line of convection, and the one I concentrated on was just west of Wilson Lake.  There was a good view from Wilson Lake, so I decided to stop here and begin shooting.  I was greeted to some insane inflow winds from the southeast!  I estimated winds in the 50-60mph range… which was difficult to stand in, let alone to try and photograph in… or even set the tripod up (after all it was now 8:45 by this time and light was low!).  Electrical activity was pretty good in the updrafts, and I managed to capture this to some degree in the stills.  Since the activity was moving northeast instead of straight east, it allowed me to drive east and stay ahead of the storms… stopping for about 5-10 minutes to shoot, and then repeat.  I continued east from Lincoln to Beverly.  The best storm on the line now appeared to be to my southwest, so I headed south on an unpaved farm road from Beverly at around 9:45pm.  This turned out to be a fateful move.

I blew out my front driver’s side tire.  On a dirt road.  With a storm to my west about a half hour away (10:05pm).  I could still drive on the flat, but no faster than 20 mph.  It was imperative I find pavement, and thankfully I was only 3 or 4 miles from an I-70 interchange west of Salina.  I limped south and by a stroke of luck, one of the next east-west county roads was paved!  I stopped here.  Since this was a new Jeep that I had not changed a tire on before, I had to learn the little idiosyncrasies for spare tire changing with this vehicle on the fly… with a storm headed my way.  I didn’t think I had any time before the storm hit, so I resorted to just photographing the damn storm updraft, since it was fairly photogenic…

The cell to my immediate west would miss me to the north, and I just got a few big rain drops (10:30pm) and it ended shortly thereafter.  I had a brief window of opportunity to get the spare tire on before the next cell hit.  That window was about 15 minutes…

…It took me longer than that to complete the job, because I started to get poured on shortly before 11:00pm.  So now it was a waiting game… with my vehicle jacked up.  So now I’m sitting in my Jeep with west winds gusting to about 60 mph rocking the Jeep a little bit while it was jacked up.  I felt pretty confident that despite these winds, the jack would hold.  And it did.  So now I know I can have the vehicle jacked up in 60 mph winds, LOL.  Not again, though.  Next time, I will have it calculated down IN ADVANCE how long it takes me to change a tire.  As much storm chasing as I do, this is the #1 reason for a break-down.  A flat.  It’s happened a number of times to me, my chase partner’s vehicles, or other chaser’s vehicles that I’ve assisted on.  I had planned on doing a practice tire change before my trip, but I simply ran out of time preparing for my trip in other areas.  It ended up biting me.  But I got the job done.  When this vacation is over, I’ll do another practice spare tire change and time myself so I know exactly how long it SHOULD take, if I’m chasing solo.

The rain finally let up enough to get out and finish the job at around 11:30pm, and I was back on the road.  At this point, I was obviously done chasing given the time and the activity to my east, so I began my trek back to Dodge City.

Begin:  North Platte, NE
End: Dodge City, KS (home)
Day Six Mileage: 620 mi.
Trip Mileage: 2847 mi.

20 images from this day’s shoot:

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April 30, 2010

Chase Trip Day Seven (Apr 30) Forecast

Filed under: Early Chase Trip 2010 — Mike U @ 1:21 pm

It’s a chase day!  …close to home. There is a small remnant convergence area developing southwest of Dodge City with some growing cumulus clouds around Coldwater.  There is some small CAPE developing and I noticed a Cb already forming in the distant northeast when I came back from getting my new tire put on on the Jeep.  I will load things back up and set out for Coldwater… and see what happens.  Cold air aloft, so there should be a storm to photograph.

April 29, 2010

Chase Trip Update, 6:00pm CDT 4/29

Filed under: Early Chase Trip 2010 — Mike U @ 6:11 pm

Western plains storm outlook is bleak for remainder of my vacation. While I’m sitting here on a farm road in Stafford County, KS waiting for storms to develop this far south… if they do… I might as well give an update on my thoughts for the remainder of my vacation.  With the mean longwave trough axis slowly shifting from the central plains into the eastern states… moisture will be essentially non-existent on the western plains from southwest TX points north through the western Nebraska.  That said, there may be an outside chance at chaseable convection in the very cold air aloft environment if surface winds can converge near small scale surface lows.  The GFS has been hinting at that either sunday, monday, or tuesday… but even this is a total longshot at best.  I will most likely head back to Dodge following this chase today, since I’m not all that far from home.  I will then re-evaluate my next move tomorrow (Friday) morning.  I may head out to New Mexico again or something and do some hiking and/or landscape photography perhaps.  Or I just may stay home on my remaining vacation days and get caught up on some things around the house, etc.

