Sunday, June 11, 2006

Hurrah, a real storm!

Finally, a good supercell. We began the day in Lincoln at Ken Dewey's house. I realized that we would have to get into the target early, because of the potential of storms becoming quickly outflow dominant due to the problem that has plagued us all season, an extreme lack of moisture.

Therefore we blasted west early on met up with Jim L and crew in GRI, and arrived in Ogalalla about 2 PM MDT, where John and Beth Moore joined the caravan.. We hooked into some wifi to check data- and discovered that there was a good supercell near Scottsbluff. As we got on the road, the radar showed that the first storm had a new cell developing on its east side, so we drove north of Oshkosh on the road to the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge to intercept. About 10 miles north of town a nicely structured but high based storm came into view. While we were still driving we viewed a nice laminar funnel that looked promising, but it croaked by the time we found a good viewing spot. After this point the storm never looked close to tornadoing, but as we watched it develop over the open prairies it became quite a sight. After a half hour or so, it began to approach too closely, so we drove south and east to keep out in front of the cell for the next couple of hours, stopping periodically to view the nice structure and numerous pretty decent gustnadoes. We continued to stay ahead of the storm along I-80 to a point near Sutherland where the HP/shelf structure became very impressive again. However, after a few minutes the storm went downhill fast, so we called it a chase and went back to our motel in OGA.

This was by far our best chase day this extremely enjoyable second to last day of the vacation.
Photos here

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The agony and the ecstasy

Well, I finally have reliable internet access- so am able to post again.

What a last several days- from the high of seeing Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks to the low of completely messing up two chase days where we could have seen the best supercell structure of the trips. First the highs: Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons were awesome- we spent half the day Wednesday photographing the still-snowcovered Grand Tetons, then made our way to Yellowstone, where we were fortunate enough to see Grand Geyser erupt- it is the tallest (mostly) predictable geyser in the world- much better than Old Faithful, which was actually somewhat disappointing. We then toured a lot of the other thermal areas until dark, and made our way to the night's lodgings at the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge.

The next morning we got up early, toured the Mammoth Hot Springs (not as impressive as in years past, a lot of the bigger springs are not flowing right now).

Then we did a quick tour of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone area (the falls were very impressive due to the high water levels in the rivers).

Photos here

OK, those are the highlights- on to the comedy of errors/blunders that have characterized the last two days.
We rightly decided to head east from the northern section of the park to try and catch some storms in southern Montana. However, as we wended our way from Cody east into the Bighorn mountains to a position north of Sheridan, we continued to have limited cell phone coverage and therefore limited internet access. So when we drove up the interstate to southern Montana, we did not realize the real weather situation in that region- which was in reality very well set up for supercells. As we approached the Little Big Horn area from the south, the thunderstorms in that area looked very junky and outflow dominant from our vantage point. So I made the fatal decision to blow off the storms and head south. BAD mistake. As it turned out, a massive supercell developed not 30 miles from where we turned around, and the photos from chasers that in the area show that this storm was the best of the latter part of the season, structure-wise. DOH!

OK, that was not very good, but there is always tomorrow, right? Yes, always another opportunity to mess up badly, which we did yet again. We should have paid more attention to the possibility of more good storms back in the higher terrain of the western NE/eastern WY area, but NOOOO, we were suckered way to the east into SE South Dakota and eventually far NW Iowa, where we were rewarded by a cluster of crappy high based junk, not anywhere close to being worth the time, effort and money involved. I did get a couple of very nice rainbow shots. The really kick in the a#$ was that yet once again, the smart chasers that decided to stay out west were rewarded with two really great supercells, one in eastern WY, another in Cherry county, NE. I should have realized that this season, due to the extreme lack of moisture, the only real play is to stay in higher terrain, where moisture is maximized. Therefore for what is most likely our last chance before heading home, we will attempt to get at least ONE good supercell in western Nebraska today, before calling it a (crappy) season.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Yellowstone, here we come

Currently in Dubois, WY, in the Wind River valley SE of the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. I have decided that the chance of a really good supercell or a tornado is low tomorrow, so we will spend the day in the national parks. After that I will evaluate the situation for possible chasing up here in WY/SD/NE/MT Thursday and Friday. Then it looks like the last two days of our vacation could be pretty good for chasing Saturday and Sunday.

