June 11, 2010


Initial Target: Limon, CO
Departure: Akron, CO 8:30 am CDT
Arrival: Tribune, KS 12:30 am CDT
Intercepts: Ramah, CO Sheridan Lake, CO
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Non-Severe (not measured)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: Wall Cloud
Miles: 332


Upslope play in CO. Targeted Limon for storms coming off front range. Intercepted tornado warned supercell southwest of town noting wall clouds. Storm quickly transitioned to outflow dominant HP. Watched new convection coming off front range and briefly got stuck in culvert before heading southeast to other storms. Noted photogenic scenery en route and intercepted near dusk with mammatus show and lightning illuminated base. Spent night in van just across border in KS.

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's chase was my fourth day out chasing. After missing a couple of photogenic tornadoes the day before near Last Chance, CO I was determined to make the most of this day. I initially targeted Limon, CO and points west for initiation of upslope supercells that would pose a modest tornado threat. I spent half the day at the Denny's eating both breakfast and lunch there, while meeting up with chasers Charles Edwards, Mike Scantlin, and others as we shared stories about the chase the day before.
With storms starting to fire to the west and northwest, I moved over to the gas station to top off and check data one last time where I also met up with chasers Steve Miller OK and Steve Miller TX. The entire Vortex 2 armada was congregating at a truck stop across the street from us. As storms started to pop to our west and northwest, we watched the fleet roll out. One of the crew, riding out in the open on top of one of the trucks lost his hat, and we watched in amusement as the fleet stopped and somebody got out from another vehicle to catch it. A storm had fired just to the southwest and was moving into my target area. The chase was on!

Heading southwest out of Limon, the base of the storm came into view and it looked like a wall cloud was already starting to develop. I broke off the highway and took a gravel road west to move in for a closer view.

A ragged, scuddy wall cloud sucking in rain cooled air:
A second wall cloud started to form to the northeast of the first one, a promising sign that this might be a cyclical supercell. The storm picked up a tornado warning. I was in the perfect position.
A tornado look-a-like formed here as a non rotating piece of scud condensed underneath the wall cloud with the illusion that it was touching the ground, although there was a hill in the way.
A more obvious shot of the scud:
This is about when the storm transitional into a high precipitation mode, which was not a welcome sight. The northern end of the wall cloud started to fan out into a big gust front with a lot of rain behind it while inflow tails were streaming off the northern end.

The rear flanking downdraft of the storm fanning out into a big scuddy gust front while the robotic camera dome records its approach:

This was not a promising sign for tornadoes, although it was dramatic looking, and the high plains contrast made for some photogenic shots as it approached.

I got hit by a blast of cold outflow as the storm approached, another disappointing sign for the hopes of this storm organizing. I finally had to move east here to keep ahead of the storm. I noticed that I was leap frogging a black coupe on the gravel road and finally we stopped to chat. It was Bob Schafer. Like the Steve Miller's, another a chaser that I had previously known only online.

Some more scud being kicked up by the cold outflow of the storm:

The storm was still tornado warned and most of the chasers on it were moving to keep up with it. I didn't like the trends I was seeing here so I decided to abandon the storm for some new storms firing off the front range and see what would become of them. I started heading southwest towards the town of Callahan. I parked along the side of the road with a view of the mountains and some storms to my southwest. There was a big culvert next to me that I didn't see when I pulled in, and from my vantage point it looked like I had a really wide shoulder. I went to use the full width of it to turn around when, much to my surprise, the van went nose first into the culvert, landing on the bumper with a sickening thud.

I could tell by the cockeyed angle I was in that the van was going nowhere until I got somebody to tow me out. I got out to see how bad it was. The hole I drove into was huge. I couldn't believe that I didn't see it when I pulled in or that I had forgotten that it was there. The front wheels were completely off the ground, just hanging in space, and the weight of the van was being supported by the front bumper that caught the far side of the hole. The van was stuck in a goofy angle, and plainly obvious from the road that I had drive into a big hole. Luckily I managed to do this right outside of town so help would nearby, and luckily all the other storm chasers were still up north following that original storm. I would have died of embarrassment seeing a line of chasers go by with the van stuck in a hole. I started calling for a tow. Both the local tow companies were out on jobs rather far away, but before I could hang up two awesome locals with pickups stopped. One had a chain and we threw it on the back end of the van and they yanked me right out.
The bumper was a little loose, but otherwise there didn't appear to be any damage. I thanked the locals who refused payment for their assistance and I was on my way. I took it slow at first but the van seemed fine. That was dumb!
I drove up to the top of a hill to see what was going on with the storms nearby. None of them were really taking off, but I did have some gorgeous views of their bases with mountains in the background.
Looking northeast from the same hill at another base with some rain falling underneath creating a pretty blue gradient:
The original storm was now tracking east of Limon and continued on as a tornado warned, HP mess. I decided to target more discrete storms to the south tracking near Las Animas. Along the way I drove past the back ends of some other storms. While not really chase targets, they were extremely photogenic.
Extreme contrast on the back end of the storms:
The shading here creates a sense of depth while a faint rainbow can be seen in the rain bands and virga:
The flat open terrain of eastern Colorado:
Painting like sky:
The sun was striking the ground in the background creating amazing contrast and color:

I finally made it down to my storm near Sheridan Lake, CO and followed it to the Kansas border. There was a great, deep blue mammatus display as the sun went down and I wound up getting on the storm after dark. It regained a tornado warning and I could see an updraft base from the intermittent lightning flashes, but nothing that looked tornadic.


I wound up stopping for the night on a gravel road just on the east side of the Kansas border near Tribune. The stars came out and the evening was balmy. I spent about an hour just laying on top of the van watching the sky and counting shooting stars. It was a great ending to a fun chase and photogenic day.



Although I saw no tornadoes, this was a great chase. The storms I did see were really photogenic and even the storms I wasn't after made for some gorgeous photos thanks to the amazing contrast and beautiful Colorado scenery. Eastern Colorado is one of my favorite places to chase as a result. It was also nice meeting up with a bunch of chasers that I had only known from the internet. My near disaster of driving into the hole could have been a lot worse and I made out of there with only a few minutes of lost time and a loose bumper. I didn't miss too much weather wise. The only tornadoes reported were brief spin-ups. Seeing a great supercell with some wall clouds followed by extremely photogenic storms, mammatus, and a surreal camp-out under the Kansas sky made this chase one of my favorite tornado-less chases of the year.



Lessons Learned: 

  • Watch where you park, and don't blindly maneuver on the side of the road