I had contemplated the idea of chasing in Iowa tomorrow, but I don’t like the idea of storms racing northeast at 50+ mph within the jet core.  the North Texas scenario I was talking about earlier isn’t looking so hot either… the low level winds just won’t be there to support vigorous (tornadic?) supercells south of Dallas in the early/mid evening hours.  More later…

As I end this post at 6:10pm, there is finally an updraft base developing to my immediate west-southwest between Seward and Larned.

Chase Trip Day Five (Apr 28) Summary [17 images]

3 Supercells in the Nebraska Sand Hills — including memorable late-night moonlit supercell near Stapleton, NE

I was hoping for just some decent storm structure for maybe an hour or so around sunset on this particular chase day… trying to keep my expectations to a minimum.  What resulted was one of the best storm photography moments I’ve had since shooting DSLR in 2005.  I observed three supercells, two of which I photographed extensively during their mature phases.  My chase day actually began in Thedford with a target of Ogallala in mind.  I arrived in Ogallala with upstream dewpoints in the 45-46 degree territory at Imperial and McCook.  I figured it would take about a 48 dewpoint to get a large area of ~ 1000 J/kg of CAPE.  That eventually did happen, and my main area of interest was along and just north of I-80 where the highest dewpoints appeared to be advecting toward strongest low level convergence.  This all seemed to be taking place just north of Ogallala.  I drifted west from Ogallala to Big Springs where I observed a bunch of virga showers from southwest to northwest.  I followed this junk east… sticking with it… because I’ve seen severe storms eventually be born out of this agitated high-based shower activity.  I got to North Platte, and by this point it was going on 6:00pm, with still nothing much to write home about.  I was becoming increasingly frustrated and was thinking this was going to end in a bust.  Small updrafts to the northwest struggled mightily.  That being said, there was still good south-southeast wind with 47 to 48 dewpoints feeding into this area of weak convection.  Knowing that the upper level jet was just beginning to impinge on this area, I knew I couldn’t just simply give up at 6:20pm in the evening.  Never do that unless it is totally obvious there will be NO STORMS at all!  In the back of my mind, I was imagining that a) April jet stream, b) good low level inflow, c) dewpoints in the upper 40s, d) good low level convergence/frontogenesis… and thinking that this could possibly yield a surprise.

An elongated cluster of storms was increasing in strength south of Thedford, and I followed this northeast from North Platte to Stapleton where I headed east on Hwy 92 to Arnold.  The lead storm to the northeast was initially the strongest, so I set after it first.  Eventually, it died between 7:00 and 7:20pm or so.  Then cell “Z1″ started to form at the southwest end of this cluster.

I was in great position for this.  At Arnold I went north on a county road and got some of my first structure shots of this newly developing supercell.  It was gaining on me fast, and since I wasn’t a fan of all the low clouds obscuring my structure view, I backtracked to the south to Arnold to get a little farther away from the cell again.  I did manage to get a few images of the cumulonimbus tower above some of the low level inflow tails.  Sunset was near as I made my way to Anselmo.  I took more county roads north and east of Anselmo where I photographed an ominous lowering/wall cloud feature to the north, however the contrast was kind of poor.  I did manage to capture a distant cloud-to-ground lightning flash with the lowering off to the left as the storm was beginning its demise.  By 9:00pm, the storm was racing off to the northeast, north of Taylor and I let it go.  At this point, I was satisfied that I got myself a supercell on such a marginal day and I was ready to call it a day and head to Kearney for the night.

But my chase had really only just begun.

