Day 15: Incredible storm structure over Greensburg, KS

supercell lightning

Today was our “Well, we can chase if there are any storms around Tulsa”-day, since we were all leaving around noon the day after. Although there was a chance for some sort of thunderstorms in Tulsa, the environment was best in north-east Kansas. We could not, however, risk being so far away from Tulsa so we chose the south central Kansas-target and sat down at Starbucks in Wichita. Oh, the amount of hours we have spent at different Starbucks this trip. Strong coffee and free Wifi attracts storm chasers as moskitos to a pair of legs on a Kansas country road at dusk!

I was quite busy going through all the photos from the day before and did not really mind the wait. Although the environment was not really tornadic I did not have great hopes, but the lesson learned from yesterday was to never give up so…we chased.

Finally, two storm complexes started firing. One around Salina (the northern target) and one around Pratt. The northern one clinged onto a boundary and really felt like the main target but we had no real option due to our flights so we had to choose the southern target and yet again bet on the outlier. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable hearing reports on the northern cell, thinking of the Big Chapman Miss last year.

Our cell looked good though but seemed to die off in an outflow burst some 30 minutes into our stop around between Pratt and Greensburg. It did re-organize and presented an intense lightning show for us, with an amount of positive lightning I have never before seen during daylight. It was impressive! One lightning under the meso started a fire causing smoke to go up into the updraft.

The storm shaped a perfect looking wall cloud with a tail cloud but did not really rotate much. As it was almost stationary we could just stand and watch it, so it was very pleasant. As it finally moved though, we were in for a treat of a lifetime.

We were quite limited to what we could chase since our 4WD was out and it was starting to get dark. We did not want to end up in the same situation as yesterday! So, we went for the structure shots and stopped on Highway 400. And, oh boy, what a structure! The supercell rotated rapidly and presented the most amazing storm structure I have seen in 7 seasons of chasing. It was like out of a photo book! Wow!

We could not follow it south over Greensburg due to the risk of tornadoes, the heavy rain and the dark so we decided to end of a positive note and head back to Tulsa. We drove through the MCS (stemming from the northern target) on our way back there and got back some time after 2 a.m. with a good mood and not too tired. My last thunderstorm of the trip woke me up at 6 a.m. and I spent a couple of minutes looking and listening before I fell back to sleep with a smile on my face.

Edit: More photos will come. My hard drive is full and I have a few hours of editing before I can import the last photos.

Day 14: High winds and almost the perfect tornado

funnel nebraska

We had a vote at lunch about whether we should go home to Tulsa or chase up north. Since we were driving on our spare tire and the setup did not look to good my vote was on going home. Akos, the constantly positive Hungarian, convinced us on chasing so we went up to chase northern Kansas. Since we had a long sleep in and had a relaxed lunch, we were getting up quite late. So, when a good looking storm started firing in central Nebraska and a brief tornado was reported it felt a bit bad that we were too late for the show.

There was, however, a smaller storm to our west within reach so we went for this outlier storm. It had quite a bit of interference with other storms in the beginning but once it got re-organized it really started cranking! It rather quickly got a rotating wall cloud and had small funnels going on when we got off the highway into the smaller roads between York and Grand Island.

At this time it was about 7 p.m. and the setting was perfect. We had the sun in our back, lighting the clouds up in perfect white. This LP storm was over green corn fields with blue skies here and there. The storm produced several small funnels and finally started pushing one towards the ground. It came as far as a third towards the ground before it dissipated. We would have been able to intercept a white small tornado, from a close distance with this beautiful surrounding – something that is at the the top of my storm chasing bucket list!

Instead, our storm was about to clash into the northern storm complex (that had a few brief tornadoes). We expected this to kill the storm but maybe, with a bit of luck, give it one last push and provide some extra moisture. That is exactly what happened.

The storm got into another gear just as the sun had set and it felt like it had rotation all over. Nothing that touched the ground though. Just as this happened our 4WD started malfunctioning as we drove on a muddy road. We managed to get onto a paved road with the 4WD still on as it was not able to turn off. At this point, it was starting to get dark and we started to drive out of the storm.

