Trentham Stormchasers  - 'Going to Extremes' 2012 USA Roadtrip

High and dry in western Kansas - 17th May 2012

Report: Clyve Herbert

Photography: Jane ONeill & Clyve Herbert 

After several days of poking about Hillsboro, storm deprivation was digging in deep. Michael Bath, Rodney Wallbridge and Jason Paterson we also staying with us. We spent most of the time lamenting about storms of the past......

Today was looking interesting across eastern Colorado and western Kansas. The only problem was going to be the dry air.With dewpoints between 35 & 38F (2-3C), it would take a decent amount of surface heating to get anything happening, however, we had spotted a cold pool dribbling east from Utah and perhaps some of this upper cold air would get itself into western Kansas.

As we headed west on Interstate 70, we noted the progressive fall in dewpoints from around 50F/10C at Salina to a rock bottom 33F/1C east of Oakley. Despite the lack of moisture, deep high based cumulus were already developing to the west near the Colorado border. We branched off I-70 to travel along Hway 40 near Oakley. where we spotted the first reasonable storm developing. As we approached Winona, we were astonished to see a rotating column under the rain free base! It appeared far too large to be a dust devil, and suspect low level convergence near the high based storm in the dry adiabatic lower levels with the temperatures above 90F...all of this coupled with very steep lapse rates above 12,000' may have been sufficient to generate a rotating updraft column .We played around with this relatively small cell, moderately lightning active, also dropping marble hail at times. This is where we experienced the west Kansas clay roads with a little bit of rain on them......As we worked or way west, the clay soon built up to a decent thickness under our vehicle, the consistency of the wet sticky clay reminded me of days long gone when I changed up to 12 nappies a day!

As this storm died, we headed southwest to another larger cell moving northwards near Sharon Springs. This storm was sparking and arcing, however, with high based storms, base features are often hidden by falling precipitation and they don't generally provide good photographic opportunities. No matter...we were happy dicing in and out of its rain core for an hour or so with frequent ground lighting all around.We decided to head north to follow a broadening area of multicells and this is where we paced an outflow guster all the way to the Nebraska border. It was amazing to see these cells die so quickly as the sun set. As we arrived in McCook, Nebraska, the remnant outflow guster blasted through the town filling it with dust, papers and anything that would fly through the air.

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Busy air routes above Salina, Kansas. We spotted 10 planes in the sky at once!!

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A lot of old Kansas farmhouses are deteriorating and will no doubt disappear in the next 20 - 40 years, which is a shame...

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Magnificent spin up near a developing storm near Winona, Kansas

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Another interesting spinup under a developing storm near Winona.

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We suspect this spinup may have been associated with a developing storm with interacting low level vorticity being caught up in the storm's updraft.

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The perils of Kansas farm roads!! Thick sticky clay.....

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The magnificence of high plains high based storms, western Kansas.

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Note the rolling outflow 'dust guster' nearer to the ground along the horizon.

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Stay tuned for the next episode...

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