Friday, July 31, 2015

07/21/15 Badlands of South Dakota: A Sky Full of Stars

Photographing the Badlands of South Dakota on SD Rt. 240 at twilight under the stars south of Wall, SD

On July 21st, I headed to the Badlands of South Dakota for some more photography-work during my summer vacation this year. I have visited this park several times over the last few years. Badlands National Park is open 24 hrs. just south of Wall, SD and I have always wanted to photograph this area at night someday.  On this night, I finally decided to venture out of my hotel after 2:00am to photograph the night sky in this area. It was a beautiful night for photography and observing the stars! It felt like you were in a different world of sorts as I was the only person probably awake at this hour in the park. I took a few awesome photos using a form of light painting to illuminate some foregrounds. Of course, I had to use a tripod and shoot some 30sec. exposures to capture these images as well. I used my Canon 5D Mark III along with my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 II L lens to photograph the stars. I wish I had more time and could stay awake longer, but as it got closer to dawn it was time to get a little bit of sleep. Anyhow, I spent a few hours in the park shooting throughout the early morning-hours. I've added photos from this night below:

I used my car headlights to bounce just enough light off some of the cliffs to illuminate the foreground...
"I'll be waiting up, counting the stars"
"Chasing your starlight"
"A heavenly view"
Incredible to see this kind of view at twilight!
It's safe to say I'll be visiting this park under the stars in the years to come once again...

It was a great night for photography. I came away with some really neat images and a ton more ideas when I return someday. I'll update soon with more photography posts from my trip to the Northern Plains.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

07/16/15 Monmouth, IL Tornadic Supercell

A tornadic supercell moves east along U.S. 34 in west-central Illinois near Monmouth, IL

On July 16th, I was working till 2:00pm in Peoria, IL but I kept close tabs on the weather. A couple days prior I was "eyeballing" a potential "sleeper warm front setup" in west-central Illinois after observing several runs of various numerical weather models. Once I got off work, I noticed the atmosphere destabilizing toward the Mississippi River near Burlington, IA along the warm front as morning convection had already dissipated. I originally targeted the area near La Harpe, IL during the evening. After grabbing some lunch in Monmouth, IL I ended up waiting for storm initiation during the evening south of Burlington, IA. The atmosphere pretty much was primed for tornado potential in this area. I was actually quite surprised how the "risk" seemed downplayed after watching the mesoscale ingredients come together throughout the afternoon. This area featured 4,000J/kg of CAPE, 0-6km shear at 40kts, a supercell composite of 16, the significant tornado parameter at 3, and a very moist boundary-layer with dew points near 70°F. All we needed was a storm to develop and by early evening storm initiation took place around 5:00pm in northern Missouri thanks to a shortwave trough. These storms were too far away and I knew if I was patient something would go kaboom in this area at some point. By 7:00pm, a supercell initiated over Burlington, IA and this storm would be quite a wicked supercell during the evening as it progressed east. I ended up south of U.S. 34 near Stronghurst, IL on a country road off IL Rt. 116. I watched this supercell's updraft explode into the vertical at this point. I pulled over and began snapping some shots of the structure as it was spinning rather nicely! I was quite surprised to observe some insane storm structure as I would expect to visually observe this kind of storm structure in the central Great Plains rather than west-central Illinois . After being mesmerized by the storm structure and CG lightning barrage I tracked this supercell till dusk as it progressed farther east. This supercell did drop a few tornadoes and a tornado that damaged areas near Monmouth, IL and Cameron, IL. I was on U.S. 67 at this time trying to blast north to get a closer view due to the high-precipitation (HP) nature of this supercell. Unfortunately, traffic was being re-routed so I couldn't head farther north due to the on-going tornado and had to find some alternate routes. I never got a really good view of the tornadoes, but after snapping the several structure shots of this supercell I knew their had to be a tornado back in there wrapped in the rain. It was really hard to get a view from my southern vantage point unlike other chasers that were farther north. This storm was a beast and meant business though! It shouldn't surprise anybody though since the environment where this supercell formed and tracked was primed for tornadoes on this evening. This chase turned out to be a storm structure-fest rather than a tornado-fest for myself however. I've added several photos of this wicked supercell below:

The supercell's powerful rotating updraft!
A wicked supercell looking north toward Monmouth, IL 
 Deadly CG lightning nearby kept me mostly in the car and mobile on this chase...
"Tilted rotating updraft"
 Yikes, a very strong storm at this point...
An absolute insane storm on this evening!
Lightning illuminating the base of this massive supercell!
Another cool shot!
This storm sure didn't disappoint!
A little farther east looking north toward Monmouth, IL again...(you can barely make out a possible rain-wrapped tornado back in there) So hard to tell though...
Supercell slowly becoming outflow dominate, but putting out more great storm structure!
A HP mess of a supercell at this point!
Too close for comfort as I head back east near sunset...

