Head or Tails? May 28th

Posted on 30th May, 2018

After my alarm failed to wake me this morning, I panicked as I had overslept slightly. Not to worry however, as both Olly and Adam had done the same. It may have been the comfy bed and safer surroundings, or the fact there was a relaxing rumble of thunder all over the night. The risk for today was in our area and had been upgraded to an enhanced.


Discussing options over the impressive breakfast (it was a huge area with loads of space for the many guests). We thought that we would initially head south to Kansas (a town called Sharon Springs), but upon leaving, the SPC had updated their outlook to the option in NE Colorado and issued a 10% risk of tornadoes. This seemed like too good an opportunity for us to see a spinny thing, so at the next opportunity we turned west and set off towards NE Colorado, target towns between Wray, Yuma and Brush.


We stopped at Wray to re-evaluate as the data service in this neck of the woods is beyond dire. In fact, AT&T don't seem to be present here at all. We popped in to a Subway here and the staff were quite excited to see us as storm chasers. The guy who took payment even called us weather heroes (although I do think that is pushing it a little...).


Reevaluating, with a recent mesocale discussion issued, we needed to drop south, so pointed the journey to Idalia, which eventually saw us drop back down through a boundary to Burlington (again).


cloudy on all levels

Low level clouds made it hard to locate updrafts


Refuelling here, we sat and waited for initiation. Looking above our heads, the sheer of the clouds was insane. Lower level clouds were moving one way, mid-level clouds moving another and the upper level clouds moving in yet another direction.  That was on top of the surface winds moving in (yes you guessed it) another direction. My only concern was the wind sheer was too great that it would sheer off any updrafts that formed.


Unfortunately there was a lot of lower level clouds that made it difficult to see the updrafts forming. I had my eye on one to our west, just north of Flagler. It had gone up quite quickly, was sat on the outflow boundary and throwing out lightning according to Radarscope. Another had formed to our east, also growing quickly. I had opted for a preference to the Flagler updraft, namely as it reminded me of some of the other big chases I had been on with Netweather, but a 2-1 concensus to go for the cell to our east, which was growing quickly but had moved north of the boundary.


Heading north and then eastwards, we followed the cell as it started to track northeast We were able to stop a few times to observe the impressive updraft that was forming and its corkscrewing nature. Frequent cloud-to-ground lightning and the mild rotating nature gave us a bit of confidence that we may be on the right storm. Our only concern was that the bases seemed a bit too high, even though we were in a hilly area.


Radarscope had indicated a hail marker on this storm of about 1.5" hail, and we wanted to get ahead of this storm before we got cored and lost view of the bases that had formed.  As we were driving along, I did spot a wall cloud and a funnel descending from it, although the others in the car did not spot this. It would appear that I wasn't the only one to do so. As we brushed by the edge of the core, all the phones in the car buzzed and flashed up that we were in a tornado warned storm polygon. Excitement grew, but we had now passed by St Francis in Nebraska, where the data signal just didn't exist. Keeping watch on the storm, we made it a safe distance in front and observed it dying off. Without any access to radar or other observations, we had no option but to head west (back on the road to Wray) to re-evaluate what our next move was to be.


Finally reaching Wray, we could see the extent of the storm that kicked off north of Flagler. This storm was latched on the boundary and spinning away like crazy. It seemed from Facebook that every chaser and their significant others were on this storm and sharing some impressive pictures of landspouts and tornadoes. We were too far north and too late to be able to get there and to join in the fun. A little demotivated, we turned south and followed down the eastern edge of the line of storms that it had produced.


This line of storms did look relatively impressive, so after booking a hotel in Colby, Kansas, we gave chase to this line, that was making its way towards us. Adam noted that at times the bases had lowerings and we think this could have been due to the lower level jets that were kicking in. quite often we would see wall clouds briefly form and the occasional funnel that would drop down from the angry skies.


Sadly, it wasn't to be. We called it a day of lessons learned and I drove the hour or so drive back to Colby. The drive was made interesting by the occasional blast of strong cold outflow (which was powerful enough to shift the car into another lane if you weren't prepared for it) and the lightning show in front. I can't seem to review my action cam footage too well on this laptop (I think it is on its way to the scrap pile, but I did film the journey and hope to have some spectacular anvil crawlers in my files!)


As it was late, most of Corby had shut up shop for the night, leaving us with just a Burger King as our evening meal. We rolled up and noticed that Paul and the Netweather team were already there (celebrating the tornadoes they had seen). It was a bit embarrassing going in knowing they had scored success and we had failed, but we had learned some valuable lessons today. Paul gave us hope for a great set up for the morning and a few brilliant tips. He also offered us the target area for the morning. We were thankful of the offer, but we respectfully declined - we are out here to learn and make our own mistakes by putting our knowledge into practice.


We finished our Whopper meals and head the short journey across Colby to our Super 8 hotel. A few beers and a lightning show helped build our spirits back up. Paul and his guests were also staying at the Super 8, where we spent a few hours watching the lightning and discussing chasing tips. He said we should nail the chase in the morning.


At about midnight, we all went back to our rooms and slept. We needed the sleep, as we expected the next chase to be impressive.

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