I had today off and there weren't any chores keeping me back. I was tempted to take a drive to the Buffalo area to see how their 6 foot lake effect snow storm was turning out.
I almost made the trip to Buffalo but decided it was looking too messy and impassible. When everyone is getting stuck there's no reason why I wouldn't either. The last thing I really wanted to do was spend the night stuck in the car or in a backup somewhere between Buffalo and Lackawanna.
Instead I figured I would catch a classic Wasaga/Georgian Bay squall along a thermal trof driving south from Manitoulin. The WRF-NAM and HRRR had both handled the forecast well to this point and the Britt radar showed the monster squall coming together nicely over northern Lake Huron / Georgian Bay.
So I headed out to catch some Georgian Bay squall action! I was on the road by 2:30 and racing north to keep ahead of any rush hour traffic.
The trip up the 400 was pretty smooth and boring, there was some blowing snow around the Holland Marsh area mixed with dust and pockets of fine ice crystals from evaporated squalls that were coming off southern Lake Huron some 200km to the west, but that was all.
Barrie was fine but everything changed once on Highway 26. There was plenty of blowing and drifting snow with the sun peaking out between the clouds.
The winds were also howling out of the west-southwest, probably somewhere in the 50 - 70 km/h range at times.
Less zoomed in but still looking west, this was an accidentally overexposed photo showing all the drifting snow near Crossland Road.
While the roads were generally good for the most part, there were ares where blowing snow was a problem and really icing things up.
Despite the blowing snow, the air was clear, it was not snowing. Instead, a huge linear squall, the one forecasted, was drifting south over the lake towards Wasaga.
I was now in a bit of a rush to get to the shoreline before it hit.
Wasaga Beach looks a little different in the winter... it's not as enticing to go for a swim! The squall line here was still out over the bay and starting to close in.
I had arrived just in time to watch the squall make landfall. There were a couple pre-squall bursts of snow, but it was mostly clear.
Here you can see snow in the clouds above the horizon. There was just wave after wave of snow creeping towards the shoreline. Winds at the surface were now sustained around 65km/h! (that's what my anemometer said!)
Here's what my GoPro was seeing... pretty similar to the SLR
Within a few moments the squall closed in and the winds were roaring gusting to 73 km/h! The snow began to steadily intensity with much of it blowing and drifting along the narrow area between the unfrozen shoreline and beach store fronts.
This was looking back towards Beach Area 1. I'm not sure how far away that SUV is but it's probably around 30-40 meters.
The "party hub" Bananas, which is generally a good place to have a beer and pretend it's something between a bar and night club without a dress code, looked nothing like a place I would have wanted to be at the moment.
It sure is a different would on the Wasaga strip in the winter.
Despite how narrow the shoreline is here between the water and my location the winds still managed to find enough snow to kick up to produce these blizzard like conditions!
Conditions were getting pretty bad! It was at about this point I decided to try and get out of Wasaga before nightfall closed in. With these kinds of conditions you don't want to be travelling on back roads in darkness
Left or right?
Pedro's is to the left, Pizza Pizza is to the right, what used to be a Dairy Queen is on the far left side of the frame, and a motel/hotel/coffee shop is to the right of the Pine Tree on the left.
I'm only telling you this because I spend to much time up here in the summer and clearly, you can't see anything in the video frame!
Pictures don't do this justice, it was howling and when I say howling I mean it!
What I found most unusual was that the winds were still sustained in the 60's gusting into the 70's. Usually as a a squall moves in the winds will rapidly ramp up and then quickly decrease to near zero with the heaviest snow falling straight down.
This squall was the exact opposite, it seemed to get windier as the snow rates increased and visible fell to near zero at times.
This does not do the reality of the situation justice!
Getting out of Wasaga was substantially more difficult than getting in!
The danger here was oncoming traffic, people had no idea where the road, shoulder or anything was for that matter. Even the guy in front of me could not seem to find the road at times.
I've driven this route hundreds of times so I knew by memory where everything was, but someone who is unfamiliar with the area would have been in real trouble!
The snow rates proved impossible for my wipers to handle, it was like being a thunderstorm core.
A second problem which was causing me unnecessary grief was that the OPP had started to shut down various roads.
As a result I was forced to take a more "scenic" route home.
At the end of the day I made it home after a 2 hour drive. Unfortunately, someone was killed on highway 400 just moments behind me near highway 89.
We often forget how dangerous winter weather can be!
Here’s a brief video showing how bad things were. Moving pictures tend to do these types of situations more justice than still photos. This was definitely one of the more intense snow squalls I can remember in a while!
Talk about a chaotic start to the day!
I lost, cancelled and then found my Visa, a process which cost me around 2 hours. Bwah!
So I was not in the best mood at the start of the day but after fun and games in Limon, Jen and I were westbound on I-70 towards Denver.
Today was really just a landspout type day playing storms in the DVCZ (Denver Vorticity Convergence Zone) as they rolled off the mountains.
The first storm we intercepted was near Byers. It was just slowly beginning to ramp up as I watched it grow from a light rain shower into a mature storm.
You can see how the storm had some inflow growing aloft.
It was also beginning to really turn green in portions so hail stones were growing quickly.
I had to reposition east as the storm took a strange jog towards me.
At the time I thought it was just building in an odd fashion but it was actually being pushed by a nearby outflow boundary that seemed to surge into area out of nowhere.
The boundary actually came from another MCS about 100 miles away that just suddenly collapsed and blew itself out.
At this point in time the storm here is producing 1-2" hail.
Well after bouncing around with the storm for a while it eventually became a mess as other storms popped up and merged with it.
