Colorado Tornadoes

Originally forecast to be in the Wyoming/Nebraska Panhandle into South Dakota areas, the severe weather threat dropped into Northern Colorado on the morning of June 12th.  The Storm Prediction Center issued a Particularly Dangerous Situation moderate risk with a tornado watch extending down into north central Colorado.  Here is some wording from the watch:

   The NWS Storm Prediction Center has issued a

   * Tornado Watch for portions of 
     Northeast Colorado
     Western Nebraska Panhandle
     Southeast Wyoming

   * Effective this Monday afternoon and evening from 110 PM until
     800 PM MDT.

   ...THIS IS A PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION...

   * Primary threats include...
     Several tornadoes and a few intense tornadoes likely
     Widespread large hail expected with scattered very large hail
       events to 4 inches in diameter likely
     Isolated significant damaging wind gusts to 75 mph possible

   SUMMARY...Isolated intense supercell thunderstorms are expected to
   develop across the watch area this afternoon.  Giant hail and strong
   tornadoes will be possible in the most intense storms.

Hazard Tornadoes EF2+ Tornadoes
Likelihood High High
Severe Wind 65 kt+ Wind
Moderate Moderate
Severe Hail 2″+ Hail
High High

I have not seen wording like this for Colorado in a long time, if ever…”Giant hail and strong tornadoes…”, and “scattered very large hail events up to 4 inches likely“.  Wow!

I drove Highway 85 north from Aurora.  By the time I was in Brighton they were saying baseball hail had fallen in Pierce from the southern storm.  The most southern cell wasn’t big but did look like it had fantastic storm structure.  Unfortunately I was too far north to see the structure clearly.  I was tempted to drive SW towards Loveland and check it out, but seeing the supercell in front of me kept me on it!  

Photo viewing is recommended in higher resolution, just click on the photos.

Barber Pole Supercell

The barber pole structure on this supercell was very tempting to spot from a better location, but I wanted to stay on the stronger storm!

The first tornado warning (radar indicated) appeared while I was east of Ault on the supercell I was on.  There definitely was a defined wall cloud and everything looked “right” with the storm, it was just a matter of time.

Lowering wall cloud on the southern side of the supercell. It was tornado warned at this time just north of Briggsdale.

You can see the rotating wall cloud and funnel .

This is taken outside of Grover looking northwest, the tornado was down near Hereford.

The tornado was on the ground for 16 minutes and did some structural damage (one road was closed due to debris/powerlines in the road).  It was rated EF-2 with 111-135 mph winds.  

Tornado showing mesocyclone.

The ropeout phase was pretty amazing, look how long and needle thin the tornado vortex was!

I stopped just east of Hereford as the hail looked pretty amazing laying everywhere. Hail didn’t pile up on the ground like some storms, but it was everywhere and the smallest size was around quarter sized!  Then there were stones up to softball size laying around!  I am fascinated by large hail and spent some time just checking out these amazing ice crystals! 

I found a good article that explains white versus clear ice.  

Example of how the hail was lying around everywhere! Not covering the ground, but big stones!

On radar the storm still had an intense velocity couplet after the tornado!

Driving towards Bushnell out of Pine Bluffs I saw another tornado touchdown but only for a minute.  As I headed east of Bushnell, I saw a tornado NE of town; but there were no easy spots to pull off so I just watched it as I drove.  When I finally found a pull-out from the road, a train went by blocking my view for about 5 minutes.  After the train, I caught the rope out.  Looking back to the NW, I saw another tornado but was never able to get a good picture of it!  

Rope out NE of Bushnell, NE.

I ended up calling it a day near Chimney Rock as I watched the amazing mothership sail off into the distance!  

 

 

Capturing Lightning on a Cell Phone

Lightning is one of the things I look forward to most during Spring and Summer months!  I love photography and have been able to get some nice lightning strikes normally with my digital SLR camera.  Lightning on a cell phone isn’t that difficult, however, assuming you have some know-how and a more advanced camera app on your phone.  There is certainly luck involved, but a little technical knowledge and a cell phone with advanced options can allow you to catch Mother Nature’s natural fireworks!

Firstly, safety is most important.  Being on a porch or anywhere outdoors is unsafe. Being under a tree is unsafe.  Being next to a fence is unsafe.  Being close to metal underground piping is unsafe.  I think you get the point!  The safest place to photograph lightning is inside of a house (through the window) or in a vehicle with the windows up.  You don’t get wet that way either!  

Lightning photography is dangerous and lightning isn’t very forgiving (i.e. is deadly), so please be safe!  

