Day 2: Traveling through Colorado

We woke up in Fort Collins, CO this morning to this gorgeous view over the Rockies. The cooler air filling into the state improved air quality immensely. When we arrived last night we couldn't get a great view of the mountains thanks to hot, dry and stagnant air creating a brown haze on the horizon.

At 9:30 a.m. we headed toward central Wyoming, looking to set ourselves up ahead of a storm that may fire in the afternoon, possibly up to the northeastern portion of the state.

The problem with this morning's forecast was that it's not a typical setup for classic severe weather. There's a dry trough in Southern California that is has PVA on the northeastern edge which is driving moisture into Colorado this morning, hence the beautiful clouds and clearer air we saw over the Rockies. By the evening it looked like the core of that storm will be over Salt Lake City, pushing more moisture right into hot & dry Wyoming, a very good sign!
 

Winds looked good on the hodograph, turning with height, giving us favorable veering winds which will help setup the low-level shear we need for storm development. The dew points were only OK though, with upper 40s and lower 50s in our target region and heading into West Nebraska.

In the morning CAPE is less than 1000 j/kg, but that looked to improve for the afternoon as we get more daytime heating to help with uplift and instability. The cap is at 850mb, not 700mb, not a traditional setup but it doesn't mean our chances for storms are a bust either. That cap is keeping our storm chances in place actually, precluding it from heading into Kansas. There does look to be some good shear for the afternoon, thanks to the zonal flow over the region, but we knew we would have to watch the Jet Stream closely to see if a jet streak feeds the trough's strength this afternoon.

There isn't a risk of tornadoes today, we simply don't have enough of the recipe there and the Lifted Condensation Level is just too high. But some storms do look to fire in the afternoon, hopefully giving us a look at some incredible cloud formations and perhaps some hail. We knew first thing this morning that the biggest complication today would be safely navigating the road network as we chase, which is sparse in this portion of the country.

And so we hit the road for a few hours and took our lunch break in Douglas, WY. Then, as we left Douglas, WY about 2 p.m. we saw more picturesque cumulus clouds building and crawling over the mountains.

It was so hot on the ground, and with 40 dbz over the crest, the rain was turning to virga (evaporating before it hits the ground), so the towns underneath remained dry. We watched the virga all the way through Casper and then the skies started clearing.

We stopped at the Rest area in Kaycee and waited for the storms to fire. After a few gasps as Shannon spotted this bull snake, she assured us it was safe and everyone took pictures and then stayed far from the grass.
 

At 3:15 we hit a bumpy road heading south again and started seeing more action from the storm... There was a fascinating mix of what looked like mammatus and virga on the

northwest portion of the storm:

As we drove over the top of the storm, we watched the gray haze turn into an undefined blob. About an hour later, the cell dropped to 30 dbz and transitioned to rain only. And so we called it a day and headed to South Dakota, our planned sleepover spot.

 

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