Recently in Storm Chase Summary Category

On Sunday, October 21st, tropical moisture was in place over Arizona, with a low impinging on it from the west. So southwest flow was in play over the Mogollon Rim Convergence Zone (MRCZ). Work had been a bear and I’d been dealing with a chest cold the previous few days so I wasn’t exactly eager to get out. But I felt better by Sunday morning, and was watching conditions and browsing HRRR/UofA WRF CAMs. HRRR had been pretty set on some stronger storms initiating and moving across the MRCZ, from Twin Arrows through Winslow. RAP surface vorticity suggested elevated vorticity in that same area. WRF CAMs didn’t have the same consistent signal, but with HRRR being so interested in it, I figured I’d mosey out there around 1-2PM and see what was up.

Forecast, nowcast, SPC data

While I was out running an errand, radar showed convection trying to fire. It was pulsing inside a notch in the convergence boundary that had formed southeast of Flagstaff around 12:30PM. That was earlier than I expected, so by the time I was on I-40 heading east, one cell was already looking pretty good. With 30ish knots of bulk shear, I was mainly interested in some brief structure.

— 1947Z —
Reflectivity scan showing notched boundary with developing cell

As I got near Buffalo Range Road, about 12 miles from the cell, it looked like a funnel was poking out of the southern tip of the base. So I started the cell phone rolling video on it.

— 2057Z —
Developing funnel with possible dust on horizon above truck

About a minute later, 2058Z, dust appeared on the horizon where the funnel was aimed, so landspout! You never know how much time you’ve got, but I didn’t want to pull over on the interstate. Fortunately, the Two Guns exit was just a couple more minutes down the road. Once I got there, I realized terrain to the west was going to hide the point of ground contact, but I couldn’t waste more time hunting down a better spot.

— 2058Z —
Funnel and clear evidence of dust/debris

— 2059Z —
Growing dust column with 1 mile to go to next stop

— 2100Z —
Landspout strengthening beyond Two Guns

The condensation funnel gradually stretched down into the lengthening dust column. With the sun reflecting off orange dust and white vapor, it was more stunning than I could have hoped for an Arizona tornado. It’s one of the sights I imagine when heading out for a Plains chase — wondering if I’ll catch a high-definition, colorful rope-out among other things. And there I was, 30 miles from home, watching it happen on a Sunday afternoon.

— 2104Z —
Looking east-southeast from the east side of Two Guns

— 2104Z —

— 2107Z —

Tornado warning polygon

Family chat recap

While the storm continued drifting northeast, the base of the landspout drifted slowly southward, stretching the funnel longer as they separated. It dissipated after about twelve minutes, lasting from 2058-2110Z.

— 2108Z —

Once it wrapped up, I made my way up Rt 87 north of Winslow to see what new development might look like that way. I got some time lapse running at the Painted Desert Rim View and watched rain, hail and sunbeams roll across striped buttes and hills. Around this time I got a request from 12 News Phoenix for an interview. They were okay waiting a couple hours so I could finish up and get to a spot with better than 1x coverage. On the way back to Winslow, an isolated cell near Mormon Lake eclipsed the sun and while grabbing shots of that, I had a couple cars honk and wave as they drove by. I couldn’t tell who they were, but It kind of added to the feeling of being out on a Plains chase.

— 2310Z —
Looking west-southwest from Painted Desert Rim View

— 0005Z —
Looking northeast along Rt 87 at receding convection

— 0020Z —
View to the southwest of an isolated cell near Mormon Lake

Down by Winslow, I grabbed a few last sunset shots and did a FaceTime interview with Ryan Cody. Funny to see a news camera set down on a desk and aimed at a cell phone to capture the interview. I barely watch broadcast news anymore, so these things are surprising to me.

— 0035Z —
Last light on receding storms from north side of Winslow

— 0042Z —

Based on information available at the time, SPC plotted the tornado report further north than I think it actually occurred. I drew up my line of sight in on Google Maps. Then using another series of shots from a visitor at Meteor Crater, I lined those up over the top of a recognizable structure which put it directly north of there. So that puts it over a rocky outcropping about a half mile east of Meteor Crater Road and 2 miles south of I-40.

Line of sight map of Meteor Crater landspout

Facebook reference photos for Meteor Crater reference view

Watching video later, it was fascinating to see the outer sheath of dust rippling downward around the smooth inner column. Such a spectacular thing. And then there’s the strangeness of chasing over eight years, a couple dozen tornadoes later, and suddenly in 2018 to finally get landspouts on three different chase days — two of them a half hour from home. Wish I could say I now feel more confident in being able to forecast and catch this special kind of twister. But no. The needle gets mixed to a different spot in the haystack each time. That really makes it rewarding when it pans out though.

SPC Storm Reports

Arizona is not prime territory for supercells. Moisture, instability, and shear don’t superimpose often. The tail end of monsoon season is when that exciting combo is most likely to happen. And it set up perfectly this year on September first. This wound up being my best storm chase in Arizona yet, and rises above a lot of Plains chases.

A few days before, GFS was sparking my interest, hinting at a shortwave moving over monsoon moisture. By two days prior, 3KM NAM was indicating enough instability, bulk, and directional shear for supercells with tornadoes as a potential hazard. The day before, John Sirlin and I discussed target options. The MRCZ area on the Navajo reservation looked good early on, with options gradually moving southeastward toward New Mexico later in the day. John wound up driving north overnight to avoid Labor Day traffic and was in the Winslow area to catch an early morning shelf cloud over the Painted Desert.