We got into the precipitation while driving and that’s when the storm got tornado warned, right where we were heading. We drove east towards Wilber to get south and out of the storm, in which we had no real visibility any longer outside of the frequent lightning strikes. There had been strong, radar indicated, rotation over Wilber so we were not sure if the town would even be there when we arrived! We had to go on the south road from Wilber to get on a west option. Everywhere the road network made it difficult for us to get south and out, and we had storms both to our east and west.

I am bit uncertain of the chronology here but somewhere at this point, we ended up in either an inflow jet or the RFD. The winds could have been as much as 100 mph when we turned the car to drive towards the wind. David (who was inside the El Reno-tornado) was an Ace in keeping calm and making good decisions together with Devin helping out with the navigation and Akos interpreting the weather.

Finally, we managed to get out of the storm, a bit shook up but nothing too bad. The storm never had a reported tornado but it could not have been far away.

We kept south and managed to stay ahead of the storm while making brief stops to take photos, even though it was almost keeping pace with us. The storm eventually became a strong MCS and turned south east towards Kansas City causing havoc. On our way in to Kansas, we saw some absolutely insane lightning, especially anvil crawlers in the mammatus. It was absolutely stunning!

Edit: I have some 200+ photos from this day. I will upload these photos as soon as I am done.

Day 13: Gustnado outside Hays, KS

gustnado

I woke up with a nice, peaceful feeling from the day before. Storm chasing is at its best when you can stand and watch a slow moving storm and take good time to take photos, enjoy and plan ahead. I really loved that!

That nice, peaceful feeling came to an abrupt halt when we realized we were a bit behind schedule and the storms firing up near Hays, KS, was instead ahead of schedule. We were about 2.5 hours away from Hays when we saw the first signs of towers going up there and we had to put a speed on. Although the chase terrain in south central is remarkably flat, the haze in the air made it difficult to see more than 20 miles ahead. The first cell stood isolated and rotating for quite a while and was tornado warned as well during its first hour, while we were speeding towards Hays. At this point it was really exciting and we were super focused on getting there in time.

Once we finally reached the storm, however, it seemed to have become weaker and we chose to go with a cell that was popping up to its west. As we drove by the storm a really cool gustnado appeared at the leading edge of the storm, more or less a few hundred meters right of us.

That turned out to be the best thing of the day. The next storm did not do anything and we decided to core punch the storm to see some large hail but found only rain. We considered going back to the front end of the first storm to at least see some nice shelf clouds and possibly a bow echo tornado but decided to play the odds of the dryline having storms popping up.

To be honest, after this point I stopped really paying any attention. The storms were all in a big mess, cutting off each other and I pretty much just stayed in the car playing games on my iPad. Still, we decided to see what happened when four boundaries met but that proved not to create anything special.

To finish off this slow afternoon we got a flat tire while driving back to Dodge City! Outside of the really cool gustnado, this was not one of my best chase days. Off course, you can’t have great chase days all of the time.

Colors of a storm
The classic blue green color of a storm together with the light orange/brown colors of the wheat fields make up for some great colors while chasing.

 

detail of updraft
Part of an explosive updraft

 

storm
The boundary storm we spent a bit too much time looking at.

 

wheat
This is Kansas.

 

flat tire
Fixing a flat tire

 

Day 12: Suprise sunset supercells in Wichita

pink horseshoe supercell

As today was a very marginal day we chose to really sleep in and catch up on some work. We didn’t leave Lincoln, NE, until after a nice lunch at Ihop and headed east towards Topeka, KS, to play the dryline again. The dewpoints and temperatures were super high so it was almost painful to be outside. I also had quite a headache and nausea so I was not too involved in the events of the day. 

Although we had some towers going up just after noon, the subsidence was keeping a lid on all convection throughout the day. For yet another day we played the waiting game and eventually gave up at around 6 p.m. and started heading towards our hotel in Wichita. We knew from the radar images that there was a small storm south of Wichita but it was not a supercell and we did not really expect it to be there when we arrived.

