WKU Meteorology

Discussion of Mid-South weather and climate and information about the WKU Meteorology program

WKU Meteorology - Discussion of Mid-South weather and climate and information about the WKU Meteorology program

Adventurous Conclusion to the 2015 Storm Chase Trip

Saturday May 30th:

The last two days of our trip was packed with fun. The group woke up in the city of Denver, CO on Saturday. With a lull in severe weather, we decided to take the day to sightsee through the state of Colorado. We visited the famous Red Rock Amphitheatre, which is 10 miles west of Denver. Many music enthusiasts dream of attending a concert at Red Rock.  Red Rock hosts many famous musical artists of all genres in an open air amphitheatre.

CGRKQmuUYAAhGSw

The students enjoying their music and geology lesson at the Red Rock Amphitheatre

After spending time at Red Rock, the group departed west to ascend into the snow capped Rocky Mountains. None of the eight students have ever visited the mountain range, so this was a first for many. After climbing to almost 12,000 feet above sea level the students got out of the van and enjoyed the snow in the middle of May.

CGReFOjVIAElmRf

Panorama of the view of our first stop in the Rocky Mountains.

 

CGReFOgUQAAAEVx

The group standing near an open ski resort in the Rocky Mountains.

After our first stop we made our visit to the Continental Divide.

CGRzkJ_UkAAoHZ5

Students at the Continental Divide.

After making our stop to the Continental Divide, and taking a chance to throw a few snowballs, the group decided to make a stop in Golden, CO to eat lunch at a delicious Middle Eastern restaurant.

After lunch we had to start pushing eastward in order to deliver Dr. Grady Dixon back to his family in Hays, KS. We arrived in Hays right before Dusk, and ate supper at a local dive.

CGbS7GZWoAEUQNS

Picture with Dr. Dixon before we gave our final goodbyes.

After supper the group pushed eastward to Salina, KS in order to get a head start for the next days trek to Bowling Green, KY.

Sunday May 31:

The group awoke in Salina, KS and became home bound around 9am. After a long few hours in the van, the group stopped for lunch in Columbia, MO and met up with a fellow WKU Meteorology and Storm Chase Alumni, Ryan Difani.

CGXB3jiXIAIkoOA

The group with alumni, Ryan Difani at a Dairy Queen in Columbia, MO.

After lunch, the group was over halfway home! But before getting back to Bowling Green, the group stopped for a tasty supper at Taco Johns in Henderson, KY. After finishing supper, the group arrived back in Bowling Green at 9:30 pm.

In summary the group traveled 7,191 miles through nine states over the time span of two weeks.  We observed several types of storms such as high precipitation supercells, low precipitation supercells, classic supercells, and squall lines. We also saw accumulated hail and two tornadoes! Although forecasts were difficult and frustrating at times, the trip itself was successful and enjoyable for the entire group and proved to be a good learning experience for everyone.

 

Storm Chase 2015, Day 11

Today proved to be difficult in terms of an obvious forecast, but we took advantage of several opportunities to travel and explore new areas for our trip across the southwest US and document even more severe weather. We had a couple of different options for our target area; one being the southwest Texas panhandle near Snyder, TX where outflow boundaries and other thunderstorm ingredients were present, and northeast New Mexico between Clayton and Des Moines. This region favored convective activity throughout consistent model runs on the HRRR and NAM 4K, our favored high resolution models.

We voted on heading to New Mexico this morning after a lot of debate, due to the fact that despite lower instability and moisture values, upper-air support favored thunderstorm activity on the leeward side of the mountains in this region. Below is a surface analysis that covers a few fundamental forecast variables we discussed.

Surface analysis showing observations valid at 1200 Z and upper-air diagnostics valid for 0000 Z today.

Surface analysis showing observations valid at 1200 Z and upper-air diagnostics valid for 0000 Z today.

 

Red dashed lines show the locations of two outflow boundaries from previous thunderstorm activity, and the arrows show the general direction and magnitude of jet stream flow across the area. Our two initial target areas are shown by the stars.

Northwest flow across the panhandle is that primary reason we decided to head northwest and take advantage of the photogenic landscape of the High Plains. Turns out convective models were correct in their output throughout the day and we had several opportunities to grab some very scenic views in NE New Mexico.

