July 17, 2015 Tilden Nebraska Supercell Then Shelf Cloud Chase

So there was a nice supercell 2 days prior in southern NE I chased, which wasn't even in a watch.  The next day I chased some modest supercells a bit closer to home, which also weren't in a watch.  They weren't that great, but fell in the "may as well chase" distance from home. I'll chase anything an hour away.  Did get drug further than that on these.  This day would feature yet another supercell, a nice one again and again not in a watch.  Weird to do that 3 days in a row.

My car's ac floods my driver's side floor area, so I rarely run it, which sucks with upper 90 temps and near 80 dew points on chases now(I know the fix now).  The steering has been getting louder and louder, mostly after driving a bit and mostly turning right..but steers just fine(also know the fix now).  The one night I stop to get gas and when I turn my car back on I have no low beams.  Banged on them and got them each to come on.  Trouble shot it and thought I had it fixed after replacing the one.  Turns out on this chase I did not have that fixed(I know the fix now too).  Earlier this year I had that whole deal when I stopped and went to leave again I had zero power to anything in the car and got stuck in the rain with my windows both down and cold as hell out.  Also idle problem that was due to spark plug getting oil on it. My car is not helping me commit to chases lately is my point lol.  I'm going anyway though. 

So the day before supercells weren't exactly worth the short drive but then again they didn't make it feel that terrible either.  This day I was not planning to chase at all.  I look at satellite in the afternoon and see signs storms would fire in the same area as the day before.  So then it was sit there and talk yourself back and forth on going or not.  Bout an hour and a half away.  Often when it is so hot out, you end up with string bean/super skinny updrafts that just struggle and never get that great.  It's as if the cap only sort of breaks.  Happens all the time on such setups.  I thought, that is going to happen again today so I won't miss much.  But the more I looked at things, the more I realized some key differences.  Mainly the low level flow.  It was much better as in there was at least some.  The day before it was quite weak and mostly southwesterly.  This day was more south and a good 15 knots.  The moisture was also up some more.  It was like 97/78 or something....temp/dew point.  Omaha's 7pm observed sounding had 7000 sbcape. 

I was tired from the 2 days before and not wanting to make that drive again, this time looking to be closer to 2 hours.  But I thought maybe the storms this day would be better than the ones before, due to low level flow and moisture and heat.  So I hurriedly threw my stuff together and got in the car and drove west again.  Glad I did. 

The boundary they were starting on was running northeast to southwest.  So often crazy nice "accident" supercells happen on these with less than crazy shear.  The biggest deciding factor on those going into crazy realms is that boundary not firing off too many more storms.  Left alone a lot of storms will just do their thing.  I could tell about halfway there it was going to at least be a supercell.  I could also see convection firing right behind it on that boundary.  I'm going north here south of Madison looking west.  The clouds on the left would be new convection trying to get going, behind the supercell in the middle. And from what I could see of the base of that hazy supercell, was that it was going to be a lot better than the bases of the day before.  More substantial by far and even a lowered area.  I was wishing I was there and I was also becoming certain that by the time I was there, the convection behind it would be ruining the show and making a big line. 

Since it was raining on 275 west of Norfolk and I expected this thing to drift southeast(wrong), I decided to skip Norfolk and go west of Madison and then north.  I end up going west off some highway on gravel.  I really wish I had just finished the drive to 275 and went west as I wasted too much time on not so great gravel, often with horrible views.  Gets dumb near the river.  I eventually end up on 275, after wasting probably 15 minutes anyway. 

Driving west on 275, wishing I had been here for the last half hour already, off what I could see driving there.  Seeing the core visually vanish for the most part and how small the lowered base looked, I was super certain this thing would shrivel up and die pretty fast.  So wrong. 

If one was here 30 minutes sooner and then also stayed here for another hour and a half, they could have had one rather amazing time-lapse.  This thing barely moved anywhere in 2 hours.  Sitting there spinning away. I mean if anything the first signs on radar moved it a smidge south and a smidge east.  Then it finally just drifts super slowly northeast.  This motion did not do any favors to the "gravel" roads in the area.  It dumped and dumped and dumped on those roads.  Drifting north would make you have to use those roads after they've been dumped on, if you wanted to stay with it.  Drifting north would also not do any favors to its inflow. Sort of running over its rain cooled air.  The fact it was moving so slowly at least helped that.  At least it was getting the 15 knot surface flow into it and maybe 25-30 knots at low level jet height.  Minus its motion obviously which was 2 knots.  Had it moved 10 knots south you can get how that would help the storm relative inflow feed. 

