Saturday, March 31, 2012

2011 Storm Chase 14 - July 7th - Lightning Strikes Twice In The Desert

Catching up on a few 2011 entries since I'm still backlogged on 2012 imagery...

This entry details a storm chase from July 7th, 2011.

With the Monsoon in full swing on the Western Slope, I actually started to have a little hope that I'd get the opportunity to see a decent storm or two.  On the previous evening, I scored my first "bolt in frame" shot on the Western Slope, as unmemorable as it was.  This evening yielded yet another possibility for lightning.

A fast-moving shortwave which you can see in the image below was on its way in and by 2Z, convection began to erupt in eastern Utah.  I headed out into the desert to set up and await my chance. 

I found a nice spot to park, turned on some jams and awaited the storms.  Luckily, as the shortwave passed, we actually got surface-based convection in the valley!  (That's a rarity).  This time around, I was much more successful at capturing some good images.  Here are a few:

Finally, I was starting to feel a little better about the weather out here. 

Detail Map:

Mileage: 16
2011YTD Mileage: 1662
States: Colorado
SPC Risk: Categorical
Max Hail: None
Tornadoes: None
Other Phenomena:  None
Applicable Mesoscale Discussions: None
Applicable Weather Watches: None
Storm Reports for July 7th


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012 - March 6th - West Fork Pollock Canyon, McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area / Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness

I probably spend more time than I'd care to admit using Google Earth.  I remember the first time that I had found out that Google Earth was coming into existence.  I about lost my mind.  I spend a considerable amount of time perusing maps; I have since I was a child.  Believe it or not, my desire to look upon a map is what initially got me into weather.  But that's another story.

I have often explained to people that the waterfalls on the Uncompahgre Plateau usually exist along the exposures of Precambrian rock.  For whatever reason, I had neglected to use Google Earth to find the Precambrian exposures.  Imagine my excitement when I realized that many of the canyons that I had not explored yet had Precambrian exposures.  Looking closely into the forks of Pollock Canyon, I saw what I thought might be plunge pools or areas of water likely carved by a waterfall or cascade.

 Possible Plunge Pool
I searched online for images of possible waterfalls in Pollock Canyon but came up empty.  I knew that I would have to see for myself.  So, on my next available day off, I decided to head out. 

It was happenstance that I'd be hiking on the day prior to a storm once again.  Somehow that was becoming a common thread in 2012.  Winds were expected to pick up in the afternoon which would carry in dust from the rest of the Southwest.  Clouds would also be on the increase, so I was hoping for at least a little good light early.

I hit the trail a little later than planned, but was up on the Pollock Bench by 1PM.  The winds were strong, especially along the exposed sandstone ledges overlooking the Flume Creek drainage.  Wave clouds were already setting up in the lee of Grand Mesa.  

Waves over Grand Mesa

I made good time across the bench and descended onto the lower bench in the Pollock Canyon drainage.  The terrain seemed remarkably more forgiving than my previous trip through that area, the last time being on my return trip from the fourteen and a half mile Rattlesnake Arches adventure where I ran out of water. 

I had plenty of water and Gatorade with me this time and a much shorter route, rounding out around eight miles.  On my previous trip, I had neglected to take any pictures of the homes carved into the sandstone north of the wilderness boundary in Pollock Canyon, so I paused and did just that.

I also noticed a small arch in a sandstone fin across the canyon! (Look under the "a" in Dann)

I was blessed with a decent amount of sunshine before the big deck of clouds drifted in.  This gave me the opportunity for a few good sun-on-sandstone-and-blue-sky pictures. 

As I rounded the corner and began to head south, upstream on the canyon's middle bench, the clouds moved in and stuck around for the rest of the day.

Mossy Detail

As I reached the rim of the canyon, I encountered another solo hiker and exchanged brief tales about the long route to Rattlesnake. He seemed to be out without a specific destination.  I had a definite goal in mind.  

I paused to marvel at the canyon and remembered my first thoughts upon reaching it last spring.  "How the hell am I going to get down?"  

Which was immediately followed by: "And how the hell do I climb out of the other side??"

