May 20-21, 2015: Wed & Thu Days 1 & 2 - Departure/Travel Days: I drove a little over 900 miles and made it to Warrenton, MO on day 1 and then on to my son's house in Castle Rock, CO on Day 2 for a total of about 1700 miles. The weather was cloudy and unseasonably cool for the entire trip.
May 22, 2015: Fri - Day 3 - Chase Day - Pueblo CO Supercell : I left Castle Rock by noon and headed west of town to Kiowa. I then drove south towards a promising cell that was slowly drifting east. I followed this cell for awhile but finally left it go near the town of Calhan. I then hung east of town as a series of new storms formed along a convergence line to my north. Other than some interesting base structure those storms had little to offer.
There was a cell forming to my south to the west of Pueblo and that one would be moving into much warmer air. I figured this might be the better play and headed south from Yoder towards Boone on Boone Road. I was able to easily get southeast of this storm as it was barely moving east, but also appeared to be struggling in the low dew point air. Despite this the winds were steady at 15mph hour out of the southeast and I figured it would only be a matter of time until this storm would become better organized. I sat on Boone Hill for about an hour watching this storm before it finally started to show some signs of better base structure. My plan was to then retrace my route back north on Boone Road to intercept the base, and then watch the cell drift off to the east. There were only a few other chasers on Boone Road which made for a very pleasant evening of storm photography. Ended up back in Castle Rock - 285 miles in all.
May 23, 2015: Sat - Day 4 - Chase Day - Lamar Gust Front - Pueblo Storm : Storms went up early as I headed south towards Pueblo, one of which produced a nice funnel cloud that was captured by my son as he was heading north on I-25 south of Colorado Springs. I could see the storm, but not the funnel as it was behind the hill. I then targeted a cluster of severe warned storms to my east near LaJunta, but by the time I got in front of them they had become rather messy. I briefly tried to head south towards Kim after a couple of decent looking young cells, but these too became messy and soon lined out in a squall line fashion. I stopped briefly a few times to look back and take a picture or two east of Lamar.
I then gave up on the chase and headed back west in hopes of finding a pretty storm near sunset, and fortunately found one moving northeast from Pueblo. This one became severe warned for half-dollar size hail briefly but the main show was the pretty scenes it offered in the fading light. Finished up again in Castle Rock with about 450 miles for the day.
May 24, 2015: Sun - Day 5 - Chase Day - Las Animas Co to Castle Rock storms: Once again storms went up early and I found myself behind the main show in far SE CO. My goal was again to capture something more isolated, but there were simply too many competing storms for that to happen. I called it quits east of Las Animas, Colorado photographing a new storm that briefly put on a nice show to my east. At that point I was about 25 miles west of a lead tornado warned storm. I contemplated catching this one but that would have taken me deep into KS along with every other known chaser on the planet, something I would prefer to avoid this season...even at the cost of missing a tornado I headed back east and captured a few pretty cloud base structure images north of the town of Swink, CO. I finished up the day back in Castle Rock just as the sun was setting. A colorful set of rain shafts was being illuminated above the "Sleeping Indian" formation to the southwest of Castle Rock. A relaxing way to end the day---350 miles driven. Castle Rock, CO.
May 25, 2015: Mon - Day 6 - Chase Day - Ellsworth to Great Bend Kansas Storms: My target for today was north central Kansas where there was a slight risk for severe storms. I made it to the western flank of a tornado warned storm near McPherson by late afternoon. I managed to get one good look at the base structure from this storm near Geneseo before dropping south to what seemed to be an endless parade of storms forming along a line to the southwest. It was nice to meet up for awhile with Bill Reid, Rook, Steve & crew north of Lyons as we watched a line of mostly uninteresting storms pass by.
The best show of the day occurred a little later...first near sunset to the west of Lyons when a new tail-end cell developed an intense precipitation core in front of some sunset colors. I then finished up the day in Great Bend right as the sun was setting for a beautiful sunset view just to the west of town. About 475 miles for the day.
