Sunday, August 23, 2009

2009 Storm Chase 36 Report - August 16th - Blood For Lightning

As the weekend approached, the plan was to chase on Sunday with Johnathan Skinner. That morning, however, we both cited a huge lack in surface moisture (dewpoints in the metro area were in the 30's) as a reason to not go out. Still, I watched the radar all day. There was enough shear to make anything that went severe, I just knew everything would be high based. Even the plains moisture was lacking ... Akron and Limon both had dewpoints under 40ºF all day. To top things off, it was capped all day.

You can see where this one is going, can't you?

So, it's in the early evening and I'm watching storms fire off the foothills. They look high based and stay sub-severe. However, something catches my attention. Across the metro area, storms keep forming in the same place and ride the same track out east. While reflectivity-wise, they aren't *too* impressive, the shape looks oddly supercellular. So, I go out on my balcony and look north ... finding myself staring at an astonishingly robust tower.

The first storm I was watching was already out east, but here was this storm directly to my north. So, I mobilized and hit the road. Here is the radar about the time that I left. (notice the smaller cell directly over central Denver ... this one was my target)

After filling my fuel tank, I was on the road and now a bit behind the storm. Unfortunately, I never was able to catch it. I followed it all the way out past Bennett where I watched it begin to fail.

Looking around me, I saw some convection to my south on the Palmer Divide which was distributing the occasional C2G, but I was unable to capture any do to infrequency and a the still-daylight conditions.

I noticed that there was a cell over the mountains which was now making ground on the Footies. I decided to head back toward town when it left the Footies and took on brief supercell structure on radar. The light was getting low enough that I decided that the chase had turned into more of a lightning quest. So, I drove north on Manilla Road just past US 36 and set up shop.

I took a few pictures which did not come out very well (I'm still using my auxiliary tripod) and soon found myself absolutely swarmed with mosquitoes. It was almost too much to handle. I gave up on this location as there were storms to the north that were lighting up. So, I drove a bit to the north forgetting I was in the inside of the "elbow" made by Front Range Airport and stopped at the bend. The lightning was frequent enough and the light was low enough for longer exposures. So, I got out and set up.

Unfortunately, it took only moments before I was covered in mosquitoes again. It was so bothersome, that even though it was still rather warm out, I put my rain poncho on and counted my blessings that I had thought to wear jeans instead of shorts. This left the only open skin being my face ... and let me tell you, the mosquitoes knew it! There was a constant dental drill sound orbiting my head and I spent a good deal of my time fending the insects out of my eyes and nose. The lightning really began to pick up, though, so I pressed on.

Eventually, I could not stand it anymore and though I was getting some good shots of lightning and the Front Range control tower, I was very close to packing it in for the night.

Then ... something amazing happened. At my moment of greatest mosquito peril ... after I had most certainly contracted West Nile and Malaria ... the outflow kicked in and within 30 seconds, the mosquitoes were gone ... and remained that way for the rest of the night. As the storms formed all around me, I could only sit and continue to click the shutter for the next hour and a half, getting some of the best lightning of the year, if not ever.

More storms began to form to the south, so I turned my attention there. On my first capture, I caught this, which by the way was only one discharge (not multiple strikes)

Another little cell formed west of me and I watched it with great interest. It was coming toward me and the precip was lit by the city, so I was hoping for a good, close CG ... but unfortunately it never produced.

I did get a little precip blown off from the storms to the south and heard the discharge in the power lines ahead, so I kept a low profile for a while. I was unable to capture the two very close bolts that struck, but I continued shooting as the storms slowly faded to the east.

The storms faded away and it was getting late, so I called it a night. I think I might have been a bit dizzy from losing gallons of blood to the resident mosquito population, but it was worth it!

Mileage: 83


Saturday, August 22, 2009

2009 Storm Chase 35 Report - August 15th - Idle Cameras Are The Devil's Playground

So, it goes like this: It's a Saturday morning and I'm on my way to a dental appointment when suddenly, I get a text message from T-W0LFF asking if I wanted to come chasing. Well, of course I did ... so after I got my teeth cleaned, I met Tony downtown at the Auraria Campus and we went up to his place to stage the day. After a lunch at Wendy's, we were on the road northbound for an initial target of Cheyenne. There were a few showers in the Nebraska Panhandle already and an apparent wave coming over the mountains in central Wyoming. I hadn't forecast for the day, but I knew the basic synoptic setup. ... shortwave ... etc.

