June 10th, 2011- Last Chance, Colorado Supercell


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What a day this ended being, especially considering how things appeared by late afternoon. This had looked like a good chase day in Western Nebraska and Eastern Colorado for a few days, with upslope storms across the front range of the Rockies, and a nice warm front that models suggested might light up late in the day across Southwestern Nebraska. Myself, Tyler Burg, Evan Ludes, and Cody Ervin departed Omaha around 7am, with an initial target along the Ogallala to North Platte corridor. As we headed west it became rather apparent we needed to err to the west, we stopped in Kearney around 12:30 for lunch. Then continued west to Ogallala, making a side trip to Lake McConaughy since we felt like we were very early. We stopped and shot some photos of a dam that was releasing water well into the air and some swallows nesting in the dam. Eventually we learned that Mike Hollingshed was staying at a motel in town so we headed back to the south of I-80 and looked things over with him and had some laughs. Eventually Scott Bennett joined in as well, so it was an entertaining afternoon.

We kept faith in the short range models that had been showing initiation over our area around 5pm along the warm front, however as 4:30 approached and we had no towers or even developing cumulus we all got a little frustrated. Around the same time a cell had fired off of the Cheyenne Ridge and was slowly headed towards the Sterling, Colorado area. It struggled for awhile, but, soon started to rapidly intensify and was showing 4 inch diameter hail on radar, it was soon tornado warned and we headed off. In search of something for our long drive out there. We took I-76 down to Sterling, and headed west on a highway out of town, and then north on rural roads into a National Grassland. When we first started our drive north the storm looked nice, but as we approached it rapidly weakened. Leaving only this mammatus filled sky in its wake.

A string of supercells had fired along the Front Range, with the northern storms near us looking rather outflow dominant, but an incredible looking tail end charlie about 50-60 miles to our southwest. We had a decision to make, head south and continue to burn gas and get further from home, or pack it in for the day. Having driven about 450 miles for some mammatus. We figured we might as well give our lone southern supercell a chance and headed south. Soon after a pair of tornadoes were reported. Our rush south and rural roads took a little more urgency. We finally reached a highway that allowed us to head straight south towards Anton, Colorado. When we got about 25 miles from the storm, we all got FILLED with hope. The storm looked like it had incredible structure even from that distance, we flew south stopping about 2 miles north of Anton, and then headed west on a gravel road, finally getting into position shortly before 8pm MDT. Ironically the storm had passed Last Chance, Colorado, and with about an hour of daylight left after 500 miles, was our Last Chance for the day. Here was our view, now about 10 miles east of the incredible supercell in great light. The textures and lightning were just icing on the cake.

You can almost see the motion in the clouds, with the whole structure spinning above the Colorado Plains. The textures show you the rotating and rising motion in the updraft base. From time to time columns of dust would form under the structure, but we couldnt confirm any tornadoes at our distance.

I slapped the wide angle on for a few shots, heres one of Tyler photographing this barrel of a supercell!

Heres another as the storm got a little closer.

As the storm got closer we decided to head east to keep the whole structure in view, but soon after doing so we wondered if we made the wrong choice. This lowering formed near the vault of the storm, with lightning lashing out in the vault of the storm. The light continued to be amazing with sunset occuring.

The next two images show how this evolved as we let the storm approach us. The lowering continued and the textures in the updraft grew even more incredible as the light changed and the storm approached us.

We got a little bit concerned about hail as we started to have some giant rain drops fall at this point, and with it looking like a structure only show at this point we jumped south east to stay in front of this incredible storm. We headed south for about 2 miles, taking the last gravel option before going into Anton, then heading east about 5 miles. When we stopped and got set up we had an AMAZING view of this striated beast of a supercell in incredible terrain. An RFD cut into the base of the storm, setting off some great motion in our lowering.

Lightning flashed in the vault as our last bit of light lowered, this illuminated the incredible bands and tiers in the storm structure. It seemed like we were watching some kind of alien spaceship in the twilight, coming to land over the grasslands in the rolling Colorado prairie.

Heres an HDR from 3 bracketed exposures, as a CG struck the field in the vault region of this coiled storm. HDR really brought out the textures in the updraft.

After a scary experience involving a poorly marked hairpin turn at high speed, and a massive hole cut into a dirt road, we stopped a final time in the dark, now to the Southwest of Yuma, Colorado for lightning. I captured a pair of cgs that illuminated the shrinking, but still rather incredible storm structure. The rolling foothills on the horizon only added to this encounter.

We had to punch the storm, which was thankfully weakening at this point, as we headed into Yuma for dinner. Briefly getting into some dime sized hail as we headed to Dairy Queen for dinner prior to our long drive home. On the way, we watched an absolutely incredible lightning display behind the squall line that had erupted across Western Nebraska and this entertained us. We finally got home around 5:30am after nearly 24 hours in the car. What an experience with some great friends!


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