So the trip has finally come to an end, but not before some final excitement to send us on our way. We had to do some final shopping so after having an early lunch at Hooters in Aurora, CO we made our way to the local Mall. We hopped out of the car to hear tornado sirens ringing out, but assumed it was a test sounding. A quick look at the sky didn't reveal anything threatening so we went into the shopping centre. After a quick look around we soon being herded towards a tornado shelter by a security guard! Well we soon worked out that those sirens were for real, but we had a flight to catch so we avoided the shelter ( not smart I know) and got on our way. After a quick look around we couldn't see anything that was immediately threatening so we got in the car and headed to the airport. All went smoothly from then on and the final, and possibly the worst part, of the trip lay before us.
And so ends an amazing trip to Tornado Alley! Storms on everyday we chased, forecasted and hunted down. We counted 11 tornadoes and several supercells. The tornadoes we saw in Canadian, TX and Simla, CO were the highlights of the trip! We also got to do some sightseeing which was an awesome experience in itself. My travel buddies Michael Bath and Rodney Wallbridge were fantastic companions to have on such a trip and I'm glad I was able to share in the wonderful experiences of the past few weeks with them. This will be my last trip to Tornado Alley for a long time, family is my main priority now. Maybe in 10 yrs I'll revisit and get to experience the fury of mother nature on the Great Plains of the USA!
TARGET: LIMON, CO
Last chase day and we didn't have to move too far from our overnight location. SPC hasd an enhanced risk over portions of Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and southern Wyoming. We decided on Limon, CO as our target as it wouldn't leave us far to go to get our flights the next day. The HRRR model had initiation breaking out around 3pm so we had time to do some shopping in the morning before heading to our target. We did our shopping which allowed us approximately 2hrs travel time to get to Limon. We exited the Mall to see the sky to the SE absolutely erupting in updrafts. We had perhaps stayed 30mins too long, so we began the journey in haste. The closer we got to the main cell of interest the more majestic it became. It was an LP type structure with a twisting, barber pole updraft churning away. We found a spot to observe and watched the structure cycle for about 45mins. Looking at video later the rotation was very obvious so will make for an interesting timelapse. Some small high based funnels persisted for some time which might have hinted at what was to follow later. The storm started to weaken so we went for the next base down the line which was looking interesting. We found another vantage point and watched yet another LP structure doing its thing. Another new base was forming so we let the cell we were just watching go and made tracks for the new base. This is where things really began to get interesting, all day cells had been splitting and this was no exception. The split originally had the dominant part moving NE however it begun a turn to the SE and rapidly intensified. A nasty looking rain free base had formed and there was alot of motion in the base area. A whiter patch in the RFB began to lower and was beginning to rotate! I trained the video on it and waited for what hopefully would produce a tornado. A few small funnels teased before a slender cone began to emerge from the wall cloud area. It was a spectacular sight!!! A beautifully lit white cone tornado eemerged and began to descend to the earth. Finally touchdown!! We were stoked, we had been on this cell while it had cycled then produced an epic display of mother natures power! But it was far from over, while the tornado retreated off the ground for a brief few minutes, the wall cloud was still rapidly rotating and would soon make another touchdown. We were beside ourselves in excitement, as once again we were less than a mile from a tornado. We had to move as we were beginning to get pelted by rain from the rear flank downdraft. We made our way to another vantage point to see another large white cone tornado underway. This was closer again, and we were in the outer circulation of the wall cloud. I jumped out of the car to get a better view and I could hear the roar of the beast!! This has been a major goal of mine and I couldn't believe I was standing about 1/2 a mile from a tornado hearing it plow across the countryside!. Unfortunately because we were on the SW side of the wall cloud the tornado would quickly become rain wrapped however we could still make out the outline of it. It was too risky to try and get around the other side as the core was spitting out tennis ball sized hail! We moved just out of the danger zone however a few golf balls were observed, which fortunately missed our vehicle. We had to move to get to better position to view the cell. En route the cell managed to put down yet another tornado, we were at 5 separate touchdowns!! This was becoming an unforgettable experience! The tornado retreated again so we had time to get back around in front to see if the cyclic supercell could produce another tornado before it ran out of steam. We were positioning ourselves intently watching a suspicious wall cloud, and completely missed another tornado underway to our south! We pulled up and took as many photos as possible before it dissapated. Tornado count was now at 6!! This day was really exceeding expectations, never did we think we would witness what was underway but here it was in all its glory! The cyclic suprcell had now ran out of puff and was now collapsing on itself, but not before it put on a ridiculous beaver tail display the likes of which I've never seen before! Some new action to our west grabbed our attention, another barber pole LP structure was putting on a display. How was this was possibe the atmosphere had to be tapped of energy? Sure enough it started to evaporate but not before I got to timelapse it in it's dying phase in the sunset. It was a surreal scene with the sun setting on a decaying cell with spectacular colours lighting the scene! After a few more sunset shots we called it a day well and truly stunned and stoked at what we had been privileged to witness! We had witnessed multiple tornadoes, 7 after video review, which couldn't have been a better way to end the trip.
