2018-05-10 REPORTS: CO/NE

Jun 16, 2015
Oklahoma City, OK
I started the day in Ogallala, NE, planning to hang tight and wait for the afternoon to start unfolding. First thing in the morning, I assessed the setup and was fairly certain that I favored the southern target (far northeastern Colorado) over the western portion of the Nebraska panhandle. Even though this would mean patiently waiting while storms developed in southeastern Wyoming, I pretty much kept with the plan. I hung around Lake McConaughy and got some sun while I reviewed data.

Around 3 p.m. MDT, a pair of cells started to organize in northeastern Colorado, so I made my way west to take a closer look. To make a long story short, I kept contemplating between the dominant cell in Colorado and another storm that went up just over the Nebraska border. As the Nebraska storm, near I-80, just northwest of Julesburg, began to look more impressive, I approached the storm. Even when I was pretty close, I could barely make out a base and the scene was very grungy. After reviewing radar and satellite imagery, I was fairly sure that outflow was going to eventually lead to a big mess in the vicinity of the storm, so I darted back south to the Colorado cell that was pulsing up again.
I let the storm pass over U.S. 385, as I wanted to avoid the hail core. From the northern fringe of the storm, I did encounter some relatively soft hail. The hail was generally dime to penny-sized, but a few larger pieces fell and splattered on my windshield. Anyway, the plan was the let the storm pass by to the east and I could dart south, following the storm from west to east on SR-23.

I knew from the start that the southern target would be iffy. Not only would storms fire later, but there were concerns about how robust or long-lived the storms might become. To this point, multiple cells fired between eastern Colorado and the southern portion of the Nebraska panhandle, but they tended to weaken relatively quickly. This storm was what I would consider a transient supercell, initially, but as it passed into southwestern Nebraska, where boundary layer moisture was better, it started to wrap up.
The storm moved to the east relatively slowly and although there was clear mid-level rotation, that rotation struggled to find its way closer to the ground. Nonetheless, I followed the storm for quite a while and snapped off several pictures. I had a tough time deciding which ones I liked best, so I've included a few.
South of Ogallala, the storm looked very well organized on radar, at least from the reflectivity scan from KLNX. The velocity scans, at a relatively high elevation, were not so impressive. I placed myself right in the "hook" of the storm and there wasn't even a well-defined base. There was occasional rising scud and some swirling low-level clouds, but aside from lightning, I felt the storm's visual appearance was degrading.

I momentarily dropped south, but then decided to go back east to stay with the storm, just in case something happened toward sunset with the increase of the low-level jet. Nothing really happened, but there was a brief moment (less than a minute) near Wallace that I thought I saw a ground circulation to the north. For a moment, I thought maybe it was smoke, as I had seen a fire earlier in the chase. My next reaction was that perhaps a tornado was forming, but it seemed disconnected from the base and situated too far southwest from the mesocyclone to be a tornado. I only captured one very low resolution photo before the whole thing vanished. I moved on, but later saw that there was an LSR of a landspout in the same place around the same time of my photo. The report was within three minutes of the photo, so I believe it's from the same event. I am not counting this as a tornado, but it will fall into the "probably a brief landspout" category that I keep in the back of my mind. I wasn't going to show the photo until I saw the LSR, but for the record:
Overall, patience paid off again, even if I did bounce between storms a little early in the chase. As my chasing career develops, I value patience more and more. I would rather wait for a more isolated storm to chase, even if the threat is fairly conditional, than to rush toward a grunge-fest. Although the northwestern storms did have some neat structure early on, I was happy with this chase. The southern tail-end Charlie storm did work out and it featured the best structure I've seen so far this year.
Somewhat of a backyard chase for me.

Shot up from Colorado and immediately shot up to Kimball. Watched the cells start to pop in WY and decided to head a tad north to catch storms as they drifted off to the NE. Once severed warned I hit back roads to Albin WY.

Once arriving I got my first cold burst from the outflow and started to head back east waiting for more development.

Got east towards Harriburg NE and literally had a cell form over me!

Got to near Bridgeport NE to have the cell go tornado warned. I ran out of east roads and knew my chances were about over with the storm. I stopped to shoot some video of what I believe is a front flank gustnado. I just didnt see any connection to the rotation above, but maybe I am wrong.

Timelapse is here.
I'll just post a few pictures and probably add more later. Thursday was the first real chase of the year for me. In a way, targeting is easy in Wyoming since there are so few road options to choose from. This chase followed the exact same route as one I did last May. Even though that one was a bust, it helped to become familiar with the area.

It all started in Chugwater, Wyoming, with a cell forming to the west before 2PM. After meeting Reed Timmer for the first time, I went east to stay ahead of it. At first the storm took it's time maturing. But near La Grange I was amazed as it went from OK structure to a mothership in only about 10 minutes. It wasn't severe warned at this time and didn't even look that impressive on radar but the structure was some of the best I've ever seen.

