April 12, 2012


Initial Target: Liberal, KS
Departure: Westchester, IL 10:30 pm April 11
Arrival: Colby, KS 9:30 pm
Intercepts: Atwood, KS
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: None
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: LP Updraft Tower, Wall Cloud
Miles: 1186


Dryline play in western Kansas. Targeted points west and north of Dodge City for afternoon supercell initiation. Dryline failed to initiate due to lack of lift/capping, ran north to KS/NE border to get cells coming off the triple point. Noted LP updraft tower and photogenic sunset. Noted brief wall cloud at dusk right on the NE/KS border before calling it a chase.

Crew and Equipment:

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley and Brad Goddard.  Equipment:  Kenwood TH-F6A Tribander, Dell Inspiron Laptop.  Millenicom 760 USB datacard and cradlepoint router, Holux 236 GPS, Canon 60D and EF-S 10-22mm

Photography courtesy: Jennifer Brindley




The first of a four day plains chase trip with Brad Goddard and Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Thursday looked like it would be a good day for photogenic supercells in the western plains. A dryline with moderate instability was forecast to extend from Goodland, KS south into the TX/OK panhandles while a 500 mb trough lagged well to the west. The upper level dynamics would be weak as the bulk of the energy stayed west of the dryline, but it was hoped that convergence along the dryline and a subtle upper level disturbance would be enough to initiate storms by late afternoon on the dryline in western KS where the best upper level flow existed. Shear profiles were quite favorable for supercells and we hoped to kick off our multi day plains run with some awesome structure shots.

Jenn headed down to my place and we left Westchester just after 10 pm the night before the chase. We picked up Brad just outside the Quad Cities and marathoned it overnight across Iowa on 80 and then south on 35. In Iowa City we hit a snag. Two construction vehicles, not more than a few vehicles ahead of us were doing 10-15 mph on the interstate for several miles. We couldn't see why they were blocking both lanes, but it was excruciating driving behind them. I was actually able to exit, and get back on passing the vehicles on the ramps and we were back on course.

We split the drive up, each of us taking turns behind the wheel. I awoke from a nap right at dawn, and was able to snag a few shots of a photogenic sunrise through the bubble canopy.

Our route took us through Wichita and then Pratt, KS. We could have setup base camp in Pratt as we wound up passing through the town the next three days.

It was then off to Dodge City where we stopped for some Subway and met up with Nick Nolte and Jonathan Williamson. A cumulus filed was budding to the west along the dryline and points north and parameters looked favorable to our northwest so we didn't stay too long before heading out to Garden City.

Cleaning the bugs off the bubble canopy on the new dome:

Brad Goddard:
Nick Nolte getting his GoPro camera ready:
Jonathan "Eagle Eyes" Williamson:
Technology overload with an ipad and laptop running in the backseat, 22" touchscreen up front with a video camera on the windshield, and another video camera on a tripod in the bubble canopy:

We waited at a gas station just north of town along with several other chase vehicles. Forecast models were initiating storms just west of our location so we looked to be in a good spot. However, after waiting for quite awhile the cumulus started to taper off down the dryline, and was instead building most favorably up by the triple point in Goodland. We started heading north just as small cells initiated by Goodland and north into Nebraska. These storms were moving off into areas of lower moisture and instability so we didn't expect too much out of them, but hoped the line would build down to the south and we'd intercept tail end charlie.

We stopped in Colby and had a leisurely dinner at the Wendy's. The cells firing to our west had been sputtering for the past couple of hours, unable to find any purchase against the residual capping and lack of lift. Cells in Nebraska were going severe warned and one just to our north started to strengthen nicely.

We went after it heading north out of Colby. The northerly track of the cell meant there was a limited tornado potential as it might not be rooted to the surface and it would also take us longer to intercept from the south.

Some photogenic and rather solid looking convection came into view as the storm went severe warned.

Anvil stretching far overhead:

Solid convection on a Low Precipitation Supercell updraft tower:
Shooting a few stills through the bubble canopy:
The storm had some decent LP structure and we could make out a rather low contrast base from our view from the south. Meanwhile the Nebraska cells had gone tornado warned, probably tapping the better directional shear along the warm front even though the instability was marginal that far north.
We never got under the base of our storm, the fast northerly motion keeping us just a step behind it. A squall line fired to our west. The sun was setting and making for a gorgeous sunset against the building convection. It was a pretty sight, but when the squall overtook the cells we were chasing, it would be game over.
Jenn shooting the sunset with our original LP storm behind her:
The squall line held off until dark, however. Another smaller cell had fired to the south of the LP that we had been chasing and looked like it was trying to merge. We approached it from the west in the last of the light. A wall cloud with well defined tail cloud started to form. It was better low level structure than I was expecting from the tiny cell in relatively cool air.
The southern portion of the base passed overhead. The tornado threat was negligible, but low hanging wisps of scud were giving us creepy vibes. There was no lightning on the storm, so we decided to call it a chase at nightfall, and headed back to Colby to get a room for the night.

Storms failed to initiate in our main target and while we did get some photogenic convection, the lack of low level supercell structure or anything close to a tornado made this day almost a bust. The 10% tornado probabilities definitely busted, with the only a few brief tornadoes reported in southern Nebraska. The first trip out with the bubble canopy turned out to be a success. Using the camera atop a tripod made it a nice shooting platform.


Lessons Learned: 

  • On/off ramps make for good passing of really slow interstate vehicles