I finally got moving and was hanging out on Sand Springs Road northwest of Tolani Lake by 1830Z. The sky was clearing after the morning storms and new convection was bubbling along Hwy 89 north of Flagstaff and gradually moving into the Little Colorado River Valley. The new cells struggled for a while, but even in their meager state showed they wanted to shear downstream and spin.

— 1910Z —
Convection building over the San Francisco Peaks

— 1941Z —
Weak convection drifting over Sand Springs Road

— 1957Z —

— 2016Z —
Mesoanalysis indicating conditions were primed for strong storms

By 21Z, a line of convection from Tovar to Garces Mesas was strengthening rapidly. And doing so further east than I was expecting. I raced to Tolani Lake and headed east on Indian Route 6820—a road I haven’t traversed before. It led me across dusty plains, mud pits, semi-dry washes, and encroaching dune fields as storms darkened to the north.

By 2130Z, I was about 10 miles east of Tolani Lake and the lead cell was directly north of me. It had an inflow tail, RFD cut and was showing a velocity couplet on radar. Fifteen minutes later, a wall cloud was evident, but contrast was poor and I couldn’t tell what it was doing. Dust was getting dragged into the storm, encouraging me to find spots to stop that weren’t obscured by trains of cascading dirt.

— 2113Z —
Heading down Rt6820 as the eastern cell rapidly strengthens

— 2134Z —
Structure taking shape on the lead cell, looking north from ten miles east of Tolani Lake

— 2145Z —
Wall cloud taking shape

— 2147Z —
Dusty inflow was an ongoing problem for visibility

— 2129Z —
Velocity couplet developing on the lead cell

At 2147, the wall cloud got fairly pointy, but I was still too far out and squinting through a bright sunlight to tell what was going on. The velocity couplet intensified at this point and the storm received a tornado warning a few minutes later. I just kept shooting photos and video in hopes of enhancing contrast later to see what was back in there. I wish I could have tightened zoom on video, but sun was too bright to finesse using the LCD viewer, so I had to keep it wide. That’s happened to me before. I need to work out a solution for that.

— 2148Z —
Wide view of the storm

— 2148Z —
Close view of the wall cloud

— 2148-2152Z —
Reflectivity/Velocity Scans with the storm at its peak

— 2155Z —
Tornado warning issued by NWS Flagstaff office

Pulling detail out of the shots and video later clearly showed rotation in the wall cloud. From 2147-2148Z, shots picked up a funnel rotating with the wall cloud. A couple zoomed images show what could be debris beneath the funnel at ground level. Right after this, the entire scene flooded with inflow dust and I had to move on.

— 2148Z —
Zoomed view of wall cloud and funnel

— 2148Z —
Contrast enhanced to show dust at surface

— 2148Z —
Contrast enhanced 7 seconds later

— 2147-2148Z —
Accelerated footage of rotating wall cloud 2147-2148Z

Meanwhile, over the last hour, John was right up under the storms, picking up at least one convincing tornado (to my eyes) at 2123Z, followed by other shots that I can’t wait to check out.

The RFD cut on the storm grew and continued to look promising, but I got detoured by a washed out section of road near Honey Spring and lost track of things making my way back to a different road. By 2213Z, the circulation had fully occluded and looked like a huge ice cream cone as a burst of hail and a high-based, roping funnel draped around it.

— 2152Z —

— 2205Z —
RFD cut from a muddy wash near Honey Spring that was too risky to cross

— 2214Z —
Occluded updraft and elevated funnel

The entire time this cell was being awesome, two other trailing cells were also spinning away. The middle one wasn’t faring too well and seemed to be riding elevated behind the lead cell’s outflow. I figured the third in line would be dealing with the same thing. However, it managed to hop south far enough to get surface based. So, eight minutes after the great ice cream cone view, I glanced over my shoulder and saw an awesome cow catcher RFD shelf scooping out of its base. Over the course of about five minutes, it picked up a shaggy wall cloud/tail cloud combo.

— 2221Z —
RFD shelf/rooting base beginning to develop on the trailing storm

— 2223Z —

— 2229Z —
Wall cloud/tail cloud developing

— 2218Z —
Reflectivity/velocity of lead and trailing cell along with struggling middle cell

It’s both an awesome and frustrating problem to have two beautiful cells competing for attention with spectacular volcanic plugs taking turns hiding them with each turn in the road. The lead cell was moving into lower instability and weakening, but still looked awesome and I didn’t want to lose it. So I kept after it, figuring the trailing cell was headed my way anyway. I just needed to get to a spot where the terrain would let me see them both.

— 2229Z —
Trailing cell vs. encroaching terrain

— 2244Z —
Lead cell vs. encroaching terrain

I finally found that spot just east of Dilkon. The lead cell was losing its battle to remain surface based. But before it went fully elevated, it wrapped up one last occlusion. Not as beefy as the previous one, but still lancing out with one last funnel.

— 2249Z —

— 2310Z —

Meanwhile to the west, the trailing cell was getting a classic, sculpted look. At 2307, I realized a knobby wall cloud was dipping down out of its base. It was tough trading focus between the two storms, and wish I had been shooting the trailing one just a few minutes sooner, since reviewing radar later showed a low CC value under that circulation at 2304Z. Would love to have a few zoomed shots at that point.

— 2308Z —
Trailing cell and wall cloud

— 2308Z —
Tight view of wall could

— 2303Z —
Reflectivity, Velocity, Differential Reflectivity, and Correlation Coefficient

As the lead cell withered away, I set up for a time lapse of the trailing storm as it approached. It was a perfect spot with the stacked base spinning, morphing, spitting lightning, and draping feathers of precipitation as it aimed slightly to my south.

