Friday, May 29, 2015

Final Chase Day

Day 12: Friday, May 29, 2015
Chase Day in East Central New Mexico
Beginning City: Amarillo, Texas
Ending City: Elk City, Oklahoma
Total Miles Traveled: 487 for the day, 5456 for the trip

Written by Maggie Paucek and Jacob Strohm

This morning, we were expecting the storms to initiate in the evening, so there was no hurry to get going. We waited in Amarillo for the updated convective outlook to come out at 11:30, and saw the region favorable for tornadoes had shifted slightly west. With that, our team headed to Clovis, New Mexico for lunch and another update on the conditions. While in Clovis, we could see storms were already beginning to develop north of us. Some quickly became warned for severe winds and hail. We decided we should go north to catch those cells since they were already there. 

We stopped in the Tucumcari, NM area to take pictures of the cell developing to the west. We started at an outlook over the area that gave us a good distant view then relocated ourselves ahead 0f the storm and slightly closer and to the southeast of it. The cell had a bit of broad rotation and was sucking up a bunch of low scud clouds, but it didn’t have enough rotation to drop a tornado. Since the rotation had slowed and the hail core was approaching, we hastily retreated back towards Tucumcari. Our last chase day had come to a close. On our way to Elk City, OK, we attempted to squeeze between two merging cells in the developing squall line ahead of us, but they came together on top of us. After driving through heavy rain and pea sized hail for several minutes, we came out ahead of the storm and continued to Oklahoma.

The storm near Tucumcari as it approaches us from over a ridge. The precipitation core is visible near the middle of the picture. Photo by Maggie Paucek.

The updraft and precipitation core of a storm northeast of Tucumcari. Photo by Jacob Strohm.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Second Tornado in as Many Days (and an Awesome Wall Cloud)

Day 11: Thursday, May 28, 2015
Chase Day near Leoti, Kansas
Beginning City: Goodland, Kansas
Ending City: Amarillo, Texas
Total Miles Traveled: 487 for the day, 4969 for the trip

Written by Chloe Rehberg and Porter Vande Voort

Today we started our day off in Goodland, Kansas after an eventful day yesterday. This morning while looking at our maps and projections we realized that the expected storm area was very broad and stretched all the way from southern Texas up into Nebraska! As we noticed the Texas storms would be too far to chase, we started looking at good areas around the western Kansas and eastern Colorado region. Just south of where we were staying we noticed conditions were going to be most favorable so we decided to pack up and move south. In our briefing, it was discussed how these storms would start popping up in the early afternoon so we knew we have to get moving. 

As we started south, storms started firing up all around us. This was what we were predicting, storms starting in the early afternoon but moving very slowly. We continued watching radar and noticed cells popping up and a lot of them ended up merging together. We had a lot of severe warnings and great storm development as we watched the storms. After seeing a 'hook' on the radar which is a great sign for a possible tornado, we we thought we had spotted a quick tornado touchdown just to the west of Leoti, KS. From our vantage point the tornado was shrouded in rain so it was difficult to see and get a good photo of. Although it was brief and slightly far away, for the second day in a row, we witnessed a tornado on the ground through confirmation from other chasers who were closer and reported the tornado to the National Weather Service.

After seeing the tornado the storm started to intensify on its southern flank. We ended up having to move around to avoid the rain and hail cores from the new development. As this southern flank intensified it also started to rotate. We first saw evidence of this rotation on radar and then visually a wall cloud with rapid rotation developed on the storm. This wall cloud was only about 1 mile from us and thus we got a very good view including a few funnels that began to lower but never made contact with the ground. Even without producing a tornado it gave us a great show with lots of rotation and a very interesting cloud structure.
While there were multiple cells around us that had great hooks and great storm structure, we had to be careful not to get caught in a difficult path. Due to poor road networks and storms in all directions we ended up having a hard time staying ahead of the storm but got a great lightning show from the backside of it. In general, we had another successful chase day. After chasing, we headed down south to Amarillo, TX for the night to set ourselves up for tomorrow. Conditions look most favorable in the Texas panhandle which is where we will be staying; most likely for our last chase day of the trip.

