I have lived in Texas all my life, and no other subject has filled me with both fear and awe at the same time like Texas storms do. This powerful weather phenomenon has always inspired me. The storms themselves are a work of art. Powerful winds aloft sculpt the towers into magnificent shapes and structures. Lightning lights up the night sky like an Independence Day celebration, and the booming thunder seems to echo forever. All of these factors are orchestrated like a symphony in the heavens. “Majestic Noise” is the name of this performance, and I am its audience. I love photographing and experiencing these storms. It is my passion, my calling, and my mission. When the severe weather rolls in, I go out to listen for that “Majestic Noise!”

Sunday, May 3, 2015

April 8th Chase Report...

The 2015 storm chase season has kicked off and with a bang! I have been on several chases during the month of April and have had some success. April 8th was the first chase of April and I had the opportunity to chase with fellow storm chaser/photographer James Langford (check out Jame's incredible work here http://www.langfordphotography.com) and his friend Brad Neal. This was Brad's first storm chase so expectations were high. The SPC was expecting storms to develop after 4pm along the triple point in south-central Kansas and the dryline in western Oklahoma. We tend to chase more secondary targets than main target areas due to chaser convergence. We had hopes of catching a nice supercell and maybe even a tube all to ourselves. Read the report below to see how the chase went. I am finally starting to get some time to catch up on all these chase logs. Like I said—April has been a very busy month.


SPC outlook for 4/8/15. An enhanced risk was outlined around the two target areas south-central Kansas and western Oklahoma. 

April 8th was shaping up to be the first big severe weather event of the season. I was so confident in the chance for storms that I asked to leave early so I could chase with James and Brad and get to the target on time. Our initial target was Clinton, OK and areas west of I-40. The HRRR was forecasting a nice looking supercell around that area after 4pm. This storm had been on the previous night's 4km NAM and WRF models. So confidence was high in our secondary target. I was scheduled to leave around 1pm so we would have just enough time to make it to our target just when storms start developing. At Wichita Falls we were sitting at a mild 72 degrees and a dewpoint near 63 degrees. Thick clouds were hanging over our heads, but we could see some a cu field far back in the west and the satellite was showing erosion to the heavy cloud cover.

Satellite image at 1:15 just after we left. There is some nice clearing over our target with some cumulus developing just off the dryline. 

James and Brad pulled up to the store and waited in the parking lot while I finished waiting on customers and got my gear together. After a short greeting and introduction to Brad we climbed in the Jeep and started off to Clinton, OK. The farther north we drove the stronger the surface winds got. Strong southeast winds of 15-20kts surged moisture into our target area. By the time we get in range of our target we can see towers going up on the dryline. 

The SPC issued a mesoscale discussion for our target area around 2:30. Large hail/ some significant/ would be the primary initial hazard as the LLJ strengthens this evening...the risk for tornadoes / a few strong will increase as well...

We reached our target Clinton, OK and made a quick stop to fuel up the Jeep and check the latest data. We could now see an anvil off to our northwest. This storm was still on the dryline, but it was a promising sign. Storms had reached convective temperatures and once they got off the dryline the chase would soon begin.

Tornado watch issued for our target area as the dryline storms start to move into western OK.

The chase is on! First cell fires up on the dryline and we head off west in pursuit of the storm.

On the road and heading west on S33 to get a better look at the storm. This updraft had an
 incredible back shear anvil. 

We find a spot to pull over and we have a nice view of our storm, but the anvil isn't looking 
as sharp and defined. There was a new updraft developing on the southern part of the 
storm, however. I shot a panorama to capture the dying anvil and new updraft tower
 in the frame. 

This updraft was starting to get going. It was beginning to look like we had our storm!

20 minutes later we have explosive development and this bomb of an updraft climbs into the 
atmosphere. This kind of stuff makes for an excellent timelapse video. 

A new cell rapidly develops to the south of our storm. The anvil is much weaker and fuzzy 
looking. It was going to be interesting to see what happens when the storms collide. 

Very wide panorama to capture both storms. James and Brad are seen in the center of the 
frame. James was shooting stills and timelapse of the storms colliding. 

The storms never actually collided, but the northern cell did ingest the southern cell and it seemed to gain strength when it did. The storm moved off the dryline and starting to develop a mesocyclone and rotating wall cloud.