The cell however stayed put so we thought we could core punch it for the fun of it and maybe experience some small hail. As we started nearing Wichita the storm started to grow and started to rotate and eventually became a supercell, to our surprise. Having been too far away from tornadoes on several occasions we decided to head under the meso directly. As it turned out, the structure of this supercell was the best I have ever seen. The pink hue from the sunset, the striations on the mid-levels and the horse shoe shape of it all just made up an incredible structure.

As we were standing underneath the meso the storm produced a small funnel. As the storm was relatively high based it was nowhere near a tornado but we would have had a perfect spot to see a pink tornado from less than a mile away!

When we left, the storm started dissipating but another one grew up just next to it. At this point it was already dark and although we stayed close enough to see any potential tornadoes we mainly went for structure and lightning shots. This storm turned out to be incredible as well, and we continued on dirt roads in the dark to chase it. In fact, we could almost have walked as the storm barely moved.

In the end, we were positioned on a small road outside of Mulvane, KS, that was the scenery of the best tornado photo ever shot (Eric Nguyen). It was one of my best storm chasing experiences ever. It was nice and warm, pitch black and we had the storm producing a spectacular lightning show in front of us. Behind us the skies were clear and filled with stars and on the fields around us there were hundreds of lightning bugs lighting up the fields. In the end I turned off the camera to enjoy the scenery, only looking at the stars and the lightning bug filled fields.

That feeling, right there, was quite the opposite of the adrenalin and excitement filled day in the Nebraska panhandle. Instead, it was such a calm, overwhelmingly peaceful experience that I will never forget. 

pink supercell
Just look at this thing!
pink funnel cloud
This pink funnel cloud last only a few seconds. I can only imagine how beautiful it would have been if it had become a tornado!
storm at night
This is how the second storm looked when we stopped the first time.
stars and a storm
I have been wanting to take a photo like this one for a while. A storm together with the stars. You can see the big dipper in it!
fireflies
It was tricky to take photos of fireflies, this was my best shot. Later that night a firefly was smashed on our window, causing a glowing piece of smudge on the window!

Day 7: Supercells & two brief tornadoes in North Dakota

abandoned houses storm

After that 13 hour drive the day before, we sure needed some rest, and got some as well. This was the day we have been looking for, the hodographs showed perfect winds and most parameters were pointing towards a great chase day. SPC had a 5% tornado risk and it seemed liked there would not be too many storms to choose from.

We positioned in Rugby, ND, and had our first bit of chaser convergence. If you may call some 5-6 vehicles a convergence. I bumped into Peter Wharton of StormGroup Chasers at Subway, which was fun! At this point I think I have met every tour company at some point, out on the plains.

The storms took their sweet time to fire and we were waiting at a storm to ride the warm front. At 5 p.m. two cells had popped up and we chose to go for the southern storm (McClusky/Goodrich) even though the northern storm showed signs of riding the boundary layer.

When we arrived under it, we had great rotation, lots of lightning and even saw a small funnel. The only problem was that it was constantly re-cycling and it had a really high base. The moisture wasn’t really there to take that last step towards a tornado. If it would, it would have been a beautiful one with such a high base and the beautiful surroundings!

We saw multiple small funnel clouds but it was not until we were driving passed the mesocyclone  something happened. I was looking outside my window and saw what I thought was just some downburst dust. We passed a small hill and then I realized we were driving passed a small lake and there was rotation on the lake. Technically, a tornado (it was under the meso) but the funnel never condensed into something to write home about.

Not much later David and Alex observed dust being kicked up and yet again, there was another tornado. Just as “impressive”. To be honest, I wouldn’t have known they were actually tornadoes but rather guessed they were dust devils but the circulation was under the meso. The other one had a tiny, tiny condensation funnel, only visible on a photo David took. 

