Day 2 - A Convective Outlook

05 June 2010

We're just settling down for some sleep in the Explorer, after a long day on the road. Our first day Chasing has beaten all our expectations, and though some way off seeing any tornadoes, we got to see some of the types of storms that produce them, and experience their power at its most mild (not that it felt it).

The day began with some brekky in the motel, surprisingly healthy so long as you kept away from the doughnuts. We took in the state of the various weather models and chose our first target to be Fort Madison, Iowa.

The air was hot and oppressive, just the sort of weather you'd associate with thunder storms...

This journey took longer than expected as we had lots of stops to try to correct or set up technical issues with our kit. This was the only real issue with our flight problems on Friday - we had to get things set up on the road, which was a pain at times, but all the more satisfying once everything worked and we could source up to date radar imagery, gps data and numerical weather models while on the move.

With the requisite techno-faffing we were running well behind time but at around 4pm we realised the weather had shifted and we needed to swap targets to the west... after driving east for hours. Strangely, though, when driving is a large part of the activity, rather than being the means to get to an activity, it seems so much less galling to be on the move for so long. (I think I understand you a little better now Seanie!)

By around 5pm super-cells were spawning into a "quasi-linear convective system" to our north. At least that's what it looked like, could also have been a bow echo. Basically it's a big line of supercells that will in places interfere with each other, lessening their potential, and in other places enhance one another, producing an array of potential weather scenarios.

We drove north and, stopping at a local garage in a tiny place called "Mark" to look at the radars, saw the edge of the weather coming towards us. Some really epic clouds were bearing down on us and we couldn't help but stop for a few minutes to take some pictures.

We pressed on Northwards towards the front line of the storms and here we started to see some of the clouds we'd only read about before. Towering cumulonimbus stretching from just a couple of thousand feet above the ground right through the entire troposphere, and spreading out into an anvil as the air can no longer rise any further as it hits the stratosphere, where the temperature of the atmosphere starts to rise again.

We had seen so many pictures of similar things, but nothing can quite prepare you for the incredible power and enormity of these things. We were lost for adjectives, and even now can't really think of them. "Big Puffy White Monsters" seems like the best. Perhaps if it weren't an overused word, "awesome" would be fitting too. These weren't the best sitings either, the nature of the storm meant the sky was a mess of different types and levels of clouds, but it didn't undermine how impressive they seemed.

We were now positioned in front of the storms and faced with our first big chase decision. We were to the east of a storm that was moving east. The line went from our north east to south west. North was where the storms were most intense and potentially tornadic, south would position us best to get to the tail end of the storm for the best views, but it was potentially too late to get there. East would keep us ahead of the storm, but the light was fading and it would likely catch us up after a messy chase (it chasing us, which wouldn't be right given the nature of the trip!). After careful analysis of the radar we worked out that we could head straight into the beast and get through a narrow part of the storm. It was raining hard but no hail or tornadic winds. We would land up on the back side of it and could then follow it and enjoy the views...

We set out west towards it for our first true storm experience.

The skies darkened as we closed in, and the rain began to fall. The road took us straight and having our gps position on the radar maps was invaluable. We were heading into the narrow section we had targeted.

As we reached the perimeter of the more intense parts of the storms the rain began to fall really hard. The wipers were maxing out and visibility was very low. Traffic was easy enough, probably 200 yards between us and a car in either direction, so it didn't feel to bad. Then it started to rain. We've experienced heavy rain before, of course, but this was spectacular. It's hard to gauge but if you told us this rain was falling at an inch per minute I wouldn't be surprised. After a very long 30 seconds or so of this, visibility returned just enough for us to see rain whipping around in a rotation in front of us (just long enough for us to both wonder if we'd just driven into a rain wrapped tornado!). After a bit of wind and rain hammering the visibility increased a fraction more and the sun burst through from above us like a saviour.

Within another minute or so we were out of the storm and pulled up on a local track and had the cameras out to take some pictures of the back of the storm as it pulled away.

Don't read the above in the thought that we took risks and were being foolish. As it panned out, we actually made a great choice. We drove through the easiest part of the storm and weren't in any real danger. However we learnt in a very in-your-face way just how powerful even the weaker parts of these storms can be. It was invaluable experience in many ways, and equips us better to be even safer in future storms, if only knowing just what the rainfall intensity, as shown on radar, means.

We stayed on the back of the storm for another couple of hours, and as the light faded, the light show started. We stopped in a rural spot for a while and tried to photo lightning, with Cambo getting a couple of nice shots.

At the end of the day we got to a reasonable sized town to find a bar to have a beer before bed. Unfortunately this town had no bars. Around 200 fast food outlets, not one slow beer outlet. Bizarre...

So into Walmart for 6 beers and into the Explorer...definitely going to sleep well.

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

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

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Sat June 2010

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