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 21, 2006

Chase Acct: June 20 (Northeast CO)

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 12:03 pm

Updated on June 29 with full account including many photos:

On Tuesday 6/20, I wanted to take advantage of a day-off work to chase. As mentioned in the previous blog post, I liked the area in northeastern Colorado where post-frontal moist upslope flow was best…along the Cheyenne Ridge.

I left Dodge City around mid-morning, arriving in Oakley around 11am where I stopped at the library to refine my target. Keep in mind, I was chasing more “old school” this day… with no laptop computer… so I had to rely on my morning forecast and one or two updates until I got to my target. This gave me the opportunity to actually sit down and do a surface map analysis at 16z (see below).

At 16z (11am CDT), the surface winds in my target area were out of the north around 10 knots. Traditionally, this is what you do not want to see the late morning hours in your target area. The “rules” are a lot different on the high plains adjacent the Rockies, though. All the models clearly showed these winds veering around to the northeast then almost due east by 00z (7pm)… the prime time for photogenic storms. The low level moisture was very good for this region in the north surface winds, as you can see on the surface map… for those chasers/weather weenies/meteorologists who know how to read these :)


I then stopped for lunch and another quick update at the NWS in Goodland. Everything appeared to be on track, so I continued my trek to the Akron-Sterling area. A couple of developing storms were visible to my distant northwest when I arrived in Yuma, with the most prominent storm about 80 miles to my north-northwest along the Cheyenne Ridge near Sidney. This was my initial target storm, so I set a course for the Sterling area…and then points north from there should the storm hold together. By the time I arrived in Sterling, the storm was not looking nearly as organized. Jay Antle was nowcasting for me and he advised of a storm well to the north near Scottsbluff/Alliance, NE. At the same time, other towering Cu were developing to my west. I headed northeast on I-76 about 20 miles to the Crook exit. I hung around at this interchange, monitoring the developing towering Cu field back to my west. Another call from Jay advised that the radar echoes aloft were really increasing in the New Raymer area…about 50 miles west of me. This activity was moving in my general direction… and by the time an anvil canopy was established… I backtracked southwest about 10 miles to the Proctor exit, where I re-fueled and began my chase.

At Proctor, I headed west a few miles on the county road grid…then south, south of the interstate towards the Fleming area. I had this view of the developing storm to my west at around 4:30pm MDT. The storm was still fairly disorganized with at least three areas of updraft development from west-southwest through northwest. About 4:50pm, 5 miles south of Fleming, the updraft base was looking more impressive (1 2 3), yet still pretty elongated. While this was going on, another storm was developing almost on top of me, just to my immediate southeast. I was beginning to get rained on and I had to move. I was discouraged by this new, weak storm near the inflow region of this storm. I drove east on a county road southeast of Fleming to stay ahead of the main storm to my northwest…but driving through light rain from the new weaker storm to my immediate east. While I was driving east, a tornado warning was issued for my storm behind me to the northwest for a reported tornado northeast of Sterling. Whether there was really a brief tornado or not, it had to have been spawned from the updraft base I was watching/photographing south of Fleming. There could have been a weak, brief “landspout” type tornado, but I’m a little suspect of the report.

In the meantime, the storm to my immediate east was getting better developed, but it was finally moving far enough east/northeast of me. The main storm back to my northwest was still holding its own, but things were about to change very rapidly. My location was about 6 miles southwest of Haxtun where I stopped briefly along a north-south paved county road. Matt Crowther, who was also providing me nowcast help, called me on the phone to give me a radar update. In a span of less than 5 minutes, my main storm to the northwest was rapidly evolving into a bonafide supercell storm. The updraft base became much more focused and taking on rotation, with a wall cloud to boot (1 2). The wall cloud attained some rotation, but at the same time, it was becoming undercut by outflow. Remember that weak storm to my immediate east? Well it had now merged with the main storm (vertical) and was taking on impressive structure. The storm was now evolving into an HP supercell with a ton of precip. This is a look to the north at the portion of the storm that was originally that weaker storm out ahead of the main storm.

