Gorgeous Sunset Chase Kicks Off 2012
Posted on Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 5:00 PM MST
CUSTER CITY, OK -- A chase that began targeting the dryline in western Oklahoma concluded with one of the most spectacular storms I've ever seen. A rather complex setup was working its way into the southern plains, as I spent the better part of 2 days pouring over models trying to decide on one of two targets: one along a cold front that was originally forecast to be along the Kansas-Oklahoma border, and the other along the dryline in western Oklahoma.
I was initially planning to head to the Kansas target, but the cold front stalled way out to the west, so my target changed at the last minute to the dryline in western Oklahoma. The plan was to arrive in Elk City, OK between 4:30 and 5:00 PM, have one last look at the models and then go from there. I spent about half an hour at a truck stop just outside of Elk City killing time and looking at models. The cap had pretty much eroded to the south of where I was, so I headed south to intercept the dryline.
While I was headed south, I noticed some towers had started going up just to the east of where I was, so I kept a visual on them as I was driving. After spending a bunch of time driving around the town of Granite trying to find a cell phone signal, I was finally able to get an updated radar, which showed that there was still nothing to the west on the dryline, but the storms just to the east had already initiated!! The core was over Hobart, about 8 miles to the east of where I was.
The storm was moving due north, just to the west of US-183, so I chased right along the storm's southern edge heading north on US-183. I chose this location because it was easiest to get to, it was out of the main rain and hail core, and if the storm put down a tornado (which was quite a long shot given the conditions), I would be in perfect position.
The storm exploded once it punched through the cap, and kept gaining strength as it moved north. By the time the sun began to set, I had been chasing it for nearly 60 miles, and it was well on its way to blossoming into a supercell. The sun setting behind the storms combined with the fact that it was the only storm that fired in western Oklahoma, made for some absolutely stunning photo opportunities. It was time to find a place to pull over and take some pictures.
For those of you who don't know, the entire state of Oklahoma has a county road grid, with roads laid out in a one mile by one mile grid. Unfortunately, most of these roads are not paved, and the Oklahoma clay that makes up most of the dirt roads can quickly become impassable when it rains.
I did manage to find one of these roads that was paved (wahoo!) and headed west on it. I pulled off at the top of a hill with a clear and open view of the storm over the prairie. I must have spent a good 20 minutes or so sitting there photographing the storm as it drifted off into the sunset. The pictures came out amazing!! I called the chase just before 7:30 PM, when it got too dark to keep shooting. As a silver lining, too, it turned out the storms didn't fire on the dryline until after sunset (I don't chase after dark). Sitting up on the top of that hill watching the sun set behind this growing supercell was a great reward to the end of a fantastic opening chase of the 2012 Severe Weather Season.
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