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:



sknr31 said...

Great weather post! like the old swing set pic....beautiful!

Dann Cianca said...

Thanks Skinner!!

Scott said...

Great thorough write up! Fun trip with good photo's and some interesting storms. I'm ready for the next one!

Dann Cianca said...

Thanks Hambone! And thanks again for the chase. You know I'll go anytime. Lol.

Pat Boomer said...

Lovely photos and another great report. What an amazing "season?" you have had, that's about as many miles as I have put on in last 10 years of chasing around here.
Kudos to you for getting out there and doing it!
Keep up the good work

Dann Cianca said...

Thanks Boomer! It has been quite the season for sure, extended thanks to some generous friends. I can't thank them enough.