Thursday, June 22, 2017

Carpenter, Wyoming Violent Tornado-Historic Wyoming Tornado Outbreak

With 2017 being one of the most frustrating years of chasing since 2014 it seemed chasers (including myself) were losing hope of anything incredible happening this year. Countless setups with high end potential flopping, stronger or weaker than forecast EML plaguing many setups, including most of the High and Moderate risk days issued this year. Or lack of surface flow on what would be cyclic tornado producing beastly storms. Lets not forget all the cold pooling issues this year as well. With only one photogenic tornado since March (that being the McLean, Texas tornado) that every chaser and their mother had the same shot of 2017 was taking quite a toll on my motivation to chase. That is....until June 12th. About 4 days out Stephen and myself were out chasing in the Texas Panhandle where we lost our windshield thanks to baseball size hail a system the GFS was picking up on caught our eye. A powerful shortwave streaming up into the Dakotas bringing with it a very moist airmass. We ran into Emily Pike, Brett Wright, and Chris Sanner at a truck stop in Western, Oklahoma and Brett had asked if we were heading up to the Dakotas. I personally had my doubts due to the fact every decent looking setup this year 4 days out seemed to always find a way to crap out on itself. I was more locked on working. But it definitely had all of our attention. I remember Emily jokingly say "You're going to chase and you know it."

By day 3 the SPC had introduced a slight risk area for the Dakotas and into Eastern, Wyoming with a less than promising outlook. However, when the NAM startled trickling in things started to become much, much more interesting. NAM was coming in much slower bringing unheard of parameters into Wyoming, Colorado, and the Nebraska Panhandle. On a good chase day you can get tornadoes in that part of the country with about 1200 cape and mid 50 dew points due to elevation and mountain enhanced features. NAM was trying to flirt with mid 60 dew points and 3,000 cape streaming up into the high plains of Wyoming and Colorado thanks to strong Southeasterly/Easterly flow. While eye grabbing I thought for sure this was long range bs.

By the time our system was 2 days out it was becoming clear that the best setup of the year was becoming a real possibility (in Wyoming of all places). GFS run by run started to slow down and all models were hoaming in on Wyoming/Colorado madness. I remember pulling soundings and my jaw hitting the floor. Because these soundings were conductive for strong tornadoes in Kansas and the Central Plains. Put these in the High Plains and something historic would unfold. But being how this year has gone I still refused to get excited. So many setups this year have looked almost perfect and then 24 hours prior take a dump. Then the evening before we leave came and the NWS in Cheyenne released one the sexiest AFD's I have ever read. 

For the first time all year I actually had the prechase jitters and were texting fellow chasers that were out that we are going to see something incredible tomorrow. The big question marks were still out as to if models were over doing moisture and if there would be enough cap to hold off storms until later initiation and remain discrete. Sure enough as we entered Colorado there was thick, dense fog. Something I have never seen there the night before a chase meaning dew points like models had forecast were verifying. A glance at surface obs and lower 60 dew points were already in place across Eastern, Colorado that would be pulled North later in the day. We awoke in Cheyenne, Wyoming to a thick fog deck. Again, something you don't see in the high plains on a chase day. I walked out of the car to go to the bathroom and it was so humid you would think you were in Kansas. Morning CAM models were orgasmic at best. Showing a string of behemoth supercells marching across the Colorado/Wyoming border. But I wasn't totally sold that it would be that far South. 

Stephen and I both agreed to split the difference between target areas and headed towards the town of LeGrange, Wyoming. But were greeted to absolutely no cell service to monitor how the day was unfolding and was such a small town there was no where to get wifi. So, we continued up to Torrington, Wyoming for better cell service and to grab some breakfast before the big chase day. On our way up the new outlook came out and words of 2017 were beginning to tease us with "Observed sounding out of Cheyenne revealed a very weak capping inversion). Greeeeeeeeeaaaattttt! Just what I want to hear. But, after bumping into fellow chasers Rob Forry, Emily Pike, Brennan Jontz and many others it was around 1pm Mountain Time and there were no signs of initiation. It was at this point I knew something historic was coming and the game was on. Now, the hard part was choosing North or South. Storm chasers are some of the most superstitious group of people you will ever meet. While chilling in a McDonalds parking lot I found a random quarter in my pocket. I told someone to call it and if we call it right we are going to see amazing tornadoes today. Sure enough, we called it right.....Remember that later...

As if this day couldn't get wilder not only did we have the furthest West a hatched area had ever been (let alone for tornadoes) the first ever in Wyoming history PDS Tornado Watch had been issued. My jaw nearly hit the floor. I still couldn't believe we were dealing with a 15% hatch tornado threat and PDS Watch in Wyoming of all places!

