May 9th was a wild day in Texas and New Mexico. A large closed low over the desert southwest would slowly approach the region. Strong deep layer shear, however with fairly weak surface winds, would overspread the area by late afternoon. Decent moisture and instability would contribute to a very unstable airmass. Storms exploded in the higher terrain of northeast New Mexico first, then later developed over southeast New Mexico and eventually spread into southwest Texas. We intercepted a tornado warned storm near Clovis, New Mexico which didn’t have the appearance of becoming tornadic. Then another supercell developed in southwest Texas and moved towards Enochs. Just northeast of Enochs it produced two tornadoes. We would continue following it northeast until it weakened near dark. At that time another supercell formed near Hobbs, New Mexico and quickly raced northeast towards Whiteface, Texas. This storm spun hard, but never could produce a tornado. Overall, the weak low level shear would result in only brief tornadoes this day, but it was still a great chase event.
May 8th had potential in Colorado, as well as eastern New Mexico. It was the first day of Tour 3, and we decided to play the Palmer Divide area. Decent shear, moisture and instability would set the stage for intense severe storm development by mid afternoon. With a 650 mile drive from Oklahoma City, Tour 3 guests made it in time for a beautiful long lived sculpted supercell. However, we would miss a brief tornado that SLT Co-owner Caryn Hill caught early in the storm evolution. Sometimes time and distance won’t allow you to get where you would like to before storms fire up. This supercell would mature and produce large hail, strong winds, lightning and gorgeous storm structure. This would be the first of 4 straight days Tour 3 and one of our On Call Tours were treated to tornado warned supercells.
April 29th was the inbetween day from Tour 1 and 2. However, we also ran an on call tour this day. Many guests from Tour 2, and the On Call tour, went to northeast Texas to chase. As things started to become clear, we blasted south towards the Canton, Texas area. Strong southeast surface winds, extreme instability, high dewpoints in the mid 70s and strong shear set the stage for supercell storms to form and intensify as they moved northeast. Several tornadoes formed as storms matured, with one tornado in particular staying on the ground for 50 miles and over 2.5 hours, getting a rating of EF4! Unfortunately this storm caused significant damage and fatalities in Canton, Texas as well as Fruitvale, Texas. Our hearts go out to those who suffered this day and we hope for a speedy recovery.
April 21st had high potential. Strong shear, high CAPE and deep moisture would provide the ingredients for intense supercell storms. One storm formed over southeast Oklahoma. We decided to wait it out for later storms to form over northern Texas. A cluster did form with the tail end storm becoming a beautiful HP supercell. It produced a tornado north of Pilot Point, which was mostly rain wrapped. It tried again later in its cycle as you can see from the photos below. Finally, at dusk, another supercell formed and tracked over the region in the dark. Amazingly eery sight watching a storm spin in the dark. Enjoy the pics!
April 15th brought us to southern Kansas for what appeared on paper to be a respectable set up. A strong capping inversion would prevent storms for sustaining themselves until stronger forcing would arrive from the west. Finally by early evening a storm formed and intensified west of Protection. It had decent structure, huge hail and was tornado warned for an hour.
Check out this time lapse from this supercell:
July 17th was a high plains upslope set up. Southeast winds along a boundary would funnel moisture into the Cheyenne ridge. A supercell formed early afternoon near Chugwater, WY and would right turn and track down the boundary into northeast Colorado. This storm was outflow dominant most of its life cycle and was a major hail producer. In Colorado it became tornado warned, although not a big threat in my opinion since it was outflow dominant. We came across some beautiful landscapes to photograph the storm, and everyone had a great time with it. The storm never produced a tornado but it did produce significant hail the size of baseballs along its path. This was to be the last great day for the season as we wrapped up tours and headed home to Denver. Thank you all for a wonderful tour season. We have the best guests and guides on the planet!
July 15th had big potential. An outflow boundary lay across the Kansas/Colorado border area by early afternoon. A cold front intersected that boundary near Cheyenne Wells, CO. Deep moisture, strong shear and high instability formed along and east of the boundary. By 2pm a severe storm formed and quickly became supercellular. It tracked due south right along the outflow boundary. We encountered huge hail the size of baseballs to softballs near Arapahoe, Colorado. Fortunately we did not lose any windows. We dropped south and had to stay on the western side of the storm where very hot and dry air was being entrained in the supercell creating a violent downdraft with intense blowing dirt and 90 mph winds. Finally at Granada, CO we were able to go east and get into the better moisture. As our storm gusted out, another storm formed on the boundary and ingested 84/70 air! A lowering quickly formed and within 20 minutes started rotating. A truncated cone funnel formed and dissipated 5 minutes later. We were right in the path of the mesocyclone. We moved a mile east and stopped. Rotation dramatically increased and soon a tapered white funnel formed. Another one formed and wrapped around the larger one. The larger funnel touched down and became a stout stovepipe tornado. It widened into a large cone. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Was this May or July? This was the largest July tornado I had ever witnessed in Kansas. The tornado moved south with a large debris cloud and after 19 minutes, roped out. It was quite the sight to see! An absolutely amazing day for the Great North Tornado Hunt tour again!
July 13th was the second great day for the Great North Tornado Hunt tour. We started the day in Wichita. Extreme heat and instability would form that afternoon with temperatures near 100F and dewpoints in the upper 70s. Cells tried to form for a couple hours along a dryline/outflow boundary composite, and finally by around 5pm a significant supercell formed just west of Arkansas City, KS. This storm quickly became severe for large hail to tennisball size. As it continued to intensify, it moved due south towards northern Oklahoma near Peckham. This storm was a striated beast. It had continuous lightning, huge hail to baseball sized, and a wall cloud that spun like crazy. By mid evening, the storm weakened as it merged with other cells to its west, and eventually lined out moving into central Oklahoma. One of my favorite nontornadic chases of 2016!
July 10th was day one for the Great North Tornado Hunt. A strong area of low pressure over southern Montana and an associated warm front extending east of there would provide the lift to produce numerous storms, including a few supercells. We intercepted the only tornado warned supercell in the country near Baker, Montana and followed it eastward along the boundary as it spun wildly. A few of times it appeared to produce a couple of funnels and even a brief dirt swirl under one, but the story with this beast was the pretty structure and amazing green colors. This supercell produced very large baseball sized hail and had long inflow bands eastward from the updraft. The open prairieland of eastern Montana always gives a great foreground for one of nature’s most violent storms, the supercell. A fun way to start off the final tour of the year!
The first day of the Reunion tour provided a decent high plains set up. Upslope flow into western Nebraska would push 60 dewpoints along a boundary as moderate westerly mid level winds would help generate enough wind shear for supercells. Two such storms formed along the northwest/southeast oriented boundary and would produce giant hail to softball size. Both supercells were tornado warned with the second storm producing a confirmed tornado near Eckley, Colorado. Structure was decent as well. We came back through the area the next day to find thousands of acres of cropland shredded to the ground, mostly corn. Sometimes hailstorms can produce more significant damage than a tornado can. This was the case with these storms.