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!"

June 25, 2007

Late-June Chase Trip (Day 5): Baker to Alzada, MT to Buffalo, SD

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Chase Trip 2007,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 2:28 pm

Vince and I left Miles City around Noon local time and was originally targetting the area 6 hours away over north-central/northeastern North Dakota… however, after the 1630 UTC SPC day-1 forecast came out… and a look at surface observations… we were convinced to play the secondary target much closer to us.  We are now in Baker, MT as I type and we have lower 60s dewpoints here with light winds.  The shear environment definitely supports supercells again today and I think we will be anticipating storms forming off the high terrain of the Big Horn Mountains near Sheridan…which will move northeastward into extreme Southeastern Montana… at least that’s the hope anyway.  We will probably sit here in Baker until storms develop to the west or southwest of us. 

Late-June Chase Trip (Day 4): Southeastern MT

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Chase Trip 2007,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 2:23 pm

Summary of Roundup, MT Supercell
(written by my chase partner Vince Miller)

What a day! Mike and I figured we would be at the rest stop west of
Miles City for at least 3-4 hours; it turned out to be 6. A line of Cu
to our NW to far W occasionally percolated during the late afternoon,
but was never able to sustain any long-lasting updrafts. About 6:30
p.m. MDT we left the rest area and drove 20 miles west to Forsyth,
keeping an eye on a area of Cu to the N which finally was achieving
some success at staying alive. A quick bite to eat was followed by the
decision to head WNW on US-12 to intercept supercells which were well
to the WSW of Roundup, while at the same time keeping an eye on the TCu
to our N which were showing serious attempts at punching into higher
levels of the atmosphere. The atmosphere punched back, however, and the
TCu rapidly became turkeys.

By the time we reached Ingomar (about 7:45 p.m.), the sun was just
disappearing behind the anvil of one of the supercells to the WSW. We
made a quick stop to take pictures and noted the winds were strong and
gusty from the north. As we drove a bit further W we were rewarded with
even better views of the backsheared anvil and a nice vertical wall on
the S side of the storm. Shortly afterwards, we were treated to a view
of a distant flared base (not of the southern most supercell}, and then
a complete view (and what a view) of the distant southernmost
supercell. We found a place to pull off the road to take pictures
(about 8:15 p.m.); our vantage point was 42 miles ENE of Roundup
(between Melstone and Sumatra). We decided to stay put because the
structure of the storms was fantastic. [Mike took many pictures over
the next 30+ minutes; I took some pictures and also time-lapsed the
storm during the same period. Our picture taking and time-lapsing
covers the time 4.25" diameter hail was reported at Roundup. Mike also
has some zoomed in photos of what may be a funnel; his photos are
within several minutes of the time of the funnel report near Roundup on
a Billings PNS statement.] The southern most storm had explosive growth
on its SE side during this time; we decided to backtrack to the east to
get a better vantage point for structure shots, and also because
lightning was becoming a distinct threat.

We stopped in Ingomar (a ghost town at best) for photography
purposes; storm structure was incredible, and lightning was increasing.
We had to abandon the picture taking after a while because of lightning
danger; so more backtracking to try to get ahead of the storm for more
structure shots and to get away from the lightning danger. During the
next 23 miles to the SE to Vananda we were treated to not only one
"mucho-supremo butt kicking storm", but also to a barrages of CG’s from
the storm’s anvil. Mike took some excellent hand-held photos of the
storm/lightning as we raced down the highway, and also some video on my

We stopped in Vananda (another town which long ago lost whatever life
it had) so Mike could take some more structure shots – a dicey
undertaking by now. But, thankfully, the sparks from Thor’s hammer
stayed away from our immediate vicinity.

More backtracking towards Forsyth; we may or may not have seen a funnel
back-lit by lightning; we stopped several more times to take lightning
photos, and finally made it back to Miles City and the same motel where
we spent the previous night.

