2013 Storm Chase Summary and Photographs

David Blanchard
Flagstaff Arizona

--Overview of the large scale weather pattern--

A pattern with troughing over the west gave way to strong ridging with warm temperatures aloft over the western half of the country just as I started my trip. This resulted in an environment that was convectively capped much of the time and was characterized by marginal low-level moisture. Seems like I've seen this pattern before.

01 June 2013

Counter service stools at the Owl Cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico.Counter service stools at the Owl Cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

We left Flagstaff early this afternoon to begin this years storm photography season. I was not able to leave earlier as I planned to run in a 5K trail run this morning. My time was better than last year -- but the competition was MUCH better than last year.

We drove to Albuquerque for the evening so that we could head into eastern New Mexico tomorrow -- if enough moisture has returned and the shear increases. Neither is guaranteed. If things do not come together, we will drive to Denver instead and visit family -- and be ready to head east to the dry line on Monday.

We had dinner at the Owl Cafe, a retro diner with counter service, jukeboxes, and more. It looks like something right out of the late '50s or early '60s that a traveler might have found on Route 66.

02 June 2013

Texas Trail CanyonTexas Trail Canyon

Moisture is beginning to return northward up the Rio Grande valley but will not move far enough north today to make it into northern or northeastern New Mexico. Although there will be strong convection it will likely be in far southern New Mexico -- and that is too far away from tomorrows target area of western Kansas or southwestern Nebraska. So we will take a leisurely drive northward to Denver to visit family tonight.

03 June 2013

CB MammatusCB Mammatus

High-based cumulonimbusHigh-based cumulonimbus

Not much has changed in the model forecasts. Winds and shear will be marginally adequate and moisture will be extremely limited for supercells today. It's not a great setup but we decide to go ahead and travel to northwestern Kansas to see what the atmosphere can produce.

As it turns out -- not much. Mostly we encountered high based storms with lots of virga, strong outflow winds and blowing dust. The highlight of the day may have been the large bull snake we encountered at one of our stops.

At the end of the day we ended up in Colby, Kansas, and had dinner at the City Limits Grill. Pretty good!

04 June 2013

Kit Carson County CarouselKit Carson County Carousel.

Surging outflow with shelf clouds.Surging outflow with shelf clouds.

New supercells developing to the southeast.New supercells developing to the southeast.

Strong northerly winds developed overnight and temperatures have cooled significantly across northwestern Kansas. Models indicate the best chance for winds backing and bringing moist air westward would occur across southeastern Colorado.

We left Colby and went to Burlington, Colorado, to see the Kit Carson County Carousel -- and to ride it. It's only 25¢.

Then it's off to US385 to head south. We stop in Lamar at the City Park to pass the time -- and almost waited too long. A strong storm with a SVR warning was already traveling ESE down the Arkansas River valley and through an area with few roads. We drove south to Springfield then west to Pritchett where we watched the storm slowly approach. At this time the storm had a TOR warning. The storm was dark, full of rain, and it was very difficult to see any structure. Based on radar, we decided we would be safest if we went west and south from Pritchett and let it pass before returning east. The outflow blasting south was cold, fierce, and full of dust.

We backtracked later and just west of Springfield saw about a half dozen power poles snapped. There was insufficient evidence to determine whether it might have been tornadic or straight-line winds. In addition, fields were flooded with the heavy rainfall that had occurred with the storm and the drainages were awash with runoff.

We returned to Lamar and went to the Thai Spicy Basil restaurant only to find out that they were only offering take-out service at that hour. Good enough.

05 June 2013

Railroad museum display in Limon, Colorado.Railroad museum display in Limon, Colorado.

WSR-57 Radar Operator ConsoleWSR-57 Radar Operator Console

We woke up to a cool and overcast morning with occasional drizzle. After examining data and models we decided that even though eastern New Mexico offered a chance of severe thunderstorms we would pass up the chance and head back to Denver for a few days.

We stopped in Limon to visit the museum and found it to be very interesting. In fact, they have the old Limon Weather Service Office WSR-57 Radar Operators Console and RADAP-II data processor on display.

And there is a nice Mexican restaurant (Jenny's Mexican Food) just south of the truck stop.

06-09 June 2013

Boulder Foothills.Boulder Foothills.

Ouzel Lake, RMNP.Ouzel Lake, RMNP.

Not much chasing during this period. The ridge has amplified and temperatures aloft are very warm. This, coupled with a lack of good low-level moisture, has resulted in fairly stable and uninteresting storm conditions.

We took advantage of this time to visit with family and friends -- and to say goodbye to others -- in Boulder and Denver and to do a little recreating in the area.

We went trail running on the network of trails around Eldorado Springs -- just south of Boulder -- and enjoyed the spring wildflowers. We ran far enough up the trails to peek down into the rock climbing areas of Eldorado Canyon State Park and took time to reminisce about the climbing we did there so many years ago.

And we found time to hike up to Ouzel Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

10 June 2013

Thunderstorm in NW Nebraska.Thunderstorm in NW Nebraska.

Rain curtains in NW Nebraska.Rain curtains in NW Nebraska.

Back to storms! A strong upper-level jet will round the top of the ridge today. Much of the northern Plains will be in the right-front quadrant early, shifting to the right-rear quadrant late. We left for Wyoming and then watched some high-based storms form over the mountains while waiting at Orin Junction.

Moved east to Lusk, Wyoming, and did the same.

