Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Day That We DIDN'T Storm Chase

So, for the week leading up to the Monday, March 23rd severe weather "outbreak", I was convinced that Sunday would be the proverbial "Day Before The Day". Since we had the entire weekend to play with, nobody had any argument about hitting the road early Sunday to be in Russell, Kansas that night and ready to chase Monday. As the days closed toward Sunday, the chances for severe looked less optimistic. We "targeted" the Garden City, Kansas area and made our way south toward there from Oakley.

The cirrus shield never moved off. We remained capped and although the southerlies were absolutely howling (as they were the next day as well), we just couldn't get much moisture to come on up.

So, we drove through Greensburg ... my first ever time in the city, which was very interesting. I took some video but it's painfully boring, so I'm not going to post it. There, we met John & Michael O'Keeffe and had sort of come to the conclusion that nothing was going to happen. We got a bite to eat at the Playa Azul Restaurant in Pratt, Kansas (not really a fan) and then hung out for the sunset before heading to Russell to spend the night.

All in all, it was an interesting tour of Southcentral Kansas ... hopefully I'll send out my report from Monday, March 23rd some time soon!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

2009 Storm Chase III Brief - March 21st

Click any images below for a much larger view!

So there I was on the afternoon of Friday, March 20th, taking a break at lunch to forecast for expected severe weather on Sunday & Monday. Everyone was expecting a good severe weather outbreak on Monday and I was going to try and outforecast everyone for Sunday. As the days moved on, however, the Sunday threat diminished. I spent a lot of time pouring over the models, however, and I noticed that the NAM was painting a nice 1,000J/kg CAPE bullseye over Eastern Colorado. Being so early in the season, I almost don't even think to look around here. So, I checked a few other paramters. Shear looked great ... though we didn't have any forcing. Instability was surprisignly good ... though there was some convective inhibition (especially further east). Moisture was scant ... but good for this time of year.

I shot Tony Laubach and Michael Carlson a text that read something like "1,000J/kg CAPE in E CO tomorrow!"

Given the parameters, I figured it would be a good day for a back yard chase. Tony seemed in line with my thinking, so we planned to organize something the next morning.

After morning chores and an oil change, I met Tony at his apartment. Travis Speakman was also there and we picked up Ed Grubb en route to our target for the day: Fort Morgan.

As we drove out on I-76, we sat under a nice cumulus field. In Fort Morgan, we got lunch at Taco John's and watched some really high-based showers form up.

At that point, we mistakenly thought the weather service had dropped mention of thunderstorms for the day. I figured if we were going to bust, best to do it close to home. None of us had any intention of heading back just yet. I wasn't sure what they were seeing (or thought so at the time), but I still liked my forecast ... especially when we already had convection.

There was a storm that seemed to be gaining strength further to the south and since it was entering the axis of better CAPE, we figured that would be a good play. So, we drove south on CO 71. As we approached the storm it was very high based and barely precipitating. It was, however, kicking up a lot of dust.

It's not what it looks like ...

... this isn't what it looks like either.

This is what it looks like if it just looks like blowing dust ...

We finally intercepted the storm and were surprised when it was suddenly severe-warned. We were sitting directly under the core and there were only a few rain drops. So, we got out of the car an joked around a bit. It was nice hearing some thunder (the first for me in Colorado this year).

The power lines above our head seemed to discharge all of the sudden. If you've been under for one of those, you'll know what I'm talking about. We all dove back into the van and laughed heartily.

At this point, we decided to drive back north to intercept some better looking convection. It was already east of the highway and moving slowly. We stopped to admire its back side as it slowly moved away, us not in any real hurry for anything.

Our (severe-warned) storm to the south started to strengthen again, and though this nice cb was going up to the north ...

... we decided to drop south to our original storm. When we arrived, we found that it had been precipitating while we had left it. We found the ground covered in 0.75" hail, which we called in and reported. (The local WFO is still under the 0.75"+ hail severe criteria ... at least until April 1st)

2330 75 10 N LAST CHANCE WASHINGTON CO 3987 10358 (BOU)

The storm was actually starting to look a little better as it was now in a much more unstable environment. The base was still high due to the lack of moisture (closest ASOS had a 39ºF Td!), but we had us a nice storm! We got on dirt and tried to follow it but soon found the hail swath again. ... and it was a muddy mess!

