Storm Chase 2003: May 16 - May 18

chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D.

May 16 - 17: Awful weather (clear and sunny) and Chaser Picnic

I arrived in Dallas, Texas after flying past multiple tornadic supercells. (1V) This was the end of a record-breaking tornado outbreak that had plagued the Midwest for almost two weeks. The most recent chaseable tornadoes ravaged the Texas Panhandle the day before I arrived. The weather pattern was changing, and the unusual severe weather was supposed to end. I drove to Norman, Oklahoma that evening and stayed at the Guest Inn, a local chaser hangout.


On May 17th, no severe weather was expected, and the Storm Chaser picnic was that afternoon. I checked equipment and met with Chris Kridler who was also going to chase the second two weeks of May. Cloud 9 Tours was at the hotel. Chris and I chatted with Charles Edwards, Jim Leonard, and Mike Theiss who run Cloud 9 Tours. They were excited about the previous two weeks of tornadoes. Like us, they were not optimistic about the next two weeks. Chris and I checked our forecasts. There was a slight risk of severe weather in eastern Colorado and western Kansas for May 18th. With a deteriorating pattern, we had to go after any chance of storms. We planned to attend the party and then drive as far north and west as possible that evening.

The Storm Chaser Picnic was held at Rocky Rascovich's farm northwest of Oklahoma City. Approximately 70 storm chasers from around the world attended the party. It was nice to see old friends and meet new people. Everybody was excited about the recent tornadoes and saddened by their damage. Some local chasers' homes were narrowly missed by one the Oklahoma City tornadoes. After the barbecue, everyone gathered to watch some recent tornado footage. There was some amazing video from George Kourounis, Jeff Piotrowski, Dave Lewison and others. Chasers also discussed and compared forecasting techniques. The Strom Chaser picnic is a great way to learn new forecasting methods. A crew from Pioneer Productions was filming the group for an upcoming documentary. Like Chris and I, there were many chasers who had just arrived for two weeks of chasing. The severe weather pattern had just ended and we were worried that quiet weather would dominate the Plains. Other chasers had just experienced the most number of tornadoes ever recorded and were leaving the next day after their two weeks. In the late afternoon, Chris and I left the party and drove north to get in position for possible chasing in Colorado the following day. We arrived in Colby, Kansas (northwestern Kansas, near Colorado) early Sunday morning.

photo courtesy of
Dave Lewison

May 18: Severe storms in Colorado

The chase day started in Colby, Kansas. Chris Kridler and I each checked data in our separate rooms, then compared the forecasts to decide on a target area. Instability was marginal. We hoped that storms would form from a combination of upslope at the edge of the Rockies and convergence from a diffuse outflow boundary (cool moist air from previous storms). We left the hotel at 12:30PM, and our initial target was Limon, Colorado. We headed west on I-70, crossing into the Mountain Time Zone. About 35 miles west of Limon, the overcast sky started to clear. Sunny weather meant additional heating and energy for storms. Chris and I briefly checked data (1P) in Limon before turning north on 71. We arrived in Last Chance, Colorado at 3PM. We had heard that towers were going up southwest of the town; however, the storms appeared mushy and were dying. While in Last Chance, we met up with Scott Blair, Eric Nguyen and Scott Currens. We waited in a vacant lot, watched the sky, and compared forecasts. Our group did briefly head west to investigate some more towers but they were falling apart. Scott and his group continued west while Chris and I went back to Last Chance. Another storm formed to the south near Punkin Center. We blasted south at 5:15PM. We could see the storm in the distance. It initially looked decent but then fell apart. Disappointed, Chris and I pulled off in a field along 71 and watched the sky. Jason Persoff, M.D., who was also out chasing, rendezvoused with us. We watched the sky and commiserated about the poor longterm forecast. Jason was also out for the last two weeks in May. He has family in Denver and could visit when prospects were poor. We waited and watched (2P). A few storms formed in the distance but they were moving away from us and couldn't be intercepted. At 7PM, we went south to Limon, then west on I-70 to intercept storms that were exploding just east of Denver. I-70 turned northwest and we could see the storms. The main one appeared linear (3V) though it had a nice hail-shaft (4V) (pic 1), (5V)(pic 2) to our southwest. By 7:20PM, we watched some nice CG's (cloud to ground lightning) (6V) by the hail-shaft. This was a linear storm. We continued northwest and stopped at a rest area near Deer Trail at 7:40PM. Jason continued toward Denver. There was a more isolated storm developing to our southwest. A wall cloud (6V) (pic 1) , (7V) (pic 2) formed at 7:43PM and lasted about 7 minutes before the storm was choked by another storm. The storms had merged into a line and night would soon arrive. There was no more chance of photogenic storms. We left the rest area at 8PM and drove northwest on I-70 until we were about 40 miles from Denver. At Deer Trail, we turned north and then picked up 36 to head back east. We couldn't return on I-70 because our route was blocked by the storm core. We passed through Last Chance again while on our way to Hays, Kansas.

(1P) (2P) (3V) (4V)
(5V) (6V) (7V) (8V)

(P -- Photo) (V -- Video Still)

Next Page: May 19, 2003

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