CGMdR6_UsAAeZoc

The view of the landscape in NE New Mexico as we made our way to our selected target

A great bit of luck allowed us the opportunity to explore the Capulin Volcano, where we were able to view a severe thunderstorm producing hail and gusty winds from over 8,000 ft in elevation! This was very enjoyable because we got to hike up to the top of the rim and look into the caldera of the extinct volcano, what a view!

View from atop the Capulin Volcano

View from atop the Capulin Volcano in NE New Mexico

After departing from the Capulin volcano, we drove through the northern portion of New Mexico and entered Colorado where we saw the beautiful snow capped Rocky Mountains. After driving along the interstate for sometime, convection started coming off the mountains and of course we decided to chase it!

Second storm we chased for the day north of Trinidad, CO

Second storm we chased for the day north of Trinidad, CO

This cell soon fizzled out and we kept trucking along towards the city of Denver, our stop for the night. Before reaching Denver, more storms initiated to our northeast and we chased them. The first one fizzled out before reaching it. The second one produced 4-6 inches or more of accumulated hail and made the Colorado countryside look as if it were covered in snow!

Hail along a roadway in CO

Hail along a roadway in central Colorado

After plowing through over 4+” of hail accumulation, it was time to fuel up and head for our hotel south of Denver, CO where we were able took look back on our day, and our trip in general. The atmosphere seems to be quietening down for tomorrow, which will likely be used as a day travel, and any observations of storms along the way. We’ve had a very busy couple of weeks in The Plains and have seen many different forms of severe weather.

Stay tuned to @wkustormchase on Twitter for live updates throughout our journey and see what we may get ourselves into tomorrow! – AS, MM

Storm Chase 2015, Day 10

We woke up in Pampa, TX with a difficult forecast ahead of us. Below is a surface composite from the morning. Isodrosotherms (green) showed rich moisture nosing into the central plains with dewpoints reaching into the upper 50’s in the Texas Panhandle. 500mb jet (yellow) showed southwest flow and was forecast around 40kts, which would provide ample upper-level support. The 850mb jet (orange) was forecast to be nearing 30kts out of the southern and increasing into the evening over the Texas Panhandle. The purple oval indicates where the greatest helicity was expected and the purple line in western New Mexico showed where the dryline was. Due to a diffuse dryline and lack of a frontal lifting system, we decided it best to monitor outflow boundaries from the morning precipitation. A target of Elkhart, KS was used to monitor these boundaries but decided it best to stop in Guymon, OK.

Composite Surface Analysis

Composite Surface Analysis

 

Once we arrived in Guymon around 11 AM, we noticed an outflow boundary interacting with the dryline, leading to the initation of thunderstorms over southeastern Colorado. West of Campo, CO we stumbled upon a tarantula as well as a great display of mammatus clouds.

Jacob Wilkins

Big, Creepy Spider

Mammatus Clouds

Mammatus Clouds

We then departed for the southern end of a line segment to chase a storm near Dalhart, TX. As we approached the storm, we saw a great whale’s mouth cloud formation, as well as a shelf cloud. This storm produced a brief wall cloud, as well as a photogenic, sunlit hail shaft.

Whale's Mouth

Whale’s Mouth

Colton Lindsey

Shelf Cloud

Jacob Wilkins

Backlit Wall Cloud

Sun Rays Peaking Through Clouds

Sun Rays Peaking Through Clouds

Hail Shaft

Hail Shaft

Dissipating Hail Shaft

Dissipating Hail Shaft

We are staying the night in Dumas, TX and will likely be chasing in western Texas once again on Friday.

Storm Chase 2015, Day 9

Today, we started our chase day in Stephenville, Texas with a target of Canadian, Texas for the afternoon. The surface analysis shows the observations from the morning conditions before chasing, as well as parameters the models were outputting for the afternoon. The 250 mb flow (blue arrow) was out of the west and very weak. Basically, there was no upper level support to promote lift for storms to initiate. There was a shortwave trough situated over the area of interest during the afternoon which increased the possibility for severe storms. Unlike many other days, there was a low level jet  (orange arrow) at 850 mb coming from the south. Plenty of moisture was located across the northeastern Panhandle of Texas, as seen by dewpoints in the sixties, creating a moisture gradient. The area of greatest instability (red oval) was located across the Northern Panhandle of Texas, and the area of greatest helicity (blue oval) was located across the western portion of Oklahoma, extending into the northeastern Texas Panhandle. Considering all of these factors, Canadian, Texas (yellow box) had the greatest possibility for storms, making this our target city for the day.