All this precipitation the storm was generating was detrimental to the supercell itself. It generated a huge surge of cold outflow surging south. Here’s a look to the west at the southern edge of the storm updraft, and another broad view of the entire storm updraft region. The supercell had pretty decent structure at this point (around 5:25pm), looking west-northwest from a location about 10 miles southwest of Haxtun. This would be the last of the good structure, though, as cold outflow would out-race the updraft enough to cut-off any good inflow into the storm. It looked really menacing to the north for awhile, but all this outflow became the death of the great supercell structure. It did make for some picturesque outflow-dominant structure (1 2 3) for awhile! (~5:33pm).

So now I had a decision to make. This storm was “going to pot” now with so much outflow ruining the show. I headed south on Hwy 59 to try to stay ahead of the outflow, with still some remaining updraft structure. I thought that it was still pretty early in the game, not even 6pm MDT yet, and there was always the possibility of the outflow surge becoming less dominant with new development farther south. In the meantime, the main original storm was still going, but the structure wasn’t nearly what it was to the north. I headed south to Clarkville, then east on Road 55 until I got to the sand hills where I had to head south a mile then east one more until I got to Road 51 which meandered through the sand hills. In this area of northeastern Colorado closer to Nebraska, you start entering more sand hill terrain. For future reference, Road 51 in northern Yuma County…between Wauneta and and Clarkville…is a wonderful little drive through the beautiful sand hills. The storm to the north-northwest was holding its own (6:30pm) despite being in that horrendous cool outflow generated airmass.

I was watching this storm overlooking the sand hills for a good half hour while meandering eastward towards Wauneta. The NWS-GLD office actually issued a tornado warning for this storm, which I found really interesting. At no point did this storm appear capable of producing a tornado with the messed up outflow environment it was in. As the sun was getting lower in the sky, thecolors were becoming more saturated and picturesque ( 1 2). The storm was looking more like a marginal supercell again to my north. I reached Hwy 385 at Wauneta and continued east a couple more miles with the storm to my northwest. It appeared as if the storm was on the downward swing and my attention was now becoming more focused to the new storm to my southwest near Yuma. I backtracked to Hwy 385 then continued south towards Wray to intercept the Yuma supercell. I stopped briefly to take one last look and photograph the Wauneta storm. Now it’s onward to the Yuma storm! (time ~7:35pm).
This storm must have formed at the edge of the surging outflow… and the ouflow must have come to a halt, because this storm was very well organized. It was a race against time, though, to get quality photography of this storm before the sun set. As I headed west from Wray on Hwy 34, there was a problem. The lighting was horrible with a lot of downstream precip being blown due east of the updraft area. Looking on the horizon, there were clear skies to the southwest and due south of this storm, so this was where I had to be… due south of the updraft, not east. With this in mind, I had to hop off Hwy 34 and drive south on unpaved county roads.

I had to find the photographer’s light… it had to be there! …and oh did I find the light. About 10 or 12 miles southwest of Wray…about 7 miles south of Hwy 34. I got south of the supercell updraft just in time for sunset. I quickly got the tripod out and had a field day. The colors were simply incredible. The warm hues of violet, orange, gold, blue… were stunning to say the least… and the supercell structure was very nice as well.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4

The view from west through north through east was just full of virbrant hues…illuminating the cloud structure of the supercell magnificently (vertical).

Immediately after sunset, the sky just lit up on fire. Vibrant pinks and violets dominated the sky…and cast an incredible hue on the landscape:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Once this great light faded… so did the storm chase. It was exactly what I was after…incredible light on a supercell thunderstorm. I drove south to Burlington to refuel and grab a bite to eat. After taking about an hour nap west of Goodland at about 12:30am CDT, a storm was developing nidely to the east. I stopped for about 20 minutes to photograph lightning near Edson along I-70. On approach to Dodge City around 4am, another storm was producing photogenic lightning just before arriving home, which was a nice little touch to the end of this chase. 1 | 2

Photo Gallery >>


Mike Umscheid

June 19, 2006

Chase Day Fcst: June 20 (Northeast CO)

Filed under: Chase Forecasts/Outlooks,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 10:18 pm