The hail was a little larger here, so I called in another report:


We realized that following the storm through the mud was a bad option, so we got back on CO 71 and went north to US 34 where we turned east. At Akron, we turned south on CO 63 and punched through a brief core when all of the sudden the weather radio started sounding the warning tone. The storm was only half way through the severe warning polygon and wasn't set to expire for a while. None of the other storms in the CWA exhibited severe characteristics.

So, imagine our surprise when the storm we were on was suddenly tornado-warned! At this point, we could see the entire base of the storm and couldn't believe our eyes. We were under a beautiful super-high-based mesocyclone!

Back in the van, I noticed I had a missed call from the Weather Service and they called me back as I was holding my phone. They asked if we were still on the storm and what we could see. I told them we were in position and could see a very high-based mesocyclone. I doubted that it was a tornadic threat and related that to them before hanging up.

We got back in the van and drove a little further down the road for a better view. For the next half hour or so, we sat in a light rain watching this beautiful, naked beast come right toward us. It was breathtaking. I basically laid down on the berm of the road and tried to shoot lightning, using my cupped hand to keep my camera dry. I don't think I would have rather been anywhere else in the world.

Here are some shots:

As night fell and the storm began to wind down, we drove north and tried to shoot some lightning north of Brush. I spent a lot of time trying but couldn't get any real good shots. The wind was in my face and that was shaking my tripod which didn't make things any easier. All in all, we were satisfied with this chase and packed up, heading back to Denver.


Chase stats:
Mileage: 388
Largest Hail: 0.88"
Rotating Storm Intercepts: 1
Chase Partners: Tony Laubach, Ed Grubb, Travis Speakman
Nowcast Support: Michael Carlson


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tornado Or Not?

Today, I read someone's chase report from 3/23. I'm not going to mention any names. This person has a picture of a wall cloud from around the same time a tornado was reported. This person counts seeing the wall cloud as seeing the tornado.

I'm going to cry foul here. Are we really that desperate to add to our totals?

From now on, any time I "count" a tornado, it will be fully documented. This applies to anything I have seen in the past as well. Thus, this leaves my "career tornado count" at 1. I'm only going to count the documented Alta Vista, Colorado event last year. I will not be counting the March 7th spin-up near Alta Mills, Kansas as I have no way to directly correlate the spin up at the surface to the wall cloud and scud above. I let others convince me of what I was seeing, even though I was unsure.

I have good video of a nice "spin-up" that occurred under a funnel on March 23rd in Oklahoma, but that was on the edge of the RFD gust front. Not a tornado. I saw wall clouds galore that day, some very close to the ground. Not a tornado. I don't care if someone was in the trees and saw a ground spin-up under the wall cloud I was staring at. I didn't see it, I don't count it.

So, I'll stick with my one real tornado. I'm not trying to win any contests or pretend I'm a better storm chaser than I am. 1 tornado in 53 chases. Haha

Next time you're going to say that you saw a tornado, show me the proof. Pics/video work fine ... not someone else's report and a DISTANT picture of the wall cloud Jesus Christ Storm Chaser.

Your thoughts?


The photo in question has since been digitally altered to show a condensed tornado on a day that no one saw a condensed tornado! The report was even rewritten to reflect the fact. Jesus, there were 100 people on that storm. Not to mention the fact that the alteration is really awful and very evident. What the hell!?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday Chase Teaser

Just wanted to check in really quick as I know it will be a while before I get the report with.

I chased with Michael Carlson and Kendell LaRoche on Sunday. We had five storm intercepts and saw pretty much everything you could see except for a full fledged tornado. Great RFD insanity, spinups, rapidly rotating wall clouds, scud bombs, a big cone funnel cloud, and a few features that could have been something more than they appeared. We even got in a good hail core at the end of the night. Lots of fun!

I took a LOT of video and not many photos, but I'll share with you one of my favorites:

5:09PM CDT
East side of Arkansas City, Kansas (US 77), looking N
Large mesocyclone of tornado-warned supercell.
(we left this cell and moved south into Oklahoma)


It will be a few days before I get around to posting full reports for 3/21 and 3/23. Really backed up at the office and at home at the moment. Stay tuned! Sorry for the delay.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday Chase Teaser and Sun/Mon Plans

Wish I had more time to update tonight, but unfortunately I do not ... thus, no time also for a full chase forecast.

Here is a teaser photo from the chase in Colorado today. I can't say much about this other than everything that happened was a pleasant surprise. We honestly expected only rain showers ... and eventually found ourselves on a beautiful, tornado-warned, low-precipitation supercell. Look at that gorgeous mesocyclone ... Wow, what a day!

