10 Days Until Arizona 2017 & Eclipse

2017 will be my 5th Time Chasing the Arizona Monsoon having been before in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Arizona has quite a unique climate getting affected by Monsoon moisture during the months of June to September.  Also the unique mix of desert floor and mountainous areas with the Mogollan Rim cutting through the middle of Arizona helps with Orographically driven Storms on most days. Monsoon Storms typically run SE-NW or East to West or even ENE-SW depending on the Upper steering flow. A good thing to look out for when seeing an active Pattern is a Surface High pressure over the 4 Corners region of AZ/NM/UT/CO. Another decent thing to see is a Low Pressure over near Nevada or California. Like Tornado Season Arizona has active and rest patterns these are known as Burst or Break modes. Temperatures can easily hit between 110-120f in July and August around the Phoenix and Tucson areas and dewpoints can also respond into the Mid 60’s. Much lower temperatures are found around Flagstaff where temperatures typically climb into the 70-80f range on most days.

When chasing we concentrate on 6 main areas in Monsoon season.

The first area is SE Arizona around the Tucson to Benson and Tombstone areas, terrain is mix of desert floor, farmland and mountains which afford decent backdrops for Storms. The Catalina Foothills at the bottom of Mount Lemmon are stunning with Cactus aplenty on the winding roads up to the Summit which is 9000ft asl. We have many viewpoints if we are chasing in this area with “A” Mountain and Windy Point being just a few!

The 2nd area for Storms is when storms do not make it out of the Mountains and onto the Desert Floor and it is not uncommon for us to spend a day in the Mountains looking for decent Lightning East of Phoenix, the main round out is Highway 60 past the Superstition Mountains and onto places like Globe, Superior and Top-Of-The-World! This type of chasing is much more challenging but if thats all that is on offer then we will gladly chase in these areas, the views if anything are stunning.

The 3rd Main area is Casa Grande to Phoenix Metro and out to Gila Bend. In these area you will most likely find Haboobs from Thunderstorm Complexes that move North West from the Tucson area, the leading edge and Outflow pick up lots of dust and sand and create Powerful Sandstorms. Lightning can also be prolific with Storms moving into the 110f heat in these areas. Again lots of viewpoints are noted in this area including South Mountain near Phoenix.

The 4th Area is along the Mogollan Rim north of Phoenix, the Interstate 17 Highway climbs very high going Northbound towards past Black Canyon City towards Camp Verde. Once atop the Rim roads lead you East to Payson or West to Prescott and the ghost town of Jerome and scenic Wickenburg.  Again we have some amazing viewpoints around these locations incuding Peoples Valley and Sunset Point.

The 5th area we chase is Sedona to Flagstaff and the Painted Desert and Grand Canyon areas, we tend to make this is day trip due to distances involved getting back to the base hotel. From the stunning Sedona and its Red Rocks we rise even higher towards the Pine Forests of Flagstaff. West to Williams and then North on Highway 64 to The Grand Canyon is a stunning drive. Chasing here is once again challenging and its not uncommon for overnight temps to fall into the low 50’s even in August.

The 6th area we chase is the far SW Corner of Arizona from Why to Yuma. This is total desert with cactus and sand dunes aplenty. Sunsets here are incredible and if you get a storm into the mix the colours you can see are out of this world.

 

Essex Storm Chase – Tue 18th & Wed 19th July 2017

After missing out on the early July Storms and Supercells over Lincolnshire these 2 days would see another shot at storms after another very warm and humid period. Tempratures had again been in the Mid 80’s and Dewpoints constantly in the mid 60’s. Today’s set up was proving to be a pain for the weather models, it was a case of who do you believe in the main. In one camp you had the Arpege, Hirlam and Euro going for nothing much in the east and in the other camp we had Estofex, Meto and Euro4 all stating the South East would get affected to some extent from 7pm onwards until the early hours. I was happy that the main 3 models I trust in were on “our side” so to speak.

The Set Up was a pretty classic breakdown for the United Kingdom. A High pressure moving east into Scandinavia a large area of Low Pressure situated west of Ireland and warm humid air being pumped up from Iberia. The trigger would come from a shortwave trough moving north from France during the day firstly affecting the South West and then as it migrated North East areas further North and East of that would come into play. An added bonus to keep storms sustained was an LLJ from the east aiding inflow and longevity for storms to sustain themselves.

Cornwall was affected first but a seperate area of storms around the Channel Islands looked promising for Central Southern and SE England for this evening, some strange radar returns around Jersey aroused my suspicions of a forming MCV (Mesoscale Convective Vortex) this is an area of Surface Low Pressure within an MCS, And these can last between 6-12 hours. This area (Complex) of storms was moving NNE due to the fact the steering winds at 600hpa were better orientated than further West in the Channel with those winds steering straight North or slightly NNW.

