We finally got a chance to see some storms after a quiet week in the plains. Even run of the mill supercells and squall lines are incredible to see out here with sweeping views across the plains.
After starting the day in the Badlands and staging in Rapid City we had a bit of a conundrum. Storms fired in northeastern Wyoming while the area near and south of Rapid City into the Nebraska Panhandle was capped. After waiting for stuff to start popping over the Black Hills and Nebraska Panhandle we decided to ditch the southern play and headed west of Rapid City on I-90 into northeastern Wyoming.
There were several supercells to watch. One crossing I-90 in front of us and another to the south about 40 miles west of Upton, Wyoming. We played the southern storm and wound up in the town of Upton. We headed out of town briefly to catch the first storm that was moving through. We were under the anvil for a while with a beautiful mammatus display with a wall cloud under the supercell about 15 miles to our west.
The storms were quickly “lining out”. What I mean by that is that discrete supercells were organizing into a line so the threat for tornadoes (and cool supercell structure) was diminishing. We moved south to Newcastle and then about 15 miles west to try and get to the southern side of the line to see if the southern storm would really fire up as is sometimes the case. While driving, we saw an incredible shelf cloud across the length of the developing squall line (30+) miles that was really a site to behold.
We watched the storm for about 20 minutes in the Thunder Basin National Grassland (near the intersection of WY-450 and WY-116) which was wild. The clouds were about as cool as you can see to the south of the hail core and the winds were pretty gusty as well. The lightning was unbelievable. After watching the storm for a while we headed east ahead of the squall line back into Newcastle, WY and eventually toward Custer, SD. The storm decided to chase us a bit and while I thought we would beat it by several miles we got caught up in hail, really gusty winds, and some rain (though not very heavy).
As you can see in this video, even though the hail started off pretty small, it grew quickly. We wound up getting a couple nickle size pieces in there after a while. That was just storm one. While crossing into South Dakota to find a hotel we ran into another line of storms that was strengthening (unbeknownst to us with no cell signal in the pitch dark) and had to deal with nearly 20 minutes of small hail in Jewel Cave National Monument. Hair pin turns and narrow roads in a national park are no fun during a storm like this! The winds up on the hills were ferocious. What made the storm incredible was the hour of constant cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud lightning bolts that lit up the sky continuously. It was remarkable.
While we didn’t see a tornado watching the supercell evolve into a severe squall line on the open plains was really, really cool. Definitely one of the neatest storms I’ve ever seen with a perspective that we’re never able to get in the hilly and tree covered northeast. We knew that these storms wouldn’t be tornadic after dark but I have no idea how or why people try to chase tornadoes after the sun goes down! Pretty crazy and nothing that I’d ever want to do.
We’re hunkered down in Fort Collins, CO for the night. We’re going to visit some bars downtown and head to a Rockies game tomorrow in Denver before we catch our flight east. It’s been an awesome trip so far!