Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Always Chasing

I decided to rewrite this post after an apparent attention deficit disaster. I was able to convey all of my feelings on the matters listed below but the result was less than eloquent and difficult to follow at times. This is my attempt to clarify:

How about a "New Year" post two weeks later? This post will take on a more personal tone, though we will confront meteorology has it has effected me personally.

At the close of 2008, I sat and waited for the clock to tick down; ready for the year to be over. Having graduated with my dream degree that year, you think I would have been on top of the world. Due to various reasons however, I was not. Notably, I still hadn’t found a job in my field. But in 2009, on the other hand, well let's just say it will go down as one of the best. I didn't win the lottery or fall in love but I experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth and accomplished many things. I'm not going to get too deep into specifics on the personal level, but suffice it to say, I finally put into action, my belief that life is what you make of it and if you really want something, you just do what it takes to achieve it.

The past year has been great to me. Suddenly, I found myself with a job I love and suddenly I could run five and a half miles in one stint. Suddenly I had a better place to live and a little more money in my pocket. Suddenly I found that I could help others out more, suddenly my friends and family seemed more special and suddenly the sun was just a little brighter.

Okay, so maybe that was a little mushy and I understand that this is just one small step, as it were. There's still so much I want to accomplish but instead of looking at it from a distance, I'm running toward it. I know it won't be easy. This year I really got philosophical about chasing storms... and I realized it wasn't just storms I was chasing, it was everything. My head is constantly exploding with fantasy and possibility. Througout my life, I’ve walked slowly toward all this, waiting for things to just happen; for everything to simply all into place. This past year, I stopped standing around waiting and started running. I have all these goals that I'm chasing and I realized that I won't be young forever. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to an extent. I’m not the kind of person that gets bored. One of my unfortunate traits is my desire to learn and enjoy more hobbies that I can afford time-wise or money-wise. This challenges me as it is very, very difficult for me to prioritize. I've gotten better but it is something I have to be vigilant of. Don't worry; I realize that you can't be on the go twenty four-seven. Sometimes you need to sleep and dream, sometimes you need to relax and enjoy the moment. I still know when to do that.

As far as storm chasing goes, I would love to get out as much as possible this year. I'm not sure how much I will, though. I'm trying to be more financially responsible and for me, chasing is not very financially feasible. Last year, I chased over 15,000 miles on 37 separate chases. I don't make money chasing. It is purely for personal enjoyment. I love to go out and document a storm, to experience it physically and spiritually. That, beyond anything else, keeps me out there. On occasion, I enjoy sharing that experience with others, but I'm most happy all by my self. I was able to chase some in my home state of Montana this summer and that is an experience that I wish to repeat this summer as well. I believe that there are a lot of people that are out there for different reasons than me and in this past year, I’ve felt rather disenchanted by that (look for an upcoming post detailing my view of the ‘state of chasing’) I’m not against letting people know that I chase. I don’t want to come off as simply a ‘tornado chaser’, because I am not. I would say that a tornado is probably the best result from any chase, but I go out for many other reasons. I talk about chasing a lot because it is my intent to share my love of meteorology with others in the way someone reacts to an amazing song or piece of art that really moves them.

Unfortunately, I’m looking forward to this year with a bit of trepidation. Aside from the aforementioned people that I wish to avoid, the amount of ‘documentation’ I have amassed has crippled my organization skills. I have an enormous amount of photos and video from this year and I would love to organize it all and share it all. Right now, I am a bit overwhelmed with organizing that effort. It is my intention to get a fully-functioning website running with a page for each chase which would include statistics of the chase, all photos and video, and a full account. It is also my intention to make all of my photos available to view and even possibly to purchase. I would still like to create a DVD of some of the video from this year. I just haven't really attacked these projects yet. Any tips on organizing these efforts would be appreciated! I suddenly find myself on the cusp of another year and feel like I haven't accomplished any of the archiving I wish to do from 2009.

This year does hold some exciting opportunities and challenges for me.

-I have many friends who would like to accompany me out on chases this year. This works out well for many reasons. First, I love seeing the wonderment in someone’s eyes the first time they are in position on a really menacing storm. Also, it’s definitely nice to have help with the cost of gas, especially when Der Schploder is lucky to get 17mpg on the highway.