The storm did however produce some great structure at times and we got treated with some really nice views and corkscrew updrafts. All in all, the chase day was a slight disappointment despite two tornadoes and a supercell as the LCL was too high, moisture too low which left both our storm, and the one to the north, one step away from creating a really great day. Still, it was a good chase!

rain free base
The base as it looked early on

 

funnel cloud
A funnel cloud, early on.

 

funnel cloud
One of many small funnel clouds from this storm

 

hail
The largest hail we saw from this storm

 

shaftnado
A “shaftnado” that looked really convincing. This was just rain shafts though.

 

lake tornado
This was our first tornado (water spout) on a lake (!) out in the plains. It had no visible funnel and lasted about 20 seconds.

 

brief tornado
A very brief tornado swirling up some dust. It is virtually impossible to see the funnel in this photo but you can see a darkening above it. I saw no funnel as it happened.

Day 7: Moderate Risk Day semi-bust

I woke up feeling really tired but excited about the day. Almost everything was pointing towards a big day with several big tornadoes. The SPC was predicting an 80% chance of tornadoes and 60% chance of strong tornadoes rated EF2 or higher. The area we targeted had a 15% hatched risk which is the highest risk I have ever chased in.

After last year’s SPC-busts I was not allowing myself to get too excited though. I was also struggling with computer problems all morning which kind of removed the focus from the anticipation of the day. But, of course, the day was a bust – at least in terms of a tornado outbreak in Kansas.

The storms all started around 1 p.m. (which is really early) and it washed out the entire area leaving all central Kansas cool and stable and thus very unsuitable for severe thunderstorms. When Erik realized that was going on we hauled down to the Kansas-Oklahoma border where the air was still untouched and unstable.

chase area

We got on a storm that was slowly becoming better looking, albeit being too linear. For a while it seemed pretty promising, had some really nice structure and we experienced some large hail but that was pretty much it. It was a rather decent chase day per se but with the build-up of the day it felt more like a bust than a nice chase day.

supercell
The supercell near Wellington, KS, at its peak.

 

funnel
It may have produced a brief, cone-shaped funnel for a while. This photo was not timed perfectly so I am not 100% sure.

We ended up in Greensburg, KS, where we stopped at a gas station where I randomly ran into three (3!) previous chase partners / tours: Charles Edwards, Gene Robertson and David (again). We all hid from pea-sized hail for some 10 minutes before heading back to Oklahoma City.

Dave
Dave photographing the storm.

My tour with Tornadic Expeditions was thus over and I was expecting the first long, good sleep for a week. An amazing week was at its end with some 20+ tornadoes and three tornado days. I have never been so lucky with the weather pattern for a tour and Erik did a good job finding the right targets as well.

Chase day: May 26th 2016

Day 4: Beautiful supercells but no tornadoes

Today looked really well with CAPE-values of 6.000. The problem was that there were three targets to choose from: Big Spring, TX (where I saw a landspout tornado in 2014), Woodward, OK and Donley, TX. We chose Donley since there was a big flood risk in Big Spring and Woodward did not look as good as Donley.

There was an apparent target already at 3 p.m. coming up along with a tornado watch in our area. We watched it for a while at a distance before we headed out there. We arrived at a beautiful immature LP-cell in the perfect environment. For the first time on this tour we could observe it without rain and, in all other aspects, perfect environment.

immature LP supercell
The LP supercell that died off.

 

anvil sun dog
A neat sun dog feature in the anvil.

For some reason, it started dying off more and more and completely evaporated after a while. There were no other good options really in the area so we sat and waited to see where we should go. It felt like the day was over.

hail jericho texas

After about an hour a second wave punched through and pushed up a new set of storms a bit further west. It did not look all too impressive at first but generated, lowered to the ground and started to look really impressive. For some 20 minutes it formed a wall cloud and apparently spun up a brief tornado (that we did not see).

When the sun was about to set it was the absolutely perfect setting for a photogenic tornado. We had the sun in our back, we could see the entire storm structure and there was a rainbow to our left.

