Day 8: Driving through beautiful Montana

Beautiful Montana

Although Minnesota looked like a better target for Sunday we had to leave for Wyoming to pick up the newest member of our team: Akos from Hungary. To get there we had to drive through Montana, which really was an experience. Green hills, mountains with snow caps in the background and great plains. It was stunning most of the time!

the stormtrooper
Took some new photos of The Stormtrooper. I am not so sure “The Stormtrooper” is such a good name though, as the one thing stormtroopers are famous for is missing everything!

 

roosevelt national park
Theodore Roosevelt national park in North Dakota

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!

north dakota storm 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.

corkscrew cloud

Day 6: A 13 hour drive to North Dakota

badlands

We decided to head for the North Dakota-target as it showed great potential. It was a looong run, especially since we have to get back to at least Denver as Alex is going home and Akos is coming along with us. Still, we are here to chase and this was the place to go.

The drive was another 13 hour drive, the second this week, but for me personally it was not all that bad. There is a lot of talk going on in the car, mostly about storms. I have read a couple of books, watched movies on my iPad and played games. David is having the hardest time as he is the one constantly driving the Stormtrooper.

On our way up to North Dakota, we drove passed the Badlands National Park. It was the second time for being here but it was still a very impressive sight! 

It seems like the weather will turn a bit to the better for a couple of days now, I just hope the logistics will work for us so we can get to the target areas.

badlands

moon
Looks like a coin, rolling down a wire.

 

moon
The moon, later the same evening. I just bought a 70-300mm tele objective and the moon is my favorite target so far.

 

 

Day 5: Our first real chase day

supercell colorado

We woke up to a day that turned out slightly better than we anticipated and we were thankful to have our first real chase day of the trip! The parameters were decent: good CAPE, decent moisture, lift but not as much shear. 

As we were already in the target area we could have a long breakfast and look for cumulus towers from the hotel parking lot! Around 11 we saw a promising target and went out. The updraft looked really nice and crisp, i.e. signs of a strong updraft and a potentially strong storm. The “Twister” soundtrack was on in the car stereo and the excitement was tangible.

Unfortunately, this day turned out almost as expected but maybe a bit worse. Every storm seemed to die as we approached it and we constantly had to regroup and switch targets. We were hardly more than 10 minutes under each storm actually observing it. With hindsight, we should have picked the Tail End Charlie (that looked like crap most of the time) and just stuck with it as it produced a tornado in the end. 

We have a difficult decision to make now as Alex is flying home on Sunday (from Tulsa) and there is a promising target area in North Dakota on the border to Canada, on Friday. Ironically, he needs to go to Tulsa to fly home to Canada where he is currently living.

colorado storm

crisp updraft
The updrafts looked really nice all throughout the day.

 

colorado storm
The best looking storm of the day.

Day 4: Tornado at 11.000 ft!

Lightning from the mountain storm that spun the tornado

After the morning’s forecast we had the option of going some 3 hours east to chase really bad storms or going down almost all the way to New Mexico to, most likely, miss some slightly better looking storms. Instead, we went up the mountains again to hike and drive Mount Evens road, the highest located road in North America.

Our hike around a lake had to be cancelled after only some 10 minutes due to thunder. We weren’t too disappointed though, after all we are on a storm chasing trip! Instead we continued up Mount Evens road and realized we had a decent looking thunderstorm just next to us.

It was not very active but I managed to get a fluke shot of a lightning while driving. This was quite cool since there was only one lightning every 10 seconds or so. We continued to go further up ahead, stopping once in a while to look at the storm and take photos. 

We continued up to Summit Lake and went back down again to continue our drive to Cheyenne, WY, when we stopped at Starbucks and went through our photos. David came up to us with a big smile and said, look at this!! This is the photo he showed:

At first, we didn’t believe him and thought he had taken a photo of a photo of a tornado or something but suddenly realized he had actually caught a tornado on his camera! At 11.000 ft!! It was absolutely crazy! He made the tweet, as seen above, and it went viral instantly – causing numerous TV-channels wanting to show it etc. 

I didn’t see it myself so I had mixed feelings about the whole thing. Our chase team had caught a record tornado (in terms of altitude) on camera and we had been there – but I had missed it, even though I had been looking at the storm for much of the time. No matter what, it was a really cool catch and it taught us that you never really know when a storm will produce a tornado. Even high up in the Colorado mountains!

chipmunk

 

mountain storm
Beautiful shades of blue and gray. This was (obviously) not the tornado, just some scud.

 

stormtrooper chase vehicle
“The Stormtrooper” – our chase vehicle at Summit lake

 

Mountain storm lightning
Lightning from the mountain storm that spun the tornado

 

tornado debris
This COULD be the debris from the tornado (compare it to David’s photo) but I have no real idea.

 

whole storm
This is the whole photo of the storm from which the possible tornado pic was taken from (look at the left side).