TARGET: MISSION, SD
Our target today was South Central South Dakota. I was looking forward to getting to this state as we didn't get a chance to see it last trip. There was some very good potential today both in our target area and SW Nebraska with LP type cells being the main type of cell we would see.We decided we would position ourselves right on the intersection of the boundaries running SW and SE. Towers began to go up right on the boundary and it was only a matter of time before something would dominate. We were waiting for the SE flow to dominate the area however this didn't eventuate. Meanwhile cells in the other target area in NE had fired, which was frustrating. We continued to wait but anything that tried to go up was struggling for moisture. We noticed some healthier development further south so we headed for that. The sky was cluttered and any cell that went up was competing for the instability and moisture with numerous other cells in the vicinity. Therefore every tower that went up was short lived so we decided to postion ourselves for the approach of the cluster that was still ongoing from Nebraska. Another large MCS was underway so we thought we try for some lightning heading ahead of the approaching line but as per usual CGs were sparse so we waited for the line to pass over us then went into the core to see if we could get some hail. It was just heavy rain so we returned to the motel in Valentine, NE that we had booked a room at earlier. A day that had promised so much delivered very little. We assumed that the early activity in Nebraska had a negative effect on development in South Dakota which was a shame given the potential. Preliminary target SE Wyoming.
TARGET: CHUGWATER, WY
SPC forecasts called for an enhanced risk throughout the SE corner of Wyoming. The HRRR model had precip breaking out across the region mid afternoon so with this in mind we headed to our target area. We initially headed to the bizarrely named village of Chugwater. Cells initially fired off the mountains and the hope was that they would drop down and give us a show. The sky had a clustered look however one cell started to dominate so we targetted that. The cell was in the Wheatland area so we tried to find a decent vantage point which would prove more difficult than we thought. Also data coverage was limited so we were reliant on visual observations only. We found a spot and watched for a while. We were soon joined by 2 vans full of chasers with a chase tour and also another chaser. We watched the cell go over us with powerful updrafts boiling up into the sky. A few brief small funnels descended but were relatively short lived. Another cell took our interest which had a more significant lowering. So we shot back south to observe, we found a spot that offered data and we were able to get a new radar update. It showed the cell had strengthened and was moving generally NE. We were again joined by the chaser hordes however this time 2 familiar faces showed up, Jane and Clyve. We quickly discussed the cell before we made a decision to move back north where we could see it better. Unfortunately it began to weaken but it was still photogenic nonetheless. We were beginning to lose light so we decided to make a move for our accomodation for the evening. Lightning was constantly flickering so we thought that we should try and capture it. We found a great spot to overlooking a lake ( Glendo Reservoir) and began snapping away. As has happened on numerous occasions this trip the lack of CGs was amazing, we quickly got bored of glowing clouds and called it a night around 9pm. We got back to the motel and found out that Jane and Clyve had caught a tornado over the reservoir minutes after we left. It would have been difficult to see so we weren't that disappointed. We booked into the motel and prepared ourselves for our last chase day with hopes of seeing something nice, what would follow would leave us speechless!
TARGET: SCOTTSBLUFF, NE
SPC had a marginal risk across the majority of the High Plains region we were targetting. Wind shear wasn't forecast to be very strong so the risk of another MCS system late afternnon into evening would be high. We made it to Scottsbluff with a few high based cells already underway. Nothing was looking severe so we decided to have a closer look. All the cells looked they were already starting to congeal into an MCS so we made the decision to try and stay in front of the line. We stopped a couple of times to observe and we were mesmerised by the structure. It was a laminar gust front stretching for miles, and it had some unusual lenticular type updrafts. We continued to stay in front of it whilst another cell had formed on the outflow boundary and was moving NW on a track to collide with the line. We moved to a position to watch the interraction which put on a nice show briefly. It eventually weakened so we turned out attention back to the MCS approaching. Overhead a mammatus field was developing and would eventually go on to become the most astonishing and incredible displays of mammatus I've ever seen. The feature was just ahead of the line so the scene couldn't have been scripted better. The spectacle lasted less than 10mins so we made the decision to find our accommodarion for the evening. We settled on Sidney, NE which meant we had to core punch the line. We started heading towards the line and it was a dramatic scene. We headed into the abyss and there was sporadic hail up to 3cm and torrential rain. There were numerous flangs which we could clearly hear over the roar of hail and rain on the car. We passed through and got to our destination. We had some dinner at a local sports bar then as we we were heading back to the car we noticed the line going off like a strobe light. We couldn't resist so we got the cameras out, however the line was retreating and soon it was getting too far away. The marginal day had provided a nice surprise with the mammatus/shelf cloud display but ultimately the weak shear was the winner for this setup.