May 21, 2010


Initial Target: Pine Bluffs, WY
Departure: Westchester, IL 7:00 pm CDT May 20
Arrival: Lusk, WY 12:00 am CDT May 22
Intercepts: Fort Laramie, WY
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Non-Severe (not measured)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Wall Cloud
Miles: 1,197


Upslope play across eastern Wyoming. Targeted the Pine Bluffs area before heading north to Goshen County after storms initiated. Intercepted west of Fort Laramie noting possible wall cloud. Followed storm east to the NE border noting RFD notch, another possible wall cloud, and a humorous run in with a bull snake. Lost storm due to mud roads and spent the night north of Lusk, WY in the van as severe storm moved through.

Crew and Equipment:

Solo chase.  Equipment:  Kenwood TH-F6A Tribander, Dell Inspiron Laptop.  Kyocera data card and router, Holux 236 GPS, Robotic camera dome with Sony XR-520V.






Friday was the first day in what I hoped would be a multi-day chase trip in the Plains. Chances for tornadoes looked isolated/marginal as only a few upslope storms were forecasted to initiate across the high plains. These storms can be extremely photogenic, however, and I wanted to get several chase days in if I was committing to driving out to the plains. I targeted southeast Wyoming which looked to have the best trade off between upper level energy which was further north and moisture/instability to the south.

I left the night before and camped out in the van somewhere in Iowa off I-80. Getting up early the next morning, I made it to Wyoming by afternoon and stopped in Pine Bluffs to check data. Some cells started to fire well to the north heading for Goshen County, a hotbed for high plains tornadoes, and I made the call to fly north. I encountered some major gremlins in the robotic camera dome's software, however, and had to stop to fix it. The delay might have cost me a brief tornado that Scott Weberpal got. Looking east at some thin cumulus over a good vantage point of the high plains:

With the gremlins sorted out I was moving in for the intercept. The storm went tornado warned and quickly produced a brief rope tornado while I was still many miles out. Looking northwest at a distant, tornado warned supercell:
Heading west out of Fort Laramie, I was able to get a view of the storm's base (or bases) as well as the start of the Rockies in the background. There were towers going up ahead of the storm that were merging with the supercell, making it hard to discern which was the real base. You can see a lowering at the bottom right marking the storm's inflow of rain cooled air:
Adam Lucio, Danny Neal, and Ben Holcomb caught up with me and we stopped to watch the storm pass by to the north.
The rear flanking downdraft cut a huge horseshoe shaped notch out of the storm's updraft base. This usually precludes tornadogenesis if its going to happen, however, for reasons not understood this time it did not. Perhaps the downdraft was too strong and cut off the updraft, perhaps there wasn't enough accumulated vorticity for vertical stretching into a tornado.
I followed behind Adam's truck through some muddy roads as we pursued the storm east. The Mudpuppy got a mud bath but it didn't get stuck. Our east road ended and we stopped to watch the base for a few minutes as it looked like it was attempting to cycle. Left to right, Ben, Danny, and Adam set up their cameras:

Adam posing in front of his mud covered truck:

A lowering starts to form under the updraft base, perhaps an attempt at a wall cloud.
Scott Bennett joined us as the lowering struggles to organize:
The Mudpuppy with robotic camera dome pointed at the storm. The van and dome were absolutely plastered with mud from the roads we took. Luckily Rain-X works great on mud too as it just beaded up and rolled right off the windshield. I had to spend a good bit of time cleaning the dome off after we stopped, however.
Ben went back to Adam's truck as we watched the storm, and that's when we heard him start screaming, "THERE"S A HUGE *&%^*^ RATTLE SNAKE!!!" We all ran over and gathered around to see a snake coiled up right in front of Adam's driver side door.
A close up of the snake. It had diamond like markings on its back, although the round shape of the eyes and head made it look more like a non venomous snake and we also heard no rattling. We weren't about to test the snake though.
Some locals, seeing the commotion with our vehicle convoy and us all clustered around had stopped out of curiosity. They quickly informed us that this was not a venomous rattlesnake but a harmless bull snake.
Meanwhile, the storm looked like it was going outflow dominant. The lowering fell apart and the base was taking on a ragged, cold appearance.
The Wyoming locals explained to us that when you get an ill tempered bull snake, the trick is to take your hat off and throw it on top of him. "It gets cool and dark, and he'll calm down." They missed the snake with both their hats, however, and so probably just managed to confuse or agitate him further. After a couple of minutes one of them used the end of a shotgun to get the hats back.


As the storm continued to move away from us to the east, the only option was to keep going north behind the storm and try and catch up with it later in Nebraska. I followed behind Adam again but our county road turned to slick mud as the storm had just passed there. With the Mudpuppy sliding all over the place and my tires starting to dig in, I carefully turned around and was able to make it back to pavement without getting stuck. The chase was over for me. I headed down to Torrington and got some dinner, before heading up to Lusk after dark to intercept a severe warned thunderstorm, noting some small hail and a dramatic lightning illuminated shelf cloud. With a lack of places to park overnight I wound up stopped in a ranch drive off the side of the highway.


A fun first day to a several day plains chase trip with some pretty storm structure and a humorous run in with a snake. The day wasn't worth the trip by itself, especially since I missed the brief, rope tornado that Scott Weberpal bagged, but it was nice to be out and in position for the next day, which turned out to be one of my best chases ever. The storm continued to fall apart after I had to leave it north of Torrington due to mud roads so I didn't wind up missing too much.



Lessons Learned: 

  • Be careful where you step when chasing out west.