TARGET: CHEYENNE, WY
Our initial target was Cheyenne, WY but as luck would have we wouldn't need to travel that far. We started in Raton in the far NE of New Mexico with the Rocky Mountains our companion to our west as we travelled. Way off in the distance one peak towered above the country side. After some investigation the mountain turned out to be Pikes Peak, the famous time trial route. We decided we needed to have a look so we made a detour to experience what 14,110ft of altitude was like. The mountain was still covered in snow from record snowfall in May, which would end up costing us the trip to the summit. There was still 10ft of snow further up which would not permit us rthe full trip to the top. Still we were able to achieve an altitude of 13,000ft in the vehicle which is almost twice as high as any point in Australia. There was a short stroll through snow to a high point which would give us an extra 200ft of height. I've always wondered what the effects of high altitude would be like and we soon discovered breathing was a bit harder than what we are accustomed to. The walk was only about 100m long but with the incline and altitude it felt alot longer than that. The effort was worth it though with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Tie in a few weak thunderstorms in the area and it was an awesome thing to witness. We spent a short time taking photos and taking in the view. The temperature would have been close to 40F/6C with the wind chill thrown in, perfect weather for shorts and shirt! We had to move to have a chance at seeing some storms so we began the trek back down. As we started back down a shower began to pass over us, but it wasn't rain it was like a mix of hail and snow! Next thing FLASH!! Then BOOM!! Thunder echoed of the mountains! We were core punching a storm at 13,000ft. We stopped and watched for a bit until the novelty wore off then we headed to our storms which were NE of us. We made a beeline for a cluster of cells which were showing severe characteristics. As we got closer we could see impressive updrafts boiling up into the sky. The radar had a hail signature of 3.75" and the green colour high up in the storm reflected this cell had lots of hail aloft! We moved to a position to observe and marvelled at the structure. We saw a few funnels and powerful lightning however another cell was aproaching from the west and we were hoping that it wouldn't kill off the other one. Instead the interraction of the two cells was very interesting, they did a sort of merge and the resulting scene was breathtaking. Lightning was flickering and the updrafts still remained strong. Eventually the cells begun to move away from us so we decided to see if we could find some hail. We begun to see some on the side of the road so we pulled off onto a side track to have a look. Whoops it turned to mud and we got briefly stranded but luckily Rodney was able to pilot the car out. Once we were out we watched some nice sunset colours with the storm retreating into the distance, occasionally spitting out some bolts. The next few days looks like we will targetting the Northern Plains, before heading home later in the week.
TARGET: SANTA FE, NM
Today was going to be a marginal setup that could produce some cells forming off the high ground in NE New Mexico and dropping off the mountainous areas. We had some time to include a side trip through the highest points of New Mexico which would take in the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge and the bridge that spans it. We headed off and our trip slowly began to take us up into the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. It wasn't long before the snow capped peaks begun to come into view. We came up to the Rio Grande Gorge, however you wouldn't even know it was there until you got within 200m of it. The only hint is the bridge that spans it! We pulled up to have a look and a cell to our north had caught attention which had some very nice updrafts. We wandered over to have a look at the gorge and what a sight it was! The edges dropped away to the Rio Grande River some 250m below the surrounding country side. The United States is the country that keeps on giving just when you think you can't see anything else that will shock you, around the next corner is something else that takes your breath away! We took lots of photos then considered the storm to our north, which looked quite strong with still powerful updrafts powering up into the atmosphere. We got to Taos then headed up into the mountains which at its highest point was 9450ft/3000m. We crossed the top and the view opened out and our storm was directly in front of us. Conveniently there was an area to pull off and observe so sat and watched the cell continually push updrafts up. At one stage it even managed to form a wall cloudwith a weak funnel dropping down. I did some timelapse which should look absolutely amazing!. We decided to have a closer look so we dropped down off the mountains to the town of Mora and the base became apparent. It looked quite severe and radar backed up our suspicions with a 1.75" hail signature. There was areas of weak rotation so we came to the conclusion were sitting under a supercell. We moved further east to observe and the cell had developed into an incredible sight with beaver tail and classic supercell structure. We found another vantage point and another chaser pulled and said he had been in the core and there was hail up to tennis ball size! Wow!! The marginal setup had produced a beautifully structured supercell with 3" hail. It was beyond our expectations and we were just about the only chasers on it....with the exception of another group of Aussie chasers. The South Brisbane Storms crew were just up the road from us so we pulled up and chatted to them and tried to bag some lightning however the cell ( as usual) didn't cooperate with bolts so we called it a night. Once again we had trouble getting accomodation so we had to travel an extra 1hr further north to find something, eventually arriving at 1130pm! On the way we must have just missed passing through the core of the dying cell as the Interstate was covered in hail for about a mile! What a surprise day! After seeing more spectacular US countryside we were rewarded with a unexpected supercell!
