Thursday, July 19, 2012

7/18/2012 Wadena, Saskatchewan Tornadoes


Hold on, let's try that again.  Wowwwww.

Wednesday was certainly one of my top 5 storm chase days.  We awoke early in Bismarck, ND and set our sites on Yorkton, SK as an initial target.  We analyzed as much as we could from the US side of the border, as we were limited by our data availability in Canada.  After checking into our hotel and grabbing some lunch in Yorkton, we began to notice agitated cumulus begging to develop roughly 100 miles to our northwest (thanks to the folks at Boston Pizza for letting us use their wireless network!).  We took off for the Mud/Quill Lake area and ended up pitting for ice cream in Foam Lake, SK.  Our agitated cumulus were now beginning to tower quite nicely, and we latched on to a severe storm just N of Quill Lake.  This supercell was gorgeous, displaying mid-level striations and a blocky wall cloud in the presence of beautiful yellow canola fields.

Beautiful supercell north of Quill Lake. Canola field makes the shot!
This storm tried to tornado a couple times, but tornadogenesis failed due to a new storm to the south beginning to taint the inflow of our initial storm.  We noticed this visually, and dropped south to intercept the new dominant supercell.  This storm was also visually appealing, but not imminently tornadic.

New southern supercell (looking W)
However, the supercell appeared to interact with a warm-frontal boundary and rapidly began to tighten its low-level circulation.  An RFD surge was also noted, but again, circulation just could not get tight enough at the surface for a tornado.  The next cycle of this storm is where things really began to get interesting.  It was a classic supercell structure and cycle, one for a textbook.  We positioned ourselves 1/2 to 1/4 mile south of the where we thought the mesocyclone would cross the road.  The supercell went tornadic quickly, dropping a large cone tornado a mile or two to our WNW and tracked it across the road in front of us at a maximum distance of 1/4 mile.

Cone tornado just northeast of Wadena, SK.
Large cone tracking east toward our position. 
 Wrapping rain curtains from the RFD made it nearly impossible to stay in our current location (without getting damage or putting ourselves in jeopardy), so we jogged east and north to reposition for another cycle.  The storm was indeed cyclic, producing another tornado just to our northwest. 

Occlusion and new tornado
Rapid rotation (sometimes funnel, sometimes tornado) passing to our north
We again jogged east and north to find the storm beginning a new (and visually stronger) mesocyclone.  This cycle produced a pretty elephant trunk tornado in front of a canola field (the shot I've been waiting for!). 

Elephant trunk tornado gracing canola (E of Wadena, SK, looking NE)
Additionally, there was this little bird fart landspout type tornado that occurred during the madness of cycles. I think it was roughly around the time of this tornado, so I will throw it in here.

Landspout looking toward the WNW.
After making our way east again, it was apparent that the storms were becoming more high-precipitation in nature.  We continued east to stay ahead of a now surging supercell, and were treated with some amazing convective structure.

CoD vans posing
Highly sheared HP beast as we stay back for structure views
We had about a 40 min. drive back to our already checked into hotel (storm chasers can appreciate how nice of a feeling this is).  Boston Pizza was again our hangout for the evening, where we enjoyed dinner and a couple cold Canadian beers.  A day for the vault!
Keep an eye on my Facebook / Youtube page for video and timelapse movies in the upcoming days (most likely after I return home).

Monday, July 16, 2012

7/15-7/16 Aurora Borealis

We were treated with a neat display of the Northern Lights while driving back to Grand Forks, ND after chasing on Sunday.  This is only the second time that I have witnessed an Aurora, and the first time that I was actually able to photograph.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

7/15/2012 Border Balancing

Sunday was the first day in “chase mode” with College of Dupage’s fifth trip of the year.  While we did not witness any tornadoes (despite our storm being tornado warned several times), we were treated with a large and laminar-based HP supercell near Columbus, ND.  Despite favorable ingredients, the storm was very outflow dominant, and never really had that tornadic look to it.  I’m not exactly sure what the failure mechanism was today.  250 hPa ridging?  Too much warm air aloft?  The afternoon environment seemed rather favorable for rotating supercells (hence SPC tornado watch issuance, and subsequent upgrade to 5% tornado probabilities in the late afternoon outlook).  Either way, we had an enjoyable day and look forward to the convective potential later in the week in Canada.  
Outflow dominant convection near Columbus, ND

Saturday, June 23, 2012

2012 Summer Wildlife

I have been photographing wildlife near my parents house most of the summer when I have had downtime from chasing and moving.  Enjoy some images below of critters in their natural habitat.