Luckily, that trail had already been blazed, so I found it much easier.  Soon, I was creekside at the bottom of the canyon.  Much to my delight, there was water in the wash.  It was milky, but flowing none the less.  Running water allows for the possibility of waterfalls, for those not following along.

I made haste up-canyon and headed right at the big canyon junction.  The canyon bottom wasn't anything unique compared to other canyons in the area.  The was was sandy and gravelly with plenty of exposed sandstone on the walls, which occasionally narrowed.  I knew once I entered the West Fork, I would be only a half mile from the Precambrian exposure.  Before I even got there, I found a nice drop in the sandstone. 

Not too much longer after that, I reached the pool that I had observed on Google Earth.  While there wasn't a towering waterfall, a nice little chute of about teen feet was a satisfying outcome. 

I paused here for a while, ate some trail mix and had a little Gatorade.  Then, I wandered around the vicinity, taking photos. 

Then, against my better judgement, I attempted to climb the rock next to the falls.  My first attempt ended in failure.  I just couldn't find good enough footholds to carry me up the face.  I ended up finding a much taller route, but that one was a little easier to manage.  Up above the pool now, I continued upstream, where several more cascades, chutes and drops could be found.  I eventually made it to a drop that I couldn't climb.  Water was falling down in curtains, but wasn't too concentrated in any one area.  I'd imagine during higher flow, this waterfall would be much more impressive.

I wedged myself into the little alcove and attempted to take a few hand-held long(er) exposures.  I was reasonably successful.  (The blurry ones are not shown!)

These boots are made for gettin' dirty.

Detail shot of the upper falls.

A nice little slide.

Looking back up.

A hidden cascade.

And finally, down the lower chute.

One of the biggest things I've learned while hiking is that just because you climb down something, doesn't mean you can get back up.  One of the other biggest things I've learned while hiking is that just because you climb up something doesn't mean you can climb down.  File this next step under the latter.  If you'll recall, there were two routes that I attempted while climbing the lower drop.  The first, I had to abandon.  Ultimately, the way I climbed up did not look suitable for climbing down.  So, I tried the first route and slowly worked my way down.  I came to a point where I could no longer get a good foothold and realized that I would have to jump.  So, here's how it worked: I slid down on my butt until the last foothold and then used it to launch myself forward, my arms adding a burst.  Luckily, I made it over the drink and landed feet-first in the soft mud. 

A final view of the pool.

With my goal achieved, I decided to head back home.  The skies had clouded up completely and the wind was occasionally mixing down to the canyon bottoms. 

Small arch on the canyon wall.

Once back up on the bench between the lower canyon and the higher area known as Pollock Bench, I found some hail from the previous storms that had rolled through.  See: 2012 Storm Chase 2 Report.

By the time I got up into the higher reaches of the canyon, I could really see the dust in the air.  What a change from earlier in the day!

Okay, not dust, but broccoli-mossy.

Here's the dust again, looking off the Pollock Bench.

Now looking east, over the valley.
Dusty, but notice the wave clouds still present. 

You can barely see the Book Cliffs in the background. (Colorado River middle ground)

After reaching my car, checked some satellite imagery and noticed that it was relatively clear to the west.  It occurred to me that the clearing may allow some sunshine in under the cloud deck at sunset, so I drove north of Fruita and found a nice position to watch the sunset.  Just as I suspected, with the dust in the air, it was spectacular.

Its funny that after a day, deep in the canyon, the best photos would come from sunset.  You always have to be ready, I guess! 

I didn't have the time or motivation to explore the East Fork of Pollock Canyon, but I plan to head back.  There is evidence on satellite of a few more pools in the Precambrian exposures.  Another time!  This hike ended up being about 8 miles round-trip with 400ft of max elevation change (though there was a lot of up and down).