Vince Miller

June 24, 2007

Late-June Chase Trip (Day 4): Southeastern MT

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Chase Trip 2007,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 11:51 am


Vince Miller and I are in Miles City, Montana this morning awaiting what could be a fantastic supercell day here around Miles City or south of here towards Broadus, MT.  Lower to mid 60s dewpoints are streaming westward on east winds this morning north of a surface low over Wyoming.  Mid and upper level winds are very good for this time of year and are more than adequate for supercells.. in fact perhaps a long-lived, significant supercell capable of greater than 3" diameter hail and/or (a) tornado(es).  We’ll see.  The road network is fairly sparse out over this area, however, the visibility somewhat makes up for this deficiency… you can see forever out here.  They were right in calling Montana "Big Sky Country".  After today’s chase… we will have to get east as tomorrow could be another potentially big severe weather chase day in North Dakota… more than likely east of Bismark.  I will have no mobile internet access today where we are expecting to chase, so I will not have the website in "virtual chase" mode. 

EDIT at 1:45pm CDT:  I lied… I’ll go ahead and put the site in "virtual chase mode" since we will be along I-94 for awhile with internet coverage… however, once storms go up and (if) we leave the interstate, then the coverage will be gone over the rest of the expected chase area… so if the radar graphics stop updating, that’s why.

EDIT at 2:30pm CDT:  We are stopped at a rest area on I-94 about 25 miles west of Miles City to a wonderful vista view overlooking the Yellowstone River.  If anything develops within 100 mile radius of us.. we’ll see it!  What a view!

June 23, 2007

Late-June Chase Trip (Day 3): No chase today, getting ready for more

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Chase Trip 2007,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 6:14 pm

It is late afternoon and we are driving towards Devil’s Tower in Wyoming for a little evening photography before settling in tonight at Miles City, MT.  We spend the early afternoon today in Rapid City, Vince needed to get an oil change in the car and we had a nice little sit down lunch at my favorite brew-pub up North called the Firehouse.  Anyway, I think tomorrow looks like a potentially great day for southeastern Montana supercells… a classic looking "north of the low" setup for eastern Montana with fantastic low level moisture and very nice deep layer shear.  Sunday appears to be somewhere over central/eastern North Dakotat per the latest GFS/NAM model runs.

Jon Finch:  I knew you’d probably question our no-go for Canada :) .. we just thought it would be at least 100 miles north of the border (and by the looks of radar right now, that appears to be verifying)… and by the time the chase would end at like 10pm or so… we’d be well into Manitoba… and realizing that Sunday and Monday looked almost just as good in terms of CAPE/Shear combo… well.. we thought we’d take a pass on the first of what looks to be 3 pretty good (tornadic?) supercell days.  We may miss a big tornado today by not driving our brains out to get to Canada, but there’ll be more opportunities I think… you know me, I’m a structure guy anyway, and as far as photography goes, the structure/scenery of the Chadron supercell yesterday was better than about 2/3s of all tornadoes I’ve seen (contrast, visibility, longevitiy, etc).. I think tornado prospects Sunday and monday look pretty darn good… As much as you despise the really low elevation of eastern Montana, I still think there’ll be a decent tornado prospect out this way with east winds, fairly low LCLs and what looks to be really good shear.

EDIT at 8:23pm:  Well, maybe we did F this one up.  Sitting here at Devil’s Tower and pulled up a radar image from Minot.  Ouch.  It’s also moving southeast towards the US line.  We took the model runs a day and a half ago hook-line-sinker that things the best beastie today would be about 150-200 miles north of the border.  Oh well.. can’t go back and try this one again.  Time to look forward to tomorrow and Monday.

Late-June Chase Trip (Day 2): NE Panhandle area

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Chase Trip 2007,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 10:19 am


Chadron, NE slow-moving high-based supercell!