Chased with Tony Laubach, Travis Speakman, and Ed Grubb

Quick radar cap of the isolated cell.


... heading out to Kansas in six hours or so. Will be chasing in Nebraska/Kansas on Sunday, staying in Russel, KS (probably) Sunday night, and chasing somewhere between Nebraska and Oklahoma on Monday.

Updates on Facebook.


PS: Check out Tony's account from today here: http://blog.tornadoeskick.com/2009/03/quick-chase-report-wow.html

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chase Forecast: 3/21-3/23

Saturday, March 21st:

A couple of us Colorado chasers are heading out to the I-76 corridor today. Why? Well, we have a little instability to play with. Surface features are a bit ambiguous right now, but there is an area of low clouds in eastern Colorado currently in the process of mixing out. We'll have a bit of lee-side troughing today as well as a diffuse warm front stretching in from Kansas. There is some evidence of this from surface obs already. I've looked at a couple soundings from NE CO later today (NAM) and the moisture layer should be from SFC-725mb ... that's about 125mb thick, which is pretty nice. CAPE looks to be around 750J/kg and the inhibition will slowly fade with heating today. Hodographs are sufficient to get any substantial tower turning today, so the severe threat is there. We'll have to watch for surface features today along the Front Range. If we can get a circulation going along the lee trough, and the moisture is in proximity, it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to see a landspout.

Trust me, if anything severe happens, we will carry it like a trophy!

Sunday, March 22nd

Well, this was supposed to be "the day before the day." The models have all but washed it out, unfortunately. A couple days ago, there was 1500J/kg of CAPE in Nebraska. Although this morning's runs look better, the overall probabilities have declined. We may have a little dynamic forcing in the way of a shorwave riding around. The NAM is giving us a more favorable solution with some convective initiation in the late afternoon in Kansas. Shear is favorable for supercells, but meager moisture suggests the LP variety. If we only had some more CAPE and could get some significant updrafts, we could be up for a picturesque LP day. However, though the moist layer is fairly deep, the CAPE just doesn't support explosive towers. I'm still up for chasing this, however.

Later on in the day, the CAPE values in Nebraska climb up above 750J/kg which suggest some good lightning and some hail along the warm front.

Monday, March 23rd

The dynamics are certainly there for a severe weather outbreak. Timing and moisture are the big questions. Right now I'm leaning toward the chance of a cold core-esque setup in proximity to the surface low as I don't have confidence that things will fire further south. I'll have another look at this setup tonight.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

22S Ilsa, 21P Ken and Chase Forecast: 03/22, 03/23

The naysayers are out in full force again! Maybe I'm a "yaysayer" because I know that I'll be able to chase the upcoming forecast setup. Either way, things are looking good. Most of the attention is on Monday as we have a nice, deep trough carving its way eastward with a bit of a negative tilt to it. The models are showing some great shear, decent moisture & instability, and some good dynamic forcing in place. The word "squall line" often comes into play in situations like this ... especially by the naysayers. However, I think we will slow down a bit and see some supercells before we get wiped out. Now, here's the kicker:

I think Sunday is the sleeper day. The GFS, which has been underestimating instability all year long, is painting a nice window in Nebraska and Kansas. The only caveat is the inhibition. I believe that the western edge of the cap might break and though the shear won't be nearly as good as the next day, we could still get some explosive, rotating updrafts. Hail, isolated tornadoes look like a plausible threat. The SPC isn't even talking about this day but I'll definitely be keeping my eyes on it.

Looks like I'll be heading out for both days. Still trying to get everything coordinated at this point, but if anyone is looking to get out, don't be a stranger!

Also ... looking like there might be some thunderstorms in the forecast for Western Montana on Saturday!

Active Tropical Weather
Indian Ocean

South Pacific Ocean

Currently at Denver (Hampden Heights), Colorado: 46ºF Partly cloud (cirrocumulus).

Overview tropical satellite imagery used with permission; courtesy of IPS Meteostar Inc. Tropical tracking information and some satellite imagery from Joint Typhoon Warning Center and Navy/NRL Tropical Cyclone Page. Some annotations on imagery are made by the author of this blog. Click for larger images.
**NOTE: If you've reached this page due to a search result, the most current tropical information can be found in the latest post and not necessarily the post you are reading. Visit http://blog.bigskyconvection.com/ for the most recent post.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Radar Whirlpool

Been a little quiet 'round these parts since last weekend, so I thought I'd share a very pretty radar image with you all:

... also, watching this coming weekend for chasing possibilities!

