This time of the year most of us are getting ready for Christmas. Finishing up our shopping lists, looking at Christmas lights, drinking cocoa. It's cold outside and we just want to stay in where it's nice and warm.
Well, in Oklahoma is mostly like that except you get days like yesterday. An upper level low had made it's way out of California after dumping up to 9 inches of rain in some places and moved off to the east, eventually making it's way into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. The fast moving system brought with it heavy wind and also transported moisture into the southern plains, which meant there was a good chance for thunderstorms. All that was missing was warm temperatures...wait, there was that too. Storms!
I left for western Oklahoma around 11am and had intended to set up in Anadarko, but my gut told me that Clinton would be the spot. After the first wave of morning rains moved through the instability picked up and storms began to fire. The bad news is they were traveling so fast to the north east there was no way to keep up with them. But, further to the south storms started to form near Frederick and quickly moved northeast as well. I chose to travel back towards Anadarko to head the storm off at the pass. Just before we got there, near the town of Apache a small tornado formed and was captured on video by other chasers. We saw awesome structure and a few spins in the clouds, but mostly the storm lined out and made for some good photo ops. We followed the storm to the northeast up to Union City, but let it go in favor for another cell that had formed and moved into the Chickasha area.
This cell took us into Oklahoma City where we saw half dollar size hail and again with the traffic we had a tough time keeping up. Eventually it produces a wispy tornado that touched down near Arcadia and caused minor damage. Maybe one of the best parts of the chase was the glorious light the setting sun cast on the clouds over Oklahoma City. Photos from the chase:
2014 continued it's ways of taking me to the north with a setup on the Kansas/Oklahoma border, but this time it was at least only three hours away instead of the 6-8 hour trips I had been taking all year.
The storms fired just north of the Kansas border near South Haven, where only a year ago I was chasing a beautiful rope tornado. I thought there might be magic again as only one cell formed in the beginning and quickly produced a wall cloud. It was heavily rotating and floated over Geuda Springs as it moved east and eventually made its way to Arkansas City, so close to producing a tornado. As it started getting dark, another huge cell came in from the west and I had to make a choice whether to stay on the storm I was on or drop to the south so I didn't get blasted. I chose to drop off and go south because it was the only road that would take me south for another 50 miles, and that choice would be my biggest mistake in a great day, as it produced a tornado about 20 minutes after I left it. Here's the haul from the day:
When you get in to late August and early September the summer starts to give way to fall in many parts of the country. Usually the ridge of high pressure starts to relieve and the heat gets displaced by colder air which arrives via a cold front. This was the setup on the day before Labor Day in Nebraska. Cold front chases are a little tougher because they tend to become linear fairly quickly and when that happens the tornado risk reduces greatly. So, getting out early and being right on top of the storms from initiation is of utmost importance to capture not only a possible tornado but to get the most photogenic shots of the day.
I traveled up I-35 through Kansas and arrived in Nebraska shortly after 1pm, and after I looked at the forecast models I decided to move further west than I had initially planned. I set up shop in Red Cloud, Nebraska and waited for storms to form. I chose a pretty good spot that day because it wasn't long before storms started to fire up just to the south in Kansas and quickly they moved northeast into Nebraska.
The storms stayed discrete for a short time as expected then moved to linear mode quickly. There was a short time where I got a wall cloud with some rotation in it, and it appeared it might have a shot at producing a tornado, but quickly dissipated. I landed a few structure shots and once I lost visibility to the individual cells I dropped south into Kansas to catch the southern part of the line of storms. I battled intense rain and quick moving storms the rest of the way, eventually stopping in Salina, KS to let them pass and got a bite to eat.