Today we went to Pawnee Buttes in NE Colorado, and then drove all the way here to Dubois. I will post pics in a few days of our sightseeing portion of the vacation.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Finally, a real supercell

Well, we finally had a pretty decent chase yesterday- we could have seen perhaps the best supercell of the day right near where we started out in McCook, as Jim Leonard and a few others saw a very nice storm in Chase county, NE later in the afternoon that almost produced a tornado, and had some spectacular mammatus at sunset. Still, I am not displeased with what we saw. We had been conversing with Mike Umscheid on the cell phone earlier, and he was convinced that eastern Colorado was the best place to be, and after looking at the data, I agreed. So we took off after a cell that had already developed near Ft Morgan, CO. As we approached Yuma, we could see the original cell to the north, and a new storm to the west near Otis. The radar showed that the southernmost storm was the storm to go after, and visually it looked like it was becoming a supercell. So we dropped south, as the storm was moving basically due south to the west of us. From then on we just stayed due west of the storm all the way down to I-70 near Flagler, where a new LPish updraft formed west of town. We followed this new storm down to near Kit Carson, where we decided to call it a chase.

The storms were not jaw-dropping structure wise, but given the extreme dearth of any real supercells for me this season, it was a very satisfying chase.

We did have incident at the motel this morning in Brush, CO. I stupidly left my CRV unlocked during the night, and a thief decided to do some ransacking of vehicles in the parking lot- he got our XM satellite radio, and a toolbox from the car next to us. No really big deal, but I will have to buy a new radio (not too expensive, I had the cheapest model).

06-06-06 ... it figures.

Photos from the chase here

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The best day of the trip tomorrow?

We are in McCook, NE for the night. We spent the day sightseeing in NE Colorado- went to the Beecher Island battleground north of Burlington and Bonny State park in the same area. We thought that there might be a slight chance of some thunderstorms in western KS, but the strong cap held and we gave up at about 5 PM and headed to McCook to set up for tomorrow. BTW, the Taste of Texas BBQ restaurant in McCook is highly recommended- probably the best food of my vacation so far. Do not miss the home made pies.

Tomorrow looks like perhaps the best chance for legitimate supercells and perhaps even tornadoes on this trip so far- still not the ideal situation as the moisture is still not up to par, but other factors look pretty good in central Nebraska. Then it is back out west for some sightseeing as the Tuesday-Thursday period looks to be dominated by the large upper ridge over the Rockies. We may try to get to Yellowstone for Wednesday and Thursday. After that perhaps more chasing will be in the cards for the last few days of the vacation- we shall see.

The last hurrah begins

Sitting in Burlington, Co after a semi-bust in western KS. After picking Betsy up at the airport we decided to head NW to set up for possible chasing Sunday and Monday. I knew that there was a chance of some severe storms in western KS on the way, but supercells were a long shot. Sure enough a few cells erupted south of Goodland, KS at about 4 PM, but the extreme lack of moisture that has plagued this season so far resulted in very high based storms that were marginally pretty for a while- I did get a few decent photos, but nothing all that fantastic. We blew off these storms early and headed to Burlington for the night. There we got an unexpected bonus- we got to ride one of the most unique hand-carved wooden carousels in the country- built in 1905, PTC # 6 is truly a national treasure and is a National Historic Landmark. We had wanted to ride/see this for years, but the hours are limited in the spring/summer, and this was the first time it was open while we were in this area.

Photos here

Today looks like a down day, but tomorrow may be a chance for chasing in the area from central NE to central SD.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Chase vacation part 2 to begin....maybe?

Traveled back to OKC yesterday, Jim is now going to pick up his next tour group tomorrow, and I pick up Betsy.

I have finally posted pics from the chases of the 6 day period from May 26 to May 31st. They are

The weather situation still looks very marginal for really good supercells and especially tornadoes for the last 10 days of my vacation, as the long-wave pattern is still not cooperating at all. However, we may still pull a rabbit out of a hat up in the northern plains beginning Sunday, stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Back online...sort of

I am using Jim Leonard's computer- still no cord for mine, I will probably not get one until Thursday, so picture posts will have to wait until then.

