Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Chase #2: A Chase to Remember

When I was young, the only storm chasers I knew of were the Harding’s: Jo and Bill or better known as Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. Over the years, I have met many a storm chasers, but none better than the Carlsons. Thursday April 12th, 2012 Michael Carlson and myself headed out I70 to chase a solid set up in western Kansas. The conditions were favorable for tornadoes and we were both thrilled to hit the road to chase, however both of us were looking down the road to the weekend where two days out the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had already had a moderate risk setup for much of Kansas. As April 12th didn’t pan out as we had hoped due to energy coming in a bit latter than expected, our attention was quickly turned to April 14th, 2012. If The SPC had issued a Moderate Risk two days out everything pointed to a High Risk. The highest categorical outlook issued by the SPC.

Carlson and I headed back out I70 thirty six hours later, in route to Russell, Kansas to stay the night and be in prime position for what looked to be a historic tornado out break. We rolled into Russell near 1am, with high risk in place and 45% hatched tornado probability, the second highest probability that is issued by the SPC needless to say a big day was in store.

The set up had plenty of moisture pumping straight north from the Gulf of Mexico. Waking up in the High Risk zone we had an extremely low, dense CU field screaming northward. Dewpoints all across the risk area were going to be in the 60’s and temperatures in the upper 70’s in most locations, meaning low LCLs.

The warm front was draped from nearly west to east near the boarder of Kansas and Nebraska. The upper level trough still remained in the western half of the United States and the upper level jet was moving right across the Midwest. There were short waves visible in advance of the upper level trough that showed hope of providing enough energy to kick storms off. The majority of the risk area was uncapped most of the day; when storms were firing just east of the panhandle of Nebraska we knew we were in for a long day. With values of CAPE around 4000 J/KG, EHI values of 3 in many locations and strong low level shear all the elements seemed to be in place for very large violent tornadoes.

Shortly after 8am we headed north toward our first target of the day, Smith Center, Kansas. With storms already firing in the area and the warm front just to the north our hopes were if a supercell formed it was turn right and ride the warm front. After sitting in a car port waiting for the first storm of the day to core us, we decided to plow east and get into position for another storm riding its coat tails that would go tornado warned. Michael and I found out the hard way how truly bad Kansas mud can be. After fishing tailing from rut to rut with mud half way up the tires down a four mile road we made it to pavement, however not before narrowly missing another motorist who lost control in the mud. At this point the chase had come to a halt due to the fact that the wheels were loaded with mud and made driving in normal conditions nearly impossible, let alone chasing supercells. Being sidelined for nearly an hour with issues to the vehicle and a wicked dense LCLs and no sign of any storm producing anything of significance, the decision was made to head south with developing supercells in central Kansas. That was a decision we would not regret.

This was a similar radar image that we were monitoring of supercells to our south. Hoping we would manage to get there in time before all the action was over.

The storm motions were heading to the Northeast at approximately 45mph and we were dropping south on a collision course for them at 65 mph. Luckily the storm motions were as fast as they were because at this time we were more than 100 miles away from them and there was an uneasiness that we would get to the show to late and were in danger of a bust on a high risk day. The time was nearing 3pm Central, so time was not an issue. Shortly after we had dropped south a rock solid updraft was visible. Finally we had visual of a storm; there were also reports coming in on spotter network of wall clouds and brief tornadoes. Perhaps our luck had yet to run out. We finally made it to the storm near Rice County in Kansas. The storm was well organized, but just did have enough to produce. After watching a couple of circulations reform with the cell and realizing it didn’t quite have its act together, Michael made the decision to head back east before everyone and wait for the storm to get a bit more organized. We repositioned to the north and to the east a couple of miles; passing by many redneck Kansas folk, drinking Keystone light in there jean shorts and tank tops curios to all the commotion happening in their rural farm town. Our stopping point came to the vacant corner of 22nd RD and AVE G just in time to see what was then a wedge tornado emerge from the trees.

As we caressed a hill it was difficult to tell what we were looking at. Once this monster emerged from the trees and the violent motion on the sides of the tornado it became evident.

The tornado continued on a northeast track. The condensation funnel at this point wasn't great, however extremely violent motion was evident and at this time you could hear the roar of the tornado. It sound like a deafening waterfall. A sound that will never be forgotten.

A town policeman screams down the road to the damage path. The tornado went from a large wedge tornado, to a multiple vortex to this very photogenic LP cone tornado.