I continued to track the storms not really giving them much of my attention because I plotted their course to run through Portsmouth, Reading and onto Milton Keynes and probably too far to chase on a Tuesday night, but what was noticable was the continued redevelopment of very strong storms way off to the SE of the Complex. This first occured NE of Portsmouth, then and West of London. This area of the MCV was going to track towards the M11 and that would be doable from here with a quick run upto Chelmsford and then across to Stanstead. My chasing buddy Peter Scott was also up for the chase so we kept in contact and aimed to meet up. The Storm by now was very discrete in nature and sitting between Harlow and Bishops Stortford and it started to put down some nice Cg’s.  But of course as soon as we got to the stopping point they dried up completely, the IC lightning was prolific though and lit up some stunning structure, the hail core also had a green tinge to it when lit up. Have found out that 50p sized Hail was falling near Duxford with this storm. Peter got some nice shots of this storm one of his pics below.

You can clearly see above the inflow tail cloud racing into the Storm from the east, we were directly south of the storm looking north at this point. Shortly after this we left the storm as it was heading into Norfolk and I was starting to see lightning from the south again, this was from an amazing storm going on over Brighton and the South Coast. I knew exactly where I wanted to be for this and was on a mission to try and get that in the water shot from the Cliffs I have been trying to get for 10 years! Travelling south from Chelmsford the sky was constantly lighting up with the storm system still over 50 miles away. I got down to my vantage point in good time and just sat there watching lightning for about 45 minutes and watched as the storm grew closer, I would only start shooting for lightning when a few cg’s were within a sensible distance and around 2am this started to happen.

Everything in place and with anvil crawlers aplenty could this be the day it happens. Anvil Crawlers are good for out the front of the storm Cg’s in front of the rain so I was hopeful add to the fact we do not normally get this type of storm in the Uk that often.  Just about then the rain started -Noooooooo

But luckily for me it was coming from the North East and not hitting my camera so I continued, the lightning getting closer with a few bolts landing on the hills the other side of the Estuary about 5-7 miles away. Then one that landed pretty much on the shoreline so we were getting closer.

Was this to be the day, literally 30 seconds after the shot above and on my next exposure of 15 seconds Boom, everything went white in a blinding flash in front of me (It was soo bright I didnt even see the Cg land in real time) and was absolutely gobsmacked when my camera processed the following image!

I jumped for joy! Good job it was 215am and nobody could see a mid forties man jumping around Leigh Cliffs in the pouring rain. But I got the shot I always wanted to get from a Uk perspective and was over the moon. I packed up and headed back home and watched the storm unleash over SE Essex at around 3-4am. This was an above average event for the Uk with 100,000 lightning bolts registered with 70,000 of those hitting Sussex, Kent and Essex!

Friday 23rd June 2017 – Colorado (Astro Photography)

The last day of the tour saw us heading towards Denver in readiness for flights home the next day but with the Moon phase still on our side a few people took the chance to head into the Rockies for some overnight Milky Way and Astro photography and they were not sorry they did. We went up to the Continental Divide at 11,500ft in the Rockies and watched wildlife like Moose and Coyotes and Racoons freely going about their business whilst stopping for stunning Milky Way pictures under crystal clear skies. A great way to end a stunning photography trip in our beloved Colorado!

Thursday 22nd June 2017 – CO/KS (Slight Risk)

This would be our last chase day of the 2017 Season and although Tornadoes had been hard to come by Lightning was prolific and once again today with temps forecasted to be near 100f today would be no different. The Risk today was twofold, some early Upslope storms in Colorado and also that same stationery bounary in Western Kansas. Due to the fact we had not chased Colorado yet on Tour 4 we chose that option due to it being closer to Denver for departure day and the fact Colorado can sometimes throw up some 2% Magic. Temperatures were also forecasted to be in the mid 80’s here so that was another thing that tempted us. After a quick lunch in Burlington the first Supercell of the day was rolling eastwards towards Kit Carson so we intercepted this down some great Colorado dirt roads. The structure as expected was stunning with a huge LP Supercell spitting out anvil bolts in front of the structure. Once again Mr Finney smashed the pictures. This is one of the them below

We chased this storm all the way into Kansas where it weakened but by this time more Supercells were forming along the boundary so the 2nd part of the chase was now on. We allowed a developing storm to hit us at Tribune (Ks) and we took some half dollar sized hail. We blasted east from there towards Leoti and Scott City and watched more Supercells quickly form, we raced east to Dighton and let them once again impact the town. The light was quickly fading now but Chase 2017 had one last hoorah and a Cg strike hit the towns generator making everything go pitch black. It really was amazing to watch the non stop strobe lightning lighting up the town with no street lights anywhere. We ended the day at Garden City and along the way the guests snapped away at Lightning from the storm moving away to our east.