I will also post more details on the past few days later, but the short version is:

On Saturday we saw some nice storms including an HP supercell near Bismarck, ND. Then on Sunday we encountered an incredible shelf cloud south of Chadron, NE. Yesterday was a bust near Pratt, KS- just a few marginal severe storms. Today we will be targeting the OK panhandle, SW Kansas and SE Colorado.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Computer problems

I may not be able to post for a while- my laptop power cord gave out, and this message is written on reserve power. We plan to chase today in northern ND. Hopefully I will be able to get a replacement for my cord in Bismarck later today, otherwise this will be my last entry for several days.

Friday, May 26, 2006

In Gillette, WY

It looks like the NE Wyoming/far western South Dakota area will be the chase area today. Moisture is limited but there is already good instability and pretty strong mid-level winds, so we do expect non-tornadic supercells with high bases later this afternoon. Hopefully one will provide some nice photographic opportunities.

Tomorrow's target still appears to be either NW South Dakota or north central North Dakota.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Far north chasing

We are currently in Scottsbluff, NE. We plan to chase SE Montana tomorrow and NC North Dakota near the Canadian border Saturday. The moisture will be the issue tomorrow, and the cap Saturday.

After that it looks like Sunday is iify along the cold front, but Monday and Tuesday have some potential in the Nebraska area.

We are off for some sightseeing today- probably at Devil's Tower in Wyoming.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Plans for the next few days

We have decided to not chase father east- there is a 5% tornado risk (according to SPC) off to the east from WI to MO. However, I feel the risk is marginal at best, as surface winds are going to be SW and a linear mode is more likely than supercells. So we have decided to just mosey our way west to western NE with Mike and Jay. There will be storms in western NE and vicinity by Friday, but upper winds may be too weak for tornadoes. The other play over the weekend could be in northern ND where the upper flow will be better, but the cap will be an issue. After that, who knows- none of the models are in agreement, so we will play it by ear.

Well, not so good after all

We stated the day in Holdrege, NE at the Super 8 (nice new motel with WiFi and breakfast, recommended). The data showed that the area we were in seemed to as good as any other, so we decided to stay there and continue to look at data. The desk person was nice enough to let us stay in the lobby after checkout. At about 3 PM a tornado watch was issued to the north of us up into South Dakota, but on radar the storms had already developed and looked to be messy and likely to form a line instead of remaining individual cells, so we opted to stay put. Later on we saw small cells start to develop in our area, so we hit the road south to intercept. The rest of the day was spent playing tag with various small storms in the area from south of Holdrege to south of Kearney. These storms were small and very high based, and had little if any lightning. Later on closer to sunset we did see a better storm on radar approaching Guide Rock- and a phone call to Mike Umscheid confirmed that this was a pretty good cell and even had some hail. We drove to near Nelson, NE to intercept, and viewed the cell to the west. It had a decent rain/hail core, and some sort-of-supercellular structure, but again had little if any lightning. Soon after this time we could see the tail end of the squall line farther NW, and knew our cell was doomed.

We had met up with Mike by then, and just drove east ahead of the squall line until we got to a point south of York, where we decided to go into town and eat. As we drove north the line approached and then overtook us- it had frequent lightning and winds to maybe 40-50 mph, but no hail. The anvil crawlers were fairly nice off to the east as we approached York, but not frequent enough to stop and photograph.

We ate with Mike and company in York, and then headed to Ken Dewey's house to crash for the night.

Photos here

More later on future plans.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Maybe a good day finally??

First off we did chase in far NW Kansas yesterday- the moisture and upper support were both lacking, so the storms were pretty junky. We did not even bother with the mess in eastern Colorado- we did watch a small dried up storm NW of Goodland or an hour or so, but then gave up and headed east to our current location in Holdrege, NE just north of the Kansas border. This area still looks to be in the ballpark for today's action, so we will hold here until at least noon so see what the latest data shows.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Headed to NE Colorado

Decided to chase today in NE Colorado- we will be leaving soon from DDC. SPC now has a 5% tornado risk in that area- the low-levels look good, but the upper support is lacking until after dark. So right now I expect some supercells, but the SPC risk seems overdone.

