MAY 19: Fri - Day 1 - Travel Day:
Nancy and I left Bernville at 0945 EDT during a heavy downpour. A slight risk of severe thunderstorms was forecast for southwestern Pa and parts of Ohio...good, we would need to drive through this region on my way to Altamont, Ill. The only storm encounter however was just east of Somerset, PA when we witnessed a rather anemic looking mammatus field from a severe storm located to our south. We arrived in Altamont at 2130 CDT with the first 755 miles behind us.
MAY 20: Sat - Day 2 - Travel Day:
We were greeted by cloudy and cool conditions (53F) as we departed Altamont at 0820 CDT. Today I would need to decide either to head westward via I-70 to the Central Plains or southwestward via I-44 to the Southern Plains of Texas and Oklahoma. The SPC had issued a slight risk area for the OK/TX Panhandle region for later in the day, but this appeared to be convective activity that would form after dark. SPC’s Day 2 outlook was almost the same. Longer range models painted an even bleaker picture across ALL the Plains states for the next several days and an updated data check at lunch time remained unchanged. I decided to head for the Southern Plains to start my 2000 chase vacation. We made it to El Reno, OK (just west of OKC) by 2000 CDT. At that time TWC showed a line of weak storms stretching from NE KS southwestward into the NW TX Panhandle, with the strongest storms (1” hail) near DDC. Just after sunset I could see dark anvil material off to my west and northwest from the storms over the northwestern TX Panhandle, but no lightning. I could not have made these storms, but I would have at least seen some storm activity had I chosen the northerly route via I-70 through KS. In essence, I had forfeited a look at the weaker storms of today in hopes of being in a better position to intercept more promising storms tomorrow, but this still appeared to be a long shot.
MAY 21: Sun - Day 3 - Big Country Bust:
I was finally able to make contact with Bill Reid Sunday morning and discovered that he was located only about 100 miles directly to my west in Shamrock, TX. We discussed the prospects for today and they didn’t look good.. not only for today, but for the next several days. “Maybe I should head back to Pa” he suggested, in fact he was considering giving up chasing for a few days so that he could visit his sister in Denver, CO. We debated if we should get together (he was hanging out with Cheryl Chang and Cindy Rose), and they were going to visit Palo Duro Canyon south of AMA (Amarillo). “There was a 20% chance of POPS” (probability of precipitation), I recall him saying. Again, I wanted to go after a bigger prize. This would prove to be the biggest mistake of my chase trip. To my south in Texas there was some weak moisture convergence, old outflow boundaries from last nights convection, decent instability, and strong westerly winds in the upper levels (but weaker backed winds at 850 MB level). Only a good lifting mechanism was missing, but that is like saying the table is only missing one leg. We eventually headed after a few weak looking towers about 60 miles south of ABI (Abilene). These pathetic updrafts soon died and we abandoned any hope of a good storm just south of Coleman, TX. Dejected, I watched some pretty colors filtering through the upper clouds just after sunset from our booth in the local Pizza Hut. Uh-oh, maybe I should have waited and taken a photo op of those dying towers...the colors would have been awesome.
The next day I found out that Bill had taken over three rolls of film and two hours of video filming a beautiful collection of mammatus, storm bases lit up by the setting sun, hail shafts, lightning, etc. from a couple of storms that erupted near the Palo Duro area..."some of his best"! This was not shaping up as good way to start my chase vacation!
MAY 22: Mon - Day 4 - Head North:
We knew early on that we would have to head north away from the sinking air associated with an upper level ridge that was about to settle in over the area. North Central Texas was going to be hopelessly capped and would feel like a bake oven! There was a NW to SE oriented short wave trough that should arrive in the southeast TX Panhandle near CDS (Childress) by 1500 CDT, so that would be our initial target area. We had strong southwesterly winds (ouch) all the way from ABI to CDS as the dew point dropped to 50 and the temperature soared to 102! A few cu developed overhead as we approached CDS, but with little moisture or lift I wasn’t too impressed.
