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!
Virga clouds SE of Kiowa, likely snow
West side of Castle Rock at sunset, almost looks like sunset at the beach!
Raspberry Butte in the foregrounds Pikes Peak peeking out of the clouds
I’ve been wanting to get out and chase for a while now. Today was looking like the best day I could go out this week, but the action appeared to be heading into the Nebraska Panhandle and I just didn’t want to make that drive for what appeared to be a mediocre risk. After pondering if I should go out or not, at about 2:30pm I decided to call it off for the day; unless by some lucky reason I could find a close to home cell.
About 3pm I looked at the obs and radar and noticed a small set of cells forming just east of Colorado Springs. Storm motion would take these cells NE and I figured I could intercept them about Limon. As they worked their way out on the plains the dew points and shear would get better, so I figured why not; if nothing else it would shake the rust off and ensure all the equipment is still working. So I headed out with the destination between Limon and Last Chance on Hwy 71.
The storm was moving fairly slow and I was able to take some county roads and check out the storm pass slowly by from a nice vantage point on the ridge that Hwy 71 follows. The wind farm was directly to my SE. I ended up moving about a mile south of Last Chance to catch up to the storm for dusk lightning shots. The storm was fizzling out so I left it about 9:15. About 250 miles, nearly 8 hours. Not bad for the first chase of 2013!
Time to shake the rust off the gear and mind; it’s storm season again! Coordinated with Adam Boggs and chased with him today. Always great to have his custom software aboard and his excellent navigation skills. We knew today was going to be a slight risk and that the upper level trough was not necessarily going to be timed correctly with daytime heating max; and there appeared to be somewhat of a cap in place too; but still felt there could be something worth chasing.
We met in Aurora and headed east on I-70 and then US 36; our target was around Anton area…at least to wait and see how the day progressed. The cells in our area had a difficult time with the cap and were eroding…we decided to hit the cell about 45 minute north forming around Sterling…southern Colorado looked nice but it was more than we wanted to drive given we wanted to be back in Boulder by 2am. Driving north on 63 was uneventful until we were about 10 miles south of I-76, and then nice looking mothership supercell appeared! We stopped and took some photos; Adam got some great timelapse with his new nifty camera showing this mothership spin like a top!
We decided after getting about 15 minutes of timelapse to follow the storm north as it was getting close to dusk and the lightning was awesome. Of course, as our luck would have it; as soon as we found a nice perch and got the equipment set up (and the sunlight dim enough for several second exposures) the storm died and lost its lightning! But there were other cells just west that were producing some nice lighting and we got a couple of shots. I love the colors around dusk so we shot some photos and the headed west to get closer to the cells producing better lightning.
We ended up in the massive wind farm just west of Peetz on the Colorado/Nebraska border and had a bolt hit the tower next to us (that was scary); we ended up driving to get out of the rain and set up in between three cells and got some great lightning shots. Most of mine were out of focus; still getting use to the new lens I bought (focus on infinity does not work when shooting lightning and each lens has its sweet spot approaching infinity for crisp focus). But viewing the lightning in the middle of the massive wind turbines that went on past the horizon was excellent fun!
The drive home had some wicked lightning along I-76. Down south near Lamar were a couple of tornadoes after dark; so it was a severe day in Colorado. We got some small hail near Brush; but that was the extent of the hail we saw.
Overall, great fun chasing with Adam, and a great start to the 2012 season with a rotating mothership supercell and some fun lightning!