 We found a picturesque scene to pull over to with our storm in background. You can see some 
nice structure on the updraft and a lowering just left of the tree. We were south of Leedy, OK and
still several miles away from the storm, but we could see a rotating wall cloud 
and maybe even a funnel. 

Radar scan around 5:39pm the storm is starting to organize and there even seems to be 
a hook forming. 

 A little more north now and we find a spot with minimal hills and trees, but unfortunately we 
have to deal with some high voltage power lines cutting right across our scene. 
But we still had a great view of the storm's updraft and mesocyclone.
 Around this time the wall cloud tightened up and we saw a pretty convincing lowering
 from the rotating wall cloud. 

The storm had latched onto a boundary which we believed to be the sagging warm front. 
The storm started to go crazy. We witnessed some strong rotation and some really
 beautiful structure. 

James and Brad observing the amazing structure. I had to shoot a very wide 
panorama to get the sun and the rainbow (far right) in the frame.

The storm began to move off the boundary and seemed to weaken. Nevertheless, 
the light and movement of the clouds made for a dramatic timelapse sequence. 

Our main concern today was the early morning precip and how it would affect the environment of our storms. We were worried that the storms would ingest colder air and kill off the updraft and the chance for tornadoes. This storm looked like it was doing just that. It moved off the boundary in the more stable air, we lost our wall cloud, inflow bands, and our anvil weakened. It was still an awesome sight to witness, however.

We kept pressing on thinking our storm might reorganize. After the storm passed to our northeast we thought we could see what looked like a new wall cloud forming. Was the storm getting into better moisture? But while driving we did see the lowest wall cloud we had seen all day. Maybe our storm wasn't done just yet. To get in the right position for the storm we had to zigzag through some farm roads in the western OK hills. It was some really nice scenery there were several times I wanted to stop to shoot some landscape images, but we were on a storm chase.

Just south of Highway 60 we pull over on a hill and watch the storm's wall cloud.
 It didn't seem to be rotating as much and the whole thing had a “cold” look to it. 

Although this wall cloud was low it didn't have that much rotation to it and the NWS dropped the tornado warning. It was even starting to lose reflectivity on radar.

We are now west of a wind farm in Cestos, OK. Our storm has lost its base and is collapsing in on itself. We stop here and decide to shoot some timelaspe of the dying updraft. 

Our last view of our storm before we abandoned it. Not a bad place to set up with the wind turbines in the foreground though.

One of my favorite things about chasing is the opportunity to explore new places. This wind farm was very new and had been up less than a year. The turbines made for some great focal points in this composition. Meanwhile the TX/OK border is lighting up and the anvil from a cluster of storms is coming over our sky. This could be interesting for the sunset...

The storm to our southwest is spreading its anvil over our heads and we can just start to make out some mammatus structure. The storm tracks just to our south and we are left with an amazing mammatus display in stunning sunset light!

And a double rainbow!

James new chase vehicle did really well today and we were glad to have it. 

Panorama of the amazing mammatus clouds right above us.

The sun has set below the horizon, but now a new show is starting we can start to see some pretty nice cloud to cloud lightning on the storm to our south. This was the last photo I took before we left to get out of the falling rain.

What's better than some anvil crawler lightning? How about anvil crawler lightning over a wind farm!

After we get our fill of lightning photos we punch south towards Putnam, OK and start heading towards home. I should've been paying more attention because we ended up driving right through the core of a developing storm and got some gusty winds and hail that ranged from pea to quarter size. Luckily, it was still very new so we didn't get into anything too terribly bad. We noticed an increase in the lightning off to our west and decided to head south and get far enough ahead of the storm to get some lightning shots. I took a quick look at the latest radar data and I was in for a surprise. 

 Whoa! The storm to our west has a tornado warning on it and the radar shows a nice hook and strong velocity couplet!!!