We found a hill in LeGrange where we got weak cell service but enough to load radar as we saw towers bubbling off to our North and South. Several foot tapping moments went by as we let the storms mature. The northern storm was now severe warned and isolated as all that can be. While the storms coming out of the Fort Collins, Colorado area appeared to be somewhat cluttered not making our decision easier. I've been burned so many times not listening to my gut and the whole time we sat on that hill my gut was telling me South. With a nose of 4500 cape streaming up to the Colorado/Wyoming border and mid 60 dew points pooling right where these storms were heading it sealed our fate to go South. That, and the Northern storm was moving in a Northwest direction. Not deviant for tornadoes. I even jokingly said "That'd have to make a massive right turn to go from moving NW to NE." Well, as if almost the weather troll God's were listening. As we approached the Colorado border the Northern storm was now tornado warned in an equally as impressive environment and was guess what?! NOW MOVING NORTHEAST! NEAT! Can't wait to screw up another 2017 setup. Photos streaming in from group chats of friends on the Northern storm and looked absolutely classic with a near ground scrubbing wall cloud. The car grew silent and had that sickening feeling in my stomach because I knew what today was capable of.  Disaster struck as Emily's car started leaking radiator fluid as we pulled off into a gas station and we offered her to jump in our vehicle as our storm was now (finally) tornado warned and the chase was back on. 

Radar presentation showed two absolutely classic supercells and both were now tornado warned as we came in to attack. 

Watching both storms approach it put on quite a dazzling display of two bases dancing with each other as one tried to become dominant while also spitting out an insane amount of CG lightning bolts way out ahead of the storm every second or two. 

While this was very cool to watch, I was quickly becoming frustrated. One storm would never take over. One base would look very good while the other seemed to be dying, only to have the dying base start to look good again and the other mature base start getting cut off. This would repeat for nearly 30 minutes and I was growing less and less optimistic by the minute. I figured the storms would just keep choking each other off and never amount to much while hoping to God the Northern storm didn't do anything as it was still looking very good. 

FINALLY it appeared that the southern storm was taking over and the Northern cell was being choked off. You could also notice this visually as now one base was quickly becoming sculpted and a big RFD cut was working in. I thought for sure this thing was about to plant a significant tornado anytime. I even messaged another group chat I am in that this thing was about to put down something big. 40mph warm inflow screaming in, taking loads of dust and dirt with it I was ready. 

Another length of time went by and I had no idea how we didn't already have a tornado at this point. Everything was there. 

Here you will see what built up my frustration to wanting to be done with the day. Our storm began to undergo a core dump and its base was quickly getting higher and higher and appeared to be on a weakening trend. Yelling at the wind I did not understand how this was not producing tornadoes. Stephen checked mesoanalysis and our problem was solved. 0-1km helicity was severely lacking. Meanwhile, the storm we had been eyeing near Cheyenne was now tornado warned and looking more and more mature with a reported funnel cloud. The idea was briefly tossed around to attempt and get up there but I couldn't shake my gut feeling about this storm despite it not looking so hot at the moment. The Northern storm to me wasn't behaving like a typical boundary riding storm where it seems to explode on one radar scan and turn hard right. It was this storm or bust in my eyes. Stephen and Emily agreed and again, it was almost like the weather Gods could hear our frustration and sadness as we thought we were going to experience yet another 2017 bust as inflow ramped up and blasted us with dust. Getting back in the jeep and continuing North to pace the storm I could barely keep the jeep on the road the inflow was so strong and you could see the base lowering in real time. I was having flashbacks to the Chapman, Kansas storm where it lowered substantially just before tornado geniuses occurred. Then a small funnel began to dip down out of the sky. 

I pulled over on our East option as the little funnel roped out and inflow was so strong it bent the power poles behind us and the base had lowered substantially. It was time. Now or never. Blasting East towards the town of Grover, Colorado on a dirt road to get to our North road our storm continued to get better organized and we still hadn't heard of any tornado reports up North (except for the Cheyenne storm that had produced a beautiful tornado that hardly anybody was on). Turning onto Highway 390 our wall cloud was really ripping and two funnels began to dip down, rotating around each other as our wall cloud continued to spin faster and faster. "Its carouseling!! its carouseling!" I yelled as the motion became stronger and stronger. 

There's no way this is not going to produce at least a brief tornado. We now ran into a road problem on how to keep up with the storm. We could blast North/Northwest and get right up close and hoped it produced, flipped around and get to our East road. Or take our East road now and keep pace with the storm. I said "North, North, North! I'll turn around and go back East this is gonna do it" Turns out there was an East road we didn't see on the map that lead right to the storm and curved North which was absolutely perfect! We found this right as the tornado touched down. Finally!!! A great 2017 tornado!!

Our road banked North. This was it! Finally our get up close shot we had waited all year for as the tornado continues to strengthen. 

The tornado began to condense again taking power poles with it as it dips down in the field beside us as we continue our approach. 

An absolutely breathtaking tornado was now underway! White stovepipe with very strong motion. Unreal!! 2017 finally paid off!! Our gut was right! We did it! 

awe and beauty quickly turned to panic as the tornado accelerated right towards a home sending huge pieces of debris into the air. This tornado was now very violent. Taking chunks of the field up into the air and throwing debris like toys. We inched closer and realized the house had some how been spared and the debris that got shredded was from their farm and silos. No cars were in the driveway and nobody appeared to be home and with natural gas spewing out and power lines downed right next to it we were forced to leave and continue the pursuit as the tornado grows back in size again. 

