May 21, 2014


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Bennett, CO
Springfield, IL 7:24 PM 5/20/2014
Denver, CO 10:52 PM 5/21/2014
Denver, CO
0 mph
Wall Cloud, RFD Gust Front


Upslope/Denver Cyclone setup over Denver, CO area. Targeted Bennett, CO for afternoon tornadic supercells. Departed Springfield the day before, stopping in Cameron, MO for the night. Arrived at CO target by early afternoon as cell initiated over Denver Intl Airport. Observed wall cloud on HP supercell north of airport within inflow notch. Tracked cell eastward noting photogenic HP structure but no tornado. Followed storm to south of Fort Morgan until it congealed into an MCS. Dinner in Fort Morgan, before rescuing Brad Goddard who was stuck in the mud east of the airport. Stopped in Denver for the night with large hail drifts still present.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v..




Brindley and I were looking to take a “chasecation,” an extended storm chasing trip. The models were forecasting several days of upslope setups over Colorado and New Mexico. Tornado probabilities would be low, but the pattern suggested photogenic storms and supercells each day. The first day, however, looked like it had tornado potential and could be a big chase event. Upslope flow, combined with a Denver Cyclone and strong westerly flow aloft brought the ingredients necessary for tornadic supercells to the Denver area. We targeted just east of the Denver area where shear and instability combinations would be maximized.

We left the night before, heading west out of Springfield as the sun was setting. Our foam cheeseburger sat on the dash under the hail cracked windshield, an ever present safety reminder for us.
A new addition on this chase was a plush comic strip character: “What The Duck.” The photographer duck would be our mascot and a prop for our photo updates from the field.

Developing HP Supercell
15 miles NE of Commerce City, CO
3:12 PM
We stopped in Cameron, MO for the night before getting up at dawn and continuing our trek into Colorado. Upslope storms usually fire early and we had a long way to go, so we were rolling by 6 am, sluggish and with coffee in hand as we traversed Kansas City.

We made it to our target by early afternoon, stopping in Watkins, CO for fuel. There was a mini chase convergence at the gas station and we chatted with friends and fellow chasers for a few minutes before splitting up and heading our own ways. A cell had fired over the Denver International Airport. We couldn’t intercept it as it tracked over the airport, obviously, but we could watch it from afar. We headed north out of Watkins and then west on the north side of the airport. We got into the storm’s inflow notch, just shy of where the hail was falling and then watching as a large high precipitation supercell with wall cloud took shape.

Structure Pano
15 miles NE of Commerce City, CO
3:13 PM

An ultrawide angle panoramic shot shows the storm structure: forward flanking precipitation core on the right, wall cloud and rear flanking downdraft in the middle, and an inflow band being sucked into the storm’s updraft on the left.

Forward Flanking Downdraft
15 miles NE of Commerce City, CO
3:16 PM
Another wide angle shot shows the rain in the forward flanking downdraft fanning out underneath the storm’s updraft base.

Wall Cloud
12 miles ESE of Brighton, CO
3:29 PM
A telephoto shot of the wall cloud several miles to our south.

Rising Motion
11 miles SSE of Hudson, CO
3:30 PM
We could see rapid rising motion on the back end of the wall cloud, which can be a precursor to tornadogenesis. The wall cloud was ground scrapingly low and we watched it closely for spinup tornadoes underneath. A report of a brief tornado did come in on the storm, which was apparently not much more than a brief whirl of dust or condensation. We didn't see it though.

HP Supercell
11 miles SSE of Hudson, CO
3:33 PM
Despite the favorable shear parameters, a combination of slow storm speeds, perhaps lack of upper level ventilation, and excess of moisture and precipitable water at that elevation, the storm seemed to be stuck in a high precipitation state. Spotting tornadoes at a distance would be difficult as they would most likely be rain wrapped. We came to the high plains expecting low precipitation or classic structure and were a little disappointed to see the HP mode, but the storm was still dramatic and menacing in appearance.
The rear flank of the storm filled in with rain.

Colorado Ranch
11 miles SSE of Hudson, CO
3:35 PM
We moved east down the road to stay out of the hail core. We pulled off the road into a driveway so as to not block traffic. The homeowners arrived a few minutes later in their trucks, suspicious of our presence, but let us stay.

