Into the Storm with Michael Butler: Part 5

The storm chase moves forward as Michael and his field study class travel more than one thousand miles over the course of three days looking for severe weather. If you’re not caught up on their full journey, take a look at what they encountered during Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4!

Days 7, 8, and 9

An aforementioned complex of thunderstorms rolled through the Central High Plains Tuesday, scouring out moisture for future thunderstorms Wednesday. We repositioned to Wyoming by afternoon, in the hope that storms would develop in better moisture west of Tuesday’s stormy footprint. However, the lack of moisture paired with rain-cooled air kept storms disorganized. We called an end to the chase early and headed towards Cheyenne for the night. With the extra time, something we did not have the past few days, we recapped the previous days and looked ahead to the forecast through the rest of the trip. We knew stormier times were shortly ahead.

Thursday was anticipated as a travel day, repositioning for a more substantial severe threat on Friday. Storms were in the forecast Thursday, but forecast models actually had too many storms developing for a severe threat! How could that be? Meteorologists on The Weather Channel sometimes mention caution about an “isolated supercell” or “a single storm ahead of others”. They are drawing attention to these because supercells most frequently are isolated and often develop in the warm air ahead of a squall line. The atmosphere can be too “mushy” if too many storms are present; it affects the environment that makes them favorable to form. Given this and our position in Cheyenne, we stopped by the National Weather Service office before departing towards Colorado.

The National Weather Service in Cheyenne, Wyoming is 1 of 122 weather forecast offices in the United States. Each office is responsible for issuing forecasts, warnings, and other products often seen on The Weather Channel. Jeff Garmon, meteorologist-in-charge at the office, explained to us that Cheyenne’s geography makes their area one of the windiest in the United States! As we wrapped up the tour, Jeff showed a sign outside their building that reiterated this fact! We also shared personal stories of weather events and they wished good luck on the rest of the trip.

Day789.1Humorous wind sock outside the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, Wyoming

As we headed south into Colorado, storms erupted over the Front Range by afternoon. They were numerous as expected and development of supercells appeared unlikely. Tracking towards Lamar, we noticed a storm unlikely to produce a tornado, but taking on characteristics of a bow echo on radar. Bow echoes are curved shape and often produce severe straight-line winds. We tracked this storm from Lamar, Colorado to Coolidge, Kansas before calling an end to the day. The storm produced an impressive shelf cloud, indicative of strong winds, but no tornadoes. Historically, the month ended with the lowest number of tornadoes since the late 1980s!

Day789.2West of Holly, Colorado
Day789.3Near Coolidge, Kansas

We rang in a July with a favorable severe setup in southeast Colorado. Severe storms were expected to form along and near a warm front. Warm fronts often create a favorable environment for tornadic supercells during peak tornado months. That being said, we were concerned that cloud cover would prevent good heating throughout the day. Without heating, instability that fuels storms is harder to achieve. We initially headed west towards La Junta, Colorado, where the best moisture was pooling. However, clouds and weaker storms hampered the severe potential. We settled on heading back east, where a long supercell had formed. It was briefly tornado warned, but gusted out before producing a tornado. We tracked the storm eastward to just over the Colorado-Kansas border. This put us in good position for our final chase on Saturday. We started to experience vehicle issues on the way to our hotel — we knew this might hamper our last day’s chase efforts. We were just unsure how much.

Day789.4Near Springfield, Colorado
Day789.6Days 6, 7, and 8 on the chase – 1207 miles.

Read the final entry of Into the Storm with Michael Butler here!

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  1. Absolutely fabulous pics of super cells. We don’t get the vantage point to view them like that in the northeast nor are they as large and tall