I drove about 5 miles or so southeast of Anselmo on Hwy 2 when the next supercell formed to my northwest…northeast of Thedford.  The distant structure on the horizon was too good to pass up.  Problem was, I was so far away from this storm that I had to use a zoom lens on my D200, since I don’t have a fast, full-fame zoom lens on my D3 (I just have 14-24mm f/2.8 for my D3).  I took a couple wide angle shots with the D3, but the storm was too far away that it didn’t really fill the frame at all.  With the D200, I still use the 18-70mm lens which is only a f/4.5 at the focal length I was wanting to shoot at.  The D200 does not perform well at ISO speeds greater than 640 either, so that is always my limit.  Given that, I couldn’t do 6 second or less exposures to freeze the storm with what little astronomical twilight was left.  I did get a few images, but I pretty much cut my losses and resumed my drive to Kearney… or so I thought.  I then decided I wanted to look at the new NAM model for tomorrow’s chase forecast, which had just come in, so I pulled off the road to do a little model interrogation with IDV.  A quick glance at the radar revealed yet another storm off in the distant west at around 9:45pm.  Given my frustration with not being able to photograph that second storm like I was hoping, I felt like I had to redeem myself and get closer to this next approaching storm, since the lightning activity was increasing.  The full moon had just risen, too, so I was thinking that this could get quite interesting, photographically.

I abandoned the idea of driving all the way to Kearney and though of North Platte instead, since a) it was closer and b) I was 90% sure I would be chasing in KS tomorrow.  I drove east toward the approaching storm, which was now really looking good on radar, as well as visually with the lightning.  The moon was also just about to appear over some clouds it had been hiding under.  What proceeded after that… from about 10:15 to 10:45pm… was something truly spectacular.  I found an adjacent farm road to Hwy 92 and pulled off with a great view of this supercell.  Tall cloud-to-ground staccato flashes then began to occur.  I couldn’t believe it!  The tripod went up and I started firing away.  I was closer to this storm, versus the 2nd storm about an hour earlier, so I could use the D3 with the 14-24mm lens and fill the frame with ultra-wide compositions.  The results were nothing short of amazing.  It was perfect.  Everything about it.  The supercell structure — clean with no other clouds blocking the view — some soft front light from a bright full moon.  Standing in a farm field with NO powerlines, NO artificial lights as a distraction.  No other chasers (except Dann Cianca farther west on SpotterNetwork).  This sucker was over the sandhills!  Wow!!  And I had the right equipment to get the best images possible in this kind of light.  I was able to successfully shoot 5 second exposure frames…. the whole time.  Every single frame from this storm was 5 seconds.  5 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 800.  ISO 800 on the D3 is extremely clean, and I would have felt comfortable shooting even higher, but there was no need to.  The full moonlight was enough light with this fast equipment.  Of course, lightning in the storm itself provided additional illumination.  This was a dream come true!  I have always wanted to shoot supercell thunderstorm structure illuminated by full moonlight.  Oh yeah, and some of the cloud-to-ground flashes were quite spectacular too, coming out of this storm.  I finally let the storm go around 11:00pm or so and made my way to North Platte for the night.

Begin:  Thedford, NE
End: North Platte, NE
Day Five Mileage: 457 mi.
Trip Mileage: 2227 mi.

17 images from this shoot:

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April 28, 2010

Chase Trip Day Five (Apr 28) Forecast

Filed under: Early Chase Trip 2010 — Mike U @ 10:04 am

Chase day across western Nebraska. While the prospects look quite marginal, I will be storm chasing today.  Low level moisture will be very marginal for organized strong/severe storms, however strong convergence and frontogenetic forcing will provide sufficient lift to generate storms…perhaps as far south as I-80 near Sidney, NE.  I will be heading to Ogallala from Thedford where I will have lunch and re-evaluate my next move.  For what it’s worth, the new NAM has just over 1000 J/kg of surface-based CAPE in a small area near Ogallala by 00z, but I think the models (especially the RUC with it’s upper 50s dewpoints) may be over predicting the dewpoint increase by 00z (7pm CDT), therefore in reality, with mid44 or 45 dewpoints at best converging in this small area, seems more like 700 or 800 J/kg would be more realistic… still enough for a loosely organized strong, perhaps isolated severe storm given the very good wind shear profile.

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