I tried a paved road north, to the east of Tilden.  It then turns to gravel that had already been dumped on.  The road was too bad to continue on.  So I stopped on top of the hill and shot here for a minute, hoping when I went to turn the car around I would not get stuck.  As if power poles weren't problem enough when looking for a view, one has to deal with summer corn, which gets silly tall.  I was half content with this view considering the options all around me there.  Move at all and it only got worse. 

I needed to drive somewhere but where.  I couldn't see any paved roads north on the gps.  The only one that seemed maybe it was was back at Tilden, right under the storm. Given the hail size indication on radar and the fact it hadn't moved anywhere, I decided I wanted to go up in there and see.  I turned the car around and went back down that slick road, hoping to not slide off into the ditch.

I drove into Tilden and north and it was paved...for a while, just like that last one.  It then ends on another questionable when wet road.  Stopped there unwilling to continue on it and shot under the base.  The lightning would get silly at times.  Sudden bursts had cloud to ground bolts coming down all over.  Mostly northeast in the vault area.  I was trying to get up there!  Roads weren't letting me. 


It was already half slimy here.  What I could see up there didn't appear promising.  And this was where it started after the pavement ended.  It really seemed to have a chance at producing a tornado in that notch.  I was amazed it was still doing well at all. 

Swirling and swirling.  I came back to the pavement.  Had it started to produce, I was fully willing to race up this road then.  I judge my road choices off rewardability.  If there's not much to be gained going up it then why try.  Tornado comes down and I'm going up it.  Least if it doesn't seem I will get ran over by said tornado. 

I finally had to drive back south to 275 and go east then north.  Did so south of Hadar.  So close to Norfolk I was surprised that paved road didn't just stay paved to Hadar.  Oh yeah I took something before that north that ended in gravel.  I then went east on gravel.  Watched the storm there for a while and had decided to go home.  I then went back 275 only to decide before Norfolk to try lightning and go north, skipping town and using that Hadar road.   There were some really fun bolts coming down from the anvil of this slowly dying storm.  Least until I stopped and setup.  They then lessened in frequency, clearly due to the updraft of this supercell finally completely dying to the left/west.  There were other storms getting intense right behind it though and I'd hoped maybe those would help spark off some more of these like above. 

A weak storm moved up from the southwest just west of me.  I put the 50mm on hoping a super close bolt would happen.  But no.  And in the process I was missing a ton of that upper stuff you see in this image.  I was stopped down too, for a close bolt.  F11 or something.  Had I put the 24 on and shot for those upper anvil things, I could have stacked something super silly.  This is just a few stacked and again I was largely missing that stuff above.  The above stuff I thought would hit super close eventually, coming down like those earlier ones in the anvil had been. 

Not long after dark I decide to leave.  Well storms I could see trucking towards Norfolk got me to leave.  They actually looked crazy from what I could see of them at the time there.  Weird scoop shelf look to the front of them.  Should have shot that there before leaving as that diminished as it merged into other stuff. 

I get on the highway and right away can tell my left headlight is not on.  Ug.  I had thought I sorted that mystery out with the other bulb.  The other bulb that was at least on.  It's impossible that I stop at a gas station that one evening and both low beams fail....but only fail till one thumps on them.  I put a new one in the right one and it works fine now....I think.  Metering the back of that one said it wasn't right.  Evidently they can get frail and half burn out and soon as you thump it, it welds again till they cool off after turning the car off.  Cause they don't turn off when the car is running and they are on.  Later I go to start it again and they wouldn't work till getting thumped.  But how the hell can that happen to both at the same time getting gas some night.  Relays work and the computer thing works.  Weird.  Anyway, I stop in town and thump the light and it comes on.  Replaced the other bulb now, hoping that is all done.  Still don't understand how one night I get gas and don't have either low beams after restarting the car.  And at this point seems both bulbs were bad.  Somehow one was able to run till the other went bad.  It must be that there was more power then and it was jumping a small gap in an already bad bulb.  Hell I don't know, I give up.  If now having two new bulbs stops it I'm happy. 

East of Norfolk now.  This shelf putting on a very rapid light show.  Evidently as the 7000 joules on Omaha's sounding tries to all convect. 

Shooting shelf clouds isn't super simple but eh not a puzzle either.  Have the camera attached to the window clamp and ready.  Ready as in having a fast lens on.  In this case my Samyang 24mm F1.4  ...great lens.  Mine is absolutely insane at F1.4...compared to how many lenses are wide open at such apertures.  So it is an F1.4 you can fully use at F1.4 when such a use arises.  Other thing is have it pre-focused so that is ready.  I know where it is on the ring basically but try to live view 10x it.  So camera attached to the window clamp.  Cable release in camera.  Lens set to F1.4(or whatever max you got).  Focus.  And camera ISO'd up to shorten the shutter needed, because these blur in a hurry with any shutter length.  I was using 800 and 1600 ISO on my 6D.  At one point 3200 was being used.  Then set to bulb and keep taking shots.  Sometimes just a second or till a flash happens if there are no city lights.  I'd have all those things set and ready before I pulled the car over.  Maybe recheck focus after stopping and putting it on the window.