Radar reflectivity for the storm we saw with a rotating wall cloud. Notice the hook shape just to the north of us.

Radar velocity product showing the rotation component of the hydrometeors (i.e., raindrops and hail stones) in the cloud. The radar site is to the north off the screen. and red colors indicate movement away from the radar and green colors represent movement towards the radar.

At the same time the radar images were taken this is what we saw from the ground. The lowering just to the right of the road sign is the wall cloud and this wall cloud was rotating quickly. Photo by Chloe Rehberg

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Short Glimpse of a Tornado

Day 10 (number got a little off on previous posts): Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Chase Day near Meade, Kansas
Beginning City: Childress, Texas
Ending, City: Goodland, Kansas
Total Miles Traveled: 555 for the day, 4482 for the trip

Written by Megan Matheus and Grant Francis

The plan for our tenth day on the trip was to drift northward from Childress, TX, and reevaluate in Pampa, TX. The models showed an almost equal probability for storms to happen in southwestern Kansas or in western Texas area that we had been chasing in for several days. I think most of us hoped that storms would happen to the north so we could chase in a new area after being in Texas for many days in a row.

Kansas looked probable for storms when we evaluated around 11:30am, so we continued northward to Liberal, KS, arriving around 1:00pm. A cell was firing just outside of the city, so we followed it for about an hour. However, another cell just thirty miles north of us looked more promising, so we decided to change course and head north. We drove through Meade, TX, and started northward. Just as we left town, Dr. Frye pointed us toward a lower part of the storm cell. When we crested a hill we saw a large funnel on the ground: our first tornado! It occurred around 5:15 pm Central Time near Sublette, KS, about 15 miles from us. It likely did not hit anything, especially since it was on the ground only briefly. But it was an adrenaline rush to see one!

We got to see some good hooks form on several supercells in the region, and we got good pictures of text-book wall clouds and supercell thunderstorms. It was a very successful chase day. We finished the day with a long drive to a hotel in Goodland, KS, which is in the northwest corner of Kansas. Due to a late arrival to the hotel all we have is the write up for now. We will try to update in the morning before we head out with any pictures.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Chasable Isolated Storm

Day 8: Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Chase Day in the River River Valley Area
Beginning City: Vernon, Texas
Ending City: Childress, Texas
Total Miles Traveled: 309 miles for the day, 3927 for the trip

Written by Jacob Strohm and Porter Vande Voort

Due to our placement within the best part of the risk area today, we were able to get a later start this morning. Our team met at 9:00 to discuss the conditions, which were favorable in the Red River valley region along the Oklahoma/Texas border. The dryline was forecast to move through Altus, Oklahoma where there was also some convergence occurring at the surface. We wanted to set up along these boundaries, because these features can force air upwards and aid convection. After updating at 11:30 we set out for Altus, Oklahoma. The storms were projected to fire between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. After watching many clouds trying to build higher and higher, one cloud finally broke the cap and we the chase began. We headed south back towards Vernon, Texas, where these storms began irritating. We had to circle around the storm and approach it from behind to avoid the precipitation core of the storm which in this one also included hail. Once south of the storm we continued to move back north with it back into Oklahoma. The storm was moving slowly, so we were able to stop and take some pictures multiple times. When this storm began weakening we targeted another cell to the north. This northern cell began weakening as well, but the southern one began to rejuvenate itself. The redeveloping cell was no where near textbook as its updraft had a significant lean to it. Below the updraft base there was scud  clouds (or low level clouds detached from the main part of the storm but being drawn into it.) This activity is worth noting at it could be an indication of the storm intensifying. We dropped back south to get a better view and follow this storm, which was beautiful to watch. We stayed with it until it collided with an outflow boundary from storms south of Wichita Falls, Texas. The storms kept going but lost their intensity so we called off the chase and began heading to Childress, Texas for the night. Along the way we were able to take a few lightning shots from the decaying cells and rainbow pictures as the setting sun refracted off the rain cores of the storms.
Looking at the underside of the updraft base. Photo by Porter Vande Voort.
Isolated storm that intensified but had an unusual lean. Photo by Jacob Strohm.

