Storm Chase 4/26/12

NE Colorado Storm Chase 4/26/12

The models for this day changed on a regular basis, my original target was going to be in SE Colorado but as the day progressed it was looking better in Eastern Colorado as the other storms were shifting south into New Mexico. I headed down to Denver to pickup John De Bord who is always great company, John thought we should head directly East of Denver and potentially head North. As we headed out storms were already starting pop and I believe we even saw some gustnados (no pics since I was trying not to die on the awful road that is I-70). We saw some nice convection with storms that were headed NE of us, so around Strassburg we headed north in the general direction of Fort Morgan.

John spotted these horses and promptly asked me to pull over, I happily obliged as I would have completely missed these beauties if it were not for him.



Further on down the road there was a break in the clouds letting sunlight down on this tree and the field behind it.



Neither of us had ever seen a rainbow this low to the ground (not sure what causes it either?)



Looking at the radar we decided that we needed to get to Fort Morgan quickly to intercept the cell that was developing to the North of us, somehow we managed to get ahead of it and get in perfect position in the rain free base, the mammatus clouds were evil looking and quite threatening (these are often precursor signs of a tornado)



We moved further East to stay out of the rain and were rewarded with crepuscular rays that were quite photogenic 



We continued to follow this storm for a very long time, it was slow moving so we were able to stay right near the core the entire time while staying out of the rain/hail. The storm continued to strengthen as we went North and developed some nice meso in the inflow



Here you can see the circulation of the mothership, the inflow winds were very strong and must have sucked my hat out into the prairie somewhere because it's gone now!



Another shot of the killer structure in this cell, we were having a great day. Side note; this was taken with the Rokinon 14mm 2.8 lens, it has some wicked mustache distortion that looks awful, but I found a lens profile you can use in Lightroom or Photoshop that corrects it very well, it can be downloaded here; now that I've found this profile I'm very happy with this lens for landscapes now too.



We met some other storm chasers as we came up to Hwy 14 just West of Sterling, they were having a great time photographing the lightning so we joined them for awhile, I didn't get much from this spot because I had apparently forgotten how to shoot lightning while it's still light out (don't use f22 and iso 100 to get a slow shutter speed) by the time I remembered how to function my camera the lightning had faded but we could see more lightning to the West so we headed that direction. By this time it was twilight and quickly getting dark. The next two shots are composites of several shots taken over a period of time (if you want to try this at home just open all your shots with lightning in photoshop as layers and change the blending mode to lighten)





As the storm to the North began to fade we turned around and saw more lightning coming toward us from the South that was intensifying very quickly, this is a single exposure that was 2 minutes long, the lightning was constant.


We were enjoying the lightning from a 'safe' distance for quite some time but it seemed to be fading so we were about to head south to take John home when a few bolts popped up that made us stop one last time. I pulled out my tripod, set it up very quickly and tripped the shutter so I could help John setup his I was doing this the sky went white and the air turned hot around us, I thought this might be the end for us. A bolt of lightning struck directly above us but thankfully turned and struck the ground about a mile away. I never threw the camera in the car so quickly. I'm not easily scared by lightning but this was truly terrifying, this was the ultimate sign that we were done for the night. On the way back I stopped for gas and took a peek at my camera to see if I had captured anything. I was disappointed to only see this on the screen, a completely blow out image. Oh well I thought, at least I was alive.



The next day when I was processing the images I saw the blown out picture and thought what the hell, lets see if there is anything hidden there; I started dragging the exposure slider down and the bolt began to reveal itself, I almost peed myself I was so happy. This is why you shoot in RAW kiddies. This has got to be one of the closest images of lightning ever, and I never want to be this close again!




The rest of the drive back to Denver was quite the experience, although I don't have any images from it (yeah, I was scared can you blame me??). The lightning was intense, constant bolts lighting up the sky. I've only seen this much lightning once before and it's quite the sight to behold.

This was quite the epic chase for this early in the season, I can't wait for late May and July. Keep checking back our subscribe to see updates on my latest chases. I promise it won't take me 2 weeks to update next time!