— 2326Z —
The trailing cell is now the main show as it slowly approaches

— 2336Z —

— 2351Z —

— 2323-2357Z —
Time lapse of approaching supercell from Dilkon

As it moved in, a new line of convection had filled in and was advancing quickly, shoving a low, gnarly shelf cloud as it tried to catch up to this spinning monument of rough pottery in front of me.

— 0007Z —
Lead cell now with a line of storms hot on its tail as seen by shelf cloud hugging the horizon to the left

— 0024Z —

— 2312Z —
Reflectivity/Velocity of line of storms rushing in

Staying ahead and in good position with that isolated cell seemed like a simple thing. I was planning to jog south on Rt 77 to Holbrook to get parting shots of it and pick up whatever new developments were inbound. But radar was showing me that the trailing line was getting serious, loaded with some big hail, and quickly expanding. I realized if I didn’t start hustling, it might cut me off from my planned route south, and punish my wife’s car in the process. So I only had time for quick stops or through-the-windshield shots as that isolated cell started to gust out and merge with the approaching line of storms. It wish I could have spent more time along that road. It looked down on an expansive, almost alien landscape with warm, late afternoon light flooding beneath approaching storm bases and greenish cores dumping on blackened buttes and red cliffs. Such a fantastic view.

— 0042Z —
Once great supercell now dying out

— 0043Z —
Panoramic view from Rt 77 as the hail-filled line of storms rushes in

— 0030Z —
Reflectivity/Velocity of my new predicament for heading south

With just a few miles to go before reaching I-40, radar showed that line of storms accelerating into a bowing segment with a very menacing load of hail. I wanted to get onto Hwy 180, but to do so, I had to head southwest on I-40 into Holbrook before catching 180 back east. I had a tough call—either bail east at I-40 to escape the looming core, or jog in front of it to get to 180. When I got there, it looked like I had enough time to spare and I made for 180. That turned out to be a very tense six miles. The wind was picking up ahead of the dark, towering column of hail, and bits of ice were starting to hit as cars and trucks began hesitating, not sure what to do. I finally breathed easier as I got around the curving arc of monstrous ice and heading back east on Hwy 180. The views were incredible again. The bowing segment was reorganizing and developing a mesocyclone as it sailed over Sun Valley. The core looked fierce as the sun lit it in orange highlights agains black shadows. Around this time, the travel stop where I had to make that tough east-west decision was getting torn up by baseball size hail.

— 0103Z —
Menacing wall of hail rapidly approaching my route to Holbrook

— 0134Z —
Bowing segment has organized back into cellular mode after dropping baseball sized hail east of Holbrook

— 0135Z —
Tight view of sunlit core and rugged shelf cloud

— 0051-0114Z —
Reflectivity/velocity of baseball filled bowing segment

The big hail-maker continued onward to the east, spitting lightning as it departed. Further to the west, another cell was working on a weak mesocyclone of its own. Not as persistent and strong as the others had been, but still winding up a beautiful storm. As sunset and twilight deepened, the lightning from that cell served up a perfect combo of purple strikes on an orange and yellow sky.

— 0136Z —
Sunset on Hwy 180 with a weaker cell trying to drape an inflow tail across the setting sun

— 0151Z —
Lightning dropping out of the core of the stronger cell to the east

— 0153Z —
More from the core of the east cell

— 0214Z —
Western cell gusting out with a spectacular lightning display against the twilight sky

A short time later, John and I caught up and shared a few stories and LCD previews before heading off to attempt some final sprite photos. No sprites for me, but still a serene view of Mars and the summer Milky Way drifting westward as distant storms flicked light across bubbling cloud tops and coyotes yipped amid the surrounding hills.

— 0346Z —
Mars, Milky Way, and flickering storms 130 miles to the south from Hwy 180 southeast of Holbrook

This started as a pretty simple, 20 mile local chase that wound up overperforming. The day featured northwest flow with storms firing on the higher terrain and moving along the Mogollon Rim which is oriented northwest to southeast. I headed east of Flagstaff on I-40 and drove down a dirt road to a vantage point less than a mile south of Twin Arrows. I was trying to catch the collision between a cell building south of Flagstaff with a fresh outflow boundary to its southeast. Sometimes these dish out some pretty structure before everything fills in. I figured I’d try some Lightning Trigger shots while I was at it.

The growing cell was a thing of beauty by monsoon pop-up standards, with a solid updraft fist punching a big ripple into a doughy anvil.

— 12:36PM / 1936Z —

As that cell approached the outflow boundary of the dying storm downstream, it sprouted up a choppy arcus cloud, but that was about it. Not quite what I was hoping for, but there was still plenty of afternoon left and I thought maybe something closer and further north would light up.

— 12:44PM / 1944Z —

It wasn’t long before another cell went up near where the previous one had started, and from then on, it seemed Anderson Mesa was going to be the tracks for a steady train of storms cruising southeast. By then, another Arizona chaser, John Sirlin, had situated himself about a mile and a half further south and was watching from a good hilltop vantage.

Storm chaser, John Sirlin, parked at the next hilltop

Over the next hour, I noticed that storms were picking up laminar striations in their bases and had a couple eye-catching silhouettes taunting me from 11 miles away.

— 1:19PM / 2019Z SSW of Twin Arrows —

— 2:00PM / 2100Z SSW of Twin Arrows —

— 2:01PM / 2101Z SSW of Twin Arrows —

— 2:10PM / 2110Z SW of Twin Arrows —

As that last funnel looking thing materialized, another storm had taken root northwest of it and was growing stronger. It was being led by a lowered, shelfy base while the trailing core looked cupped and hollowed out. I was noticing thin rain shafts on this and previous storms that kept catching my eye, but I wrote them off.