Then we will stay in SC Nebraska to set up for tomorrow- the target has now shifted north to perhaps the eastern sandhills from Hastings to Oneill.

More later, gotta run.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Getting into Dodge

Today was a set-up day. I first drove to Vince Miller's house in the northern part of Oklahoma City, where I met up with Jim Leonard and Steve Wachholder. I then transferred most of my gear into Jim's van, and left my vehicle in Vince's driveway (thanks Vince).

We then headed north and west to Dodge City- we decided to go there because it seemed to be a good midway point between a possible chase Monday in eastern Colorado and the Tuesday target of central Kansas. Also we wanted to meet up with Meso Mike Umscheid. After checking into the motel we went out to dinner with Mike- and just before we got our meal the power went out in that part of town due to a traffic accident that knocked over a utility pole. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we were virtually the last people in the establishment to get our meals- and Steve's steak was lost in the confusion and we ended up getting all of our meals free! Then we went to visit the DDC weather service, where Mike looked at some data for the upcoming days.

So we will reevaluate the situation tomorrow morning both for Monday and Tuesday- we may or may not chase tomorrow, but Tuesday looks like a no-brainer somewhere in central Kansas.

The game is afoot!

I left Atlanta at about 12:20 PM today- I have decided to head to Oklahoma City and meet up with Jim Leonard- after that who knows right now, except to say that we will be heading in some northerly direction after that. I am currently in Russelville, AR along I-70 in between Little Rock and Ft. Smith. (The Super 8 here is very nice, reasonably priced with free breakfast and WiFi).

The models have still decided not to agree on a solution completely- the closed low now spinning off the CA coast is going to eject east and northeast over the next 72 hours, that is a given. However the speed and exact trajectory of this critical feature is still very much in question. Will it come out quickly enough for a chase day in eastern CO on Monday? Tuesday all along has looked like the best day this week, but the models still refuse to come to a final solution on exactly what the short wave will do when it comes into the long-wave mean ridge position- previous runs had it punching into the ridge with a more eastward trajectory- which would mean maybe northern KS to central NE would be the best place to be in Tuesday. But now the 00Z models are leaning (especially the GFS) towards a solution of the short weakening more and heading farther north, which would mean South Dakota and northern Nebraska would be the target. Of course if that turned out to be the case, then that might mean we would blow off the Monday chase if it seems too marginal, in order to minimize the driving.

Then after that it still looks like the northern Plains will be the place towards the Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Well, maybe.

I should have known better than to get too excited about that one run of the GFS- even if it was supported by the ensembles. The death ridge is still forecast to break down, but how much and for how long is still the $64 question. The models are all over the place (what else is new), especially after 5 days out- one thing I do not really like is the persistent trend on most of the models for the establishment of a Gulf of Alaska upper vortex by later next week and beyond- this is not where you want to see an upper low, since that position tends to favor ridging over the western U.S.

In the meantime, however, it does seem likely that we will see at least one chase day
from Monday to Wednesday of next week- right now the latest run of the GFS favors Wednesday but that will probably shift again a few more times in the models. At least there continues to be some hope. As far as my personal plans go, these keep changing as much as the models. Right now I am leaning towards going directly from ATL to Lincoln NE on saturday and/or Sunday, and maybe hook up with someone from there- Jim Leonard is still uncertain with his plans.

This has been one of the more mentally exhausting seasons in a while- and I have not even left yet!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Is it true???

The new models have undergone a radical change for the better- but it is still just a bit too early to dwell on any sort of specifics. I can probably state with at least some confidence that the nasty western "death ridge" that has shut down all chasing for a week now will break down or flatten by early next week. Any statement more specific than that will have to wait for at least several more model cycles- but I would be surprised if the period of the 22nd to the 25th does not yield at least one fruitful day in the northern half of "chase alley". Therefore it looks like my original plan of leaving Atlanta Saturday is still on, and right now I still plan to meet up with Jim Leonard in OKC on Sunday for an immediate departure north.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why it is sometimes folly to try long range forecasting

OK, looking at the latest models, I may just shut up for at least a few days about the extended outlooks.