A data stop in CDS revealed much higher DP’s from OKC eastward, better convergence, and surface winds that may back according to the RUC-II. We blasted east on I-40 and arrived in OKC by 1800 CDT. There were some TCu to our east for awhile, but these eventually dissipated. Another data stop just north of OKC revealed there was one monstrous isolated storm cell east of Fort Smith, this was the only game in town and it was too far east for us to intercept. There was still a small cu field back to the SW of CDS on 1km VIS SAT and virtually nothing over eastern OK. The only thing is KS was a large Cirrus shield moving southward across the entire state. We ended the day back in El Reno at the same hotel we were in two nights ago. Another chase day had passed and we had nothing to show for our efforts, maybe Bill was right and I should head back to PA...and start this trip all over again at a later date.
May 23: Tue - Day 5 - Northern Lights:
We met Bill, Cheryl, and Cindy for lunch in El Reno and then decided to head to eastern KS. There was good directional shear in the low and mid levels of the atmosphere and a weak cold front that should provide some surface convergence. The cap was weaker, but still around 25C @ 850 MB and 12C @ 700. Theta E would be best across southeast KS (60 + DP’s) and the CAPE was forecast by the ETA to range from 1500 - 2500. These were all positives, but a lot would depend on the timing of the FROPA. The negatives were a weak low and mid level flow as well as weak convergence. Again, the CAP may be the biggest concern.
We drove to El Dorado, KS and met up with about a dozen other chasers (Dave Fogel, Elke, Jimmy, John, Kim Martucci, Jack Corso, Nick Nicholson, Steve Sponsler, John Moore, Jim Williams and others). We could see a weak area of convergence indicated by a few small cu (this was confirmed by a wider area satellite view), but the cap was just too strong. Finally just at sunset we could see a decent tower go up well off to our ENE.
We blasted after this (it was further than I thought) and we drove about 70 miles east, but never could catch this cell. We stopped well after dark to watch some occasional lightning that was illuminating the updrafts and soon became puzzled by what appeared to by an afterglow from the sun behind our storm. The only problem was that the sun had set to our WNW and this storm was to our ENE. Cindy yelled out that "it’s the Northern Lights"...fantastic, a storm backlit by Aurora Borealis, albeit a faint one. Later we found out that this cell was located about 50 miles to our east over the KS/MO border, we were located near Lola, KS. This made for an interesting end to a chase day that would have otherwise been a total bust. Total Miles logged 433.
May 24: Wed - Day 6 - The Wheeler Bell:
We left Wichita, KS by 11:00 AM with a target in mind somewhere in the vicinity of the OK Panhandle or Extreme NE part of the TX Panhandle. An east/west boundary was set up across this region which would serve as a focusing mechanism for storm development later in the day. Good moisture and an upslope flow would get storms initiated in SW CO, and these should ride along the boundary into our target area. SWODY1 had this area listed as a slight risk of (isolated) severe storms. By 1:00 PM, the SPC’s MCD (Mesoscale Convective Discussion) indicated that initiation would now likely start around Gage, OK. Around 4:00 PM we watched TWC via my dish and saw that there was now a Tornado Watch Box for all of the TX and OK Panhandles.
Somewhere along Road 412 in the OK Panhandle, I believe near Elmwood, we stopped at a large chaser convergence to discuss strategy with others and wait a bit for things to initiate...it didn’t take long. A storm soon went up to our west near Guymon and we were soon on our way to meet it. There was another decent looking storm to our SSW that began to lure some chasers away. We cut south near Hardesty in an attempt to get south and ahead of the updraft region of our target storm. Another storm to our east (the same one the other chasers went after?) seemed to have cut off the energy to our storm and we soon found ourselves in front of an outflow dominant mess. At this point, the best choice appeared to be further south out and away from this mess, and maybe intercept something more isolated that would be receiving all the good juice from our south. Bill led the way south on US 83 through Canadian and we could soon see a cell well off to our SSW that might be a tail end Charlie. As we continued south on US 83, we were starting to get better views of what appeared to be a well defined bell shaped updraft region on the north side of this storm. The upper region was still being obscured by some pesky low level clouds. South of Canadian we finally got a view of this gorgeous LP storm! The storm exhibited a large classic bell shaped updraft in laminar layers and even sprouted a second updraft base located on the storms south side about mid way up the main updraft tower...just awesome! Another interesting feature was the longest beaver’s tail I had ever seen, it stretched for miles off to our northeast. We took a quick photo stop (not long enough) and headed south again for one more intercept before darkness fell.
