Storm Chase Safari Day 6

A typical day of storm chasing begins with sunny blue skies and no indication of what lies in store for later the afternoon. That’s why we begin each day with an orientation where we view the different climatic sites to see what the afternoon has in store. Once we have an idea of where the weather patterns are flowing we begin to head in the general direction keeping an eye on the radar as we go.
We had already anticipated storms over to the west part of Texas and were in Big Bend so we didn’t have far to go to get in position so we did a little sight seeing. I love the character of small towns and there was plenty of that to be found.

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We stopped to check out the wildlife along the way. We saw coyotes, a rattle snake and triantulas in abundance.

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As afternoon approached we got into serious storm chase mode and began to position ourselves for the closest storm in the area. To photograph a good storm it’s important to stay ahead of it or behind it. If you get in the center all you see is heavy rain and hail. We wanted to get ahead of this storm and with the road network as it is we had to head right through the center of the storm. We had heavy rain but missed the hailstorm. It must have dropped a couple of inches of pea sized hail.

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We finally got ahead of the storm and satyed ahead of it for the remainder of the day. It was not a supercell but it did offer some nice photo opportunities.

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We had a few minutes to stop and photograph lightning before the wind kicked up nearly knocking us and our tripods over so back in the van we went and headed towards our hotel while the thunder, lightning, rain and wind raged around us.

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All in all it was a great week. We had some excellent storms, visited some interesting towns, ate the local fare and enjoyed each others company…just what storm chasing is all about. Many thanks to Brian Morganti and Chris Gullikson (who spends his time when not storm chasing working with Operation Migration, the Whooping Crane Reintroduction project) as well as Mark, Joe & JoAnn my fellow storm chasers for making this a great week.
I’m already planning my return next year.

Images captured with Nikon D200, AF-S 18-200mm (infrared), D3X, AF-S 14-24mm (approaching storm), D700, AF-S 24-70mm (lightning) on Lexar digital media.

Storm Chase Safari Day 5

With no supercells in the forecast but several smaller storms to choose from we decided to head southwest out of Abilene towards Fort Stockton and then see what our options were. Along the way we saw field upon field with cacti blooming and had to stop for a bit to work the scene.

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Once we reached Fort Stockton, we stopped to evaluate our options. Brian & Chris thought that we had better chances of severe weather if we headed farther southwest so, off we went. A storm began to develop and as we passed through it we were inundated with rain. As we came out of the rain storm a beautiful double rainbow appeared for a few short minutes.

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We managed to keep ahead of the storm (just barely), stopping to photograph lightning along the way. When the air got cooler and the hail began to fall we would jump back in the van and move up the road a bit more. We were able to make several stops before the lightning began to let up. We could hear a strange rumbling sound which Brian and Chris told us was hail in the sky. We later learned that hailstones from the size of quarters up to the size of softballs had been produced by the storm.

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By this time we were within 100 miles of Big Bend National Park so we decided to head there for the night so we could enjoy the park for a few hours the next morning. There was a special treat in store for us for dinner at the Starlight Theater where we had an excellent meal and one last photo opportunity. The restaurant was very cool and the staff was gracious enough to let us bring our camera in and photograph. I knew exactly how I was going to finish the image before I even clicked the first frame. I did a nine frame bracket selecting the images two stops apart. After blending them in Photomatix, I then went into Photoshop where I added my own special effects to finish the image off.

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I forgot to look at the mileage but, I know we covered well over 400 miles today. I can hardly wait to explore Big Bend NP tomorrow morning before heading out to find more severe weather. And while we did not find a supercell we certainly had a variety of photo opportunities in our path.

Images captured with Nikon D3X, AF-S 14-24mm, AF-S 24-70mm on Lexar digital media

Strom Chase Safari Day 4

I finished a pano of the shelf cloud from yesterday…. Brian said it was in the top five shelf clouds he has seen in all his years of storm chasing. I don’t have that kind of reference but, I have to say it was pretty spectacular as it spread for miles across the sky.

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Our look at the data showed that the best bet for a storm would be somewhere near the Texas panhandle so off we went. As late afternoon approached the updrafts began forming a line building into a nice cell that we began to chase. OUr chase took us towards the southeast of the panhandle through Weatherford and down to interstate 20 where we began to chase in earnest as the storm headed towards Dallas/Fort Worth. We managed to stop a few times to work the building storm.

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The cell split and began to weaken about 20 miles west of Dallas. We studied the radar data and decided to head east towards Abilene where we would spend the night positioning ourselves for tomorrow’s storm chase. We covered 475 miles today.

Images captured with Nikon D3X, AF-S 14-24mm on Lexar digital media

Storm Chase Safari Day 3

Once again the forecast for severe weather was not great today but, it is looking better for tomorrow down in the Texas plains. So, off we went traveling back through Kansas, the Nebraska panhandle and on to Texas. We stopped along the way to photograph some interesting cloud formations. We spotted some pileus clouds, the soft caps on top of the cumulus clouds (A layer of cloud sometimes seen capping a cumulus cloud. The pileus layer forms when the cumulus cloud pushes a moist layer of air above it upwards, causing condensation in this layer. Eventually, the cumulus will grow into and penetrate the pileus cloud, after which the pileus may remain as a cloud skirt around the cumulus. weatherscapes.com)

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There is alot of what I call “drive by shooting” when storm chasing as there simply is not time to stop for every photo opportunity if you want to keep up with the big weather. I saw a small cluster of trees up ahead with beautiful light skimming across the wheat fields in the foreground and waited to shoot until the ominous clouds were directly above the trees.

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As the day began to fade into evening, we were treated to a huge shelf cloud stretching across the sky that had a great band of hail (the turquoise layer). Luckily it was slow moving and we actully had the chance to photograph, then jump in the van and move ahead of it and photograph again.

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And finally the spell was broken when we had the chance to photograph lightning.

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With about 100 miles left of our 600+ mile drive we headed towards Shamrock, TX and were treated to a light show the entire way. Unfortunately, the lightning was embedded in the clouds or we would have stopped to photograph it but, it was still amazing to see the sky lighting up like a stroboscopic show, pulsing constantly, for a couple of hours.

Images captures with Nikon D3X, AF-S 24-70mm, AF-S 14-24mm on Lexar digital media