Anytime, any place there is a storm to chase, that is where you'll find the Hunters of Thunder.

May 24th - Chasing Kansas Tail

Wisconsin? are you really serious that there is a chase target in northern Wisconsin/Michigan? Hmm...let us just think about that for a second. No thanks! Wisconsin is terrible to chase with hills, trees and barely any viewing, so not only is it horrible for seeing storms, but with a risk of strong tornadoes its not a safe prospect either. Its also a damn long way from where we were in Hays, Kansas. So instead, with the weakening cold front trailing through Iowa into Missouri and eastern Kansas we decided to target east of Emporia, Kansas. In this area there looked to be the potential for a tail-end charlie type storm, a storm that has nothing to obstruct the energy and inflow to its south and can produce great structure, and sometimes if your are lucky a tornado.

When you have low to no expectations of anything great from the day, sometimes you get a nice surprise and after hours of waiting in the taget area a storm finally popped only a few miles to our southwest. It took some time to get organised so in the meantime we decided to punch through its core to see if we could find any hail.  As we made it back through the storm we popped out to see a wallcloud right in front of us, but this was just the start.

'Run Away' - Running away from the initial wall cloud and potential hail core. Photo: John

The storm continued to organise with several areas of impressive structure and displayed a fantastic rain foot under its now clearly rotating base. We continued to move east with the storm, getting a little more distance using the interstate to get a view of the now awesome striated structure as it was bearing down on us.

'On the Interstate' - The storm begins to develop a more organised structure with an impressive rainfoot to the left. Photo: John.

Structure begins to really circulate looking down the interstate. Photo: Brad.
With the sun beginning to set we kept running east, getting some gorgeous sunset colours illuminating the structure as it became very lightning active. 

'Striated Structure' - The storm continues to look better and better as the low level jet begins to feed its exposed southern edge. Photo: John

'High Tailing' - Running away to get position for the best structure on the final push of sunset. Photo: John.
John shooting on sunset. Photo: Brad.

Cloud to ground lightning began to get more and more intense, with the barrage getting closer and closer. We had a few bolts strike in the sub 100m range at the end of the road we were on, including one captured in a photo that appears to strike Brad in the head and makes him seem to fade away!

Brad scores an amazing bolt at the end of the road. Shame he changed his camera angle to the left seconds before. Photo: Brad.

'Zapped to Oblivion' - Brad gets illuminated and appears to fade into nothing as this CG lands 100m down the road. Photo: John.

A very nice CG strikes to our west from the weakening storm. Photo: Brad.

We repositioned to chase down this barrage as it moved east and later as we were taking pictures, John felt the most peculiar static charging of his hair, making him hit the ground moments before an enormous cloud-ground strike hit less than 30 metres away with an arc to powerlines 5 metres away. The bolt was so close that it even appeared in pictures with the camera pointing in the opposite direction, and lit up the night sky like daylight. 

'Right Behind' - You know the CG is close when you get the arc leaders overhead and have your whole world lit up facing away from the bolt. Certainly a touch adrenaline pumping. Photo: John.
So now a little more cautious (certainly gets the heart racing) we continued to shoot lightning, ending the day on a high, with the closest lightning strikes either of us have had the priveledge to see. We stopped for the night in Ottawa, KS knowing that it wasn't a massive drive the next day to be in position for what looked to be a potentially potent tornado day. 

23rd May - High and Dry in Colorado

When the wind sweeps from the east in the plains and is loaded with moisture the high plains of Colorado begin to look an interesting prospect. The models on this day suggested a good chance for supercell thunderstorms and possible tornadoes in Colorado. However, when the moisture doesn't quite live up to expectations you can end up with some interestingly structured storms but no chance of a tornado. With dewpoints pushing into the mid 40Fs and low 50Fs on model forecasts and a 5% tornado risk things looked worthwhile for the long drive from Aberdeen, South Dakota where we spent the night. Target was along I70 west of Burlington, and sure enough storms got going with a low pressure system forming in southeast Colorado providing nice shear profiles.

The 2nd storm of the day is winding up with inflow dominating the sky above us.  Photo - Brad.

'Not Always Black & White', the second storm to form looked nice on approach but never lived up to model forecasts, similar to the moisture. Photo: John.
Near vertical updrafts and a timely road sign near Kit Carson, Colorado.  Photo - Brad.

Unfortunately, the moisture didn't happen as anticipated and instead of booming thunderstorms, we were left to some nicely structured elevated storms.

The storm structured up with a strong inflow tail and striations. Photo - Brad.

With the marginal ////////////.........................................wwdddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

Oops...fell asleep on the keyboard and Brad just elbowed me...needless to say the last few days have been hectic and its only get getting busier with an active pattern in progress so stay tuned. At least the storms did give us some nice photographic opportunities, despite the disappointment with a day that looked to hold promise.

