Saturday, October 30, 2010

2010 Storm Chase 50 Report - October 22nd - Southwest Kansas

Synoptics: A previously cut-off upper level low was beginning to get picked up, back into the flow. Models were showing a bit of a jet streak (on the order of 50-60kt at 500mb) moving through the central High Plains over the course of the day as the upper level low continued its movement to the NNE and into the flow. A bit of a vorticity max was forecast to move north along the eastern plains of Colorado through the afternoon.

At the surface, cyclogenesis was forecast to occur over northeast Colorado, pulling an existing boundary to the north, into southern Nebraska. The NAM showed a nice instability axis along the dryline from Western Kansas down into Texas. Originally, I liked the Woodward, Oklahoma area as a good target for the day as there was decent instability in the area and it would also benefit from the upper level support associated with the low. Another possible target would have been further south into southwest Oklahoma or perhaps southward into Texas. We (myself and Scott Hammel) wanted to play the closer target, however.

SPC's Convective Outlook from 13Z

I believed in the possibility of some early-morning convection along the Colorado/Kansas border or perhaps into the Oklahoma Panhandle, so this necessitated an early departure time. After three hours of laying in bed (no sleep), I met Scott at his house in Englewood at 1030Z (4:30AM MDT) and we set out east in his new Suburo Forrester. Eastern Colorado was in upslope so there were ligth showers and drizzle in the area. In fact, it briefly rained on me the evening before as I went out for my run.

We encountered fog near the Limon area as well as some drizzle and periodic bouts of drizzle and light rain as we pressed east on I-70. As the sun rose on the state of Kansas, there was some clearing in southwest Kansas but cloudcover was keeping temperature and visibilities down in northwest Oklahoma. It didn't look like there was going to be any significant early morning convection to chase, so we kept to the target plan and proceeded to Oakley, KS and then south on US 83.

As we continued southward, I started to lose faith in the Woodward target. The area was still socked in with clouds and not warming at all. Further complicating things was an update from SPC moving a 5% tornado risk into northwest Kansas, which we were in the process of leaving! I understood the reasoning of the percentage upgrade to some extent with the proximity to the upper level low and the surface cyclone, but it wasn't enough to draw us up there with not much if any instability to work with.

Eventually, we made it to Garden City where we sat and looked at data for a while. Keep in mind we left Denver quite early so it was still rather early in the day. Sometimes when the meteorological situation is not progressing or evolving, it's time to take a break. A lunch break, that is. So, we looked for a "local" place in Garden City and ended up at Herb's Carry Out & Bakery, home of the "best burgers" in Garden City. Sold!

We stopped in and I ordered a cheeseburger, fries and was hoping for a shake, but they referred me to the next door Dairy Queen as they didn't make shakes. The burger was delicious and incidentally reminded me of a Dairy Queen burger (the fries were similar too) which is good as I do enjoy DQ's burgers. They were a *little* pricey, in my opinion, but the people inside were very nice and it was quite busy while we were there. Also, try the cherry limeade.

With full bellies and and the sun shining in Garden City, we had some fresh ideas on what to do next. A mesoscale discussion had been issued, #1964, so that was promising. Instability was growing in the area and the rolling strato-cu were beginning to mix out. To the west, the air was drier but the lapse rates were better. To the east, the air was more moist but cooler and the upper levels were more benign. Northwest Oklahoma was still shrouded in clouds, so we decided to hang around the area and micro-adjust as necessary, hoping we'd be near the point of initiation.

We moved a little west to Deerfield to be closer to the CAPE. Nothing much was going on, so the explorer in me kicked in and suggested we'd make a trip to the nearby Lake McKinney. We drove to the Lake but found it dry. (I would assume that this reservoir is full during the spring and early summer for irrigation purposes) After exploring the eastern bank for a minute or two, we ended up on the earthen dam. I wanted to head out on the jetty and take a couple of pictures of the dry lake.

From the jetty, looking N.

Looking NW.

Scott observing the clouds out east and his brand new ride.

