August 17, 2015: Eastern CO Severe Storms
I’ve had quite a few successful chases here in Colorado during the month of August. The benchmark being the awesome August 16, 2010 chase where photogenic landspouts seemingly poured out of every cloud in the state.
It seems like every August, Colorado gets that one last hurrah as the chase season closes down for the season. Yesterday certainly looked like the last hurrah for us. I had high expectations.
I met Kendell at our top secret rendezvous meeting location and we decided that we probably didn’t need to go too far out of Denver. We chose Watkins as our initial starting point. I was having technology problems as my Verizon MiFi wouldn’t connect me to the internet on my Surface. After a 15 minute phone call with a Verizon rep, the problem was solved! Once re-connected, we saw that a MD had been issued for our area which was quickly followed with a red box (tornado watch) for 90% of Eastern Colorado.
We eventually drifted further east on I-70 from Watkins and chose Byers as the next staging point. The DCVZ boundary was sitting right on Highway 36 and could be a good spot for storm initiation. Any storms that form on these boundaries are the ones you want to watch.
Storms started forming over the mountains back to our west and we were hoping that they’d organize and strengthen once they ejected out on to the plains. Unfortunately, they remained linear as they moved east. That’s not what we wanted to see. Our once blue sky andclear view became hazy and grungy. A new cell popped up ahead of the line south of Elizabeth near Kiowa as well as another isolated cell near Calhan. These would be the storms we’d want to get on for any tornado chance. The cell near Kiowa went tornado warned as we continued east on I-70. We had to be south of the storms to get a good view so our plan was to get south via Limon and highway 24. A funnel (perhaps a tornado but no good photos have been shown to prove this) was reported on the Kiowa storm. We were now moving in to position to see this storm on highway 24. We crested a hill where we had a decent view of the storm but the funnel had since dissipated. In fact, our “good view” lasted only a few minutes as all the storms had crashed in to each other and had formed in to a big line.
At this point, we decided to get back in to Limon and re-assess our plans. We had the big line segment coming right toward us and no other storms appeared worthy of going after. We decided that we’d ride the line out in Limon. We found a gas station parking lot and sat in my car waiting for the storm to get to us. Bolts of lightning were hitting all around us and we decided that sitting in my car might not be the best tactic. We decided to go in to the gas station to wait it out. I managed to grab a few shots of the big line approaching town.
The winds started howling and rain quickly started blowing sideways. A family from Minnesota who was en route to Colorado Springs had decided to wait it out at the gas station too and had many questions for Kendell and I as they noticed us both checking radar on our phones and talking about it. We assured them that there’d be rain and wind but that was about it. The tornado threat with these kind of line segments is very low. 10 seconds later, the line segment went tornado warned right over town completely making Kendell and I look like fools. The winds were intense as they blew through the gas station. The windows we were looking out started to shake. We backed away just in case they shattered.
Eventually the storm passed and the sun came out behind the line. With no other storms around, we decided to call it a day. We loaded back up in to my car and tried to get back on the highway to head to Denver but there was a problem. The highway ramp was closed. In fact, I-70 westbound was closed. We figured it was because even though the storm had passed, the tornado warning was still in effect for the area. We waited about 10 minutes and the highway remained closed. Finally, Kendell checked the CDOT website and the reason the highway was closed was because a semi had been caught in the storm and the winds had blown it over. We didn’t know how long it could be closed for so we went the long way home. We went back to highway 71 which connected to 36 in Last Chance where we re-connected to I-70 back in Byers, where we started the day. We then had a nice dinner at Chilis and called it a day. Overall, the chase was a pretty big let down for me. I had higher hopes of seeing more isolated storms and less grunge.