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Storm Chase 2010

I forgot to bring the power supply for my good still camera, so the photos below are of poor quality from my point-and-shoot. This year, my chase team consists of Steve Sponsler from Florida, and myself - still driving the venerable 2001 Sequoia.

May 19, 2010

We departed Phoenix around 3PM MST on Thursday, May 19th, hoping to chase the next day in NE Colorado. After a long drive, we spent the night in Las Vegas, NM.

May 20, 2010

Getting up early, we left Las Vegas around 8:30 and blasted N up I-25. We decided to go to Fort Morgan, CO, which would position us well for the NE CO area. Later, as we approached our destination, we arranged to meet the Twister Sisters there.

Just south of Denver, we took the tollway which bypasses the city to the East. I was surprised to see the toll booths were no longer manned, although there were signs about license plate readers. We still haven't gotten a bill, so maybe only the locals pay, or, more likely, they'll send us a nasty bill at some point.

We drove up I-76 towards our destination, and were near Wiggins, not far from the Sisters (who were approaching Brush, CO), when we noticed all the chasers on spotter network were going North. Oops! What was going on? Zomming out a bit on the radar (also revealing surface obs), we realized that the action was going to be farther N. A supercell had formed in E Wyoming and was heading towards Scottsbluff, NE - far N of us.

We hoped that a storm would initiate farther south, along the Laramie Range W of Cheyenne, and move E towards where we saw the great tornado last year - the NE/WY border. So we made a snap decision to get off the interstate at Wiggins, and head North - targetting Pine Bluffs, WY.

Oops again - not the best choice for a northern route. Soon we were lost on a maze of twisty little roads, all alike, that didn't show properly on Delorme and were also not represented right on my great big Colorado paper map. After lots of putzing around on dirt roads, we made it to Pine Bluffs.

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating. The Laramie Range wasn't doing the job, and storms were not coming our way. So after some dithering, we decided to go Kimball, NE and then N, hoping the road gods were favoring us. There was a supercell moving across the WY/NE into extreme NW NE, and we just might catch it.

That was not to be. Near dark, we hit the end of SR71. We hoped to G N from there but the road deteriorated to dirt, and we, by now, were not trusting Delorme at all. Hence we had to make a detour almost 20 mi E before resuming northward. By this time, the storm was not worth chasing, so we drove to Chadron to spend the night.

May 21, 2010

We drove a long ways trying to intercept the storm that ran E to Aberdeen, SD. As we reached 7mi SW of the EF4 wedge tornado then passing Bowdle, SD, we encountered a police roadblock due to tornado damage - for example:

We couldn't quite see the wedge due to contrast and rain. So we had to detour almost 60 miles to get back to the storm. By that time, the mesocyclone was diffuse and on the E side. In order to intercept we raced up a dirt road just in front of the meso, until the inflow winds reached pretty high speeds. We saw a white, ragged stovepipe Tornado just to our WNW maybe a mile. Since things were so hairy, we retreated back S to escape the danger area and get improved visibility. As reported by Mike Umscheid, others who stayed in a similar situation not far from where we turned around (they were 18 mi WWWSW) ended up fleeing the tornadoe(s) down an east road that unexpected dead-ended! They were forced to drive into a farmer's field to escape very near tornadoes. That left 6 cars bogged in the mud, 4 of which were pulled out by tractors later that night, 2 left for more specialized equipment the next day. Glad we misse that "excitement!" Things were too intense for us to take pictures of the tornado - we were busy analyzing the situation and making decisions.

May 23, 2010

This time, the roadblock was in our favor. After a long drive down from Aberdeen, SD, we decided to go to Colby, KS to meet the Twister Sisters. We didn't expect to get there in time to see storms before dark. However, we got there before dark, and there were supercells all over the place.

So, we decided to drive S to intercept a cell of opportunity. Only 14 mi south of town, we ran into this roadblock:

Since the day was almost done, and there didn't seem to be any obvious storms to intercept, we decided to just get out of the car and loaf around, watching the weather. So we wandered out, looked west, and were surprised to see a bowl shaped lowering strongly backlit by the setting sunlight. Then it produced a wall cloud. Then it produced a funnel, which gradually extended to the ground.

Such a deal - just step out of the car, see a tornado!