May 26, 2015: Tue - Day 7 - Chase Day - Watonga - Seiling OK Storms: My original target for today was in southwest Oklahoma, but abandoned the idea when storms went up early in that area. The better area was even farther south in Texas, but had no interest in heading south of the Red River today. The area in NW OK appeared good for supercells, but not until late evening. I hung out in Seiling during the early afternoon and was soon joined by Bill Reid and company who had somewhat the same target idea. We drove west of town to watch some late day towers go up and shear over. Meanwhile storms were beginning to form farther north with the closest ones about 50 miles to our southeast and a severe watch box was put up for that area. We figured our best bet would be to go after these storms since they could easily be intercepted and we could always come back north if need be.
We could see the base of the nearest cell from just west of Watonga, which I believe was the northern most cell at the time. Storms would cycle quickly and the new ones that formed on the northern flank of the older storms seemed to quickly become the dominant cell. One such cell hadearlier produced a brief tornado to our south along I-40 near Hydro. Bill continued on to intercept the cells to our east while I stopped to see what might be forming behind us. A young cell went up and produced some interesting structure as it slowly drifted northeast, and this one was soon replaced by other storms forming to its north.
From here I slowly drifted north and west and enjoyed the sun lit storm towers slowly drifting off to my northeast. Many of these storms were or soon became severe warned.
Father north near the town of Oakwood I had a good view of newly developed storm to my east that had just gone severe. This one put on a nice show with a broad wall cloud lowering which was followed by an interesting outflow/shelf cloud feature. The sun was just setting at the time as new and colorful towers were rapidly going up just to my north.
I finished up the day between Oakwood and Seiling watching a ghostly cumulonimbus tower being illuminated by lighting. All in all a great evening for photographing the storms, no one was around and the solitude was fantastic! Finished the day at Woodward, OK with 377 miles for the day.
May 27, 2015: Wed - Day 8 - Chase Day - SW Kansas Supercells: Things looked good today for the TX PH and a good portion of western KS. I waited in Liberal, KS until early afternoon and by that time was pretty much committed to the Kansas target. An MD was issued for SW KS followed by another one for the TX PH and these were both quickly followed by a tornado watch box for both areas. Towers were going up about 75 miles to my north and these soon became both severe and tornado warned. As I headed towards these storms a new and robust storm began to form to my immediate northeast. I figured I'd better stick with this one since it was right in front of me. The radar signature looked better with each scan and this storm quickly became severe warned for tennis ball size hail. I followed this cell towards Meade Kansas along highway 160 near Plains as the cell slowly drifted east and/or slightly east-southeast. The problem was I could not get ahead of this storm via 160 as it was dumping large hail consistently over the highway, and there were no good south options to get around the storm, and even those options were becoming blocked by other hailers moving northeast out of the OK PH. I finally gave up on this cell just south of Meade on highway 23, and then headed north on the same highway towards another severe warned cell about 30 miles to my northwest. The last image below is looking back at the Meade cell from about 20 miles north of town from highway 23.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent racing from one storm to another. I first intercepted a line of big messy storms that had gone HP near Kalvesta. One of these cells had produced a tornado near Dighton earlier in the afternoon, and these cells were still prompting tornado warnings upon my arrival. But they were now becoming beastly hailers and any tornado would be very hard to see. I took a few images of the scary area up to my north as these storms approached my position, and then had to bail south as another storm was quickly wrapping in from my west. I managed to beat the core down to Cimarron and then headed northwest towards Garden City via highway 50. I stopped to photograph an impressive shelf cloud that was being pushed southward from this cell before continuing on to Garden City. That was my last image for the evening as storms were rapidly forming and merging all over the place. It was near sunset and I wanted to get behind these storms to avoid any hail, but soon discovered my little window of opportunity was closing in fast. I held up under a large barn canopy and left the storms pass over me before continuing on to Garden City for the night. About 280 miles for the day.
