Pic of the Week 5/17/18: Carey, TX Supercell

May 17, 2018  •  1 Comment

Carey, TX Supercell A supercell churns over the open prairie land near Carey, TX © Ben Jacobi

 

Pic of the Week 5/17/18

"Carey, TX Supercell"

Location: Carey, TX

Date taken: 5/13/18

 

This past weekend my good friend Jaden Corbin and I drove out to west Texas in search of supercells to chase and photograph. Since the first time Jaden brought this day to my attention I had been against going. While there certainly was enough instability and moisture being forecast, we were really lacking in shear and low level winds. This had concerned about driving that far out there and ending up with multi-cell messes, or worse, no storms at all. But when it came to the day before the event (Saturday) the short range models started to give me extra hope for a chase. The NAM/WRF were picking up on an outflow boundary situating itself in West, TX. My initial target was Childress, TX where the outflow boundary was expected to stall. These things are near impossible to forecast, so you have to rely on good ol' observation and real time analysis. I went to bed early in preparation for the upcoming chase. 

It is now Sunday, Mother's Day, to be exact and when I wake up I start pulling up as much data on the weather as I can. I'm trying to track down and accurately identify the outflow boundary. If a storm could latch onto the boundary it would increase the low level shear and helicity which might get the storm to spin. After a few hours of data analysis I had to choose between two targets. The first was the original target near Childress, TX. I assumed everyone would be on that storm. The other and hopefully more isolated target was near Guthrie, TX about 30miles south. The HRRR model run kept placing a beefy supercell around the 6pm timeframe. That would give us plenty of time to get to our target. Models are computer simulations of what the atmosphere MIGHT do, they sometimes don't show the real-world conditions so its important to do your own analysis and asses the atmosphere yourself. Models also don't give you real time information. For that you need to be out in the field. 

We arrived to Guthrie around 5pm and found a place to pull over near the high school that gave us a view of the towers developing to our west. We watched these towers try to make a storm for almost an hour, but to no avail. The cap was just a little too strong in this area right now. This is what I'm talking about with model data vs. real time observational data. Storm were going up to our north just west of Childress, TX and only 30 miles away after some more waiting we finally decided to abandon those storms. On the way to Childress we started to plan our route to intercept the most intense looking storm that was near Turkey, TX. Funny, we were just in that area a few months ago camping in Caprock Canyon State Park. As we drew closer to the storm the sunny skies became smothered by thick anvil clouds putting the surrounding area in a ghastly state. Bright flashes of pink lightning were seen bursting from the midlevels of the storm. 

When we reached Childress, TX we turned west (north) on 287 and started towards Esteline. Storms started to develop all around us and we were afraid of getting caught in the core of one of the storms. But we carefully made our way to Esteline. A large hail core had just come through the area dumped 2" hail all over the town square. A few cars had their windshields busted out and broken tree limbs and bits of debris poked out against the scattered hail stones. We stopped for a brief moment to pick up and photograph some of the hail stones. After that short break we continued down State road 86 getting closer to the storm. It was a little confusing and disorienting chasing these storms as more and more kept popping up and we were right in the middle of all of them. In fact, we pulled over to observe a storm to our north unaware of what was developing back to our west. We cold not see the westward storm at this time. I stepped out to take a quick shot of the storm to our north, but only to retreat back to the safety of Jaden's truck when a stray bolt of lightning struck close by. My eyes were now focused on the approaching storm to our west. The core of the storm was just crossing the highway and we could start to make out an updraft base. 

Low scud clouds were feeding into the storm and a significant cut was made by the intense downdraft. We watched as the scud tried to organize showing some nice horizontal rotation and vorticity. I wasn't convinced on our current location and I wondered what would happen if the storm decided to turn right. That core would slam right into us and we could possibly lose our windshield. Since I didn't want that to happen I suggested we head back to Esteline and get a little bit more ahead of the storm. But we pulled over for just a minute to photograph the developing wall cloud that was now just a few miles to our west. I noticed the rain curtains starting to get pulled around the updraft area and I feared the storm was turning right and heading directly to us. I told Jaden we needed to go and get ahead of this storm, but it was starting to look like it was organizing. We turned back east on 86 and then south on 287 to get our ahead of the storm. Jaden was driving and I was tasked with keeping a close eye on the developing wall cloud that was now starting to rotate. 

