Category Archives: 2015

21 June 2015 / South Dakota supercell and tornadoes

This day would have to go down as the chase of the season.  This “South Dakota” supercell actually formed near Baker, Montana, and tracked across the far southwest corner of North Dakota before calling South Dakota home.

The storm originated near the southern end of a broken line segment which formed just west of the Montana/North Dakota border.  We had earlier left Belle Fourche and drove north through Bowman, ND, making it all the way to I-94.  Even worse, we drove east on I-94 making it to Dickinson before turning back.  I was concerned with the type of atmosphere the southern storms would be ingesting, and just about took us out of play for the storm of the day.

By 5 pm, we were headed west and southwest again.  We stopped at 5:59 pm a few miles north of Bowman and shot images of the distant storm and overhead mammatus that had developed.  We made another stop at 6:33 pm just north of the ND/SD border.  At this point, we were not all that impressed with the storm, but it still looked to be the best play based on radar.  Something happened and the storm got a surge of energy just 15 minutes later while we were stopped on the ND/SD border.  At this point, supercell structure was quite impressive.

We had a nice road that went east from Ludlow, SD, and we stopped at 7:07 and 7:22 pm.  The storm appeared to be holding on to its strength, but also appeared as if it was trying to transition to HP.  Road options then got a little wonky and we had to make a pretty good trip south and east to continue playing the storm.

We got about 3/4 of the way down the south leg when we observed the first tornado of the day behind us.  Many of the shots of the tornado were taken with a zoom lens, but the distance between us and the storm allowed for some very nice images catching the whole storm and tornado.  Whatever attempt was made for a transition to HP had failed.  After this tornado weakened, we continued the next few miles south to grab our east option.

At 8:02 pm, we stopped just east of Reva, simply because the storm structure was amazing!  It was during this stop that tornado number two developed.  Once again, some zoomed shots and more shots of the overall storm structure.  We then started east with the hope of being able to get ahead of the storm again.

While driving east on Highway 20, it appeared that we were not going to be able to stay ahead of the core.  The decision was made to continue, hoping that we didn’t encounter much in the way of large hail.  The strong southeast winds were probably just enough to keep the largest hail just north of the road, and we didn’t encounter much as we made our way to our next south option which was just east of Meadow.  The supercell structure during this trip east was incredible!

After making our south option without incident, we stopped about five miles south southeast of Meadow.  The mesocyclone was to our west northwest and we got to watch an amazing evolution which lead to a very photogenic tornado (number three).

At 9:30 pm, we stopped a few miles southwest of Coal Springs and watched as a rapidly rotating wall cloud passed just to our east.  We very much thought that tornado number four was going to form, but it just couldn’t get it done at that point.  We considered driving east through Coal Springs, but this would have taken us through the hail core.  It’s a good thing we didn’t take this option because hail larger than baseballs would have been waiting for us.

Instead, we stayed near the Highway 20/Highway 73 intersection and captured quite a few images of the beautiful storm near and after sunset as it tracked away from us.  It’s rare to find a storm that can provide so many photo opportunities from so many different viewing directions.  It was – a very good day.

20 June 2015 / Wyoming, South Dakota supercells

This was another day that allowed us to see one of the local sights, and we dropped south from Belle Fourche to Spearfish, to Deadwood, and finally, Mount Rushmore.  After a short visit, we worked our way west into Wyoming and stopped for lunch at Moorcroft, which was in our target area.

Storms started forming just before 4 pm to our southwest.  We spent the better part of two hours observing storms and enjoying the views to the west and northwest of Upton, Wyoming.  Once again, we had a road which allowed us to stay close to our target storm as we drove southeast through Osage and Newcastle.  We stopped to view this first supercell of the day just east of the Wyoming/South Dakota border.  Despite being quite strong and producing a lot of large hail, lightning was limited and we let this storm go and began working our way east

We drove east across the southern side of the Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park.  This was somewhat of an agonizing drive through the typical winding roads you will find in a national forest, behind a lot of slow drivers interested more in sightseeing than storms.  We finally popped out onto the plains near Hermosa, South Dakota.

Looking southeast, we were treated to a spectacular view of our original storm as it tracked away from us.  After a few photos, our attention turned to other storms that were located to our north and northwest.  We decided to play these, and drove north and east, taking up a position north of New Underwood.  The storms didn’t have much life left in them, but we enjoyed the last bit of flashing they did, along with another beautiful sunset.  Afterward, it was back to Belle Fourche – again – for the night.