I returned to the vehicle and my attention was soon drawn to a pool of water on the other side of the dam. I peered down into the water and soon saw a large fish break the surface and jump into the air before disappearing back into the silt. I decided to go down and investigate and navigated some coyote scat to a bit of a sandbar near the spillway. The water smelled bad and was to some extent, stagnant. I saw a few fish jump nearby but then was captivated by a large creature plowing through the shallow water of the ditch that drained this small pool. The southerly winds kept the water surface textured but I could still see this animal progressing upstream with a hood of water spilling over its head. I wasn't sure if it was a muskrat or some other type of aquatic mammal but I figured that it was a large fish trying to work its way through the shallow water. I decided to take a closer look and worked my way around the other side of the pool. I could see, finally, that it was a fish, likely a large carp. I descended the bank into the mud and only had to take one step to realize that I most certainly did not want to step in it, so I used rocks to work my way around. There were several large carp in the water, moving around like big torpedoes in the silt. I found it unlikely that they would survive much longer in such poor conditions with winter on its way.

With my attention focused on the water, I forgot to look at the sky. Luckily, Scott was keeping track. When I looked up, the instability in the area was beginning to be realized.

I made my way back to the vehicle and we saw that to our east, echoes were beinning to show up on radar. Finally, something to chase! (aside from carp). We headed away from the reservoir only to be held up by a couple of dogs which ran out in front of the car and would not get out of the way. One even took a moment to relieve itself on Scott's wheel. The situation was actually quite hilarious and luckily, another vehicle pulled up behind us, distracting the dogs. We got back on US 50/400 at Deerfield and proceeded east as a decent cell began to form over Garden City. It had a small hail marker and we planned to try and catch it from behind as it wasn't moving too fast.

We actually headed north on US 83 out of Garden City and headed east on a county road to meet up with KS 156. Unfortunately, our storm wasn't by any means discrete and was already beginning to fade.

Scott's new ride handled quite nicely on the muddy road, which was nice, as the "cake batter" roads can be almost impossible to drive on at times. There were a few other chasers in the area, but most were north of us on the dying cell. We spotted a new cell popping up just east of Garden City and moved to get a good viewing spot as it moved north. We stopped at the intersection of KS 156 and KS 23 and watched.

Eventually, a bit of a base began to emerge from the clutter. The base began to slowly lower and though the view was low-contrast, I began to see some differential motion on a lowering. I checked the radar at this time and there was some weak rotation.

The right side of the lowering here was actually closer though it doesn't necessarily appear so in this picture. It was pulling up a lot of scud and was showing visible rotation.

We decided to keep up with it and head north a bit. I took a moment to report the wall cloud to Spotter Network at this time. We stopped a few miles north of the intersection as the lowering had tightened a bit. As the next few minutes progressed, we watched as a funnel-ish looking feature slowly dissipated.

In post analysis, I enhanced this photo that Scott took which shows the funnel much more clearly than we could see at the time and the possibility of a ground circulation. This is the only photo where the "blob" shows up, so we cannot confirm it. It could be a dust devil, a gustnado, a tornadic ground circulation or a spot on the lens. I am open to interpretation.

Here are my photos from the time period. I should mention that Scott's photo was taken immediately when he got out of the vehicle at 2100Z and my first photo was at 2101Z as I was trying to set up my camera.

Closer look at the wall/funnel. Scud was racing from right to left into the wall.

View to the NE.

Wall cloud has dissipated by 2110Z.

We continued north on KS 23 at this point and the storm seemed relatively featureless. It was on a path to cross the highway at the county line so we kept pace with it. We stopped a few miles south of the line to take photos as the cell began to pulse out a bit. I would call it a rear-flank downdraft but the storm wasn't exhibiting easily identifiable supercellular features at this point. As the "rear-flank" pushed forward, a bit of a shelf began to form on it.

As we watched, the shelf seemed to stall out before crossing the highway. Surface winds were almost directly from the south at this point and the outflow seemed to hit the strong surface flow and stop. The north side of the shelf lifted to the cloudbase and stuck persisted for a while, eventually beginning to wrap around cyclonically on its northern edge.

Storm motion was carrying the storm over the road though the gust front had stalled, so we decided to get north and then think about an east option. Here was the velocity data at the time.