Day9Analysis

Tori Schow

Upon arrival in Canadian, Texas, we watched a storm initiate to the southwest of the city. We then followed this storm northeast where we saw several funnel clouds form.

YES

Tori Schow

Yes2

Tori Schow

 

 

The funnel cloud(s) became rain-wrapped, and so we moved positions to get a better view of the storm.

YES3

Tori Schow

Yes4

Tori Schow

Later in the afternoon, this same storm produced a tornado. From our view, we were approximately 4 miles away from the tornado.

Yes5

Tori Schow

IMG_3474

Josh Durkee

We moved positions again to get a better look at the storm and new circulation began to form. A wall cloud developed, but no tornado was produced. As rain took over, the visibility became much lower so we decided to call it a day.

After arriving at the hotel, we went out for a celebratory steak dinner with the group. To end the evening, we took some lightning shots from lot nearby the hotel. We are currently staying in Pampa, Texas tonight and are looking forward to another day of chasing tomorrow.

 

 

Storm Chase 2015, Day 8

Today began bright and early in Gainesville, Texas. After a morning forecast discussion, we decided to head toward the town of Graham, TX. This would place us in a good area to await initiation of the storms that afternoon. For the first time in several days, the upper and lower atmosphere were beginning to show a more favorable environtment for severe weather. The 250mb winds (blue arrow) shifted from southerly to westerly as did the 500mb winds. The Low Level Jet (yellow arrow) also returned to played a helpful role today with 30 knot winds out of the southeast drawing moisture out of the gulf. This brought in greater than 60°F dewpoints (green line) over much of eastern Texas providing significant moisture for the region.  The greatest region of instability is highlighted in the orange half circle. This would eventually provide the necessary lift to produce the storms. The red box shows the target area of Graham, TX just to the east of Abilene.

surface_composite

After roughly a two hour drive from Gainesville to just south of Graham, we stopped for lunch at Subway and headed to a local park to eat and watch the sky for storms beginning to pop up. It was not long before we headed back to the gas station to Rain-X the windows and get gas in preperation for the chase. Around 2:30 pm we began to notice one cell to the north around Breckenridge.

SONY DSC

For the first time on the trip, we were able to watch the this storm develope while we sat in a hotel parking lot. We saw it initiate out the front window of the van and were able to keep an eye on it on the radar until the decision was made to follow this storm. Very quickly after the storm formed, a severe thuderstorm warning was placed on it, quickly followed by a tornado warning. We chased this cell from just north east of Breckenridge, all the way to Stephenville for the night.

SONY DSC

Due to the capping that did not erode until late in the afternoon, this cell was able to form and stay in a clean environment for longer before forming a line. Through much of the day, there was a lack of speed shear in the environment.  This caused the cell to be a high precipitation cell with a very closesly located updraft and downdraft. A tornado was confirmed by chaser, but we could not see it due to the curtains of rain surrounding the storm for most of the day.

11296587_10206656140632957_756365938_o

Photo Courtesy of DJ Lipps

When we arrived in Stephenville for the night, the storm had lost its severe and tornado warnings. We unloaded our things and allowed the much weakend storm to pass over us in the van. Due to the substantial energy in the storm, lightning was striking well into the night and could be seen even when the storm was long gone.

 

Storm Chase Day 7

Today we woke up in Altus, Oklahoma with the intentions of traveling south for the day’s chase. As seen in the composite map below, there was sufficient support for a good chase day. 500mb wind flow (blue arrow) was out of the southwest with a jet streak moving northeastward through Texas. 850mb wind flow (orange arrow) was out of the southeast with a low-level jet max also located in mid Texas. Plenty of moisture was located in Texas today as seen by the 60 degree dewpoint line (in green) extending as far west as the Abilene area. Likewise, the dry line (brown dash) was located just to the west of 60 degree dewpoints, providing a nice moisture gradient. The area of greatest of instability (dark blue circle) was located a tad east of Abilene and the area of greatest helicity (pink circle) was located to the south. With these factors in mind and better chasing terrain west of Dallas/Fort Worth, the Abilene area was chosen as the target city (red box). Simulated reflectivity models suggested a clustering of storms moving through this area around noon and SPC issued a moderate risk for east central Texas with Abilene in the enhanced risk area.

