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Chase Log: May 26, 2016 – Ashland/Coldwater, KS

This day had been on my radar (no pun intended) for a while as THE day of this week. It was the day that featured the strongest winds at 500mb. During the early part of the week, it was looking like a classic dryline tornado outbreak in western Oklahoma. Things really began changing as the day got closer, however. By the afternoon of the 25th, it was looking like NW Kansas into Colorado was going to be the best spot, to the north of the surface low.

The morning of, everyone was hyping this day up, including the SPC, who issued a moderate risk over central Kansas along the warm front. I got up early, thinking I’d be making a 9-10 hour drive to NW Kansas. However, I spent literally hours in the morning debating between that spot, central Kansas, SW Kansas/NW Oklahoma, SW Oklahoma, AND west Texas! I could make a case for every target! That being said, my hopes were not nearly as high as everyone else. The HRRR was breaking out a boatload of JUNK early in the day over western Oklahoma into central Kansas. It was also dropping dewpoints significantly all throughout western Kansas, as a result of downward transport of dry air from ongoing overnight convection (per SPC).

I figured those storms along the warm front would be really messy, as warm front storms typically are anyway. Nonetheless, I thought this was probably going to be the best spot to see a tornado, so I left Carrollton around 9am with a target of Salina, KS. I was already way behind.

As I approached OKC and that junk I spoke of previously was going up and beginning to intensify, I realized I wasn’t going to catch it. I actually liked the prospect of more isolated storms in NW Oklahoma/SW Kansas along the dryline, so I began heading that way. A couple storms broke out as I was on my way, and I approached my first storm of the day, which was severe warned, near Arnett, OK.

Long story short, it was very high-based, had some decent hail in it, but that’s about it. I followed a little ways, then let it go. Back to the west in the Texas panhandle, it appeared further initiation off the dryline was starting. I went southwest to Shattuck, OK and stopped there, as these storms seemed to be struggling to develop. Finally, the cell to the north began intensifying, and I raced north to catch it. I got to it near Englewood, KS.

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Another high-based storm. I wasn’t very hopeful for tornado chances when I saw that. I followed it north and then east, and went through some pretty good hail, maybe up to ping pong ball size (1.5″) at most. I finally noticed the distinct sound of the hail hitting my sunroof hail guard during this barrage, and I was glad I had that!

Out in front of the storm, it did have some great structure!

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I stayed in front of it for a while, then it finally died near Greensburg as I felt the ice cold outflow coming from the storm. Time to call it a night. Well, maybe.

As I got south of the storm, I noticed a beautiful scene and had to stop! I could see mammatus forming at the top of this storm, with the updraft of another to the south, as the sun was beginning to set over a wheat field. What a beautiful scene!

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I just love those wheat fields. Especially the way they wave in the breeze. This to me is the very essence of the Great Plains! It is far from boring, especially with those violent storms!

Unfortunately I wasn’t going to get a great mammatus shot, as low clouds expanded and took over this scene. It was still amazing to see the orange glow on the wheat fields as the sun set!

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After going through Coldwater, I headed back west and noticed quite a lightning show going on! I got a KILLER shot of an anvil crawler, but came to find out later it was not in focus! Ugh! I had been zoomed in on an updraft earlier and forgot to re-focus (it was on manual focus) after going back to wide angle. That’s not the first time I’ve completely forgotten I was on manual focus and it needed to be changed!

I was at least able to get several great shots of lightning darting through the sky around a new updraft!

No tornadoes for me on this chase, though I apparently missed one RIGHT where I had been earlier in the day; Arnett, OK. So again, I nailed the forecast, but just wasn’t there!

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: 5/24/16 – Minneola/Dodge City, KS

There was a pretty obvious target on this day where the surface low, outflow boundary, and dryline all met. Dodge City, KS was my target, but I planned on going wherever that outflow boundary ended up. My hopes weren’t SUPER high for this day, but I liked the prospect of seeing a tornado, and by the morning, the SPC had increased the tornado risk to 10% for this small area in SW Kansas into NW Oklahoma.

I didn’t want to take a chance on being late, so I left Carrollton at 6am in order to avoid rush hour traffic and give myself plenty of time. This ended up being WAY too early, as I arrived in Woodward, OK by noon. I would proceed to spend the next 4 hours or so hanging out in the Wal-Mart parking lot with a group of chasers! It was not time wasted, however, as I met some cool people! At the 3pm outlook, the SPC upgraded to a 10% hatched tornado risk in that area!