We pulled over off the highway and started scanning the western horizon waiting for lightning to flash so we can catch a brief glimpse of some storm structure. After not seeing anything we move further south to be greeted to a convoy of storm chasers coming off Highway 33 trying to get ahead of the storm. We had gone most of the day without seeing any other chasers. It was actually quite nice. Don't get me wrong I'm all for seeing other chasers, but when there are over 100 vehicles scrambling to get to the same storm it becomes more about navigating around chasers and not watching the storms. That's why we picked the secondary target. I couldn't imagine what it was like up in Kansas. Around 9:30 we call the chase done and head back to Wichita Falls. We stop at Whataburger to discuss the chase, check weather reports, and garb a quick dinner. It really was a fantastic chase. I don't believe I've had a chase that good since 2013. We didn't see any tornadoes but it wasn't a bust. Saw some amazing storms over some beautiful terrain and even met a new friend so far 2015 was looking pretty good!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

March 2015 Chase Reports..

Well, here we are in the first week of April on the cusp of severe weather season and so far we have had pretty decent chase opportunities in this area. While I haven't had a lot of success, it felt good to be back on the road chasing some storms. I actually chased three different times in March and came back with some great photos. Hopefully, we'll have even better chases in April! Check out the chase reports below.

March 19 : Bust

March 19 was the first chase of the season for me and sadly it was a bust. Not because storms didn't fire, or I picked the wrong target. The main problem was I was not able to leave work in time. I couldn't break away from work and ended up behind the storm. When I did leave the storm was already almost to Bowie (about 50 miles away) and some of my chaser friends were right under it witnessing a developing wall cloud. I spent most of the time in the anvil and FFD of the storm trying to get around it. I made the decision to not core punch it because the radar was indicating 2” hail and I really wasn't planning on losing my windshield early in the season. After about an hour of getting nowhere and losing light I finally opted out of the chase and started back home to Wichita Falls. I did manage to get just a few photographs. There was very low visibility the entire day and it was no different for the sunset, but there was a very brief period where some color was displayed. I left that evening with a long face. No one likes to start out the season with a bust. But it was only March and the last time I chased something this early was 2012! Maybe 2015 would be a much better year for me? 

The only time I pulled out the camera to catch the little bit of color in the sky. I stopped by Angle road outside of Henrietta, TX for this shot. 

March 25: Geronimo, OK 

SPC outlook for 3/25. The SPC had a moderate risk area in north central/north eastern OK, an “ENHANCED” risk around the moderate and a “SLIGHT” risk for much of OK into north TX.

Ah, the first REAL storm chase of the season! There is nothing quite like it and I was more than eager to get out and chase some storms. My original target was Chickasha, OK. Which was east of an advancing cold front. Much of the area was to remain capped but HRRR and other models were suggesting the cap to weaken around central and southern OK and some areas of north, TX. The main problem was how quickly will the cold front arrive? But I had some friends from the metroplex who were targeting the warm sector ahead of the front and along the dryline. If an isolated storm could beat the cap it wouldn't have to worry about the cold front undercutting it and would have more longevity to the mesocyclone and probably no other storms to compete against. I hadn't seen these guys in a while and I really wanted to chase with them again so I decided to wait at the southern target for initiation. 
Around 2pm I stepped outside to see what the atmosphere was looking like. I noticed these Altocumulus Castellanus (ACCAS) clouds off to the west southwest. This is good indication the atmosphere is destabilizing and is often a precursor to convective development.

About an hour later the SPC issues a mesoscale discussion for our area. The area was being monitored for “a possible increase in severe thunderstorm potential”. If thunderstorms could develop and beat out the cap “a conditional severe hail/wind risk would exist”. But due to the lack of low level forcing and “weak convergence along the dryline” the cap could stay in place.

This is a satellite image at 3:45 in the afternoon. It looks like storms are trying to get going, but they are rooted above the capping inversion and storms can't get to the deep moisture below. A storm has blown up closer to the front and closer to my original target in Chickasha, OK. 

And it doesn't look that impressive on the ground the moisture starved updrafts dissolve pretty quickly limiting our chance of any severe weather in the southern target. 

Its now almost 5:30 and I have waited long enough. Storms still can't seem to beat the cap and looking at the radar a nice supercell appears just ahead of the front near Chickisha and looks fairly impressive on live stream from other chasers. I call up my friends and let them know that I am going towards Chickisha. I guess they were tired of chasing these elevated uninteresting storms and they were already heading that way. I never did meet up with them they ended up just to my northeast and got some great images and video of their storm near Rush Springs, OK. Check out Jenny's report here.

