Recently our very own Michael Bath, embarked on a three week storm chasing adventure in the USA with Jason Paterson and Rodney Wallbridge. The road trip covered thousands of miles chasing 12 tornadoes across the central plains. We asked him to keep a journal and share stories with us on his return. Today I am sharing two days in the life of a storm chaser on what I imagine, must have been the trip of a lifetime.
WEDNESDAY 27TH MAY
The setup today looked great with the Storm Prediction Centre upgrading to an enhanced slight risk. Looking through the models the place to be appeared to be on the Texas/Oklahoma border near Shattuck or just west of there. Indications were that an isolated supercell would develop by early afternoon in the Texas Panhandle. We drove into position and sure enough cumulus was developing.
One cell soon exploded just to our WSW. Powerful updrafts and anvil filled the sky and soon killed off other nearby convection. A wall cloud was apparent on the north side for some time but we soon observed that the storm was splitting with the south right mover base looking very interesting. We moved west then south to be in position.
A large funnel cloud formed adjacent to the bear’s cage. A quick stop for that! We then moved a little further south to just north of Canadian, Texas. The storm was barely moving so we were able to watch various stages of intensification and cycling of the base and updraft features.
Closing in on 5pm the base took on a much more menacing and dynamic appearance with obvious rotation and clear slot from the RFD. Winds had backed to easterly from SE and had strengthened. A collar cloud wrapped in, part of which was over us! Then just before 5pm a massive cone tornado formed in a matter of seconds.
Unbelievable - and it was barely a mile away. A scramble to record and photograph everything as the tornado evolved into various shapes, but also remained in the one spot. We were in the mesocyclone and got hit by a few bursts of fat rain drops but no hail. After nearly 10 minutes the tornado roped out but the storm was far from dying. We hadn’t noticed another circulation right overhead in all the excitement. We moved into Canadian and SE a bit for more views. The precipitation was closing in and we soon got hit by some hail to 2cm. Moving back west and then south of town, the storm had now organised again and dropped two brief tornadoes in a similar position to the earlier one.
One last move south to a high spot and we were able to watch the last strong phase including a couple of funnel clouds before a wrap around of the precipitation from the west led to cold outflow and the demise of the storm as tornadic.
What a day. We then drove to Woodward, OK for accommodation. This storm had pretty much developed at a location NW of Canadian and remained anchored there for about five hours.
SUNDAY 31ST MAY
We left Raton, New Mexico aiming for southeast Wyoming as the initial target. The scenery is spectacular through to the west of the Interstate 25 with snow capped peaks. Some high based convection was occurring from late morning but seeing Pikes Peak in the distance was too much so we decided to take a detour up there for some sightseeing. What a drive! We were able to get to 13000 feet until stopped by the ranger as too much snow had fallen higher up - in fact it was the snowiest month ever there.
We did a walk across the snow to one of the peaks enjoying being on top of the world.
Snowy looking showers were nearby and just as we left the top it hit. Lots of small soft hail and one almighty flash of lightning right nearby!
Detour over, it was time to pursue the storms in eastern Colorado. Activity was under way by the time we left Colorado Springs so headed towards Limon for the first intercept. This had a high based shelf cloud.
About this time an isolated thunderstorm had shot up just in Kansas northeast of our location. It was powerful from the outset so we decided to race east along the interstate for an intercept. Fortunately it was moving very slowing towards the south and even back building west of south - right along the Kansas Colorado border.
We caught up with it at Burlington. Meanwhile out first storm had strengthened to our SW and was developing towards the east. We enjoyed an amazing display of boiling updrafts and wall cloud features included some funnel clouds.
Moving south the two big hailstorms were interacting. Lightning was flicking through the updrafts. Moving south some more as the storms collided then seemed to speed up towards the SE. We looked for some hail and unfortunately got the car stuck on a muddy road before getting out of that! We then found hail drifts with stones up to 3.5cm, plus some sunset lightning. The original target today busted so the detour meant we were able to get some great storms.
Michael Bath - National Operations Manager.
What an incredible experience! I will share more from Michael's travels soon. In the meantime, we would love to feature your stories here on our blog. Introduce yourself. Tell us what you would like to share. See this post here. Looking forward to getting to meeting you. Roweena.