 

Day 3: Hiking in the Rocky Mountains

rain showers

Early on this day David made a forecast and we realized that there would be very meager storms at best within a 3 hour drive (i.e. 6 hours in total) so we decided to call it a Down Day and go up hiking in the mountains instead, in Rocky Mountain National Park. There was a actually a few thunderstorms that were going to pass over the Rocky Mountains and on our way up to the park we ended up in one of them, experiencing some minor (pea sized) hail and a few lightning strikes. Nothing special but it turned out quite beautiful with the mountains in the background.

rain showers

The thunderstorms and the fact that there was still snow on the trails stopped our plans on going on a real hike. In fact, when we got up to 12.000 feet our lungs said no to that as well. I could blame my cold but I felt dizzy walking the short trails/walks we actually did. Outside of that it felt really cool to be so high up and to see snow on a storm chasing trip!

christoffer björkwall colorado

david williams in colorado

We were also treated with some wild animal sightings. Moose, elk and some sort of gopher I forgot the name of. 

elk in rocky mountain national park
moose in rocky mountain national park

When we were driving back from the park, some of the storms we ignored in the morning had gotten severe warned but had not been anything special. I think we made a good call, especially since I am a great fan of national parks, animals and scenic views. 

Thursday seems to be our first real chance of chasing storms and it should be progressively better towards the weekend. The only problem for us is that we may have to go back to Tulsa to leave Alex and pick up a new guy.

 

Day 2: Traveling to Denver, CO

denver

There is really not much to say about June 4th, Day 2 on this chase, other than it was a looong day. We got up and into the Stormtrooper at 9 a.m. and finally arrived in Denver at 10.30, some 13.5 hours later! That did include a stop in Wakita, OK, for a visit to the Twister museum. I was curious to see whether my high score on the pinball was still there (it wasn’t).

At least while driving in towards Denver we saw a nice little thunderstorm in the far west but that is really everything. I still have a cold and feel tired most of the time but I hope I will get better until the storms start showing up. Tomorrow is likely going to be a complete down day with a visit to some national park. I love Colorado and the mountains so I am really looking forward to it.

Day 1: The ridge. Omg. The ridge!

the moon bixby oklahoma

I arrived late on June 2nd after a long but pretty decent flight. Well, outside of the fact that I lost my iPhone on the first leg of the flight! It was a matter of many small coincidences as I am usually quite careful when it comes to my iPhone. It really sucks as it was in the beginning of the vacation and although the iPhone is not as crucial as my laptop, passport or camera – it really put a damper on my spirit.

I was not feeling to well either, having caught a cold just the day before, so I slept for a long time but still woke up sick. The “good” news, however, was that I could continue to rest because of the ridge sitting over the Midwest effectively removing all threat/possibilities of severe weather.

It has been an extremely slow season so my expectations were quite low, but it seems like the turnout is probably worse than my expectations. It seems like I am looking at starting of this season with 4-5 down days. I am not all that bummed out though as we are a really nice group of friends and we have plans to go hiking etc as well, basically a normal road trip in the US – and that’s not all that bad…as long as the weather pattern changes until I go back!!

The day was made up of preparations for the rest of the week: buying snacks at Costco, buying cold medicine etc but we also went out to an airfield where Alex (the other Swede in the car) had a flying lesson.

Now, we are off to finish the night watching Twister (of course)!

planes

plane

alex

costco

the moon bixby oklahoma

StormchasingUSA.com 3.0 – Same, same but different

storm chasing usa

When I first made StormChasingUSA.com back in 2009, it was not a pretty website but quite useful from the start. It was made in php with a lot of “cut and paste”-coding that made it buggy and without any really useful tools. A couple of years later I made a complete makeover of it, with a new version made with Ruby on Rails. That allowed for a lot more functionality, like an admin area etc. For the third time now, the website is made more or less from scratch in a new environment. This time in WordPress.

There are numerous reasons for going to WordPress. Since I made the CMS in the previous version more or less myself, I had a lot of bugs that were really tricky to solve and it often took me ages to solve. There are far less programmers specialized in Ruby on Rails as it is in WordPress so moving to WordPress makes it much easier for me to outsource, which in turn will make updates faster.

In addition, it will make it much easier for the tour companies and others to update the website with info on new tours. It was quite a mess in the old website so I hope this will make the website updated more often.

I wanted to publish this new version before I go chasing on Friday so I had to cut some corners, mainly in terms of tour company logins (not existing at the moment) and web design. The design is somewhat worse, for now, compared to the old version but it will soon be much improved. It is a “one step backwards to take two step forwards” kind of deal.

I hope you will enjoy the new version. Please let me know if you encounter any problems with it!

Chasecation 2017

June 2nd is finally within reach, the date I will leave to go on this year’s chasecation. I was planning to go in late May as usual but I was a bit too slow in booking my trip so Tornado Alley Chasing ran out of seats for that period – leaving me to chase in June. I also got an offer from last season’s tour company, Tornadic Expeditions, to come and chase with them in late May but I had already bought my flight at that point and it would have been too expensive to change it.

Thus, I have been following the season closely, especially since May 18th, when I was scheduled to land. In fact, May 18th was a High Risk day (which delivered reasonably as well) and I was quite bummed about the fact that I missed out on it due to my choice, until I realized I would have landed late on May 18th and would juuuust have missed out on everything anyway! That would have been way worse! Outside of that, there hasn’t been any spectactular action in late May.

In fact, it seems like 2017 have been really slow in general. I really hope it turns to the better, just like in 2009, when June comes. On top of my wish list is a Colorado LP-tornado. Nonetheless, I am just happy to be able to go chasing again!