I leave work around 5:45 and start to drive up I-44. While driving I can just barely make out the distant anvil of the Chickisha storm and I noticed some towers forming to my northwest just off the front. If these storms could get going then I wouldn't have that far to drive and maybe they could stay isolated enough for a nicely structured supercell. I decide to keep heading towards my target but watching the storms that are developing in my vicinity.

These towers were actually starting to look pretty good. Anything that did go would be short lived due to the advancing cold front. These storms were closer and didn't look to be too bad. At the very least I might get some interesting shelf cloud structure with some nice sunset light. 

The storms are starting to go according to the radar data and I chase after them.

The storms actually look pretty good visually. They are a little elevated, but after what happened the week before I would settle for any kind of storm. 

Ten image panorama of the storms. There are multiple updrafts in this photo and the storms are forming right on the cold front in a line. The southern most cell (the one I am closest to) looks the most interesting to me. You can also notice a new tower developing just to the south of my storm. 

The cell I was originally on moves off to the northeast and a new cell to the south forms. I am closest to this storm and chase after it. There was some nice CG lightning and a good inflow wind to this storm. The structure was elevated but still nice and it was just starting to get to that magic photography hour.

Another wide panorama of the storms. The little bit of scud under our main updraft made me hopeful. Maybe the storm was starting to get into that deeper moisture and maybe we would see some surface based storms after all. 

Or maybe the surging cold front will catch up to it and undercut the updraft base...

It was still a good looking storm so I stayed and watched the display. The timelapse I got from this storm was really nice!

Just under the updraft base you can see a small plume of dirt being kicked up from the advancing cold front.  

I retreat back to the south to stay ahead of the front and my storm has taken on a much more linear appearance. It has also lost intensity on radar... 

I pull over at a rest area just before getting to the toll on I-44. While figuring out what my next move is I turned back to look at the storm. Now its mostly just a shelf gust front and has lost its structure. Maybe now would be a good time to figure out a place for some sunset shots. 

Not long after I took this photo and a short video I was met with the cold front. Winds shifted very quickly and leaves, litter, and other debris was lofted in the air. And right behind this leading edge was a good amount of dirt. I start to bail south and get ahead of the front dodging tumbleweeds and various debris bouncing across the highway. Maybe I can shoot the shelf cloud with a nice sunset if I can get far enough in front of the storm. I decided to pull over once I reached Randlett, OK and shoot the sunset there. Unfortunately I didn't realize the sun was already setting.

Wow! What a beautiful sunset! Randlett is still another 8 miles away and there is no place for me to pull over unless its off the interstate. This shot was taken out my passenger side window going 60mph. 

That just wouldn't do and there was fairly light traffic so I pull off the interstate turn on my hazard lights and start shooting.  

This really was some amazing light and color. The photos do not do it justice.
I wrap the chase up with one more ten image panorama and the personal favorite shot of the day before heading back to Wichita Falls. 

While there were some issues with this chase I still managed to come back with some great images and it felt so good to be under some storms again. We had more chances for severe weather going into the following week. 

March 31: Olustee, OK-Wichita Falls, TX

A slight risk was issued for our area. Hail to the size of golf balls and winds in excess of 60mph were the main threats.
Another round of severe weather was expected for March 31 for most of OK and western north, TX. A very unstable air mass was in place over southern OK and TX and a slow moving trough coming out of Colorado was to help develop scattered thunderstorms after peak heating. MLCAPE values around 2500+ j/kg and deep layer shear would be sufficient for organized updrafts and supercells. There were just a few problems with this chase. First we did not have deep moisture in the lower levels and lack of forcing, but a weak cap meant multiple storms. My target would be Quanah, TX and more likely north of the Red River

The Fredrick radar (KFDR) was going to be down due to repairs which meant I would have to use the Oklahoma city or Amarillo radar for radar data. The problem is I would only be scanning the mid levels of the storm from that far away from the radar. While its better to use visual indications in the storm some things can't be seen such as if hail is falling near the ground. So I was going to play this one safe. Given the steep lapse rates large hail was expected with these storms. 