— Earlier pair of rain shafts 12:47PM / 1947Z S of Twin Arrows —

This new storm started to develop broad anti-cyclonic rotation on its north side but eventually picked up a tighter cyclonic couplet and a decent wall cloud on the opposite/south side of the core. And that core was gradually hiding the action. I wish I had been out on Lake Mary Road watching this, but road options require a huge commitment. Investing in a 35 mile drive through mostly trees to get to a probably-not-long-to-live storm with an unobstructed view 11 miles away is a tough call to make.

— 2:35PM / 2135Z lightning strike and developing wall cloud —

About the time rain popped up overhead and chased me into my car, I got a message from John asking “Did you get it?” Cold chill time. What did I miss? The pic he sent afterward showed a close up view of one of those ‘rain shafts’ stretching out at a 30 degree angle from the storm. I was time lapsing the cell at that time, and figured I should have caught the feature I wrote off. We finished watching a couple more cells develop and chatting with another chaser that had set up in the area, Nick Pease.

— 3:18PM / 2218Z severe-warned storm —

— 4:10PM / 2310Z last cell over Anderson Mesa —

Getting home and processing the shots, sure enough, that thin feature dangled cloud to ground, getting pulled along with the anticylonic rotation for about 6 minutes. In addition to John’s shot, I posted the time lapse and a line-of-sight map for the Flagstaff NWS office to review. Their assessment aligned with John’s earlier heads-up and the SPC storm report was updated to plot it as a landspout tornado.

— 2:26PM / 2126Z landspout about 12 miles SW of Twin Arrows —

Line of site points and map markup

Definitely not the hit-you-over-the-head variety that we saw in Colorado a few months ago, but it was pretty rewarding to finally document one in Arizona.

I hadn’t been forecasting this day to death…not even close. I was pretty much keeping a lazy eye on it for any option for strong storms as low pressure worked its way into southern Arizona. SPC had marked out southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico for marginal severe probabilities, but a quick check of HRRR this morning hinted at some fun further north in the Little Colorado River Valley.

Six overlapping runs of HRRR helicity swaths

Several runs were pretty consistently bringing up to 750 j/kg SBCAPE, 20-40 knots of 6km shear, low 50 degree dew points up into the LCRV. Those runs were also consistently laying down decent helicity swaths across I40 between Winslow and Holbrook. As the day wore on, dew points looked like they might cross the 50 degree threshold. By 2PM, convection was starting to strengthen south of Holbrook, so I took off to sample the goods.

And what goods there were.

As I headed east, one cell took over and picked up a very nice, cyclonic velocity couplet as it drifted north-northwest.

Reflectivity/Velocity Radar at 3:19PM (2219Z)

By the time I was within 50 miles, I could start to make out a couple layers of bell-shaped lowerings sweeping beneath the lurking darkness of the storm. As good as the couplet looked, I was pretty sure the storm was peaking and I’d probably missed the best.

Distant view of the storm base looking east from I-40 (2246Z)

Looking southeast during a quick stop at Hibbard Rd. before continuing east (2302Z)

About 10 miles east of Winslow, I exited at Jackrabbit road, trying to position a couple miles east of where I thought the storm would cross. I haven't scouted this area before, and got stuck with some pretty bland landscape options…shooting perpendicular across railroad tracks makes me sad. But the storm…the storm was incredible. The RFD gust front had scooped up a gigantic cowcatcher shelf cloud as it loomed closer. After snagging a few still photos, I set both cameras up to catch both wide and tight video as it moved in.

Five-frame stitched pano looking south at the approaching supercell from 10 miles east of Winslow (2315Z)

Close up of the leading edge of the RFD shelf (2319Z)

(2320Z)

Within a few minutes, my phone belted out a warning alarm, and there I was smack dab in the middle of a tornado warning polygon. Although there was broad rotation, I didn’t notice anything tightening up apart from some fun eddies underneath the gust front.

Finding myself in the center of a tornado warning polygon (2321Z)

(2326Z)

Both cameras shooting video (2326Z)

Road options were no good once it crossed the interstate and I headed back west to Winslow to take Highway 87 north. From there I watched a trailing cell try to make good on whatever was left to chew on.

Looking southeast at the weakening remains of a trailing cell from a few miles north of Winslow (0006Z)

…and the very important rainbow shot (0016Z)

So, yeah, it feels great to finally have been on a tornado-warned Arizona supercell!

Tornado Warned Supercell—Joseph City, Arizona—3 November 2016 from Jeremy Perez on Vimeo.

11 August

Nocturnal storms moving in from the southwest sent me up to Sunset Crater National Monument for a try at some shots. CGs were very reluctant as the storms weakened on approach. I still wound up with some rim lighting on the cloud base as a consolation.

Nocturnal lightning display at Sunset Crater National Monument - 0908Z

21 August

No storm chasing going on here, just spontaneous German Shepherds in the sky.

Convection or dog with a stick from east Flagstaff - 0152Z

26 August

Another day of southwest flow had me out at the Winona/I-40 exit shooting some time lapse photography. As a strong storm set up over Flagstaff. This one picked up a weak (~14 mph radial velocity), pulsey velocity couplet through 4 slices for about 20 minutes. Not enough to qualify as even a minimal mesocyclone. Structure, as far as Flagstaff storms go, was pretty nice and it covered the San Francisco Peaks in a white cap of hail. I drove further east to Buffalo Range Road and got a look at a pretty nice shelf moving in. It was interesting to watch the time lapse on that as a northbound gust front interacted with it and sent a cool whirl along the shelf.

