Sunday, June 23, 2013

2013 chase course: the first three days

What a few days!

We started on Friday morning, bright and early--6 AM departure.  We made our way to Watertown, SD, and decided to go west and south, as the warm front was nearby and storms were imminent.  Speaking of imminent, we had our eyes on a storm that was well to our southwest, south of I-90, that was moving steadily eastward with no seeming reason for it to stop.

And yet it did.  It turned into a rather blobby messy area, which made our decision to play farther north easy.  And it became a good decision.  Storms were ingesting good unstable air there, and the shear was better, especially down low.

We got in front of a fairly good storm that was showing some rotation, albeit not huge.  It began to surge a little bit, so we moved east. Another stop showed us that this storm was surging for good, so we decided to play with a storm to our southwest.  It looked like we were going to stay ahead of it, but it, too, decided to surge.  The difference this time was that the surge was the RFD blasting forward, occluding the suddenly stronger mesocyclone.  And to make matters worse, this was happening to our south.

We began to see what we thought were gustnadoes here and there, and another one to our south produced a power flash.  Then we saw, through the murky rain, a funnel emerge from the clouds and make contact with the ground, kicking up some dust.  Let me add right here that it was about 3 PM and it was so dark it looked more like 10 PM.  Anyhow, the road wound around a little bit, though, and we couldn't keep ahead of it.  So as an escape route, 3 of the 4 vehicles decided to take off on a north option.  That ended quickly when it became apparent, through RADAR, that we were going to drive into another circulation.  So.  Drive north into a circulation, drive south into one, or stay put and hope the RADAR was right, that we were between the two.

Good call.

As we sat there riding it out, there were pieces of tree (leaves and small branches) coming down around us, and I estimate that the wind was 60 to 70 mph.  But it was coming from the west, so I was fairly confident we were okay.  Which, it ended up, we were.

Now let's talk about the last vehicle.

When we were driving east to get ahead of the circulation, they got stuck behind us in a rain curtain, and they didn't know where we had gotten to.  So instead of going north, they pressed on east, to the town of Erwin.  They came upon some fallen trees, so they had to go more slowly.  They were navigating through trees and branches in town and the wind really picked up.  This spooked them and they decided to stop.  Good thing: just in front of them, and we're talking inches here, a tree came down.

They decided to take what shelter they could, and parked on the lee side of a church.  That's where we found them about 10 minutes later.

The whole complex turned into a line, and just like that, we were done chasing--and it was only about 4 PM.

That evening we saw the CoD people at the same place we were having dinner, in Sioux Falls, SD.  They showed us their usual Chicago hospitality.

Day 2 dawned with uncertainty galore--and that's usually a sign that storms are a nebulous prospect.  When all signs point to a location rather clearly, it's usually a much better chase day.

We finally decided to play somewhere in central Nebraska-ish.  The ingredients were lining up there, so we figured why not.  During the afternoon, an area of convergence decided to show itself as an area of agitated cumuli near Lexington.  We decided to target that, as it was along a composite outflow boundary/front.  It looked agitated, then got flat again, and then agitated again.  Finally the returns started to show up on RADAR, as the now-storm was up to about 50,000 feet.  Good deal.

It looked multicellular and/or supercell with many splits.  When we got there, it had a fairly well-defined updraft base separate from the rain and hail.

And then it died.  It didn't even go quickly.  It went from a somewhat promising cell to nothing in the span of 20 minutes.

Stopped by the side of the road, we met up with the CoD crew and chatted for a while.

Bed that night was in Kearney, NE.

Day 3, today, was a day that, while better-defined than yesterday, was still a little questionable.  The play was the front range near Denver and then northeast Colorado.

After lunch in Fort Morgan--yum! at Acapulco Bay, we got to this small town about 20 miles northeast of the mile high city, and a storm graced us with its presence.  It was looking okay, almost a left-mover.  So we repositioned to get to a better vantage point.  We got to a good lookout point, and watched the storm rumble and put out some occasional positive strikes, one of which caused a fire, before it decayed.  Lucky for us, though, a storm to its southwest, near Denver, started to look better on RADAR.  So we went to see it and, yeah, not bad, but it was outflowy.  Bummer.  But since there was nothing else to look at, we decided to stay, and we were rewarded with the storm actually trying to become surface-based.  It developed a wall cloud of sorts, and soon it had us wondering if it would soon produce.

We stopped a couple of times to photograph the storm, and during one of the repositioning moves, a tornado warning went out for the storm.  I could understand, as it had become based nearly at the surface, unlike all the elevated storms we had seen previously.

It produced one brief funnel cloud before it, too, fell apart.  After some waiting to see what a storm to our southwest would do, we decided to head back to the hotel.

Along the way, south of Akron, we were racing against time to make it north before the now bow echo did, as it had inside it a report of golf ball hail.

And that brings us to now.  We did make it ahead of the storm and, while RADAR indicated that it was a close call, I don't think we were as close to it as all that.

One note about the chase thus far: on Friday we made some mistakes.  We should have stayed farther away from the storm, with more escape routes.  You can bet that this is something I won't be messing up on anytime soon.  We take pride in being a safe chase group and we just shouldn't have put ourselves in that position.

Anyhow, the next 2 days look quite interesting.  Keep following along on our chase tracker, and hopefully we'll have more interesting tweets and blog entries there.


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