May 9, 2015 Tornadoes and Blizzard
Initial Target:
Final Target(s):
Start:
End:
Tornadoes:
Severe Hail:
Severe Wind:
Features:
Miles:
Lamar, CO
Lamar to Eads to Cheyenne Wells, CO
2015-05-09 10:01 AM CDT
2015-05-09 11:07 PM CDT
2
0
0
tornadoes and blizzard
600

Summary

Cold-core/upslope/warm front setup over eastern Colorado to western Kansas. Initially set up east of my target of Lamar, CO in case a cell went up in western Kansas where I expected better conditions for tornadoes. A steeper lapse rate in Colorado fired first and the cyclic tornado-producing cell of the day went up near Lamar. Through a series of errors in strategy and navigation I managed only distant low-contrast views of the tornadoes. A tornado-producing cell went up in western Kansas near sunset but with the loss of light I opted to end the chase in Burlington, CO before driving back in a blizzard.

HINT: Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Video

Details

My target was Highway 287 from Springfield to Lamar, CO. 12Z convection-allowing models highlighted this area for upslope development at peak heating. Enroute to my target I was concerned about cloud cover in Colorado and expected potentially better CAPE and deep-layer shear in southwestern Kansas so I kept driving and waited near Syracuse, KS.

 

By the time I got there at 2pm cells were already going up southwest of Lamar, CO and they were approaching my target. I held my ground in Syracuse as the Colorado cells were still fairly weak and I wanted to be in position for potentially more vigorous development in Kansas.

 

By 3:30pm I knew I had to head west: The existing cell near Lamar was strengthening and there were new cells going up south of Holly, CO. I headed west and decided to stop south of Holly to watch the new development as the Lamar cell still wasn't severe warned. Had I continued west I could have made a close-range intercept of what would become the storm of the day.

My Holly cells were falling apart and finally at 4:19pm a severe thunderstorm warning was issued on the Lamar cell. It was off to the races. I pulled the car back onto the road and when I got west of town could see the Lamar cell was now a robust low-topped supercell. A tornado warning was issued with the next radar sweep at 4:24pm. I was way out of position.

 

I blasted west out of Holly and right away could see an RFD cut and a white cone tornado. This shot was taken 35 miles away from the tornado.

 

North of Granada I got a better view. The tornado had lifted but a low wall cloud remained. It looked like it could cycle.

 

Sure enough at Sheridan Lake I could see a stout new V-shaped tornado had formed. The contrast was so poor I could barely see it in front of the dark rain-filled core of the storm. I thought about continuing north at this point for better contrast but proceeded west instead looking for a road that would lead me closer.

 

I stopped in Brandon and got a steady shot of the tornado still in progress.

 

The north road options were all wet dirt roads and the storm was getting away from me.

 

I headed back to the paved highway north out of Sheridan Lake and caught up with the storm. I was just in time to watch it destroy itself in spectacular fasion on the cold front that led to blizzard conditions later.

 

Copious amounts of small hail made the highway slippery like ice.

 

I ended the chase in Burlington, CO and headed back west on I-70 into the maw of a blizzard. Road conditions were terrible and the ditches were littered with vehicles that had slidden off. West of Byers I observed over the course of several minutes a series of green power flashes illuminating the whole sky.

Takeaways

  • In a cold-core situation, cells too far from the triple point may not go...don't wait for them.
  • Never lose visual on a potential cell to intercept
  • At major intersections, prioritize contrast and good roads over proximity (especially on the wide-open high plains)
 
 
 

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Chase Stats

2004-05-24 - 2017-06-12
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Tornadoes:
Severe Hail:
Severe Wind:
Active Hours*:
Miles:
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35
35
7
6
817
41,205
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