Here are a few of my catches from the day:
June 3rd, 2014 was the fourth chase day on our four day tour of the northern plains was a case of saving the best for last, at least in terms of quality of setups. A moderate risk was out for the afternoon, with a warm front hovering across Central Nebraska and feeding moisture to the north with dewpoints reaching the 70's in some cases. Storms were expected to be explosive, firing quickly and just turning tornadic just as fast. We reached Grand Island early in the afternoon and worked our way up to Loup, Nebraska waiting for storms to form. Finally by 3pm storms started to go up just north of Ord, although it was a messy storm on radar. We decided to wait for other storms to form. And waited. And waited some more. After a while it became apparent that it would be the only storm there would be to chase, and it also became apparent we would have a hard time staying in front of it because it was screaming to the southeast at 50 mph. It became a large linear rotating storm with no structure, and very low clouds that you could almost jump up to touch. It was a nasty storm, and if you were going to see a tornado (which had a pretty good chance of producing) you would have to be very close and that could prove perilous. Once met the storm just south of Ord, we immediately dropped to the south to stay ahead, then moving east along with it only to get sideswiped by intense winds and blinding rain. The fear that a rain wrapped tornado lurked in the rain was very real, and a couple of times we thought we might get caught up in an atmospheric blender. For a good 15 minutes heading east we got blasted, and it was one of the more intense moments in the last couple of years for me. Finally we reached a southward highway and reached a point we felt more safe, and watched the storm keeping our distance somewhat. I got a few photos from this chase, but the speed of the storms prevented most of opportunities I would normally have. Here is what I captured:
After such a great day with a tornado in Wyoming, we made our way out of North Platte, NE on June 1st, and headed south to the small town of Oberlin, KS and waited for initiation, and just about every other storm chaser out for the day also had the same plan. After eating at a packed Subway, I got my equipment ready and storms started to blow up just to the west. We figured we had set up at the exact right place, and dropped just south of Oberlin watching a beautiful cell blow up. And then it died. That quickly.
After looking at the options, we had a cell to the south near Oakley nearly and hour away, but it was about the only thing worth going after. After about an hour of driving we made it to the storm and watched it quickly turn into a squall line that lost all tornadic potential. I got a few photos from this chase but not many, but here is what I caught:
There's something about chasing the northern plains that is really special, even on the most marginal days. You can go into it expecting little or next to nothing from a storm, but walk away with one of the best days of the year. I traveled to Wyoming on Saturday, May 31st with low expectations. SPC had released a 2% chance for tornadoes on that day and usually that means you aren't seeing much of anything. I was super excited about being able to return to Wyoming to chase because I love the scenery, not just of the mountains but the sagebrush covered plains as well and I think I got my money's worth. We watched storms go up and down on radar, starting to grow then just as quickly die off. After sticking with one storm for a little bit it finally died and we moved north towards a more robust storm. We found a place to pull over and watch it, and it slowly moved east not in any hurry to do much of anything. The storm wasn't even severe warned when suddenly a small base dropped down from the storm and produced a gorgeous funnel. It was the equivalent of finding the needle in the haystack and was cause for much celebration. Here are the photos from Saturday's chase:
The month of May in Colorado can bring just about any kind of weather you can think of. Snow, rain, hail, tornadoes...you name it. On Wednesday, May 21st Mother Nature brought the fury to Denver and parts east. A supercell developed just west of the Denver metro area, moved through down dropping large hail and causing all kinds of damage, then moved east and brought reports of tornadoes near DIA. I was on the storm pretty close from the beginning, intercepting it just as it moved out of the metro area. I didn't see any tornadoes, and this year has been pretty slim for tornadoes overall, so I'm wondering if someone got a case of the "I want to see it, therefore I will see it even if it isn't there", which has seemed to plague many people this season. Anyways, I got a lot of images and it was a very picturesque storm in a beautiful part of the country. Here's what I captured:
Storm chases have been few and far between this year. Drought, cooler air and cold front after cold front have really robbed the atmosphere of the energy potental for severe thunderstorms. But, May 11th it was a different story. I had a couple of options: Drive to Nebraska for an enhanced risk of large tornadoes, or drive to central Kansas and possibly catch individual cells that would be more beautiful in structure, but lacking overall tornadic potential. Well, knowing that I had to be to work at 8 am in OKC helped make my decision, and Kansas it was. Overall, it was a tremendous day with tornado warned cells that dropped funnels and even a short lived tornado or two. Here's a pretty good photo summary of the day.
Wednesday, May 7th brought another slight risk of severe weather in Southern Oklahoma and Mother Nature didn't disappoint. After driving down to just south of Lawton, OK, the first storm popped up and raced quickly to the north. With just about every storm moving to the north at warp speed, we decided to travel south down near Wichita Falls, TX where a slower moving, more robust cell had taken shape. We caught up to it at Henrietta, TX and the show was incredible. Afterwards we moved north to Waurika, OK and caught another cell that ended up being tornado warned. It had incredible structure as well and showed lots of rotation. Ultimately it didn't drop a tornado, but the scenery was fantastic.
Another opportunity for storm chasing and another chance to get a good batch of storm photography, and this led me to the Eastern Texas Panhandle and into Western Oklahoma on Wednesday, and it didn't disappoint. Storms went up early at around 3:30pm in the afternoon and blew up quickly near Wellington, Tx and drifted to the northeast slowly allowing for a lot of photos and a chance to just soak up the storms. Here are a few photos and some video from the chase.
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