Things were fairly quiet in Cheyenne, but there was a boundary visible on satellite. Tony's laptop went to heaven, so we were rather dataless (though we did have our phones), which made the entire experience more fun for me. I mean, we are both meteorologists, so we should be able to forecast our way out of anything, right?

So right ... the boundary, yes. We pushed into Nebraska on I-80 and a few storms fired off the boundary near Sidney but met a quick death. Just ahead of us, though, another one formed. (You can see it on the radar image below ... north of Lake McConaughy)

The shear was good enough for supercells and we figured it would have some nice air to work with ... moving into better moisture, CAPE, etc. Plus, it was out ahead of the shortwave which was rapidly forcing a squall line forming behind us. Though the storm was a bit to our north, we pressed east on I-80 in order to get ahead of it.

We got off the highway at Paxton and headed north. Unfortunately, the moment we got off the highway, the storm's updraft rapidly declined. Ten miles or so north of the exit, we stopped and watched it die. We were in good spirits however and just started goofing around. I mean, what else do you do in the middle of nowhere?

A little cumulus cloud on a capped boundary to our east.

Our dying storm.

I have no idea what these were ... some kind of seed pod, I would imagine.

There is a hidden beauty to the plains.

Found this little guy hopping around. I cornered it for a photo op before releasing it back into the dry brush.

And then ... there were the cows.

So yeah, we even found some cows to harass. It was an odd situation. Eventually, we realized that there was actually a storm to our west. Sure, it was the squall line, but I have a love for shelf clouds. Suddenly, it was "chase on" again. The western sky became darkish, so we got back down to Paxton and then went west on US30 to Ogallala. I was kind of hoping for a storm + Lake McConaughy shot, so we positioned in the hills south of the reservoir ... and were promptly eaten by bugs. We did shoot around a bit and then Tony videoed me running after the van as he pulled away, with a cloud of bugs around my head.

Here is the radar at that time, plus a couple of photos of the beautiful advancing storm:

Finally, we went to the dam and watched the storm come through. There was quite a lot of wind on the lake and even 50 feet above the surface, we were getting hit with spray. As tended to happen during this chase, things got a bit silly. I'm not going to elaborate, but I believe Tony has video.

We sort of gave up at this point and headed back west down I-76 into Colorado. We encountered a few storms, but none worth stopping to shoot lightning from. We had dinner at Sonic in Sterling, Colorado and were home before midnight.

Though the storms were less than loose, it was a really fun day. Thanks to Tony for the ride and for putting up with my political manifesto on the way home.

Mileage: 629


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2009 Storm Chase 34 Report - August 9th - Quite The Show

This year has been so busy around here storm-wise, that it's rather hard to keep up. A day that would normally get your attention becomes just another stormy day. The year has been unprecedented. I usually spend Sunday evenings at my aunt & uncle's house up in Thornton and this Sunday was no exception.

Hanging out after dinner, my cousin came in and said that it was raining. During the baseball game earlier that day, I had remarked to a meteorologist friend that we'd see some storms that night, the cap breaking late. And sure enough, it did. A disorganized supercell formed right over the metro and slowly moved east. I was able to hit the market to get some extra batteries before pursuing and was able to keep up with it for the most part. I stopped at 136th & Holly in Thornton for a few pictures, but was using my backup tripod as my primary had met its end under the tire of my Ford Exploder a few days before. I managed to salvage one shot that wasn't blurry from this set:

I moved on from there out east and ended up finally stopping at 120th Ave. and Imboden Road, out in rural Adams County, northeast of DIA. I shot for a long while here, as the lightning show was amazing. I experimented with different settings and adjusted my tripod such that I could get the best shots without it moving.

Unfortunately, it didn't always work out as planned. For whatever reason, I decided to turn my camera down the road I was on instead of on the storms to my east. With the first exposure, I caught a massive positive discharge out of the side of the tower. There may or may not have been some hootin' and hollerin', hollerin' and hootin'. Upon zooming in however, I found that the foreground was blurry ... ruining what for me was an exceptional capture. It's still nice ... but could have been great.

