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May 19th 2014

May 26th 2014 – Tornado Alley – Day 10

First Storm - Big Spring, TX

Storm began to fire off a boundary early in the afternoon between Andrews and Seminole Texas while slowly drifted east-southeast. The first storm I intercepted was just south-west of Lamesa, TX. I took me a little longer to get into position since I had to drive up from Uvalde, TX nearly 6 hours away.

U.S Geologic Survey - Big Spring, TX

While taking photos I almost tripped on this stone, I look down to find it was part of the U.S Geologic Survey. Interesting.

Supercell - Big Spring, TX

As the storm approached my position it was a little messy looking but the inflow was growing and there was a lot of upward motion. The core also had this green look to it.

Inflow Feature Hidden By Rain - Big Spring, TX

Falling south and stopping just north of Big Spring, there was an interesting inflow feature, almost like a tail that was growing and being blocked by a falling rain curtain that was wrapping around.

Inflow Feature - Big Spring, TX

A couple minutes later the feature was completely obscured but the storm was really hugging the ground and the gate to gate rotation on radar was tightening up.

Supercell - Big Spring, TX Supercell - Big Spring, TX

Shifting south once again, the storm continued to morph and became this scary but colourful glob of inflow, outflow and supercell structure painted in the sky against a brown field lined with grass.

Blue Core + Tail Cloud - Big Spring, TX

A clear inflow notch was developing on radar and very visible in person underneath the semi-visible vault. By this point, the storm was beginning to pull south hard, drifting towards the town of Big Spring directly. Initially it looked like a clean miss but now the storm was really shearing off and trying hard to go south.

Storm Coming - Big Spring, TX 20140526-_E1A3444

The storm continued to head towards me and I stuck around for as many photos as I could before having to move!

Inflow Notch - Big Spring, TX Notch - Big Spring, TX

Unfortunately finding a clearing in the town of Big Spring was not easy since it sort of sits in a valley and it is a built up town. The already busy streets were also now deluged with chasers bailing south. I was able to find this view behind a tractor supply company.

Southern Flank - Big Spring, TX Inflow Feature - Big Spring, TX

Again, there was incredibly strong inflow into the notch just behind the trees in the above photo. The scud was also rising blazing fast! The storm was absolutely ready to produce a tornado except it was going to be buried in rain.

Storm Core - Big Spring, TX RFD Edge - Big Spring, TX

These shots, especially the vertical perspective look gives an idea of how abrupt the synoptic environment, or in this case meso-scale environment transformed into a storm scale environment. Also, this is a super wide angle lens, about as wide as you can get before your into a fish-eye, so despite the storm looking far away, it was actually almost on top of Jen and myself!

Very Distant Supercell Storm - Sterling, Co. TX Very Distant Supercell - Sterling, Co. TX

Eventually the original storm, we’ll call it the northern cell, just became to difficult to follow. It crossed the interstate east of Big Spring and produce a rain-wrapped tornado. I’m not a fan of rain-wrapped anything, you have to be way too close to see those tornadoes, I’m picky and tend to go for the text-book cones, but I guess beggars can’t always be choosers!

The entire boundary which gave life to the original storm, was sparking off new storms progressively farther west. I positioned myself for the slow approach of the next storm in the line.

Distant Supercell -  Sterling, Co. TX RFD Shelf - Sterling, Co. TX

As the storm drew closer, some nice forward flank and rear flank structure came into view.Wall Cloud - Sterling, Co. TX

The storm also had a persistent wall cloud.

GoPro + Ham Antenna - Sterling, Co. TX

This was my GoPro setup at the time, that way I could get video of the storm as I was running away!

Appendage - Sterling, Co. TX

Every now and then the storm would produce a funnel-like cloud but I don’t think it ever produce a true funnel cloud that I could see.

Getting Video - Sterling, Co. TX

I was shooting both tight video and wide angle stuff. I’ll eventually have to put everything together in a nice timelapse.

Supercell Storm - Tom Green Co. TX

I eventually had to re-position again as the storm began to take a bit of a dive south. There was a rest stop near Sterling City, TX which was a great spot! Silver Lining tours were also in the rest area as well as numerous locals.

