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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 26, 2008

June Chase Trip 2008: Day 8 Summary (Alzada/Ridge, MT area)

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Chase Trip 2008,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 10:35 am

June 25, 2008 — Late evening storms & landscape near Ridge, MT

This was probably the most adrenaline-filled chase of the trip, which largely had to do with the 45-mile stretch of unpaved roads we decided to take in extreme southeastern Montana.  Our target was the northeast Wyoming/southeast Montana border area downstream of the Bighorn Mountains.  Nothing seemed to be developing ahead of the Bighorns despite decent convergence along the Hwy 212 corridor from Alzada to Broadus — therefore we had to rely on terrain-forced convection well to the west.  The first storm of interest moved northeast into Crook County, WY near Devil’s Tower, and we decided to edge northwest a little bit on Hwy 212 from Belle Fourche.  We found a nice high spot between Colony and Belle Fourche and watched this storm die a rapid death to our distant southwest.  After this, we had a hard time figuring out what to do next.  There were storms moving northeast toward the southern Black Hills and at the time thought this was going to be the only opportunity for decent lightning to salvage the chase.  Rapid convective development then occurred between Buffalo and Sheridan over the Bighorns again.  Another storm also formed northeast of there near Lame Deer, MT.  This rapidly became severe and took on some supercell characteristics on radar.  Since we stayed put for awhile trying to make a decision… it seemed as if this new development made the decision for us.  We headed northwest on Hwy 212 to Alzada.  Now the decision was… do we head west on Ridge Rd. or do we continue west-northwest on Hwy 212. 

It looked for all the world like this northern supercell was going to take a track that would parallel Hwy 212, so we decided to continue west-northwest toward Hammond and Boyes.  The storm however split, and the southern right-mover really began to take a turn to the right.  We noticed this unpaved road on the map that dropped south about 16 miles to Ridge Rd.  We figured with all this activity still well to the west that we would have time to make it south to Ridge Rd.  This road wound through some amazing terrain with an abundance of rolling hills and a scattering of pine trees — free-ranging cattle, some of which we had to weave around, and a brief encounter with 3 mule deer bucks together.  I managed to get some decent images of the bucks with the amazing landscape and sky.  We had to continue south, however, in order to stay ahead of the approaching storm core(s).  As we drew closer to Ridge Rd., the lightning to our south and southwest was increasing quite a bit.  It began to sprinkle just a couple miles before our east turn.  We made it to Ridge Rd., but we still had 30 miles to drive on this unpaved road, albeit a fairly hard surface for most of the drive.  As long as it didn’t pour down heavy rain, we’d be alright.  Lightning began to really increase all around us… effectively blinding us at times given how luminous and close the flashes were.  We were too close to the core to stop. 

It sure would have been nice, in retrospect, to have gone east on Ridge Rd. initially!  Storm chaser Brian Morganti did take this route and managed to capture some very nice lightning images from farther east.  We were just too close the whole time.  It was a white-knuckler for Vince as we just barely stayed ahead of the core as we were driving about as fast as the storm was moving… dodging cattle, close CGs, and slowing down for cattle guard seemingly every mile or two.  But we made it.  It was 45 miles of driving we won’t forget… from the incredible terrain and sky and color to drama-filled moments as we were barely outracing the core for 30 miles on Ridge Rd.  I tried to shoot some handheld images with the shutter on Bulb setting just pointing straight out the window in hopes of documenting the moment on camera.  I did manage to catch one of the very close CGs in the very right edge of the frame, and I think it illustrates nicely just how close and bright some of these CG’s were.  When we got to Alzada finally, we drove just northeast of town to try our hand at more lightning photography, but the nuisance light rain in the wake of the storm forced us to continue shooting from in the car.  I did manage to capture a couple lightning images handheld leaning the camera against the car window.  Images from this memorable experience below!



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