The new models are a lot different from their previous runs, they are very different than each other- I actually should not be surprised given the fairly wide spread in the ensembles recently. It still looks like no chasing until next week at the earliest, but beyond that it is becoming obvious that there is really no way to say right now what will transpire until there is a lot more agreement with all the myriad guidance...and that not be for a few days at the least.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Still a gloomy chase outlook

Since my last post I was beginning to get a bit more optimistic about a pattern shift that would lead to some storm chase opportunities by the time I go out to the Plains on Saturday. However, the models and ensembles, which were trying to come to some sort of a consensus of a more favorable flow regime by the week of the 21st on, have now somewhat backed off on this a bit, especially the control run of the GFS. The ensembles are a bit more optimistic, but the individual members are showing a lot more spread, which means a lot more uncertainty. The bottom line- I think that the first week of my vacation is very iffy for chasing, maybe a few marginal situations at best, especially later in the period.
Also, it is becoming more and more likely that if and when the good chase pattern begins, it will be in the central and northern Plains from northern KS northward- I may be spending a lot of my time up in the Dakotas and Montana. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, maybe the remoteness of this area will keep the number of chase hordes in check a bit.

For a much more technical explanation from long-range guru Ed Berry at NWS Dodge City on why it may be until the end of the month before the pattern shifts to a SW flow,
go here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

It keeps getting worse

There continues to be nary a shred or a dollop of hope regarding any chasing in the Plains over the next week, and very likely beyond that. The atmosphere is conspiring to give us the ultimate anti-chase pattern with a strong blocking pattern of deep upper-air low pressure gyres in the worst places imaginable- the eastern Pacific and the eastern half of NOAM. Every run of every operational model and virtually every GFS ensemble member is forecasting no change to this pattern all the way out until I begin my chase vacation on May 19 or 20, and even beyond that there are indications that this awful pattern may persist. I still have hope that because I am chasing until least the 11th of June that there will be a large pattern shift and maybe we can get some of this constipated blockiness to work for us, not against us. But that nasty voice in the back of my mind is saying that after all is said and done, we will all remember 2006 as the chase year that wasn't. I hope that I can eat crow on that statement...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Some forecast musings for the next 1-2 weeks.

Well, I did not think it could get worse, but it did- the new ECMWF (European) model is now on board with a massive ridge over the West in the 6-10 day period. This matches very well with the new ensemble mean and virtually all the individual members. So it looks like there is at least an 80% chance of a complete Plains chasing shutdown from Wednesday for at least one week, and perhaps as long as ten days. I hope some miracle occurs and all the models are selling us so much snake oil, but I really doubt it.

Well, I have not seen the 00Z runs yet, hopefully this is just an aberration, but the ensemble members, which have been so chaotic over the past week for the mid-May time frame, have now become very close together all the way to about 180 hours. What they are showing is a persistent ridge in the West until about 240 hours. Then a trough begins to show up in the mean over the SW U.S. with SW flow in the High plains beyond the 10 day time frame. This western ridge scenario has been supported all along by many straight runs of the op ECMWF and other models. What this all means, at least IMHO, is that chasing opportunities in the long range will at first be confined to an occasional NW flow setup, but there will be multi-day stretches of no activity as cold fronts penetrate to the Gulf or as least to south TX. Then around the 17th or so there is a fair chance that a more favorable flow regime will slowly emerge. Remember last May- the last two weeks were fairly lean with only a few marginal days in the NW flow- but then we had the almost unbroken string of good days from June 2 to the 12th. So I am still hoping for a good late May and early June.

Looks like Monday and Tuesday will be interesting in the KS/OK area- if the NAM is close to being correct then OK could see a few tornadoes Tuesday.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Getting closer...