I know many storm chasers try hard to keep people out of their photos, but I often like to put them in the picture. It’s realistic, and gives life to the environment as it was at the time.

The supercell structure was also awesome! You just don’t ever see stuff like this in Ontario!

Vibrant Wall Cloud - Tom Green Co. TX Vibrant Wall Cloud - Tom Green Co. TX

Did I mention the storm had a wicked wall cloud?

Eventually the storm passed just to our north, and I mean the core and all missed by 1 mile! Unfortunately for us chasers, it eventually got caught up in the outflow of the earlier storm and died, but for a while it was sure looking crazy!

Distant Lightning - Tom Green Co. TX

Later in the evening I tried to get lightning shots of yet another supercell but the road network was not all that great, nor were the vantage points or the head lights glaring at me!

Storm Approaching - Grape Creek, TX Hiding From The Storm - Grape Creek, TX

As the third storm of the day drew closer I found an overpass to park under. There was no tornado threat at the time, just hail, and I figured I would ride the storms core out with some mighty concrete protection.

There were numerous locals that began showing up shortly after I was established well off the roadway up against a vertical wall.  They however parked on the road and thought they were sheltering from a tornado!

A representative from the local fire department showed up and moved most of them along, but it’s a tough call, I know sheltering under a bridge is not the best idea, but sending people blindly out into the storm is not a great idea either.

Cloud 9 Tours Hiding At Gas Station

Several vans showed up and another tour group (Cloud 9 I think) showed up the Alon gas station and all got out to see the storm.

Hail Stones - Grape Creek, TX Thunderstorm Core - Grape Creek, TX

It was a fun core, probably not for the people trapped out in it, but it was not overly crazy, some 1-1.5 inch hail, some 50-60 MPH winds and a blaring tornado sired. The video is pretty cool!

Lightning Under A Star Filled Sky - Sterling Co. TX

Later that evening as I headed north back to Big Spring to grab one of the few remaining hotel rooms, Jen and I stopped for some lightning photos just south of the town. Against the star filled sky, the storm looked cool. I had hoped for some anvil crawlers but it seemed to all be buried deep in the storm.

Tornado Damage - Howard Co. TX Tornado Damage - Howard Co. TX Tornado Damage - Howard Co. TX

The next day I went out hunting for tornado damage, and found it, just west of Big Spring near exit 189 on I-20.

Tornado Damage - Howard Co. TX Tornado Damage - Howard Co. TX Tornado Damage - Howard Co. TX

The tornado whipped across this field just missing some houses and “trimming” the trees, before taking out a number of power poles.

Tornado Damage - Howard Co. TX Tornado Damage - Howard Co. TXCrews were busy repairing everything but luckily there was no major damage, from the shredded weeds, trees and damage to the odd structures hit, the tornado was probably on the order of 50-60 feet wide and a higher end EF-1 in nature.

 

 

May 25th 2014 – Tornado Alley – Day 9

TexasWe started the day in Hobb NM and raced south towards my target of McCamey, I figured convection would initiation along an outflow boundary from the morning convection just over the border in Texas. Around 12:30AM, the first bubbles of lift turned into a storm!

 

 

Texas Flooding

I took a less traveled road to my destination to find it was flooded! This little mishap cost me 30km! Ah well, won’t do that again! The initial storm which was targeted near Sanderson, TX went to poop after it ate too much outflow! Another healthier, outflow free storm was chugging along in Mexcio and that was my new target.

Eagle Pass Supercell

Jen and I raced south to Del Rio TX and watched the storm roll across the border from Mexio to Texas.Eagle Pass Supercell

The storm had more a linear appearance to it in reality than what the radar suggested but it was still an energized supercell with plenty of potential. Unfortunately the road network was not all that great for this storms motion!

Supercell - TX

This was an outflow feature that crossed the road in from of me. Cool, but no threat here.

Lightning Texas

Eventually I was able to get ahead of the storm but it was becoming a big mess! Instead I opted for some lightning photos.

We’re now spending the night in Uvalde TX, tomorrow it looks like a play in this general part of Texas again.




