June 19, 2018: Tornado near Keenesburg, Colorado

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Tour 4 was treated to a great tornado on the last day of the tour just about an hour north of the Denver metro area near a small rural town named Keenseburg. This was the second day that supercells which started near Boulder took the exact same path. Just the evening before this event, we were in Keenseburg experiencing large hail and torrential rain. In fact, due to the heavy rains on the previous day that soaked the rural roads (dirt), we opted to stay a bit further south so that we could not only keep a better eye on two tornadic supercells (one to our North near Keenesburg, and one to our south moving towards Simla), but also keep the vehicles wheels on solid roads.

After the first tornado of the day near Keenesburg ended, we quickly moved south and then continued east allowing the storms to chase us all the way to Limon, where we intercepted another tornado. However, due to it being occluded in heavy rain and our light was quickly diminishing, it was as nearly as photogenic as the earlier tornado, even though we were much closer to it.

May 29, 2018: Southwest Kansas Tornadoes

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We started this day on Tour 3 in Colby, Kansas up near the Colorado/Nebraska border and headed south with an expected forecast of tornadic storms near the Dodge City, Kansas area. Our timing was pretty spot on, we stopped in a small town just north of Dodge City to fuel the vehicles up and supercells were already building in the area, there were two of them. Just as we got back on the highway, the one closest to us began a phase of rapid intensification, and produced our first tornado of the day.

Just on the northern limits of Dodge City we pulled over as Brian thought he saw a contrasted edge hidden in a wet core under the base of the northern most supercell. Sure enough, with a bit of straining – the elusive tornado began to show itself! It wasn’t the easiest tornado to see and the cameras had a difficult time with it, but it is visible in the photo posted here (the contrast had to be blown out of the photo to bring the tornado out in the photo – this tornado was wrapped in heavy rain, not always visible, but in this case it was).

After the stovepipe tornado roped out, we quickly made our way through Dodge City as the storm was approaching from the west. We had to go all the way through the city to catch our next highway which would take us east and allow us to stay ahead of the storm. After we were 10 or so miles ahead of the storm, near a small unincorporated town named Kingsdown, we stopped and setup the cameras. We now had the more southern supercell heading straight towards us and it was looking better than ever!

We decided to let the storm pass just to our north and as it did, it produced an incredibly low hanging wall cloud that was quickly rotating. The entire base of the storm seemed to be dragging the ground, literally about a one-mile wide area of rotation right in front of us. Its difficult in these situations to see any specific spin-ups on the ground, but the entire rotating base had basically become a giant multivortex wedge tornado! The tornado report from 2235 confirmed the tornado: https://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/reports/180529_rpts.html

May 25, 2018: Supercells and Lightning Fire in Texas Panhandle

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While not the type of weather event that we expect to see, Tour 2 witnessed a common and extremely dangerous result of lightning when a low-precipitation supercell started several wildland fires north of Allison, Texas. Lightning is a major factor in wildland fires, and the average number of acres burned per fire is much higher in lightning fires than in fires that are caused by humans according to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association.

In additional to causing fires, lightning strikes are one of the biggest risks associated with thunderstorms, and this would also include storm chasing since we’re often with the range of a lightning strike. The general rule-of-thumb is: if you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck by lightning.

Much of the Texas Panhandle has been rain deficient for several years now, so it doesn’t take much for a wildland fire to get started. We stood in awe as lightning was hitting the ground around us and nearly every lightning strike was setting off a new fire to the point that local firefighting crews were getting overwhelmed while some fires flared up from a spark to engulfing small forested areas within mere seconds.