Just north of the county line (into Lane County). It was quite interesting at this point as the storm was looking supercellular. The northern edge of the RFD outflow was rotating nicely now and a wall cloud was evident. (Another chaser's video shows anti-cyclonic rotation on the south end of this). We would see this type of storm evolution several times as the storm pressed on. The rear-flank would gust out and a lowering would form on the northern edge where inflow would wrap back in behind it. Nothing ever looked tornadic, however.

Wall cloud along KS 23, rotating moderately.

We were losing ground on the storm at this point, so we headed east in an attempt to get ahead of it. We stopped along the way at an abandoned homestead for a photo-op.

Somewhere near Beeler, Kansas, looking north.

We got on KS 96 but kept north on dirty shortly therafter all the way to KS 4 where we headed east, stair-stepping in front of the cell. We stopped again near Arnold and watch the storm cycle through its performance again.

We linked up with US 283 north and at this point were starting to think about the drive home. The plan was to experience the storm on 283 and we chose the area north of Cedar Bluff Reservoir to do just that, but not before getting a few last pictures.

We "experienced" the storm as we rolled into WaKeeney. There was some decent rain and wind and maybe some rice-sized hail mixed in, but nothing too exciting. We fueled up in WaKeeney as the storm blew through the area and decided to call the day and head home. Of course, as soon as leaving the storm, it became severe-warned as it plodded off to the northeast. I didn't really see anything on radar that led me to believe the storm was any stronger than it had been int he past, but perhaps it crossed into a different county warning area.

The red sun sets as we work our way west on I-70 near Oakley.

The nice thing about chasing in October is that even though we were fairly deep into Kansas, the sun sets so early that we were well on our way home already. I believe we arrived back in the Denver area around 10:30PM MDT which is pretty nice!

As far as the day is concerned, I believe we were on the best storm anywhere in our reachable area for the day. I would call that a success. Of course, the setup didn't pan out near as well as it could have, but at least we didn't miss anything. There was a report of a funnel cloud near Elbert, Colorado, which I suppose supported the inclusion of the 5% tornado risk all the way to the Front Range/Urban Corridor, though I would have liked to see a bit more separation between the upper level and surface lows for such possibilities. Unfortunately, I just don't think the surface winds were conducive to tornadogenesis in our area. We had trouble realizing a more easterly surface wind component all day and though there was decent vorticity in the atmosphere, it couldn't quite get it together at the surface.

All in all, it was great to get out in late October and I'm very grateful to Scott for taking me along. I feel like we were laughing the entire time at some of the silly things that happened over the course of the day. Half of the time, it's more of a fun road trip than a storm chase and that certainly makes a poor storm day more memorable.

Finally, I want to take a moment to acknowledge an after-the-fact event that both Scott and I were involved in. We posted some pictures on a storm chasing forum just trying to get some objective thought going on our funnel cloud and possible tornado. Another chaser that was out that day made a big deal about it claiming that it didn't happen. He basically said that it was not a tornado because he was right under it but offered no video or photo evidence to back up his claim (his Spotter Network icon had him quite a bit to the north and east of that feature). He claimed to have this video and photographic evidence but never produced it. When it comes down to it, we were not claiming that it was a tornado. I'm not trying to add another tornado to my tornado count. We were just looking for objective opinion. I would have preferred a "it doesn't look like a tornado to me". Fair enough. This was just a flat-out denial based on unsubstantiated claims. I really do not like the "If I didn't see it, it didn't happen" attitude.

The reason I type out these full reports is to try and give the best possible record as to what happened with any given storm. You wouldn't believe how many hits my blog gets from insurance companies. I'm really just trying to document what I see. What I see and am able to identify is not always perfect and I still am surprised almost every time I go out at what the atmosphere has in store for me, but I'm trying to learn and share this knowledge with others. That's all.

You can rest assured, however, that I will show my pictures! All right, I'm done ranting.

Mileage: 846
(Year-to-date): 18566
Largest Hail: -.25"
Winds Of Consequence: None observed.
Tornadoes: 0 (a funnel with a *possible* ground circulation)

Other reports on the date:
Scott Hammel

Official Storm Reports for October 22nd.