Instead the RFD undercut the storm and you could start feeling the wind in your face (coming out from the storm, instead of going in) which was a sure sign it was dying off. It did so in a spectacular manner though.

dying storm jericho texas
A beautiful dying storm near Jericho, TX.

outlaw chaser car

We finished off at Big Verne’s steakhouse in Shamrock, TX, where I realized I had dinner before (after the Canadian, TX, tornadoes). It always feels funny when you realize you arrive at a place you have already been to in Tornado Alley.

Arriving at Elk City, OK, I saw a familiar car at the parking lot of our hotel. Apparantly, Randy and Lisa from the Outlaw Chasers that I chased with last year, was in the same hotel. I had a quick chat with them before finally crashing in my bed.

Chase date: May 23rd 2016.

 

Supercell over Stockholm yesterday

This year has been quite eventful for Europe in terms of storms and supercells. After coming back from a rather dull weather experience in May I saw reports on Twitter of amazing supercells over western Europe with baseball sized hail etc. I really have no tools or knowledge on how to chase in Europe, and don’t have a car either so I was never really close to go chasing but I enjoyed the photos and videos I found.

July and August has been quite eventful in Sweden as well. Usually the reports on “tornadoes” are tiny waterspouts and almost always from the west coast of Sweden where they feed of the warm water and quickly die off once they come ashore, sometimes after messing up someones garden furniture. Here in Stockholm (which is on the east coast) we quite rarely get thunderstorms (I, personally, experienced one last year) and, just as the rest of Sweden, very rarely get any supercells. I couldn’t find any data on this but it just don’t happen in my neighbourhood.

So, when I woke up yesterday from a quite intense thunderstorm I was quite happy since it is so rare. I opened the windows in order to really get the sound into my apartment and enjoyed the view – even though I was in a rainy mess so I didn’t really see much. This morning I read in the newspaper, however, that this was actually a supercell that passed over us! I don’t really know exactly how rare this is but my guess would be once a decade at most.

This is how the radar image looked over the two hours it took to pass Stockholm:

Interestingly enough there was a quite large waterspout (in Swedish terms) filmed in the Swedish archipelago, that was based from this storm as can be seen here. Now, this is all quite interesting but to make matters more interesting it was, by a weird chance, filmed by one of our major ski stars: two time olympic champion Pernilla Wiberg.

I was quite excited to get a bit of a glimpse of the weather I go to find in the US every year. I am still hoping to see a tornado, or at least water spout, in Sweden once but that will be very tricky!

Day 12 – Photogenic storms

Day 12 turned out to be a classic Storm Chase-day. We went to Colorado in the morning and drove toward a promising storm, but the roads were not in the same direction as the storm so we got behind and inside the storm again, which meant rain and poor visibility.

Fortunately, the storms pops up earlier in Colorado than the rest of the Midwest so even though we wasted 2 hours on this storm in vain it was still only around 4 p.m. when we made our second attempt. This time, ee ended up in front of a perfect scenery with two super-cells next to each other – we stood and looked back and forth and did not really know which one to keep an eye on. All that was missing was a tornado and the Pulitzer Prize 2009 would be mine! Supposedly it was very close since virtually all the data indicated that a tornado could be formed at any second but the storm rotated a bit too slow.

We continued on and I guess you know the story now. Repositioning, wall cloud, core punch. Today’s big event was that we got directly under our first great hail storm and we followed it for nearly 40 minutes. The hail was not as large as before (dime sized hail) but it was cool to see how it completely tore the trees to pieces and was drumming so hard on the car making it completely impossible to talk.