What I was not prepared for was all the flash flooding!
See in Southern Ontario when we get 30mm of rain, even 60 or 70 mm of rain in under an hour there is rarely major flooding in rural areas.
The same amount of rain near Strasburg seemed to turn some roads into rivers.
I'm not sure if leaning out of the window and shooting video on your phone as you're driven through a flooded roadway is a good idea.
You can never be absolutely sure how deep the water on a roadway is even if there is a flood gauge.
Why? Because you had no way of knowing if the road has been undermined since you can't see it!
These two did make it safely to the other side and it was great video but I still shake my head.
Another video caption of a car driving through a flooded road.
Here's another example of less substantial flooding. You can see the road is still higher than the flood water so it's probably a safe bet you can make it across.
But still, remember it's flowing water that's not standing still.
This was one of those much anticipated days. The storm chase community had already been showing interest since the week prior.
The synoptic setup was another classic high plains easterly flow upslope event augmented by a weak 700mb low.
The jet stream was way to the north but upper winds were still around 55 knots from 350mb upwards. There was good venting and upper support as a result.
The mid levels were moist and had 30 - 40 knot winds out of the west veering to the south with decreasing altitude.
All the bulk shear and strongest directional veering was limited to the lowest 1km above ground with winds out of the southeast.
Apparently it's also the home of Arbour day?
This was our last morning in Nebraska as we headed into Colorado.
This was the first morning of several we would be spending in Colorado.
Initiation in Colorado was scheduled for around 1PM local time directly on top of Denver.
The NWS requested an 18Z (12PM) sounding.
The conditions returned looked pretty good with a substantial amount of low level moisture that was more normative of the eastern plains.
Just as I was approaching Denver around 1:30 the storm formed and became rooted in the boundary layer.
It was quickly severe warned with a tornado warning being issued around 2PM.
I kept my distance initially. There was no need to rush up to the storm, it was coming directly towards me and I wanted to enjoy it.
Like I have said numerous times before, the one thing I hate with storm chasing is having to constantly hop around with a storm.
Instead I much prefer to put some distance between the storm and myself so I can watch it for an hour or more as it approaches.
From my vantage point I could not see any large tornado structure within the storm, and it was just about on top of the Denver Nexrad site which did not indicate a tornado.
The gate to gate was pretty impressive closing in on around 80 knots. A brief rope tornado was reported near Water Tower Rd & 10th but this was never confirmed by anyone officially.
The dew points were really high in a relative sense, I think KDEN hit 57F and another nearby station almost got to 60F. To put it in perspective, dew points of 40 - 45 are pretty normal for storm days this far west so we were 15 - 20 degrees above that.
PW's (precipitable water) were around 1.1" for Denver which is really high too for a total atmospheric concentration this far west.
As a result the storm had a strong HP look and there was more atmospheric haze than usual.
That said, visibility was still good, in the photos prior and in this one you can see the radar dome from the local Denver Front Rage Airport some 10 miles away on the horizon.
As the storm drew near I headed south and eventually stopped just outside of Bennett.
I always have a hard time judging distance when the visibility is this good. It feels like the storm is really close, maybe in the 2km range, but then I look at the radar and it's around 12 km away.
My Southern Ontario chasing biases really come to light in the plains.
The storm had a really nice solid core and good inflow around 30 MPH.
It looked like it was really beginning to wrap up and would try and produce something in a little while.
I also ran into Chris Kridler, a storm chaser whose work I have admired for at least the last decade and half. It was sure nice to meet her and her chase partner Peggy Willenberg (another longtime chaser).
This was the synoptic setup that was to give rise to the dynamics and instability for the afternoon storms.
Surprisingly, the WRF NAM and later 12Z/13Z HRRR models handled the forecast extremely well. They were practically bang on with the storms location.
Waking up in eastern Nebraska was not exactly part of the plan, but I figured we were better off resting for the night and hitting the road early. Plus we were gong to be time zone hopping which saved us an hour.
Jen and I took a quick detour in Gothenburg to visit one of the few remaining Pony Express stations. I've always been fascinated by the Pony Express, an early courier service that lasted 18 months, but remains an iconic symbol of the wild western frontier.
If you're a fan of old western films, you might remember the film "The Pony Express" 1925 or "The Pony Express" 1953 and of course "Frontier Pony Express" from 1939. These were fictional films based around the Pony Express, but there are countless others were the express courier service makes an appearance.
Definitely a classic part of wild western Americana.
The façade and structure of the building have been preserved well.
The complete station.
The original structure would have had a sod roof. Much of the central and western plain states including the Canadian Prairie had severe wood shortages in the 1860s. So shingles, planks and other covering were not practical due to supply limitation.
The few trees in the area were harvested and the vast majority of the land was grassland that would have fed the millions of roaming buffalo.
So you can understand why sod was the best worst option.
The station which is freely open to the public sits in a small park in the middle of Gothenburg.
Alright back to storm chasing! After visiting the Pony Express Station I did a quick analysis and everything was on track. The NWS also issued a mesoscale discussion highlighting the risk of a few isolated but well organized thunderstorms much later in the evening in far western Nebraska.
The initial target of Alliance NE remained relatively unchanged but along the way we found this neat pioneer settlement in the Ash Hollow State History Park.
The site is known as the "Windlass Hill Pioneer Homestead"
It was very similar to the Pony Express station but a much cruder and older structure.
The fence outside of the restored settlement had a bunch of these boots along it. I'm not sure what the significance is but I did notice after I took these photos a bunch of our Nebraska tourist magazines had photos of these boots too!