Thursday, February 12, 2009

2009 Storm Chase I Brief

2009 Storm Chase I - February 8th
New Mexico & Texas

I suppose it would be polite to get around to telling of our first storm chase this year! My chaser partners were Tony Laubach and Michael Carlson. We set out on Saturday, February 7th with our destination being Amarillo, Texas for the night. The forecast called for a very weak, marginal setup in the Texas Panhandle and possibly eastern New Mexico on Sunday. Both the GFS and NAM/WRF showed the same general solution, though the timing and placement was a bit different. The NAM/WRF had storms breaking out along a narrow axis of instability in eastern New Mexico late in the day and then lining up and heading into Texas that night. The GFS had this action forming further to the east and with less instability. Since Michael's family has a place in Amarillo, it seemed to be a good place to base our operations for the night.

The trip down wasn't uneventful, however. As seen in my previous post, we ran across a large structure fire in the city of Trinidad, Colorado. Needless to say, when we piled back in the car to continue on the trip, we all reeked of smoke! In New Mexico, it became evident to me that we were going to be looking at a fantastic sunset. Pair the amazing topography with a huge wave cloud and I knew we were in business. Sure enough, we pulled beside the road in Mt. Dora, NM and spent twenty minutes or so shooting the sunset (pics in a later post).

In Amarillo, Michael and I went and got a beer. The bar keep was very enthusiastic about storms, using the word "cantaloupe" to describe his favorite type of hail. He was pretty funny. Later that night, we did a bit of a forecast and then hit the sack ... to dream of tornadoes.

On Sunday morning, we spent a lot of time forecasting. The RUC seemed to mirror the NAM/WRF save for the fact that it showed MORE instability in Eastern New Mexico. It was pretty much a no-brainer at this point. We were heading to New Mexico.

Just after noon, we hit the road. The night before, it had been relatively dry but it was now very humid, albeit cold. A field of stratocumulus allowed sunlight to the ground and we all know that nothing but frontal forcing was going to make anything happen. Finally in New Mexico, we started seeing breaks in the deck.

By a radar perspective, a few showers and storms were firing over the mountains deep into New Mexico. We could see the front still on the west side of the state and knew that when it arrived anything in front of it would be collected into the line.

Luckily, a little heating went a long way. Storms fired on the east side of the mountains, not too far from us. We couldn't see much of anything at the point. The heating was beginning to mix out the stratocu and soon they were gone. Storms congealed to the west and were already forming into a line, though the front was not there yet. The motion of the line was slow to the east, though individual cells seemed to travel rapidly northward along it.

We were having difficulty getting data and finally just decided to drive into it. For the first time in a long time, the western sky was ominously black. We were aware of a severe thunderstorm warning along the line and had a good US Highway (70) to travel on ... so we went in.

Out of some stroke of luck, we ended up in an inflow notch on the line. The lightning was incredible ... but I was more interested in the embedded supercellular structure. We watched one and then another wall cloud form. Neither of them really had much of a chance of doing much as the circulation was weak, though the second one had a much tighter inner circulation (see the end of the first video). As we were watching the second wall cloud, the quasi-RFD wrapped around and cut off the updraft, giving us some hail and wind as we left the line.

Arrow points to our location and the inflow notch on the line.

Quasi-RFD precip bulge on the line.

First wall cloud.

Second wall cloud.

Video capture of some of the frequent lightning.

As we pulled ahead of the line, the cold front caught up and began to push it hard eastward. We didn't have any data and it was starting to get dark. Since the inflow was from the southeast, there wasn't a shelf cloud so the storm was relatively featureless. We traveled north and then east and got into Portales, New Mexico where we awaited the arrival of the line. As luck would have it (again), we were right at the apex of a bowed out section of the line.

Video of the second intercept.

We saw some intense wind and minor flooding in Portales. The thought occurred to head east and get back ahead of the line to get lightning shots, but it didn't make mathematical sense. So, we just continued east and reentered the line, only to stop for dinner and begin the long trip home.

Total path of the trip.

All in all, I had an absolute blast on this trip. I can't believe I actually got out to chase in February and that it was successful (I don't measure successful chases by tornadoes, by the way). It was so fun, in fact, that I almost don't mind missing out on Tuesday's outbreak.

Tony's chase account:
Michael's chase account:

(Radar imagery used with permission, courtesy of IPS Meteostar Inc.)


Anonymous said...

Ha to be young and free!
Sounds like you guys had a blast, I was folloing along on radar but didn't see you guys on spotternetwork.
Must have been nice to see some action so close to Xmas :)
I'm jealous!
Can't wait for the first rumble.

p said...

Congratulations man and thank you for the comments lately, I appreciate it.

Dann Cianca said...

Right, Pat! It was a blast ... we weren't on SpotterNetwork. We had GPS hooked up, but no one was running the program. When I go out in my vehicle, I'm never on because I don't run GPS (or even a laptop for that matter). I'm all camera and maps!

Paul, thanks to you too buddy! Better see you on the plains this year!