Not much to caption at this point except "wow!" Multiple close range intercepts as the tornado continued to dance across this road. 

Just ahead of us we watched in horror as a real life Twister scene unfolds. A tanker truck begins to get pulled sideways towards the tornado before the truck moved the truck into the wind preventing disaster. Its a good thing the tornado was not impacting structures here because it was very violent as chunks of dirt were being carried up near the cloud base. 

With a dump streak of luck our road curved back towards the tornado for now a third close range intercept! 

"Its Alpena!!!" I yelled which was a beautiful tornado back in 2014 in South Dakota as we race North for one last close range intercept. 

The tornado turns dark, and it begins taking chunks out of the ground with very, very violent upward motion. Thankfully we did not see more damage as the tornado passes just behind this house. 

50 yards beside us, debris raining down and still violent the tornado transitions into a drill bit tornado was it begins to rope out after 20 intense minutes. 

This was the most stunning thing I have ever seen chasing. A mile long rope out, parked underneath of it looking up as a violent drill bit spins off in the field beside us. Our confidence was so low after busting the most recent High Risk setup and countless failed attempts for tornadoes (that was out of our hands) we had finally did it! 

Before the tornado completely died, it wasn't done showing off. With an orange lit background you could actually see through the tornado as it spins off in the field before finally dissipating.

Emily, Stephen and I jumped out of the vehicle with a group hug jumping up and down for joy! We couldn't believe it! The most visually stunning tornado I had ever seen and looked just like the famous Manchester, South Dakota tornado of 2004 which I had always wanted to see one like it. Fellow chasers Adam Lucio and Jonathan Williamson rolled by and I gave Jon a high five before Adam turned around. I nearly jumped in "The Tank" from giving Adam a celebratory hug. But, the storm wasn't done yet and the chase was back on. 

Crossing into Nebraska there was so much vorticity in the atmosphere that there were 4 shear funnels coming out of various locations of the storm. Something I had never seen before. We eventually caught back up to the base of the storm and trailed from the South on dirt roads where tornado number 2 would touch down!

Nothing to write home about, my still awesome none the less as this was all icing on the cake now and our third state to see a tornado in from one storm! 

Our storm would cycle again as we turned East continuing on mud roads behind Team Twirl. But as we tried to get East and then North our third tornado of the day descended to the earth.

Another brief one but another cycle was right on its tail and would produce tornado number 4 of the day! This one being much longer lived North of the town of Busnell, Nebraska. This tornado also had beautiful contrast as the tornado was illuminated white and had helical vorticies dancing around before kinking back and fourth eventually doing damage to a barn where other chasers got closer video of. 

Another beauty. Absolutely unbelievable chase day. A frustrating season turned around with just one day with now four photogenic tornadoes. This storm now had three mesos on it at one time and two out of the three had produced tornadoes. 

After this tornado roped out however, the third meso really started ripping and as we turn North tornado number 5 was born. Another absolutely gorgeous tornado! 

The lighting and shape of this tornado reminded me a lot of the Salina, Kansas and Cherokee, Oklahoma tornadoes of the April 14th, 2012 outbreak. We attempted to blast West to get a closer view but by the time we got close it was beginning to rope out. 

Finally, 5 tornadoes later and several hours of chasing later and darkness approaching our storm began to weaken and take on more of an HP mode. But, not before spitting out one last funnel and possibly tornado number 6 since we couldn't confirm ground circulation. So, 5 overall for sure. But, at that point I didn't care as we had seen total epicness in an amazing part of the country and bagged my first Wyoming tornado. 

We ended our chase shortly after filming this funnel cloud and headed back to Wyoming to get Emily back to her car and get repaired. It was also time for all of us to celebrate with steak in Sydney, Nebraska. A hard, well earned steak after this crappy year. The magic quarter worked! 

Conclusion: If its one thing this chase taught me, is to never go against your gut feeling. All day something was just leading us South and couldn't shake that feeling. With our confidence so low after busting so many times this year it was the boost that we had needed. I also got the video I have waited 7 years since I started chasing to get. Good, steady, close range video of a violent tornado. 

Sure enough the sons owner of the home found me on Facebook and informed me that his mom (the owner) was not home at the time nor was anyone else and she was down in Texas helping him on his farm when this all occurred. He was also in good spirits and told me how they've joked around for years that knowing their luck aliens would land there, it'd get hit by lightning, or struck by a tornado (oops). They believe they will be able to rebuild their home as it sustained roof damage and broken windows. The barn not so much. But were grateful it hit the barn and not their home that had been in their family for four generations and looks to be able to survive to a fifth generation! This would also go down as one of the most prolific and widespread tornado outbreaks in Wyoming history. 

Storm reports 

Video from the event: