Day 12 - Birthday Moderate

30 May 2012

Today started in the Walmart car park in Chikasha. I would never have suspected that a birthday would begin in such salubrious surroundings, or that I'd be so pleased to find myself in them! To be fair this was one of the quainter Walmart car parks, and the day started with a couple of balloons tied to Escapey's wing mirror, and a birthday cake for breakfast. Can't argue with that!

The SPC had issued a moderate risk for the day. That's basically our favourite outlook for storms. They are fairly certain there will be some, but the risk isn't too high for there to be too great a risk of collateral damage.

The risk area was close, but the models were complicated and we struggled to pick a target. There was plenty of moisture around but it was going to be hard to tell which lifting mechanism was going to yield any weather. There were clouds remaining from the previous night's storms to complicate the heating regime, and the combination of a dry line, a slow or stationary front and outflow boundaries from earlier storms all made for a difficult forecast. We made a choice based on the SPC's predictions, along with the logistics of an area where we'd have more data available. So we picked south west Kansas.

On route we stopped for some awesome birthday presents. Particularly pertinent was a "power kite". This was going to be a fantastic alternative if we were without storms, and merely a few good surface winds!

We arrived in reasonable time and, with internet back we took a look at what others were doing and thinking. Most chasers were back where we'd come from, in the middle of the moderate risk and next to the cold front. Additionally one of the top non-SPC forecasters (perhaps the top severe weather forecaster) had chimed in with some fairly rare input into his forums claiming the SPC had got this one wrong for a few reasons, and naming targets down in North West Texas. Judging by what we could see in the sky this could be right. However we were tied to our choice now, and we were going to stick to it. In fact we were going to push a bit further north, out of the moderate area but where things were looking a bit better.

We were surrounded by cumulus fields but there were some clouds starting to grow, and then starting to show up on visible satellite imagery. We stopped near a wind farm to get a better look above us.

We hooned off down a farm road into the face of the storm and were able to veer off below it before we reached it. Things got quickly better Cambo on the navigation it all worked out seamlessly. We ended up intercepting the storm on a farm road and were treated to some beautiful views of it. As we arrived it even looked like it might be trying to do something tornadic - although we didn't get a chance to get any shots of this before it wrapped back up into the cloud. Additionally because so many chasers were in so many different places today, we had this one pretty much to ourselves.

As we watched we could see it building up some rotation. This was confirmed with radar reporting a medium strength mesocyclone just in front of us. Shortly after it started rotating another chaser appeared down the road...amazing how little time there normally is between rotation firing and a chaser appearing, even in the middle of nowhere.

We watched it for a while longer, playing a little bit of cat and mouse as it moved towards us.

After a time it started to merge with the storms to its north and west and the whole system veered from moving eastwards to south-southeast. The whole system was now pretty substantial and it was starting to tell us we'd outstayed our welcome. We set course to get south and set a quick pace, as did the storm. It also started making a move from our west side too. It was doing the old pincer manoeuvre...cheeky. We put about a half mile between us and its leading edge before needing to take a farm road east, cutting across the front of the storm, so we could take another south. Driving fast through sand in road tires isn't the best, and doing it with 45mph cross wind hitting as we went was also less than optimal, but we got to our south just before the precipitation did. Good news as wet sand would have added a further unwanted element to that journey.

As we headed south our cell became tornado warned. There hadn't been any others on this whole system. It didn't look like one was needed, but it was a nice birthday present nonetheless.

We managed to get to paved roads and I insisted on a quick turn west to look underneath it, but then realised the wisdom of Cambo's recommendation to head the other way. The storm was now moving fairly quickly, closing in on us, and it was going to be all we could do to avoid a lot of rain and hail.

Again we were hooning it, first a short way east then south. We got about a mile south before the storm hit us from the west. Hard rain and winds overtook us but we were ahead of the hail core so we kept the pace up to try and get ahead of it again. We were treated to some epic lightning. When you're driving and can still feel thunder through your feet you know it's big thunder...

We got ahead of it again but in front of us could see an odd orange glow on the horizon. As we got closer there were flashing lights too. On drawing near it was apparent that there was a small forest fire, almost certainly due to a lightning strike. The road was blocked by the police and so we had to wait for an agonising few minutes while the fire was brought under control of the emergency services. If only they'd been keeping an eye on the radar they could have known that natures own sprinkler systems were about to take hold in no uncertain way. The rain wasn't too bad before we were allowed to make a break to get ahead of the storm again.

We finished up the night with a somewhat frustrating search for a motel that was neither soulless and expensive, or a hell hole. In some areas this is easy enough, but it seemed this part of Kansas was fairly polarised between the two types. In the end we settled for one in a town called Cimeran. The important thing was that it had a microwave to prepare my birthday baked beans. All the way from the UK, without a single sausage, chicken piece, bacon or 16oz steak in it...possibly the finest meal available for a vegetarian in the Midwest!

UPDATE: What we saw as we arrived was seen by another chaser who believed it to be a tornado. Although we're still not 100% convinced, as it was my birthday, we'll call it one!

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Wed May 2012

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Wed May 2012

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