Day 18 - A Beautiful Chase

21 June 2010

We both got up not feeling too bad after our rude awakening last night. Still managed to put away a good 7 hours sleep or so. Checked out, but stayed in the car park to put the free wifi to good use. We'd anticipated the night before that we'd need to be somewhere on the Nebraska / Kansas border for what some were saying may be a repeat of the last two day's activity on the border. It had been extremely active there, with us being part of it the first day, but not the second. It had become quite messy yesterday though, with rotation solely on the leading edge, where winds were the most damaging and any tornadoes rain wrapped. We studied the models independently. We're getting quite good at this now and can pin down a target area within 10 minutes or so. Conferred and agreed to let Nebraska go and head to the beautiful chase terrain of Colorado.

Although it wasn't in the SPC's highest risk area, it still seemed to have potential - a very unstable atmosphere and high wind shear, plus the beautiful chase terrain and knowledge of the road system swayed us. So, off to Colorado - about 4 hours drive, but you gain one back due to entering mountain time zone. The sun was shining and we passed the time listening to old school songs. A great journey and happy to be returning to what has now become our second home; Sterling, Colorado!

The beautiful sight of towering cumulus in the distance confirmed to us that this slightly lesser risk area may indeed produce the goods and we could be in for some cool storms. Hooray. We readjusted our position slightly and headed to the outskirts of a town called Brush. Three beautiful supercells had already formed in the area. They looked to be remaining discrete with a beautifully slow storm motion of only 17mph - great for observing and tracking. The discreteness of these storm cells can literally have you storm chasing in the sunshine. It's the weirdest concept. Isolated cells in an otherwise clear sunny sky. Out of one car window, dark, ominous, defined storm cell structure whilst having your arm sunburnt hanging out of the window on the other side.

We positioned ourselves in the middle of the three rotating storms and we were safe there for quite a while. The lightning wasn't too frequent and as mentioned they weren't going anywhere in a hurry. When I say they were rotating, I don't mean extremely fast just in a circle, it's more like they are pulsing and breathing. The photos below show what the underside of these clouds look like. All the textured areas are constantly changing shape, appearing, disappearing and twisting around each other etc. As the storm ingests moist rain-cooled air from the surrounding environment, the air ascends and converges and wall clouds may form as a descending of the cloud base or may form as rising scud clouds consolidate and organise. We had a few instances of this in the distance but they didn't develop enough to become tornadic. This did not however detract from their beauty. It was like being in a storm nature reserve, watching and observing them in their natural environment.

Once they were literally above our heads, we decided to push on down the road south. They were slowly starting to envelope this road too and once again it was a 'hack it south as fast as you can moment' through driving rain and winds and according to the Baron Threatnet (our satellite driven radar software) with accompanying rotation. I had to laugh when it encircled our van with rotation! And I took this laughing as a sign of personal progression. I'm losing the fear!

Tim drove like a dude again and before we knew it we were out of the storm and back into blue skies. Seriously blue skies and baking temperatures. So, so odd! Tracking the storm lead us to need to do a bit of off-roading today. We have a slight problem you see in that our car hire company stipulates insurance is only valid on paved roads. This is common place with rental companies and often poses problems to foreign chasers. We have to therefore take it a bit easy and unfortunately the lack of speed and the terrain of these farm roads gave the cells we were tracking quite a lead. Still, it was a great experience, out in the middle of the isolated Colorado farmlands with supercells firing off in the distance. Such a feeling of freedom and space and so much fun.

So, back onto the US36 highway to try to catch them up again. We drove on for about 40 miles in their direction, stopping to get a few pics of the views behind us in the light of dusk.

However, it seemed there was no need to pursue the chase as we had another nice little discrete cell popping up behind us. Well, it started off little but boy did it rapidly grow. The conditions couldn't have been better for supercell development and this one matured at quite a pace, before long blocking our road back out of the area and gaining the trademark 'tornado vortex signature' - another algorithmically derived feature shown on radar. We couldn't go north as this would have taken us into its hail core. We couldn't push on east as we'd get caught in the other cell's hail cores. It was blocking west. It had to be south. But the southern route was littered with road works and this cell was approaching fast. So once again, a hack it south moment was needed. Tim drove, giving me the opportunity of taking some shots from the car.

Once in the clear we stopped to take photos of the beautiful scenes behind us. The storm was moving away from us and the inflow clouds were quite a sight.

The height of this storm created the most stunning effect by creating a shadow across the sky, allowing only part of the clouds to be lit up by the sun. You can see below the curved shadow it created.

Light was too minimal now to chase any further so we headed back up the road, back home to Sterling. We once again had to stop for the roadworks, which gave us a chance to stop and have a chat with one of the road workers. His family originated from Wales and he was keen to find out what we were doing in this part of the America. On finding out we were storm chasing he wasted no time telling us about the storms that had passed over the road where he had been working and at one point, the winds were so strong they had actually lifted and thrown the portaloo right over the top of his car. Not pleasant!

A great day's chasing. Mother Nature was on top form. Definitely the best yet.

Cammie x

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Mon June 2010

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Mon June 2010

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