Sheared convection east of Flagstaff looking north from Winona/I-40 exit - 2002Z

Storm building over Flagstaff looking west from Winona/I-40 exit - 2010Z

2019Z

Shelf cloud looking west from Buffalo Range Road/I-40 exit - 2103Z

Hail on the San Francisco Peaks from Hwy 180 west of Flagstaff - 0035Z

2 September

One more southwest flow day back out at Twin Arrows to watch for the occasional shelf or lowering near Merrill Crater. As convection filled in southward, a building gust front loaded up with meshing gears of vorticity to wrap up the time lapse.

Convection and lowering north of Twin Arrows/I-40 exit - 1833Z

No landspouts, just galaxy cores overhead - 1958Z

Passing convection and gust front looking northeast from Twin Arrows/I-40 exit - 1904Z

1911Z

A few days in early August gave me opportunities to intercept monsoon thunderstorms along the Mogollon Rim Convergence Zone during southwest flow. The 5th, 6th and 10th of the month served up some nice ones. I’m not getting too detailed with these, or else I’ll never get around to posting the pics.

5 August

Around noon, I followed a strong cell east out of Flagstaff as it drifted along north of I-40. I managed some time lapses south of the Twin Arrows/I-40 exit as it was draping a shaggy shelf cloud around its core. I paced it further east to Buffalo Range Road where it ran into a boundary being laid down by another line of north-south convection to the east. The interaction worked some beautiful structure into the updraft of the original cell before it merged, mushed and gusted out. I tried for some more convection further north on the AZ-87 toward Dilkon. Nothing strong materialized, but the landscape was stunning against the tattered sky.

Flaring shelf cloud north of Twin Arrows - 1924Z

1924Z

1925Z

Debris clouds east of Twin Arrows - 1937Z

Northbound convection looking east from Buffalo Range Road & I-40 - 1954Z

Eastbound convection looking north from Buffalo Range Road & I-40 - 1954Z

1955Z

Gust fronts beginning to merge - 1958Z

1959Z

2000Z

Enhanced structure as interaction strengthens eastbound cell - 2011Z

2013Z

Disorganized convection southeast of Dilkon - 2113Z

2114Z

2122Z

2123Z

2123Z

2132Z

6 August

Another noon chase, and another cell drifting east out of Flagstaff. This one was over Doney Park with a severe warning when I first got on it. The warning soon dropped off and I ran some more time lapse ops on the structure at Twin Arrows again. Later that evening while visiting friends, a pair of cells popped up north of the San Francisco Peaks. The sun was setting and casting a mellow light on the anvil and updrafts as lightning moved around their innards. A few bolts snuck a peek outside the clouds, but I only caught a couple while shooting the time lapse sequence.

Severe-warned storm over Doney Park as seen from Winona & I-40 - 1903Z

Looking north from Twin Arrows & I-40 - 1936Z

1936Z

Twilight storms north of the San Francisco Peaks from Doney Park - 0239Z

0253Z

10 August

Some tropical storm moisture and a Pacific low overlapped a bit over northern Arizona, and I headed east once again for a look. My first view was from east Flagstaff of a cell to the southwest over Kachina Village. Although the base was strung out, it was still decent by Arizona standards as it played at displaying some tail cloud characteristics. After that dissipated, I got east on I-40 and hung out at Homolovi State Park for a while, grabbing time lapse as a new cell got going southwest of Winslow. This one sported some more beautiful structure as the orange landscape reflected up onto the base of the storm. Bryan Snider and his wife Monika showed up and we shot some time lapses together as the storm grew a lowering and grumbled at us. We got ahead of it as the rain moved in and watched from Hibbard Road as it withered and sheared away. Later that night, another round of convection slowly moved up from Verde Valley and gave an opportunity for some nighttime lightning photography at Sunset Crater National Monument. Not a lot of nearby CG activity as the storms weakened by this point, but still some good under-cloud illumination against the cinder hills and ponderosas.

Cell over Kachina Village as seen looking southwest from east Flagstaff - 2010Z

2014Z

Lowering on a new cell over Winslow as seen from Homolovi State Park - 2302Z

2302Z

2303Z

2307Z

2316Z

Sheared convection looking west from Hibbard Road & I-40 - 2331Z

2336Z

2337Z

Monsoon storms got an early start on July 2nd. The night before, the HRRR model was trending toward an MCS rolling out of southern Nevada and into Flagstaff by around 6 AM. I set my alarm for 5 and sure enough she was right on schedule just west of town. I quickly threw myself and everything else in the car and headed out on east Route 66 to watch it plow through town. I love watching Arizona storm clouds when they’re in high-speed mode.

Storms towering over Flagstaff as seen from east Route 66 - 1226Z

Gust front making its way out of town - 1230Z

A nice eddy sculpts the gust front as it rushes by the south side of Mt. Elden - 1231Z

Since it looked like it might stay interesting, I headed east to Twin Arrows—and was reminded how much I disliked the view from that exit. So I headed a bit further east to the Buffalo Range Road exit—no real foreground elements to speak of, but at least it wan’t fences, power lines and dumpsters. As the gust front moved in, a northern stretch of it lunged out and sculpted an amazing, terraced shelf.

Beautifully sculpted shelf cloud between Twin Arrows and Two Guns - 1302Z

I jumped further east to Two Guns and composed some shots of the ghost town structures with the heavy morning sky. I’ve snagged a few photo ops with the stone structures in the area, but this was my first time working with the buildings on the east side.

Moody sunrise over Two Guns - 1313Z

Insane graffiti and advancing storms at Two Guns - 1317Z

After that, I raced ahead to Holbrook and then southeast on Hwy 180. The line of storms was messier at this point but still had some moments of shelfy goodness to offer.