What an excellent photography day… probably my best storm photography day of the year.   Vince and I targetted the area over the northwestern corner of the Nebraska panhandle near Harrison.  We were worried about the low dewpoints out this far west… but also realized that quality moisture was just east of our target area…and on increasing southeasterly surface winds by late afternoon/early evening…the western edge of this moisture would make it towards our target.  On our drive west we noticed storms firing over the Black Hills area which were rather disorganized on radar and not moving much.  Once we got to Pine Ridge and had a quick lunch, we dropped south as some congested cumulus southeast of us caught our eye…which was a little bit closer to the deep moisture.  We eventually made it over towards Chadron and then just west of there where we drive around this small lake near Whitney.  The area of cumulus to our east finally developed into a storm about 30 miles east of us, so after driving around the small lake we back-peddled towards Chadron and continued east of town about 4 or 5 miles.  We had a great backside view of a small storm that indicated severe hail potential on radar and eventually split.  After the storm split, both members of the split appeared less interesting visually.  One thing we noticed at our stopping location was that our winds increased fairly substantially out of the southeast.  This was very interesting and we thought for a moment it could possibly be outflow from that storm… but we were too far away and the storm was too small for this to be outflow… plus it was still quite warm.

Looking back to the west where there was already some high-based disorganized convection…we became more interested with this newly-found strong southeast wind.  Sure enough, a storm west of Chadron began to reveal a more interesting dark base and we headed back west a bit towards Chadron.  Just before getting into town, we went north on a road that lead up a hill overlooking Chadron.  What a view!  I remember watching a storm several years ago from this very same hilltop in fact.  The next one hour was just fantastic!  We watched the storm develop right in front of our eyes to our west overlooking Chadron… developing into very organized high-based structure.  At least two formidable rain-foots were highly visible and very impressive off to the west.  In fact, the Chadron Airport measured a wind gust of 60 mph right near where this rain-foot was. 

Mammatus was also taking on nice structure to our northeast spreading out from the storm.  The sound of distant continuous grumbling was just great!  The color contrast in the sky was just awesome.  Vince was shooting time-lapse video of the whole thing… a solid 55 minutes from our one location on the hill east of town.  We headed east finally as the slow moving storm was getting a bit too close, so we continued on east to stay far enough ahead to get the good updraft structure.  Circular updraft structure revealed the mesocyclone rotation within the storm.  We even had some high-based wall clouds develop with really interesting rotation at times. 

Finally at sunset, we went south from Hay Springs a few miles as mammatus was beginning to glow beautiful orange and gold in the direction of the setting sun.  We were at this stopping location for about 1hr and 10 minutes south of Hay Springs as Vince once again shot about an hour of time-lapse video of the sunset with the incredible mammatus…. adjacent a field of waving wheat.  That whole couple of hours was just high-quality photography all-around… and the slow movement of the storm allowed Vince to get some really long time lapse.  A very fun and rewarding day and very near our target area… so it was nice to see our chase forecast verify nicely.  5 photos follow:

June 22, 2007

Late-June Chase Trip (Day 2): NE Panhandle area

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Chase Trip 2007,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 12:22 pm

Vince and I have left Winner, SD and are heading west in the general direction of Harrison, NE.  We think there will be a halfway decent upslope play today as winds at the surface become increasingly upslope by early evening… drawing low level moisture back northwest a bit.  Deep layer shear of 35 knots or so should be enough to sustain supercell structure should severe storms develop.  Will go into virtual chase mode sometime early-mid afternoon as we get closer to target. 

Outlook:  We have decided not to chase Canada Saturday… it is going to be too far north into Canada, like 150 to 200 miles north of the border… and while it looks pretty good for severe weather in that area… it’s just too far away… then we’d have to come right back south the next day.  That’s a LOT of driving.  Thus, tomorrow we will consider being a down day and head up into Northeast Wyoming for some sightseeing, see Devil’s Tower and do some landscape photography perhaps…  Sunday shows some potential in North Dakota.. perhaps along I-94 between Bismark and Dickinson.  Stay tuned!