Storms continued to develop to the south and move east, so I had plenty to watch. Though the mosquitoes were bothersome, I lingered until the bolts started getting more distant and caught a lot of strikes.

(The air traffic around the airport always makes for interesting photos)

And finally, my route:

Mileage: 64


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kind Of Like Depressing Weather

So, the weekend of August 7-10, I went to all four Chicago Cubs @ Colorado Rockies games here at Coors Field. On the first night, I went with my family (father, mother, sister) and we sat low in the outfield (left). The Cubs lost that game. On the second, I sat in the upper deck on the third base side, but close to hope plate with my old roomies Katherine and Jami. The Cubs pulled that one out by a run ... and I got to see a couple homers. On the third game, I went with a couple friends and we sat very low near the left field foul pole. The Cubs got crushed. The fourth, I enjoyed with Tony Laubach and we sat in the mezzanine in right field. The Cubs were even worse in this one, letting Troy Tulowitzki hit for the cycle (though the triple SHOULD have been ruled an error) ... but bad play by the Cubs anyway.

So, I've now seen 7 Rockies Vs. Cubs games and the Cubs have only won one. *sigh* "There's always next year".

Anyway, a few pics:

Soriano is easily distractable.

Lou getting booted from game 3. (He had a valid case ... it was a bad call)



Monday, August 17, 2009

Rare Mountain Supercell Batters Butte, Montana with Hail (August 6th, 2009)

UPDATED (See bottom)

While on vacation, I noticed that up in my home town (Butte, MT), quite the hail storm was going on. It wasn't until after getting back home (to Denver) that I was able to piece things together.

Link to storm reports from the day: CLICK HERE

Also, below I included to radar images (one base reflectivity and one storm relative velocity) of the storm as it passed over Butte (in the lower right). Click the image for a larger view.

This storm was something that I had not witnessed while living there (for 23 years of my life), so it kind of stings that I missed it ...

My parents' neighbor shared with me some pictures of the event.


Anyway, yeah ... 2.5" hail in the mountains of Western Montana ... that would have been a HELL of a storm.


UPDATE: The NWS in Missoula has posted a page with a couple pics and a radar loop. Click HERE

Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 16th Denver Area Lightning Teaser

Got about 30-40 more shots as well. These are a couple of my favorites.


2009 Family Reunion Day Three - August 6th - East Inlet Creek

I first hiked into the East Inlet Creek Valley back in September of 2006. The hike starts with a short ascent to Adams Falls and then opens up into a beautiful, meandering riparian meadow. I had been as far as the East Meadow for the short hike in 2006, but given the proximity to the site of our family vacation and spurred by a visit to Adams Falls the day before, I had a free day to take on the journey. After being unable to coerce any of my family members to join me, I went off on my own.

I skipped Adams Falls this time around as I had been there before, bypassing the loop and continuing into the meadows above. The clouds were broken which made taking photos difficult, but I did my best. I reached the East Meadow and shot off this one below (please ignore the awful overexposed clouds ... it was necessary to capture the color and correct exposure for the foreground ... my point-and-shoot has limited capability).

My goal for the day was to reach an unnamed "falls" further up the creek, which I would estimate to be about four miles from the trail head. I was getting rather warm as the ascent out of the meadows began. The trail veered away from the creek and climbed through the boulders on the north side of the valley. My body was having a bit of difficulty processing the low oxygen of this pressure level of the atmosphere, but I continued on. I had to be back at the lodge at 5PM, so I set a turn-around point at 2:45-3:00PM and soldiered up the mountain. I came across a few other hikers and stayed wary of moose or bear, but luckily did not encounter either.

As the afternoon was growing late, I discovered a minor waterfall on a creek coming off the south face of the ridge on the north side of the valley. I briefly wondered if this was the "falls" marked on the map, but decided that it was not, so I continued on. The path ahead began to really climb, so my progress slowed. However, I kept at it as best I could. Eventually, the trail leveled out a bit and I found myself enjoying great views of the valley floor below. I reasoned that I would take pictures "on the way" down as to give myself an opportunity to venture as far as possible.