Turtle Trio!  But...can you find five painted turtles?
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Big turtle, little turtle
Baby Painted Turtle
Bald Eagle
Great Blue Heron in flight
Purple Martin Silhouette
Soaring Turkey Vulture
Adult Great Blue Heron

6/8 - 6/12 2012 Check Yo' Mileage

Mid June provided a lot of driving with few opportunities for classic supercells.  Alas, Walker and I trekked to the northern and central High Plains for storm photography chances, as chasing opportunities were dwindling for both of us (I have one more trip coming up in mid-July).  It is nice to take personal chasing trips, as logistics of tour-guided chases be stressful (e.g., lodging for 18 folks, forecasting pressure, bathroom stops, food).  Personal trips often provide unique opportunities to become close with Ma' Nature, especially when your daily average mileage for the trip nears 800 mi.!   Along the way, we were able to take in some beautiful landscapes including:  Teddy Roosevelt National Park, Pikes Peak, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Collegiate Peaks, and Capulin Volcano National Monument (second trip there for me in less than a month!). 

I love guiding people into the Plains, but it sure is nice to have a personal trip once in awhile...
Sunset at Teddy Roosevelt National Park
Panny view at summit of Pikes Peak
New Mexico Severe Convection

88-D BREF  of our "cute" little cell
Pretty NM convection
Beautiful Mountain Sunset
Great Sand Dunes National Park
High Park, CO Wildfire (Northern CO) made many scenes on our trip hazy

Saturday, May 26, 2012

5/25/2012 LaCrosse, KS HaboobNado

Friday contained feelings of disappointment and amazement.  Highlights included a few brief dusty tornadoes just northeast of LaCrosse, KS, including a large dusty haboob-like rear flank occlusion.  The local environment was primed for tornadic supercells, characterized by a northward lifting warm front with backed easterly flow, adequate deep-layer wind shear, plenty 'o moisture, and steep lapse rates contributing to modest instability.  The small limiting factor were the dewpoint depressions, contributing to less than ideal LCLs/LFCs.  Thus, parcels were not "convecting" in the lowest portion of the atmosphere and taking advantage of the excellent low-level directional shear.  As the boundary layer began to cool around sunset, supercells near LaCrosse and Hays began became more tornadic with a 46 minute tornado occurring near LaCrosse.  Unfortunately for us, we stuck with the first storm and just could not understand why it could not get its act together despite the favorable ingredients in place.  We followed this storm east of Hays and new convection began to fire further to the southwest on the now stalled warm front.  We gave it a look initially on radar but figured it was best to just stay put and try to take lightning photos as the sun began to set.  Stupidly, I sat out of the car for about 30 minutes enjoying the sky and taking photos and was not watching radar. Hence, I failed to navigate us to the LaCrosse storm as it began to produce a tornadofest.  I was angry with myself at first, but I realized that it is impossible to see every tornado even if one makes a good forecast (our morning target was LaCrosse and we sat there all afternoon; shoot!).  While I had a bad taste in my mouth most of the night, Craig and Tony were absolutely fascinated with the initial supercell to the northeast of LaCrosse.  Honestly, it was great to see them so excited.  Sometimes experience can immune one to the real joy and excitement that is being on the Great Plains observing convection.  The UGA guys reluctantly head back tomorrow, but it has been great having them as company.  As for me, I will give it one more shot in KS/NE tomorrow before heading home for Memorial Day.
Initiation near LaCrosse, KS
 Supercell beginning to organize just northeast of LaCrosse

Brief tornado underneath a rotating wall cloud
Dust associated with an occluding RFD
 Holy dust!
 Time to coin the term Haboobnado?
Starting to look more shelfy now...Was hard to tell if this was a gustnado or associated with pendant just to the north
 Closeup of above
 Sunset supercell & lightning near Hays
 Lightning from this storm actually sparked a wildfire!
Explosive afternoon development across KS via visible satellite

5/24/2012 Wilson Lake State Park

Tony, Craig (UGA graduate students), and I decided to call off Thursday's chasing possibilities in southeast KS due to a strong cap and instead ventured to Wilson Lake State Park in north central KS to camp.  It was a very picturesque location (especially for KS!) and provided a perfect location to set up for our Friday chasing opportunities near Hays, KS.  We enjoyed a fire and a few beverages before calling it an evening. 

