Violent Skies - Tour 7 - Girls Know How to Have Fun!
Tour 7 - Violent Skies 2017 is one to remember! It was our very first all ladies tour! Three Americans and one Kiwi. This tour took us from the central plains and across the high plains. Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico are the states where we experienced severe weather. Including one breathtaking tornado warned supercell near the front range of New Mexico! Say hello to Tour 7!
The very first day of this tour took us right into Kansas! Where we experienced brief supercell like storms that were very prolific hail and lightning producers. What really stole the show was the insane mammatus clouds! We parked on the side of the road for a long time photographing the amazing display! We even took a group selfie! A really great start to the tour! Most tours it takes a day or two for everyone to get comfortable with one another, but on this particular storm chasing tour, it was as if we had all been friends for life!
The amazing display of mammatus in Kansas!
After our Kansas chase over we headed towards Nebraska where the next chase was anticipated. The day was not looking too promising but good enough to give it a strong effort. Since we pretty much woke up that morning in our target area we would not need to drive far. With each set of new data, it looked like storms were going to hold off for a good while until closer to dark. After spending some time at a local park watching the ducks and listening to hilarious stand-up comedy by Jim Gaffigan we headed over to grab some lunch at Sin City Burgers in Grand Island, Nebraska. Lunch was quite delicious! A for sure a place to head back to if in the area! Once we had left from lunch I knew of a great place where they make pies from scratch! Down the road in Grand Island, there is Lees Family Restaurant. They have the BEST coconut cream pie you will ever eat! The servings are massive!
Tour Director Erik, happy with his pie!
After pie and coffee, it was time to get into position for the day's storm chasing activities! A short drive down the road and we in position! Not long after, towering cumulus clouds began to rise up through the atmosphere. It looked as if things would get started much earlier than expected, but that was not the case. The growing towers of cumulus simple were struggling to become the powerful storms we hoped they would become. After a bit more of waiting and closely monitoring radar and satellite observations, it looked like we need to drop south a little bit. Storms further south were not in the better environment to have the shear needed for supercells. They were more thermodynamically driven and with the lack of shear, the storms would have a harder time gaining storm-scale rotation.
Upon getting to the new area the newly born storms were just barely reaching severe limits. They sure did put out one heck of a lightning show on though! As daylight became darkness the storms intensified as the low-level jet was starting to kick in. At this time storms began to show some supercell characteristics and the lightning had increased to levels that were almost unimaginable! A person simply could not count to two without three to five strikes taking place. It was much too dangerous to get out of the van! The storm had very impressive striated supercell structure! Like a big stack of IHOP pancakes! Though it would not stay discrete very long the storm started to grow upscale into an MCS (Mesoscale Convective System) but the structure and lightning maintained its impressive display! Everyone was so impressed and excited! An amazing two days of chasing!
The beautiful storm on the Kansas, Nebraska border!
After the end of the chase, we headed to Coby, KS to get some rest. The next day we headed back to Colorado to chase a very marginal storm day. Upon arriving large amounts of cloud cover really put a hurt on the instability. One storm tried to get its act together but without the much-needed heating of the sun storms just continued to struggle. Looking at new data it was decided that mother nature was not going to be very nice to us for the next couple of days. So we headed to the mountains of Colorado to relax and enjoy the beautiful Rocky Mountains! We were able to find a really nice hotel, where the rooms were more like condos than hotel rooms! They were awesome and located right in downtown Winter Park! The next day we had a nice full day of exploring, visiting Adams Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, did some hiking, visited shops in Grand Lake. It was a nice and relaxing day of fun. We all had so much fun that we decided to stay one more night in the area. Adam and I continued to monitor the forecast and it was time to head out the next day to New Mexico to get into position for a couple of days of storm chasing.
We made the few hour drive to New Mexico and moisture just did not make it in time. Upper-level winds were also lacking keeping the few storms that did fire over the mountain ranges to the west of Raton, New Mexico. We had a nice dinner in Raton and then headed to Las Vegas, New Mexico. The next day showed a strong chance for supercells and possibly tornadoes. It did not disappoint!
Waking up near our target area, we had a bit of time to do some exploring of the local region. We had found a nearby National Wildlife Refuge and decided to check it out after breakfast. The refuge was very interesting but the wildlife was just nowhere to be found. Adam and I still monitoring the day's progress, our forecast had us in a bit of bind as to where to go exactly. There were two target areas. One was very close to where we were at and the other about an hour or so away. After some discussion and data analyzing it was decided to go north to the further target, which was Wagon Mound, New Mexico.
We pulled into a large parking lot near a gas station, grabbed some snacks and waited to see how our next move would be made. We felt confident in our position. Looking at more data only made us more confident. Then it started to happen! Storms were firing! We made a short jog to our west where we saw a really nice storm developing and got into position to watch it mature. Then storms started to fire in the other area we had been watching in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Both storms started to fluctuate in intensity then the southern storm started to get much more organized and soon it would become a supercell. Adam and I were both looking over everything we could to make sure we were still in fact in the right location for the chase. Our experience told us that patience was going to be needed and hold put. It was a hard sit as our storm just could not get organized and at times looked rather unimpressive, while the storm to the south was becoming a monster.
We noted some key features of the storm we were on and noticed inflow increasing. Soon the radar started to show the tops exploding once more and we knew we had made the right choice. By this time the southern storm was no longer looking as impressive. We decided to drive in a little closer and just as quickly as we pulled off the road a huge wall cloud developed and radar was showing some rather impressive rotation. It just kept getting better and better. As we were standing outside admiring our beautiful supercell, large hail began to fall and we had to retreat to the van and eventually retreat the area we were in. Road networks in New Mexico are not very chaser friendly, so we had to head back east a couple miles to get out of the large hail. Then it happened, Tornado Warning! Now in a safe place, we watched the storm closely, taking a ton of photographs of our beast storm. We could definitely see some great rotation in the wall cloud, and what could possibly have been a tornado. The dust being pulled into the storm made it extremely difficult to confirm a tornado had actually reached the ground.
Our beautiful New Mexico Supercell. Our patience gave us the storm of
The monster of a supercell was moving almost due south and it was time to reposition. We headed south on I25 to stay ahead of the storm. Due to the bad road networks, we had to continue south for a good bit before finding a west road option to get back in front of the storm. This supercell was very slow moving and the tornado warnings kept on coming. Visibility was very poor by this time as the storm transitioned into a high precipitation mode, making it difficult to see the area where a tornado would form. The structure was still breathtaking. The storm started to take a more easterly track, so it was time for us to head east. As the storm crossed I25 it became outflow dominant and slowly began to collapse. A nice shelf cloud had formed and soon the sky would be cloudy and calm looking. The New Mexico monster supercell was no more and so from there, the chase was over.
We booked some more rooms in Las Vegas, NM and had our celebratory dinner! For the last day of the tour, we slowly made our way back to Colorado. Had a fantastic Mexican food lunch in Raton and then visited Capulin Volcano to walk off our big lunch.
Tour 7 on the rim of Capulin Volcano, NM
Once arriving in Denver, it was time for our final dinner together and reflect on all the great times the week had offered us. Many lifelong memories and friends made, non stop laughing, lots of singing, great food, and great storms. For some, it was an emotional ending. It was the greatest adventure of their life. And that is what we strive for. An adventure that connects to your soul. It was such an amazing time. Girls know how to have fun!