Finally, another hiker told me that there was a nice waterfall "300 yards ahead", so I put on the afterburners (I was all but completely worn out) and finally made it to the waterfall. Honestly, it wasn't as impressive as I thought it would be, but nevertheless, I stopped and tried to photograph it. Unfortunately, most of my shots were overexposed as I was trying to get that nice "silky" look. The photo below shows the top of the falls.

I sat and rested for a while, realizing that the one bottle of water that I had brought was about empty. Looking at my watch, I found that it was already a bit past three and necessary for me to get on going down the mountain. I had waited a bit too long for some clouds to come over the southern ridge, hoping to allow me a better chance of taking a longer exposure of the falls.

Upon standing, I found that my body was not very happy with me, but I hurried down the trail. As the clouds that I had been waiting for came over, I found that making haste suddenly was a very important idea. The clouds were very heavy with moisture and the distant echo of thunder filled the valley. Not wanting to be a lightning fatality statistic, I hurried down the trail, my knees protesting every step. I did manage so grab a picture of the valley below on one of the overlooks. Again, forgive the overexposure of the sky. (The trail head is basically at the shore of the lake in the distance).

As I continued on, the thunder got closer and a very strong fetch of wind came up the valley. Looking over my head along the northern ridge, I found myself directly under the updraft of the developing storm. The rapidly rising air was condensing a few hundred yards over my head, swirling in turbulent patterns. Just then, a persistent swirl of dust ripped through the scrub and across the path on top of me, ascending the hill to my right into the updraft.

Honestly, I laughed. I realized that I had just walked through what some in the storm chasing community would add to their total as a legitimate tornado. I will refer to this as "spInflow" Anyway, it gave me a laugh when I had become a bit weary of my journey.

I took the photo below just after the above incident.

Then, it began to rain, never heavy but unrelenting. Luckily for me, though there was a bit of loud thunder, I managed to avoid any close cloud-to-ground strikes. One thing that began to bother me, however, was the valley's resident mosquito population. When I was making a good pace, they weren't such a bother, but if I stopped for even a moment, I was completely swarmed.

Unsatisfied with the photos I had taken up until this point, I stopped at that minor fall that I passed on the way up. Given that the clouds had filled the valley, I was able to take some longer exposures and was pleased with the results.

During my little photographic foray, I was absolutely covered in mosquitoes. There were times when I had more than twenty penetrating my skin at a time and my swats did nothing to lessen their numbers.

I continued with haste back into the meadows where the mosquitoes were even more dense. My body was not pleased with my place, but the irritation of the constant biting pushed me on. I could literally feel them impacting my face as I dashed in and out of the woody areas.

By the time I reached the Adams Falls loop once again, the mosquito threat had lessened, but my legs were gelatinous and almost unresponsive to my commands. I caved into the opportunity of getting to photograph Adams Falls with cloudcover, and made the short climb and then descent to a good viewing area. I kept well away from the deep chasm as my balance was less than stellar, but managed to set up for a few shots, which I believe came out well.

... and I even took a moment for a self portrait. :)

By the time I made it back to my vehicle, I was absolutely exhausted, a bit dehydrated, and down a pint of blood (thanks mosquitoes!). It had taken me much longer to come down the trail and I found that it was already rapidly approaching 5PM. I sat in the car, opened the windows, and just sat there for a moment resting. When I started backing up to leave, I heard a crunch ... realizing that I had just run over my best tripod which I had leaned against the rear hatch. I simply got out, grabbed it, and threw it in the back before driving out of there. I was so tired that I didn't really care.

I stopped just outside of Grand Lake to buy a Gatorade and a Pearson's Nut Roll which was ASTONISHINGLY delicious.

On the way back to the lodge, I pulled off the side of the road on Lake Granby to take a shot that I was waiting for "good light" for.

I made it back to the lodge by 5:30, ate some dinner, and then did my part to clean up and do some dishes. I was supposed to drive home that night but delayed it by a couple hours to enjoy the end-of-vacation camp fire. Though I was sore and tired, I had rehydrated myself and found a second wind. Well, a couple s'mores helped. :)

I was on the road by just after 10PM and made it back to Denver by midnight ... and let me tell ya', I fell right asleep.

The hike was intense but awesome. Unfortunately, I just don't know when to stop sometimes. I did make it 4 miles in, 4 out with 1,000ft elevation gain in three hours.