-During some of this year, Michael Carlson will be riding along with me and documenting me as I chase. I am very excited to see the approach he takes to the whole endeavor and it should be a lot of fun having him along on those chases. In my opinion, he is becoming a very talented photojournalist.

-I’m going to try and spend two weeks in July up in Montana with the intent to see my family and chase Montana and the northern plains during that period (and even Canada since I now have a passport!) On off days when I’m not with my family, I will be exploring. I can’t ever seem to get enough of Glacier or Yellowstone Parks, plus I recently realized that there is a lot of Montana that I haven’t seen. The entire trip should be very therapeutic. I’m also thinking that I might end it with a trip to Chicago to maybe see the Cubs play, but this isn’t set in stone just yet.

-My equipment repertoire will not really change this year. While other chasers are really going high-tech, I’ll still be out there with books of maps, my phone for data, and my eyes. I don’t see an investment into a technological upgrade happening this year, though I do need a new tripod since I backed over my good one last summer. I’d love an HD video camera and/or a DSLR (since I’m still shooting with a point-and-shoot!).

-Der Schploder is getting up there in years and mileage. I’m not sure how much she has left in her, which might necessitate the purchase of a new vehicle, which would in turn make spending money chasing less feasible.

With that all said, I will try and get out as much as possible. I can’t imagine spending my spring any other way…

For the holidays this year, I went home. I've known for some time now, though, that for me, home isn't just one place. I feel at home when I'm with family or loved ones, whether I'm at the place of my birth in Butte, Montana ... which is an incredibly deep city if you take the time to look, or even here in my apartment. Home is the feeling I get when I'm out under a storm or even at some restaurant in a fading town on the plains of this great country watching the lightning of the storms to the east before I make my way back.

I know you're asking why I'm making such a big deal about 'home'. Well, it was important for me to go "home" for the holidays this year and to stay for the New Year. Sometimes we don’t realize how important home can be. Being there this time really reset a lot of things for me. I guess you could say that I simply felt happy… and when I’m happy, I often find myself driven to explore. And it was for that reason that on the way home from home, I went on a little adventure and found myself in South Dakota for a beautiful sunset.

Under that beautiful sky, I realized that you're never far from home, especially when you take it with you, wherever you go. Chasing storms isn't an escape for me, in fact, it's quite the opposite... it's just another way home. So I'll continue running toward it, always chasing it.

Home, like life, is what you make of it.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

2010 Storm Chase 1 Report - January 22nd

About a week ago, I was looking over the models (the January 15th 18Z GFS run to be exact) and started getting excited about a deep trough looking to plow through the southwest. The week prior would involve multiple systems slowly making it further south along the coast as they came onshore. That model run showed ample Gulf moisture combining with Pacific moisture on the Eastern Plains (Colorado). I was laughing at myself as I often laugh at others when they get excited about such things that far out. Still, though, I watched as the days passed. I tried to mobilize others to get excited about it but couldn't garner much interest. The runs stayed fairly consistent and I figured that we'd get a round of convection out on the plains. I was hoping for a cold core tornado event, but as the days passed, it was clear that it would not pan out.

Over the week prior, I started obsessing, as I tend to do. Facebook was filled with myriad posts with 'SDS' in them but I realized I had something much more terrible. I call it Obsessive Convective Disorder or OCD. I believe that played a large part in my decision to go into work at 5AM on Friday so that I could leave at 1 and be out on the plains if need be. Okay, so "need be" is rather weak in this case, as I had pretty much decided already that I was going to go anyway. The WRF 4.0km precip model helped my decision along as it broke out convection along the Footies in the early afternoon and then more in NE Colorado after dark (shown below). I had been analyzing soundings as well which showed CAPE from 750mb to about 650-600mb in the order of about 100-300J/kg. From the soundings (which I neglected to save), it appeared as if the storms would be elevated and low-topped (the latter certainly expected in January).