We had several more good views of this storm while driving, but never did get to stop for more tripoded footage, as more and more rain was being blown out of this storm. We made one final film stop just south of Shamrock and watched the storm, now to our north, being ingested into a black mass of other clouds and darkness as we were being hit with strong winds from our north...and the show was over. To date, this was the prettiest LP Supercell I had ever seen!
May 25: Thu - Day 7 - Arcus Surprise:
Bill Reid, Cheryl Chang, Nancy and I left the Shamrock Inn in Shamrock, Tx at 11:30 AM with plans to stop near AMA for data, then go north at least to Stratford, TX. Cindy Rose decided to head back to her home in Wyoming. Today’s setup looked quite similar to yesterday’s. SPC’s outlook was for a moderate risk in the northeastern TX Panhandle, all the OK Panhandle, and the southwestern corner of KS. The frontal boundary that had pushed south yesterday was now stationary to our south, but was progged to move back north as a warm front. This, coupled with good instability and good turning of winds with height should support supercell thunderstorms. The only negative was the weak wind fields in the mid and upper levels. Heavy overcast and drizzle lasting well past Noon began to dampen our earlier enthusiasm. Where was that darn warm front that should have cleared out this mess!? The 18Z 1km VIS SAT image showed clearing over the extreme western Panhandles, so we stuck with our plan to head north, as things would hopefully clear out nicely and allow us to see some great looking storms that would initiate over NE NM and move northeastward into the western OK Panhandle or Baca County, CO.
We drove all the way north to Springfield CO on route 287, but just could not shake an awful cirrus shield mixed with mid level junkus. We hooked up the sat dish to TWC and saw numerous storms spreading rapidly across NE NM. The best looking storms now (about 5:30 PM) were just below LBB, with another nice looking cell near TCC. The TCC storm was moving to the NE and had no other storm on its trail. We really had no other option but to turn around and retrace our route back to where we were an hour prior. We figured we could intercept this storm either in Dalhart or Stratford. About 15 minutes into this return trip we noticed a line of nicely sculptured clouds forming just above the horizon off to our west and out ahead of those storms moving in from our southwest. We pulled over for a photo op as soon as we exited a rain shaft, what a fantastic scene that was unfolding! This Arcus/shelf cloud had several huge light gray humps that undulated above a very dark blue/green base. The whole thing was coming at us fast and we were soon looking up at the “Whale’s Mouth”!
The show ended soon, and we got blasted by the outflow wind and rain. At Stratford we were greeted by even heavier rain from what was now a messy line of storms...not the large cell at the back of the line we had been hoping for. We had to head further east and south to get below this stuff. The only problem was, there was just more “stuff” there too! We found a semi-isolated cell that was intensifying off to our SE near Sunray just before sunset. May as well try to get some colorful cloud structure photos! There was a beautiful red glow beneath part of the base for a short time, with an occasional CG as well as a few anvil crawlers above. More storms began to ignite the sky to our southeast, and it was getting hard to choose where to point our cameras! All in all, it was not nearly the day we had expected given the potential for tornadic activity, but it wasn’t a total bust either. Thanks to Steve Sponsler for supplying real time updates and suggesting chase routes via cell phone throughout the afternoon!