Here's a useful map:


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 Storm Chase 2 - February 28th - Meanwhile, On The Other Side Of The Hill

I hadn't planned on chasing storms on this particular Tuesday, February the 28th, but somehow it just worked out that way.  I was indeed hoping that something would have happened the day before, but we were still in warm air advection mode, which is not a good place to be on the Western Slope in the late winter if you want convection.  It's simply too warm aloft.  Well, the cold front passed overnight and brought rain to the valleys, which was nice.  However, in the late afternoon as the upper level low was moving through, lapse rates increased dramatically.  Convection began to fire up around the area, complete with lightning strikes.  I left home and went in to work to consult with my colleague Eddie and take a closer look at the data from my work computers.  Here was the general setup:

SPC actually had is in a categorical risk for thunderstorms on that day.  20Z Outlook

As we were sitting there, strong convection began to develop along the northernmost edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau, just south of I-70.  There seemed to be some sort of line of convergence there, perhaps minor troughing in the ULL.  Suddenly, the radar lit up with lightning strikes and even a 0.25" hail marker.  I was quickly on the road and headed northwest.

I planned to head up to I-70 to do a little minesweeping of the core as they passed over the populated portions of the valley near Fruita.  As I reached I-70, however, I looked back to the east to see something that looked a lot more dramatic than it actually was. 

Keep in mind, the view is looking east.  Mid-level inflow to the convection was coming in from the northwest, however, so the bases of the storms were in fact on the north sides of their respective downdrafts.  After a brief photo-op, I got on 70 and headed west to the next exit, then dropped onto US 6/50 which parallels the interstate so that I could have more mobility.

I cored the first cell just to the southeast of Fruita and for the first time in a long, long time, I heard hail on the windshield.  What a glorious sound!

I'm not sure if I have shared my hail scale before, so here it goes:

Tinks - 0.25" to 0.5"
Dinks - 0.5"+ to 1"
Donks - 1"+ to 2"
Bonks - 2+ to 3"
Gonks - 3"+

These were certainly tinks.  In fact, after the first, initial blast of hail, it became soft very fast and definitely more into grauple territory.  I stopped in a pull-out and opened the window, turning the inside of the vehicle into a popcorn machine.  Then, I got out and experienced the core. 

(mobile phone image)

After the initial wave passed through, most of the activity began to fade.  A burst of convection occurred the north, over the desert and I headed toward that initially, but I realized I wasn't going to catch it before it reached the Book Cliffs, so I turned back and decided to re-immerse myself in weaker convection firing along the original line back to the west of Fruita.

Just east of Loma, I got into a nice rain/snow shower with grauple mixed in and found a nice place to stop and enjoy the precip.  It turned out to be reasonably photogenic too. 

As the storm passed, the sun tried to come out a bit.  This led to a grauplebow.  Boom.

After it cleared, I decided to head north and look for a good position to take advantage of the lighting conditions.  I knew that sunset would soon be approaching, so I explored a bit to find and area worth shooting.

Finally, in full sun, the back side of the departing storms looked absolutely stellar.  There's something about winter convection that is unique and very pleasing to the eye. 

Looking northeast from 16Rd

And due east...


As I reached the periphery of the desert, the Book Cliffs looked fantastic and weak convection was firing off to my northwest again.

Waves break on the Book Cliffs, freshly painted with grauple and snow.

Weak convection north in the desert.

Looking northwest into Utah

Golden hour.

For the actual sunset, I headed back to Loma and stopped just south of the interstate.  A weak shower moving over the Grand Valley turned with the setting sun's light.

And the clouds out east looked pretty nice too...

Convection died off with the setting of the sun, so I stopped back at work for a moment before heading home.  Meanwhile in Nebraska, good friends were chasing tornadoes.  But for me, it felt absolutely fantastic to get out and chase something worth chasing.

One crazy note from the day:  The moment I left the station, the lightning stopped.  I did not see lightning nor did I hear thunder.  I swear, though, before I left, it was lit up!  Guess I'll have to wait a while longer for my annual viewing of "Twister".  For those not in the know, I always watch that terribly awesome movie every year after the first time I hear thunder.

Oh yeah, and my good buddies Scott Hammel and Eric Treece spent their day chasing the first tornadoes ever to be recorded in Nebraska in the month of February.  

Detail Map:

Mileage: 57
2012YTD Mileage: 79
States: Colorado
SPC Risk: Categorical
Max Hail: 0.25"
Tornadoes: None
Other Phenomena:  Grauplebow
Applicable Mesoscale Discussions: None
Applicable Weather Watches: None
Storm Reports for February 28th

Other Chasers' Reports:
- Scott Hammel - Stapleton Nebraska Tornadoes