I left work at one and was home a little after 1:30. I spent time time pouring over the latest RUC runs and praying to get a little more moisture going. By 2:45, I was ready to hit the road. Though my tank was three quarters full, I decided to top off. For whatever reason, I decided to look east... and saw apocalyptic towering cumulus. My jaw dropped. Suddenly, I was in a big hurry and it didn't help that traffic kind of sucked on I-225. Winds in the metro area were coming down off the mountains. Where the westerlies met the more southerlies, a weak moisture discontinuity set off the line of towers. Call it a modified Denver Cyclone if you will as there was quite a bit of wrap-around.

Finally east of the city, I watched a couple of towers go up and glaciate out. Some mid level cumulus formed up in the turbulence behind the line and I took a moment to grab a picture.

Satellite and radar at about 3:30PM MST:

On radar it was nothing too exciting, but it definitely looked good for January in Colorado! Eventually I caught up with the line on US36 and punched through with only a moderate shower. The air at the surface was pretty dry and the rain coming out of the base evaporated pretty substantially near the ground. The Pacific moisture advecting in helped keep the mid levels saturated, however.

I stopped just west of Last Chance but nothing looked too impressive...

... so I decided to get further out ahead of the line to get a better perspective. I pulled off 36 just east of Lindon near a big tower and found a little road into the pasture that was unfenced. I drove 200 yards to the south and found a nice overlook. Radar was showing that the "storm" on the tail end was producing lightning so I had a look at it.

I had put a fresh battery in my Kestrel3500 so I was damned if I wasn't going to use it! Though I was on the east side of the line, the wind was still out of the southwest and it was cold! I took a reading and found it to be 50 over 26 which wasn't overly impressive. So I headed east toward the "better moisture". Tony at the time texted me, joking about "the dryline".

As light was fading, so were the storms behind me, so I stopped three miles southeast of Anton to capture the fading light and decide what to do.

Remembering that the WRF was breaking out more precip in NE Colorado at 0Z-1Z, I decided to continue east. No sooner had I gotten back on the road, when I looked north and saw a thick tower sprouting through the mid level cloud deck and already beginning to flatten against the equilibrium layer. I looked over at the radar and suddenly a C2G erupted from the cloud base. I felt rather giddy. I also noticed, however, that a line of convection was forming near Goodland.

But... I decided to stick with my initial target and continue north and east. When I finally turned north on Colorado 59, the light show really began. I saw a few more C2Gs and many flashes from the convection to the north. I was going to stop in Yuma and take some photos, but as I arrived, the lightning died down. More convection was building to the NE, so I continued east to Wray and then headed north again.

My plan was to get to Holyoke and try and get some lightning shots before heading home, but the lightning never really manifested itself again such that I was able to really have an opportunity to capture it.

In Holyoke, I reached the rain. The drops were large and contained ice but nothing large enough to bounce. They were basically huge slushballs. I refueled and began the journey home. The rain became heavy a couple of times just west of town but slowly gave way to thick fog. Near Fleming, I did actually call into the local weather service in Boulder, but only to report fog of a quarter mile or less. Not quite the report I was hoping for that day, but I figured I'd give the mets a heads up. Winds were strong (20-25kts) out of the NW at time and blowing the fog in waves. It was kind of cool. I was obviously now behind the surface low which was really undergoing genesis before heading out onto the plains.

I was home before 11PM, which wasn't bad! In all honestly, it felt fantastic to get out, feel the rain and see some lightning. Exploder performed well in the melting permafrost and in the rain as well. I'm loving my new tires! Plus, it was nice to give her a little baptism in the rain and wash some of that Midwestern salt I got on her back on January 3rd.

I wasn't disappointed with the results. The only downside of the night was although Sploder got about 17.5mpg (which is good for her!), I spent over $60 in gas. I pretty much ignored how much I was spending in gas last year which didn't work out so well in the long run, so I'm trying to be very attentive to that this year. *Sigh* Looks like that will necessitate multiple chase partners!

