Storm Chase Log: "Saved by Great Bend" 4/7-4/9/13 1680 Miles
Hopes were high for what looked like a potential significant severe weather event sometime around the 10th of April. Not only did the storm system look significant, I had yet to kick off my chase season and I was chopping at the bit. Models were showing a strong trough moving in off the coast of California and arriving over the central plains at the same time as significant moisture from the Gulf of mexico. Instability would be in place along with intense wind shear and a massive low pressure system providing the lift needed for severe weather and potential tornadoes. As the models came into line and the storm system arrived it would turn out this system was a bit of a mirage. The storm never materialized at the level that was anticipated and many storm chasers left for home disappointed. Thankfully...I was not one of them. [custom_frame_center]
Day 1 South West/Central Kansas.
I departed for South Western Kansas on the morning of 4/7 after models the night before began to hint that this system was not going to be as big of a severe weather producer as had been anticipated. Regardless, I decided it was worth a go. I had to rent a vehicle for the first time in my storm chasing career, due to my chase vehicle being on its last legs. I knew I would be travelling a long ways and did not want to end up stuck with broke down car.
I have a different view than many people in the storm chasing world. Well maybe not many, but a lot of chasers view storm chasing with the "glass half empty" attitude. I look at storm chasing as an opportunity to see nature at work. This could be thunder, lightning, wind, hail, rain or if the cards line up a beautiful tornado. This mentality has allowed me to catch some amazing things when many had given up on the chase. Photography is my specialty and 95% of the time I can find a needle in the haystack scene to save the entire trip. This chase was a perfect example.
I arrived in Dodge City Kansas the afternoon of 4/7 after getting a late start from Pueblo West. I love Dodge City. If you have never been, it is a true Kansas gem. Not only due to the history of the town, but the old west vibe. The day was set up with the potential for storms firing on a warm front that was advancing from the South. The ingredients were in place for severe weather, but there was one problem. A strong cap was in place over much of Kansas. A cap (a warm layer in the mid levels of the atmosphere) can turn a promising severe weather day into nothing but sunshine. I waited in Dodge City trying to hold my position in a spot where the cap was weaker. Many chasers were staged in Greensburg and Pratt where better parameters were in place, but the cap was stronger. Sure enough...cumulus towers began to go up near my location. I watched as they would go up and die just as quickly. The cap was holding here. Often a cap will hold for sometime and then give away in one big boom later in the afternoon. I anticipated this happening where I was located.
These early cells did not have enough dynamics to break the cap and were quickly eroded. After watching a few of these go up and down I saw on radar that a few storms were brewing further to the NE near Great Bend. I waited and watched for awhile thinking that due to being in a less favorable environment these new cells had even less of chance than the ones I was watching. Turns out one little thunderstorm that could would be the storm of the day. One of the storms to my NE went severe warned and I knew that I had to make a move being that I was an hour away. I headed towards Great Bend and the cell I was after began to look more and more promising as it was dropping large hail. Eventually every chaser in the area made a dash for the only storm of the day.
I made it to the Great Bend supercell and moved towards the back side of the storm as I did not have time to get around to the front.. The majority of storm chasers in the area did make it to the front and I was somewhat alone on the backside. Boy was I lucky I made it to the storm and I was double lucky that I was one of the only chasers on this side. Below is a an image from my unobstructed view of the Great Bend supercell.
After watching this supercell bubble up in absolute beauty I decided to travel East and see what the storm looked like on the other side. I made my way into Great Bend and was again amazed at what I was seeing. This storm, not large by any means and not particularly strong had incredible structure. It was even more incredible as it loomed over the city.
I followed the storm through the city of Great Bend but it had run out of steam and I was more than happy with this chase. A few storm chasers did see some small spin ups that were possible tornadoes but nothing could match the view of this storm from afar. I decided to stay in Great Bend for the night and re-position for day two in the morning.