Picture1

Storms had already started to fire early in the morning and we were unable to make the 2.5 hour drive from Altus to Abilene in time to intercept the cluster of storms. Instead, we drove southeast to position ourselves in front of the line of storms. On the way, we saw great mammatus formation on the front edge of the storm.

IMG_1377

Tori Hampton

We stopped in Weatherford, TX to grab a quick lunch and proceeded south. The linear system started to break apart and multiple tornado vortex signatures were detected, one of which we followed to the outskirts of Granbury. We were unable to see any funnel cloud formation, however we did get some amazing pictures of the shelf cloud as it was moving toward us.

IMG_1389

Tori Hampton

We stopped following the storms as they moved northeast into non-ideal chasing terrain. We decided to call it a day and head north to Gainesville, TX to stay the night.

 

Storm Chase 2015 Day 6

We began the day in Garden City, Kansas after chasing in southeastern Colorado. The surface analysis shows observations from the morning just before we left to chase and also model outputs for convection parameters. The 250mb jet(yellow arrow) is coming out of the south west, the 500mb jet(light green arrow) and 850mb jet(dark green) are primarily out of the south. The analysis also shows the local vorticity max(red circle) over south central Oklahoma/northern Texas. This overlapped with the local helicity max(light green circle) which, with a little help from the dry line(light orange dashed line) could potentially cause enough lift to produce storms over the target area(red box). Dew points started off in the mid to upper 50s and lower 60s across the area of interest. With the upper level winds lacking the essential profile needed for good sheering, the dry line was our key factor for the target.

surfaceday6We departed Garden City, KS a little before 10am and were heading south towards Canadian, TX. We stopped in Hooker, OK where the group grabbed a bite to eat at the local Subway and gassed up. After heading more south towards the target we decided to stop and admire a wind farm outside of Borger, TX.

David Lipps Jr.

David Lipps Jr.

After about 20mins of observing them, we took off and continued to our target. Continuing the drive, we past a local landmark known as Palo Duro Canyon. We stopped in Silverton, TX to wait for the storms to initiate along the dry line. After tossing the football around for a bit and noticing nothing was really initiating we drifted more south to Turkey, TX. Here we sat for primarily the rest of the day waiting on initiation but due to lack of lift from the dry line, nothing was firing up. Blue skies dominated the area we were in other than a few passing clouds. Around 7pm, we made the decision that due to the lack of  lift we were going to head to our hotel located in Altus, OK, 110 miles away. We arrived at the hotel at 8:30pm.

Storm Chase 2015, Day 5

Today we started our chase day in Limon, CO after chasing in Southeast Colorado the day before. The surface analysis below displays observations of the mornings conditions before the chase, as well as the parameters that model output was giving for the afternoon. The Surface analysis displays current morning dew points (green lines), 250 mb flow (blue arrow), 850 mb flow (yellow arrow),  greatest area of instability (purple box), greatest quantity of vertical velocity (X), and our target itself, which was Lamar, CO (red box). 250 mb winds were setting stage for a greater amount of upper level support in our area which there has been a lack if in previous forecast days. With the combination of the 250 mb flow and the 850 mb flow, the directional change in height of the winds gave the atmosphere a sheered profile in Southeastern Colorado. The dew points reached the mid 50 degree marks which is enough moisture in the high plains to produce severe thunderstorms. The greatest amounts of instability and vertical velocity were also located in the Southeastern Colorado region. With the parameters mentioned above, and outlying boundaries left from morning convection, Lamar, CO was chosen as our target for the day.

d5sfc

 

After sticking around the hotel in Limon, the group ate lunch on their own and left towards Lamar, CO around noon. Due to the lack of a capped environment, storm initiation was already occurring to the southwest of Limon. The group traveled south and closed in on a tornado warned storm just southwest of Arlington, CO. This storm had several reported funnels descend from a wall cloud, but none officially reached the ground.

