Wednesday, February 01, 2012

2012 Storm Chase 1 - January 16th - Super January In The Desert

A potent shortwave was heading through the Rockies, giving the Western Slope's mountains a decent shot of snow.  During the warm air advection phase, southwestern-facing mountain slopes got hammered and some areas like Montrose actually experienced a decent overnight chinook wind event.  I worked on Sunday, the 15th and made my forecast.  It did not include much in the way of convection for the 16th, save along the cold front.

2012-01-17 00Z (5PM MST on the 16th)

I had Monday the 16th off, but found myself at work for a meeting.  I was quite distracted with the incoming cold front and spent a lot of time in the weather center with our evening meteorologist, Eddie Sheerr.  It's not uncommon on days like this to find me at work on my day off, looking through the models and watching radar. 

Convection was fairly impressive along the cold front as it swept across the valley.  Well, impressive for mid-January, anyway.  There was certainly some vertical height to the clouds and the precipitation took on a more downdraft-look. 

I was about to wrap up my time at the station and head home from dinner when I noticed that convection was firing behind the cold front.  I stuck my nose out the door and noticed some interesting structure.  I wish that I would have taken a moment to grab an image, but unfortunately, I jumped right in my car and headed north to the desert. 

Here's a radar grab from about that time.  Circled is the new area of convection behind the front:

As I raced north on 25 Road, I was rubbing my eyes, trying to figure out if what I was seeing was real.  The storm appeared to have a mesocyclonic base and lowering.  I kept telling myself to stop and take a picture, but I was so close to the desert and a clear view, so I continued on.

By the time I got to a good vantage, the feature began to dissipate, but you can still make out the basic structure, including the lowered portion.  For another reason I cannot explain, I only captured an image with my phone. 

 First View From The Desert

Even more baffling, the wind was out of the southeast.  The cold front had just passed with a brisk northwest wind and suddenly the surface winds were backing toward this new storm.  Could it be surface-based?  If there's one thing I've learned about this valley and cold fronts, it's that sometimes they make it warmer!  Fronts often act as inversion scrubbers, with the new air mass sometimes replacing a stagnant, cold one.  That's another reason I believe that this storm was surface based.  

On radar, it the reflectivity had a sickle-shape, open to the east.  I made sure to save the radar image on my phone for future reference... 

From my vantage, I watched as the fast-moving storm relinquished it's low-level surface features and passed just to my north.  The wind shifted and became quite cold as the downdraft was loaded with grauple.

The storm's base and grauple core.

I was absolutely elated as this was an unexpected treat.  I just stood outside and reveled in the smell of the storm and the feeling of its proximity.  At no time did I hear thunder nor did I see any nearby activity on lightning data, but it was still quite convective.  That should be fairly obvious in the photos below.

Passing overhead.

As the storm weakened and moved off to the north, I started to get a pretty good luck at the updraft tower, which was visibly rotating.

Farther south, more convection seemed to erupt along the same axis.  It looked more linear in nature, but was rather thin and definitely had an interesting appearance. 

As the more isolated storm neared the Book Cliffs, it really turned into a grauple-factory. 

A fresh coat of grauple-white on the cliffs.

As the (now) line of storms passed, the sun began to peer out from the low cloud deck over the northern reaches of the Uncompahgre Plateau, casting its rays occasionally on the Book Cliffs.  I drove a bit north for a better vantage and spent a lot of time taking various pictures of the changing light. 

The light began to fade on the cliffs and I started to get hungry, so I began to head back.  I soon realized that the sunset was probably going to be amazing, so I stopped at a good vantage and waited.  And let me tell you, I was not disappointed. 

I kept noticing a dust speck on my sensor, so I thought it would be a good idea to blow into the body of the camera.  Well, this only proved to introduce moisture which made everything foggy.  Take this image of the sun, for example:

After a few minutes, the lens fog cleared and the sun began to set.  It was about to get spectacular.

Up to this point, I had taken several pictures with my phone as well.  However, frequent use of the GPS on my phone causes it to do strange things.  For example, the buttons seem to reassign themselves.  After taking a picture, I tried to turn my phone's screen off, and it did a screen capture.  It takes a while to back out of whatever program it gets itself into, so I just gave up and popped the battery out.

Once my phone rebooted, I tried to take another picture, but the phone said it couldn't find my SD card.  I opened the phone back up and didn't notice that the SD card was no longer in the slot.  We'll come back to this later.  Annoyed, I stashed my phone in the center console and kept clicking away at the sunset with my point-and-shoot.  It wasn't to be missed!

Now that you've enjoyed a thousand pictures of the sunset, let me tell you a tale of woe.  On my way home, I stopped at the market to pick up some beer and then at the Verizon store to have them look at my phone.  As it turns out, the micro SD card was gone.  Since it has to be in the phone to take pictures and I was taking pictures prior to opening the case, it must have fallen out then.  I searched my vehicle high and low to find the small card, but to no avail.  I resolved that it had to be out in the desert.

After meeting some friends for dinner, I returned to the desert with my headlamp and scoured the area where I had parked.  I found my tire tracks and realized that if it had fallen out of the vehicle there, it could only have been in one spot, since I had only left the vehicle once.

Unfortunately, nothing... I would have to return during daylight when I could see better.

I looked through my car, the parking lot at the market and at the Verizon store the next day and nothing.  I returned to the desert and sifted through the sand for an hour.  Nothing.  It completely vanished.

So, that's the sad story.  However, the storm and the sunset were amazing, so I'm going to focus on that!  I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to recognize the situation, take advantage of it and experience a rotating storm in January in the desert.  There aren't many opportunities for a decent storm chase out here.

I'm going to go ahead and call it as I see it, a weak, low-topped supercell.  Any objections? 

Mileage: 22
2012YTD Mileage: 22
States: Colorado
SPC Risk: None
Max Hail: Grauple-fiesta!
Tornadoes: None
Other Phenomena: It's freaking winter, that's phenomenal. 
Storm Reports for January 16th

Detail Map:



Pat Boomer said...

Ahh you gotta love the puffies in the off season, we've even had a few puffs floating around up here already.
If your card was one of those itty bitty micro sd cards like mine has, I can see how one of those could vaporize into thin air.

Dann Cianca said...

Yeah, we were lucky to see a few! Since, we haven't had much to speak of. There have been a couple of days of convection with a bit of lightning scattered around the western half of the state, but nothing really photogenic.

I'm still at a loss regarding the card. I've written it off at this point.