Day 2 Eastern Colorado/SW Kansas
I woke up in Great Bend to a development that I had anticipated the night before. The upper level low had slowed down a good deal would arrive later that evening and spark severe weather in Colorado of all places. The SPC had placed NE Colorado as a great target for tornadoes. I did not anticipate chasing in Colorado this early in the year and I was excited to make my way towards home turf. I began my drive towards Eastern Colorado in some very thick fog. I always hate driving in fog..I would prefer navigating around a tornado over driving in the fog. The fog lifted in NW Kansas and I decided to position myself South of Burlington. The initial threat for tornadoes weakened some as the dynamics were not as strong going into the afternoon. Storms fired near Burlington around 4pm and my initial thoughts were that they were lacking moisture and would have a difficult time surviving. I watched as one storm went severe warned with some moderate hail. The anvil on this storm was washed out and did not look promising. I felt this storm was not going to cut it and started looking at other options. There were actually two targets this day the first being Colorado/NW Kansas and the second being the warm front/dry line in SW Kansas. After watching what looked like a storm in a struggle to survive, I decided to move to the second target in SW Kansas. This was very risky as the second target had a very strong cap in place. I rushed towards SW Kansas hoping I could make it if the cap was broken. Turns out my rush was for not, as the cap never broke. To make matters worse the storm in Colorado actually did get stronger. It eventually produced several small tornadoes and some great structure. I did not miss anything epic but the moral of this day is never leave a storm that is already developed for a storm that does not exist. The storms in NE Colorado moved into NW Kansas and produced some significant hail. I made my way to Dodge City to get ready for day three. Some interesting developments took place in Colorado as more storms fired up in a odd spring environment. This actually allowed a tornado (weak one) to be on the ground and associated with a storm that was dropping snow at the same time. Wow! Spring in Colorado...always full of surprises.
Day 3 SW Oklahoma/NW Texas
I began the final day of my chase trip by making my way to Weatherford Oklahoma for a dry line target in SW Oklahoma. Once again what started as a strong set up the night before weakened by mid day of the chase and severe weather was becoming less likely as the day wore on. I still felt a good chance for tornadoes existed near the Red River so I made my way down to Frederick Oklahoma to wait for the next development. As the day wore on a cold front came crashing through Oklahoma and for all intensive purposes wiped out the severe weather threat. This was frustrating as I held ground around the Red River for quite some time. A lot of chasers were out this day and we were fooled by this rapidly moving cold front. Two days with not a single picture of a severe storm. You may think this was reason to be frustrated. Not so. I was more than satisfied with the Great Bend cell as it was one of my best photos of a supercell to date. Would I have been less frustrated if I were able to capture storms and even better tornadoes on all three days? Of course, but this rarely happens. As I said before, you really have to have a glass half full mentality with storm chasing. There is a great deal of adversity to overcome and the majority of it is out of your control. So, I began my long trek home. Some interesting developments took place on my way home. Severe storms did eventually develop in parts of Oklahoma and Kansas. They were not photogenic so I really did not miss anything. More interesting were the conditions these storms formed in. After the cold front crashed through temperatures dropped within minutes. A massive temperature gradient was in place and many locations went from spring to winter in a flash. How can a severe storm form in winter conditions? It turned out a layer of unstable air was in place above the cold air near the surface. This allowed thunderstorms to develop and actually drop hail in sub freezing temperatures. Very odd indeed. Central Oklahoma ended up getting a substantial ice storm from this event. On my way home I stumbled upon a great scene near Childress Texas with an old farm house and wave clouds above.
I also ran into a sizable snow storm as I made my way over Raton Pass.
I made it home safe and this trip was saved by one supercell. Had I not pushed NE to catch the Great Bend storm on day one, I would have come home empty handed. The funny thing is the day that I caught the Great Bend storm was forecasted to be the weakest day of the three for storm chasing. This highlights the point that on any given day while storm chasing you can catch something amazing, even it only be for a moment. This spring has started off very slow for storm chasing. It will be interesting to see how it ends up. It seems that winter will not release its grip. Until next time..CHASE WITH PASSION!