This picture is dedicated to our fianc├ęs Jenna and Caitlin :-)
 Beautiful sunset at Wilson Lake State Park

5/23/2012 COnvection

We targeted a marginal setup for supercells in eastern CO on Wednesday with limited moisture in an upslope regime.  One of the supercells sported some nice structure and treated us with a pretty sky just before dusk.  We stayed in Colby, KS on Wednesday night and made it to our hotel before getting a nice hailstorm.  Check back for a timelapse of this setting in the near future...

 Eastern CO supercell
Interesting sky north of Kit Carson, CO

Sunday, May 20, 2012

5/19/2012 Kingman/Harper, KS Tornadoes

We did it!  CoD Trip 2 had everything on the line Saturday after a quiet week in the severe weather world.  We had been watching Saturday's setup for a few days and knew it would be our only hope to bag a tube before heading back to IL.  We awoke at a nice Fairfield Inn in Hays, KS (first time staying there actually; however, I've stayed in Hays numerous other times) with maps printed and ready to analyze.  John Monteverdi (SFSU professor) chatted with us in the morning and was excited to see our students performing hand analysis of the morning observational data.  You could sense the excitement amongst the students, even though it was admittedly not one of the best tornado setups.  Optimistic would probably be the best way to describe our feeling about the day because we were sure there would be storms due to the forcing for ascent, but moisture was limited and upper-level wind vectors were aligned parallel to the surface initiating boundary.  Given these caveats, we were worried that storms in central KS would interact with one another and congeal into an MCS rather quickly.  In days leading up to Saturday, we talked about targeting the Woodward, OK area due to better shear vector orientations relative to the dryline.  However, we noticed this area beginning to fold over and surge southeast due to a building surface ridge on the lee side of the Rockies related to subsidence behind the advancing vorticity maximum. The boundary instead sagged in more of an east/west fashion leading to similar problems of what we were expecting to happen in central KS.  Instead of heading to western OK for the later show due to a stronger cap, we instead hung out most of the afternoon in Pratt, KS watching visible satellite.  It was decided that a better chase strategy would be to play the tail end of bubbling cumulus just west of our location.  These storms quickly became prolific hail producers, but it was apparent that the strength of the forcing and cap were leading to a non-supercellular convective mode.  What happened next was amazing...  We started noticing several high-based [LCLs were near 3 km] funnels just west of Kingman, KS.  A couple of these funnels eventually turned into tornadoes, but they were not associated with mesocyclones.  Instead, I'm assuming that preexisting vorticity near the surface boundary was being stretched by the rapid vertical acceleration near the surface due to the nearly dry adiabatic lapse rates.  Numerous tornadoes were being reported west of Kingman by late afternoon.  We kept dropping south/east with the storm motions and witnessed a long-lived tornado near Harper, KS.  Looking at radar, this tornado appeared to be more of a hybrid with a clear inflow notch and a supercell-like hook echo appendage.  Either way, this tornado was very pretty and the students were fascinated.  The group on this trip was one of the best I've ever had and it was great to get to know them / learn about their lives.  Ten days that I will not soon forget...
Beautiful sky as storms begin to initiate
 Dust being kicked up from mesoscale boundaries
 W of Kingman, KS
 High-based funnel near Kingman
 Needle tornado near Kingman
 Elephant trunk near Harper, KS
 Harper take two...
 Panny view as storms begin to become "shelfy"
0-3km vorticity generation potential valid at 00z 19 May 2012
Getting creative with the CoD Van.  Kudos to Amy for thinking of this! 
 After creating the legs of the Wicked Witch, we found the TIV and decided to make a funny photo opportunity.  It was quite a hit with the ROTATE folk.