Near by lightning strike as we were sitting safely in our vehicles. Photo by Maggie Paucek.

To cap off the day the setting sun created a nice rainbow. Photo by Jacob Strohm.

Monday, May 25, 2015

QLCS Punching

Day 7: Monday, May 25, 2015
Chase Day east of Dallas/Fort Worth area
Beginning City: Childress, Texas
Ending City: Vernon, Texas
Total Miles Traveled: 326 miles for the day, 3618 for the trip

Written by Jeremy Buck and Maggie Paucek

This morning, conditions were looking extremely favorable for severe storms; however, we had some obstacles to work with. The SPC had a moderate risk issued for the northern Texas/southeastern Oklahoma area, which was a much greater risk than what we have seen issued on our previous chase days. The obstacles we faced were in getting ourselves to that location. The linear storms forecasted (Quasi-Linear Convective Systems or QLCS) had a high risk for large hail and had already developed by the time of our morning briefing, so we had to leave quickly to position ourselves in front of the line of storms. Supercells were still possible but would form in front of the line or possibly on the southern edge of the storm lines. When dealing with a QLCS having an escape route without getting hit by an intense portion in the line is always a challenge.

We decided to head east toward Vernon to get as far ahead of the squall line that was developing to the south and west near Abilene, Texas. Once in Vernon we drove south when we knew we were a comfortable distance ahead of it. This plan worked for a while, but the linear storm continued to build at its southern end, preventing us from being able to get to it. The storm’s speed also increased, catching up with us as we travelled around Breckenridge, TX. After evaluating our choices, we decided we had to let the storm pass over us. We experienced a lot of heavy rainfall and strong winds but no hail (which is a good thing).

We retired from chasing for the day very early and traveled back north to Vernon, TX for the night.

Mammatus clouds on the front side of the QLCS just south of Throckmorton, Texas.

Capped Day = Bust Day

Day 6: Sunday, May 24, 2015
Chase Day in the southern part of the Texas Panhandle
Beginning City: Guymon, Oklahoma
Ending City: Childress, Texas
Total Miles Traveled: 272 for the day, 3292 for the trip

Written by Megan Matheus and Grant Bastian

Everything looked favorable in the Panhandle of Texas this morning, as the models showed lots of CAPE and wind shear. A beautiful dryline extended through southern Texas and continued to southern Colorado with a surge in the panhandle of Texas.  There were a few pockets of CIN* in the area, but none where the CAPE and dryline were over lapping. The simulated radar showed a few isolated cells, which we haven't seen all trip. Our target area to start the day was between the cities of Panhandle and Shamrock, Texas.

As the day progressed, we started to see some clouds trying to develop just south of Claude, Texas. These developing clouds early in the day gave us hope that the cap* would break and we would get to catch some severe storms giving the large amounts of CAPE and shear present in the area. While the mesoanalysis still wasn’t showing any CIN in the area, we watched cloud after cloud try to break the cap and inevitably fall apart. As we were watching this, the dryline passed right over us so we decided to go east to try to get ahead of it. After we crossed back over, none of the clouds looked like they were going to hold together, so we called it a night in Childress, Texas to try to put us in good position for the following day.

*Convective inhibition (CIN) and cap is an area that suppresses convection. We want a small amount of CIN (or small cap) in place so that the heat and moisture can build up in the lower levels. Once the cap breaks that heat and moisture expand into the upper atmosphere and create thunderstorms.

The video below is 18 minutes of footage compressed into 30 seconds showing one of the clouds that looked promising but did not break the cap and was sheared off.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Recap of last 3 days

A long over due update for the last three days...

