Day 19 - Colorado Magic

06 June 2012

We woke with fifteen minutes to shower and get packed up from our favourite motel in Sterling. We had had a hot meal the night before, bought supplies for today in advance - red bull and cheesey bread and other lunch bits. We were ready to hit the road and find the anticipated Colorado storms.

We were so happy and excited with the prospect of a good chase in our favourite state. We positioned ourselves a bit further south on the I76 in another well known town called Brush. The skies were filled with almost comic like little cumulus clouds, a good sign that there was moisture aloft. The storms were expected to initiate near the Colorado Front Range - an area aligned in a north south configuration to the west of the Great Plains and just east of the foothills of the Rockies. The Denver Convergence Vorticity Zone was also expected to play a major part in the development of these storms. The DCVZ is a meteorological phenomenon where warm moist air from the south east flows up and over the Palmer Divide - a ridge that extends east from the front rage. As it is lifted up and over this ridge it meets the north-westerly winds originating from the Rockies and these converging winds can create the spin that is needed for rotating storms, supercells, to develop.

Our friends Nathan and Pete located us in Brush and we hung around for a bit together and chatted about the days potential. An update from SPC suggesting convection may initiate a bit further west lead us a little further in toward the foothills and it wasn't long before we saw the first big towers going up. It was about 3pm local time at this point. We sat underneath a large tower as it started to anvil.

We took some piccies but weren't sure whether this particular storm had the required vigour we were looking for. The updrafts further towards Denver looked more tempting, so we let it pass and move off north-east. We were sure better was still to come.

We tried venturing even further west, but the aforementioned updrafts that looked more enticing also were not seeming to amount to much so we backtracked a little and sat and waited in Wiggins. This time it was us that found Pete and Nathan where they were also waiting and looking at what was passing overhead, but they too thought this wasn't the ultimate show and that things would pick up a bit later. We stopped with them for a while and competed to measure the strongest windspeed!

True to expectations at around 6, a cell started to fire further south. It seemed to be at the end of line where previous cells had come from, but with nothing behind it, this meant it would have no interference from other storms and could develop in a more discrete fashion. The four of us headed straight south to it. Our navigational software took us slightly different ways but we ended up in the same place. On the way, it was apparent that this was the most dominant storm in the area. We had great hope for it and took a photo of its extensive precipitation.

It was a funny cell. Since it's initiation it hadn't seemed to move anywhere but was just growing where it was. This had lead to many flash flood warned areas. By approaching the storm head on, any features underneath the core of the storm were obscured by the precipitation, but it did look like it actually hard some rotation nearer the front part of the storm. It was hard to know exactly how to approach it, but we went with instinct and tried to get behind it and slightly to the south east. It was now tornado warned; fantastic. It was here that we once again found Pete and Nathan. Our third encounter and definitely third time lucky. We all stood there amazed at the fantastic structure on offer.

It looked like it was wrapping up nicely and when we thought it looked like it was starting to develop a funnel cloud, me and Tim left the other 2 and zoomed off towards it to get a closer view. The place we stopped to take more photos was ideal. It was quiet and peaceful with no other chasers around and for once our views weren't obstructed by any wires. We managed to capture some more structure shots.

We noticed a darker area to the left of the storm in the same place we had noticed the previous funnel but it was hard to make out anything in such low light and limited contrast. As it turned out at this point, the storm had actually put down a rather large cone tornado. A bit of re-working photos brought this into view and as it turned out we had managed to shoot the tornado whilst it was on the ground (darkest bit on the left hand side of storm).

We tried to get in a bit closer but were restricted by only being insured on paved roads and this particular area was a maze of unpaved farm roads. We stopped a bit nearer and got more shots of the storm at dusk. The skies were filled with other fantastic cloud structures in including the massive storm inflow cloud and some very gloopy mamatus clouds.

We really wanted to get closer to the storm as it was still tornado warned but this meant driving 20 miles of unpaved roads to get to the paved road right behind the storm, We decided to try it. The storm was moving so slowly and it appeared as though it hadn't actually passed over the unpaved roads we needed to take, which meant that conditions should still be drivable. If however we reached a point where the car was sliding around too much we could always turn back. We went for it and thanks to Tim's driving skills and Escapey's best effort, we stayed on the road and reached the safety of the paved road. Hooray. This meant the chase wasn't over and we managed to get right up behind the storm.

We stopped in a place called Elizabeth, a bit to the south-east of Denver and found a great vantage point to get some more lightning shots. It was only possible to see the structure of the storm when it lit itself up with lightning, but at one point, shortly after we got there it seemed as though the storm was once again trying to form a funnel cloud. We captured a few shots of this and as it happened the time does coincide with another report of a brief tornado touchdown, so who knows.

We captured some great strokes from this storm too.

After a while shooting lightning we decided to call it a day on the photography front and go and find a beer. Both the towns of Elizabeth and the one further up the road Kiowa looked like they bars that were still open. A novelty for the Midwest, especially gone 9pm. We found a great bar called Wingnutz where we grabbed a beer and a bowl of fries and talked animatedly with the owners, a lovely couple, about the fascination of storms and shared stories. Although they had never actively chased before they both thought the storms were so cool and couldn't believe we didn't have storms to the same extent back in England.

After the post storm celebrations we headed back up the road to the nearby Walmart where we could look at the photos from the day, share another couple of beers and once again fall asleep to the lightning. Another great Colorado chase day.

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

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

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Wed June 2012

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