Span a' Montana

31 May 2014

We started the day in Billings, Montana, after a long drive the night before we headed to a park with a lake to get some time out of the car while we decided on our specific strategy for the day. It certainly saves time and money sleeping in the car, but after 2 nights in a row you start needing to spend time away from it by any means possible!

The SPC forecast was a slight risk covering central and eastern Montana and stretching down to Colorado and a little into the Dakotas. The best storms appeared likely on a stationary cold front in central Montana. There was also a lee cyclone forming over eastern Montana, associated with a surface trough in Wyoming, which was dragging moist air up from the south east into the higher terrain of the high plains. This south easterly upslope flow, with additional lift from the front would be enough for convective initiation. The main question was whether there would be enough shear to promote supercell development.

After a little time recuperating in the fresh air we headed towards Broadus. We had to choose between heading north east or straight east, and chose straight east as the best environment for tornadoes appeared to be a little north of the surface low in Wyoming – which meant south east Montana. As we travelled east we saw some great looking updrafts which looked really powerful. However as we reached them they appeared to be dying out, meanwhile storms to our north were sitting just off the road we had decided not to take! We decided it wasn’t too late and went north as quickly as we could. These sorts of drives are crazy, you tend to have views of the storms you’re going for, which are often 50,000 feet high, so they can appear close but take a painful age to get any closer.

Weather Photo Updraft

We finally arrived in Miles City with just a few minutes to view the supercell that was sitting just to the north west of the city but starting to move in its direction. It was now an HP mode supercell but it was stunning nonetheless and we got some great photo opportunities.

Weather Mason City Precipitation Core

Shortly after we arrived it started congealing with other cells to its north west and took on an almost straight easterly trajectory. We got on a road straight east out of the area and took some shots as we moved away from it. After another short driving stint I set up a time lapse and while we waited to build up enough shots, on this quiet road in the hills of Montana we did the only sensible thing we could think of and turned up the car stereo and danced around like idiots for a while.

Our final stint of driving for the day would be a few hours down to Chadron in Nebraska. This would be a long journey but it was far from dull as the line of storms caught up with us as we headed south. This meant we had to drive south through a north / south line as it crossed our path. The rain wasn’t too bad, but the lightning was intense, the closest strike hitting a small industrial yard about 200 meters away from us, wiping out all the flood lights in the place and giving us a surprise, if, fortunately, not a shock.

We got to Chadron in good time, however, and I was tired enough to sleep through a strong storm that hit us in the night. Hopefully next time they’ll be kind enough to do that in the daytime so we don’t have to drive so far!

Key points:

SPC Day 1 Weather Outlook as at 06:00UTC (01:00 Central Time the night before)

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Sat May 2014

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Sat May 2014

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