Detail Map:


Friday, October 22, 2010

2010 Storm Chase 50 Teaser - October 22nd - Kansas

A wall cloud evolved into this cone funnel at 4:02PM CDT before slowly falling apart just west of the Cocannon Wildlife Area in Finney County, Kansas

A new wall cloud formed near the Finney/Lane County border along Kansas 23 at 4:22PM CDT

Friday Chase Quickcast

Just a quick update to mention I'll be heading out to chase the setup on Friday. The cut-off upper level low is slowly moving eastard and with good moisture return out ahead and some surface heating, we'll see some decent instability from Liberal, KS to points southward. The precip models have been disappointing this evening, but I still think we'll get a nice cell to blow up a bit east of the dryline. In all likelihood, we'll be heading toward Woodward, Oklahoma.

I'm heading out with Scott Hammel and he may be streaming live on ChaserTV. I'll be posting updates to my Facebook page throughout the day.

Now it's time for bed. We're leaving in four hours...


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Amateur Photography, Urban Coyotes & The Museum Of Outdoor Arts

I was out on an evening walk a few weeks ago and discovered that the Museum Of Outdoor Arts at Samson Park which is located only a couple blocks from my apartment, stays open overnight. I walked through the park (a relatively small space) a couple of times and always thought it would be fun to bring my camera and take a few pictures.

When I bought my camera, a point-and-shoot Canon in 2007, it was mostly to have for storm chasing and the occasional visit to a national park. I've always enjoyed a very amateurish type of photography but still haven't advanced myself with a "big kid camera". Sometimes I feel a little silly out some place with a tripod and a point-and-shoot camera, but given the wide breadth of my hobby spectrum, I have to spread my funds around, and rather thin. Over the last few years, a vehicle that gets 16 miles per gallon on the highway and a propensity for me to chase any storm that moves are two reasons why a lot of my available capital has gone into the gas pump. However, I do believe that half of the effort of taking a picture is being in the right place anyway, and I've certainly found myself there a few times this year. This has resulted in a couple of print sales and inclusion of two of my photos in a calendar.

With that said, please bear with the fact that I still do consider myself quite amateur. I don't plaster watermarks all over my photos because I feel my photos are some elite work of art, I just get annoyed at the folks who complain about their photos being stolen. I've never had to post in the "copyright infringement" thread on Storm Track. I have also reached, in most cases, the limitations of my camera. It is for this reason that I will go into Photoshop and tweak some of my images... sharpening, contrast, brightness & saturation being the usual changes. On some occasions, I do this to enhance a low-light image to bring forth features that aren't apparent (you'll see some of this in the post below). In other cases, I'm trying to recreate what I saw with my own eyes and was unable to capture as eloquently with my camera.

So why am I bothering with this whole "explanation"? Well, I have a favor to ask. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is well known. I've noticed that with a few colleagues (who are actually getting paid to be photojournalists), that in one case, every photo they produce is underexposed. With another, most photos are obviously (to my eye) highly sharpened at a large radius and the colors are extremely skewed. If you see something similar with the photos that I often produce, will you let me know? Sometimes things look good to my eyes, but for many others perhaps not... I would appreciate it.

Enough of that, now. Last Friday, I decided to grab my camera and head out to take some photos. I planned on taking some silly ones as well. I had no idea what an interesting night was about to take place!

Many of the pieces at the MOA have an Alice in Wonderland theme...

I did mention I wanted to take a few silly pictures, right?

A very interesting part of the museum is the Weidenblume which is a type of living willow sculpture. Basically, branches of a willow are bound together and put into a form. I'm not sure if the willow is grown on site or if the binding allows the willow to regenerate, but in any fashion, the willow is alive and growing. More information can be found here: Weidenblume.

*Please note that the long exposures and enhancement make the landscape appear much more bright than it actually was.

While taking picture from the inside and outside of the Weidenblume, a pack of cougars approached me. That statement is made to be taken figuratively. They all seemed to be three sheets to the wind and one was celebrating a birthday and complained to me about her husband all while apologizing for getting in the way of my pictures. They weren't really bothering me, however and quickly moved along anyway. As they were leaving, I told them to be careful of coyotes (literally) as I had seen them in the area on previous occasion.