CFt53-YUkAEgXaT

Josh Durkee

After the many instances of poor road networks the group decided to keep proceeding eastward ahead of the line of storms and get fuel in Lamar. After fueling up, we went south and let the line of storms hit our van, where we experienced a gust front, heavy rain and pea sized hail. After letting the line pass in front of us, the group followed the storm east and noticed smaller cells forming on the southern end of the line of storms. We stopped just west of Las Animas, CO and viewed the storm as well as threw around the football.

pZ9DjfNA

Melissa Moore

VeSfH9XS (1)

Melissa Moore

After watching the storms just before sunset, we drove about 120 miles east to our hotel for the night in Garden City, KS. But before going to bed, we enjoyed a fabulous supper at Las Margaritas, a Mexican restaurant in Garden City.

 

Storm Chase 2015, Day 4

Day 4 of the trip began in Guymon, OK after traveling from Alpine, TX the day before. Guymon put us about 6 hours away from the potential target areas.  The surface analysis below shows isodrosotherms (green), 500mb flow (yellow), 850mb flow (orange), greatest area of helicity (purple), greatest area of instability (blue), 500mb vortmax (black x), and forecasted target area in red. 500mb winds out of the southwest were forecast to assist in upper level support and this combined with 850mb winds, out of the southeast, generated part of shearing wind profile over eastern Colorado. Dew point temperatures reached only into the fifties, but due to high elevation, less moisture is necessary for severe weather development. The low dewpoints also assisted in keeping the storms LP (low precipitation). The greatest area of instability was in SE Colorado and the greatest helicity values were in eastern Colorado. These parameters along with the upsloping flow and mesoscale considerations along the front range of the Rockies resulted in Limon, CO being our target area.

SFC052215

After eating lunch at Oscar’s in Limon, CO, we drove south to Punkin Center to find a view for storm initiation (below). From this location we viewed multiple cells fire and dissipate after a few minutes. However, the blue skies and sunshine were a nice break from the foggy mornings of the past few days. Storms struggled to maintain so after a couple of hours we decided to head to Hugo, CO. From here we were able to monitor two potential areas of storm development. Both the HRRR and NAM-4k painted development near Limon around 21z. This didn’t pan out and we ended up playing a game of football pig at a local park.

 

Colton Lindsey

Colton Lindsey

Around 6pm a cell was able to develop slight rotation so we decided to ditch the park and intercept it. Although the storm was not impressive on radar, it eventually produced some decent supercell structure. While chasing the storm we were able to stop and capture great images of it’s lifecycle.

Colton Lindsey

Colton Lindsey

The radar image below shows our location relative to the picture above.

Radar screenshot by John Thomas

Radar screenshot by John Thomas

 

Josh Durkee

Josh Durkee

Colton Lindsey

Colton Lindsey

Jacob Wilkins

Jacob Wilkins

After this supercell began to dissipate we decided to leave it and head east to observe other cells. One of these being a low precipitation supercell, pictured below.

Jacob Wilkins

Jacob Wilkins

We attempted to grab a few lightning photos at dusk but strikes were sparse so we decided to head back to our hotel in Limon, CO to prepare for tomorrow.

Day 3 – Travel Day

Day 3 of our chase shaped up to be a transition day on the road as the frontal boundary responsible for the initiation of thunderstorms on our first two days continued on a persistent southward progression. Numerical weather models were having to play catch up it seemed.

Surface analysis valid for 1400 Z

Surface analysis valid for 1400 Z

As you can see in the surface map above, the frontal boundary location, (blue contour), sagged more south than expected, undercutting our chances for organized thunderstorm development in our location. We spent the night in Alpine, TX to be in position, which is close to the circled METAR (KMRF), but the atmosphere had different plans.

Thus, this morning we decided to travel northward to spend the night in Guymon, OK, which is in the Oklahoma panhandle. This move was to get us into position for Day 4 where an approaching shortwave trough, and other upper-air support, is expected to move into the region and support better chances of thunderstorm activity nearby.

The move also allowed for the opportunity to stick to WKU Storm Chase tradition and eat dinner at The Big Texan in Amarillo, TX! The food here was great, as usual I hear.

11351287_1453143411649758_85340545866753808_n

CFkevn0VAAAadzU

 

We could find ourselves moving northwest early in the morning into the High Plains of Colorado as models currently suggest some mesoscale features that could promote the initiation of thunderstorms. We’ll continue to monitor the important observation data in the morning and follow up with a forecast discussion. We’ll post our decisions on Twitter at @wkustormchase! Stay tuned! -Alex S.