This was another great chase day. Thanks to some good forecasting on my part and realizing that I needed to head west after work I scored quite a monster supercell so close to home. I also was on vacation a week or so ago in the Northern Plains. I will slowly be getting caught up on more photography posts and storm chasing posts and will update in the near future.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

07/13/15 Kewanee, IL Supercell

A supercell nearly produces a brief tornado on this evening northwest of Kewanee, IL

On July 13th, I once again decided to storm chase in west-central Illinois as a substantial risk of severe weather was in the forecast for much of Illinois. I started the day at my apartment watching a decaying Mesoscale Convective System (MCS) on radar move across northern Illinois and push an outflow boundary southwest toward Peoria, IL. Knowing this outflow boundary would be influential to afternoon vigorous convective development I targeted this boundary across central Illinois most of the afternoon. By mid-afternoon, I began to head north  on IL Rt. 40 from Peoria, IL toward the I-80 corridor as strong surface heating began to push this boundary farther north. Most of the day a strong cap was in place which was not predicted by the weather models. This was caused by surface winds veering from the southeast to the southwest throughout the day allowing an Elevated Mixed Layer (EML) to advect over much of west-central Illinois. This would allow extreme instability to build throughout the day and keep a "lid" on convection until 4:00pm when convection initiated along the outflow boundary. I found myself by 4:00pm along I-80 near Sheffield, IL as agitated cumulus began to slowly break the strong capping inversion present. This area along the I-80 corridor featured extreme instability with 6,000J/kg of CAPE, 0-6km shear at 50kts, a supercell composite of 16, and a moist boundary-layer with dew points darn right oppressive near 80ºF. This was quite a volatile environment in place for severe storms and supercells in this area which definitely raised concern for some rather wicked storms during the evening. I sat along the interstate for a little bit waiting to see where convective initiation would begin and which storm I wanted to latch onto. I had a choice go east on I-80 and target a developing supercell or go west and target a supercell that had developed near Davenport, IA and chase this storm as it crossed the Mississippi River. I chose to head west on IL Rt. 92 as this supercell was more organized at this point. Shortly after 5:00pm, I headed south on IL Rt. 13 and then east on U.S. 6 setting up just south of I-80 southwest of Geneseo, IL. This is where I got my first view of a massive rotating updraft from this supercell which was spectacular to see especially in Illinois. This supercell had some rather nice mid-level striations which I photographed while hearing a constant rumble of thunder and seeing some close cloud-to-ground strikes being thrown out of the anvil as well. Those are the lightning strikes that really freak me out! This supercell continued to track southeast through Henry County, IL and was at its strongest northwest of Kewanee, IL. I got some great shots along IL Rt. 81 as this supercell tried several times to wrap up and put down a brief tornado with multiple funnels which I photographed. Despite the favorable environment this supercell struggled to contain its outflow rather quickly and this was easily observed. You could also observe the fact that this storm did not have enough inflow for tornadogenesis which prevented the rotation from tightening to allow vertical stretching to occur. With that being said, she sure did try to put down a brief tornado a couple times. I tracked this supercell for a hour or two ending up just south of Bradford, IL where it dissipated. I then stopped at a local wind farm south of Bradford, IL to shoot some shots of an amazing sunset as well as some stout convection to my north and east. I arrived back home in Peoria, IL shortly after sunset after a rather fun local storm chase. A detailed analysis that discussed why a more widespread severe weather outbreak did not occur from the National Weather Service (NWS ILX) can be found here. I've added photos from this chase day below:

First view of the beastly rotating updraft of this supercell!
 Along IL Rt. 16 southwest of Geneseo, IL
Quite a wicked structure on this supercell!
Mid-level striations clearly showing the strongly sheared environment for July-standards!
New updraft begins to be seeded to the southwest flank...
Back-lit convection!
A wide-angle shot!
Supercell beginning to cycle with this new convective updraft forming!
A pretty cool close-up shot of this supercell's updraft!
Crepuscular rays as more convection forms to my west...
I head northeast to get up-close to the RFD of this supercell...
 "Rotating mass"
It funneled a few times at this point back in there!
Farther east...I capture some structure shots!
A wide-angle shot of this supercell!
"Rotating skies"
Hmm...funnel halfway down...
"Spinning away"
Cycling once again as it's struggling to keep its outflow contained with a lack of inflow...
Still spinning here, but becoming more and more outflow dominate!
Outflow dominate supercell!
Some really cool clouds overhead just south of the pouring rain...
Some photo-ops at a local wind farm south of Bradford, IL
I goofed around a bit here...
A powerful back-sheared updraft forms back to my north along the dissipated supercell's outflow boundary...
I had to be patient to get this shot as I had to wait for some mid-level clouds to move to my east!
Near sunset I shot this amazing shot!
Convection about 30 miles to my northeast!
Sunset is getting closer...
"The setting sun breaks through the clouds"
Another photo-op at the wind farm!
Mammatus clouds near sunset!
Golden-hour begins as the setting sun creates some dramatic colors to my northeast!
"Golden-hour convection"

After a rather quiet spring in central Illinois in terms of severe weather the last two months have been very active in this area. Even though this day did not live up to the hype that was being predicted the potential was sure there and very real. Cities, towns and communities in Illinois were rather lucky that there were not any significant tornadoes and/or a widespread damaging wind event on this day. Anyhow, I took a week long vacation to the Northern Great Plains this past week photographing many parks/national monuments in the area and I also chased some storms as well. I'll update once again with several more posts in the coming weeks.