When we got outside of Esteline, TX we pulled over off the highway to watch the storm. It was slowly making its way towards the highway, but it was only moving at 20mph. We watched as the storm started to suck in more moist unstable air and condense into a lower blockier shaped wall cloud. The whole storm was rotating now and we had an isolated supercell on our hands. The updraft got closer, but it seemed to lose of its low level rotation, but the midlevels had some excellent striated structure. Getting a few miles ahead of the storm really helped us appreciate its shape and behavior on a more grand scale. We found an excellent pull off near the municipal airport in Carey, TX and watched as the storm "turned and churned" over the flat prairie land. I got my D4 out to photograph a timelapse of this magnificent scene. But I needed a high resolution still image of this incredible storm so I decided to shoot a 6 image panorama to capture the entire updraft and mesocyclone in my composition. It took a little bit extra post processing work and time, but it was for sure worth it!

We followed this storm well into the overnight hours where it continued to give us more opportunities for photographs including some excellent lightning images. This storm had some of the best structure I have seen in almost three years, it really made me remember what storm chasing was all about and how I have missed it so. It was nice to get a real storm chase in and even better visiting west, TX. Something I haven't done (at least for storm chasing) in quite a few years. Models don't look to be favorable for severe weather in the weeks to come, but if there's one thing I've learned from this is that you can't trust model data over real observation. So I guess only time will tell. 


Pic of the Week 5/11/18: Tillman/Cotton County Supercell

May 11, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 5/11/18

“Tillman/Cotton County Supercell”

Date taken: 5/2/18

Location: Tillman/Cotton county line near Devol, OK

 

It has finally happened. After months and months of waiting, studying weather charts, and praying I at last have the first chase of the season under my belt. This is always a reassuring thing. It is kind of like having butterflies in your stomach before a performance or presentation, but once you get up there that nervousness goes away. I had sat all the way to May without encountering a chaseable storm (though I did photograph some lightning in late April). A good storm chase was long overdue. The ingredients for supercell thunderstorms were coming in over the southern plains during the first few days of May. I had my eye set on May 2nd. The obvious and probably preferred target was the triple point in NW OK and SW KS, but due to working and lack of reliable transportation I was focusing on the dryline play farther south. There was also slightly better wind shear in the southern target, but our greatest concern was the storm mode, lack of cap, and approaching cold front. But it was much better than anything I had seen all year.

I'll spare you the details during the work day, but I wanted to leave early and couldn't due to how busy we were. My original plan was to leave work around 4pm and get to my target (Altus, OK) by 5:30 when storms were expected to fire. I spent that morning and early afternoon finishing up my projects and completing the deadlines and watching weather data in between. Fast forward a few hours and storms are starting to develop out on the dryline. As I watched the radar blips change from bright green to orange indicating a growing storm I began to mentally plan my route to reach my target. Things appeared to be in my favor to leave on schedule and then it happened. Wave after wave of customers came in to the store. We were busy for a while and when I looked back on the radar the storms had already developed into full mature supercells and a brief tornado was confirmed near Lone Wolf, OK a few miles north east of Altus, OK. The time was now 4:30pm and I knew I couldn’t catch the storms out there. Thankfully, there was some hope as more towers developed farther south along the dryline and even closer to Wichita Falls. I stayed a work until our closing time 6pm and between customers I was glued to the radar watching and planning my route. Just before we closed I was watching a supercell north of Vernon, TX. This storm didn’t seem to be moving the same direction and speed as the others. As I played back the radar loop I noticed a particular storm behavior chasers call “turning right”. This storm was slowing down and turning more to the east. I knew it wouldn’t be long before it was tornado warned.

After work I blasted my way back to my apartment and rushed inside to grab my gear and head back out the door. I took a brief glimpse at the radar and the storm now had a tornado warning on it. Though it was not moving very fast the advancing cold front was hot on its heels! When the front slammed into that storm the chase would essentially be over and I would need to wait out the squall line. I considered just staying at my apartment and letting the storm pass. After all, I did not have the most reliable vehicle, the storm would start moving fast soon, and I wasn’t even sure if I could make it across the river in time. And then I ignored those thoughts and got in my car and headed towards Grandfield, OK. Along the way I could see the approaching line off on the horizon, but couldn’t really make out any of the details to my storm. I crossed the Red River and into Oklahoma and immediately took the highway 36 west exit towards Grandfield. I reached Devol, OK right on the Tillman/Cotton county line and my storm started to come into view. An eerie green color was cast across the sky and I could see the line approaching—even closer now. I pulled over on a small dirt road and waited for the storm to make itself visible. I bet I wasn’t there for a few seconds before I felt a surge of warm air come sweeping across the prairie from the southeast. The storm was ingesting warm unstable air and the added directional shear might get it spinning.