Fangy, embedded shelf cloud southeast of Holbrook - 1451Z

Tantalizing scud photographed on the move, southeast of Holbrook - 1458Z

As that line weakened and moved off to the east, I had a look at the models again. Indications were that the morning cirrus shield would move on, the atmosphere would recover, and more storms would fire, despite subsidence in the wake of the morning MCS. So I headed back west and decided to explore Homolovi State Park for a little bit while convection slowly got going again.

Receding convection and windmill on Hwy 180, southeast of Holbrook - 1612Z

A Loggerhead Shrike keeping an eye on parking spaces at the entrance to Homolovi State Park

Pottery shards gathered on stone platforms at the Homolovi II Archeological Site

Cumulus bubbling south of Homolovi State Park - 1957Z

Convection strengthening over the San Francisco Volcanic Field - 2016Z

Collared Lizard showing off its colors at Homolovi State Park

Storms continued firing west of Leupp while tracking along and north of I-40, so I headed over to Rt 99 northwest of Winslow, then the Meteor Crater Road exit, and then back to Rt 99 south of Winslow. Storms were not as sculpted as they were that morning, but still enjoyable viewing on desolate roads.

Convection south of Leupp from Rt 99 - 2147Z

Lightning strike from north of Meteor Crater Road - 2246Z

Transient structure at the I-40/Rt 99 offramp - 2306Z

Storms forming along an intersection of outflow boundaries south of Winslow on Rt 99 - 2348Z

A hangnail of vorticity and a sunbeam along Rt 99 - 0007Z

I wrapped it up with a time lapse near Clear Creek as distant storms pulsed along a southward moving outflow boundary.

Convection and anvils along a receding outflow boundary from near Clear Creek - 0048Z

A short sequence of time lapses from the day.

I had a nice local storm chase today. I headed west, past Wiliams, to catch storms as they started firing and hopefully ride them east with some road network testing along the way.

A little after noon, I took an exit at Welch Road a few miles east of Ash Fork to get some shots as convection was developing to the west. Somebody had kindly donated* a sofa. It was facing the wrong way, but I was not tempted by its mysterious comforts.

Furniture spotting on Welch Road east of Ash Fork - 1950Z

A couple other angles as it dared me to take a load off.

As cells blew eastward, I cruised up to Williams and took Rt. 64 north to see what would pop up next on the outflow. I stopped a bit south of Valle to watch a transient lowering, as one does when trying to randomly spot landspouts. While I was there, another chaser, Jonathan Triggs, from Grand Canyon Village stopped to say hi before making his way toward Flagstaff. Convection at this point was pretty laid back, wimpy and grungy as I circled back southeast on Hwy 180.

A momentarily interesting updraft east of Valle - 2031Z

Tendrils of rain that kept reflexively catching the corner of my eye - 2052Z

Made a stop at Red Mountain for a quick look around—I need to hike this cinder cone some day - 2119Z

Although I’d been hoping for a chance of a developing cell drawing up some vorticity as the gust front passed the San Francisco Peaks, it seemed pretty unlikely at this point. So I decided to run an audit of one of the forest service roads, north of the Peaks in the no-man’s-land between Hwy 180 and 89.

I got about three miles in, before the likelihood of getting stuck and busting my car in the rocky, cratered road became too great. I stopped and found a spot to hike up a hill to get some shots of a pretty decent cell popping up north of the Peaks by that time. Lots of terrain mostly blocked the view as it continued eastward and joined a strong line of storms that moved off onto the Navajo and Hopi Reservations.

Looking east at a cell developing north of the San Francisco Peaks - 2159Z

Some wildflowers in the area starting to like the recent rain - 2203Z

Rain core getting established - 2207Z

After shooting a few angles, I made my way back down toward Hwy 180 and did a bit of Coconino Cow Spotting before calling it a day.

Gate guardians

Bossy momma

*dumped

We started the day out in Dodge City where we had viewed several tornadoes the day before. This day’s chase took us further east into Kansas looking for convergence and backed winds along the dryline and other boundaries. As we made our way east on Hwy 50, we stopped at a couple abandoned buildings east of Spearville, at a spot on the map called Ardell. We had passed these the day before while shooting some sunset pics after the Dodge City storm. My daughter is a bit of an explorer and spent a lot of time checking things out, including peeking into a window where she was hissed at by a huge, cranky gopher snake that had wound itself around some pipes dangling over an inky abyss.

Exploring a towering abandoned building in Ardell.

The western suburbs of Ardell, Kansas :)

As we got further east, a long arc of clouds bordering hazy skies announced the dryline bulge. It was extremely cool to see it stretched out like that visually without even needing satellite. Although the satellite view was pretty impressive too, showing both the arc of the dryline and a boundary further east. Towers were trying to build on this eastern boundary, while others were brewing to our north near the triple (quadruple?) point. We gradually made our way eastward shooting landscapes along the way, watching the boundaries percolate, trying to decide between east or north.

Approaching the moist boundary of the dryline bulge [2010Z].

Radar view of the dryline boundary [2011Z].

Satellite view of swirling boundaries and growing cumulus fields [2030Z]

Landscape east of Macksville.

Triple point cumulus far north of Macksville [2031Z]

By the time we reached Hutchinson around 2145Z, convection was gushing anvils to our north near Claflin while the Wichita towers appeared to still be working on the cap, so we headed northwest to head for the northern target. When we got to a few miles southeast of Lyons by 2215Z, those anvils had gone orphan while a Wichita storm was finally taking off and looked like it had a nice, muscular updraft going. More self doubt followed as we drifted eastward and a new growing tower between Minneapolis and Lincoln to our north got going. I watched these two towers compete for attention north and southeast until Rt 61 a few miles southwest of McPherson when a final decision had to be made. I opted north, thinking that storm’s convection looked sturdier, had a backsheared anvil, overshooting top, hopefully the benefit of a boundary and better backed inflow to work with, and an easier intercept by this point.