Wednesday 21st June 2017 – NE/KS (Slight Risk)

Started today in Hays (KS) with a firm target of the Nebraska and Kansas Border area from 6pm onwards so we headed north and ate lunch at Alma (NE) Storms today would struggle initially but with the approach of a shortwave trough in the area by 6pm things should get more organised as the day went on and Supercells would be likely by the end of the day. The Tornado Risk once again was very low with less than 2% likely once again due to the insane forecasted temperatures in the 100’s. After lunch we went west to Norton and then north to Beaver City to watch some non severe storms and mainly play with the small hail. Things started to come together around 6pm with our first severe warned storm throwing out 2″ Hail. We chased for about 2 hours getting some lovely lightning pictures with a prolific Cg producer, Temps had hit 107f today such was the electrically charged atmosphere.

As sunset approached we dropped south to sit just north of Alma and positioned ourselves so we had 360 degree views of Lightning, with the setting sun it made for some amazing lightning pictures.

The Storm furthest to our South West in the picture above would give us a few more hours of fun though as it turned into a beautiful LP Supercell which moved straight south out of Kansas and into Nebraska. The lightning on this storm was very reminiscent of the 16th June storm throwing out huge amount of clear air Cg bolts at regular intervals. I even managed to get the Border sign in a few of them.

We went further south and John Finney pulled off this stunning image of the LP Structure.

We ended the day where we started after doing a massive big circle in Hays (Kansas)

Tuesday 20th June 2017 – Kansas (Slight Risk)

Started today in Colby and did not have to go far for todays risk, a stationery boundary would kick things off again and so after a quick lunch it was south we went towards Dighton. 3 storms had initiated near Scott City to our west but were not severe warned yet, once again todays storm motions were South or even South East due to NW flow aloft again. There was enough shear for organised Supercells so hopefully so structure again today as the Tornado Risk was again below 2%. One storm remained stationery over Scott City and the hail was now increasing to 2.5″ so we headed west and stopped at Tractor (Ks) to shoot some lightning. John once again nailed the shot below

After this we watched a few more storms but was concious of not being drawn too far south as wanted to be in Nebraska for tomorrow (Just for a change) We took some arty farty shots of the Mammatus at Scott City before heading to Hays for the night.

Monday 19th June 2017 – Kansas (Milky Way)

Sunday was a down day so we watched some baseball before heading out towards Hays. The next days journey was even shorter from Hays to Colby to be near Monument Rocks for some Milky Way action. When the weather goes quiet for a few days we will always try our hand at some Astro Photography if the Moon phase is on our side which today it was. The first picture we got was from the stunning sunset in Western Kansas before we took our positions up at Monument Rocks.

The clouds in the picture above would hopefully burn away to leave us a clear evening and thats how it played out. When we got to Monument Rocks I was convinced it would be busy but in fact we never saw another person and could only hear the packs of Coyotes calling out and the concerned cattle from a nearby farm. The pictures below are stunning examples of the Milky Way. What a night! Pics courtesy of John Finney and Graham Moore

Saturday 17th June 2017 – Kansas (Enhanced Risk)

We awoke today in York with an Enhanced Risk of Severe Storms over a large portion of Missouri and Kansas and a 2% Tornado Risk. I liked the look of todays risk with an Outflow Boundary along the Flint Hills from Salina to Kansas City, in fact it was an almost carbon copy of the Chapman day last year synoptically. We had lunch in Beatrice and headed south to our chase target of Fort Riley (Ks) Risk Below

Temperatures once again nearing 100f at Salina with mid 60’s dewpoints were the only mitigating factor against stronger tornadoes, decent 40knt NW flow would once again promote SE Storm Motions, A cold front was to our west near Salina so the thing we were hoping for was a storm to initiate in this region and latch onto and ingest the Outflow Boundary. At about 4pm massive Towering Cumulus was getting more agitated and with 4000j of Cape things would be quite explosive today. And soon after 5pm we were chasing with a nice little Storm just east of Salina gaining 50,000ft in 25 minutes. We headed south and got our first look at a rapidly developing Supercell, the speed at which this went from LP to Classic was mind blowing, we literally went 10 miles down the road and it had transformed itself into the picture below with really fast rotation.

Now I have seen this type of structure and fast rotation many times before and I even stated to the guests it was only a matter of time before this tried to put a tornado down, it had clearly hit the Outflow Boundary and was really trying hard to produce a tornado, the radar sequence was amazing to see as well with the OFB being eaten up as the storm progressed South East. Our road options to keep south took us South West for about 3 miles and through the town of White City, so we would have to slice right through the hook region of the storm, this can be a risky situation but when the RFB( Rain Free Base) is easy to see there is a lot less risk about it. As we went underneath and through the hook the rotation above the road was the fastest we had seen and the storm tried to put down a ghostly white tornado on the road in front of us, and still this storm was NOT Tornado Warned!