The key to capturing lightning, given you can’t predict when it will occur, is to open the exposure on the camera so you can capture several seconds at a time.  Only certain phones allow for this, but newer Android phones seem to be leading the way–it is called “Pro Mode”.  Different phones have different options in Pro Mode:

  • Being able to open the exposure for several seconds is helpful
  • Lowering the ISO and/or aperture (f-stop) to let less light in is usually helpful, especially if it is still dusk
  • Because the camera is taking in light for a longer period of time, there is no way a human can hold the camera still, so you will need to place it on a window ledge, the ground, or something else to keep it absolutely still
  • Focus for lightning needs to be exact.  Usually your subject is (better be) far enough away that you can choose manual focus and set to infinity.

My Samsung Note 5 camera allows for control of the focus, ISO and Exposure, so I lowered the ISO to the lowest setting (not Auto), changed to manual focus and set to infinity, and chose 4 second exposures.  I then positioned the camera on the ground and/or window pane so it would be absolutely still and repeatably pushed the trigger.  If you have a rapid fire mode, this could work instead of the longer exposure as well.

Arrows (from left to right) show Pro Mode ISO, Exposure and Focus setting options.

Pro mode ISO settings

ISO at its lowest setting; tells the “film” to absorb the least amount of light (and noise) which is needed because the lightning is so bright.  If you’re finding that the lightning isn’t showing up, increase this setting to allow more light to be captured.

Pro Mode focus settings

Focus is set to infinity. Mountains is infinity and flower is macro–or up close.  Most lightning is (better be) far enough away to be considered “infinity” distance.  

Pro mode exposure settings

Exposure can go up to 10 seconds on this camera, or as quick as 1/24000th of a second.  Since lightning is so quick, all this setting is for is to make it easier to capture the lightning by having the exposure open for longer periods of time in between when you have to fire the shutter.  Great since you have no idea when it will happen. 

TIP!  Lightning tends to occur (rule of thumb, definitely not scientific) at regular intervals, so i often count the amount of seconds between each bolt.  Once I get within 1-2 seconds of when it “should” occur, I open the shutter.  I also just continuously trigger the shutter so it is open most of the time.

So now that the setup is out of the way, here are some examples of lightning I caught and some tips and tricks.

Here I had the camera placed on a light post. Notice the focus of the foreground is not tight, this is because there is too much movement in the camera over the 4 seconds the shutter is open.

Again, too blurry of a picture due to the unsteady placement of the phone.

So I switched to the sidewalk which was much more sturdy.  I also used my shoe to give something to lean against to make it more sturdy. Now the foreground is in better focus.  Lightning is still far enough away to be outside, and to not be too bright to photograph.  

Lightning still far enough away (about 10 seconds between bolt and thunder) to not completely blow out the amount of light the bolts produce. Cloud to Ground bolts will most always be brighter, as in the case with the left both that found its ground.

This anvil crawler didn’t strike ground and wasn’t too bright to be captured.

Okay, these are getting too close, not only is it dangerous but you don’t get good pictures. With the ISO setting at its lowest it is allowing the least amount of light to be captured, but still it is too much. If you had an f-stop aperture setting you’d want to close the shutter letting less light in (closing the aperture is increasing the f-stop number, by the way)…but this is a limit of my cell phone’s camera.

This one is a good capture, although it is getting a little too close for comfort, time to head inside!

 

Luckily the window was tinted a bit, or this would have been way too much light. This was just a few blocks away. The window pane and window allowed for very sturdy aids to keep the camera steady. Although in cases like this, the only light captured by the phone is coming from the lightning, so at that instant in time is the only time there was light, so sturdiness isn’t as important because I don’t have any other light sources in the field of view.

Since I was focused on infinity, the rain on the window didn’t really obscure the subject of the photo. You an see the raindrops as hexagon white blobs in the upper/center part of the photo.

Palmer Divide Lightning

Got a call from my friend Jim that we were getting some great Palmer Divide Lightning coming into our neighborhood.  He invited me over to get some shots; but I couldn’t find the camera which was put out of reach to avoid accidents while my son and friends had a video game fest!

I ended up finding the camera and quickly set up on the back porch as I didn’t have time to head over to my buddy’s place across the neighborhood.  Since this was dusk I set the exposure for one second and closed down the aperture (f11) to limit the light so I could get a longer exposure.  I then put it on rapid fire and started taking photos.  

The storm’s bolts got within about I estimate 500 feet which was a bit close but I was able to capture some shots before the rain overtook me…luckily I have a safe setup when shooting from the back porch.  The storm was hardly yellow on the radar so it was a special treat to be putting out any lightning.  