'On the line', with the dewpoints marginal the storms structured as the shear profiles were highly favourable to supercells, but the poor moisture kept the storms ultimately elevated. Photo: John

Day four saw us targetting Southeastern Kansas (while many chasers head for Wisconsin and Iowa) hoping that the frontal influence combined with strong instability and modest shear would produce a tail-end structured storm in Kansas. It certainly did and the results were nothing short of spectacular, so 'like us', share to facebook and spread the word.

A US Supercell, A Canadian Tornado, and A Moose a Mile up the Road

Departed Clayton New Mexico on the evening of the 21st , with chasing the northern part of South Dakota in mind. We knew it was going to be painful to make the journey and would require hauling through the night to make it in time. To put it into perspective when you are in the states only for a fixed part of the season you become a little more willing to do the hard yards as you don't want to miss anything. By the time the sun rose we were mostly through Nebraska. Had breakfast in Winner, South Dakota hoping that a little bit of that would rub off on us and continued to push north...and further north with things eventually setting up for a 5% tornado risk in northern North Dakota.

The first cell quickly formed literally on the Canadian border near the corner with Montana and began to track east, it looked nice but was just too far away. A second cell formed west of Minot, ND developing the telltale highly sheared supercell structure on radar and we quickly closed to approach it north of Minot.

The Minot, North Dakota tornadic supercell with powerful updrafts.  Photo - Brad
Supurb colours and powerful updrafts of the Minot supercell as it intensifies.  Photo - John.

On first glance we were a little surprised in the elevation of the base, but its a long way for the moisture to come from the gulf of Mexico up here. Still, the cell was nicely structured, and had some severe hail (1.25 inch, 3 cm) along with reasonable rotation.

The main area of rotation was overhead and a white cone formed briefly. Photo - Brad.

The dynamic motion was impressive but the supercell was just gearing up.  Photo - John.

It tried a few times to produce more substantial wall clouds, but it wasn't until it approached the Canadian border that it really dropped down and formed a strong tailcloud and wall cloud right in front of us, after most chasers had bailed south.

The storm ramps up with a spectacular tail cloud structure as we race alongside.  Photo - Brad.

Shortly thereafter in the distance in fading light we saw what we believed to be a tornado just over the border with Canada. Unfortunately the distance from us when it finally decided to happen made really difficult to really get what we were looking for, but the structure was definitely worth the effort.
The supercell is approaching the Canadian border as it is lit up by the setting sun. Photo - John.
One of the more odd aspects of the day was when a Customs and Border Protection agent pulled up to ask what we were up to (about 10 miles from the border) right after we observed the possible tornado. He mentioned that if we were looking for something to photograph that he saw a Moose on the road about a mile from us, before we explained we were chasing storms, much to his amusement. Still, on another day the same system might have produced tornado after tornado...even on the particular day you are never really quite sure what you will get dished up with.

Its interesting that 2 years ago on this date (May 22), a cell in a slightly more moist environment in northern South Dakota produced a violent tornado near Bowdle. Stepping back to last year, a cell produced the Joplin EF-5 tornado which killed 162 people. Its funny how particular dates seem to produce these powerful storms more often than not, it does make you wonder whether its just our nature to see patterns or whether there is really something to it. I guess missing the Bowdle stormwhen chasing here 2 years ago made us more hestitant to not make the long drive as we really didn't want to have that happen again. When in comes to the thunderstorm environments, the differences can be quite minute but the results poles apart, which makes it interesting to look at the similarities with historical events and the climatology.

May 21st - Things do happen in New Mexico.

The day started off in Pueblo, CO where we were amazed by the hail drifts still being present well into the morning from the storm the previous night. The target for the day was Clayton, New Mexico, which involved a moderate drive over the Raton Mesa and east through the plains of Northeastern NM. The chance was present for a possible tornado with the National Weather Service issuing a slight risk of severe thunderstorms (Probability of a severe event within 25 miles of any one location of 15% or greater), with a particular risk for very large hail. 

I guess I should explain why the New Mexico jokes on facebook, Brad has never seen a decent storm in New Mexico and wasn't really keen on it as a chase territory, preferring the panhandles to the east. Fortunately what eventuated on the day helped to change that pre-conception!

Storms took a little while to develop, but by mid-afternoon the combination of good moisture and moderate vertical wind shear began to see storms develop over the high terrain of New Mexico, with storms punching up to sixty thousand feet. Eventually a few storms began to move off the high terrain, and we targeted one of them near Des Moines, NM, a fantastically structured Low-Precipitation (LP) type supercell which yielded an hour of spectacular timelapse. The storm was unfortunately relatively high based which meant that the production of a tornado was unlikely, but the structure more than made up for that. 

'The Road to Less Precipitation', a low precipitation supercell near Des Moines, NM. Photo: John.
The structure of the nice LP near Des Moines, NM. Photo: Brad.

A close-up of the bell mesocyclone on the LP supercell near Des Moines, NM. Photo: Brad.

Eventually the LP evaporated and we decided to investigate cells to the west.