May 26: Fri - Day 8 - The Left Split Slugger:
Today the best upper dynamics and instabilities would be in place to our south. Our initial target was Altus, OK. Excellent moisture and instability were in place there, with CAPES possibly exceeding 5000 j/kg. There was also a mid and upper level speed max in place along with a LLJ that was rather strong, and a decent southeasterly flow at the surface. Supercells seemed a sure bet, BUT may take a little while to get going due to high LCL (lifting condensation levels) that would not be lowering until late in the day. Chris Kridler joined us and we were planning to meet with Martin Lisius as well.
Around 1:00 PM we stopped for data at Shamrock and met with several other chasers (Matt Crowther, John Moore, etc.) and generally agreed extreme SW OK or just over the Red River near Childress, Quanah, to Seymore line for storm initiation sometime after 4:00 PM. Visible SAT Imagery showed a developing CU line beginning to form in this area as well. We hooked up with Martin near Crowell and decided to drift a bit further east. We hung out across the street from a 50’s style gas station for about an hour near the town of Thalia and kept an eye on a decent cell to our south that showed some promise. Convective development to our north also needed to monitored. Since we were able to get live updates we soon decided to blow off the southern storm and head northeast to new and rapidly developing towers.
We had an excellent looking CB rocket skyward just north of the Red River in OK, but this was not rooted in the rich boundary layer moisture as was evident from the high base. Next, a warning was issued for the storm we had watched for so long back to our south near Crowell and Lockett. What the heck...we should have just stayed where we were! On to the next exploding storm (I began to loose track of how many times we crossed the Red River). We soon had good dark lowerings evident in the updraft base of a storm off to our southeast, but we needed to blast further east in order to get ahead of the storms rain/hail core, maybe somewhere around Vernon. Unfortunately, this storm soon split and the left mover rocketed north at over 50 MPH and ran right over us! Our four vehicle caravan had no choice but to sit tight and ride it out. Downburst winds began rocking the vehicles and we had to point them into or away from the wind. Winds roared steadily for several minutes at over 50 MPH with a peak wind gust recorded at 62 MPH! Hail slammed us and we did see a few baseballs bounce, uh-oh, more hail dents.
By happenstance a van with a mother and her children had decided to park with our little chase group to ride out the event as well. While we were somewhat concerned about the large hail, we were not concerned about a tornado as winds were bursting from the southeast and tornadic inflow would have been inbound from our north, relative to our position from the main updraft base. The kids seemed to be marveled by the whole experience, but the mother looked absolutely terrorized and no doubt questioned the sanity of her current companions.
Our storm was history, so we headed back towards that tornadic cell near Crowell. The sun was setting fast and so were our chances of catching up with a tornado. We were however treated to a very pretty backlit CB at sunset with awesome colors. I believe this was in Greer County, OK. All in all, another great chase day. TWC iconed two tornadoes just to our south in Haskell and Throckmorton Counties. Those were very brief and were not all the exciting according to chaser reports.
May 27: Sat - Day 9 - The White Funnel:
The setup for today was once again similar to yesterday, but even more explosive. Great, just a couple hours drive back south over the Red River and we should be back in business. The only negative looked to be that today was going to be an early show with convective initiation getting started by early afternoon---not good! As we were heading towards our initial target between Vernon and Wichita Falls we could already see a long line of back building CB’s stretching off to our southwest, and it was only NOON! By 1:30 chaser reports were coming in over the ham radio about a tornado on the ground near Archer City, TX. We were already in route to Archer City with an ETA time of 35 minutes. Martin started choreographing exactly what everyone should be doing..”we had to drive fast, but safely”. Things started happening at hyper speed as our four vehicle caravan shared a plethora of information. Bill monitored TV channel 7 for live radar, scanner for spotter reports, an AM radio for breaking weather bulletins, and the CB. Nancy and I monitored TV Channel 6, NOAA weather radio, spotter reports on scanner, and assisted in navigation. Martin monitored GPS tracking, ham radio frequencies, and constant cell phone communication with several other chasers and/or meteorologists for live updates. All this information was constantly shared via the CB’s between the vehicles. At the same time we had to watch out very closely for new rotation which could occur anywhere, even overhead. Of course, everyone was videotaping or taking photos as well.