Tuesday the 20th is a work off-day for me, thus I plan to make it a chase day since there is a reasonable opportunity at a supercell within a half day’s one-way drive. All along, it looked like Iowa was the place to be for Tuesday the 20th… and it still does… however, Northwest Iowa is not a reasonable target for me from Dodge City. I’ve already done the Dodge City to Sioux City drive once this season… I think one time is enough, LOL. Since there is a reasonble opportunity for supercells closer (still 4+ hours away), I will opt for a closer play. Pretty strong zonal flow aloft with a short-wave trough embedded in the westerly flow will allow for organized storms in two areas it appears: Northwest to North-Central Iowa… and Northeastern Colorado. The better wind profiles and CAPE/moisture will be in northwest Iowa, which is where the best opportunity for tornadoes will be. The cold front will move south into western KS during the day tomorrow… however, the front will stall out given the strong zonal flow aloft. North surface winds in northeastern Colorado early in the day will turn to northeast then east by late afternoon/early evening… increasing shear and allowing post-frontal low level moisture to advect west. Storms should develop in terrain favored areas like the Palmer Divide and the Cheyenne Ridge. I am shooting for a target around Akron, CO at this point.

Below is the 24hr forecast from the NAM model valid 6pm MDT tomorrow (850mb Theta-E and wind). Note the warmer colors in the image (indicative of greater instability) in northeastern Colorado with easterly component winds advecting higher theta-E into northeastern Colorado.

For those who know how to read Skew-T (thermodynamic) diagrams, here is one for a location near Holyoke, Colorado (a 24hr forecast valid 6pm tomorrow) . Holyoke is in extreme northeastern Colorado about 30 miles south of where I-76 and I-80 merge.

90/55°F surface parcel yeilds about 1600 J/kg of CAPE. 0-6km shear is forecast to be about 40-45 knots by 00z, which is sufficient for supercell structures. Both the NAM and the NAM-WRF generate decent storms by 00z in this area with storms continuing well into the evening with high QPF values at 06z.

June 10, 2006

Back home for good.

Filed under: UTM Updates — Mike U @ 9:40 am

…after 3 consecutive bust days.  Sorry I didn’t update my
whereabouts the past few days… combination of not having my computer
and pretty much ZERO activity storm-wise.  It was fun to meet up
with and hang out with my good friends Jim Leonard and Mike Theiss
along with Brad Riley and their 4 guests with Cyclone Tours.  It
was good to see how a chase tour group is operated (even though Cyclone
Tours is small) and to get the chasing perspective from people who
don’t chase on a regular basis and this being their first or second
time at it.  Unfortunately, with little in the way of photogenic
storms while I was out with them, the 4 tour guests didn’t to see the
ultimate prize from the chase (a tornado or a beautifully sculpted
supercell updraft), but they certainly did get to see what chasing is
all about, that’s for sure.  I may post more details later, but
right now I need to catch up on some more sleep before going into my
first day back at work this afternoon.

June 7, 2006

Chase Day Fcst: June 7 (Black Hills Region)

Filed under: Chase Forecasts/Outlooks,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 9:13 am

I am in Ogallala, Nebraska with Jim Leonard, Mike Theiss, and the Cyclone Tours. I’ll be chasing with them for the couple remaining days of my vacation. Looks like an interesting day in Southwestern South Dakota atop the upper ridge. Decent deep layer baroclinicity with adequate (yet still meager) moisture for supercells. Even though the 500mb winds will be fairly weak ~20 to 30 knots, a look at the forecast hodograph for the area reveals good length thanks to strong low level flow. The NAM shows a nice looking curved hodograph with a deviant storm motion of southeast at less than 10 knots. Storms should develop in the Rapid City vicinity and this is where we’ll be heading. Thursday (June 8th) looks like the same general area.

June 6, 2006

Back to the Dakotas!

Filed under: UTM Updates — Mike U @ 6:22 pm

Well this is impromptu.  Jim "Papa Cyclone" Leonard called me this evening asking about the next couple days in the Dakotas.  I’ve decided to join Jim, Mike Thiess and the Cyclone Tours for a couple of days in the Dakotas.  The pattern looks marginal for supercells, but I can’t pass up an opportunity to spend more time with friends and storms in the Dakotas.  I’ll be tagging along with Jim Leonard Wednesday and Thursday (7-8th).  I’m due back to work on the 9th.  If the pattern looks too good to pass up on the 9th, I may try to extend my vacation an extra day.  We’ll see.  My laptop computer is heading to New York (800tech.com) to be serviced, and it should be back next week.  By next week, I should begin post-work of all the photographs since May 23rd.   By the way, I have a new cell phone (with a new provider), but my number is still the same, for those who know it.

