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!"

April 27, 2006

Chase Acct: April 23 (Southwest KS)

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 11:16 pm

I intercepted two gorgeous high-based severe storms on Sunday 4/23 not too far from home, for a welcome change! Sunday actually began with me arriving home from a long chase in West Texas on Saturday 4/22 (chase account forthcoming soon) where I intercepted some marginal high based storms and photogenic lightning southwest of Lubbock. I arrived home from that chase just after sunrise around 7:15am. I slept from the time I got home until about 12:30pm or so, given the fact I knew that Sunday’s chase would be close to Dodge City.

Since the tornado threat Sunday did not look all that spectacular, I wanted to target where the best opportunity for photogenic high-based storms would be. By early afternoon, some high based showers developed in 20s dewpoint air over far southeast Colorado which were moving east into Southwest KS. Around 3pm or so, towering Cu were developing on the dryline finally in the far eastern Oklahoma Panhandle. I decided to target this area, about an hour’s drive away.

I left Dodge around 4pm or so heading south on Hwy 283. At Minneola, I fueled up and noticed the darkening skies to my immediate southwest where those high based showers were coming from (that had originated from Southeast Colorado). One of these showers was holding together pretty nicely with a small, dark base noticeable. As I was driving south, this shower (now thunderstorm) was perking my interest more and more. I decided to pull off and just watch this for a little bit instead of just blasting south to the OK border. When I got out of the car, the first thing I noticed was a strong southeast wind. Lower to mid 50s dewpoints were lingering just into northwest Oklahoma, so this little sucker that had survived through most of Southwest KS was about to move into much better Theta-E air (instability). About the point that I first stopped, I noticed a somewhat impressive dust foot to the north of a weak rain shaft. Since this storm was still in low dewpoints, the relative humidity was quite low, so dry microbursts were fairly common. More and more, the high base on this storm was becoming better organized, and it didn’t take too long for me to decide that I was staying on this newly developing storm just south of Minneola.

For the next 20 to 30 minutes, I watched the updraft base of this storm become darker and darker looking with cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning becoming much more prevalant and dangerous. The base had that finely-textured scalloping look to it that is a common characteristic of a high-based severe storm on the High Plains. I continued east on a farm road about 6 miles west of Clark State Lake (~9 SE Minneola), as the storm was rapidly developing into a severe storm with dangerous CGs. The CGs were so bright and vivid, I had to try and capture one with my camera. I stacked a 3-stop neutral density filter with my circular polarizer filter to try and increase shutter speed to a couple of seconds at f/8. The lightning was frequent enough that I did capture at least one decent CG to the north. The CGs were so dangerous and close that I couldn’t get out of the car. In fact, one CG started a pretty significant grass fire to the west of my location. The farm road I was on was taking me to the south and east through some pretty neat terrain in Clark Co. south of the lake. Here is a shot looking west at the updraft base of the storm as I was driving south towards Ashland. I passed at least 4 fire trucks on this lonely road as they were responding to that lightning-sparked grass fire.

I found a decent stopping point a few miles north of Hwy 160 northwest of Ashland to photograph the storm for about 20 minutes or so. (1 2 3). With the main updraft portion of the storm moving east, I had to continue east on Hwy 160. I stopped at the intersection of Hwy 34 with this view to the north-northeast. The storm was still holding its own, but it wasn’t necessarily getting better looking as it was moving off to the east-northeast. With this in mind, I was keeping a keen look-out for anything new developing farther to the southwest.

A few miles east of Protection on Hwy 160, I stopped to re-evaluate things. My original storm was looking far less photogenic to the north-northeast. I noticed a healthy looking storm on radar in far northwest Oklahoma that I was now wanting to set my eyes on. I turned around and drove back west on Hwy 160. To my immediate southwest was a growing elongated dark base. A new strong updraft was going up just to my southwest in the Sitka area. I opted to head south at Sitka on Hwy 183. This elongated base extended east to west just north of the Cimarron River where road options are few and far between in southeastern Clark and southwestern Comanche Co. My first plan was to drop south all the way to Hwy 64 near Buffalo, which would be a long route away from the updraft. I got as far south as about 6 S Sitka, with this view to the northeast, before I changed my mind and headed back north and try a different route — a route through the core of the storm. My reasoning for this was because this would be a far shorter drive to get into position on the southern portion of the storm as it moved into southern Comanche Co., and I figured this storm wouldn’t produce anything larger than isolated golfball size hail. Planning ahead, I figured I could get a good view of the storm along Hwy 1 near Buttermilk if I drove back east again on Hwy 160 to 4 S Coldwater.

