Day 7 – Slightly better than moderate

24 May 2013

We awoke early in the friendly and familiar surroundings of Colorado. To be fair I doubt this Walmart car park is any safer or nicer than any others, but something about Colorado tends to make us feel at home (yes, even in a car park!). The forecast for today had remained as a slight risk for most of the far eastern edge of Colorado, including the boundaries of the surrounding states. We were in Lamar, around a third of the way up the east side of the state, and after reviewing the models decided to head up to Burlington, which is pretty much half way up. The forecast wasn’t a simple one, with a number of factors playing a part, but moisture being the ingredient in short supply. The models varied in their solutions but the consensus was that it would arrive, but exactly where, and how that would interact with other conditions, wasn’t clear.

We waited in Burlington in the knowledge that storms would probably kick off somewhere within a hundred miles of us, but may well congeal into a larger storm after some time, so we needed to keep our eyes on the skies, and on all available data, in the hope that we’d spot activity when it started, and get to it in time to make the most of it.

This kind of wait can be quite hard to handle. It’s crucial that you don’t rush off too early (as we’ve been known to do) but also that you do go when the time is right. This involves lots of pacing around (mentally or physically), looking at clouds, and looking very closely at computer screens as satellite imagery and local observations update. The satellite imagery is probably the most entertaining as each feature that displays can elicit discussion, with it not being unknown for the feature to be a speck of dust on the monitor.

In the end it was the surface observations that governed our decisions. The weather stations to our north were showing a shallower dew point depression (the difference between the air temperature and the temperature that air would have to be cooled to for water to condense) – this indicated moisture had arrived in that area, and with some convection starting in both directions, North seemed like our best play.

We started north, but as we lacked some confidence in the plan, we stopped along the way whenever we saw any significant convection kicking off, to take a few shots and enjoy the view of some vigorous updrafts, even though they then tended to fade a little.

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Each time a new area of stronger convection started further to our north we’d drive up into it, and eventually we arrived on a cloud that was forming into something of a storm! The storm (as many of the storms today would be) developed into an LP (low precipitation) supercell. Although LP supercells tend to be a little weaker, and these were panning out to be quite high based, they can also yield some of the best chase conditions, with structure easy to make out, and easy to navigate around. You could drive right into the heart of this storm with very few concerns whatsoever, unlike any of the storms over the last few days.

After a little bit of positioning we found ourselves a great spot to watch it from, about 30 meters from border of Nebraska and Colorado. Although not the most dramatic, it was a great scene with some lightning and good structure, from a viewpoint where we could simply enjoy watching it progress.

Lightningontheborder

After about half an hour we headed up the road and got some fantastic views from the same storm’s western flank, where we could observe the updraft rotating more clearly than either of us had been able to before.

We then tracked with the storm as it moved east, stopping to enjoy another peaceful scene with a beautiful sunset on the left and a good storm on the right!

Sunset

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Finally we had some great opportunities to enjoy its lightshow before we made a break north to find rest for the night, and clear down the camera’s memory cards which were starting to feel the strain after such an excellent day of chasing.

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Biglightning
We found our way to the Rodeway Inn, in Ogallala, which was the first place we’ve ever stayed that briefed us on where there tornado shelter was. Not that there was any real risk of that today, but in hindsight it seems odd that, given our normal proximity to such hazards, it’s not more standard! The last task was to grab some beers (it was Friday night after all) and after an entertaining encounter with a gas station clerk who was exceptionally like Garth from Wayne’s World, settled in to sort through a few thousand photos.

-Tim

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

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Fri May 2013

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Fri May 2013

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