Michael and I were on this corner all by our lonesome for sometime, enjoying this majestic EF4 monster, until the locals and other chasers realized what a great vantage point we had.

Being such a long track tornado it had many forms. This was an image from the first tornado after changing positions and peaking over the valley while driving.

We quickly stopped to snap a quick image of the second tornado the supercell put down and continued to chase it to the northeast.

Michael Carlson managed to get a screen grab from the video of the third tornado we saw as it was roping out.

This was the best chase I have yet to be on. The chase started at 9am on the morning of the 14th of April and we chased storms for 12 hours straight over a 500 mile trip. The initial tornado was on the ground for nearly 45 minutes and Michael and myself saw the entire life cycle. Below is an image of our location during the supercell. The tornado was on the ground for an amazing amount of time. With many reports.

Its evident of the long track the tornado had. Luckily there was minamal damage to persons and property during this EF4 tornado. The tornado came dangerously close to taking out the town of Salina, KS. It is truly breathtaking when one realizes the power of these storms. That was evident while driving through the damage path and smell fresh scored land, broken power poles, downed power lines and ripped apart structures.

April 14th, 2012 will always be a chase to remember. Witnessing 3 tornadoes, one wedge that was classified as an EF4, hearing a tornado roar and smelling the scored Earth. Many thanks to Michael Carlson for piloting and Verne Carlson for his hospitality!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cloud to Ground Mania

This last week of storms in the Denver Metro area have been quite impressive due to the annual monsoon moisture invading Colorado. Tornado sirens sounding in Commerce City with no tornado warnings, street flooding and downed tree limbs in Arvada and numerous severe thunderstorm warnings over the many of days. Today seemed to be no exception from the morning forecasts, however it appeared that today's main threat would be flooding and heaving rain as opposed to thunderstorms. Well such was not the case; heavy rain was non existent and a nice cell popped to the south of Denver around 9:30 pm. I was alerted of the Armageddon of lightning by facebook posts and roommate Justin Davis, as well as scared Sydney! As fast as I was frantically running around deciding if it was worth taking the dirty sensor, one bar of life camera out to capture shots, it was in tote and Levin Engelhardt was fast behind the wheel as we blazed after one of the most amazing lightning storms I have ever seen! These were some of the better shots I got before the storm took us over!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thurman, Colorado Tornado

Finally, a chase day was upon us in our backyard of eastern Colorado. I joined Michael Carlson, brother Eric Carlson and Kendell LaRoche, with target of Seibert, Colorado in our cross hairs to kick off my 4th year of chasing. SPC had a see text out for the area which would mean a great day if we were able to get a tornado out of the setup.

Our initial target was Seibert, Colorado. Models showed initiation around 3 or 4 pm with the upper energy coming through. On our drive to eastern Colorado we were lucky to say the least, if we saw one lonely cumulus cloud and we all tried to make a Cu field out of it; the overwhelming view Mother Nature gave us was a stratus-deck.

After the waiting game, a very long game in Seibert we continued to Burlington, Colorado. Soon there after we played the hurry up and wait game near Kit Carson, where we met up with other local chasers: Tony Laubach and Jon Van de Grift. After a couple of hours of throwing rocks and waiting thinking it was a bust, Michael noticed a actual Cu field to the west and we drove after it to investigate.

The whole day the majority of the dynamics were in place. We had a 30 kt lower level jet all day, with good up slope direction, dew points were plenty for Colorado in the low 50s, temperatures were good with some clearing in the late afternoon and we had near 500 Joules of Cape in the area. Once the upper level energy pushed though finally we got a storm forming to the north of our location and we got a land spout tornado in a see text day!

The fun was not over after the tornado. We headed further south were we witnessed large cloud to ground lighnting strikes. As we got closer to where to strike hit we noticed it started a large grass fire about 100 yards from a resident. Emergency crews came quickly after we called 911 and it appeared they put the fire out before any damge was done to the residents property. The day ended with a fantastic sun set and a full moon back droped with lightning.

The first shot of the tornado near Thurman, Colorado. The tornado is on the left center of the image. The condensation funnel was starting to show up nicely. Driving 60 mph the shot didn't come out to bad.