I chased yesterday in Colorado, and I have a few of these photographs on my gallery page at this link:  http://www.underthemeso.com/gallery2/stormchase/chase06/2006jun05/

I doubt I’ll be able to update the blog on a regular basis since I won’t have my laptop computer, but I’ll try :)

June 4, 2006

Chase Trip 2006: Day 12- Northwest KS (bust! & The End)

Filed under: Chase Trip 2006,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 10:49 am

Saturday, June 3rd concluded Chase Trip 2006. We left Fort Morgan, Colorado around 1pm after a wonderful mexican lunch. When I got to my Jeep, I discovered that I could no longer power up my laptop computer. Both the external battery pack and the a/c adapter would not work… thus the problem lies with the computer itself. My laptop is now out of commision until I can get someone here in Dodge to look at it. Unfortunately, I have not yet transferred my photographs from the laptop to DVD, so I’m in a state of anxiety right now, needless to say, with respect to my storm and other chase trip photos. My laptop is about on its last leg anyway, it’s been so abused over the past couple years from so much storm chasing.

Anyway, we intercepted the remnants of a supposed tornado-producing storm near Sharon Springs, Kansas yesterday. When we got to Sharon Springs, the storm weakened and this whole area to our south was looking very outflow dominant and messy. We blew it off. Noticing new fresh towers going up near Goodland, we decided to meander towards Wallace and watch this. A small, very high based Cb moved southeast towards us and ultimately bit the dust like everything else this day. Saturday June 3rd was a bad day — short and simple.

This was Jon and Rob’s last day since Rob has a Monday flight back home. Jay and I said bye to Jon and Rob for the conclusion of Chase Trip 2006 and we headed back to Dodge City. This morning, Jay began his trek back to Lawrence.

It is now back to more impromptu, shorter-stint chases within a few hundred miles radius of Dodge City. Today, Sunday June 4, there may be more high-based pseudo-organized storms forming in the same place as yesterday. After I get my new cell phone in a couple hours and a Kansas Delorme Atlas & Gazateer, I may head northwest to photograph these storms, should the develop. It’s back to old-school chasing for awhile until my laptop is revived again or I get a new one!

Tomorrow, Monday June 5, there is a better opportunity for organized severe storms and even a decent supercell or two near the KS-NE border. I’ll be chasing this for sure, since I”m still on vacation until June 8th. Paper maps, library stops for data, NOAA weather radio on the scanner… Wow! It will certainly be different chasing this old way after all the luxuries of incredible cell-data on the road with my Alltel+Kyocera card setup. It’ll be fun though, more eyes on the skies where they should be!

June 3, 2006

Chase Trip 2006: Day 11- Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park (sightseeing, no chase)

Filed under: Chase Trip 2006 — Mike U @ 8:17 am

Well yesterday, June 2 was another down day with respect to storm chasing.  After discussion within our group, we decided to hang tough with this marginal pattern vs. blowing off the rest of the chase.  We are taking things one day at a time.  Anyway, yesterday it looked like Saturday June 3 might be a decent enough opportunity for high based supercells in northwest flow aloft over southwest Nebraska.  With this in mind, we optioned to drive around and do more sightseeing in the Rockies.

After Rob and Jon dropped off Mitch at Denver Int’l, they met back up with Jay and me in Estes Park.  We spent the afternoon driving through the park with nice scenics and wildlife.  The snowfields are pretty nice right now above 10,500 ft. or so.  After driving through the park we headed back to Estes Park then to our final destination of Fort Morgan, where we are this morning.  Driving to Fort Morgan last night, we noticed on the internet a couple of really interesting supercells in Northwestern Nebraska in the Sandhills.  These supercells were in a fairly weak flow environment with meager moisture.  This gave us some hope for today’s chase in western Nebraska/Northwest KS.



Jon, Rob, and Jay from left to right. 


June 2, 2006

Chase Trip 2006: Day 10- Mount Evans, CO (sightseeing, no chase)

Filed under: Chase Trip 2006,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 7:54 am

Jay, Jon, Rob, Mitch, and I left Goodland yesterday (6/1) morning and set out for Colorado Springs for what we thought might be some interesting storms along the I-25 urban corridor by late afternoon/early evening. When we got to Colorado Springs, the moisture was mixing out into the lower 40s. The RUC and NAM models were too aggressive with moisture. We blew the chase day off and decided to drive up into the mountains.

