Day 10: Multiple tornadoes in three different states

rope out tornado wyoming

Just like a couple of other days this year, June 12th started off looking really great. All storm related parameters were super high but there was a great risk of all the storms firing at the same time, causing a big mess that would erode the entire day – just like May 26th last year. The season of 2017 has been really bad and many have experienced days like this turn into nothing. We tried to keep our hopes up but expectations low.

We started the morning in Ft Collins, CO, and continued north towards Cheyenne, WY. It did not take long until the storms started firing both in Colorado and north of Cheyenne. We followed a cell 30 minutes to our north but did not stay with it long when we saw the cells exploding close to Ft Collins, so we doubled back.

We core punched the storm (thank you, hail shields) and finally reached the south end, only to notice some sort of dryline moving in from the south, threatening to kill the entire storm. At this point the northern storm had dropped a tornado and it felt like the day would be much shorter than we had anticipated. When David said “We have about 5-10 minutes before this dry air reaches our storm” it felt like the day would bust. Thankfully it didn’t – at all.

Instead the supercell started rotating quickly and became a monster. In fact, when it stopped some 6-7 hours later it had passed 4 states! 

The supercell consistently had three separate meso-cyclones. Funny enough since we had been joking about the quote in the movie “Into the storm” when they are referencing a radar image with: “It’s got 5 or 6 hooks on it”. Our storm actually had three hooks on it!

We chased the first meso which was the strongest but as it turned out, the best tornado came out of the last meso. It had the shape of an elephant trunk most of the time lasted about 15 minutes but we couldn’t really catch up with it since we had to drive on muddy roads. We got to see it’s beautiful rope out stage at about 5 miles. The second tornado was in the middle meso and did not last as long as the first. 

We still kept faith in the first meso which eventually produced a tornado almost in front of us. Unfortunately, the base was hidden by a hill. Apparently, this tornado destroyed a barn as can be seen in this incredible video by Scott Peake. If we had only been a few miles ahead! Instead, at the same time we saw an anti-cyclonic tornado very close (some 100-200 yards) to our right. It never fully condensed but was very nice to see up close. At this point it felt like there were tornadoes and funnels all over the place!

We continued to follow this supercell as it progressed north in the Nebraska panhandle. As the sun was setting we drove by a train and two semi-trucks that had been knocked down by, most likely, a tornado. We continued to chase the supercell some time into the night and I believe we saw it tornado once more but I am not sure as the hills were obscuring our view much of the time.

What a day! This was my second best chase day ever (after Dodge City last year). In the end we saw at least 7 tornadoes!

storm with weird funnel
The western storm out of the two southern targets of the day. We just stopped briefly to take a few photos. Look at the “funnel” under the base!

 

funnel under base
Zoom-in on the funnel like-feature under the storm. I have no idea what this is. No tornado was reported from the storm at this time.

 

hail in palm
Even though we went actively chasing for hail some days during this trip, this is the largest hail we ever saw.

 

tornado colorado
The first, and best, tornado of the day. It had a really nice stove-pipe shape in the beginning.

 

tornado with oil pump
The tornado turned into a drill-bit and was very picturesque. At this point we were chasing the tornado on muddy roads and I had a hard time getting a clear shot to take photos.

 

we've got cows tornado
“We’ve got cows”

 

rope out tornado
The tornado when we finally stopped to observe it. It had started roping out. It had at this point gone from Colorado into Wyoming.

 

rope out
The funnel turned transparent in the last minutes of the rope out-stage.

 

not fully condensed tornado
The second tornado of the day was nowhere near fully condensed. Some damage was reported from this tornado outside Pine Bluffs, CO.

 

funnel retracting into cloud
One of the most peculiar things of this day, and my chase career in total. This started off as a funnel cloud and eventually started to get sucked into the updraft!

 

third tornado
The third tornado of the day was also from the last cell in the storm complex. We almost missed this one. It didn’t last long and we were quite far away.

 

dark blue tornado
The third tornado at a later stage.

 

round storm structure
This magnificent day did not only offer tornadoes but also some amazing structure shots.

 

three updrafts one tornado
One of the best photos I have ever taken. In it you can see the three updrafts of the storm with some amazing structure of the first meso, in the last, third, meso there is a tornado – the fourth one of the day!

 

barn tornado
The fifth tornado as it destroyed a barn behind the ridge. The photo was taken while driving and is unfortunately quite blurry. The storm was now in Nebraska.

 

anti-cyclonic tornado
The sixth tornado of the day was the closest one. It was anti-cyclonic and fairly brief and never fully condensed.

 

sixth tornado
I have lost track of my photos as I did not edit them until a few weeks later. I don’t really remember if this lowering created a tornado or not.

 

train sleeping
One of the most incredible things of the day. A tornado, or straight line winds, pushed an entire train of its tracks!

 

sleepy truck
Close to the train there were two trucks flipped on the side as well. I don’t know if this truck was thrown here or if it had parked outside of the road and then got flipped.

 

sunset mammatus
Just before sunset this epic day was about to end with some amazing mammatus clouds.