I pulled out my camera and set up a simple composition hoping I could timelapse the storm as it moved through. The storm structure itself was a little murky and updraft was covered in a thick sheet of rain and hail, but the midlevels showed some nice striations and detail. Ahead of the storm bright pink flashes of lightning burst in front of the updraft base. I managed to capture a very brief timelapse of the storm and a few even caught some lightning strikes. The storm began to take on a more linear shape and I became concerned that line was coming too soon. But I still sat there watching the evolution and motion on the storm. It had been a while since I’ve seen a good supercell. The wind calmed for a moment and then it picked up again, but this time coming from the w/nw. This was outflow and rain cooled air from the squall line off to my west.

Tillman/Cotton County SupercellTillman/Cotton County SupercellA tornado warned supercell encroaches on the Tillman/Cotton county line in southern Oklahoma.

© Ben Jacobi

 

I felt a rain drop hit my cheek and it was on that note I packed up my gear and started to retreat back east. The chase was just about over now. My plan was to get back to Wichita Falls and hunker down and let the storm pass before heading back out to capture lightning shots. But there was a problem, the squall line was racing to the east, in fact the NWS estimated the storm moving at 70mph! I watched the dark ominous clouds roll overhead from my rear-view mirror—I was quickly becoming engulfed by the storm. I blasted east speeding to try and stay ahead of it, but when I reached I-44 to head south and back into Wichita Falls the storm intercepted me. I didn’t want to cross the river through that core. I was concerned about the wind and who knows what else was lurking behind that wall of rain. The rain became heavy and I started to lose visibility, but I could still make out the lights of the vehicles crossing the river from Texas so I thought I had time. I did not. The rain came in full force pounding the side of my vehicle and reducing my vision to less than the hood of my car. I really didn’t want to drive on the river bridge through that. So, I stopped where I was and put on my hazard lights. Then the wind came and as it whipped around my vehicle and I felt it rocking so I pointed my car into the wind as a safety measure. I watched as debris from nearby trees emerge from the gray void and the lightning was so close I could feel the shockwaves reverberate in my chest. I estimated the winds to be somewhere between 50-60mph and after a few moments the wind and rain returned to a more manageable state. I drove across the bridge and back into the Texas state line my heart still pounding from the event I just experienced.

I made my way to Burkburnett just across the river and pulled into their local Braum’s parking lot for dinner. When I went to step out of my vehicle a huge bolt of lightning exploded behind me causing me to quickly retreat to the safety of my vehicle. I stayed in that parking lot for fifteen minutes before the lightning had finally moved off. It was quite the first chase of the season for me. After the storms passed I went on to photograph a beautiful rainbow and more lightning through sunset. Then after sunset I photographed the lightning show off to our south and east. It felt so good to be back on the road again and chasing storms and photographing this powerful weather phenomena. Though no chases look to be on the immediate horizon, maybe we will see a few more local chases before we transition to the blistering heat of summer. Regardless, I’m just glad to finally have a chase for the 2018 season. Also, side note, at the time this image was captured storm spotters and chasers were reporting a brief tornado near Loveland about 12 miles to the north west of my location.


Pic of the Week 4/26/18: Bluebonnet Symphony

April 26, 2018  •  5 Comments

Pic of the Week 4/26/18

"Bluebonnet Symphony"

Date taken: 4/24/18

Location: Friberg, TX

 

UPDATE: 5/7/18 "Bluebonnet Symphony" is the winning title for the image. 

 

Bluebonnet SymphonyBluebonnet SymphonyLightning strikes behind the historic Friberg-Cooper United Methodist Church. Bluebonnets grow on the hill where the church stands outside of Wichita Falls, TX. © Ben Jacobi

 