Day 4: Thursday, May 21, 2015
Non-chase day visited Carlsbad Caverns and Roswell New Mexico
Beginning City: Fort Stockton, Texas
Ending City: Roswell, New Mexico
Total Miles Traveled: 274 miles for the day, 1987 for the trip

There were no storms to chase so we took a leisurely drive towards Roswell, New Mexico for the evening. This was to set ourselves up to chase along the Texas, New Mexico border the following day. On the way to Roswell we passed through Carlsbad, New Mexico and decided to take the tour of the caverns. The students enjoyed the time out of the vehicle and making the trek through the caverns.

Some of the students walking down the steep path through the main entrance to Carlsbad Caverns.

Day 5: Friday, May 22, 2015
Chase day along SE New Mexico/SW Texas border into Fort Stockton area
Beginning City: Roswell, New Mexico
Ending City: Lubbock, Texas
Total Miles Traveled: 432 miles for the day, 2419 for the trip

Written by Jeremy Buck and Grant Francis

The forecast was favorable for supercells in both southwestern Texas as well as eastern Colorado, but the former was far closer to us. We took off from Roswell, New Mexico, and decided to head southwest towards the town of Kermit, Texas. The town was just north of a dryline bulge which typically provides favorable conditions for strengthening storms. Our drive through New Mexico was riddled with mist and fog.

Once arriving in Kermit, we waited for the storms to begin firing by relaxing at a city park and throwing around a football. After noticing a few cells had fired up to the south towards Fort Stockton, we geared up and went after them, with the nearest cell showing a gorgeous updraft and a textbook example of an anvil cloud. Unfortunately, the cells dissipated and began falling apart just as we arrived. Before leaving though, we took several photos of the anvil and were also treated to a small display of mammatus clouds. On our drive to our hotel, we got many terrific photos as the setting sun shone against the bottoms of the clouds. After a long drive, we settled down in Lubbock, Texas, for the night in preparation for tomorrow's chase.

The setting sun reflects off the remnants of the anvil from the storms we were chasing near Fort Stockton, Texas.Photo by Grant Francis.

The sun sets and highlights the back side of the updraft core on the storms we were chasing near Fort Stockton, Texas. Photo by Grant Francis.

Day 6: Saturday, May 23, 2015
Chase Day near Lamar, Colorado
Beginning City: Lubbock, Texas
Ending City: Guymon, Oklahoma
Total Miles Traveled: 601 for the day, 3020 for the trip

Written by Chloe Rehberg and Jacob Strohm

This day was the most exciting day we have experienced so far on the trip. During our morning forecast discussion we highlighted two main areas: Texas and eastern Colorado. Our team opted to chase the eastern Colorado region as we thought the conditions were slightly more favorable for isolated storms. This area typically experiences broad cyclonic rotation due to the Rocky Mountains to the west. Our original target city was Eads, Colorado which was approximately six hours from Lubbock.

The storms initiating just before we arrived in the region. As we got to the city of Lamar, numerous severe thunderstorm warnings were issued for the storms off to the west. One of these storms, which was headed towards La Junta, Colorado, also had a tornado warning issued for it. Though the warnings expired, the storms continued to build to the south before merging into a line of storms. As we approached the storm, we witnessed many areas of rotation and lowering which given the right conditions could develop tornadoes. The roads were very crowded with other chasers. We continued tracking the line of storms focusing on the southern end. We stopped numerous times to watch rotation in clouds near us.

The challenge with these types of storms is staying away from the precipitation core, so that you don't get wet or hail. We continued to drift east and south to stay out in front of the storm to watch it, and the rotation seemed to calm down. After some time, some isolated cells to the south converged with the line that had developed. This seemed to strengthen the southern end once again and we continued to follow areas of rotation south of Lamar, Colorado. At one point the outflow from the storm became really strong and caused some dust from a near by field to obstruct the road we were traveling. We were able to stay out in front of the winds after that. New developments kept popping up on the south end of the line, so we followed it to take pictures for a while and finally headed to Guymon, Oklahoma for the night.

Precipitation core behind the leading edge of line of storms near Lamar, Colorado. Photo by Chloe Rehberg.