 

after dark tornado I think
There was a (7th!) tornado reported from the storm at the time of this photo. We never saw the base of it as it was hidden behind a ridge. This is the best photo I got from it a bit later, at this point I don’t think it had a tornado though.

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 4 – Chasing with content in Campo, CO

I woke up content but also a wee bit hungover from the celebration last night. For the fourth day in a row we had an SPC Slight Risk with 5% tornado risk to chase. This time in the Oklahoma panhandle and southeast Colorado. Since we already were in the same area (Shamrock, TX) we treated ourselves with a good breakfast at a family restaurant nearby.

I bumped in to some old acquaintances from Cloud 9: Charles Edwards and George Kourounis but also Klipski who I had been emailing with in the pre-season. It is an awesome but absurd feeling to go halfway around the world, stop by a small restaurant in an even smaller town – and bump into people you know! I love it!

We moved westward on the Oklahoma panhandle when the first storms started popping up. We chased them and had to make a turn up north in order to avoid the rain but by doing so ending up north of our HP cell. There was a tornado reported on our storm but there was no chance to get back on it without core punching it, which obviously was a bad idea, so we pretty much had to sit it out and watch it congeal with the other cells (like all storms seems to be doing this year). We were treated with some nice mammatus instead.

mammatus over Campo Colorado

extreme chase tours
This was the old van Extreme Chase Tours used to chase in. Lanny was chasing together with us in it for this particular day though.

So, even though we got to chase some storms and saw/felt some amazing thunder and lightning it felt like a semi-bust. It was however the fourth day in a row where we had been chasing a storm with a tornado!

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 5 – Rocky mountains

On Day 3, we learned how storms work. Today we learned that storms are not always reliable.

In the morning we hurried up early from Colby, KS, to go to the Colorado plains. These plains seemed the most likely to create storms today, which basically means:

  1. The air needs to be moist so that clouds are shaped. This is usually supported by winds from the Gulf of Mexico
  2. A strong wind in the upper atmospheric layers that kind of stretches out the cloud so it doesn’t “choke itself”.
  3. A strong surface wind at the ground blowing at an angle to the upper winds. This “puts a spin” on the winds.
  4. Probably a lot more, but this is what I have learned  this far 🙂

The air started bubbling pretty early in the afternoon (as it usually does near the Rockies) so we went out to some very promising and beautiful clouds.The sun was shining brightly upon them and with the Rocky Mountains in the background, it was a fantastic sight! The storm started growing some but quickly dissipated as a hissing balloon so we went back to our base camp in the area – a small shopping center.

We waited a while in the shopping center and later went out to some new promising objects. That storm split up into a northern and southern cloud and we bet on the south one – which typically is the best choice – but it also died out. Instead we saw, to our frustration, on the radar that the northern one blew up instead. It was going 30 mph and was already at some distance so there was no chance to catch up with it. We went after another cloud a bit half-heartedly, but then gave up and went back to our base camp again.

It really is not easy to chase storms. The conditions can be there but still not be optimal. This year, the weather conditions have been generally poor, but improved bit-by-bit since the beginning of our tour. Even if the conditions are good, not all storms mature into a supercell / tornadic state.

Another problem when you chase storms – and something that requires a lot of experience – is positioning yourself for the storm. You want to be positioned a bit on the front edge of the storm but driving there is not always as easy. A basic problem is that the storms like to go southeast and the roads either south or east!

In rural areas you can sometimes be driving north, north and further north when all you want to do is take a turn westward over the fields! Another problem, especially evident in Colorado, is that even if the Midwest is flat, there’s always some hills and if you are in the valley between the hills you don’t see very much of the storms.

Well, in anticipation of possibly going out again late in the afternoon, we gave up a bit and sat in the rear of the best-equipped van, bought some local beer and looked at the movie Attack of the killer tomatoes.

Two boring days in a row now, and it shows in the group where some are starting to get a little bit frustrated.

Some pictures from the day:

tiv
If you have watched the Discovery Channel, you might recognize this – TIV: Tornado Intercept Vehicle. We bump into it a bit now and then. Here driving behind us.

 

vortex 2
Vortex 2 – A major tornado research project and also followed by the Weather Channel here in the U.S.

 

storm in colorado
The first cloud we chased today. At the bottom of the ”vacuum cleaner” you can see a slightly blurry part. This is the wall cloud I wrote so much about in Day 3. Here you get a little bit of perspective on how massive the cloud is compared to that wall cloud. A tornado would therefore only be a small line in the horizon in this picture.

 

dying storm
Here we have gotten a little closer and the wall cloud is a bit more clear. The cloud has started to die and the trunk (or the vacuum cleaner) is getting thinner. The analogy with a vacuum cleaner is actually not completely wrong since this is the inflow of air into the cloud.

 

rocky mountains
Rocky Mountains in the background

 

boobie clouds
Mammatus clouds (or “Boobie clouds” as we say in the van). A phenomenon which can be very beautiful.

 

lenticular clouds
Just in the middle of this cloud, you can something looking like a stack of plates on top of the cloud. These are called lenticular clouds, they are quite beautiful and perfectly round.

 

double rainbow
A perfectly normal rainbow will end this series of pictures. It looked like a double rainbow from the the car but the photo doesn’t really reflect that.