Boise will be Boise

16 May 2016

After a pretty disappointing day previous, and a fairly quiet few days over all we had high hopes for today. A low pressure system moving off the mountains was helping pull some moisture up from the gulf and then pushing it up the mountains in more or less the opposite direction to the winds high above (a good thing). It might seem odd to think that wafting some damp air up a hill can be the cause of excitement, but it is one of the best setups available. There’s normally a couple of questions around the details, and today would be no exception. While storms appeared very likely, and the location seemed relatively predictable, the mode they would take on was hard to predict. We targeted Boise city in Oklahoma as a starting point. As did many chasers. It’s hitting peak chase season and with few opportunities happening people are jumping on a setup like this one.

As we neared the area a storm had initiated over the hills in far south Colorado, while another appeared to be starting in New Mexico. The northern storm appeared stronger and so we, along with half the US chase population, headed for it. On initial inspection the storm looked fairly disorganised.

Gradually, as it neared, it began to take on a more interesting structure. To the credit of the SPC forecasters this looked to be panning out exactly as they had said. The storm fired over higher terrain but in less good overall conditions, then would move east into better conditions. Trying to plot our course was tricky, though, with the storm’s motion being really inconsistent. Each radar update seemed to move it in a different direction. We weren’t the only ones finding this. The SPC were issuing severe thunderstorm warnings for this storm’s path, then have to issue a new one when it turned out the storm wasn’t going to go that way after all.

Although it was already in a pretty HP state (lots of rain and hail, less structure) we stuck with it even as new storms started to fire in its wake, and were rewarded as it organised further and took on some decent structure. Then as we pulled in to one stop we saw a tornado warning out and a report of one on the ground. It wasn’t immediately obvious but we could see it, and gradually it emerged from the green loaming to give us a pretty good view.

Tornado

Tornado 2

Rope Tornado 1

Rope tornado 2

After this had finished its business we tracked with the storm for a little longer, but it quickly became even rainier and so we left it behind in favour of some of its new siblings which we could see against the late afternoon skies. We headed for the most southerly of these and found a good road to take us along the front of it. It worked perfectly and we found ourselves in a great position as it put down a funnel cloud away to our right.

pano second funnel

Once we found a good view, though, it had given up trying, but still gave us some good photo opportunities during the golden hour. On one such photo op we bumped into a group of UK chasers, one of whom we’d caught up with at the Torro conference a few weeks back. They were also stoked with how the day was panning out with some pretty exciting moments in the middle of things. Always good to see some friendly faces and swap a few stories and thoughts about the day, before a big wall of wind hits and you all go off your separate (though often parallel) ways.

Storm friends

As we tracked ahead of this cell we started to see some really great pictures appearing on social media from the other side of it. So we thought we’d take a look and see if we could cut through its precipitation to get to those views. We got about 3 miles down the road before the hail started. It wasn’t too bad, but was getting more intense, and hard to pick out against the bright sun behind it, so we made an about turn and headed back to the main road. The view was awesome. If you look up into these ‘big’ hail storms you get this surreal view of the stones falling at all sorts of angles and in various shapes and sizes. Unfortunately it’s accompanied by noise. A lot of noise.

hail and windmill

We got out of the hail and onto the main road as the storm formed a new updraft to its south. The evolution was odd, at one time we thought it was the same storm, but as we stopped to take some shots it became apparent that we had miscalculated what was happening a little. While we weren’t exactly sure of the misjudgement, once you’re in misjudgement territory it’s time to make a break for it. As we pulled back onto the main road the hail stones started to hit the tarmac. At first fairly widely scattered but on occasion big. Really big. Not the biggest we’ve seen, but close, and right on us, and easily enough to do Percy some damage. We certainly weren’t the only people to get caught out. There were a lot of chasers idling by the roadside as the big hail started to pound cars and tarmac without prejudice.  All we could do was keep going as fast as we safely could and see what happened. The ice in these situations isn’t consistent. Some stones will be fairly soft and just ‘splat’ on the surface it hits, while others will bounce, almost completely intact off tarmac many feet back into the air. With these different outcomes occurring with stones between 1 and 3” diameter all over the place all you can do is hope. Unlike the previous hail scene you don’t look up out of the window at these ones, not least lest the window get broken near your face. We took 2 hits from big stones and a few smaller ones. One big one on the roof left its mark, but one that hit the windshield, thankfully, didn’t break it.

Hail Dent

Once out of the storm we continued with it for a while, getting some last shots as the light faded on what had ended up being a pretty epic chase day. Lots of lessons and some great sites and a couple of denty mementos (modentos?) for good measure.

hail core and Percy

 

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Mon May 2016

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Mon May 2016

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