19 June 2015 / Montana, Wyoming supercells

We left Gering, Nebraska with a target area of far southeast Montana and far northeast Wyoming.  We drove through Lusk, Wyoming early in our trip and got to see evidence of severe flooding which had occurred on 4 June.  We continued north and northwest through Sundance, Wyoming and eventually stopped for some sightseeing at Devils Tower.  While there, storms started to form in our target area of southeast Montana.

We passed into Montana near Alzada and started northwest on Highway 212.  An impressive supercell had developed northwest of Broadus, and we stopped between Broadus and Olive to observe the storm at 5:24 pm CDT.  The storm was a bit messy, but still exhibited supercell characteristics.  Disorganization continued for a time as we followed the storm southeast, back down Highway 212.

By 6:30 pm, the storm had found new strength and became well organized as it passed Hammond, Montana.  There was a period that it appeared a tornado was either occurring, or very close to occurring, but the storm had transitioned to HP and we weren’t going to see it.  We continued to stay close to the storm back to Alzada just after 7 pm, and it became decision time.

New storms were developing to our south and southwest.  Our original target storm was starting to become very nasty / high end HP / and accelerating toward an area with a poor road network.  We decided to start south toward the new development and let our storm go.  That was probably a good decision as it would have been easy to become trapped, and the storm ended up producing reported six inch hail.

We dropped south of Devils Tower around 8 pm, and were unfortunately greeted with weakening storms.  It was starting to appear as if we had made a poor decision back at Alzada.   Lucky for us, new development was rapidly taking place between Hulett and New Haven, Wyoming.  These storms organized into a small, but well structured supercell and we started following this storm east from Hulett.  By the time we got to Aladdin, Wyoming, the storm had  developed strong rotation.  We dropped south to I-90 and then drove east with the plan of staying in front of the storm.

We decided to abort our plan of driving east when it appeared that we would not be able to stay out of core.  This proved to be a good decision as hail in that direction ended up being reported as larger than baseballs.  We stopped at a rest area just inside the South Dakota line and experienced RFD winds to 70 mph with the passing supercell.

We finally drove west and stopped west of Beulah, WY to watch the sunset and capture a bit of lightning, while making plans to stay in Belle Fourche, SD for the night.

18 June 2015 / Travel Day

Looking west northwest from 15.5 miles north of Fort Morgan, CO (9:20 pm CDT)

Looking west northwest from 15.5 miles north of Fort Morgan, CO (9:20 pm CDT)

With the Southern Plains severe weather season coming to an end, it was time to make the long trek north.  This first travel day knocked out a lot of miles, ending in Gering, Nebraska for the night.  We observed a nice sunset north of Fort Morgan, Colorado.

11 June 2015 / Panhandle supercells

This was the last day of chasing for Pete before he returned to the U.K.  We made it to the central Oklahoma Panhandle in time to observe a nice looking supercell to the northwest of Guymon.  As has been the case so many times this season, lightning wasn’t impressive.  Still, the supercell structure made for some nice photos. We stayed with the storm as it tracked southeast across the north side of Guymon.

We then tried to get into position for a sunset lightning shoot between Balko and Logan, OK, but we never found a dry spot to hang out.  We finally moved south to Follett, Texas to get out of the rain and capture a few strikes.

7 June 2015 / Northwest Oklahoma severe storms

We were not expecting much more than a few severe storms and lightning, and we got about what we thought we would.

Most of the afternoon and evening was spent between May and Arnett, Oklahoma.  We jogged around a couple of bowing line segments and were able to frame shots at a couple of stops.

6 June 2015 / Nebraska severe

Looking west from 6.9 miles southwest of Ragan, NE (3:47 pm CDT)

Looking west from 6.9 miles southwest of Ragan, NE (3:47 pm CDT)

This was actually one of the least interesting days so far this season.  We had planned on using the day for travel back to Oklahoma, but a moist outflow boundary and model signals of storms along said boundary were enough to get us to jump into Nebraska.

We spent a few hours around Clyde, Ragan, and Macon, Nebraska watching pulsing severe storms try to organize.  There wasn’t much structure or lightning to be had, and the storms started weakening by early evening.  Kind of a fitting end to this extended road trip.

