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)
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)
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!
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
No storm chasing going on here, just spontaneous German Shepherds in the sky.
Convection or dog with a stick from east Flagstaff - 0152Z
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Gust fronts beginning to merge - 1958Z
Enhanced structure as interaction strengthens eastbound cell - 2011Z
Disorganized convection southeast of Dilkon - 2113Z
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
Twilight storms north of the San Francisco Peaks from Doney Park - 0239Z
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
Lowering on a new cell over Winslow as seen from Homolovi State Park - 2302Z
Sheared convection looking west from Hibbard Road & I-40 - 2331Z
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
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.
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.
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.
I had my eye on potential for this setup in the days leading up to an annual visit to Elk City. I headed out about 7AM with an initial check-in target at Hope, Arkansas.
Crossing the threshold on Hwy 70
I wasn’t sure I’d ever take the plunge into chasing Arkansas, but after working on my chase map last year I had a better idea where potentially decent chase terrain/road network would be. I also spent the night before studying how highway/secondary roads would play out with northeast moving storms. Even the heavily treed areas (outside the mountains) still have patches of farmland where some peeks can be taken. I had resolved to stay far ahead of storms as long as I was in the heavy trees. Turns out I didn't need to mess around with them in the thicker areas. I figured I had time to shoot some landscape photos on the way—southwest Arkansas is beautiful.
Hwy 371 and Prairie Creek - Howard County
Outbuilding along Hwy 371 - Howard County
Fenceline along Hwy 278 in Washington, AR
Once I got to Hope about 2:30PM, I knew I had to keep moving. Convection was initiating and I was going to be in the middle of it instead of out ahead.
I made my way through Camden, Fordyce, and then to Star City where I was far enough ahead of the developing line of storms to figure out the best option. I wanted tail-end-charlie in the southernmost batch of convection—closest to better moisture before the cap pinched the line off. At 2230Z, the southernmost convection was about 30 miles to my west near Fordyce. There would be clearer views in farmland just to my east, so I headed that way and looked for a good intercept spot along AR-11 about 3 miles south of Grady.
Reflectivity at 2238Z
Fields and farm roads were flooded everywhere, so I knew any use of the road grid was out of the question. Paved roads were dense enough to get within 5 miles of anything in the area, with the main issue being river crossings for the Arkansas River spaced about 35-40 miles apart at Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Pendleton. The end cell did me a lot of favors and strengthened nicely as it approached. The flooded fields made for some interesting photography options that I wasn’t planning for.
Tail end cell approaching on AR11 - 2239Z
As the rain free base moved closer, I could finally see that RFD was carving out a glowing hole punctuated by a wall cloud with nice tendrils and rising motion.
Rain free base sturdying up with rising scud - 2306Z
Lightning strike poses with my time lapse and video setup - 2315Z
Wall cloud taking shape across flooded fields - 2322Z
Closer view of rotating wall cloud - 2322Z
It was far enough off that I had plenty of time to set up for time lapse and lightning shots as it moved in. As the cell got more to my north, RFD finally punched a huge skylight in the base. A line of trees was blocking my view somewhat, so I raced about a half mile up the road and did another quick setup to watch events unfold.
Looking up AR-11 as RFD cuts open the rain free base - 2330Z
I got video and still cameras tripoded up for shots just seconds before a noodle slipped out of the wall cloud and made contact (2335Z). The fact that I just broke a three year tornado drought with an Arkansas tornado was freaking me out. The seemingly imminent grief of chasing Arkansas with trees, vegetation and flooding actually made for the best tornado photos I’ve gotten so far.
Funnel reaching for the ground - 2334Z
Funnel making contact - 2334Z
Evidence of debris - 2336Z
Arkansas tornado over flooded fields - 2338Z
While I was snapping away, a couple drove up in a car, motioning for me to come over. Trusting that the video camera was doing its job, I headed over to find them in Heightened-Awareness-Mode (understandably), fumbling with a cell phone trying to show me a picture of a tornado that just touched down, and how careful I needed to be. It took a few tries before they understood that, yes, I was actually trying to take pictures of it right now. Meanwhile my unattended SLR & tripod had blown over and face planted into the soil while I wasn’t watching. So as they took off, I ran back, lamented my fallen camera, unscrewed the thank-goodness-for-that UV filter and kept shooting.
Inflow winds and the toppling of a camera
Still can’t believe I’m watching a tornado over this waterscape - 2340Z
The tornado roped out about 9 minute after it touched down and I took off for the Pendleton river crossing.
Starting to rope out - 2341Z
Last bits of the rope out - 2343Z
I couldn’t catch back up or get in good position to catch some newer convection to the south, so I tried for parting lightning shots that didn’t turn out any good. After that, I crossed the Mississippi at Helena and boondocked along US 61 before heading north for the March 15th setup.
Reflectivity and Velocity at 2335Z
As I downloaded my photo and video media, something didn't seem right about my video footage—there wasn't enough of it. As I dug into it, I came to the terrible realization that I had the video camera in pause mode during the entire 9 minute tornado sequence. The anguish is making my guts clench as I type this. I had that video framed and focused perfectly the entire time. But I guess I was juggling too much photography and planning the next move to get everything right. I keep working on the fact that I got a lot of good still shots and just a tidbit of the first touchdown on the far edge of my dashcam video.
Not realizing at this crazy moment that the video camera (bottom center) is not recording — ouch
Chase Map - 13 March 2016
Photography locations for approaching supercell and tornado
Our last chase day on the high plains was also set up to be a pretty marginal day. We headed out of Goodland toward far northeast Colorado and took in some more sights along the way.