With towering Cu starting to build, and the outflow boundary retreating back to the north, we decided to reposition further north, and headed up to Buffalo, OK. This still appeared to be too far south, so we continued on into southern Kansas. Here we had a tower going up to our west. It was about 5pm at this time. I noted that it was moving due north, and that we needed to continue to Minneola, KS.

The storm started as a cluster of 4 small cells, but ended up merging and developing pretty rapidly, getting a nice supercellular shape on radar. Here is the very first picture I took when we stopped just south of Minneola.

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A couple of things to note on this picture: The flat, smooth base, inflow tail, and striations in the updraft. This had all the makings of a fantastic storm, even though it was early in its development. It already had a tornado warning on it at this time, as radar was beginning to show some rotation. Visually we could tell it wasn’t about to drop a tornado, but it was getting to that point quickly. It wasn’t long before a wall cloud started to form, and we decided to go ahead and get north of town prior to tornadogenesis.

The wall cloud had persistent rotation and a funnel cloud for several minutes.

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Finally that funnel reached down and made contact with the ground, and we had our first tornado just one hour after initiation!

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This tornado remained thin for a while, danced around a bit, and appeared to be ready to rope out before coming back stronger, and building into a big stovepipe! I moved north to stay up with it, but it appeared to be moving off to the west as well.

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I continued north, noting another rapidly rotating wall cloud to the east of the tornado. It was evident that another tornado was on the way, and it would touch down prior to the first tornado roping out! I got up to Ford Ensign Rd and began tracking east to get closer. At this time, yet another wall cloud was to the east, and TWO skinny rope tornadoes came down!

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I didn’t think I captured this, but I actually did in the above photo. There’s a very skinny rope to the left of the more prominent rope, and if you look at the dust on the ground, you can tell that it has a separate dust whirl.

The main tornado turned into a beautiful light grey stovepipe, kicking up dark brown dirt as I moved closer to it heading east. I had to stop, however, when I reached a beautiful wheat field, which was the perfect foreground and created this incredible scene!

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This was a shot I had been dreaming of! I felt like I was fairly close to this tornado at one point, maybe a couple miles, but it was moving away from me. The above picture was shot at 11mm, so the top of the picture was basically what was directly above me. It’s a large field of view. Here’s a shot from my D5100 taken at 32mm, which is just about a perfect representation of what the eyes see.

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This was hands down the most photogenic tornado I had ever seen, and to have a second one on the ground at the same time was icing on the cake!

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This tornado would rope out shortly after the above photo, then actually touched back down as a skinny rope. I would find a paved road going north and made one more stop when these tornadoes had dissipated, when I saw another brief spin-up underneath a bowl funnel. It was apparent, however, that a big tornado was about to happen. There was a large area of rotation getting closer and closer to the ground! We were about to have a wedge!

I went north all the way to Hwy 56 while watching the wedge form, then I stopped there to shoot video of it moving away, and snap more photos. Another chaser pulled up and said in 46 years of chasing he had never seen anything like this!

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After leaving this spot I got bogged down in Dodge City a bit, and fell pretty far behind the storm. I witnessed another tornado touch down while I was in the town, but couldn’t get a good picture of it.

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The above picture is the end of the wedge, I believe. East of town I witnessed another two tornadoes touch down before going north on 283.

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At this point the storm was about to get cut off by a new storm to the south, and rain started interfering with it. I thought it was done, and sat and waited for a while, but then rotation began picking up on the wall cloud again, so I continued north. One more tornado touched down! All I have is a cell phone picture of that one.

It’s tough to get an accurate count on the number of tornadoes on this day, especially near the time when there were 3 tornadoes at once, as it seemed like there may have been several different ropes dancing around that huge wall cloud. Other chasers have said 12, and I’ve heard even as many as 17! I think my number is still conservative, but is likely the best representation of what I actually saw with my own two eyes.

After that, I was starving, and it was time to celebrate, so I linked back up with my buddies for a steak and a beer!

This chase was a great example of the kind of influence an outflow boundary can have on a storm. The environment was conducive to tornadoes, but I don’t think we would have seen this prolific of a storm without the interaction of that outflow boundary. It’s amazing how you can see tons of storms that just struggle and struggle to produce, and aren’t able to, and then this storm it was basically a given with each new wall cloud that another tornado was imminent! Whenever there is an outflow boundary, that should be your target! Period!

