Tuesday, July 29, 2014

07/12/14 Eastern Iowa Supercell

 A photogenic supercell spins during the late-evening as it approaches West Liberty, IA 

On July 12th, I decided by mid-morning to chase in eastern Iowa during the late-afternoon and evening. It appeared that near the I-80 corridor there would be some tornadic potential through the evening. Since it was a weekend and a relatively short drive than I'm accustomed to I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity for some supercell's close to home. I headed out around 11:30am with an initial target near Iowa City, IA. The area along the I-80 corridor featured a supportive environment for supercells for July-standards with 3,000J/kg of CAPE, 0-6km shear at 45kts, a supercell composite of 8, 0-3km SRH at 200m2/s2, and a very moist-boundary layer with dew points near 74°F. After repositioning most of the afternoon as I headed farther west I ended up sitting during the early evening in Malcom, IA just east of Grinnell, IA at a gas station. This is where it seemed convective initiation would occur along I-80 as towers were beginning to build as the atmosphere continued to destabilize thanks to strong surface heating. After 5:00pm, convection began to explode along a differential heating boundary along I-80 as the cold front sagged southeast. I was in a great position as the first "blips" showed up on radar a couple miles to my northeast. I didn't need radar to tell me this was the beginning of a supercell after analyzing the storm structure it was quite apparent this would be a storm to chase most of the evening. This storm quickly began to rotate in a favorable mesoscale environment. I kept repositioning along I-80 using the exits and the interstate to my advantage as this supercell began to get more and more rotation as it pushed east nearly paralleling the interstate for a hour or so. The initial stages of this supercell were quite enjoyable to photograph! It appeared close to producing a tornado many times. Early-on, east of Victor, IA it had some really good rotation that dropped a cone funnel at one point that I photographed. I photographed another funnel off I-80 not soon thereafter as I continued to chase this storm along the interstate. I continued to track this supercell as it slowly began to move southeast through mid-evening. It had some great structure and for myself some of the best supercell structure I have photographed this year. It really looked "good" photography-wise near Hills, IA later in the evening with a very low wall cloud and broad rotation along U.S. 218 and IA Rt. F62. This chase ended up being a structure-fest more than anything as this supercell just struggled to produce a tornado even though it spit out multiple funnels at times through its life-cycle. Nevertheless, it was quite a supercell! Up to that point, I was having fun and without warning the chase took a terrifying turn. Shortly before 7:00pm, I had just stopped along a gravel road on 120 St. just before the intersection of X34 just west of West Liberty, IA. I had just parked, grabbed my camera, and got out of my SUV and within 10 seconds of stepping out onto this gravel road...without warning....BANG!!! I saw a faint bright light in the corner of my right-eye, heard the bang, and heard the power-pole a foot or two to my right sizzle. Instantly afterwards, my right arm, right shoulder, and right-side of my neck felt tingly and sore, but my left-side was normal. I was conscious the entire time and didn't have any burns or anything so I knew I wasn't directly struck by lightning. My symptoms have gone away for the time-being and I think what ended up happening was that I was indirectly affected by the ground current from this lightning strike that was only a few feet away. In nearly a decade of chasing storms I haven't had a "fearful" moment to look back on, but this event changed all that. Lightning can be deadly and I'm very lucky to be able to share my account of this frightening experience. Somebody was definitely looking out for me on this day! This storm wasn't that electrical prior to this strike and no precipitation was falling as well. Stepping out of my vehicle for a few seconds combined with not expecting a random bolt was absolutely nothing I could be prepared for despite having a good education of lightning. I'm lucky I ended up not being the tallest object like storm chasers usually are standing in open fields throughout the duration of a chase. This will be a "fearful" experience I'm sure I won't forget and may make be question even photographing lightning in the future as I'm sure it's gonna leave some fearfulness going forward. I immediately stopped chasing after this happened and took the appropriate precautions and then traveled back to Peoria, IL later that night. Quite a sobering reminder just how valuable life is and that there are far more important things in life then chasing storms. Anyhow, on a much lighter note I've added photos of some of the best supercell structure I have photographed in 2014 on this chase day below:

Convective initiation nearly underway near Malcom, IA
Updraft's base quickly getting organized within minutes of initiation...
Convective initiation!
(LP) supercell initially, beginning to rotate...
A beautiful wide-angle shot of the initial stages of this supercell!
It quickly became apparent you wanted to continue to chase this storm...
Some robust upward vertical motion!
Needle funnel under the rain-free base as this supercell continues to organize...
Trying to get its act together still!
Another shot of this supercell's base moving east just north of I-80...
Low-level rotation increasing and a rather low wall cloud forms under the base!
Closer-view from an elevated vantage point!
Lots of spinning goin' on here...
Minutes later, tornadogenesis nearly happens as a cone funnel forms!
A valiant attempt from this supercell just northwest of Williamsburg, IA
Organizing again...
Wide-angle view as it tries to drop another cone funnel a couple miles to my east!
Some good structure!
It was a great evening for photogenic supercells!
Closer-view of attempt #3, but once again it just couldn't tighten-up enough to drop a tornado...
A beautiful supercell continues to spin!
Love the positioning of the mesocyclone, gravel road, and manufacturing plant in this shot...
I photographed this supercell off I-80 at Kinze Manufacturing just northwest of Williamsburg, IA
A wicked supercell continuing to head east!
One of my favorites!
I head east to the very next exit along I-80 and find this needle funnel forming...
Still trying off to the left...
This supercell trying to funnel once again northeast of Williamsburg, IA
"Rotating skies"
I shot this image at the next exit off I-80 east of Williamsburg, IA
I really wanted it to tornado right here...would of made an epic shot!
A wicked mesocyclone moving along the Iowa rural-landscape!
"The spinning bowl"
The structure-fest continues as this supercell moves east/southeast near Hills, IA
Closer-view of the wall cloud...
Another pleasing wide-angle shot!
It may have not produced a tornado, but it was well worth chasing this supercell!
Great structure!
The wall cloud nearly producing a tornado at this point...
I shot this image off U.S. 218 just west of Hills, IA
Some fantastic late-evening structure!
"Rotating updraft"
One of the better supercell's I've photographed to-date in eastern Iowa!
"Gravel road to a supercell"
Sometimes a few miles away is better than being right up next to the storm as you're able to capture the entire storm in your lens!
I found some blooming wildflowers along this gravel road and used them to add some color in the foreground in a few shots!
My last photo of the evening with a colorful foreground as a supercell lurks in the background!

This ended up being a successful chase day even though this supercell didn't produce a tornado. The lightning strike however, will definitely be something I'll never forget. It was quite a "hair-raising" experience that I'm sure will effect how I view and photograph storms in the future. Will it stop me from chasing and photographing storms? I highly doubt it, but it will definitely make me more aware of just how dangerous photographing storms every year truly is and that every time you chase you are taking a calculated risk with your life. I'll update once again when I find some more time for photography in the near future as I definitely needed a much needed break after this particular chase day.