We drove up Mount Evans road, which had just opened up recently. This is the highest paved road in North America reaching the summit of Mount Evans at around 14,200 feet. When we got up there, a picturesque storm was visible to the south-southeast near Pikes Peak area. This storm took on some interesting Cb structure with a lowered base, a slight backsheared anvil at one point, and even a nascent overshooting top. Not bad!


This morning we are in Idaho Springs. Mitch will be flying out of Denver today to go back home to Houston. Rob, Jon, Jay, and I will now figure out what to do the rest of our vacation, as it appears chasing opportunities are going down the drain. There is slight hope at something in South Dakota on Saturday, but it looks marginal. We might make another mountain sightseeing day out of today then begin a trek back towards Dodge City?

June 1, 2006

Chase Trip 2006: Day 9- Northeast CO/Northwest KS (supercell & dusty HP beast)

Filed under: Chase Accounts,Chase Trip 2006,Storm Chasing — Mike U @ 8:05 am

Wow, what an action-packed chase day yesterday (5/31)!  Jay, Jon, Rob, Mitch, and I left Clayton, NM by 11:30am or so and headed north through Lamar to Limon.  We arrived in Limon as a supercell was underway to our northwest.  The storm was still in an organizing state to our northwest.  We drove north of Limon to photograph some of the high based structure that had a meso embedded in it to our west.


We followed this storm as it cycled through stages of organization north of I-70…then along the I-70 corridor from Bovina to Flagler, CO.  By the time we approached Flager, our storms were becoming a mess.  There was an isolated supercell to the northwest near Fort Morgan which I was tempted to intercept since at the time it was the best looking thing around.  It turned out this was a good idea NOT to chase… as our original activity was about to undergo some significant changes for the better.  We drove through the core of a cell to our immediate east and south that had some dime size hail.

At Burlington, we optioned south just to get into some clear air so we could “breathe” a little easier with respect to staying ahead of all this stuff.  As we went south on US-385 we eventually got far enough south to see some impressive mid level structure with the one cell to our immediate west that had a little meso with it.  This whole area from southeast of Burlington down south to west of Cheyenne Wells, CO was exploding into an impressive HP beast churning up a ton of dust with small scale vortices (gustnadoes) along the gust front.  The gust front wasn’t really surging east that far from the developing updrafts… therefore some of the gustnadoes almost appeared as if they were hybrid front-flank weak tornadoes.

There was really interesting cloud base rotation at various portions along this inflow/outflow interface where the new updrafts were going up vigorously.  At these locally enhanced areas of rotation, the dust would organize in a column and rise up to meet the cloud base rotation.  Really, really interesting!

We actually took a dusty farm road east through all this stuff… north of Hwy 40 between Cheyenne Wells and Arapahoe.  At various points along this adventurous dusty drive, the visibility went to ZERO in dust with northwest winds around 40 to 55 mph or so.  Jon and Mitch were shooting video during all of this and I’m looking forward to seeing how that turned out.

We got back to US-40 and blasted east to Weskan, KS.  Near Weskan, we looked off to the north into the notch of this HP beast.  There was an impressive column of dust that looked better than any other dust column we had seen and it was right where radar was indicating strong shear.  It’s possible we were looking at a weak tornadic circulation back in the notch.  I was able to get a couple photos of this while we were driving east, but it’s fairly inconclusive as to whether this was really a tornado or just a well developed gustnado.  Probably a hybrid?



Eventually, this whole thing became one giant dust storm at the leading edge with haboob characteristics at the front edge.  When we got on the east side of Sharon Springs as this monster storm approached Sharon Springs… the structure was magnificent!  It was just a huge wall of updraft right above the dust wall/haboob.  Wow!  I was fortunate enough to capture all of this on the digital SLR.  It was an awesome sight!  We finally aborted the chase northeast of Wallace and backtracked through the storm back to Goodland where we stayed for the night.



Here’s what my Jeep and Jon’s Cavalier looked like after our zero-visibility dust pursuit… caked with northwest wind-blasted dirt:



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