The condensation funnel grew more pronounced as we followed the storm.
There was damage reported with the tornado of downed power lines, a torn up fence as well as a damaged roof.
These stroms produced lagre CG (cloud to ground) lightning strokes. One of them caused this fire 100 yards from a home.
A car leaving the fire as it comes extremely close to the home.
A beautiful sunset was a great closing to a great storm chase.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Platte County Wyoming Tornado

It seems as if a chase day comes along and I am unable to tangle with Mother Nature at her finest hour, she always seems to show her true beauty...that being said I knew when I was hesitant to go chasing on Father's Day, June 20th, 2010 I best find some way to make it out and I am sure glad I did. I accompanied Michael Carlson and Eric Carlson to Wyoming sensing it would be a good day leaving Denver with dew points in the 60s and LCL were nearly on the ground as we damn near drove through cloud decks on our journey up I-25.
The first storm we got on was a beautiful low precip supercell with a cork-screwing barber pole updraft. We followed suit to the north east as it came off of the mountains; apart from being possibly the most beautiful highly structured LP supercell I have seen in my hand full of journeys, it did not do much except produce a couple of nice wall clouds. Not to worry it was still extremely early in the day and more towers started to back build in the same exact spot as the first storm did.
We quickly repositioned to the same location as we were for the previous storm. The surface winds were howling into this storm with feeder bands pouring into it as well. The National Weather Service called us to ask our observations at our location. At this time it dropped one very nice funnel and we were unable to confirm if it ever touched down. NWS told Michael it had strong rotation and we were in great location which would soon become evident. As this cell came skirting off the mountains it took a south easterly jog before going mainly east. The was a large rotating wall cloud and as soon as the RFD cut in the wall cloud tightened up and produced a beautiful cone tornado, the first I have witnessed!

The first storm of the day, beautiful LP supercell.
It developed quickly into a massive rotating barber pole supercell with stunning structure.
My first tornado shot; this is from the second LP supercell that back built behind.
The first tornado lifted and formed this second tornado that last approximately 15 minutes.
A clear RFD cut on the second tornado with an amazing cone tornado.
Close to the end of the life cycle the cone started to pick up debris!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Scottsbluff Fury

I was accompanied on one of my favorite chases yet by Seth Linden, Cameron Redwine and Christian Johansen. Our target area was Kimball Nebraska where we ran into some HUGE chasing convoy, with all sorts of fancy cars and truck...I'm not sure what that was all about. The first storm went up in Torrington Wyoming just west of the Nebraska boarder; we headed towards Scottsbluff Nebraska to intercept the dominant storm of the day. The storm had moments of rotation while we could see it and a massive core, there was possible lowering at times. The interaction of a short wave aloft really destabilized the atmosphere and helped form another large supercell just to the southwest of the original storm we were on. This storm made for an interesting chase as we skirted the bears cage with trees blowing down and what appeared to be power flashes as well. The storms were outflow dominant and were moving close to 40kts and gusts of 80mph which could have caused the damage. There were definite rotation with this storm and a tornado reported, however we were not witness to this as it was an HP bomb! We were treated to an lightning show of epic proportions on our drive home to Denver...all in all a great chase day with some cool cats!

A vertical shot of the supercell near Scottsbluff Nebraska. Over 3 inch hail reported in the core.

Another shot of the same storm, the appearance of a lowering cone shape, however to hard to tell from our vantage point and no real rotation was evident at this time.

A cool shot near Sidney Nebraska. We were treated to one of the most amazing CC lightning storms I have ever witnessed on the way home!

Another shot of the cloud to cloud lightning...what a show!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

First Attempt at Lightning

A nice boundary formed just northeast of Denver about 6pm; storms starting firing off that boundary shortly after, however did not due much because of a stout layer of warm air aloft. The storms tracked east and dissipated contributing the the separation of charges which made for a nice lightning storm full of CG's from about 8pm until about 10pm. This was my first good photo-op for lightning with my new camera so I had to take advantage. I went to my favorite viewing spot for lightning over the city, Thundercloud Park with Sydney and managed to get a couple of decent shots with my new DSLR; they didn't turn out to bad for my first attempt and not really knowing what I was doing and have a wobbly tripod adding to the blurry foreground.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Both models show nice PVA Saturday night into Sunday morning. Which is great for lift and increased vertical velocity. QPF is showing plenty of moisture for this and the NAM is showing if indeed we have a 10-1 ratio of snow we could see over a foot. Temps aren't that cold for the large light fluffy we se at -12 degrees C. So its inevitable the snow will be heavier and more wet condensing the accumulations. I think somewhere in the 8-10" range.
This storm doesn't seem to be as long lived as the previous "storm". However we do have the Jet paralleling the low so it wont kick it out to fast, but unlike last time the was a high pressure system infront of the cold front slowing it down. This is Colorado so wait ten minutes and all will probably change!