Just after they left, I was inside the Weidenblume and looking out across the sidewalk to a wrought-iron gate that led into the Fiddlers Green (now Comfort Dental) amphitheater. I'm not sure why I was looking there, but moments later a creature emerged from behind the tall hedge and poked its head through the gate, not ten feet from where I stood, shadowed in the Weidenblume. At first, I thought it was a fox but as it emerged from the gate, I realized that it was a small coyote.

"That probably isn't a good idea," I said to the animal, thinking that it didn't know that I was there in the shadows. It noticed me but paid me no bother, walking around the Weidenblume to my right. I honestly found myself annoyed that it didn't seem scared of me, so I told it to leave and clapped my hands a couple of times. It just stared at me, though it was now away from any of the outdoor lights in the park. I could see its outline about fifteen feet away between a couple of large rocks. I figured if it was going to stand there, I was going to take a picture of it, so I moved my tripod and lined up my camera. I looked up at the coyote and then back down to the viewfinder to make sure I was set. When I looked back up again, it was gone. I poked my head outside of the Weidenblume but could see no sign of it. I paused for a few moments to listen... and nothing. A moment later, I was startled by movement back at the gate only to see a large rabbit hop through. "That probably isn't a good idea," I said to the animal.

I had lost the coyote however and I felt a little unnerved about it. Sure, it was a small animal and generally coyotes tend to stay away from humans, but I didn't like that I didn't know where it was. I trudged around in the darkness of the west side of the museum grounds but aside from a strange-sounding splash in the pound, I neither saw nor heard anything.

The moon was fairly bright that evening, so I took a moment to take a picture of a sculpture that was moving softly in the light wind, backlit by the moon.

From the west, a sudden commotion filled the wind. It started as one but grew to many. I was suddenly aware that there was more than one coyote nearby as several began to howl and yip. Imagine how strange this sound was as it echoed off of the nearby office towers, all abandoned for the evening. This area of Greenwood Village has several tall buildings including Plaza Tower One and Palazzo Verdi, but the area clears out after 6PM. At this point, I was overcome with the sudden instinct to hunt because I immediately left the museum at the western gate and peered across the street into the open space. It was obvious that the open space was where the coyotes were and in retrospect, I had previously seen a coyote there and had three more encounters within a mile of the area.

I crossed the street slowly and began to descend into the lower terrain and subsequent temperature inversion of the open space. My ears pointed me to a high area in the middle of the space and my eyes finally adjusted and I could see several running around atop the high spot. I stopped and set up my tripod and tried to be quiet as I took a few pictures, though I was aware that they were watching my every move. (click the images for larger versions)

They were moving around a bit, so my fifteen second exposures are blurry and cannot account for an accurate description of their numbers. I know there were at least two and very likely three. I tried to get a little closer and they suddenly stopped calling and disappeared off of the higher ground. The low-lying area between our positions consisted of very tall grass and brush and was not penetrable by myself, though I could hear movement in it. I held my ground as I didn't feel that confronting multiple wild canines was the smartest ideas even though I feel that I could protect myself on such an occasion. I didn't see any reason to force the issue.

The calls began again soon, now to the northwest of where I was, so I adjusted myself north and stayed on relatively bare ground. I couldn't see them, but I could hear them. There wasn't quite enough contrast to pick out their silhouettes on the dark ground. I would have to wait until they crested a horizon, which finally did happen again. I did see one head west down East Caley Avenue, but there were two others calling loudly nearby. (They were probably saying, "THERE'S SOME DUDE HERE! ALERT!" For those of you into animal calls, I would describe what they were doing at this point as several barks and then a cry or howl. You wouldn't believe how loud it was! I set up for several more pictures, pointing west before deciding to leave them alone and go about my way.

Now, I'm sure you're asking yourself what would support a pack of coyotes in this urban area aside from the occasional kitty or chihuahua. Well, the answer is bunnies. As I returned to the museum, the grounds were covered in rabbits... which is not an uncommon sight.

At this point, I figured I'd take several more photos of the exhibits and then head home.

Museum grounds with Palazzo Verdi in the background. Imagine the coyote calls echoing off of this building!

It turned out to be quite the evening... just me, my short running shorts, a point-and-shoot camera and some urban wildlife. And I'm not talking about the cougars.