North Platte Light Show - May 27th

Posted on 29th May, 2018

It was one of those days where you wanted to be up quick to get out of a hotel. Although we had slept well (mostly due to the few beers we had at the restaurant and the length of the travel day that we had the day prior), we thought that an early departure would be for the best. Adam didn't think much of the breakfast, although Olly said it wasn't too bad. A crusty waffle iron and a dodgy pot of coffee (with some staple cereals available), it didn't really inspire our appetites. Additionally, the guy on reception (hidden behind a red curtain) didn't make us feel overly comfortable. I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and returned to the room to pack up.


Burlington was a good place to wake up though, with our target area of north eastern Colorado and the Nebraskan panhandle (again). We stopped at the Burlington McDonalds for a McBreakfast before making tracks on our journey. Olly took the wheel for the first stretch of the trip, stopping off in Wray (Colorado), where the most picturesque tornado I've ever had the pleasure of looking at photos of dropped in early May 2016. Olly stopped at the same point that he did during that chase. You could almost imagine the tornado rolling through the scene...but sadly no such luck when we stopped there today.  The weather was warm (86F+) but the skies were grey and murky, making spotting any storms firing difficult. Definitely one where you needed the radar and satellite imagery (and faith in your own abilities to get somewhere).


Grey and non-descript skies

Grey and non-descript skies with every photographers'

dream companion, powelines


Adam took over a little later on, stopping at Julesburg for some fuel. Everywhere seemed to be closed at lunch, but we figured it was the Sunday of a holiday weekend. A gas station lunch of Pringles and a muffin (my guts hate me!) for us all. I soon took over not long after this and ended up travelling the wrong direction for a few miles, due to a missed fork in the sliproad on the interstate.


The storms had already started firing to our south west and were heading north east. We decided to stay out in front of the line and head east and then north where we had the opportunity. Unfortunately, the roads were a little unforgiving, with a good east-west road but little in the way of good north-south roads. The terrain was also a bit hilly, making spotting bases more difficult.


Early bases forming

Bases dropping down to our south


We continued east before pulling off the interstate at Big Spring and following the highway 30 towards Brule. At Brule, we pulled over to observe the storm forming behind us. A few bases had already been spotted and the lightning started to ramp up. We wanted a good view of the bases, but highway 30 gave us trees. lots of trees. We decided that at Brule, there was a more rural road north, so we drove this road and up the hilly landscape to observe further.


Pulling off the road, we observed a few wall clouds forming from the line of storms that this system had now become. Lightning rained down in great numbers and we enjoyed the near continual rumble of thunder. Mammatus clouds formed above our heads and with the wall clouds forming, we were getting excited for a potential tornado.


Stormy skies in Roscoe

A storm is a-comin' 


These storms were heading north east at a rapid rate, so we returned down the windy rural road, rejoined highway 30 and continued eastwards to Ogallala. Being in a town made for poorer viewing conditions, so we continued eastwards and eventually pulled over by a railway crossing to a farm. Whilst we pulled over, lightning was becoming more frequent, given the fact the storms were increasing in intensity and we enjoyed  watching areas of rotation on the storm.


One of the farmers came out to talk to us and find out what the storm was doing. We advised it was likely it was going to push on and skip by them. Another farmer's wife came out with her young boy to also say hello. after about 5 or so minutes, we decided to push on further east from Roscoe through Paxton and onwards to Sutherland.



Storms intenifying near Oglalla


Sutherland gave us opportunity to review our options. The storm appeared to be decreasing in intensity and with the absence of the lower level jets, we felt any hopes for a tornado from this storm were gone. With potentially the end of the chase in sight, we head back towards the precipitation and aimed to park up as the 0.5-1" hail rolled over us. With frequent cloud to ground lightning striking within half mile of our location during the drive, it became an adrenaline fuelled drive. Midway through the precipitation, we parked up in the opening of a cattle ranch and enjoyed the light show. Sadly, the hail was much smaller than what we were expecting, only reaching small-peas in size.


Olly got out when the worst of it was over and watched as the road became a river of water, flowing off the roads into the side drain. Looking at our options, we decided that we would call it a day and stay in North Platte, Nebraska for the night. Olly booked us the Quality Inn and Suites (which, for once, actually lived up to its name). As we were about to pull into the hotel, a deer ran at full speed in front of the car, but thanks to quick reactions and pokey brakes, it managed to cross in front of us without us crashing in to it. The wildlife out here seems to be suicidal this year!


Mammatus outside our hotel in North Platte

Mammatus outside our hotel in North Platte


All checked in and settled in our rooms, we decided to head for some food at the nearby Perkins diner. We wanted to eat quickly as there were storms following behind the ones that we were chasing and they were due to pass overhead. As we left for the diner, we could see the shelf cloud of the storm passing towards us rapidly. I rushed down to the car to put my SJCAM on the dashboard and left it to record as we went on to eat. Approaching the diner, the gust that came from the storm kicked up a lot of dust, causing a small dust storm as we rushed the short distance to the diner.


Dinner complete, we returned to see some storms heading towards us again. Daniel Gregory had made his way here and suggested we meet him for some drinks in the bar. This bar is the one where storm chasers can sign the menu, so eyesonjason is now immortalised on a menu in Nebraska (well, until the pen fades anyway).


Finishing our drinks, the storm that had been firing away in the distance had become extremely close. Frequent cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, coupled with cloud-to-cloud lightning made it easy pickings to get photographs of lightning in this storm. So easy in fact that it was actually much harder to take a picture of the sky that was without some form of lightning! We also experienced our first shotgun thunder event, when a CG struck about quarter a mile to our south, with the thunder that followed sounding like a shotgun blast happening beside you. Incredible night - with plenty of footage captured to sort through and publish when back in the UK.


Frequent lightning on a severe warned storm in North Platte, Nebraska

Frequent lightning on a severe-warned storm in North Platte


When the intensity died down, I gave Hannah a video call to let her know I was safe, before falling asleep.  The SPC had upgraded the risk from a slight to an enhanced with a 5% chance of tornadoes for the next day, so sleep was definitely needed to be fresh for the day ahead.

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