Today's Pic of the Week will be a short write up. I didn't have much time before the Thursday deadline. In fact, I stayed up well after 2:00am working on the image. I had it in a "rough draft" state from earlier, but after careful examination I realized it didn't meet my personal standards of quality. So I reprocessed the entire image from scratch and ended with a much more pleasing result. This image is made of multiple photos of the scene. I made three different exposures with three different focal points, focusing for the foreground, middleground, and background. These images were blended so that all the bluebonnets to the horizon line was sharp and in focus. Then I blended in the lightning in the original there is only one lightning strike. The storm that rolled through that night were non severe, and they put on a decent lightning show. It was an ambitious photo for my first storm image of 2018. I knew that I needed to document the bluebonnets before they disappeared for another year and the largest closer that was closest to me was on the hill at the Friberg-Cooper United Methodist Church. I drove out to on Monday to scout out some potential compositions and look for interesting photos. When I saw the storms begin to fire up to our south, I drove down to the church and picked the best composition that would point the camera in the direction of the lightning and have a good foreground filled with bluebonnets. I spent only an hour out there before the storms weakened and I had only captured a hand full of lightning strikes. Because of the distance from the storm and my choice of lens, the strikes were small and served as more of a distraction than an element to the composition. I opted to create a time-stack blended composite (similar to my meteor images) showing the progression of the storm as it moved behind the church. Overall, I was quite happy with the final result. The eye starts towards the bottom of the frame and follows the natural leading line of the bluebonnet patch. Then it zigzags from the church to the hill on the horizon where it meets with the lightning display before trailing off in the clouds. There's a lot going on in this shot and I appreciate the complexity of it all. One thing I failed to do was to come up with a good title for the photo. So I'm asking for your help. Comment or suggest a title for this image and I'll put you in a drawing for a free 11x17 print of this photo! Looking forward to reading your titles. Thanks for the support! 

 

-Ben


Pic of the Week 4/19/18: Typical Texas Spring

April 19, 2018  •  1 Comment

Pic of the Week
"Typical Texas Spring"
Date taken: 4/18/15
Location: Palo Pinto, TX

 

This is the longest I have gone into the storm season without a single chase. And the opportunity for a chase this weekend has basically dissolved. We will see storms and there is the potential for some small hail, but nothing chase worthy. That said, I'll still probably set up somewhere Friday night and capture the storm coming in. Maybe I'll even photograph some lightning--really anything to satisfy my storm photography desire. Though I am expecting a light season for me anyways. My vehicle has been giving me problems lately and I'm not too confident in taking it out for long distances. So the chasing I will do will be me riding along with friends when they come through the area. The lack of severe weather in my life made me nostalgic and I looked over a few of my past chases. It is spring here and the bluebonnets are popping up along the roads and that got me thinking "Nothing better illustrates a Texas spring than thunderstorms and blue bonnets." As I thought about this, I remembered a photo I captured back in 2015.


 I had just made my way to an advancing line of storms outside of Palo Pinto, TX. As I arrived into town I could see the menacing core off to my southwest and some structure of the supercell. It wasn't that impressive of a storm and as it drew closer to the town it became more linear and merged with nearby cells. This took out any real photogenic property of the storm and I decided to get farther ahead of it. Maybe from a greater distance the storm would be more photogenic. I made my way down a farm market road that turned to the north and along the way I spotted this fantastic patch of blue bonnets and an old wood post fence. I quickly pulled over and grabbed my camera and snapped a few images of the approaching storm behind the wildflowers. 

Typical Texas SpringTypical Texas Spring ©Ben Jacobi


The storm was  approaching so fast that I didn't have time to get out and setup my tripod. It was literally pull over, grab camera, snap 5 frames, rain hits, runs back to car, drives north to find east option and out of the storm. The most time I spent there was just a few moments before the rain came in. It was still a nice scene with the vibrant blue of the flowers against the almost fluorescent greens and yellows of the grass. The cool tones of the foreboding clouds in the background transitioned well with the foreground and made for an almost analagous color harmony. I don't normally try for this kind of color in my images. Often, I'm looking for color opposites to introduce tension and interest in the scene, but something about the similar colors makes the elements of the image a whole. Like they are all part of the same. I also wanted the focus to be on the blue bonnets, so I crouched down in the grass and brought the flowers closer to my lens. The grass fades into the storm directly and there's practically no middle ground. Which keeps the eye focused on the storm or the blue bonnets. Maybe I'll get another chance to photograph some storms in front of blue bonnets later this month, although judging by the models I don't think that will happen anytime soon. Regardless, its still nice to reflect on past chasing adventures and the stories behind the images. 


Pic of the Week 4/6/18: Sunrise atop Haynes Ridge

April 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Pic of the Week 4/6/18

“Sunrise atop Haynes Ridge”

Date taken: 3/25/18

Location: Caprock Canyons State Park, TX

 

Oh man, I’m not exactly sure how, but I forgot to post my Pic of the Week on Thursday. This week has just gotten away from me, I guess. Now, where were we? Ah yes, we had just watched the milky way rise above the canyon walls and were starting to get into the blue hour. Jaden and I had discussed the night before if there was going to be good sunrise potential we wanted to shoot the sunrise from Haynes Ridge. Since before planning this trip I have wanted to shoot sunrise on Haynes Ridge. Looking at the location from Google Earth and other various photos from the internet I knew I could make some interesting compositions with the wild geological formations. The question was would there be a good sunrise or not. What appeared to be thin clouds off to our east gave me some hope in catching a nice colorful sky, but had me concerned about the quality of light hitting the landscape below. With the right kind of light, the sandstone and quartermaster rocks would ignite in a beautiful warm glow. Like hot coals in the bottom of a campfire. But first we needed to reach the top of the ridge.