We met up with base of the Archer City storm just west of town and observed a few lowerings. We were too late for the reported tornadoes. Other rotating storms were just to our east, but were starting to go linear. We had to break through this line and get east of the storms fast in order to be in good position to view tornadic development. As we were breaking through the line we could see a white funnel dropping below the dark base of the more dominant storm to our northeast.
We were located about mid way between Loving and Jermyn on Rt 114 racing east at this time. The funnel rotated about 2/3 of the way to the ground, but we could not confirm ground circulation. Tim Marshall was also not able to confirm ground contact from his vantage point east of the funnel. That being said, the NWS report did list it as a tornado, so TWC would have iconed it as the one in Jack County, TX.
After that it was tough to make a decision. We made a couple of photos stops just east of Jacksboro, exiting each time the rain/hail core approached. A decision was made to head back through the core in order to get to newly warned upon storms to our west. The core was not as bad as we had anticipated (we don’t like doing this) and we were lucky to only encounter heavy rain, some marble size hail, and winds less than severe limits, possibly around 45 MPH. We got on a few more decent cells with wall clouds right up until dark, but no tornado. Martin headed back home to Fort Worth, and we again met up with David Fogel and his crew near the last storm of the day. We lost three members of the group after dinner. Cheryl Chang had to get back home, Chris Kridler had other plans, and Bill Reid had some work to do in Denver. The rest of us decided we had to get north ASAP as things would becoming capped and storms would not form in the southern plains for a while. We drove 300 miles north to Wichita, KS arriving at 2:30 AM for a few hours sleep. We wanted to be in Winner, SD by 7:00 PM the next day, and that would just put us on the southern edge of SPC’s day 2 slight risk of severe boundary. After that, Memorial Day (day 2) the NE Panhandle looked good....or maybe IOWA!
May 28: Sun - Day 10 - Get North Day!
Nancy and I, along with Dave, Kim, Elke, Jimmy, and John made the long trek north to SD. We had 20-25 MPH southeasterly winds all the way while the dewpoints remained in the mid 50’s, and some high cirrostratus streamed in from the west. By late afternoon TWC showed two thin lines of showers beginning to form over the south central NE Panhandle, but nothing in NW SD as anticipated! We decided to head straight west on Rt 18 across the southern border of SD so we could keep an eye on any building cu to our northwest. I suspected the stuff to our north would not arrive until after nightfall, and the convective towers and anvils to our SW began to look more attractive the farther west we went. The last tower on this east/west line looked decent for a short time with a nice backsheared anvil and a strong looking updraft tower. A few more pretty towers on the northern side of this line made a valiant attempt to become full fledged CB’s, but didn’t quite make it. Just west of Merriman, NE we stopped for a photo op, but everything fell apart just as the sun was setting. About 45 minutes after sunset we could see a distant anvil well off to our NW that exhibited a bit of IC lightning.
We really were not expecting too much today for the 720 miles driven, so it was hard to be disappointed. The main goal was to get the heck up there and be in position for the next few days. Goal accomplished!
May 29: Mon - (Memorial Day) Day 11 - Box Butte Beauty:
We had brunch in Chadron and finally got moving around Noon, figuring we would not have to travel very far. A NE/SW oriented cold front was nearly stationary across the NW corner of NE and a warm front curved to the southeast out of a low over the lower NE Panhandle. The best moisture convergence, instability, and CAPE axis appeared to be in a triangle from Chadron south to Alliance, then northeast to Valentine between the cold front and the warm front that was progged to push north later in the day. Helicity was sufficient for Supercells.
