Disclaimer: I have more than 13 years experience with severe weather and have safety, first aid and emergency management training. Severe weather is dangerous and I do not recommend that this be done without the proper safety and first aid training and without a will to help others.
So I realized that I never updated this blog to include the 2012 Tornado Alley Storm Chase. The general weather patterns were not looking very promising that week, so I was worried it was going to be a bust. Ideally a trip like this would be at least two weeks with the dates being flexible, we had to fly down to Oklahoma and only had a week. I figured at the very least it would be an appropriate introduction to storm chasing for my husband since the weather doesn’t always cooperate. However, unlike most other first time storm chasers, he was lucky.
We got a rather nice thunderstorm with impressive CG lightning the first night. I will admit, I am still trying to embrace the whole photography thing. It didn’t even occur to me to stop watching the storm to get out the camera. I now really regret not getting a shot of the lightning. Somehow I did not get a single lightning shot this entire trip.
The first real chase came the following day and took us from Oklahoma into Texas, New Mexico and ended in Southern Colorado (even today when my husband gets asked about the trip, the first thing he always talks about is the amount of driving, not the storms or the adventure of seeing new places, the driving. Oh, and t he number of llamas that we saw on the trip, that also apparently made an impression). While one LP storm is particular was impressive and cycled several times, it did not produce a tornado. However, it did have an incredibly impressive long-lasting wall cloud.
Wall Cloud in New Mexico
While there were a few storms, conditions over the next couple of days were not particularly good for severe weather. The next impressive storm was in Nebraska and ended up being the only tornado warned storm in the state that day. Understanding meteorology is essential to tracking severe weather, but luck can also play a role. Fortunately for us, luck was on our side that day. Most other storm chasers were following a storm to the north that ended up fizzling. We only saw others when most of the action was already over. Both storms had looked promising so being on the right one came down to luck. This storm produced impressive downbursts. A state trooper stopped by to share information and told us that there were reports of downed powerlines and branches from the high winds.
This storm also produced multiple funnels. I originally thought that the one in the photo below was just a funnel cloud but I later found out that circulation had been reported on the ground, and that it was actually a tornado. We were unable to see it at the time due to the trees and terrain. The storm was also about to cross the highway, so I did not want to get closer at the time. Fortunately no one was hurt and there was no significant damage reported.
I had planned on our last day being a down day and leading up to it, all the models seemed to indicate that it would be a fairly calm day. The morning of, I woke up early and checked the weather, more out of habit than anything else. After almost a week of fairly ‘calm’ conditions, there was now a high risk of severe weather in Kansas. My husband, being awesome, agreed to spend the final day of his vacation driving across half of Oklahoma and Kansas. It was worth it.
Conditions triggered a ‘localized outbreak’ in rural Kansas. The photo below is not a tornado, but one of several gustnadoes in the area.
The storm in the picture below had very strong rotation.
Eventually the storm did produce a weak, short lived tornado.
Rotation on ground, only a small portion of the funnel at cloud level is visible in this photo.
This was a fairly messy looking tornado and it never had the ‘classic’ funnel shape that many people associate with tornadoes. The upper section of the funnel stayed fairly close to the cloud base and never extended very far to the ground, although it had strong rotation.
Eventually, the upper rotation ceased and the tornado died out will the dust it had picked up from the fields falling:
One very photogenic storm that made everything worth it came just before sunset (the photos below are from the same storm):
We saw the final one just as the sun was setting. Unfortunately the dust kicked up by the previous storms and the light conditions resulted in very poor quality photos which is unfortunate since it was much clearer in real life. I apologize for the pretty bad photos, that was as clear as I could get them with photo software. With the sun setting we ended our chase since night chases tend to be risker. I know that others stayed out watching the tornado below. This storm underscored the riskiness of nocturnal tornadoes, apparently it dropped a satellite tornado a short distance from some of the chasers, many of which were unaware of the second tornado.
All and all it was a great trip. Mother nature put on a great show despite conditions not being ideal and there were no serious injuries as a result of any of the storms.