Wray, Colorado

07 May 2016

We landed on May 3rd and had spent a few days in the mountains as there was no bad weather around to be seen. There are a couple of the nice things about having a little downtime when you arrive. Not needing to undertake long drives with jetlag is one. But another important thing is the opportunity to get all our kit set up without the immediate pressure of wanting up to the minute weather data. We dealt with the jetlag well via the usual means; getting fresh air and exercise and trying to steady the sleep patterns, using the early wake-up to go and do some dawn photography (just after dawn as it happens – clearly not quite enough jet lag). In terms of the kit we did pretty much nothing, so suddenly we had a stormy day ahead and nothing much working. Well played. Still, after a few burnt out components and melted plastic and liberal use of gorrilla tape, all was well.

The first chase of the year, as it happened, would be in north east Colorado. We had toyed with the idea of heading down to New Mexico, but ended up staying in the Denver region so we were blessed with a very short distance to travel. We had stayed in the town of Brush overnight, a place we describe as “that funny place that’s not quite a place but on the way to other places”. OK this doesn’t make us out to be poets in the making but it does describe Brush quite well.
Our target area for the day would be a little to our east but essentially we just needed to wait and see what happened.

The setup looked reasonable, but not great, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some crazed religious billboards that state: thou shalt not underestimate Colorado Magic.

The storms started reasonably early. By around 2pm there were quite a few firing a little to the east of Denver and a few firing in east-central Colorado. All of them were tracking north as they were pushed up by the flow of a low pressure now building rapidly over north central Colorado.

Although the storms around Denver were clearly getting their spin on, they looked messy, so we chose to track east and see what would develop with the storms initiating on the east side. Our first encounter of them showed us some nice structure but it didn’t look overly organised just yet.

We tracked north with this storm for a little while then dropped back onto what looked a better organised, but still not amazing storm coming from the south. We pulled in to watch it next to a farmer’s field, and lo and behold, it decided to display for us.

First base of storm

We didn’t have much time but fortunately the local dial-a-foreground farmer was nearby and able to get his combine harvester lined up nicely with the forming tornado.

Tractor Beam

It lasted about 5 minutes, finishing up with a classic rope-out stage which kindly coincided with some lightning.

Rope Lightning

We were stoked. A great siting on our first chase day. This storm was now moving north to harder-to-reach areas with a new cell firing to its south which was looking healthy. We headed back south to the town of Wray. Just north of there we pulled in to watch it develop with a few other chasers sharing the same plan.

Watching the storm

As we watched the mesocyclone just next to Wray created a brief tornado, which is hard to make out but there is a funnel in the cloud and the circulation on the ground was clear to see.

Cambo Nada Dominator

This didn’t last long but showed that the storm had promise so we waited as long as we felt comfortable doing so and tracked a little north and pulled into a farm road and let the meso come towards us. The rotation was still very strong and couldn’t be giving clearer indications that another tornado was imminent. As we watched, in the tranquillity of low winds, no rain and birdsong, the tornado started, touching down initially around 300 meters to our south. The pictures tell this story better than my words could, but essentially we never let it get closer than that, as we edged up the road ahead of it…

Willow the wisp

Willow the wisp close up

Drill bit initial funnel

Close up of large funnel

Tornado From The Office Window

Tornado hunting

Tornado Up Close

As the tornado itself appeared to be dissipating we were somewhat cut-off from our route south by unknown road and weather conditions, so we headed north through the main precipitation of the storm. It was a very noisy driving through hail, but our ‘little’ chase vehicle from this year once again proved himself very capable, shrugging off the ice, wind and wet roads just as well as most of our SUVs have in the past.

After getting out of the rain and hail we tracked a little east before stopping and watching it pass us by, now becoming a little more disorganised, but still showing some nice structure.

End Of The Day Shelf

Unlike many such exciting days we didn’t have time to head straight for a motel and start looking at pictures. Tomorrow’s risk area was a long way away so we needed to bank some miles. Three and a half hours to Garden City Walmart and sleep followed very quickly after.

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 2016

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Sat May 2016

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