This was the closest. You can start to see the intense parts of the bolt (towards the top, the “balls” along the path) and that fizzled away by dissolving; which is really cool to see. Might be hard to imagine but if you’ve seen up close lightning you probably will know what I’m referring to.

May 8, 2017 West Denver Hailstorm

Denver and the entire Eastern part of the state was under the gun for potential severe weather on Monday afternoon; the first severe day of the year.  There was a tornado warned storm around Agate on the Palmer Divide and the radar definitely showed a couplet, but only sustained funnels were reported by chasers on the ground.  The main threat was hail; big hail and lots of hail, and straight line winds.

I went out east of Denver to start, took a conference call for work while I was watching the major hailstorm wreck havoc over Denver.  After my call, I headed east until I eventually punched through the line of cells and was able to see the storms on the east side.  Watched several cells get close and then headed home.  Although there was a lot of lightning, I was nearly to Kansas and will wait until another day to catch the nighttime action closer to home!

Denver hailstorm May 8, 2017

May 8th, 2017 Denver Hailstorm taken just east of DIA.

Sitting at DIA looking west was the damaging hailstorm, looking east was this smaller storm cell.

Denver hailstorm

Planes were landing, must have been an incredible view from the left window seats!

Scud cloud that looked suspicious.

Hailstorm

Love the colors at deep dusk. This is near Cope as the hail core of this storm was merely a cornfield away! Note the in-cloud lightning.

Great cloud structure and some in-cloud lightning

Love the rain and clouds!

Cloud to Ground lightning inside the rain, barely visible. The storm was looking pretty evil and I took off after this picture.

Late Night Lightning

Been awhile since I have experienced late night lightning, but I was awake and in luck tonight, Aug 28th, 2016.  We had taken a trip to the Arkansas River valley in southern Colorado to buy Pueblo peppers and visit the state fair where my kids had participated at the State level in 4-H earlier in the week.  After a fun but long day we came home and I started peeling the skins off of our many bushels of peppers; this usually goes well into the night!  Just as I was finishing bushel #1, there were flashes in the sky; at first I thought it was a car going by but to my delight a storm was passing by to our south.

The insects were having a symphony in the front yard and the only man-made noise was a train passing by a 1/2 mile or so away (lots of squeaks and metal on metal scrapes) so I recorded some of the ambience while enjoying it.  Meanwhile the lightning was becoming more frequent, so i jumped in the car and headed for vistas out of the trees.  I ended up driving about 5 miles south of Larkspur and sat on top of a hill overlooking the Spruce Meadows Open Space at Greenland and watched the show.

I enjoy taking pictures of lightning with power lines, and these were carrying a lot of electricity so I figured it would be perfect foreground for lightning shots.  Given it was raining and the lightning was fairly close, I decided to shoot from within the truck.  I have been getting better at holding the camera fairly steady with the iris open, these were 6 second shots at ISO 800, f/11, focus at infinity.  I was using a wide angle lens.

To remove the rain from the windshield I need to have the wipers on; sometimes there are drops in the shot but that goes with the territory; not much I can do about that given it is raining.  Luckily the lightning is so quick and otherwise it is dark (no light) so most of the shots you don’t see the wipers.  Then it is just a waiting game, reviewing the pictures to ensure the field of view is what is expected.  Unfortunately the lightning was infrequent, about 90 seconds apart, so I got a lot of black pictures I had to delete later.

As always, click on the photo for a larger size.

Lightning

Interesting placement of the bolt and the tower, I wish I could say it was planned, but nothing about that shot was planned; all luck…and being in the right place at the right time!

Lots o lightning

Lots going on in this shot, it was very bright!

Anvil Crawler Lightning

One of the last anvil crawler style bolts of the evening, just before midnight; the last one was massive (there was about 5 minutes between it and the previous) and it was so bright and long that I moved the camera (I have to admit I was getting tired and it startled me) and the picture was blurred/jittery.

Upward Streamer Lightning

Close-up of the previous shot (lower right) showing three upward streamers, the right most one got the return strike but was a bit off from the original streamer (or there were 4).

Colorado Lightning

If only we could harness that…looks like it almost tapped us!

b&w lightning photo

Cool black and white shot, south Douglas County Colorado, Aug 28th about 11:30pm.

July storms

Been out chasing and spotting storms a couple of times in June.  I also got a call from the NWS about a storm passing through Larkspur, but of course we were away from home in Englewood and I could only spot from afar…

This first storm system was June 13th.  I was all over this day, playing the southern part of the Palmer Divide and then heading to Northeast Colorado calling it off around Yuma.