May

May 24th 2014 – Tornado Alley – Day 8

Supercell -Carlsbad, NM

My target today did not pan out and I was stuck between heading south into Texas or racing back way north into New Mexico. On top of that my hotel room was booked in Hobb, NM so I was stuck! Then in the evening storm formed rapidly and began to move towards Carlsbad NM. I raced over for some lightning photos.

Supercell -Carlsbad, NM Supercell -Carlsbad, NM

These dry supercell do produce nice lightning but an elevated cloud deck was sort of obscuring the view.

Supercell -Carlsbad, NM

I was able to see the base of one of the storm cells nicely though and it had some great looking structure! Too bad these storms waited soo long to initialize.Supercell -Carlsbad, NM

 

Even in New Mexico, the land of barren desert a pole, tree and other obstacle can find their way into a photo! Actually, it was hard to find good places along the roadway to stop!

May 23rd 2014 – Tornado Alley – Day 7

We started the morning off in Pueblo, CO and headed south to New Mexico after a quick oil change. The km’s are really starting to get up there! We ran into a storm just north of Walsenburg, Colorado.

Rye, Colorado

Even more impressive than the storm, was the landscape in extreme Southern Colorado where you can feel the prairie grassland of the front range about to give way to the scrubby desert environment. The storms, couples with the colours and contrasts created by the mountains is beautiful.

Rye, ColoradoGreenhorn, Mountain - Colorado

I found it fitting that a UPS truck happened to go whizzing past, I guess these couriers really do deliver everywhere!

Rye, Colorado

Just outside of town, we punched the backside of the storm and found ourselves pelted with small hail. These storms were super slow moving, and hail was piling into drifts everywhere and flooding out the interstate.

Hailstorm Colorado Hail Storm Colorado

Once past the storm (which was fun to drive through) we stopped to watch it slowly roll out over the open landscape. I saw a couple chasers blast up a dirt road behind it but with the flash flooding and poor road network it was probably better to just let this one go.

Bye Bye Storm

Further down the road, it was amazing to see how the landscape transitioned, literally over the course of a few miles from alpine forest, to a dead drought stricken forest in a rain shadow and then instantly into a sprawling desert environment just over the New Mexico border. I’ll net get used to how quickly these environments change!


Colfax County, NM
Raton, NMMaxwell NM

What is nice with the downslope side of mountains/hills and other things is that you get wicked gas mileage. I was probably getting closer to 200 MPG but the computer tops out at 99, I was basically idling as gravity was doing all the work.

Good Gas MileageWhile at a service center a healthy storm literally formed out of nothing to our immediate east near Maxwell, NM. The only real problem was that the road network sucked and we could not get up under the cell.
Maxwell NM Maxwell, NM

For a while it looked to gave good potential.

Maxwell NM Maxwell NM

Every now and then a little shear pocket would develop and a small area of scud would tighten up and begin rotating into a funnel like tip and then it would loose the upward energy and that was it. After watching the storm cell for a few hours we let it go and headed into town.

20140523-_E1A2748

Again, the geography of the landscape is just fascinating to me!

20140523-_E1A2763

Here is the Maxwell storm cell from the south looking north.

Mosquero, NM

We drove through several small towns, but New Mexico is really a barren state, a little like North Dakota. The distances between civilization can be pretty big at times!
Weathered Stone Weathered Stone Weathered Stone Geographic Feature

Again, more awesome geography!

Vast OpenessThis was the dead zone, all desert, no civilization, no services for 150 miles.

Alright off to bed!

 

May 22nd 2014 – Tornado Alley – Day 6

Today was one of those hard to call days! There was definitely potential in the Texas Panhandle, which was a 5 hour drive from Limon, CO but there was also good potential just outside of Denver which was only 45 minutes away.

Meteorologists refer to a phenomenon called the DCVZ, or Denver Convergence Vorticity Zone, basically it the area where the upsloping easterly winds meet the downsloping winds from the mountains along an area known as the Palmer divide.

This naturally occurring orographic phenomenon exists about 33% of the time when thunderstorms are present east of the Denver front range.