By 2254Z, southwest of McPherson, the choice of storm target finally became clear. (Left: storm northwest of Salina—check! / Right: storm east of Wichita—farewell…)

As we got further north on I-135, the storm was looking pretty impressive as it approached the north side of Salina. I wondered if Bennington would see a repeat 2013 performance—and apparently a tornado did briefly touch down there while we were still making our way north.

Blossoming supercell north of Salina [2317Z]

We headed off onto the grid about 4 miles north of I-70 and had our first look at the base. It was working on an RFD notch, but didn’t look too impressive at the moment.

RFD notch nudging into the base east of Bennington [2339Z]

A corkscrew in the updraft west of Bennington [2349Z]

We got a little behind for a few minutes, but worked some very nice dirt road grid to catch up. After heading west another 5 miles, the storm really pulled together and we caught sight of a hazy, dark, cone tornado behind a thin veil of RFD precipitation. The pace of the chase really picked up after that. As we paced and worked to gain ground on the storm, the tornado grew in size while the choppy barrel meso above it took on Bowdle stylings.

First view of the growing tornado as seen from 7 miles west of Solomon [0009Z]

Strengthening cone tornado as seen from 5 miles west of Solomon [0013Z]

Wide view of the tornado and sculpted RFD cut [0013Z]

Growing tornado and chaotically detailed meso [0016Z]

At 240th road, I headed south and got onto I-70 to try and gain some ground on it, snagging blind photos out the window along the way. Just a bit before the Solomon exit, we encountered a sheriff hollering at a tour van operator who was parked on the side of the interstate while his tour group was loping across the median. Yikes.

Dashcam view of tour group getting busted for Interstate frolicking [0025Z]

Shrouded tornado lurking north of Solomon [0026Z]

View to the northwest from the northwest side of Abilene [0038Z]

We made our way to the east side of Abilene and Indy Road just north of I-70. It was a perfectly elevated spot to watch the dusty, stovepipe tornado approach and widen into a large cone as it crossed our road a little over 2 miles to the north. It served up the best set of photos and video I’ve ever gotten of a tornado. A couple of locals, a father and I think his teenage daughter pulled up and talked about this being the first they’d seen even though he’d lived in Abilene his entire life.

View from Indy Rd north of I-70/northeast of Abilene as a stovepipe moves across the landscape [0050Z]

Close view of the dusty stovepipe [0053Z]

Tornado and rippling RFD cut getting ready to cross Indy Rd. a little over 2 miles to the north [0054Z]

Crossing Indy Rd [0055Z]

Tight video frame view of tornado base after crossing Indy Rd. [0057Z]

As it passed to the east, RFD shrouded the view and was pretty intent on knocking my tripods over, so we packed up and pulled back east onto Old US 40. Because the storm was nudging increasingly south and we didn’t want to play tag with the approaching tornado, we turned south on Rt 43 at Detroit to get some distance from it. I was concerned that by the time we found a good east-west road we might not catch back up until the river infested, choppy road network south of Junction City. So we lost it at that point and snagged sunset photos of a beautiful trailing cell before heading further south and shooting some nightscape shots with fireflies, stars and receding lightning near Antelope.

Sunset and striated structure on trailing supercell [0134Z]

Stars, lightning and headlights reach into the sky near Antelope [0411Z]

Chase map for the day — 25 May 2016

Close up chase map showing photo locations and approximate tornado locations.

Zoomable/interactive chase map



Video highlights from the chase

NOAA Abilene-Chapman Tornado Survey — 25 May 2016

Our May 24th chase started out in Shamrock, OK. We got a really good rate at the Shamrock Country Inn—it was clean, new beds, recently refurbished by a motivated new owner. The doors are a bit sticky, but I can definitely recommend it.

We made our way north, looking for likely spots for storm initiation along the dryline or intersecting boundaries from the Oklahoma Panhandle up into southwest Kansas.

Backroad scenery in the Oklahoma Panhandle between Logan and Slapout.

Indian blanket flowers east of Slapout, OK.

Eventually, satellite imagery showed the cumulus field getting more agitated north of Englewood, KS. This gave us a chance to drive through Englewood and revisit a view we had over four years ago when we chased a lonely, low-topped LP supercell north of town (14 March 2012). I noticed Stephen Locke—another storm chaser whosephotography I admire—filling up at the gas pump. I had a chance to say hi before moving on to the growing towers to the north.

Silos and developing towers from Englewood, KS. [2102Z]

We made our way to about six miles west of Ashland and shot time lapse of the building towers to see what would take hold. The one I was shooting wound up gaining strength and we headed off to watch it develop.

Vorticity and random high-based funnels showing up in the developing cumulus field. [2138Z]

The storm of the day looms in the distance—west of Ashland, KS. [2156Z]

Roads were dry and in pretty good shape, so we stayed off the main highways for hopefully more unique perspectives and less crowds. It worked out pretty well. As we got about eight miles east-southeast of Minneola, the storm was developing a wall cloud that looked like it had potential.

