Sunday, September 04, 2011

2011 Storm Chase 4 - April 26th - "Seasonal Masquerade"

Chances to chase on the Western Slope are few and far between before the Monsoon begins.  Even more rare are those that land on one's day off.  So imagine my surprise on this particular Tuesday (my Saturday) afternoon as I heard quite a lot of thunder outside my house.  Of course I knew that there was a chance for storms, though my most recent forecast had come on Sunday.  I wasn't expecting anything severe, but the reflectivities showing up on radar were enough to stir me from my den to go have a look. 

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.

East Creek

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.
The strongest storm appeared to be riding the Book Cliffs eastward to my north, so I decided to get on CO 141 again and head north.  I left the highway before it crosses the Colorado River and continued north and east on paved roads in East Orchard Mesa. 

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.

Mileage:  53
2011YTD Mileage: 142
States:  Colorado
SPC Risk:  Categorical
Max Hail:  0.5"
Tornadoes:  None
Other Phenomena: None.
Storm Reports For April 26th



Jay said...

So how much for the non-watermarked photos? There is 4-5 I'd like to have framed...

Dann Cianca said...

I'm working on a photo site, but won't have it up for a while. Until then, I can send you one or two full-res shots for your personal use.