May 28, 2015: Thu - Day 9 - Chase Day - Western Kansas Supercell & Tornadoes: I was hoping today would be the day I could finally break my streak of approaching storms from behind, and luckily I was able to do so for a change. I left Garden City around noon and headed west towards the Colorado/Kansas border where skies were starting to clear out. Given the southeast surface flow along with plenty of instability all it would take is a little sunshine to works its magic. As I approached Syracuse I could just barely make out a rather healthy cloud tower poking above a deck of low clouds to my north. Radar had a couple of dinky returns up by Tribune, so I figured this might really turn into something and I could finally make an approach from the south side of the storm. The low clouds were obscuring my view of this storm, but GRLevel continued to show a growing precipitation signature and it wasn't long before one of the cells became dominant and severe warned. I had planned to make it to Tribune and follow the southern flank of this storm eastward along highway 96, but the storm was barely moving and just sitting over the town of Tribune. I wasn't about to wait for it to move east, and fortunately had a network of good gravel roads to get southeast of what now had become a tornado warned storm. I sat along gravel road CR CC for quite some time where I had a good view of the updraft base and developing wall cloud. Several funnel clouds appeared and some almost made it to the ground. There certainly could have been ground circulation below, but I was not able to confirm this.
I left the wall cloud area drift directly to my north and then once again headed east to stay with the updraft area. New tornado warnings kept being issued for this storm and I was in a perfect position the whole time to see if one really happened, at least early on. The storm was getting larger and stronger and there were at times multiple wall clouds and/or funnels to look at. The storm was also picking up speed and slowly turning more to the south, which meant I had to keep up my pace to stay ahead of the action area. I stopped a few times southwest of Leoti while on gravel road CR CC when I spotted rotating wall clouds, then funnels almost reaching the ground, and finally serpentine looking tornadoes just to my northeast.
Road CR CC dumps into highway 25 and here is where things got really interesting. A very pronounced wall cloud formed and began to rotate wildly just a short distance northwest of the highway. Several black condensation fingers swirled around beneath the wall cloud to ground level and it appeared a large tornado was imminent! I needed to stay with this thing but also wanted to stop and get video or at least a photograph...but by now there were several other chasers driving right behind me, as well as a large hail core that had swung out of this storm back to my east. I managed to pull off very briefly as I just had to get one shot of this incredible scene, then blasted east to where 25 cuts south to get out of the way of that hail core. I stopped again where the road cuts south for a couple of very quick shots of the rapidly approaching storm structure before blasting south. I stopped briefly to look back once or twice, but the storm was becoming messy looking and getting too far away with no paved road options going east, it was time to give up. I continued south on highway 25, but now there was another storm coming north blocking my exit and hailstones began to fall. I was trapped between the two storms, but managed to find the smallest of window to sneak between the two and head back east. The storm merger was complete and there was just no way to get back in front of the action, it didn't matter as the storm had no doubt already given its best show. Made it to Goodland, KS with another 280 miles on the odometer.
May 29, 30, 31, 2015: Fri-Sun - Day 10-12 - R&R - Encampment, Wyoming: I took a break from the "storm, storm, storm" activity to spend some time with my son on a prairie dog hunt on a private ranch in Wyoming. After realizing there are far more prairie dogs then bullets in the world it was time for me to head out in search of storms once again. The ranch setting was beautiful and it was great to spend time with my son once again. Pictured below in front of our cabin from left to right are my son Brett, his dog "Penny", and friends Bryce and Barry. The second image is the view looking north from the cabin near sunset Friday evening. The drive from GLD to Encampass on Friday was about 415 miles.
I left Sunday about noon for a leisurely ride east, more of a positioning day then anything else. Along the way I spend some time visiting Medicine Bow National Forest which is located right off I-80 in Wyoming. The were some pretty convective clouds forming in the area which was a perfect back drop for the rocky cliffs within the Pole Mountain area of the Forest. I then continued on to Kimball, NE for the night keeping an eye of some developing storms to my south. There was an MD up for that area, but the storms were mostly brief in nature and were moving away from me to the southeast. A few severe storms did form well to my south in Colorado, but there was nothing I could do about those. 340 miles for the day.