We gathered all our gear together and left the campsite about an hour before sunrise. I had suspected if we kept a faster pace we would reach the overlook just as the sun was starting to go up. As we trekked down the dirt trail I could smell the rain that accumulated on the plants near us. A scent that became even stronger when coupled with the pungent aroma of the sage and juniper trees. After about a half mile we reached a junction in the trail. The trail turned off to our right and there was what looked to be an old trail sign and a bench at the trailhead. The trail cut through thick patches of sage brush, juniper, and mesquite. The dirt trail quickly deteriorated and turned into a rocky ascent. Our eyes followed the trail up along the ridge and scanned our destination. It’s a little more than a 500ft ascent over .6miles of hiking. Not too bad, and not anything I’m not used to from hiking in the Wichita Mountains. We started to climb along the ridge taking the switchbacks and follow the trail markers, with each step higher our views got better and better. We could even see our campsite from up here.

Halfway up and we were level with the ridges and buttes off to our east. From the ground those buttes and mesas seemed to tower above. Now they were being dwarfed by our change in altitude and shrinking with every step we took. We followed a few more switchbacks and trail markers before finally reaching the top. We didn’t have time to stop and celebrate since the sun started to rise and the skies off to our east started to filter a yellow-gold light through the clouds. We reached our destination the Haynes Ridge overlook. The view was quite spectacular. We were staring down into the North Prong of the canyon taking in the landscape before us. The flats were speckled with tiny green brushes and trees that were interrupted by the protruding red mesas and buttes. Looking out farther to the north and east we could see the edge of the caprock escarpment on the horizon. Its funny how a higher perspective can enhance the grandeur of the landscape. I’ve looked over 1000ft drops in the Canyonlands National Park and I still had the same reaction when I looked down into the North Prong of Caprock Canyon. I drank in the scenery before setting down my bag and pulling out my breakfast. Cliffside dining always proves to be a unique experience.

I finished up my breakfast and got my camera gear out and ready for sunrise. We did have one slight problem, however. The sky didn’t look like it was going to cooperate for us. Thicker and wider spread clouds over took the eastern horizon. We could see the sun light reflecting off the top of the clouds, but no direct light on the landscape. There was a small gap in the cloud cover and it appeared the sun may just make its way there so we decided to wait it out for sunrise. We watched the cloud-filtered sunlight softly light up the landscape down below us. After I made a few exposures and finalized my composition I was ready for the light. The sun did make its way to the gap, but thin clouds came over at just the last minute. What we got was a diffused directional light on the landscape. The red rock absorbed the warm light and although it wasn’t a “fiery” glow, it was still great color. I scooted my camera closer to the ledge of the cliff I was sitting on. I couldn’t quite get it out of the composition with my wide-angle lens, so I decided to leave it in the photo. I have mixed feelings about incorporating it in the photo. It does make a little bit of a distraction, but the rock being in the shadows does keep it subdued. The edge of the rock also makes it appear the viewer is peering over the ledge and looking down into the canyon. This added sense of dimension really helps put you in that scene. I didn’t want to get any closer to the edge for fear of the rock collapsing and most importantly my camera taking a tumble down the 300ft cliff face.

 

Sunrise atop Haynes RidgeSunrise atop Haynes RidgeA pleasant sunrise from the Haynes Ridge overlook. © Ben Jacobi

We spent a good while watching the sunrise and shooting the directional light (that finally came) in the canyon. It was a successful venture and hike to Haynes Ridge, but now were going to follow the ridge and look for the entrance to a slot canyon above Fern Cave some 2.3 miles away. Sunrise on Haynes Ridge was just the start to a long, but rewarding hike that day. We got to visit and capture some pretty amazing things and I can’t wait for another trip back to Caprock Canyon. Next week we bring our trip to Caprock to a close with one of the more interesting images I captured during the trip. Hopefully after this week I’ll have new and exciting photos for y’all to see—who knows maybe even a storm chase! We will just have to wait and see.

 

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