We later learned from Australian Chasers Jane Oneill that this did indeed touch down just to our east as they were 5 miles further east and there picture matches up with where we were! Success the first Tornado of Tour 4 in a lean period! We continued with this storm but as with most outlooks this year the storm grew upscale with other storms around it into an eastward moving system quite quickly! We continued south watching numerous storms initiate to the west and at the end of the day tried to get a direct impact near Emporia but the storm split and went around us, typical once again when you look for some fun core punches things never seen to go your way. Finished the day in Wichita and knowing there would be a down day tomorrow made plans to visit our Kansas Friends and watch a baseball match on Sunday before heading to Colby for the evening in readiness for some Astro Photography on Sunday Night!

Friday 16th June 2017 – Nebraska (Enhanced Risk)

We awoke today in Salina and there was an Enhanced Risk over most of the Eastern half of Nebraska, it was 3 years to the day that the devastating EF4 twin Tornadoes hit the towns of Pilger and Wisner and that looked today where the best risk was. After a lunch in York we hung around for a bit and 3 storms had initiated further north near to the SD/NE Border, once again todays storm direction would be SE under North-West flow aloft. Temperatures once again were into the 100’s and dewpoints in the mid 60’s so the tornado outlook again was at 2%. After some deliberating (Probably for too long) we set off northbound towards Columbus, the now 3 semi-discrete supercells were Tornado warned and we could see the updraughts which looked very healthy. After passing through Columbus the western most of the storms looked very nice with a Classic Supercell appearance, the middle one over Pilger looked very HP in comparison but the couplet was worrying with 128knts gate to gate shear! Around this time embedded spin ups were reported near Stanton but we could not confirm this from our position as they were buried in the rain. We backed off south a bit and just North West of Columbus we took a very close Cg lightning bolt that nearly wiped the whole party out, we then retreated towards the town of Monroe, the storm still strengthening then bombarded us with Baseball sized hail, I am not a fan of South moving storms but we chase what we get dealt I suppose! My attention once again was thrown to a stunning LP Supercell to my south which looked majestic in the dwindling light.

Tornado chances still looked low and LP Supercells are normally hard to get tornadoes from but always look amazing structure wise, around 8pm I was stunned when I looked on the SPC page and saw an Upgrade to Moderate Risk at this time and an upgrade to 5% on the Tornado chances in SE Nebraska (Possibly all was not lost) We continued south across Interstate 80 to the town of Exeter and then watched just north of the Initiation point at sunset. This was to be an amazing spot to be in for the next few hours, we must have counted thousands of Cg bolts raining down to our south, south-west and south east under rock hard cumulonimbus towers! We did not bother to chase any of these storms as it was now dark and people were just enjoying the free fireworks display! If you opened your shutter for 10 seconds you would have about 6 Cg’s in the shot, it really was that easy.

Have included some shots from John and Graham underneath of just a few of the Cg bolts from tonight.

Today is proof that Storm Chasing is not just about Tornadoes but given some amazing photographic opportunities people are just as happy to watch the free light show in front of them over chasing grungy tornadic storms. A really really enjoyable chase day.

Thursday 15th June 2017 – Kansas (Moderate Risk)

We awoke in Independence to a Moderate Risk of Storms in Kansas today but not for tornadoes, that risk was 2% with a 45% Wind Damage threat and 30% for Large Hail. Thinking was Supercells would initiate along a stationery boundary near Hays and then increase in numbers and congeal into a damaging SE moving wind threat overnight. The first storm we got onto just west of Great Bend was nice on its approach but numerous storms going up around it had already pulled this into a fast south eastward moving bow type structure, was today over already ? Surely not at 4pm ?

We went south from Great Bend towards Pratt and sat watching developing storms to the west and one such storm really took off for us around 5pm, rapid developments and increasing Cg lightning was noted and then the structure started to take shape with a stunning LP Supercell in front of us, things change so quickly in Tornado Alley from nothing at 5pm to full blown Supercell by 525pm!

We followed this storm south towards Pratt and then noticed some huge hailstorms coming up from North Central Oklahoma were on a collision course with our storm and us as well. The inflection point looked to be just east of Pratt so I stopped us just near where that point was and we got some great shots of the structure which was jaw dropping with green skies and Cg lightning and pretty rapid rotation.

Shortly after the above pictures all the storms came together as one big bowing system heading south east so the final plan of the day was for some cloud art, knowing we had about 30 minutes to get to our destination before the 5-10 minutes of stunning colours took hold we headed north towards Mcpherson to be in the dry just North West of the storm complex to watch the amazing Mammatus and Cg lightning with the sun setting to our west, we were not disappointed what an end to a great chase day!