Less than two weeks now until the "official" chase season begins for me, and already I am having the usual irrational fears about the overall weather pattern. Once again I contemplated going out there this weekend- but once again it looks like this situation falls just short of my criteria for a short-notice chase. For me to drive all the way out to the Plains by myself the situation has to be better than marginal or even pretty good- it has to be a virtual slam-dunk for tornadoes and/or awesome supercells. This past Friday would have met the criteria, but of course it was during my work week. There were some incredible supercells- check out this and this near Patricia, TX
This storm did not come without a price however, evidently quite a few chasers had this happen to their vehicles- the second year in a row that storms somewhere close to Lubbock in early May did a number on a lot of chaser transportation.

Anyway, back to the upcoming chase- I am getting a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach about the overall weather pattern as it pertains to chasing in May- a lot of the operational forecast models and ensembles are showing a less than stellar pattern for producing the type of supercells I am after on a chase. This spring so far has been characterized by a lot of blockiness in the atmosphere- with persistent troughiness in the eastern U.S. What you really like to see is a SW flow aloft over the Plains, and right now there is little sign of that in the long-range models. Luckily my vacation is 12-13 days away, and it seems at least feasible and perhaps likely than this upcoming bad pattern will change to something more to my liking by then, but I cannot stop my fretting about it, even though my rational side tells me to chill out and just ignore the long range progs until my chase is less than a week away. But I know that will not happen.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Another change in chasing plans

Things keep evolving as far as the chase plans for 2006 go-

In my last post I said that Betsy would not be chasing with me this season. Well, now it looks like she WILL be chasing after all- but not until June. The plan now is for her to fly out to Oklahoma City on June 3rd, and chase with me until the 13th, since I have to be back at work on the 14th. This will work out really well overall, since I was originally going to have to drive by myself during that period- and I really want to avoid that in the future.

Today there is a tornado watch in IL and MO- and a few days ago I considered a short notice chase if the situation looked potent enough, but so far it has turned out to be only a marginally good situation in fair to poor chase territory.

The next two weekends need to be monitored for chasing- right now the longer range models are leaning againt any chase possibilities for this coming weekend.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I'm Back

Very long time between entries- But my storm chase time is approaching fast and I will try from now on to do more frequent posting, even when I am not out chasing.

As most are very aware, this has been a very active early start to tornado season with a lot of significant events- mostly a bit east of "chase alley". When I am not out on my vacation in late May and early June I can sometimes arrange to chase big events by doing what I term a "short notice chase"- chasing on my 3 days off from work. Some of my most successful days have been of this type- May 3, 1999 in OK, May 17 2000 (Brady, NE) and May 5 & 7 2001 (Happy, TX and Mullinville, KS).

I did actually have the opportunity to chase this week- my off days currently are Saturday-Monday. I very nearly flew to Kansas City to chase in SE Nebraska, but due to the costs involved, and my concern about how many tornadic storms would actually occur, I decided at the last minute not to go. Was this wise in hindsight? Well, yes and no. There was only one really good tornado near Beatrice in SE Nebraska, and it was only visible for 5 minutes or so before wrapping in rain. There were other fairly nice supercells in the area with a few brief tornadoes, but it probably fell just short of what I really want to see when I spend the time, money and effort for a short notice chase. However, after reading the chase accounts and seeing the photos, I have a feeling that if I had gone, I would have not been terribly disappointed.

As far as my actual chase vacation this year goes, this year's will be rather different in a significant way- for the first time since I began serious chasing in 1990, it will be the first season that I will not be accompanied by my wife Betsy. She has not lost her passion for storms, but her life has undergone a significant change this past year- she recently quit her 20 year job at The Weather Channel. This has resulted in a significant reduction in our family income, and in her new job at a health food store (part time) she does not have enough time off to go on a two or three week trip. Therefore I will be heading to the Plains alone for the first time on May 20th.

I really do not relish chasing solo, as when I have done it in the past I have found that besides being more nerve-wracking and difficult, it is really rather dangerous because it is very hard to concentrate on driving when you are constantly scanning the skies or reading maps or whatever.

Therefore it looks like that I will end up driving to the Plains in my own vehicle, but I am probably going to hook up with Jim Leonard and Cyclone Tours and ride with them for the first two weeks at least, and after that maybe chase with Jay Antle and Mike Umscheid in June. This will help me save $$, and reduce the overall stress of chasing.