So east I went through the core with sporadic bouts of nickel to quarter size hail between Sitka and 4 S Coldwater on Hwy 160. I dropped south on Hwy 1 and escaped the core on the south edge of the storm after about 4 or 5 miles drive. I was rewarded with a wonderful view of the storm to the north from near Buttermilk on Hwy 1. Looking at the map and knowing the storm motion being almost due east… I noticed a road on Delorme going due east through far southeastern Comanche Co. that headed towards Aetna in southwestern Barber Co. I figured this road would be just about perfect distance to get good structure shots as the sun was getting low on the horizon. Sometimes the logistics just work in your favor, and from this point forward until just after sunset, I managed to get some beautiful storm photography all along this road from Hwy 1 east to the Okla. state line intersecting the Barber Co., KS line about 4 SSW Aetna. Here is a series of photographs from along the Aetna road in far southeastern Comanche Co:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Right around sunset, the road was taking me southeast towards the Oklahoma border where the Gypsum Hills offered a wonderful stormscape scene. The colors in this perfect soft-light were incredible: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

The storm was continuing east and the best structure was beginning to fade away along with the good light, so I turned around and began my trek back towards Dodge City. What another awesome high-based storm structure shoot!

Photo Gallery >>


Mike Umscheid

April 21, 2006

Chase Acct: April 14 (Northwest OK)

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 11:01 am

Last week (Friday 4/14) I chased an impressive high-based supercell thunderstorm in Northwest Oklahoma. This chase was one of those “high-risk, high-reward” type of chases in that it appeared to be a very marginal setup for supercells, and especially tornadoes. I was off work last Thursday and Friday and was watching the Friday setup with some interest along the dryline. What perked my interest in the setup for Friday was 1) a subtle triple point convergence of the dryline and a washed-out, weak front that had slowly pushed into far northwest OK… 2) long hodographs with 50-70kts of upper level winds… 3) intense afternoon heating into the lower-mid 90s to allow the cap to break. The NAM model was also showing a very small area of convective precip in about 3 or 4 consecutive runs, which was a pretty strong signal that initation may occur in far western/northwestern OK. I figured if initiation would indeed occur, it may just be one or two storms given the lack of an upper level system to enhance deep tropospheric lift. It would just be mainly boundary layer forcing. I also figured, from a photographic standpoint, that a supercell in this environment would be very photogenic. This was the forecast I posted in a storm chase discussion group the day before (Thursday 13th):

“There may be an opportunity for a picturesque storm in far northwest OK late tomorrow aftn/into the evening. It appears there will be weak to modest sfc convergence as this weak front/wind shift stalls out creating somewhat of a triple point with the downslope plume extending northeast from eastern New Mexico. The thermal nose of the NM downslope plume should be over the far northeastern TX Panhandle/far NW OK where highs should soar into the mid 90s once again. Model Tc of ~36C in this area so add in a little convergence to get things going, and there could be a storm. Deep layer shear looks pretty good with 270° flags down to about 8km AGL. If there is enough convergence to get a good mass of DMC going, there just might be a little high based low end supercell surprise. From a photography standpoint, I like these subtle looking possibilities… I’ll keep an eye out” -Mike U

On Friday, after I came home from running some errands around town, I pulled up a visible satellite image and radar and noticed storms already developing along the TX-OK border near the Canadian River…this was around 3pm. I was pretty much set to go, so after I saw this, I blasted south out of town. It’s about a 2-hr drive straight south to that area from Dodge City. I reached Laverne where I fueled up. In Laverne, there were two areas of towers going up…one to my immediate southeast and another area of more intense development of towers/weak storms to my distant south… probably near the Canadian River. I did not have radar data because Northwest OK is pretty much void of service for my Alltel aircard. This was not a problem, though, because my eyes are far better tools for me than radar. I continued south to the town of Arnett with this view to the southeast at pretty hard looking high-based towers and a weak storm underway. This whole area to my south and southeast now was becoming quite convective looking. It has been my experience that if there is a “towering Cu hot-spot” where towers would go up, anvil out and die… which repeats for 2 to 4 iterations in the same location…. that this indicates a very susceptible area for vigorous convective initiation in the not-too-distant future. This was occuring very near the Canadian River north of Roll, OK. I drove south to the Canadian River on Hwy 283 with this view looking east as I crossed the river. A mature updraft base was now underway and it appeared as if I was in pretty good shape for a nice storm.

I got south of this area when I reached Roll, which is where I continued east on Hwy 47 just south of the river. These photos (1 2) were looking northeast at the maturing updraft. I found a high spot overlooking the open prairie to the northeast with a dark updraft base just off to my northeast now. The storm was rapidly getting much better organized. With high temperature-dewpoint spreads (lower-mid 90s over mid 50s dewpoints)…downbursts would probably occur in the forward flank region of the storm. I continued driving east with the storm updraft becoming very well organized now (1 2 3). Continuing east, I was finally getting east of the updraft as I approached the town of Leedey. My first stopping point just east of Leedey offered this view to the northwest at a well-sculpted supercell updraft base! The precipitation core immediately downwind of the updraft base was becoming very intense. The beginnings of an impressive rain-foot, which denotes very strong surface winds from a downburst, were becoming apparent.