TARGET: GARDEN CITY, KS
The target for today would be SW Kansas around Garden City. Computer modelling had initiation around 2pm so we left the motel around 11am for the 3hr trip. After about an hour into the trip the first echos popped up on radar which was earlier than anticipated however we knew that the big stuff might not get really cranking till for another 1hr or so. We soon emerged out of the cloud to see a large thunderstorm underway just NW of our target area. Radar reflectivities indicated the storm was now entering into the mature stage. The miles seemed to drag on but eventually we were in a position to see base features. Jane and Clyve had reported a funnel cloud so that was an encouraging sign. The cell was now a massive HP supercell complete with an ominous green hail core which had been reported to be spitting out tennis ball size hail. We watched the cell continually grow with wall clouds undergoing transitions. Visibility was very limited with lots of moisture obscuring details. We were only 5 miles from the main area of interest and we could see sporadic funnel clouds. All of a sudden a more substantial funnel emerged, however visibilty being so poor we couldn't confirm ground contact. As it turned out it was a tornado confirmed by spotter closer to the action. It was only brief and the rain was closing in so we had to move. A new wall cloud had developed and was rotating very quickly. We had to stay out of the rain however we had opportunities to stop quickly and grab some quick photos. It couldn't quite get it done for a tornado but just witnessing a wall cloud rotate like it was made for pretty exciting viewing. We had to keep ahead of the rain to try and get around in front of the cell, but we managed to get ourselves in the hail core of new development. This new cell was dropping hail up to 3-4cm and the rental would soon be sporting a few dints from the accidental core punch! Shortly after the cell began to exhibit outflow features and we knew that it was now in a weakening phase. The gust front that accompanied the outflow push was quite spectacular. We once again met up with Jane and Clyve and had dinner at Applebees. A coldfront is expected to push into the region which is going to kill storm chances for awhile so some sightseeing might be coming up.
TARGET: CLAYTON, NM
For what seemed the umpteenth time SPC was onboard for another slight risk in our target area. The forecast called for precip breaking out around 3pm again so we headed of from our overnight stay for the 3hr trek to our target. There was a cloud deck that accompanied for most of the trip but once we broke into New Mexico it began to clear and we could see cells going up to our west. We headed for the strongest looking cell on radar to have a look. Internet coverage was terrible so we were reliant on visual observations. Cells looked high based so we decided to leave the area and look at stuff developing further to our south. All the cells we had been watching had merged into one large rain mass and the radar we had been relying still hadn't updated! We had been struggling with this issue for the last 45mins so by chance I thought to try another radar. Bugger!!! Another radar was working and cells 45mins to our south had a tornado warning on it! I was absolutely furious with myself that I hadn't thought to check another radar sooner. We raced south however it was too far a target to catch so we had to settle for some sunset colours, which was a small consolation. As turns out the strongest cell produced a tornado which compounded my disgust. We stayed the night in Clovis, NM which as it turns out had very limited accomodation due to a film being shot in the area. We finally found one after hunting around for 45mins. Tomorrow looks like a marginal setup in NE New Mexico so a bit of sight seeing might be in order.
TARGET: SHATTUCK, OK
SPC had upgraded its outlook to an enhanced risk for our target area today. Computer modelling suggested precip breaking out around 2pm so early initiation was on the cards. We begun moving into position and after a short while the first congestus were starting to develop. We made a few stops to observe however we didn't hang around too long today as indecision and waiting around too long had cost us in days previous. Right on cue at 2pm the first congestus glaciated and soon became the dominant cell in the sky. A towering updraft soon took hold and a thick and crisp anvil stretched over our heads. Soon base features became obvious so we raced to find a better view. We moved towards the cell and now were able to see the base clearly. There was some wall cloud activity on the NE flank of the cell however this wasn't the right position for possible tornadogenesis. Visually the cell looked it was beginning to split so the decision was made to target the southern edge of the split as this was the area favoured for possible development of a tornado. We moved into the NW part of the Texas Panhandle near the town of Canadian. The cell was now exhibiting very severe features, with a wall cloud and heavy precip. En route to Canadian we spotted a funnel descending from the wall cloud. Stop the car and take pics and some video. The area of activity soon became obscured by rain so we moved closer to Canadian. We found a vantage point along the HWY just north of town, along with maybe 20 other chase vehicles. For the next hour we watched the supercell cell cycle and evolve. There was some dangerous lightning around which was striking the ridges all around us. Thankfully the cell was slow moving so we had plenty of time to watch it go through different stages of development. At no stage was the cell showing any stage of outflow. All of a sudden there seemed to be chasers everywhere, literally hundreds of chasers and their vehicles. The cell was still evolving and suddenly there was a rush of easterly inflow. The wall cloud region wasnow exhibiting some serious rotation and we were less than 2 miles away. Somebody passed ran passed us and said Reed Timmer was 50m from us. Stay put was the advice. The wall cloud really started to wrap up and all of a sudden a cone tornado was dropping in front of us less than a mile away. Finally we had what we had came here for. It stayed on the ground for about 10mins and we watched it rope out. Absolutely incredible to witness and being so close made it all the more special. We were so transfixed by what was happening in front of us that none of us noticed a new wall cloud and circulation right above our heads. We quickly got the hell out of there, as it was a dangerous to be. As it turns out I think we were in the circulation as it was, because we started getting pelted with rain getting wrapped into the new circulation. We moved out of the area and through the town of Canadian, where tornado sirens had been sounded earlier. We watched the cell from a vantage point just out of town but it was quickly moving out of our field of view. We repositioned further east of town andwatched the supercell continue to cycle. Another tornado touched down to the west of Canadian, and I was beginning to have genuine fears for the safety of the people in the town. Thankfully it was only brief however the meso was still rapidly rotating and it looked it could possibly drop down to the ground, but it only put down 3 more fully condensed tornados before it started to collapse on itself. Soon icy outflow began blasting us so we packed up our gear and headed to Woodward for the evening. In summary this will go down as the most memorable day of stormchasing in my life. We were less than a mile from a photogenic cone tornado, and witnessed at least 3 more touchdowns later in the supercells life. The most rewarding part for me is to be able to forecast a target, get there and watch the full cycle of the thunderstorm from initial development through the mature stage and eventual collapse. It will be hard to top this!