The thing that makes this hard is the fact lines of storms or shelf clouds typically are moving fast.  It's also dark out.  It's hard enough finding a view without poles or 15 foot corn during the day.  At night yeah right.  You have to stop at those gravel options and look, slowing you down compared to looking during the day. 

The other thing is to use cities.  Often there's not much lightning or if there is, it is further back and not doing wonders for the shelf.  I try to stop on the west side of cities so that as you shoot west, you aren't shooting direct city lights anywhere.  So you have to move quick to stay ahead of the storm and find a good spot quick in the dark.  Then flip the car around at such location and slap the camera on the window and shoot as the shelf moves overhead.  Then hit the road again and drive for a while, hopefully escaping the fast moving shelf.  Some move 60-70 mph or more and make it extremely hard.  If it moves southeast and you only have north/south east/west roads, forget about it. 

These first ones are looking west towards Norfolk as I took the road around town to the east side, racing these storms to the other side.  The upside to F1.4 is you can also shoot video most likely, if there are city lights on things. 

Time to turn east.  I actually decided to drive with the camera mounted to my driver's side window still.  I did wrap the strap around my wrist incase it decided to fall.  I then shot video as I drove east with it, which turned out rather well. 

I must be stopped around Pilger somewhere now.  Maybe Wisner but I don't think so yet.  Lucked out on the road choice since there were no poles on the west side and the corn was off a bit.  Just did a fast 3 point turn and started to shoot from my window again.  Seems best to park on the side you can just leave and turn right to flee again.  Then you are ready to go and know how much time you have. 

The fact it was so so humid out helped this shelf look as mean as it did. 

The scene was really rather awesome looking south as this rolled overhead now. The road goes due south here.  Mix of city light colors and lightning add its own coloring. 

Time to go again.  That was stop 2.  I squeeze out 4 on this thing which is doing well on a fast moving shelf cloud. 

This must be near Wisner now.  I haven't gotten a speeding ticket in a forever now somehow.  I should have right here.  I had just slowed down to glance at my gps, to see how close the next gravel would be.  Right after I see a cop in the grass.  I first thought, phew.  I then thought, he probably wouldn't have pulled me over right now anyway given this thing.  But he was parked facing east.  I don't even know if he knew how nasty it looked.  I stopped a mile past him, must have been edge of Wisner and pulled in this spot to shoot real quick.  Wasn't sure if the light right here would work or not but thought I could make it.  I wanted to do it before I got slowed up in town and lost ground on the shelf.  Well in no time the cop goes zipping by stopping a guy right here.  Thought, damn guess he would pull someone over in this storm.

Super crazy looking scene.  White balance choices can be a nightmare though.  Fix the tungsten on the highway and the storm looks like a smurf.  Especially so if there was any lightning.

Another shot and another white balance choice.  Things should be more red thanks to that light and city on the storm.  Since there was no lightning, cooling this white balance off works.  Use this same white balance on the image before it and that storm is excessively blue as a result.

If you look up to the one with the light flare on the right side, it's less than 2 minutes between that shot and this one.  Snapped off a bunch in that time frame, very little lightning helping now.  Each of these is roughly 1-2 seconds.  3 are 1, another is 2 basically.

I didn't get much of a gap in between there and West Point.  I knew I'd be screwed for a while as West Point slowed me down and then had to go south.  So I flipped around here and snagged a couple quick. 

Saw a semi way up the highway coming south and thought he might add to the shot.  But he needed to hurry faster as the shelf was moving over too much. 

Time to go again, now well inside the storm as I drove through West Point.  I didn't really think I'd get ahead of it before Blair but I did. 

In Blair now at the Tower of the Four Winds monument for Black Elk.  One wind was coming, a northwesterly one. 

The monument is lit up way too brightly for this, so I took some shorter exposures for it and blended them in best I could.  Even those were blowing out a bit.  In those you don't see a thing other than the monument.

Just about here again!  For impact number 4.  Lightning was quite rare now, as there wasn't much on radar now and what there was lagged the gust front and shelf by quite a lot.

Very satisfying chase day indeed.  Funny how many of those come from days you weren't looking to chase at all.  As well as days you really didn't want to leave home and do them but did anyway. 

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