Active Tropical Weather
Indian Ocean
South Pacific Ocean

Currently at Denver (Hampden Heights), Colorado: 68ºF Mostly cloudy (cirrus).

Overview tropical satellite imagery used with permission; courtesy of IPS Meteostar Inc. Tropical tracking information from Joint Typhoon Warning Center and Navy/NRL Tropical Cyclone Page. Some annotations on imagery are made by the author of this blog. Click for larger images.
**NOTE: If you've reached this page due to a search result, the most current tropical information can be found in the latest post and not necessarily the post you are reading. Visit http://blog.bigskyconvection.com/ for the most recent post.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Storm Chase II Brief - Saturday, March 7th

Storm Chase II Brief
Saturday, March 7th 2009

As the day approached, there was a lot of naysaying in the chasing community about this setup. I believe this had a lot to do with the lack of forecast CAPE. It seems to me that some chasers use CAPE as an ultimate measure of severe probability. From what I could see, the models were consistent with painting a bulls eye of CAPE just to the northwest of Wichita. I really liked this consistency. Sure, the CAPE wasn't what you'd see on a super outbreak day in May, but it was good enough for me. Tie in some good (not great) shear and we were in business.

Maybe I'm too used to chasing Colorado setups, but 50ºTd's seem more than adequate to me to see good storms. Again, the moisture was put down by many forecasts. What I couldn't understand is that even with this shear and instability in place, many forecasts called for a linear thunderstorm complex. For the life of me, I still can't see where anyone was getting that.

The morning before (on the 6th), I pulled a couple of model soundings (from the NAM) and altered the surface temperature and dew points. I noticed that even with small increases, the amount of instability increased by a lot. So, it became pretty obvious that since the models were predicting high clouds, if we got any clearing, things were going to go nuts.

Michael Carlson seemed just as eager as me to get out and maybe we were wishcasting a bit, but we both agreed that we had a pretty good setup working out. On Friday night, we finalized plans to meet up early in the morning and head out to Kansas.

I woke up at 4:25AM and prepared for the trip. While I was waiting for Michael to show up, I did a hand surface analysis. The moisture was already better than I had expected in the Wichita area and I noticed that the cold front that had pushed south had become quasi-stationary. The dryline was still pretty far to the west and a weak surface cyclone had formed in the Great Bend area.

Once we were on the road and had some visual satellite imagery, we could see a clear punch, if you will, heading to the area. In Colorado, we were socked in under a weak upslope ... basically just a layer of stratocumulus. Into Kansas, the sky became darker and I knew we were under the cirrus shield.

Near Hays, however, we started seeing the sun peeking through. Winds were out of the north there and it was pretty cold but as we drove south out of Salina, suddenly we found moisture, southerly winds, and much warmer air. We lost our sunshine just south of Salina but had made pretty good time.

We met John & Michael O'Keeffe in Goddard with plans to fuel up and grab a bite to eat for lunch. However, we soon realized we had coolant pouring out of the front of the car. A quick inspection yielded a leaky radiator hose. So, while the O'Keeffes headed off for their chase, Michael and I chased auto parts stores, looking for one with the correct hose.

We found an Auto Zone not too far into Wichita and proceeded to replace the hose in the parking lot while towers starting climbing to the west. We were on the road north just as the storm went severe-warned. As we approached, it was now tornado warned. There were reports of tornadoes southwest of Hutchinson but we now had the storm directly in our sights. We flew west out of Newton to intercept.

As we got close to the storm, it looked pretty outflowish. We positioned ourselves on N. River Park Road, just south of W Dutch Avenue.

As the storm approached, a bit of a notch formed and a nice updraft manifested itself, poking out from the storm. It was tiled at almost a 45º angle. We shot south through the place mark of Alta Mills and then turned east on NW 60th Street. The updraft was right overhead at this point and was rotating. Upon video review, I can actually see what looks to be a plume of dust in the trees to the southeast. This would make sense as just after we turned onto NW 60th, Michael saw dust swirls cross the road in front of us. We were in a weak circulation.

Trying to put some distance between us and the storm so we could actually see something, we blew east pretty fast. We came upon Darin Brunin and Dick McGowan a mile or so later and greeted them quickly (first time we'd met either of them).