When 3:30 came around the SPC issued a mesoscale discussion for our target. Their main concern being large hail with any storm that developed in the area

Storms began to fire near El Dorado, OK (just north of my target) and when the opportunity arrived I left work in pursuit of the storms. James Langford was nowcasting for me and helping me intercept the storms. While driving up from Vernon, TX the storms did not look all that impressive, Most of them looked LP and elevated. But I was already almost to Altus, OK and wanted to get something out of that day. While driving up 283 to Altus I noticed an old photogenic house on the side of the highway. I really wanted to stop and take photos with the storms in the background, but I needed to get to the storms before the sun set. 

I pulled over to shoot some shots near Altus, OK.  

Panorama of the storms.

Struggling updraft directly over my head.

These storms were moving very slow around 20kts so I had plenty of time to catch up with them from Wichita Falls. Once I made it to Altus, OK I turned west on 62 and then to the south on Highway 6 this would bring me just outside of the small community Olustee, OK. I found a great spot to wait for the storms to come to me. 

I found this great old barn just off the highway and stopped to snap a few images. I had some hope that the storm's lightning production would step up and I would have an excellent foreground object to use in the photo. 

And that's what happened! The storm started to produce this incredible spider lightning stretching out from its updraft. You can see the rain free base from the storm on the left side and the downdraft falling behind the barn near the center. 

Now there is the shot I was looking for! After I took this capture I started to get rained on and decided to start heading back east out of the rain and ahead of the storm. 

But first I had to get some sunset shots and as luck would have it I had the chance to photograph some lightning in beautiful sunset light. One of my favorite things to shoot with storms. 

A nice cloud to cloud lightning strike in this one. 

Man what a beautiful sight! The setting sun and some lightning shooting through the distant updraft base.  

This would have been an amazing shot, but lightning is very unpredictable and the 85mm focal length I was using was just to narrow to capture the stray lightning bolt.

At this point I am getting moderate-heavier rain falling on me. So I head back on 62 to Altus and south on 283 and follow it east from there. The storm started to pick up in reflectivity and was constantly flashing from all the lightning, Reports of ping pong size hail came in near El Dorado. I can start to make out the structure of the gust front/shelf cloud on the leading edge of the storm. Looking over my left shoulder (northeast) I could see what I thought was some kind of inflow band. I was really only able to see it when the lightning would light it up. James is trying to call me, but I have no service here and I spot that old house from earlier. I pull over to take some very quick lighting shots with the house before blasting south and out of the gust front. 

If I had the option I would've stayed there until I got the “perfect” lightning shot. But I literally shot this and one other photo before being met some strong wind gusts and heavy downpours. I really like the old tree in front of the house and the lighting from the lightning and my headlights made it look even more spooky.

Shorter exposure the main bolt was actually to my east so it was time to get going.

The storm is just nipping at my heels so I start to head south. The main problem is I can not see behind me and drive safely at the same time. When I made it back to TX I found a spot to pull off just north east of Vernon and shoot some lightning from there. I didn't realize how much the storm had evolved it has now taken on supercell structure. I can make note of a rotating wall cloud, helical striations, and even several inflow bands. But I am still limited to the lightning activity for visual aid.

Some really nice structure with this storm.

I thought I saw some kind of lowering in the wall cloud of the storm. James was trying to call me to warn me about the hail and broad rotation in the storm. I was already well ahead of the dangerous part and was looking back to the west northwest

I really cranked the ISO up for this shot. I wanted to get just the structure and see just what we were dealing with here. I opened the lens to f/2 and shot for maybe a second. A big bolt of lightning exploded from the clouds to the east and provided some dramatic side light on the face of the storm

I was ready to leave and start back towards home, but I wanted to get a shot of the updraft hanging over the dirt road I was on. So I had to wait just a little longer as the storm got closer. 

Just long enough to get the shot I wanted and now it was time to head back home. More than likely the storms were starting to congeal and we'd have a good gust front on our hands. 

The storms follow me all the way to my apartment in Wichita Falls. Driving back was difficult with all the rain and wind, but I made it to my apartment just in time for the storm to hit Wichita Falls and SAFB. In fact Burkburnett reported a 58mph wind gust and I believe we had similar winds in Wichita Falls as well. Below is a link of a video I made for the highlights of my March 2015. So March certainly has been different than the previous years and I'm hopeful its an indication on how the severe weather season will go. As I am typing this I am also looking at the models for the possibility of severe weather next week. This next storm system that comes through looks more like a normal spring storm system, but only time will tell. So far 2015 is shaping up to be a pretty good year.