Dr. Frye watches the storms approach us west of Lamar, Colorado. There was a slight lowering just a above the chasers on the right. Photo by Chloe Rehberg.

A lowering from the storm near La Junta, Colorado. Photo by Jacob Strohm.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day 3: Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Chase Day around Fort Stockton, TX
Beginning City: Plainview, TX
Ending City: Fort Stockton, TX
Total Miles Traveled: 297 for the day, 1713 for the trip

Today’s Recap by Megan Matheus and Maggie Paucek

Today we traveled south from Plainview towards Midland, TX. In our morning briefing, we observed that the jetstreak was pretty weak as was the dryline, but the CAPE looking good. We decided that south would be our best option to travel, and we would reassess after reaching Midland.

Once we got to Midland, we decided to continue south-southwest to Fort Stockton where a few cells were starting to fire. When we briefed in Midland, the dryline was developing more than we thought it would in the morning and CAPE was developing as we expected.

When we got to Fort Stockton, we got on a cell right away. Right at the beginning it looked like part of the storm was lowering and the radar showed slight rotation. As the storm approached us, it started to produce cloud-to-ground lightning so we had to move to a second location for safety reasons. When we first arrived at our second location, the clouds were very photogenic but the started to weaken. All of the other strong storms were either to far east or south past the US-Mexico border.

We are spending the night in Fort Stockton because it looks like any significant weather we get will be in this same area.

Radar image from a storm north of Fort Stockton, Texas. The red dots are other spotters and chasers.

Picture of the rotating updraft base at the same time the radar image was taken. The rotation remained very broad and then the storm moved into an area with limited roads and we called off the chase.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

2015 Trip Begins

Day 1: Monday, May 18, 2015
Travel Day
Beginning City: Whitewater, Wisconsin
Ending City: Andover, Kansas
Total Miles Traveled: 738 for the day, 738 for the trip

Day 2: Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Chase Day around the Caprock Canyons area
Beginning City: Andover, Kansas
Ending City: Plainview, Texas
Total Miles Traveled: 678 for the day, 1416 for the trip

Today's Recap by Chloe Rehberg and Grant Francis

For our second day of storm chasing, we traveled to northern Texas. After staying in Andover, KS, the night before, we faced a six hour drive to our destination, Amarillo, TX. During the morning briefing, Dr. Frye showed us some projections that made most of the Texas panhandle look great for storms. The models produced plenty of great hodographs (diagrams we use to assess how the winds change in the vertical direction) for the area where strong CAPE and a dryline would be located. It would be a prime area for severe weather activity.

As the day continued, we kept updating ourselves with current data and adjusted our destination as necessary. On our course along I-40 between Oklahoma City, OK, and Amarillo, TX, we drove through some thunder, lightning, and heavy rain. We got a good video of lightning coming down north of the highway.

We decided to go south at Shamrock, TX, and then travelled west from Childress, TX. At one point, we thought about heading southeast to catch some active storms, but we admitted that we would be chasing for a long time and possibly not see anything. Instead, we went west toward the dryline that we had spotted at the beginning of the day.

On the radar, we observed different storm cells forming in western Texas, and we ended up catching one around Silverton, TX, and following it. We were joined by several groups of chasers as we followed the storm around the Caprock Canyons State Park until we reached Memphis, TX.

We did not end up seeing any tornados, but we did see some good thunderstorms with a lot of hail and a broad area of rotation. It was a fun experience because not only could we see the outflow from the supercell, but we could feel the winds pick up as the storm grew closer. We had excellent cloud coverage and a magnificent view of a large anvil cloud. Overall, even though we did not see a tornado, it was a successful first chase of the trip. We are now resting in Plainview, TX, until tomorrow’s storms.

Radar image from the Lubbock, Texas Radar site. At the time we were working our way around the Caprock Canyons area to catch the storm near the Memphis. We were previously tracking with the storm west of the Caprock Canyon before the road network became limited.

Once we caught the storm near Memphis it quickly lost its' hook and started to merge with other cells.

A view of the supercell which was located north of Caprock Canyon and we were south of the canyon.