This was just inside the Wyoming border near La Grange:

This was west of Harrisburg, Nebraska. I kept trying to escape power lines and find a good foreground until I came upon a lone tree.



What happened next I don't have pictures of. The gust front rolled over but it was barely 4:00 so I wasn't ready to end the chase yet. Another cell had popped up further east where I knew the environment was better for tornadoes. The only way for me to get there was to punch through the core on Highway 88. The risk seemed minimal at the time. Visibility was great and I could clearly see the base, it wasn't moving fast, and it wasn't yet severe. I drove through heavy rain and winds, with some dust and lots of tumbleweeds. But every time I was about to get out of the precip, it would get heavier again. The two storms were merging together and evolving on top of me.

When quarter sized hail started to hit my windshield I was wondering why it wasn't severe warned. It was starting to look very intense on radar with a tight couplet. Then the severe thunderstorm warning came mentioning tennis ball sized hail, and the tornado warning shortly after. A barrage of very close CG lightning bolts signaled the meso was getting stronger. But I couldn't see anything as I just couldn't escape the rain. As the winds became stronger I realized continuing to Bridgeport or Broadwater was a bad idea since they were about to get hammered. I found a rough road going east that I hoped would connect to Highway 385 south. I could hardly see anything as the RFD winds became stronger and pushed my car. It felt like it was too dangerous to stop, and I was relieved to finally make it to the highway junction.

I poked my head out of the window to try to see what was above me, and still visibility was horrible. But it was then that I heard a roaring sound, and knew I had to leave immediately. As I fled south the tumbleweeds were joined by bigger debris, some of it lofted into the air. A piece of sheet metal hit the side of my car. I remember seeing a semi-truck driving into the storm and thinking they were in for a rough ride. After making it a few miles away I waited for the storm to pass by. When I went back, that semi was blown over on it's side. All the road signs at the nearest intersection were snapped in half (wooden and metal posts). I'm still waiting for the NWS survey to find out just how close I was to the tornadic circulation. But I know it was way closer than I wanted to be. I wasn't expecting the storm to go HP and become rain wrapped so fast. Next time I'll think twice before core punching.
Thursdays plan was to head for Oshkosh, NE and wait for initiation there. I ended up leaving late, true to form, and there was a interesting looking line of storms coming across the Wyoming border. So I changed it up a littlle and headed out from Kimball to Harrisburg, then west to La Grange. Once I got there I thought about dropping south on US-85, but decided to retrace my path and hope storms ramped up.

And boy, they did.

I ended up stopping multiple times to film on CO-88, lingering a bit longer each time. The video shows that process, in what I'm calling "the good part of the chase".

I pushed east, then north to Bridgeport and jumped on I-385 to CO-92 and Broadwater. Then I made the brilliant decision to push south on I-385, instead to heading east into Broadwater and a little bit of sanity.

I ended driving headlong into the primary circulation, 80+ MPH winds, and hail and debris getting thrown sideways at the car. That is the surest I've ever been that the car was going to blow over. To make it more interesting, I got stuck behind what had to be a terrified local driving a beat up sedan (missing a driver side window, by the way...that must have been intense) way too slow. The storm motion and their turtle crawl down the road put me right in the path of the worst part of the storm. Oh, and there actually were cows on the road at one point. I have video proof.

...and then my radar updated to show the new velocity couplet and a tornado warning right on me.

There's no way in hell I would have seen anything had it been coming at me. If anyone saw a tornado associated with this storm I'd love to see it so I know how big an idiot I am.

So that combination of bad decisions freaked me out, and I pulled over to try to see into the storm and to calm down a little. That pretty much ended my efforts to stay ahead of things for the day and I finished out just played behind everything.

I'm mad at myself for the second part of this chase. Part one was nice though.

After looking through my pictures again, I believe I did capture the Broadwater tornado. I stopped for just a minute at 4:55 and shot the storm over Courthouse Rock from Hwy 88. This is when the RFD winds really started getting intense and I tried to find a more direct way to Hwy 385 instead of continuing to Bridgeport. I turned and went past the dot on the map called Alden. When I made it to Hwy 385 I stopped and rolled down my window, and that's when I heard the classic roaring waterfall sound of the tornado, although I still couldn't see it. Debris started getting bigger as I fled south and passed a semi that would be blown over a minute later.


After driving south on 385 for about 5 miles I stopped and took this picture looking north at 5:17. It was very low contrast which is why I missed it at first. But after enhancing it, there appears to be a diagonal rope tornado in the rain shaft on the left. The only other visual I've seen of this tornado is this tweet from Inflow Chasers, and the timing and location seem to match up.