Photogenic HP
8 miles N of Watkins, CO
3:51 PM
We left the ranch to keep up with the storm, heading south down the west side of the airport and then east on the first available decent road option. The storm developed a photogenic green core within the rear flanking downdraft region, while a new updraft base looked like it was attempting to organize. The storm was tornado warned and exhibiting a fat hook echo on the radar, but so far any views of tornadoes had eluded us.
We pulled off the main road onto an unpaved side road. We briefly thought about going through the puddles to turn the van around, and fortunately we didn't. Another chaser drove through them a minute later and the deceptively deep water went up to almost the top of their wheel well. We would have gotten stuck for sure. At that point we decided that the unpaved side roads were off limits. The slow moving storm would result in flooding across the area.

Low Level Organization
8 miles N of Strasburg, CO
4:22 PM
From our vantage point we could see the updraft base starting develop a kink and what looked like a nice spiral, which meant there was some low level rotation. We were hopeful we might get front row seats to a high contrast, high plains tornado, but the storm started to fall apart again before we had to move to stay out of the hail.
What The Duck posing in front of the storm.

Low Level Scud
8 miles N of Strasburg, CO
4:35 PM
Some scud started to kick up under the base. It looked menacing and dramatic, but it wasn't tornadic despite the slight twisting rotation it exhibited.

End Of Chase
8 miles N of Strasburg, CO
4:38 PM

Matthew Cumberland caught up with us and we chatted for a few minutes while watching the storm before splitting up to avoid the rear flanking core. We had seen a handful of chasers within the inflow notch, but no exceptional convergances. As we ducked south to avoid the RFD, we found the masses, congregating on the south side of the hook along the highways. Several tornado reports had come in, but most of them looked like they were scud reports from the rear flanking gust front and flanking line fanning out south of the storm. We headed several miles east, got in front of the storm, and then back north into the inflow notch. The storm lost its tornado warning, but it was still exhibiting dramatic HP supercell structure and some rotation. The sparse roads of eastern Colorado didn’t allow us to keep moving east with the storm. Rather than dangerously racing the RFD core south across its path, we stair stepped our way north into the forward flank, watching from the rain one last time before the cell was finally engulfed by a developing storm complex.

We called it a chase and decided to continue north up to Fort Morgan to get some grub. We stopped at a local establishment to get some dinner and found out that our friend Brad Goddard had gotten stuck in the mud while chasing the storm we were on. He couldn’t get a tow out to his vehicle anytime soon so we offered to come down and pick him up.

Flooded Roads
8 miles NW of Bennett, CO
8:51 PM
We headed back toward the airport where Brad had gotten stuck. We encountered some flooding on the road leading off the highway and stopped for a couple minutes to check the depth and make sure it was OK to cross. The water turned out to be less than an inch deep with solid road underneath so crossing it was no problem, but for a short while we wondered if we would even be able to get to Brad.
A few miles down, we spotted Brad hiking down the side of the road. We picked him up and headed to Denver for the night.
Some much needed beers after a long chase day.

Hail Drifts
12 miles NE of Denver, CO
10:53 PM

Checking into our hotel I noticed that there were still huge hail drifts laying around. The upslope storms produce massive amounts of hail and it sticks around for awhile at the high elevation, forcing the residents of Denver to plow and shovel it like snow. Drifts several feet deep could still be seen in places.

Unfortunately, we made a mistake booking our room and the hotel didn't have a room left for us, while vacancy was extremely limited by the airport. We wound trying a few other places before having to shell out for a suite, which was vandalized while we were checking out the next morning. We had to pay for some of the damages even though we weren't the vandals but were still responsible for the room. The incident, high prices, and issues with vacancy left a sour taste in our mouth and we'll most likely avoid staying in Denver on any future chasing trips.


This chase was supposed to be a big tornado event, and while several tornadoes were reported, nothing very photogenic tornado wise resulted from this event and many of the reports seemed quite questionable. We still had an enjoyable chase, however, with dramatic supercell structure. Even if storms are in a high precipitation state, the amazing contrast and visibility of the high plains still allows for dazzling displays in the sky. We came out for photogenic upslope storms, so we counted the chase as a success rather than a bust.

Lessons Learned

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