Finally, we pushed east towards the Pine Ridge region and Chadron, Nebraska. We stopped at an overlook about 30 miles west of Chadron to watch storms and take photographs. Still high based and unorganized. Drove into Chadron, then went south on US385 as the storm overtook us and produced some brief, moderate rain and a few very close cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. Made certain we were not touching any metal parts of the car while this was going on.

11 June 2013

Post HQTRS at Fort Robinson State Park.Post HQTRS at Fort Robinson State Park.

Small funnel below an eroding cumulus tower.Small funnel below an eroding cumulus tower.

Distant supercell over Thunder Basin in NE Wyoming.Distant supercell over Thunder Basin in NE Wyoming.

CBmam over Thunder Basin in NE Wyoming.CBmam over Thunder Basin in NE Wyoming.

Supercell over Thunder Basin in NE Wyoming.Supercell over Thunder Basin in NE Wyoming.

Cold outflow coming our way.Cold outflow coming our way.

We left Chadron late in the morning and made a stop at Fort Robinson State Park and briefly walked around the grounds. Drove west to Lusk, Wyoming, and had lunch at "The Pizza Place," which has very good pizza. We then drove north on US85 to Newcastle then west on WY460 and waited at the junction with WY116 for MattC and VinceM to join us from the west.

Along the way, we observed some small Cumulus towers with funnels below the eroding base. Most interesting.

Enhanced moisture was pushing westward as a surface low over Nebraska generated moderate southeasterly flow across the area. We targeted a storm west of WY116 and watched as it acquired supercell characteristics. At one point there were some wild striations and conical lowerings but intervening ridges prevented us from determining if these reached the ground.

As the storm moved to the ENE we moved northward as well to Upton, WY and then to the northwest along US16. Again, we saw some interesting striations and conical lowerings but, as before, intervening ridges prevented us from seeing what was going on. By now, the heavy rain to our north had resulted in a strong outflow pushing southward. We retreated to the south and watched the storms on the southern end slowly collapse as the cold outflow undercut their updrafts.

Calling it a day, we headed west then north to Gillette and had dinner at a new restaurant called Jordans. Pretty good -- not cheap.

12 June 2013

Climbers on the Tower.

Climbers on the Tower.

'Anvil Crawler' lightning."Anvil Crawler" lightning.

'Anvil Crawler' lightning."Anvil Crawler" lightning.

After evaluating the potential today we decided to call it a non-chase day. The best setup was expected to be across Montana and north-central Wyoming. Since I need to start for home tomorrow, I didn't want to get any farther away. So we decided to spend the day at Devils Tower National Monument. First we hiked around the tower taking photographs of the climbers. Then we did a trail run using another trail. As the afternoon wore on we kept checking for storms to our west in hopes of getting some nice sunset or lightning images of storms over the tower.

We were not disappointed.

As the sun set, storms moved in from the west and we watched lightning drop down around Devils Tower. The first storm moved away and we repositioned for the next storm as it moved to the north of the tower in twilight and early evening. This storm put out much more lightning and made a magnificent show. Best flash of the evening appeared to hit the top of Devils Tower although it may have been behind it. (And I didn't get a shot of it!) Eventually the outflow became too chilly and there was anvil lightning overhead so we called it a day.

13 June 2013

Diner along Rt. 26 in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska.Diner along Rt. 26 in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska.

CbMam over northeastern Colorado.CbMam over northeastern Colorado.

Colorado sunset.Colorado sunset.

It's a travel day and time to head back to Flagstaff. Models suggested that there would be convection across the High Plains with two areas highlighted--central Montana and northeast Colorado. We targeted the latter since it was on our way. But we started the day in Sundance, Wyoming, and that's a long drive.

As we traveled south across the Pawnee National Grasslands of northern Colorado we could see convection in the distance. Unfortunately, my Verizon wireless could not get a signal. Seems like a lot of rural areas use Viaero Wireless and there is no Verizon service. So we could only guess at what was going on.

Finally, as we neared I-76, we got data again. By this time, there was a short north-south line of strong cells south of the Brush-Fort Morgan area moving to the northeast. We headed south on CO63 and lost data again. We could see cells to the west but also cells to the south that were moving north. And all of this was closing in on us. So we bailed back to the north.

Just south of I-76 we stopped and watched a brief (non-mesocyclone) tornado that lasted only a few minutes.

We waited until the cores -- probably with lots of hail -- passed to the east and then drove to Denver for the night. As the sun set it lit up the remaining mammatus for a nice evening show.

Not bad for a travel day.

...The rest of the summer...

Lightning in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Lightning in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Afternoon storms developing over the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks
Afternoon storms developing over the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks.

Late morning convection near Mormon Lake.
Late morning convection near Mormon Lake.

Painted Desert lightning.
Painted Desert lightning.

Painted Desert lightning.
Painted Desert lightning.

Painted Desert lightning.
Painted Desert lightning.

After the storm in Grand Canyon.
After the storm in Grand Canyon.

Sunset virga.
Sunset virga.

Sunset Crater lightning.
Sunset Crater lightning.

And, then, there's the rest of the summer. By early July, the North American Monsoon had developed across Mexico and Arizona with its near daily thunderstorms. The first day of the summer rainy season began on 02 July in Flagstaff. The first one inch of rain fell in about six minutes. And by the time July was over the monthly rainfall total was 0.01" shy of the old record.

There were many thunderstorm days, but few that were photogenic and fewer still with good opportunities for lightning. So there are only a handful of lightning photographs. I spent a full day at Grand Canyon National Park trying to get some lightning images and got this single image of fractus clouds attached to some of the rocks in the inner canyon. And no lightning.