Wednesday May 23rd started early near Denver CO and ended at sunset in western NE with a lakefront view. Inbetween the Hokie Stormchasers intercepted three separate storms that each provided interesting scenes.
Starting out in Greeley CO before lunchtime we dropped south toward the Denver airport. Convection was already firing when we clambered into the vans and that early trend continued. At one point after we’d sat by the side of a rural lane for a while I checked my watch to find that it was only 12:45 pm. That’s pretty early to begin a chase!
As storm #1 matured we relocated eastward several times, stopping to view the developing dynamics. At this vantage point it really ramped up, exhibiting anticyclonic rotation as a wall cloud built.
From here we leapfrogged a few miles east and then pushed a bit north to see this view. We couldn’t tarry long here as the hail core was fast approaching.
After this stop storm #1 moved northward into unchaseable territory in northern Colorado (no roads) but we’d already noted more convection firing to the east. So we jumped on I-76 and motored northeast to get ahead of this new activity. Per the radar view an apparent boundary was moving north-northeastward, separating very dry air from somewhat less dry air (call it a “dry-ish” line).
We had to let a couple of stronger cells go as they too entered the unchaseable realms but then storm #2 developed just behind us. We pulled off the interstate at the Crook CO exit and watched as this storm grew in size and strength a couple miles west of us.
As storm #2 chugged northward we were buffeted by strong winds that we at first thought was outflow but then decided they were from the rear flank downdraft – RFD – on this storm. We were dowsed by blowing dust for several minutes.
As storm #2 continued northward the Hokies observed the hail shaft on the back side of the updraft.
As this cell drew away from us we gave chase, hoping to slide northeast to the intersection of I-76 and I-80 in Nebraska and then jump back west to keep up with the storm. But as we rolled along yet another cell ramped up east of storm #2 and became our next storm.
Taking the Big Springs NE exit we drove a few miles north and found a spot from which to observe storm #3. It cycled through several wall clouds as we watched, developing features tantalizingly close to the ground several times.
It came close to putting something down on the ground but never quite made it. The shear and moisture were both just a bit shy of the levels needed to drop a tornado.
To keep up with this cell we moved further east and then north again to the dam on Lake McConaughey NE where we ended the chase. Further north from this point the Sand Hills have few roads or vantage points so it was a pleasant place to pull off, stretch our legs, grab some food from the coolers, and kibitz with the myriad other chasers who had stopped here.
Oh, and did I mention the views of the storm and the lake as the sun set?
It was a very relaxing way to end a long day of chasing. We wound up in North Platte NE for the night, a place where several earlier Hokie Stormchase crews have stayed over the years.