We kept driving for a mile or two and I was busy videoing the sky above and to the south as best I could. Michael suddenly got excited and saw a huge debris swirl. I turned and looked off to the northwest and also saw it. There was a steady stream of dust being pulled into the updraft, but what we saw as a brief, violent spin, lofting darker, reddish dust and debris into the air. There was no condensation funnel present but the wall was right above and ragged with rapid rising and twisting motion. We stopped and got out to video but the dust swirl dissipated. ... and my camera ran out of batteries.

The following video details the chase up until that point.

I replaced the batteries in my camera just as we got a face full of RFD, so we got back in the car and blew east. A couple minutes later, I looked over my shoulder and saw a nice funnel in the same area as the dust swirl (got this on video as well). I was still a little hesitant to "call it" but we continued on. We headed north on N Ridge Rd into Hesston as the storm was arriving. The sirens were going off making it only the second time I've heard sirens while chasing (the first being Fort Lupton, Colorado in 2007).

The wall cloud looked ominous but it wasn't rotating all that much. As we went under I-135 and got east, it lost strength. We continued on the storm for another 40 minutes before waiting to core it. It looked alright at times, but seemed to cycle between being almost menacing and just another HP storm.

We left the storm at almost 6PM CST and headed back south and west. There more storms firing to the southwest and some looked chaseable. We drove through Newton and ended up near a power plant outside of Colwich. Our storm had fizzled and we wanted to get some lightning. We hung out near a bunch of radio towers but didn't see one CG in the twenty minutes we were there. The clouds were flashing constantly, but we got no love on the ground.

Finally, another storm looked good southwest of Wichita. So, we headed to that one but got caught on a slow drive through suburban western Wichita. By the time we made it down to where we wanted to be, the storm looked less threatening and we had resolved to core it and then go get dinner.

The coring didn't work out as planned either as the moment it reached us, the storm split right down the middle and the precipitation suddenly stopped. Michael and I looked at each other in wonder and then I poked my head out the window. There was storm all around us but directly above, I could see Orion.

We gave up that point, fueled up, and met the O'Keefes and Tony Laubach at a Texas Roadhouse near the airport.

Micheal and I decided to drive home afterward (eight hours back to Denver). I let him sleep and I took the wheel ... since he'd been driving since 5AM. We weren't done with the weather, though. Near Newton, I got us into a nice hail core which had the largest hail of the day! There were easily quarters in the core as it passed. Of course the moment I got the camera out, it stopped.

I thought we were done after Salina, but nearing Russel, the western sky lit up with lightning. THIS was the elevated convection many of the forecasts had said would be the main storm type of the day. And elevated it was! The temperatures at the surface hovered around freezing, but the storm had plenty of rain and pea-sized hail.

Aside from some fog, that was it for the weather. Somewhere along the line, we changed from Standard to Daylight time, making my arrival home at or around 6AM MDT.

All in all, it was a very successful chase for me for three main reasons.

1) We got out in March!
2) Saw a great supercell!
3) Our forecast verified.

Here is a video detailing the second half of the chase:

Here are a few other chasers' accounts from the day (pics/video/etc)

Michael Carlson
Michael O'Keeffe
Tony Laubach
Verne Carlson
Dick McGowan
Simon Brewer
Brandon Ivey (who may have close-up footage of the spin-up we saw. His position seems to verify this.)

I'm liking Alta.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Storm Chasing: Saturday, March 7th Target: Wichita, KS

I'm off to bed in a couple minutes, but I wanted to at least update and mention that I will be headed out on my second storm chase of 2009 in roughly five hours. Michael Carlson and I will be targeting the Wichita, Kansas area (though the official target will depend on many factors tomorrow, so we'll have to see). Looks like there will be some other chasers that we know out there as well, so it'll be nice to have an early day social before the action starts later in the day.

From a sounding that I modified this morning (at work), it was easy to see that any significant heating will cause some chaos. We will be orienting ourselves with the dryline and frontal structures and looking for sunshine. If anything roots to the surface, it could spin like a top. So, that's what we're hoping for (as long as it is away from civilization!) Otherwise ... it will all be elevated convection with some hail mixed in. This is definitely not a "tornado-or-bust" chase. I just want to see some storms!!

I will be posting updates on my Facebook page:


I can be reached at 303-868-3605 otherwise. (text messages welcome)