Mileage: 415
Severe: None


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Always Chasing

***UPDATE*** ... so upon reading this, I find that it is scatterbrained drivel. Lol. I'm going to try and rewrite it soon. Please don't judge. Lol. ***

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Years in Butte, America

I decided to stick around my homeland for the turning of the New Year this year. It would be the first time I had done this since before I moved to Colorado in the summer of 2004. The extra time spent with my family made it more than worth while. On New Year's Eve, I opted to head Uptown and spend the turning of the year above the city, clicking away at the headframes and enjoying the free amateur pyrotechnic displays that were likely to occur.

The Steward Headframe with the Hotel Finlen and downtown Butte in the distance.

Looking up Minah Street toward the Mountain Con Headframe

Ghostly self-portrait with the Bell/Diamond Headframe and the city below.

Bell/Diamond Headframe just before midnight.

Bell/Diamond just after midnight.

IC Church, Anselmo Headframe, and Big Butte.

From left to right: Mountain Con, Bell/Diamond, Steward, and Original Headframes.

Looking south down Main Street through Uptown Butte.

And finally, the Original Headframe and a bit of pyrotechnics.

I missed a lot of the pyrotechnics, given that they were randomly shot off throughout Uptown, but the night was still great. Though I'm disappointed with a few shots (still using my backup tripod), I am very pleased with others.

Though I've been gone some five years, Butte will always be home to me and I'm happy to have spent the New Year there.


Monday, January 11, 2010

More Images From Butte, Montana

A few more photos from my holiday to Montana. All of these photos were taken on December 30th. Most of them were taken in or around the Uptown Butte / Walkerville area except for the last one, which was taken along Blacktail Creek on The Flats in Butte. (click images for large view)

The Concentrator (Montana Resources)

The Diamond/Bell Headframe (a favorite subject of mine)

The Granite Mountain Headframe

The Badger State Headframe

Mount Fleecer with crepuscular rays (from Alexander Street)

Common Snipe taking a drink along the Greenway (Blacktail Creek).


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Butte, Montana's Copperway (December 28th)

While on holiday in Montana, on December 28th, I took a walk with my parents along Butte's relatively new walking trail, the Copperway. The photos below were all taken along the trail.

Signage for the Copperway and the Mountain Con(solidated) Headframe in the background.

Foreground: Uptown Butte & the Hotel Finlen, Background: Downtown Butte/The Flats and Timber Butte on the right, Distant: The Highland Mountains (Also a very stout and stagnant inversion in place)

The Original (Mine) Headrame overlooking Butte.

My father and mother walking through the tunnel under North Montana Street, the Anselmo Headframe in the distance.

Anselmo Headframe and mineyard.


West down Caledonia Street, the Immaculate Conception (IC) Church and some nice turbulent wave cloud action.

The Orphan Girl Headframe at the World Museum Of Mining. Distant: Pintler Mountains right to left, Mount Haggin, Short Peak, and Mount Evans. Also, nice turbulent clouds.

All in all, it was a nice day for a walk. We were just above the inversion and enjoyed temperatures at or around 30ºF, which isn't all that bad in full sun. Notice, though, the lack of snow. It's been a dry winter in Southwest Montana so far.


Saturday, January 09, 2010

Very Intense Tropical Cyclone 07S Edzani

Another beautiful cyclone in the Southern Indian Ocean this week. 07S Edzani is currently weakening but at one point was very intense. Dvorak estimates had its intensity at 889mb and 149kt, though official advisories were less intense (this is common).

Imagery from yesterday near max intensity:

I'd be a little remiss if I didn't talk about the ridiculous cold air over the country. Take Florida for example:

The one and only time I visited Florida was in March of 1993. Ring any bells? Let's just say it snowed while I was at Epcot Center and it wasn't Disney magic. I suppose similar thoughts may be going through some people's heads. :)


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Christmas Day Photos: South of Butte, Montana ... Plus, 07S Edzani

I spent Christmas Day with my family up at "Wapiti Mountain", or my grandmother's house in the foothills to the Highland Mountains in Silver Bow County, Montana. It was a beautiful day, snowing off and on (big dendrites), though the sun was out half of the time.

Clark's Nutcracker

The Highland Mountains as visible from the balcony (light snow was falling)

A couple of Mule Deer.

And in the tropics, 07S Edzani has intensified to 125kt and should continue to strengthen over the next 24 hours.