From the Bears to the Bear's Cage

09 June 2016

After a couple of days in Yellowstone national park we found ourselves with some storms, relatively speaking, on our doorstep so we left the bears for the bear’s cage (that’s a part of a supercell by the way)

Yellowstone is an amazing if enormous national park and we still had quite a few bits of it we intended to see when all plans were overturned thanks to a decent forecast turning up for storms in Montana, about 4 hours to our north. Montana can be a pain to chase in from a logistical point of view, with very few roads and, as we discovered via 3 punctures in a day last year, the farm roads can be pretty harsh on the car’s tyres, but the landscapes are awesome and we’ve had some pretty great chase days on the few roads that there are, so off we went

The storms fired early as a northerly surface wind brought moisture down from the northern borders. That in itself is a weird setup, which doesn’t help with our forecasting, but it didn’t matter too much as by the time we were in the area there were storms firing up and moving in a fairly normal way, so it was just a matter of positioning. Strong winds aloft (about 6km up) were helping the storms get underway, but also setting them off at quite a pace. The targets moving in whatever direction they like at 50mph with so few road options can be tricky and the first storm was disappearing away to our east before we could get a good position on it so we had to let it go and wait for the next one.

We stopped with a view across the rolling hills to the area the storm was building up. It didn’t look like much, but over time it started to organise and loom over us.

The beginning of the storm

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves starting to head east to get ahead of what was now a decent looking storm, chasing us down the road fast enough that for every 4 or 5 minutes driving at 70mph we’d find ourselves able to stop for about 2 minutes to catch some awesome sights.

Storm and House

Timbo and Storm

Pano 1

Our road was east, but with a little north in it, and the storm had a little south in its motion. Our best bet for getting into position on the best part of it again was a road south about 20 miles ahead. We were going to cut it very fine in terms of getting in front of it, but gave it a go. It was a somewhat tense drive as the shelf of the cell sped across the landscape to our west. We managed to get south in time to skim the apex of the advancing core as the storm appeared to be intensifying. Strong outflow winds were buffeting us and throwing tumbleweed all over the place, making for a hectic, earie and exciting drive. Unfortunately at that time the storm more or less died, on our heads, making for a disappointing result for the investment of tension.

The plan left us with a backup of intercepting more storms to the south and so we headed on down the road. The next winds we encountered were the storm’s inflow. As the inflow was drawing air from east to west – the opposite of prevailing westerly winds – tumbleweed that builds up on fences or other barriers near the road was now unleashed in the other direction. This created an incredible scene: the tumbleweed were between about 1 and 2 feet in size and move at varying paces and in the fading blue-grey light and haze of vapour and dust they looked like packs of wild dogs running across and along the road. Tumbleweed itself doesn’t do much harm to the car, but they are covered in thorns which can damage tyres so we try to dodge them and so weaved our way down the road, thankful, as for most of this journey, that there were no other vehicles around.

We got south in time to meet another storm coming in from the west. It chucked a lot of lightning around but unfortunately petered out next to us again, but was fun to watch it for a time nonetheless.

The final cell in the line was also fading, but its death throws met us in Miles City where we ended up for the night, to forecast for the next day, back in the game.

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Thu June 2016

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Thu June 2016

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