I saw the first convective towers go up about 30 miles to our SSW just as we were finishing brunch and we all decided they looked decent enough to investigate further. We headed south on Rt. 385 at a leisurely pace enjoying the view of these developing towers, as they did show some promise. I thought it might be nice to take a photo op of an isolated developing storm to our south over the Box Butte Lake Reservoir. We lingered there for about 45 minutes taking pictures of the pretty pulse type storm that offered a nice backdrop to the lake. There were a few rumbles of thunder, and I think the picnic people were becoming somewhat concerned about our presence. We decided to continue further south to Alliance and get a better look at the base. We committed to this storm in Alliance and decided to head east of Route 2, which paralled the path of this storm which was now just to our south. Soon, a severe warning was issued for this storm that was now effecting southern Sheridan County. Hey..our pretty storm was now getting serious!
The base lowered and started getting more organized by the time we reached Hyannis in Grant County, so it was time to head south on Rt 61 and get ahead of the approaching updraft base. Every now and then we could actually get a good look at a very nicely sculptured base to our west when those darn Sand Hills weren’t in the way. We found Jack “Thunderhead” Corso leaning casually against his car and looking down a sweeping valley at this spectacle. Farther south we passed a few more chase vehicles and two tour groups (Silver Lining and Cloud 9). We found a sweeping vista of our own for an incredible view of the updraft base. By now it had a multi-tiered base to the WSW with the rain core and CG activity off to our WNW. Very menacing looking! At one point the RFB (rain free base) took on a circular look and appeared to be wrapping up with an inflow tail streaming off to the southwest. Rotating cloud rings under the base were evident and I even got some video from outside the passenger side window of a small rapidly rotating eddy just overhead. The severe warning was primarily for strong winds and a peak wind gust of 72 MPH was recorded near Arthur. We encountered numerous branches down along Rt 61 in Arthur County. We finally bailed out from under this storm around 7:00 PM CDT, 6 hours after photographing the first TCu.
This was the most awesome looking “under the base” structure I have ever encountered. Alas, our storm had aligned itself with others to the north and the once finely sculptured base became a featureless gray mass to our east. We were given a final treat near sunset as the upper structure and mammatus from these storms were set aglow in pinks and oranges over the eastern horizon.
May 30: Tue - Day 12 - Des Moines Frenzy:
When I woke up this morning I was fairly certain I would be chasing somewhere in the southern NE Panhandle. After reviewing the morning data, I was still convinced I should place myself somewhere between Sidney & Kimball. Sooo..how did we end up on a frantic chase through the streets of Des Moines, IA!?
Along with David Fogel and his crew, Nancy and I left Valentine, NE by 11:00 AM under cloudy, cool, and drizzly conditions with a strong north wind and the temp was only 52 F! By the time we arrived in LBF (North Platte), the conditions remained unchanged...Hmmm didn’t this just happen a few days ago in the Texas Panhandle? This was not encouraging at all. We stopped at the library in LBF for a much needed data check and found 1km vis sat image showing a solid NE/SW oriented cloud shield across NE had not budged at all in the last three hours! As expected the moderate risk in the lower NE Panhandle region had been downgraded to slight. There was just no insolation and it was already nearly 2:00 PM CDT. LBF discussion was even cautious in using the word “severe” for later in the day! I really didn’t want to give up on another western NE chase, nor did I want to drive all the way to Iowa towards that moderate risk, but we really had no other choice. Just a few reasons: Along with good insolation, Capes were as high as 5000 j/kg, LI’s -8 to -10 located in the warm sector over SW IA. Cap strength less than 2C and surface winds SSE at 15 to 25 MPH. Deep layer shear supported Supercells. Upper level winds were the only weak factor, favoring HP’s.
We were soon blasting east on I-80 and we couldn’t wait to see the sun again. By the time we reached Kearney the sun was shining brightly and we had 90 degree temps and dp’s in the low 70’s. Each discussion on NOAA wx-radio sounded more encouraging. We learned along the way that we had probably made the best decision. The chasers (Matt Crowther, Steve Sponsler, etc.) that opted to head west into WY in search of clearing skies were seeing nothing and now could no longer make the long run east into IA.
Conditions remained clear and capped all the way east to Council Bluffs before we saw the first anemic convective clouds off to our southeast. We sat up the dish for a look at TWC in Oakland, IA and saw convection was starting to fire just NW of DSM (Des Moines). It was now 6:45 PM CDT and we still had 95 miles to go! The storms were only moving east at 20 MPH, so maybe, just maybe we could make it and still have a bit of light to spare.