Traveling the dirt roads but avoiding the dicier ones. [2238Z]

Wall cloud developing in the base of our rapidly strengthening supercell near Minneola, KS. [2240Z]

I hated to leave our spot in case it put down a brief tornado while we were on the move, but we needed to keep up. We made our way north and by the time we were a couple miles north of Bloom, the tendrils dropping out of the wall cloud looked pretty imminent. So we stopped in time to capture a developing condensation funnel touch down for our first tornado of the day. It turned out to be a great spot, with enough altitude to capture some intervening countryside as the silhouetted funnel danced and twisted against a distant tree line. We were about 12 miles away at this point, but the view was great. We hung out at this spot for nearly 15 minutes as it grew in size. At one point I was thinking that this must be how Rozel looked in silhouette—apparently this one is being referred to as Rozel #2 by some :)

Condensation funnel of the first tornado reaches for the ground. [2301Z]

Tornado #1 churns in silhouette west of Minneola—about 12 miles from our location. [2303Z]

Inflow tugs at my daughter and chase partner as the first tornado strengthens north of Minneola. [2308Z]

Tornado #1 bulks up as it moves northward. [2313Z]

We eventually had to keep moving to stay with the storm. While repositioning, the original tornado began to occlude behind a haze of precipitation. My daughter asked if there was a different tornado forming further to the right. Sure enough, a thin rope had descended from the fresher wall cloud while the previous tornado was still in progress. This was our first tornado pair. I hate to call them twins, because the emaciated second one wasn't even close in appearance to the first—more like the mole that shows up on the stronger twin when it absorbs its sibling I guess.

Tornado #1 occludes while whisker-thin tornado #2 reaches down to the right. [2321Z]

About seven miles south of Dodge City and still on the dirt roads, we found a really good spot to watch as a new tornado took on Rozel-like proportions as a thin rope tornado flicked around on the east edge of the elongated wall cloud. There may even have been another tornado intertwined with that rope, but from my perspective I couldn't tell if it was just extra scud tendrils. The view of the main tornado at this point was spectacular. We were further south of it, so now it had some side lighting and showed a lot of dimension. We hung out at this spot for another 13 minutes or so before heading off to the dreaded main highway. (Rain was starting to effect the area and I didn't want to get us stuck in the mud.)

Tornado #3 gains strength while at least one rope—tornado #4—reaches down at far right. [2330Z]

A wider view of tornado #3 as it is southwest of Dodge City and about 10 miles to our northwest. [2331Z]

Tornado #3 taking on Rozel characteristics. [2332Z]

A wide view of tornado #3 as seen from about 7 miles south of Dodge City. [2333Z]

Wide view of the second pair of tornadoes we observed. [2335Z]

A wide structure view as the storm feigns being tornado-less. [2338Z]

Ropeout of tornado #3 rematerializes while its parent supercell continues northward. [2338Z]

Closer view of tornado #3 ropeout. Wall cloud at right is producing ground circulation—not sure if it's a continuation of tornado #4. [2339Z]

Hwy 283 was about as insane as I was worried it would be—absolutely packed with chasers and locals. Despite how crowded it was, most everyone was driving, parking and loitering in an orderly fashion. We parked at a couple spots to get photos as a fifth tornado morphed into various forms—barrel/multi-vortex/cone/elephant trunk/rope—west of Dodge City. We took the highways around the east side of the city, watching as the #5 occluded and roped out while a new, sixth tornado descended from the apex of a wasp-nest shaped meso. The highway was at a decent elevation, so we had pretty good views of the action north of the city as we made our way around. By the time we got northeast of Dodge, the sixth tornado had sprouted a satellite rope funnel of its own—video from other chasers shows this in contact with the ground as well, so—tornado number seven.

One of the many forms of tornado #5 as it was moving northwest of Dodge City—as seen from Hwy 283, about 9 miles away. [0002Z]

Ropeout sequence of tornado #5 as we navigated the east side of Dodge City. [0004-0008Z]

Tornado #5 occludes while tornado #6 drops north of Dodge City. [0010Z]

Tornado #6 sports a satellite, tornado #7 north of Dodge City—about 9 miles to our northwest. [0016Z]

By this time, new supercells were encroaching from the south it looked like our original cell was jogging to the east. So to avoid getting pinched, we bailed out to the east and made a half-hearted attempt to get on some other tornado warned cells east of Kinsley. That wound up seeming like more effort than it was worth, especially after the spectacle we just experienced, so we hung out for a while just west of Lewis on Hwy 50 and grabbed sunset photos.

One of the DOW vehicles samples a different storm east of Kinsley. [0109Z]

Sunset lights up the cold west flank of a passing supercell east of Kinsley. [0134Z]

Sunset and flooded back roads east of Kinsley. [0144Z]

A fire rages south of Lewis—presumably lightning caused. [0150Z]

A spectacular roll cloud sporting Kelvin-Helmholtz waves drifts by west of Lewis, KS. [0215Z]

After the stunning sunset, we headed back to Dodge City for dinner and a hotel for the night. While eating dinner, Arizona storm chasers Adri Mozeris, Trey Greenwood and Corbin Jaeger stopped by to say hi and we got a chance to talk about all the unbelievable things we had seen that afternoon.

Throughout our chase, I'm pretty sure we observed seven tornadoes, where two were on the ground at the same time on four occasions. I'm still having trouble believing we actually witnessed all of this. Other chasers reported seeing on the order of twelve tornadoes. So the numbers in my account don't represent the actual sequence of tornadoes on the storm—just the ones we saw ourselves. Like the Rozel/Sanford tornadoes, I could be convinced that what I counted as two tornadoes may have been continuations—where say one of the thin ropes seemed to disappear, but may have actually still been stirring up ground circulation before turning into a larger tornado later. I'll update things if I find out differently.

Chase map for the day — 24 May 2016

Close up chase map showing photo locations and approximate tornado locations.

Zoomable/interactive chase map



Video highlights from the chase

NOAA Dodge City Tornado Survey — 24 May 2016

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