Strong thunderstorms had formed along the northern extents of the Uncompahgre Plateau. When I left my house, the view to the west was ominous and accompanied by cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. Immediately, the highest reflectivities pulsed from north to south, so I followed the wave south on US 50. The storms didn't appear to be moving all that rapidly, so I used my only west option in the form of Colorado 141 into the Unaweep Canyon.
The front side of the line was spitting drops at me, but as I entered the canyon, a soft hail began to fall This was in accordance with the areas of highest reflectivity, per the radar. The hail, perhaps a half inch in diameter was mostly slush and as I climbed higher into the canyon, it turned completely into grauple.
The curious thing about the Unaweep Canyon is that it is an old channel carved by the Gunnison or Colorado Rivers. During the uplifting process of the Uncompahgre Plateau, the river(s) left the channel and turned north for an easier route. Now, the canyon has a natural watershed divide at its center, with a creek flowing out each side. East Creek flows out of the canyon and meets the Gunnison River at Whitewater and West Creek flows out of the canyon and meets the Dolores River at Gateway.
With the precipitation trending off, I stopped at a pull out. The radar wasn't looking too impressive, so I figured this was a good place to observe for a while and perhaps go out and sift through the hail/grauple.
Grauple accumulating on my hood.
Looking east, down-canyon.
Extreme grauple close-up.
As I've come to find on the Western Slope, it is difficult for any strong area of a storm to maintain itself. Typically, areas pulse. That was the case on this particular day. Higher reflectivities were now showing up farther to the north, so I started working my way east, back out of the canyon. Still, the amount of frozen precipitation was impressive, leaving a white coat on the ground in many areas.
Unaweep Canyon (East)
Fistful of grauple.
Cottonwoods just budding over East Creek
Lower in the canyon, there wasn't as much frozen precipitation on the ground. I pulled into a picnic area to get access to East Creek which seemed to be running a bit high. The moment I stepped on the berm to walk down to the creek channel, it gave way and I found myself part of a mudslide. Holding my camera over my head, I found myself laying in the mud. I stood up to find my back coated in the muck, from my rear to my shoulders. I took a few pictures and then spent a while maneuvering my sweatshirt to prevent the mud from becoming a permanent part of my car seat.
Back on the road, I left the canyon and rejoined US 50. I stopped at Whitewater Hill for a look around. It is one of my favorite lightning perches in the area.
Looking north from Whitewater Hill.
North from the vineyards of East Orchard Mesa
The storm as it rolled along the Book Cliffs.
Vineyards and Mount Lincoln
Finally, I found myself back in the grasps of the storm. I would hear the occasional rumble of thunder, but the grauple seemed to be the most interesting part of the storm.
Grauple falling in East Orchard Mesa
As the storms continued on to the east, they continued to lose strength. I figured I'd drive into Palisade and then head back home.
The fading storm over Palisade, Mount Garfield in the background.
Looking toward Grand Mesa from Palisade. Horse Mountain in the foreground.
Low on fuel, I decided to stop in Clifton. A pulse along the Book Cliffs caught my attention and I crossed the highway for a perspective, but it wasn't too exciting. Soaked in mud with waning stormage, I figured it was time to head home.
Chasing out here is certainly a different animal than out on the plains. I would classify it as "low risk, low reward." Still, I captured a few pleasing images from the day and it was nice to get out.
2011YTD Mileage: 142
SPC Risk: Categorical
Max Hail: 0.5"
Other Phenomena: None.
Storm Reports For April 26th