Barn in northeast Kansas
We caught our storm of the day near Holyoke as it rolled southeast out of the Nebraska Panhandle. It sported a proto-wall cloud for a while as it churned closer. It had a buddy to its east that looked better on radar at a few points, but that cell was getting seeded and the base was obscured much of the time. We had a really good view on a hilltop south of Holyoke and spent about a half hour watching both cells kick up dust storms as the western one drew some of the dust up into its updraft.
Farm and building supercell south of Holyoke || 2150Z
Pair of cells south of Holyoke || 2155Z
Shooting time lapse || 2200Z
Gust fronts on both cells kicking up dust || 2210Z
Eventually they swept by just to our north and teased some brief rotation in a quasi-RFD push, at the same time things seemed to be generally gusting out. We paced it along some pretty rugged roads through Alvin and southeast into Nebraska. The west edge of the convection wound down as the eastern cell took over. We were too far out of position on slow, twisty roads to catch it. As we wound our way back to better road options, we paused to get a box tortoise out of the road and get closer look at it.
Gust front with brief rotation in a slot on the leading edge || 2215Z
Visiting with a Nebraska box tortoise
My daughter seeing if tortoise wants a grape
Some messy convection was rolling east along Highway 36. So we headed back into Colorado between Idalia and Burlington to check out the gust front before ending our trip with great sunset views.
Convection struggling to stay cohesive south of Idalia || 0120Z
Advancing gust front over Burlington || 0150Z
Remains of a gust front south of Burlington || 0200Z
Fiery Colorado sunset || 0220Z
A small bit of twilight convection over far west Kansas || 0250Z
Apart from the rough road patch east of Alvin, the day was pretty easy-going and I had time for a lot of time lapse photography. Those time lapse sequences and other clips from the trip are in the first segment of the 2015 Storm Chase video I wrapped up last month.
This was the craziest and best chase of our five-day trip. After overnighting in the car near Wray, we headed back to a target area east of Denver and spent about an hour with a storm that struggled south of Strasburg. I was unsure about veered wind profiles downstream in the deeper moisture, especially noting SPC guidance that storms would probably tend to grab supercell structures early on before lining out. And that's kind of what this storm was doing. It had joined some friends and wound up on the south end of a mushy line of storms moving to the east and northeast by 21Z. And it appeared to be weakening after that.
Developing storm south of Strasburg || 2020Z
Storm struggling south of Byers || 2045Z
So I let it go, figuring I didn't want to waste energy on eventual garbage. Not a good idea, as it turns out. But I was worn out and feeling kind of sorry for myself about missing the Simla storm a couple days earlier and not seeing so much as a cold air funnel on anything yet. As we sat in a spot with horrible data for accessing current radar, I figured the whole day was probably destined to be a wreck of grungy, linear convection. To show how miserable I was making myself, I even mulled the idea of heading into Denver to catch a movie so the whole day wouldn't be a complete disappointment.
South end of line of convection moving away || 2135Z
I probably spent a good twenty minutes in my pity party, facing west, watching sad blobs of convection trying to get going over I-20. When I finally turned back 180 degrees, to my immense shock, the departing storm had separated from its linear friends and blossomed into an enormous, incredible mushroom cloud on the eastern horizon. My self pity turned to shock and then anguish. It seemed too far gone to catch up to. I had been re-defeated.
Sudden, explosive convection south of Last Chance || 2200Z
I'm not sure what kind of soliloquy I was rendering at that moment, but my daughter finally decided it needed to stop. With simple optimism: "We should try to catch it anyway." I love that kid. I'm glad she said it and glad I listened to her. We hopped on I-70 and made our way eastward. The whole time I was working the math of two moving targets and the time/location of intercept. If only the storm would stay interesting that long.
RFD and wall cloud as we approached Bethune || 2345Z
We finally caught up to it near Stratton with decent wall cloud and RFD action ongoing. Then we got ahead of it a couple miles north of Burlington. There was a sleek, saucer shaped lowering on the original meso with a new base forming to its south. I'm not sure whether that bell-shaped base was receding behind its own RFD curtain or if it was getting hidden by the developing forward flank of the new updraft. Either way, it was the greatest view of a meso handoff I've had so far.
Saucer shaped base north of Burlington || 0000Z
Meso handoff in progress north of Burlington || 0005Z
We were in good position on a fantastic road grid with an easy-moving storm, so the photo ops were excellent. At one stop, the new base was looking particularly awesome and I stopped to grab shots while the video camera was running. It wasn't until reviewing video later that I realized a cold air funnel had been twisting around for a couple minutes on the west side of the base.
New base northeast of Burlington || 0015Z
Cold air/shear funnel behind rain free base || 0013-0016Z
We paralleled the storm as it moved eastward. An RFD surge carved an inverted soft-serve ice cream cone into the base at one point. Not ten minutes after that, a glance out the window revealed a beautiful funnel whirling away inside some sort of strange RFD eddy on the south edge of the storm. We pulled over quickly to hop out and get shots. Time was of the essence, so we didn't wind up with the best foreground elements for photos. That issue took a back seat to the fact that we were standing on the side of the road looking up as a gorgeous funnel stared us down. Turning around to find my daughter embracing the outflow topped this off as the best storm chase turnaround ever.
RFD carving the base northeast of Burlington || 0025Z
Funnel and core between Burlington and Kanorado || 0035Z
My daughter embracing the outflow as the funnel dwindles || 0035Z
By now, the storm had fallen too far behind the expanding outflow boundaries and started to wither away. So, we paused to photograph an idyllic farmscape south of Kanorado. Then we enjoyed the view of an inbound gust front moving in from Colorado before calling it a night at a comfy hotel in Goodland.