The two super-cells merged some time later and we were hoping for The Perfect Storm, but even if the storm was unbelievably photogenic, it never went as crazy as we hoped.

textbook example
Textbook example of a storm cell – the rain on the right is the outflow and the low cloud on the left is the inflow. You can see how the rain is sort of sucked into the inflow, almost even before hitting the ground.
zoomed in
Last photo a bit more zoomed in.
rain
Rain is beautiful – if you look at it from a distance.
black and white cloud
Two clouds, which we hope will begin to rotate. One is white and the other dark gray, depending on how the sun shines at them.
otero county sign
Otero County
white scud
White Scud
boob clouds
Boobie clouds – but not Mammatus 🙂
mothership supercell crashing
One of my favorite pictures from the trip – this was the northern part of the double-super cell we looked at.
storm cell detail
This was the southern part of the same super cell – I would have liked to see this from a bit further away!
mothership supercell striations
You can clearly see how the super-cell is divided into layers
striations supercell
Striations and layers of the supercell
counter clockwise rotation
One part of the cloud with an anti-cyclone rotation – that is, against the direction the rest of the cloud was rotating
christoffer björkwall storm chaser
Me posing in front of this really cool storm.
hail tearing up a tree
Then it began to hail immensely – you can see how the leaves from the trees are torn apart.
artillery by hail
The hail came down like artillery fire on the fields
hail driving range
Foooooooore! I went out to see how it felt but it was not so bad with a thick sweater.
road covered in hail
A road in Colorado in June!
catamaran cloud
The sun started to set and the clouds looked like a catamaran boat – a lovely sight.
Two details that one sees a bit now and then. A beaver tail-cloud and a vortex (a mini tornado in the clouds), you can see the latter above the beaver tail cloud, a bit to the right of the pink cloud.
Two details that one sees a bit now and then. A beaver tail-cloud and a vortex (a mini tornado in the clouds), you can see the latter above the beaver tail cloud, a bit to the right of the pink cloud.

Day 6 – Supercells and sunsets

We continued to drive towards to the storm that had created the tornado earlier in the afternoon. It still had a strong rotation which created a super cell with a beautiful round shape with different layers. We drover in underneath the base hoping for more tornadoes but the supply had run out, I guess 🙂

Instead, we once again experienced the tremendous feeling of being under a super cell with a wall cloud underneath eating its way over the fields. The sun was about to set, which painted the sky in dozens of lovely colors. When the sun went down the dying storm played out a lightning spectacle I have never seen the likes of before. When you have seen what nature can do during the day and then hear the storm clouds rumble and flash, you feel very, very small.

We called it a day around 10 p.m. and began to move towards the hotel and something to eat, having the twin super cells next to us. They moved diagonally along our route, towards the highway we drove on and continued to throw out amazing lightning that lit up the whole sky. It was probably 2-3 flashes per second! This accompanied to the radio in the dark announcing: “We have a tornado warning. Go down to your basements. Go down to your basements. This is a very dangerous storm. This is a very dangerous storm. etc. etc.”. Quite dramatic!

The day ended at a restaurant that, a few minutes before, had been in the way of super-cells but was left undamaged. We ate dinner with the whole group of researchers,  TV people, etc.

What a day!!

stacked pancakes storm
Supercell with the stacked pancakes-shape. “I know, let’s go in underneath it!”
shelf cloud
A little closer, the shelf cloud underneath looks amazing.
shelf cloud
Here we are just at the edge of the cloud. The shelf cloud (dark gray) looks like something from a disaster movie.
perfect shadow
The cloud is so well defined that you see a completely straight shadow from the sun.
90 degree angle on cloud
Looking the other way you can see the second super-cell that is as finely rounded and very, very well defined. The wall cloud underneath is barely visible.
mmaturs clouds
The sun begins to go down and creates long shadows of the mammatus clouds.
mammatus
A magnificent sight.
lightning
I took about 50 pictures of lightning at this stop. This was the only one I caught 🙂 At this point it flashed only about every 10 seconds so it was a bit difficult.
post storm discussions
We came back to a local restaurant and watched the weather news. The feeling was very much like when you have been to a football game with your favorite team and seen them win. Then you come home, watching the sports news to see the goals and everything else from all other angles, and discuss each others’ perceptions of today’s event.
hail used as ice in drinks
Huge hail. The storm chasers used them as ice for their drinks!