May 25, 2010 Tribune Kansas Multiple Tornadoes

On this storm, we saw abou 4 landspout tornadoes and 3 supercellular tornadoes. Other chasers who saw the first of those disagree was to whether it was a tornado or an uncategorizeable phenomenon, so we'll go with tornado. See below.

The Last of the Landspouts

This was SW of Towner, CO. Dr. John Monteverdi has much better photos on facebook.

The Supercell Tornado/Violent Outflow Eating Feature

This fascinating feature was created as the updraft base, which was producing landspout tornadoes, encountered a cold outflow from the storm to its north. The cold air was rapidly pulled into the updraft base, condensing just above the ground as it rose. This was almost due W of Towner, CO about 5 miles. It had violent turbulence and rapid ascent on the upper side, while the whole feature, near the ground had visible rotation (speed hard to gauge - est >50mph). We got quite close to it (other chasers didn't until later, when it had calmed down a bit), and it was pretty nasty looking. Traffic on the highway had completely stopped, out of fear of approaching any closer. We were the only close chasers on the west side. A bit later, Vortex 2 vehicles and hoards of chasers (including the remainder of our grouo showed up. That included: Matt Crowther, Dave Blanchard, and the real Twister Sisters - Linda Kitchen and Kathy Velasquez (Greg Brenneman had broken off like he often does, bagging another supercellar tornado that preceded the two we subsequently saw). After this feature dissipated, we concluded that the cold outflow would kill our storm, so we went back to Tribune for a pit stop, then headed south for another storm. Then... we discovered that a new tornado had been reported on the storm (the one Greg saw). Hypothesis discarded, we rapidly reversed course, zoomed back up to Tribune, and went a few miles north to where the storm was now strongest. Rather than dying, this surprisingly vigorous storm simply turned right, propagating eastward along the outflow boundary, and developed a good mesocyclonic circulation which eventually produced a number of tornadoes until dark. From our vantage point where the storm crossed the N/S highway, we watched as it rapidly formed a nice, nearby classic funnel tornado. That quickly dissipated, and then another spun up even closer to the highway - perhaps 1/2 mile away. It lasted a minute or so, and then dissipated. We decided to go due east to travel along with the storm and watch what we hoped would be a continuing tornado-fest.

First Supercell Tornado - Forming

This was due N of Tribune 5-10 miles less than 1 mile NW of the highway.

Second Supercell Tornado

This was also due N of Tribune 5-10 miles less than 1 mile NW of the highway and a couple of minutes after the first.

Sure enough, it did produce a tornado-fest. Unfortunately, it also wrapped rain around to the S side of the meso, obscuring any subsequent tornadoes from us. We eventually ran out of "trustworthy" E/W dirt road, and had to give up on the storm. Oh well... road issues are part of the game of storm chasing.

May 26 - Denver to Ft. Morgan CO Supercell

We didn't expect tornadoes this day, so we didn't get them. This storm formed at Denver International Airport, reportedly had a short tornado, and then slowly (really slowly - 10 mph) wandered over to Ft. Morgan. With some fun dirt road driving (Kathy had maps that turned out to be right), we got up close to the picturesque base and watched it for an hour or so. Then the twister sisters and us drove N under the meso, and E through the enlongated hail (not big enough to damage us - radar was our guide there) up to Ft. Morgan, where we watched it until sunset as it got even prettier. Then we spent the nite in Sterling, CO.
Pictures to be uploaded later.

May 27 - Off to the Black Hills

We didn't feel like driving to Montana and ND for a marginal risk today, so are going to Hot Springs, SD. We might wander N if storms develop far enough south, which is doubtful, but at least we'll stay in a little resort town in the hills.

May 28 - Down Day - Paleontology and History

After a relaxed breakfast, we started the days adventures with a tour of a Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. This had been a sink hole 27000 years ago, and mammoths had gotten trapped there and fossilized. It has been under excavation since the '70s and has a nice museum built around it, with the excavation site inside. Steve, Linda and Kathy at the Mammoth Museum

The Actual Dig, with Mammoth Bones Visible

Then, Steve and I decided to drive to Ogallala, NE for the night. Along the way, I realized we were driving down the same path that my great-great... grandfather had traveled in 1850 as a '49er in a wagon train, about which he wrote a fascinating diary. We found an Oregon/Mormon Trail historical site and stopped for a look.

Sign at The Site

The Trail and Our Location

A View of the North Platte Valley

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