April 26th, Colorado

April 26th, 2017

Initial Target: Colorado Front Range
Storm Intercepts: Bennett, CO
Features: Cyclical supercell, several gustnadoes, lightning barrage
States: Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri
Miles: 1590
Summary: Fun trip, despite no tornado

Last year I promised a friend I would take him chasing. He scheduled vacation for the last week of May this year. This was the only viable chase day during his vacation week, so we headed to Colorado for a marginal play. “Marginal” + Palmer Ridge can be spectacular, so I was somewhat optimistic. At least optimistic enough to make a 10 hour one way drive.

We left on Thursday evening the 25th. Spent the night in York, NE.

Brennan Jontz joined us in the middle of the night – He was going to tag along in his own vehicle. We frequently caravan with each other and act as each other’s support vehicles.

Friday morning we headed to Sterling, CO for gas and found lunch at a place called the J & L Cafe. I gotta say, all three of us were extremely impressed with our burgers. I would definitely go to this place again. But storms are calling… HRRR showed several consistent cell locations popping up in mid afternoon. We headed south to Last Chance Colorado (population 23. I am not kidding) where we met up with some other chaser friends to await storm initiation. Cell coverage was marginal at best so after awhile we headed West, where it looked like a cell was starting to fire up near Bennett, CO. We found a hill with a fantastic view of the distant, slow moving cell, but instead of staying put we decided to drive the 8 miles to Byers, CO to top off our gas tanks, as it looked like it was nearly time to move into active chase mode.

A few minutes north of Byers, we pulled off the highway to meet up with some other chaser friends (Aaron Rigsby). While we were watching the supercell get closer (with some GREAT lightning), Reed Timmer and his entourage drove by, stopping for a few seconds to say hello. We were starting to get inside some leading edge rain so we all took off on HWY 36, heading east to a better viewing location. Wheeee!

We parked in the High Plains Raceway driveway to regroup and wait for the cell to come to us. Within seconds, my good friends from WeatherNation TV (Ben McMillan, Ryan Cartee, John Haxby, Adri Mozeris) showed up to say hi. I hadn’t seen them in weeks, so it was great hooking up again. A truck pulled up, and someone ran up to me – none other than famous photographer Caryn Hill, whom I had done business with but had never met in person. What an awesome day!

Back to the chase. LOTS of strong, Cloud to Ground (CG) lightning was present, which usually indicates a strong, healthy updraft. The cell we were chasing had developed a nice hail core, also a sign of health. It went severe-warned. We could see it several miles distant, with what looked to be a slowly rotating wall cloud. Did I mention lightning was INCREDIBLE? I shot this video:

What followed for the next three hours was nothing short of mayhem. There were TONS of chasers on the roads, the roads were in a decent grid pattern, but they were DIRT, not gravel. There had been wet weather a week or so before and backroads had huge ruts and tire tracks. Driving was awful. Chasers everywhere. If roads where dry, chaser vehicles kicked up dust. If the roads were wet, MUD CITY. Ugh.

Regardless, we found ourselves in GREAT position several times, as this cell went tornado warned and had a decent velocity couplet on radar:

May 26th 2017 colorado supercell
May 26th 2017 colorado supercell with nice velocity couplet

We saw several gustnadoes; sadly, I am certain these were reported as tornadoes by the chasing community at large.

Between the marginal roads and tons of other chasers, this chase was quite thrilling. Storm-wise, the cell just couldn’t pull it together. All the elements were in place and we saw several funnels, but… it was quickly turning HP (High Precipitation), which basically meant any tornado dropped from the cell would likely rain-wrapped and not visible.

We decided to call it a night and headed toward Kansas as the storm lined out and turned into a squall with large hail. We camped out at a hotel in Colby, KS and waited for the storm to come to us. Shortly after our arrival, it didn’t disappoint. 100mph wind was blowing ping-pong ball sized hail sideways (since we knew what was coming, I parked on the east side of a large dumpster for protection). We watched the hail and heard car alarms going off as car windows broke. 

Summary: Crazy cool chase.