The idea was to play this 150 mile area where landspouts and other spinups are common as opposed to the deeper convection in Texas which was far less organized.
HRRR DenverSurface AnalysisI do miss a good Texas Panhandle storm, sometimes referred to as Cap Rock magic where the same upsloping easterly winds meet the New Mexico dryline in far west Texas and you get monster storms forming. Unlike Colorado however, there is no front range in Texas to so the orographic features don’t exist and that means if the upper dynamics are not present, your just going to have a big messy storm with lots of big hail.

Time, space and probabilities made my decision.
Storm Developing - Byers, COStorm Developing - Byers, CO

After getting delayed in Limon, CO (visa card scare that was nothing) I headed to Bennett, CO to catch some rapidly developing storms. Initially the weak storms looked poor then burst into action with 2.5 inch hail as a boundary surged north.

Unfortunately, this boundary also led to the storms demise as the shear vectors coupled with the 500mb flow meant the storms just became a big mess.

Flash Flooding - 15th Ave, Arapahoe County, COFlash Flooding - 15th Ave, Arapahoe County, CO

What was impressive was the flash flooding. I’m not sure why this happens, but all over the plains flash flooding is a real problem and it gets worse as the elevation goes up. I’m not sure if the soil just can’t absorb the water or the little tributaries that litter the landscape in Southern Ontario just don’t exist in the same capacity across the plains?

Whatever the case, this storm was a light sprinkle by Southern Ontario standard, some 20-30mm of rain in an hour, yet flooding was occurring across Colorado.Flash Flooding - 15th Ave & Old Victory Rd, Arapahoe County, CO

The “Turn Around Don’t Drown” slogan seems to be unheeded much of the time and it’s not just a Colorado thing, it happens everywhere. People seem to always want to test the waters which is fine when you make it across but, you never know how deep the water is and a misguided assumption can become a real problem quickly.

Flash Flooding - 15th Ave & Old Victory Rd, Arapahoe County, CO

This underpass rain bridge had torrents of water passing through yet some people still attempted to make it across! Insane! Chunks of mud, grass and others things were being washed away with the flash flooding that seemed to come out of nowhere!

NWS Denver Radar - Jefferson County, CO

Once the storms died down we made our way towards Denver, CO to see the city. On the way over we passed the Denver NWS Radar, Jen snapped this photo at 75 MPH.

Interstate 70 West - Jefferson County, CO

Our jont into Metro Denver along I-70 West during the 6PM rush hour was probably not a great idea but I did not mind some traffic slowdowns and Jen suggested we keep going west to see the mountains and I thought, why not? The GPS decided to detour us, through the downtown core! It actually turned out to be a nice scenic drive through the heart of the city. We eventually passed through the core and worked our way back onto I-70 West and into the hills!

Lookout Mountain - Golden, CO

We found ourselves at a scenic lookout called “Lookout Mountain”, it was gorgeous and these “hills” were massive, way bigger than anything in the Appalachians.

Lookout Mountain - Golden, COLookout Montain - Golden, CO

The afternoon sun was initially shrouded by cirrus clouds from the earlier convection and remnants working in from New Mexico, but eventually the even sun was able to sneak out from under the clouds and the landscape was just majestic! Snow capped peaks, sprawling pine forests and clouds creeping over the mountains, amazing.

Deer Grazing - Golden, CODeer Staring - Golden, CO

Deer were also plentiful, a little too plentiful for my liking. This herd was just grazing beside the road to the lookout pint and had no fear as I walked up to grab these photos.

Radio Towers - Golden, CO

We finally worked out way back down towards Denver to start the trip south towards New Mexico. Everything was going well until…

Road CLosure - Fatal Accident 87 SOuth Fountain Valley, CO
We ran into a fatal collision on 85/87 South in Fountain Valley, near Pikes Peak. Someone on a motorcycle collided with a stopped truck and ugh.. the rest is history. We were stuck in the backlog for an hour, so I decided to call it a night. I had Jen quickly call a hotel in Pueblo, CO which was about 35 km to our south. We had a scenic back road 11PM tour of the countryside and finally landed at the hotel around 11:35PM.

We’re calling it a night and will continue the trip through New Mexico tomorrow into Texas. I’ll let you know if we spot any UFO’s!!