Keith Brown and Larry Cosgrove both contacted us with encouraging news. There were three Supercells oriented on a N/S axis line with the strongest one just north of I-80 west of DSM and...that we had better get moving!
Finally, we could start to see the top edge of the anvil about 50 miles west of DSM through the haze and scattered low clouds. Soon, the blue sky outlined the backsheared anvil, the updraft tower, and a couple of good looking flanking line towers...very nice! Thirty miles west of DSM we could start to make out the storms base and a precip core, GREAT! I was also getting crystal clear and continuous radar images on my TV from Channel 7 (I believe) out of DSM. Now it was 7:45 PM and reports were coming in from their “chasers” in the field about base lowerings, funnel clouds, and even some dust whirls on the ground. Large hail was falling in Polk County about 8 miles north of DSM and radar loops were starting to show appendages wrapping around the main updraft near Saylorsville. This thing was getting its act together and it was barely crawling east, but I was now dreading the fact the darkness was upon us and we would soon be heading into a highly urbanized area.
We cut north on I-35/80, the northern loop around DSM that would lead us directly to the nearly stationary updraft base and wall cloud area that was being shown on both radar and by live camera. Needless to say traffic was intense and everyone seemed to be rushing about in some sort of a storm induced frenzy! We could see the dark bowl shaped lowering just to our north with an eerie dark orange glow beneath...we were almost under it! We had to stop going north NOW, and took the very next exit and immediately pulled into a gas station for better look at the lowering to our north.
CG’s were becoming quite intense and getting closer. We took some quick footage of the dark lowerings and rising (rotating?) scud and CG’s, then got the heck moving east on the only available road away from the storms approach. Unfortunately, this was a heavily traveled shopping district full of car dealers, strip malls, restaurants, etc. I took some footage of the CG activity from the open passenger window as the tornado sirens wailed loudly and my TV read off numerous reports of “a tornado was spotted on the ground at...” We could see nothing back to our west except street lights, trees, and buildings all being backlit by the intense lightning flashes. All I wanted at this point was to get the heck out of town and away from the street lights, traffic, etc. We finally dropped back south and east of DSM by about 10 miles and set up our camera equipment on a dark country lane with a full view of the sky to our north. What a show! We took video and stills for over an hour until newly developing storms approached our position. The nice gentle inflow winds from the south suddenly increased to a roar and it was time to pack up and leave!
This was another chase day that turned out totally different from what I had expected in the morning! I just wish we could have arrived about 15 minutes sooner and in found ourselves in a rural setting. I’ll take the Sand Hills of NE any day over an urban chase! 645 miles logged.
May 31: Wed - Day 13 - Day 2 in Iowa:
Nancy and I spent most of the day visiting the “Bridges of Madison County”, at a very leisurely pace. I was just not motivated to race off to anywhere else, as SW IA had plenty of low level moisture in place, good insolation after 17Z, an east/west frontal boundary sitting in place as well as outflow boundaries from the previous night’s and early morning convection. And, it was going to be a late show.
We met up again with David Fogel and crew during the late afternoon and we decided to head a little further north of our current position in Winterset. This would place us just north of the warm front. DP’s were in the low 70’s and temps in the upper 80’s, the winds were ESE. The best moisture convergence appeared to be just north of I-80 and aligned along the I-35 corridor. We got about 25 miles north of DSM and watched a few wannabe towers quickly evaporate. Winds in Ogden were NNE and temps had dropped to the low 80’s. To the west skies were cloud free. We dropped back south to I-80 and headed west after the back edge of the agitated cu field. Soon we were back in SSE’s and temps in the upper 80’s, but it was now after 7:30 PM. We gave up the “chase” about 12 miles NE of Newton, IA and watched some crazy low level convective clouds forming a few hundred feet AGL. Plumes of moisture were condensing into wind driven fractus and being blown off to the NNE. Shortly after sunset we could see the tops of the towers that had become thunderstorms well off to our north near the ALO (Waterloo) area. We didn’t even get a light show, but the ALO area would be getting inches of rain.