Yoder wind farm and wall cloud

This storm had a huge wall cloud that was dragging the ground, but I couldn’t see any rotation. There was plenty of rotation with these windmills, though, near Yoder.

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The storm changed quite a bit near Calhan, a nice little scud cloud swirled up and then disappeared into the storm.

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The two cells collided and became tornado warned near Fort Morgan.

Brush Inflow

As the two cell collided in Morgan County, this was the initial inflow component to the storm. It had been tornado warned for about 30 minutes at this time.

Brush Colorado Tornado Warned Storm

The storm I followed off the Palmer Divide collided with another storm in Morgan County. Thus there were two inflow sections to this storm for a while, this was the second, over Brush while the storm was tornado warned.

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Severe warned storm near Akron.

Akron Inflow

Right under the inflow scud, I love this part of the storm as the clouds are low and quickly moving as they form and then get sucked up into the storm

Cloud painting near Yuma.

Great cloud textures with this storm near Yuma.

Upward Streamer Lightning

Caught some lightning near Last Chance; this one was cool as there was a tower and some upward streamers and cloud to cloud lightning. I can’t believe they didn’t connect; they did the next time!

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On June 19th a set of storms formed on the Palmer Divide.  There were two storms where I lived.  The first was a bit north and was great viewing from the back porch.  Most bolts were in the cloud, every now and then a spike would be seen and I was able to capture several of them.  The last storm that formed west of me was putting down very little lightning and didn’t show much on radar.  The lightning was good cloud-to-cloud anvil crawlers though.  I timed them, they were between 4.5 and 5 minutes apart, on average.  I was able to capture one, and it was the last one of the storm which dissipated overhead!

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A spike coming directly towards the camera.

Larkspur lightining

One of the few remaining bolts from this short-lived cell.

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Larkspur anvil crawler.

The last lightning from this storm as it sparked overhead!

As this storm died, I jumped in the car and headed back out to check out the previous storm from one of my favorite lookouts in eastern Douglas County, about 15 minutes away. The storm became severe warned for half-dollar sized hail, but in spotting it I only saw nickel sized hail.  Watched the storm until after midnight as it entered Elbert County and then headed home.

Fireflies and lightning

East Douglas County, you can’t see them, but the field was filled with fireflies!

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Eastern Larkspur Barn

A cool barn I pass just east of Larkspur. It is pretty this time of year!

Another storm came to me on June 28th.  This one had some neat lowerings that were right overhead.

Larkspur storm

Looking straight up in the front yard.

Larkspur Storm

Same formation but from the back porch.

larkspur storm clouds

Loved the colors and motion of this storm!

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This storm put down some lightning and light rain at Devils Head, but didn’t end up doing much other than looking spectacular as it flowed across the Palmer Divide.  Taken from Jackson Creek road, overlooking Castle Rock.

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Late May Storm

There have been several great stormy days here in Colorado in early May; but my schedule has prevented me from chasing on those good days.  I’ve been itching to get out; and luckily we had a good day before we left for our family vacation!

Got several lucky shots of lightning

My son and I got an opportunity to head out on May 26th.  We targeted Limon and decided we’d then go where the storms popped up as the forecast was difficult.  The storms fired along the Colorado front range early in the day; and put down some hail, but those storms were moving due north and had already formed a line; so we punched through and continued to our target.  Once in Limon, we saw some development to the south and headed that way to check them out.

The weather was strange, it was pretty chilly (about 52 degrees) and nothing was going up discreet.  We stopped at the first storm and noted a wall cloud feature on a storm, so we watched it.  It did have a little rotation; but just as it was looking good the inflow got cut off and the storm turned into a massive rainy mess.  So we left it and headed Southeast towards the front end of the cells.

Early wall cloud, temp was about 50 degrees.

Early wall cloud, temp was about 51 degrees.

A small amount of rotation.

A small amount of rotation as this wall cloud continued

We were able to see a small, short lived funnel near Wild Horse and as we were heading south towards some great looking structure near Kit Carson the storm overtook us.  There was a tornado spotted from this cell but traffic was pretty hairy and we ended up abandoning that storm and heading north.  We saw some great lightning, Hunter actually saw a positive bolt from the top of a tower which is great; I’ve never seen one of those.  By the time we got north of I-70, the front edge of the storms were all out by the Kansas border, and we decided to not pursue those into Kansas and instead just watch the remaining daytime lightning south of Yuma and then head home.