June 1st, 2015: Mon - Day 13 - Belle Fourche, South Dakota: Today I was really hoping for an isolated supercell or two over the northwest grasslands of South Dakota. A few towers went up by late afternoon west of Belle Fourche but soon sputtered. I continued to hold out hope that one of the towers would make it, but it never happened. Meanwhile a storm had formed about 45 miles to my southeast between Sturgis and Rapid City and was just sitting and growing over the interstate. I decided to go check this one out, but it was blocking I-90 with a hail core and flooding meaning another route would be necessary if I chose to get in front of it. I started to circumnavigate the Black Hills and could have easily done so since the storm was barely moving. But honestly, I just didn't feel like it since I knew there would be a plethora of others already getting those images. Instead, I backed off and looked for some vantage spots to capture the other side of the storm in the fading light. The first image below was one of the first towers to go up just west of Belle Fourche, and the others are of the nearly stationary severe warned cell sitting off to my southeast. About 450 miles driven in all.
June 2nd, 2015: Tue - Day 14 - Nebraska Panhandle: Although there was a large risk area of severe weather across the northern and central plains, western Nebraska appeared to be the better choice, especially since it would be closer to the next day's risk of severe storms. I headed south to Chadron and had planned to hold up there if nothing was going on, but by the time I got there a nice Cu field had developed a little west of town. I soon met up with Bill Reid and his crew and it was great to see Chuck Doswell, "Woody", Tom Trott and several of the regular guests once again! We parted company and I headed west after a promising looking new cell west of Fort Robinson. I stopped at the scenic overlook west of town and was pleased to both get a close up look at this storm as well as chat with fellow CFDG'r Patrick Kerrin! I took a few images here before heading back east to stay ahead of this storm.
This storm quickly merged with others that had formed nearby as a large messy complex of storms took place. I figured it was best to stay ahead of all this and continued east to Chadron where I could cut south and get below anything of possible interest that may form out of this mess. The plan worked as a couple of supercells congealed and started moving to the east. I was fortunate to get in good position to watch the lead storm coming in from my northwest from highway 2 east of Hemingford. The storm was inflow dominate for quite awhile with nice structure, but later became outflow dominate. In the process it revealed some beautiful shelf cloud structure, wall cloud lowerings, and exhibited what may have been some brief forward flank tornadoes all revealed in the following series of images.
I then headed down to Alliance and briefly cut east of town to have one last look, but the storm was all dusty outflow by that time. I turned around and was prepared to head south after new towers that had gone up when Bill called to let me know he was doing the same. He had been farther west of me during the time of the Hemmingford storm but now had about a six mile lead. That soon changed as we all got caught up in a pilot car line-up! Fortunately, we soon started moving and the new cell we had been targeting displayed some fantastic structure as we blasted south. This would be supercell number 3 of the day and I took some images on the fly through the windshield and a again at a brief stop directly west of the updraft area near Angora.
It was now late afternoon and things appeared to be winding down and the best play looked to get behind the storms for some additional images. We headed south on 88 and stopped briefly near the Courthouse/Jailhouse rocks. Some wrap around rain starting hitting us so I continued on to get behind this "last" cell. Highway 88 then cuts west and I drove a few miles into the full sunshine to look back at the structure near Redington.
I slowly moved west and kept my eye on an anemic looking cell that was developing a few miles to my WSW. I had mild concerns that I was in a bad position if they cell suddenly strengthened and began throwing out hail, so I picked up my pace and soon found myself in heavy rain directly under this cell, but yet I was driving in full sunshine! The cell was growing and expanding rapidly in size directly overhead and I wanted out from under it before any hail began to fall. Once clear of the rain I set up shop to take my time looking back east at this 5th supercell of the day...and finished up my day in total solitude photographing this beauty until after sunset. All in all one of the best Nebraska Panhandle days ever, and very few chasers were seen the entire time! Kimball, NE with about 375 miles for the day.
