Andy Cole's Stormchase blog

Back on the plains in 2019 to share in nature's spectacle

Chris’ 2019 blog, Day 7: A Day of Two Halves

Half # 1

To summarise:

    Air instability – positive;
    High moisture – positive;
    Bulk shear – positive;
    Upward energy – positive;
    Supercells – positive;
    Tornadoes – positive;
    Andy and Chris – nowhere to be seen.

For our first big chase, we found ourselves initially in the perfect position. We headed south from Ogallala towards Imperial to lace ourselves north east of a dry front we expected a storm to start and progress towards the area of high tornado risk.

We stopped north of Imperial and, happy with our patience, waited for something to develop. To our west we saw high levels of mid level instability moving into the target area and, against our ‘strategy’, chased it from the west to catch up and get ahead of it. We drove eastward on Route 80 for almost 2 hours and then took a Northern route at Lexington. The storm was running away almost as quickly as we were driving and certainty slower than the rate at which our optimism and excitement was fading.

During the fruitless chase we were keeping tabs of our initial hypotheses and, low and behold, Imperial was exactly where a new storm had formed and was looking like a thing of beauty on the radars. Accepting defeat and tail between our legs, we did a quick U-turn and headed back to exactly where we started 2 hours ago..

Half #2

To summarise:

    Air instability – positive;
    High moisture – positive;
    Bulk shear – positive;
    Upward energy – positive;
    Supercells – positive;
    Tornadoes – positive;
    Andy and Chris – prime time seats for 2/3

The two hours turned out to be 1.5 hours as the storm was moving towards us at c.30mph. We snaked our way through Elwood, Arapahoe and Cambridge facing roadworks after delays after traffic. Fortune wasn’t on our side and, approaching the storm from an easterly direction under the anvil, the first thing we saw within the storm… a tornado – large funnel from cloud to ground kicking up an impressive sprout of dust, dirt and debris. This was closely followed by stationary traffic ahead as rods were being blocked off to protect people from mother nature’s fury. In disbelief, Andy ran to the front and explained we were storm chasers. She let us through providing we left our hazard lights on the whole time..

Unfortunately we didn’t get any good shots being so far away… but here’s Andy running back from asking the traffic warden if we were allowed through with the tornado in the background. Run Forrest Run!

We were then stuck behind a service vehicle painting lines on newly laid roads going at a crawling pace just as the tornado was snaking it’s way through the hills. Another trail of cars further in the distance behind a sign coming the other way led by a police patrol vehicle stopped us verging the grass to pass… until impatience got the better of both of us and we skirted around the line painter and embarrassedly passed to some disapproved looks.

The tornado had curled itself back up towards the murky wall cloud and we continued trying to get East of the lowering area. We soon met the trail of other chasers hastily darting up and across north and east heading farm roads trying to get into a good vantage spot of the potential next tornado.

Unfortunately the next tornado dropped while we were on a main road heading east… albeit quite a bit less than 1km from us. Unfortunately we didn’t get any footage (although the GoPro set up hasn’t been fully checked at time of writing..) so you’ll have to believe me, it was pretty cool. From so close you could see the amount of dust and dirt being picked up and violently rotated and a boggling rate, and as she eased off being dispatched all around before disappearing into noting but a puff.

The base was still looking gloriously angry. We decided to try and lose the crowds of followers that included scientists with satellites mounted, weather crews, enthusiasts, locals and idiots. And what a choice. Coming to the top of a hill, the wall cloud tightened by the wrapping around of the RFD and another tornado dropped.

We lost the crowds and had front row seats to this absolute beauty

It would have been nice to be closer and for it to have been longer lived but we have future (and easier!) chases for that. However, this picture doesn’t do it justice, being this close to one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena is hair (and heartbeat) raising.

Unfortunately to follow the storm and area of interest we had to rejoin the hoards. By the time we did, we were stuck west of the storm and had to play catch up. As we approached the main road, a suspicious circulation and aggressive winds raced east to west not far at all in front of our northerly travel. We assumed it to be a tornado wrapped in rain and then the snapped trees and uprooted bushes we passed were enough evidence of its tracks to show it must have been. As if we weren’t already convinced, the main road was closed due to power lines, the 1ft wide wooden post type, were strewn across the road like matchsticks in its wake.

We were forced to take an alternative route to catch up with the storm but never quite caught up as it raced east north east. We made it to the back base as the main storm split and were directly underneath what we thought was a tightening, that was proven by radar. Anxious a tornado could potentially drop, we took our pictures and gave up on the chase for the day as light was rapidly diminishing.

[PICTURE]

We headed South East towards Hays for the night, the $65 Fort Hays Inn was the destination to rest our tired and content heads.

Miles travelled in the day: 569

Total miles driven: 2,690

Supercells seen: 3

Tornadoes seen: 3

States visited: Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska

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