Day 5 - Storms on the cold front

23 May 2012

It was a sunny morning in Kearney, Nebraska. We were woken early having slept in the car again, this time not so well though so some exercise seemed on the cards today if there was to be an opportunity. We also had not as yet adopted our usual pattern of both choosing a potential target individually by looking at the models, conferring and debating where we both thought we should go and why; a useful way of improving our forecasting skills. So we grabbed some breakfast and a coffee from subway and both sat in the car, looking at the models to chose a staging post. The SPC had issued a slight risk for the day covering much of SE Nebraska and Northern Kansas. This was great as it meant not much driving, a welcomed relief after the 831 miles driven the day before. We were both in agreement that slightly south-west was a good idea and we would make a play for somewhere on the cold front and hope the storms would be able to break through the capped layer of warmer air that was residing on the other side of the front.

We headed for a place called Hastings which was only 60 miles away in south-east Nebraska and found a lovely park with a lake to chill in while we waited. To stretch the legs and loosen up a bit from a cramped sleep, Tim went for a run around the lake and I did a bit of yoga. It was noticeable that the Americans round here aren't really geared up for exercise with Tim having to run partly on the interstate to get around the lake! Although saying that, we did some healthy looking kids going for a bit of a swim which was a new one on us.

We made some sandwiches for lunch and leisurely picnicked on a blanket stolen from the plane. It was extremely hot and we measured temperatures of over 90F. We were therefore in advance of the approaching cold front which was a great position to be on for any storms firing on the front. Then our friends Nathan and Pete found us. They had seen our position from spotter network, an online service that allows storm chasers to provide storm reports into a network monitored by the SPC, and also to see the location of other spotters along with any severe weather they've reported. We know Pete from conferences back in the UK where he has spoken about storm photography and we met Nathan at the storm chasers BBQ last year. We chatted and waited with them in the park, looking at the model updates together and discussing various tactics that may play out best later that day.

As early evening approached it was apparent the cold front had passed. The temperature had dropped to the mid-70s. There was some evidence of a few cells going up slightly to our east, most likely on the aforementioned front that had just passed us, so we got into our respective cars and made a chase for it. As we drove, the cells looked as though they were managing to break through the cap and were growing right in front of our eyes

As the cell came towards us we were able to take more photos of the structure underneath the storm. It was clear to see the outflow as it kicked up dust in the distance. This is from the rain cooled air that is ejected out of the storm as it has lost all its buoyancy. In close proximity to this part of the storm you can often feel the drop in temperature and experience the strong winds that accompany it.

We didn't have long before the familiar white curtain of the hail core was upon us so we grabbed our stuff and hooned back down the road on which we came. Before we knew it we were out of reach again; a typical cat and mouse scenario. We were feeling great as this definitely looked like the best cell in the area. However, now that it was very much outflow dominant we decided to leave it on its journey north-east as we went south-east to get on the next one which had started to fire up behind it. On some days you can do this for hours, a process we've now affectionately named 'storm hopscotch'.

As it happened the storms behind it just didn't have the strength of the first one, which actually persisted for a long period of time after we left it. We were starting to question whether we had made the right decision and were secretly hoping it wouldn't amount to much, which thankfully it didn't! We decided to sit it out under the few fizzling storms that were left in the immediate area. Some of the earlier storms had merged together and were forming a complex line of storms further north but this was looking very messy and not appealing to chase after dark. As the hail became smaller and the lightning less frequent, we headed north-west to Fremont where we had booked a motel for the night and to which hopefully our aerial had been delivered to. To increase the chances of it reaching us successfully we had decided a recognised, branded motel was necessary for the night and had booked the Sleep Inn, quite a well known chain out here.

Our aerial was there an waiting for us thankfully and was compatible with the equipment we had already purchased, so that was a relief. What was also interesting to note was that by paying $20 more by treating ourselves to a more reputable motel than some of the roadside horse-shoe independent and cheaper ones we tend to frequent, you seem to lose the rights to a) a fridge, b) a microwave and c) a toilet door?! Funnily enough one of the few instances in life where it would seem paying less gets you more. It was great to have a bed though and we both slept well in the hope that the following day would bring us a 'moderate' risk zone nearby, something hinted at in the last SPC update. Fingers crossed!

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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