June 3rd, 2015: Wed - Day 15 - Southeast Wyoming: There was a higher threat of tornadoes today in southeast Wyoming which meant there would be plenty of masses to contend with as well if I wanted to chase there...and I did since I woke up in perfect position to easily reach this area. I headed west from Kimball by early afternoon and stopped near Cheyenne to look at data. There were a couple of weak storms off to my northwest and one looked to be strengthening. I headed up I-25 for a possible intercept near Chugwater, Wyoming, but by the time I got there the storm had fallen apart and continued moving to the north. I, along with many other chasers hung around Chugwater for the next few hours waiting for something to happen. By early evening I made the decision to head northeast towards Torrington where some weak storms had been forming all afternoon and where the surface winds had now turned easterly. Chugwater had SSE winds and the towers that kept forming to our southwest never amounted to anything. Right on cue a nice tower developed to my northwest by the time I reached the intersection of highways 313/85. There were some low clouds blocking the upper updraft area, but the base was taking on a nice large & flat look. GRLevel showed heightening cloud tops with each new scan...so it looked like a real supercell was quickly taking shape. The cell continued to look good heading northwest on highway 26, and I made a quick film stop a little north of the highway at a high point west of Lingle (first image below). I then continued west on highway 26 and cut north again at Fort Laramie to find another high point, there were several but each one was already clogged with tons of chasers. I turned around and went back to a nice valley view I had passed up earlier and took what I considered to be my best images of this nicely formed supercell while looking west. There were a few wall cloud attempts along with dangling scud, but had this storm been able to turn into that easterly inflow there would have almost certainly been a tornado at that point. I then went west again in hopes of getting a closer view of the base and the wall cloud but the view became less interesting and what could be seen was being blocked by the increasingly hilly terrain. I called it quits near Guernsey and headed back to Torrington for the night. The storm later strengthened again and there was a report of a tornado, but certainly not under the best of conditions given the low light, hilly terrain and bad road network. About 297 miles for the day.
June 4th, 2015: Thu - Day 16 - Palmer Divide - Simla, Colorado Tornadoes: With great southeast upslope flow and plenty of adequate moisture today looked like a good day to play the Palmer Divide between LIC and COS. I was rather confident there would be a nice supercell or two to chase, and maybe even a brief tornado...but had no idea I would be intercepting one of the most prolific tornado producers of my 19 year chase career! The first storm went up by early afternoon near Kiowa and while I was attempting to get ahead of this one a second cell formed to its east near Limon. I stopped to photograph the nice structure with this cell looking southwest from Limon for about 45 minutes as it was slowly drifting south (first image below). I then went briefly southwest on highway 24 which led right to the base of this cell and another one that had formed on it's western flank. I wanted to get more of the structure, so turned around and headed south of highway 71 out of Limon in order to navigate closer via the gravel road networks. I stopped a few times to photograph the supercell structure and on one of these stops lingered for awhile watching the amazing structure and tightening rotation that was taking place under the base. The first cone-shaped tornado touched down and this was followed by other tornadoes in varying shapes...stovepipes, truncated cones, elephant trunk, etc. According to my time stamps this went on for 27 minutes with a very few breaks in the tornado action. I then went south to stay with the storm which was now moving a bit more to the east. The base was quite large and ominous looking and a dark tornado was occasionally visible through the rain curtains to my northwest. Soon, a "satellite" ropy tornado with a red dust tube formed in front of the dark tornado and the scene was surreal!
Those tornadoes briefly lifted and I was ready to reposition farther south since the action was getting rather close. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a large dark dust swirl about a quarter mile behind me--and had to get out to photograph the action once again. This was when a high base tornado funnel occurred at cloud level with a long skinny needle tornado extended to the ground occasionally producing dark dust swirls. Marble size hail began to fall and the tornado was getting away from me to the south...so time to blast south again! Things got a little crazy from here as I could see a large red dust swirl off to my west out of the passenger side window getting ever so closer. I wanted to gain some distance but I also wanted to get the "shot"! I stopped and took a few classic images of this amazing scene that was unfolding before I jumped back in the truck to gain a little more distance south. Later from a high point more dark tornadoes could be seen appearing in and out of dark wrapping rain curtains. It got to the point where I just stopped photographing the tornadoes as I had taken so many that were far better than what I was now seeing. My last round up with this storm was to drop south to Highway 94 and east for some leading edge structure shots before heading west to Castle Rock for the night. Along the way I photographed a very pretty LP supercell lit up by the setting sun near Ellicott...and that in itself would have made the day. Definitely a top three chase day for me with roughly 375 miles driven. I'll post a few images now and likely many more later...very difficult to pick up the best ones.
