Spectacular Colorado Supercell Thunderstorms

June 2 , 2005


Click on any image to see a larger version.

This day began in Goodland, Kansas. Upslope surface flow into the high terrain of eastern Colorado was anticipated. Forecast models also suggested that extreme instability would develop in the area from southeast of Goodland, to southwest Kansas. However, upper level flow was forecast to be better over the high plains of northeastern Colorado.

Jimmy Deguara and his crew of chasers from Australia and New Zealand, along with Bobby Eddins and Michael and Ed Cohen in a second vehicle were also chasing in the area. We all teamed up on what turned out to be a very memorable chase.

The first storm we intercepted formed near Denver, moved eastward over the Denver International Airport (DIA), where it produced flash flooding, large hail and high winds. We intercepted the storm east of DIA. The storm was configured in a cyclic HP supercell configuration, with new mesocyclones forming on its southern flank, then migrating north around the eastern side of the storm, and into the inflow notch on the northeastern side of the precipitation core. Several of the mesocyclones reached tornadic intensity, but unfortunately we never had a clear view under them to determine whether or not a tornado occurred. However, we did see a large funnel shaped lowering, partially obscured by precipitation in the inflow notch (see photograph below).

The second storm formed east of Castle Rock, on the Palmer Divide, and moved across Limon where it produced large hail, high winds and a possible tornado. This spectacular storm moved down the interstate highway east of Limon, continuing to produce severe weather as it moved along. Motorists on the interstate seemed to be oblivious to this storm as they drove into it. Considering the spectacular storm structure, I can't imagine how these motorists could not have been concerned. However, there are not many alternative roads to take and I suppose they didn't want to turn around and drive back to Kansas.


We intercepted this storm near Lindon, Colorado, east of Last Chance. This photo was shot looking northwest at one of the mesocylones as it was migrating toward the northeast side of the storm, and the HP inflow notch located there.
Looking due west down highway 36 toward Last Chance, Colorado.

Looking almost due north. Note the blue-green color of the precipitation area. This photo was shot using a Nikon D70, which did an excellent job of rendering the true blue-green color of the precipitation core, as it appeared visually.

 

When you click on this image to enlarge it, note the funnel shaped lowering on the very right hand side of the precipitation area. This may have been a tornado that was located in the HP inflow notch, and visible through the precipitation.

The storm which formed on the Palmer Divide was approaching Limon now. It looked much better on radar than the storm we were currently on. We decided to drive east and then south to intercept the southern storm.

 

We drove south from highway 36 to interstate 70 at Seibert, and then back west to a point between Flagler and Arriba. Bobby's crew, along with Jimmy's crew drove down the interstate to Arriba. I opted for the gravel access road on the south side of the interstate and decided to park about halfway between Flagler and Arriba, and then let the storm come to me while I photographed the amazing storm structure.

This photo was shot looking west at the approaching storm. At the time the photo was shot, the storm was between Limon and Arriba, probably close to Genoa, Colorado.

Here's a look at the point where the "beaver tail" (a long inflow cloud), intersects the primary updraft base.
What an amazing storm structure! Note the lowerings under the cloud base. Usually, the lowering to be watched most closely for tornadoes to form is the one that develops where the inflow cloud intersects the storm.
At one point, the beaver tail / inflow cloud developed a three pronged appearance, similar in appearance to a pitch fork.
 
As the storm moved just east of Arriba, storm chasers who were closer to the storm reported a tornado. Their reports were heard about the time this photograph was shot. The storm was nearing its peak, at least during the time that I observed and photographed it. This and the next photo were shot using a Nikon F100, Fuji Velvia ASA 100 film and a 12 to 24 mm Sigma superwide zoom lens set to 12 mm.

What a view! And, what a storm! Would you drive into something like this?

A couple of days later, we heard from other storm chasers that all of the windows were broken out of a local deputy sheriff's patrol vehicle by the softball size hail produced by this storm.

I would like to know what the many motorists who drove into this storm experienced.

We drove east to Burlington, Colorado, then south toward Cheyenne Wells. We stopped north of Cheyenne Wells at a turn in the road to photograph the storm as it moved from west to east, to our north.

Most of the lightning was hidden behind the clouds.

We drove east to Sharon Springs, Kansas, where we had a very interesting experience at the diner in town. The waitress brought us menus, but they were out of just about everything we requested! It reminded me of the "cheeseburger - cheeseburger" skit on Saturday Night Live. It didn't matter what you asked for, you could only have a cheeseburger.

 

 


Copyright 2005 - Samuel D. Barricklow - All rights reserved.


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Last revised: November 30, 2008