Late-June Chase Trip (Day 1): Northwest NEB/SD Border area

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Chase Trip 2007,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 8:17 am

Chase Summary:

Vince and I arrived  in eastern Cherry County, NE by mid-afternoon to very promising conditions for supercells… strong southeast winds, warm temperatures well into the 80s and dewpoints around 65-66 degrees.  The mid level winds were also sufficient around 30-35 knots or so for deep layer bulk shear values around 45-50 knots or so.  We took a very scenic one-lane paved road northwest towards the Merriman Reservoir southwest of Valentine where we awaited convective initiation.  Data and observations were suggesting initiation was imminent just to our northeast back near Valentine, so we opted to head into town where we re-fueled and began the chase.  We realized we needed to head southeast on US-20 (instead of due east out of Valentine) with incredible convection off to our due east.  This storm exploded right in front of our eyes about 25-30 miles east of us.  We arrived on-scene to a well-developed dark base wth lowerings off to our north-northeast from near Long Pine.  Rotation was definitely evident, but somewhat broad at cloud base.  Rear-flank downdraft clear slots would develop and fill in, redevelop and fill back in…cycling new circulations quite often.  This would be the story with this storm… there just wasn’t quite enough low level wind shear to get the job done it appeared, but boy it was close.  We came to a stopping location again a few miles up the road just outside of Bassett where we were really close to the back edge of the old occluded portion of the storm with high contents of cyclonic shear.  Cloud rotation would be strongest, and in more than one spot on the cylonic shear side of the rear-flank downdraft/occlusion downdraft area.  I thought there was indeed a potential for a brief tornado from one of these old mesos if it just stretched vorticity enough.  We saw several small funnels from this intense area of cyclonic shear on the backside.  Our surface winds were fun to observe… out of the northwest… quite warm too… and extremely gusty/variable in speed.  For a brief moment, we had wind speeds around 40-50 mph from the northwest… that were warm… only followed by dead-calm winds about a minute later!!  This told me that it was trying really hard at the surface to tighten a circulation to potentially tornado scale.  Again… it was close, but no cigar there just outside of Bassett.  We continued south on Hwy 183 about 8 mile south of Bassett where we headed east again to get closer to the updraft region and old occluded backside again.  Once again, we had very interesting attempts at tornadogenesis from an old circulation… the cyclonic shear side was just rich with vorticity and it was just fascinating watching scud fragments rotating and rising to the small occluded base becoming a rapidly roating entity almost to the point of tornadogenesis.  By this time, RFD was cooler as more rain cooled air was being ingested, and we began to become more disinterested with the storm… plus the fact it was moving away from us in a very poor section of road network.  We bailed and headed back to Bassett where we re-evaluated the situation… we thought about chasing the big complex west of us with all sorts of mesocyclone indications on radar back over the area where we staged earlier in the afternoon (Merriman Reservoir).  It was getting to be 8:30pm, however, and things were becoming more of a mess with MCS taking shape.  We settled for lightning photography (Vince with video) a few miles north of Bassett on Highway 7…then called it a chase and drove through the incredible rain and extremely bright lightning on our way to Winner, SD for the night.  What a fun chase for our first day!


June 21, 2007

Late-June Chase Trip (Day 1): Northwest NEB/SD Border area

Filed under: Chase Forecasts/Outlooks,Chase Trip 2007,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 11:38 am


Vince and I have left Kearney, NE and are targetting an area near Merriman, NE to Pine Ridge, SD… near the SD/NE border.  A subtle upper level jet streak will be interacting with greater than 3000 J/kg CAPE in this area where surface wind convergence will be maximized.  Mid 60s dewpoints in this area is very promising, regardless the time of year… we should be in Merriman area by 4pm CDT.  I’ve got the website on chase mode, but in the Nebraska Sand Hills — in the middle of nowhere — cell coverage will be sporadic, so expect in-frequent updates… I’ve never chased in this area with my Alltel card before..