5 June 2015 / Colorado-Kansas supercells and tornadoes

The title of the post is more impressive than what we experienced.  In fact, this was the second day in a row of being gut punched by Mother Nature.

We left Greeley, Colorado and drove south toward I-70.  Everything seemed to be on track for supercells near the interstate corridor.  We stopped in Keenesburg for a burger, and that was the difference in timing in seeing the early tornado at Parker, Colorado.   We pulled up to a viewing spot just southwest of Bennett and watched the tornado dissipate to our southwest.  The storm did try hard to produce another tornado, but failed.  Outside of the Parker tornado, early storms seemed to be struggling with limited CAPE.  At the first signs of development farther east, we made our move.

Several supercell storms developed in the area bounded by Genoa, Last Chance, Arickaree, and Arriba.  A storm at the northern end of this area began to rotate strongly, and we should have responded by continuing east on Highway 36.  But, we felt that the storm might be a bit too crowded by other storms and we started south at Last Chance for the southern storms.

We turned east at Genoa and by the time we reached Seibert, a supercell was located to our northwest and another one to our northeast.  99 decisions can be correct, and one wrong one can make the difference in the day.  Rotation was increasing to our northwest and we decided to go north out of Seibert.  We saw excellent supercell structure northwest of Seibert, but could not see that a strong tornado was rapidly developing with the storm to our east.  We would have been in perfect position for this tornado had we used a north option at Stratton which is only a few miles east of Seibert.  As it was, we saw the large tornado just before it became wrapped in rain.  We decided to use a gravel road to get east and that turned into a 30 minute slog down a mud road that had us barely running 15 mph at times.  I’m still not sure how we didn’t get stuck in mud.

We made a final attempt to get in position on the storm just west of Hale, Colorado, but the storm had become somewhat disorganized.

We drove east into Kansas and attempted an intercept of a storm that produced a tornado between Atwood and Colby, but this storm started weakening prior to our arrival.

That left us with enough time for one more failure.  We targeted a storm that had confirmed tornadoes south of Colby, but as luck would have it, the storm produced its final tornado just prior to our arrival.

4 June 2015 / Colorado and Wyoming storms

The first day of the season that I would really like to have another go at.  There were three reasonable targets: Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming.  We chose Wyoming and it was the only place that under-performed.

We left Scottsbluff, Nebraska and started south and east planning on either the Kansas or Colorado targets.  As we arrived in Sidney, an early supercell storm had formed just northwest of Cheyenne.  After some debate, the decision was made to head west and play in southeast Wyoming.  Any chance of returning to Colorado or Kansas targets were gone as we crossed into Wyoming.

The Cheyenne supercell drifted slowly southwestward and had some decent shape for a time.  As the storm began to fall apart, we moved northward to check out storms forming along the I-25 corridor.  One of the better storms of the day occurred just west of Wheatland.  This storm had strong rotation and a tornado likely occurred somewhere southwest of Wheatland, but the terrain kept us from seeing anything.  After this storm started to fade, we drove quickly south with the hope of catching storms forming north of the Denver metro area.

These storms stayed anchored in the Fort Collins, Loveland, and Longmont areas and produced tornadoes well to our west as we dropped south to Greeley.  We stopped near Platteville to shoot some lightning, but overall it was small compensation for what we missed on the day.

3 June 2015 / Wyoming supercells

An interesting chase day in a relatively small area of east central Wyoming.  We departed Sundance, WY and drove to Wheatland where we observed small storms going up west of I-25.  After a trip up and down I-25 to Orin, we decided on storms that appeared to be going up on an east/west outflow boundary near Highway 26.  For the next several hours, we played in an area bounded by Fort Laramie / Guernsey / and Lusk.

The first supercell storm formed just west of Fort Laramie.  This storm had great volume and excellent structure for a time, but encountered a failure along the way.  After observing the storm for about an hour from just north of Fort Laramie, we decided to head west to Guernsey and see what new development looked like.

A storm that formed just north of the town became quite impressive as it moved almost straight north.  In a year of firsts, it was quite odd to see a nicely structured supercell tracking across mountainous terrain.  The storm maintained nice structure until well after sunset and even appeared capable of producing a tornado at one point.  We did see a number of tornado lookalikes, but couldn’t confirm anything.