The visibility was just absolutely superb and there were no other storm chasers around. Not one — which is an incredible feat for being on a supercell thunderstorm in Oklahoma in April in this current era of storm chasing. Given the fact that tornadoes were NOT what I was after this day, I gave this one a more serious meteorological consideration than a majority of other storm chasers would. Watching this high-based storm with no other chasers around reminded me very much of my May 4, 2002 intercept of a gorgeous high-based supercell near Medicine Lodge, KS — another similar kind of setup with very subtle thermodynamics and kinematics, but enough to get one beautiful storm.

Back to the chase account… this storm offered some of my best rain foot photographs to date. When you drop a ton of water into a near-surface atmosphere with fairly low relative humidity, interesting things can happen. This is about as good as it gets for a supercell structure photographer! This was exceeding my expectations for the day for sure. Here’s a vertical compositon. Another wide angle shot of the supercell updraft, the forward flank precip core, and one of the most impressive rain-foots I have ever seen.

With the storm moving due east around 25 mph, I had to keep driving east to stay ahead. My next stopping point would be somewhere between Rhea and Burmah in southwestern Dewey County. This was the structure of the supercell from this location looking west-northwest. About 15 minutes later and about 7 miles farther east, I had this view (1 2). As I approached Hwy 183 near Putnam, the storm was beginning to shrivel up a little bit. This shot was looking west down Hwy 47. I expected this storm to diminish given the environment not supporting long-lived storms, although I didn’t expect it to meet its demise this soon. I continued east of the intersection of Hwy 183 about 4 miles and then optioned south to try and get better lighting looking more north at the storm instead of west-northwest into the sun (harsh contrast). Here’s one last vertical shot looking northwest in fairly harsh light with a young wheat field in the foreground.

I back-tracked west a bit on Hwy 47 to get a better lighting angle on the storm looking north. I wasn’t dissapointed… I had some great views of the waning storm with an impressive hail shaft overlooking green fields. More photographs from this same location: (1 2). I reached Hwy 283 again and tracked back north towards home. A rainbow offered a wonderful landscape photo opportunity. This is what was left of the storm looking off to the east from just south of Putnam. Here are a couple of shots with my 80-400mm zoom lens (@400mm) at the convection in the updraft (1 2).

I got back home in Dodge City around 11:30pm. This was one of the most satisfying solo chases in quite some time… in all facets from the forecast to the logistics of the chase, the location and beautiful scenery along the Canadian River valley to the incredibly photogenic storm structure itself. Chase days like these are hard to top. Onward!

Photo Gallery >>


Mike Umscheid

April 11, 2006

Chase Acct: April 6 (Central KS)

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 3:43 pm

I targetted the area from Salina to Concordia, KS for the development of supercell thunderstorms by early afternoon April 6th. I left Dodge City around 10:30am and set out for the Ellsworth, KS area. When I approached Kinsley, however, I decided to continue heading due east towards Stafford instead of northeast towards Great Bend. The short-fuse composite was suggesting first initiation would occur just a bit farther south than I had thought. I loafed around Quivira NWR for a little while when towering Cu were developing to my south around noon. I then decided to go to Lyons to top off the tank and await development. Well, things were happening fairly fast, and I never did make it to Lyons. I filled up in Nickerson and at this time a fresh storm was already underway southwest of Hutchinson. This was my target storm.

I headed south to South Central Reno County with this view looking south. The anvil edge was crisp and I thought I was in business. Storm motion was northeast at around 45 mph and I was driving south around 65 mph so I was vectoring in at a solid 110mph! This is a problem though. It is very tricky with such fast storm motion because you can easily overshoot your storm, believe it or not, especially when it’s in the organization stages like this storm was. I reached the updraft portion of the storm in no time, somewhere southeast of Arlington. The updraft base was rather pathetic looking with little organization. I think this initial updraft croaked and the storm was reorganizing when I finally got down there. After farting around with some technical difficulties with power to my laptop, I was rapidly falling behind. I had to get back north in a hurry. I did recover… but a new well-developed Cumulonimbus (Cb) was visible to my north-northwest about 25 miles away. Not that far away, but even at this distance, it would be nearly impossible to intercept. Never fear though, new hard towers were developing to my immediate west. I followed these towers north to ~7 W McPherson.