June 20, 2007

Late-June Chase Trip (Day 0): Departure and Plans

Filed under: Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 7:59 pm

June 20 (Day 0) 

It is about 8pm and my chase partner for the next 10 days or so, Vince Miller, will be arriving here in Dodge City in about an hour.  We’ve been discussing on the phone our tentative game plan for the next couple of days.  Tomorrow, June 21st, looks like a pretty good severe weather day across South Dakota and Northeast Nebraska.  It is unclear our exact target yet, but anywhere from Central SD to far NW Iowa looks interesting… my gut says farther west into SD, though, with moist easterly surface winds over much of the state ahead of a small jet streak/shortwave trough.  Then, Friday, we plan on blowing off Iowa and heading northwest towards North Dakota… more or less a travel day to get into position for Saturday which looks like a potentially good day in far southern Saskatchewan in Canada.  There could be isolated picturesque storms in western ND on Friday 22nd.  Sunday the 24th could also be in North Dakota as the upper trough will be slow-moving.  Going into early next week…still a lot of uncertainty and we will cross that bridge when we get there!  We are driving from Dodge City to Kearney, Nebraska this evening when Vince gets here…staging for tomorrow’s chase.

Storm Chase June 19: Southwest KS HP Supercell!

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 5:01 am

Wow, what awesome structure!  This was a complete impromptu chase, as I am at the tail-end of midnight shifts and didn’t wake up until 1:30pm.  I was actually awaken by a colleague at work calling to alert me of a storm I might be interested in chasing… since I *could* chase until late in the evening given the close proximity to Dodge City.  After looking at just a few things, I got a quick bite to eat, fueled up the car and took off north towards Wakeeney where a supercell was already in progress.  By the time I got to Wakeeney, the meso with this storm was moving south-southwest towards the Quinter-Park, KS area.   This storm was becoming increasingly undercut by cool outflow as I stayed ahead of it south of Park.  I drove about 9 miles south on an unpaved road then had to go west to Gove to find paved roads again with heavy precipitation coming too close to me.  Another storm to the immediate south was exploding to the southeast of me in southeastern Gove County.

I continued south from Gove on K-23 with strong northeast outflow winds buffeting me.  The new interest was indeed this southernmost storm now to my southeast…and it was showing supercell characteristics on radar with mesocyclones indicated.  I continued all the way south to Dighton when I headed east a couple miles before continuing south to stay ahead of what was now a very impressive HP supercell!  I went south on the Alamota unpaved road (it was well-grated), but I didn’t want to venture too far away from paved routes.  I knew though that if I stayed ahead of the precip core to its south… I’d be fine as no other storms were now developing ahead of this mature supercell.  I stopped briefly several times to capture some images of this storm.  Lightning was incredible with all sorts of in cloud, cloud-cloud, and cloud-ground lightning.  The sound of continuous grumbling in the upper reaches of the storm was incredible!  I eventually came to another well-grated east-west unpaved road and went east into extreme northwestern Hodgeman County where I was now watching incredible structure with that aquamarine-green scary color to my northwest.  Inflow winds at this location were 40-50 mph from the south-southeast!!  Wow.  Unfortunately with HP supercells, getting a visual of any tornado is next to impossible even if there is one.  The thing with this storm was that the roation was somewhat broad… but very intense at that.

Eventually, the tiered updraft structure became very photogenic.  What a treat!  I continued south…stopping every few minutes to get more photos of the structure…eventually reaching K-156 between Kalvesta and Jetmore.  I decided to head back west then south on more unpaved roads.  The storm was in a state of transition now and the structure wasn’t as good as it was about a half hour prior.  The storm however was still incredible with lightning frequency very high.  I eventually made it into extreme southwestern Hodgeman County to the southeast of Kalvesta about 6 miles or so…when the structure was taking on fantastic appearance again…with multiple tiers of rounded banding.  Awesome!!  I took quite a bit of photos with my new 12-24mm ultra-wide angle Nikon lens.  Eventually, I made it south to Howell on US-50 and called it a chase and headed back home… which was a whopping 6 miles away!  How convenient.  This was probably the best HP supercell structure I’ve seen in several years chasing… probably a "top-5" HP supercell storm in terms of ferocity and structure.  Below are a couple of photos:

HP Supercell structure looking west about 15 miles south of Alamota, KS at around 6:10pm CDT:

HP Supercell structure looking west-northwest near Kalvesta, KS at around 7:10pm CDT:

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