I think the missing ingredient today was “lift”, as there just did not appear to be any focusing mechanism along the frontal boundary to create vertical motion. I felt sure this would occur given the availability of at least one major outflow boundary. I was hopeful that a triple point may occur to the NE of ALO by 00Z Friday, I really hated to see all this moisture and instability go to waste.
June 1: Thu - Day 14 - Last chase day, Iowa again:
I really wanted to head back to the NE Panhandle for the last chase day of our vacation, but there was just no incentive to do so. And, I was already in NE IA near the edge of SPC’s moderate risk, so we decided to stay local. FROPA (frontal passage) was expected by 4:00 PM CDT on a line from Manchester SSW to Fairfield. Again, we were in a good area of moisture convergence, insolation, and the late day lift provided by the approaching cold front was sure to trigger off strong storms. The 700 mb cap was high enough to hold back convective initiation until at least 9Z. 0-6 km shear was weak, but marginal for supercells. David’s analysis confirmed what I was thinking, head a little north and east of our current position in Newton to somewhere between Manchester to Vinton to Cedar Rapids. I didn’t want to go deeper into the SPC’s moderate risk into extreme NE IA or SW WI, too many hills and trees!
By 4:00 PM there were many towers with strong vertical growth to look upon, which one would be the one to go?! TWC soon showed that some of the larger towers were showing some reflectivity, AND a tornado warning was being issued for Lafayette County in extreme SW WI. There was no way we could catch that, but we had better get east quickly. We had gotten behind the cold front and were now in strong NW winds, with nothing but clear skies to look at to our west. To our east we could see a very large updraft tower with a solid circular anvil just to the east of Vinton, this would be our target storm. An intercept course was plotted via Route 20 east near Manchester. As we approached this storm went severe.
We reached Dubuque County just as the small core was crossing Route 20. The base was not at all organized, what a waste! But there were new warnings for cells off to our south, and these would be moving northeast at 40 MPH into Wisconsin, yes we could intercept these. We soon entered Lafayette County, WI, but these storms too had lost their severe status. BUT, there was now a report coming in from our nowcaster that there was a significant storm developing just north of Cedar Rapids. Okay, we can see that, it’s only 60 miles to our SW and coming our way. We plotted a course and started heading to Maquoketa, IA. We just crossed back into IA, but the storm was now looking kind of mushy to us. Another urgent call from the nowcaster..,"FORGET THIS STORM, it’s decaying fast", BUT, there are three strong cells developing back WEST of Dubuque and the middle storm is barreling east right over route 20. We were just there an hour ago!
Okay, back north to Dubuque and west through all that dang traffic again, but this time we can see the three cells and the middle one does look mean, and it is coming right at us. Alright then---this is more like it! We could soon make out the base and what might be a developing shelf cloud, but no visible rotation with this storm. We pulled off at the very next exit (Epworth) and set up the cameras on a high spot looking westward. This storm and flanking storms to it’s southwest were sliding off to our northeast. It put on a nice show for us until after sunset and we got some decent video and stills of the changing colors under the base. There was a pretty red and pink glow on the horizon under the storm’s base which backlit a few rain driven rain shafts, and an occasional CG. Not exactly a dramatic ending, but not a total bust either for the last day of our chase vacation 2000 (Part One).
June 2: Fri - Day 15 - Head for home:
Again I would have been willing to make a long drive in the opposite direction towards Nebraska had there been a slight risk of severe storms there, but there wasn’t. Well at least we were as close to home as we had ever been for our last chase day. We drove to Youngstown, Ohio for the night.
June 3: Sat - Day 16 - Arrive home:
A slight risk of severe was issued for the NE Panhandle as the storm cycle repeats, but I am back home in Pennsylvania with another 7983 miles logged on the old chase vehicle.