This elongated area of towers eventually evolved into a storm just west of McPherson, but it took awhile for this area to congeal into one big storm. I reached I-135 at McPherson and continued to follow this storm north. The storm was now beginning to look a bit better with a rain-free base area with a hint of a lowering to my west. At Exit #78 I got off the interstate (Hwy 104) with this view shortly after getting off the interstate looking west-northwest from a location about 2 miles north of Assaria (~7 S Salina). The updraft area of the storm was taking on a much better organized structure and I figured I was in business. Problem: a fairly large city to deal with in Salina. I was off the interstate by this point and I was banking on enough of an eastward component in the storm motion to warrant being a bit farther east. Another view looking west from just south of Salina.

The storm was rapidly evolving into what was looking like a high-precip supercell (view looking southwest). Looking west towards Salina. I navigated through Salina on the far southeast part of town so as to limit stop & go as much as possible. I went east on Magnolia road to finally get far enough ahead of the storm to get some better structure. A critical decision making point was coming up: do I stick with this storm and blast north or do I try and catch the next storm developing to my south. I was not liking the “wet” look to the Salina storm. At the same time, though, the best observable updraft structure was rapidly departing my view and it was more difficult for me to interpret what was really going on with the Salina storm. The best views were to the northeast of the storm. I was now rapidly becoming southeast of the storm. More shots of the structure looking northeast (1, 2, 3) from ~6 E Salina. Here’s a look to the northeast… my last look at the storm now rapidly moving away from me. This is the last good look I had at this storm as it was now approaching Manchester. When I took this photo, I realized I was probably making a mistake letting this storm go. This little bit of hesitation is extremely costly on fast-moving days. The storm produced its first tornado not too long after this shot apparently… and went on to produce tornadoes for the next couple hours near Clay Center to near the Nebraska state line around Hanover.

My focus was now on new development upstream. A formidable looking storm with a beautiful anvil was off to my southwest rapidly approaching. I sat at a location ~5 S Solomon watching this for about 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, another more significant storm was taking shape to my southeast moving up in my general direction to the east. I drove to Abilene where I topped off the tank and continued got on I-70 where I blasted east to Junction City where radar indicated the storm would cross the intestate. On the east side of Junction City, I got off I-70 at exit #298 with the storm to my immediate SSW. It was another wet looking storm with a quiescent looking wall cloud on the northeast side heading for me fast. This would be the last time I would be ahead of this storm. I decided I wanted to get some “backside structure” so I went back into town in Junction City. Got off on exit #296 in town with this view just a few short moments later. This portion of the storm had a decent amount of low level circulation as noted by the edge of the rain curtains rotating around in a cyclonically fashion. This circulation crossed I-70 just a couple miles to the east… right where I was previously located. Good thing I left! I snuck up on this area of the storm by following it on I-70 back east again. It looked insanely dark just up the road and I was getting some quarter to almost golfball size hail on the interstate as I approached Fort Riley.

At the Fort Riley exit #301, I pulled off and watched the backside of the storm. Sometimes the backside of these storms are more picturesque than the front! I photographed the back of this storm for about 20 minutes or so, including some of the hail that remained on the ground at the Fort Riley base. Backside of the storm looking east-northeast from Fort Riley: 1 | 2 | 3

It was around 5:30 or 5:45 by this time and I had to head back home, as I was due in to work at 11pm for my next shift. On my way home, I photographed a few picturesque virga showers around the Great Bend area: 1 | 2 | 3

All in all, it was a fun chase, my first supercells of 2006. I’m a little bummed I missed out on the Clay Center to Hanover tornadoes with the storm I was initially on, but that’s the way it goes with storm chasing sometimes. Another setup very similar to this one, with maybe one or two other subtle things different in the atmosphere, and the storm could have produced tornadoes from McPherson to Salina and I would have been there to document them. Onward.

Photo Gallery >>

April 6, 2006

Chase-day Fcst: North-Central KS

Filed under: Chase Forecasts/Outlooks,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 8:25 am

RUC 9-hr fcst valid 4pm 4/6

Well a deeper, slower system is now deep and slow enough for me to at least give this one a shot despite having to be back to DDC in time for my next mid shift. The target is SLN to CNK right near the sfc bomb. I expect initiation not too long after 18z. A lot of sunshine in the dry intrusion right now… allowing potential instability to build to a premium in central KS. Yeesh. If there’s going to be an cyclic supercells then storms will have to develop along a northwest to southeast arc in NC KS… I believe this might happen…say from just west of CNK down to north or northeast of ICT. Pick your storm… there should be plenty of them… I anticipate getting on a healthy storm by 2pm… “riding the wave” for about 3 hours before I need to turn around and come back home. Hopefully something productive can occur in this 3 hour window Smile

Good luck to all…

Mike U

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