June 5th, 2015: Fri - Day 17- Relax Day - Colorado: I started out with the same target area as yesterday, but the storms formed a bit farther north and quickly became severe or tornado warned as they moved off to the northeast. Even though these storms could have been easily reached I really didn't feel like working that hard today as it was highly unlikely that I could even come close to matching the day before. I didn't feel like joining the chaser crowds and I didn't feel like chasing into Kansas for the night. Instead, I opted to just drive around the back gravel roads until all hope of seeing a nearby storm had faded. I enjoyed the day...a day to relax and reflect on the past couple of weeks seeing great storms out here on the Plains. A time to acknowledge that it is time to head back home and do so on a good note. I'll likely chase in that direction tomorrow and continue on homeward bound from there. Less than 200 miles driven. Castle Rock, CO.
June 6th, 2015: Sat - Day 18- Supercell - Limon to Vona: Another Colorado day as the prospects for an isolated supercell or two looked promising to form and move northeast off the Palmer Divide. I watched the first cells form near Kiowa and slowly drift to the northeast. One finally became dominant, but took quite a while to start looking good. It stayed rather low-topped until it crossed I-70 north of Limon, where it quickly became a full-fledged supercell. The storm was isolated and was in full sun, so it had everything going for it. I followed its southern flank eastward via the gravel roads well north of I-70. Along the way it exhibited some nice cloud base structure and became tornado warned for awhile. There was a nice RFD cut, but no tornado. A new updraft tower formed on its southern flank and really looked good for a while, but that cell finally began to weaken soon afterward. I headed back towards Castle Rock through some weak convection and found one pretty updraft being illuminated by the low sun angle with a rainbow beneath. Another good day without a lot of driving for the effort with just over 200 miles driven. Castle Rock, CO.
June 7th, 2015: Sun - Day 19- Dying Storm - Atwood, Kansas: I was hoping to find one last storm on the plains before I made the final plunge home, and was fortunate to find another isolated severe storm, this time in northwest Kansas. Unfortunately, upon my arrival the storm lost its severe status and was beginning to fade. But since this storm was by its lonesome in the late day sun I knew it would offer some photo opportunities before it finally died. A nice quiet way to end my 2015 chase season. Hays, KS and about 550 miles for the day.
June 8th & 9th, 2015: Mon/Tue - Day 20/21- Travel Home Days: I left Hays Monday Morning and made the long drive to Richmond, IN for the night...a total of 821 miles. The trip was mostly uneventful but I did encounter a cluster of storms that was pushing in from my north between Indianapolis and Richmond. I made it to the hotel just in time as the weakened storms arrived, and it was the first time on the entire trip where I had to unload in some moderate rain as the storms rolled overhead. On Tuesday I made it home by late afternoon...the 518m drive from Richmond was a little less than my usual last day of travel. The overall trip home seemed to go a little faster and better than usual for some reason.
Of note for future reference, the average nightly rate paid for hotel stays was again about $70.00 and the average daily gas expense came in at $56.00...about $30 less than the previous year. Gas was running about $1.00 less per gallon this year than it was in 2014. Highest per gallon was $2.97 on the PA Turnpike and least was $2.39 somewhere in KS...but the average prices overall averaged between $2.45 and $2.59 per gallon, which saved about $500 paid out in 2014. Total actual miles driven for this trip 9,003, which may vary from estimated cumulative miles totaled above. A great trip overall with lots of quality photo opportunities that could be quickly seized upon with ease from my own vehicle. Although my prime goal was to photograph unique scenes away from the masses of chasers and not worry about tornadoes, I did encounter two tornado days with the one on June 4th rating near the top of my 19 year chasing career!