A funnel was forming; I rushed back to the car to ensure Hunter could see it; but by then it had dissipated. It went about 1/2 way to the ground, but was just a small finger.

Here a funnel was forming, but I didn’t get a shot of it as it was 1/2 way to the ground as I was rushing back to the car to ensure Hunter saw it!  It lasted for just a minute or two; but the coulds were all active in this area.

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Interesting structure as the storm overtook us

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Aroya historic school house!

The Aroya historic school house was in use until the early 1960s.

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The greens are beautiful this time of year!

South of Yuma we caught up to the last lightning of the evening.  We parked next to a grain bin and under these power lines; ended up getting some great day lightning photos; I was holding the camera by hand and was surprised this technique actually worked as it wasn’t dark yet!

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April 26 2016 Thunderstorm

Limon wind farm

Thunderstorm over the Limon Colorado wind farm.

With a strong low pressure system active over the region, there were forecast isolated thunderstorms in NE Colorado; with a Moderate Risk posted through Central Kansas and Oklahoma.  If there were any storms coming off of the Palmer Divide I decide I would chase them; but the system didn’t appear active enough in Colorado to chase too far from home.

Leaving work in East Aurora I noted there was a storm forming on the Palmer Divide, around Kiowa.  Looking at the velocity couplet of the Doppler radar I decided this storm was worth checking out.  I decided to take the long way home from work and head east.

A call home provided me with the information that along the Rampart Range it was snowing, and the temperature leaving work was 47 degrees; not optimal for thunderstorms; but the storm forming outside of Kiowa had rotation and many lightning strikes.  Odd things happen in the spring in Colorado!

I decided to get in front of the storm in the hopes of getting a time-lapse of it coming at me; there were low level clouds to the west of the storm so that seemed like the only view available.  So I went to Last Chance and then south into the Limon wind farm.  I was able to get in good position and directly in front of the storm.  It was 50 degrees and mostly cloudy in front of the storm, but the storm was still producing a good amount of lightning as it approached; and obviously hail as seen with the white curtains.  As the storm went overhead, it started to hail about marble size and covered the ground with about an inch deep.  As the storm passed over, with the change of temperature, the hail and rain turned to snow.  This was the first time I have been able to see lightning while it was snowing; I’ve heard snow thunder before, but not seen lightning.  The air temperature after the storm was 36 degrees.

On the drive home there was some great cloud structure and some fog from the weather that produced all the snow along the mountains; which provided some surreal views.  As I got home there was 3 inches of snow that had fallen.  Again, crazy early spring storms on the high plains!

Snow virga

Virga clouds SE of Kiowa, likely snow

Castle Rock sunset

West side of Castle Rock at sunset, almost looks like sunset at the beach!

Pikes Peak

Raspberry Butte in the foregrounds Pikes Peak peeking out of the clouds

April 25 2016 First Thunderstorm of the Spring

We’ve been having an active spring with some large multi-day snow storms.  There were forecasted storms for the afternoon into the evening and the early evening was dry, yet cold.  It didn’t seem like thunderstorm weather.  But about 7:30pm, a storm formed near the Air Force Academy moving northeast.

As the storm entered castle rock it started to produce lightning and hail.  A true thunderstorm!  I tried to hang out on the periphery of the storm to get out of the rain and have more to see; but the shape and direction of the storm didn’t have a dry option.

Castle Rock hail

Nickel sized hail on the SW side of town

In the hopes to get out of the rain/hail I jetted north with the target of the Castle Pines area, I have a couple of nice vantage points in that area that were hopefully west of the storm and providing some cool views of the lightning.  As I was driving through Castle Rock the hail got quite big, I’d estimate quarter size, but it was rather soft and mushy.  The National Weather Service issues a Severe Thunderstorm warning for the area due to this; I wanted to size the hail and provide a report; but I was not in a good position to stop.

After the storm passed over I was able to get some lightning shots; but due to it still raining I couldn’t use a tripod, but the lighting was too close for me to get out of the car.  I watched the storm as it moved over Aurora and then another cell formed to the south and east, heading east of Parker.  Lots of great in-cloud lightning illuminated the storm and sheets of rain.  Although not a supercell or a huge storm, it was fun to watch the first thunderstorm of the year here on the western Palmer Divide!

Castle Pines Lightning

Cool lightning both over Castle Pines

Tangled Lightning

Cloud to cloud lightning protruding out of the back end of the storm, likely looking directly into a bolt appearing as tangled electricity.

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Parker Lightning

Lightning over south Parker

Parker Lightning

Lightning over Parker