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 25, 2007

Chase Acct: April 20 (Texas Panhandle)

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 3:56 pm

Magnifcent LP Supercell after sunset with a cresent moon and Venus in the pristine evening sky.  Location is near Happy, TX(Times in CDT) (photo links in bold)  As I mentioned in my morning forecast post on April 20th, I had quite a tough decision to make regarding a chase target area.  I ultimately optioned for the southern target in the Texas Panhandle based solely on gut intuition.  I just liked the higher CAPE farther south and dryline convergence by late afternoon/early evening, and I knew that if something went up, it would be isolated… perfect for storm photography.

I  departed Dodge City around noon heading south for a target in the east-central Texas Panhandle — around Stinnett, TX.  I kept a good cell data signal all the way to the target area, and I arrived in Spearman around 2:30.  I hung around town here for about a half hour, as it appeared the dryline was really beginning to sharpen-up to my west around Dumas.  I kept my options open, as the best moisture was still just to the southeast of Amarillo with mid to upper 50s dewpoints.  I figured this moisture would continue to advect northwestward to Amarillo and points north of there to where the best convergence appeared to be setting up.  With this thinking in mind, I cheated more west closer to the convergence and I could see some initial small clumping cumulus developing to my west near and north of Dumas.  Other cumulus was developing to the south of me farther away, near the Palo Duro Canyon area.  I sat at this location between Cactus and Spearman for probably a half hour just waiting — figuring I was in a good spot.  As time went on, the cumulus to my west was just not doing anything, and better clumping cumulus was occurring to my south — so I continued south and east to Stinnett, where I sat and waited again for about 20-30 minutes about 5 miled west of town after I refueled and grabbed a bite to eat in town.  By 5pm, I was watching several areas of potential interest for initiation, and ultimately spotted hard towering cu developing well to my west-southwest near Vega, TX.  This was some 90 miles to my southwest.  There was nothing going on at my latitude… so southwest I went.  By the time I reached Hwy 87 at Four Way, the hard towers that prompted my heading this direction…completely evaporated into nothing.  This was frustrating!  I hit a complete low point on this chase right here.  It was after 6pm, and I was getting tired of driving seemingly aimlessly across the Texas Panhandle.  What made things even more frustrating was that storms were now developing way to my south…about 120 miles away to the west of Plainview.  I was so ticked off at this point, I just about said to hell with it and headed back home…   but after looping the radar of these newly developed storms and seeing that they were moving more northly…essentially towards my direction… I decided not to give up.  This was a very good decision.

So south I go once again.  All of this was reminding me very much of my May 9, 2006 chase when I was caught too far north — taking a nearly identical route to get to developing storms well off to my south.  I reached Amarillo and headed east a bit on Hwy 287 before heading back south again, in anticipation of the developing storms being east of I-27 by the time I got down there.  As it turned out, the first storms that developed weakened significantly with new storms developing back west of the interstate again.  D’oh!  Now I am thinking I’m going to be caught too far east because of this move!  Oh well.  At Claude, I continued south, taking me through the Palo Duro Canyon (where I lost my cell data signal).  At 7:45pm or so, it was getting pretty late, so I had to really motor to get south of this storm before good light would wane.  I never did get down there before sunset and here’s why:  Remember those first storms I talked about that diminished as they moved east of the interstate?  Well, they left some incredible skyscape views with picturesque virga showers amidst the terrain.  After driving through the canyon, I decided I need to get a photo of these remnant virga showers/orphan anvils during the photographer’s "golden hour" at sunset with the canyon landscape — thus after driving south, I turned around on Hwy 207 and went back north a few miles through the canyon.  I’m glad I did.

As the sun got lower on the horizon, the old orphan anvil with remnant virga lit up in beautiful hues of violet, pink, and orange.  The rugged terrain of the canyon landscape also became a brilliant hue of deep, burnt orange and red.  Here are a few vertical landscape photos (1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5) showing the wonderful colors of the canyon landscape as well as the decaying storm’s leftover virga shower.  Not a single other chaser was around, not even another car passed by this entire time I photographed here.  It is a moment in storm chasing/photography I will absolutely cherish.  I think it takes extreme luck and/or a lot of hard work to get these kind of beautiful skyscapes amidst such colorful and dynamic landscape.  In my case, I consider it work, because I tried for these images after I realized the potential I had about 30 minutes prior (prompting me to turn around and go back into the canyon when other chasers would try to get out of the canyon as quick as they could!  The fine-art photography love I have has certainly changed the way I chase storms.

The 10 or 15 minute window I had with these colors in the canyon had come…and gone.  But I forever have it captured in photography.  After that, I was completely thrilled with the outcome of my chase — no supercell, no tornado, yet very successful from a photography standpoint.  I could have left and gone back home happy with just that 10-15 minutes during the "golden hour".  Little did I know what I had in store for me after sunset:

With my interest in long-exposure photography, I decided that even though the sun had set, I still had enough light for the next hour or so for some interesting shots, should the storms to my immediate southwest hold together.  I turned around and headed back south on Hwy 207…then west towards the storm near Happy at around 8:30pm. Here is a look at the storm at around 8:50pm looking west.  I then found a spot along Ranch #1075 along the county line of Randall and Swisher about 5 miles east of Happy.  From this spot, I sat and photographed one of the most amazing LP supercell updrafts I’ve photographed to date.  Against the clear twilight sky, this storm, while small, stood tall...and the periodic intracloud lightning illuminated structure just enough to highlight the beauty of this storm.  The lightning illumination is what made these images so striking.  I had my Nikon D200 set up in full manual mode at about 4sec exposure and f/3.5 aperture… although this aperture was too wide open/fast for the brightest lightning within this updraft… but at the same time, I had to have a fast aperture to mitigate motion blur of the storm itself.  It was a fine balancing act between aperture and ISO sensitivity to keep shutter speed at 6 seconds or less.  The motion blur of the storm was too much if I kept the shutter open longer than about 6 seconds.  But it just kept getting better:

Before I knew it, Venus was making an appearance to the left of the southern edge of the updraft and followed soon by the crescent moon amidst the semi transparent southern edge anvil of this LP storm.  I simply couldn’t believe what I was witnessing/photographing!  LP supercell, Venus, and the crescent moon all in one shot!!  1 | 2 | 3 | 4  Some clouds from the south were invading and the moon and Venus would eventually become hidden once again.  As darkness was winning out, I had to increase my ISO to about 640 in order to keep a shutter speed at 6 seconds or less.  The storm base was perfect with a lowered area and an inflow tail on the south side.  The updraft base area was becoming more laminar in appearance due to a more stable surface layer, and after about this time, the light was getting too low for any reasonable photos under a 6 second exposure.  Shortly after this time, I called it a chase and began my trek back north towards Dodge City.  From a pure photography standpoint, this was definitely one of the top 3 or 4 chases since I began digital SLR photography in 2005.

Photo Gallery:


Mike Umscheid



  1. WOW !!!! Just looking at these pictures gives ya a rush! Be carful ! GREAT SHOTS!

    Comment by Ronnie King — May 5, 2007 @ 10:15 pm

  2. I am going to school for Meteorology and of course I am enamored with all of your weather photos, particularly the thunderstorm/supercell ones. The moon and Venus in the background makes the picture more amazing!

    Naomi Orre
    Ada, Minnesota

    Comment by Naomi — May 8, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

  3. Great pic’s , Look forward seeing ya , next year down here in oklahoma . When in southern Oklahoma give us a yell on 147.150 !

    See ya under the storm
    Jason Young

    Comment by Jason Young — July 31, 2007 @ 9:06 pm

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