This was by far my best chase day ever. My previous high was 4 in one day, so that was blown away! I came into this year having seen 9 tornadoes TOTAL in nearly 7 years of chasing, and eclipsed that all in the span of about 2.5 hours! In hindsight, I wish I would have made the effort to get closer to these tornadoes, as they were moving very slow, and it was the perfect terrain and storm to come up behind them safely. That being said, I really love the shots I got of the tornado plus the incredible structure of the storm. It’s funny, last year in Elmer I was a bit jealous of those who had been further back, as that storm had some amazing structure, and on this day I was a bit jealous of those who were close! I can make a case for preferring either location, really. I may just have to alternate with each chase!

I may not ever top this chase, but you never really know what Mother Nature has in store!

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: 4/27/14 Missouri

Miles: 1,472
Tornadoes: 1 (EF-2)
Hail: Pea size

Sunday was a challenging chase, and one that I thought would end in a bust that turned out to be pretty good! My initial target was just east of Kansas City. The obvious target of the day was down in Arkansas, but I was ignoring that due to the poor terrain. Further north, the tornado chances were not as good, with S-curved hodographs, but still some good 0-3km shear. The biggest plus was the flat and fairly open terrain of northern Missouri. Other targets I had considered included the area near Joplin, MO where there are a few open spots, and further away in Nebraska above the arching dryline. The Nebraska play would have been more likely had I chased up there on Saturday, but models pointed to a cap bust on Saturday, so I didn’t chase, and that’s what ended up happening.

When I got to St. Louis I was very close to taking I-44 toward Joplin instead of staying on I-70. Early convection was on the KS/MO border and didn’t show any signs of letting up. I thought about turning south once again when I got to Columbia, but stayed on I-70. My hopes were that the line would become surface based and at least form embedded supercell structures, but that didn’t happen. I exited south toward Sedalia, and intercepted the line just south of town. Once it was in view it was clearly elevated. Not much excitement there, so I continued south. This elevated junk was hanging around too long, and was not going to give the atmosphere up here a chance to recover for a second round of storms, and models were not breaking out convection this far north.

Some storms began to develop as I was making my way south, and at one point I thought a storm west of Joplin could make it. It became severe warned, and even had a reported wall cloud on it, but as it got away from the better air, it dissipated. So I continued south once again. At this time I noticed there was a Cu field building in NE Oklahoma into SE Kansas. I decided to get to Springfield and see if something developed off of that Cu field.

Storms did fire, but seemed to struggle to get going. I drove around Springfield, frustrated thinking I’d end up with nothing, and even considered going down into Arkansas. I was too far out of position, though, as by the time I could reach those storms, it would be after dark. The storms firing in NE Oklahoma were actually starting to get some strength, so I decided to head toward Joplin.

Finally, there were some storms that resembled supercells! The sun was shining as I closed in on these storms, so I knew they were in a much better environment. My optimism increased considerably as I approached these storms.

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My target was the southern cell that was currently severe warned. I was afraid that the cell to the north would be interfered with by this one, and have the inflow cut off. I took the exit to Diamond, and dropped south. I got behind some slow-moving trucks hauling farm equipment, so I decided to take the next west option. There was a gas station there on the corner, and I needed to stop for a bathroom break, so I did that. As I left the gas station and headed west, to my surprise there was a funnel cloud due west! I had to double check the radar… that was not the storm I was going after. So I continued west, getting brief views of the funnel in between trees. I couldn’t tell if there was any ground circulation, then the storm went tornado warned with a reported tornado! I finally got a good view after crossing I-44 on East 32nd Street on the south side of Joplin, where I shot this video.

Although I was about 15 miles away, it wasn’t a bad view. I finally ended a 2 year tornado drought! This was my 7th tornado, and 2nd on a solo chase. After it lifted, I then pursued the cell to the south that I had originally targeted. I was in hopes I could get a 2nd tornado, this time from closer range. I got into a great position, and watched a huge inflow tail form, and the RFD really wrap up. Several bouts of rising motion forming a wall cloud occured, but there was never an area of really tight rotation. Eventually I lost the storm to the north, where it had a large lowering on it, but I could never confirm ground circulation. I haven’t seen reports of any tornadoes on that storm.

I ended the chase with a couple beautiful cells as the sun set, giving them an orange glow. I let the core of one pass right over me, but there was nothing more than tiny pea size hail in it, and some gusty winds.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Chase Logs

 

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