Unfortunately things began to get messy, and we began to head back towards Clayton...only to spot what looked like a substantial rotating wall cloud under a thunderstorm to our southeast. No sooner did we notice the characteristics than the storm produced a strong funnel. Unfortunately it was a bit far away from us to confirm whether it was contacting ground at the time. However, given the speed and strength of the funnel formation, it would be unlikely that it was not touching ground at the time. So a possible "sneaky" tornado in the book, we are also pretty sure nobody else was in the area to see it either (many were pursuing a rather pretty little cell in TX instead). 

A sneaky rapidly developing possible tornado from a rotation wall cloud southwest of Clayton. Photo: John
Later as the sun began to set we noticed the mammatus (pockets of sinking condensed air, which we commonly refer to as 'skyboobs') under the storm began to become more and more pronounced and spectacular. Brad has been looking for a decent 'skyboobies' display on sunset for a while, and it sure didn't disappoint despite the best of the sun being obscured by storms further west. So a pretty spectacular day all round.

A gorgeous display of 'Skyboobs' on sunset. Photo: Brad

Brad gets right in to photographing his 'Skyboobs'. Photo: John.
A final taste of the mammatus display. Photo: Brad

As I write we have jarrived in North Dakota after a particularly long haul to for a tornado watch. So fingers crossed.

May 20th - Pueblo on Ice

4am D-day:
That last moment where you think through what you packed, whether you are really ready and psyching yourself up for a really really long day.

5:25am D-day:
Told off by the girl at check in that next time I should try to be a little earlier (John).

6:00am D-day:
Finally in the air bound for Brisbane.

Grumpy that those who having been tanning under the ridge managed to get some nice tornadoes in Kansas, and one lucky Slovenian pulled something out of his behind.

Departed for LAX

De ja vu on the whole sunrise thing? Arrived in LAX and forecast a target west of La Junta, Colorado where moisture upslope flow (the area is over a mile in altitude and the moist warm air is lifted by the orography to hopefully convection) combined with northwesterly mid level winds and moderately steep lapse rates (temperature rate of decrease with height) present a reasonable chance at some organized cells.

Say what..same time another flight? Is that like some sort of crazy impossibility to literally have been in two places at the same time? This time to Denver.

Finally out on the plains in the car at Denver.

Ok...that was seriously tiring, stressful...and that was just typing it after doing all of it. Anyway, I  realise you aren't all reading this just to hear about flights...more to the point
"Get on With It!"

So arriving late curtailed any possibilities of going for the TX panhandle, but thats ok because we really didn't want to have to drive miles and miles just on a hope and a prayer. Target was looking ok with dewpoints pushing into the low 40s (Farenheit), which is just enough to get some reasonable instability, but closes the door on getting anything really severe. Things took their time to form, and we finally got on to a nice but small LP storm south of Pueblo and northeast of Walsenburg, Colorado.

A weak LP near Walsenburg. Photo: Brad

The LP showed glimpses of strengthening, but ultimately didn't have the energy. Photo: Brad

The storm pushed and tried quite a few times to improve, but just didn't quite have enough juice to really set it going. Still it provided some nice photo opportunities and timelapse before melting into the ether. With the sun starting to set, we didn't have huge hopes, but noticed another storm to the NW of Pueblo that was starting to produce lightning.

The storm glows red over Pueblo. Photo: John

With Brad feeling a little under the weather, we decided to head towards Pueblo along state route 50 and position for some lightning. What followed was simply amazing...a return to the plains with a lightning show of epic proportions. Intially the cell was rather sporadic, but produced some really amazing CG combinations in the fading light.

A single frame, with 5 simultaneous CG strikes. Near Pueblo, CO. Photo: John
However, the storm then strengthened once more and began to produce some amazing rain foots and colouration, and thats when the CGfest started as the storm slowly moved over Pueblo.

A pair of bolts arc across the sky. Near Pueblo, CO. Photo: John

A rather spectacular bolt fills the frame. Near Pueblo, CO. Photo: Brad

About 30 or more of bolts of this quality were captured by us both, making it a very worthwhile start to the trip. Later we discovered the impact of the slow moving storm over Pueblo...hail drifts that required snow plows and some localised flash flooding! Hail maxed out at about an inch, but it was the half a foot to foot deep drifts that were most impressive.

Hail Drift. Pueblo, CO. Photo: John

Even more amazing....the hail drifts were still intact at 9:30am the next morning in temperatures around 20 degrees celsius! Anyway, Day 2 sees us in a slight risk located in northeastern New Mexico and the western Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, hoping for some photogenic supercell action. Keep tuned, 'like' us on facebook, we would love to hear from you.

Is it time to leave yet?

Now where the heck did I put my rain jacket? 

Each time I head over to the United States storm chasing I feel like I’m going to forget something. Then there is the annoyance that I am packing to become totally mobile for the entire time I am traveling, so then I end up cutting down what I have in my bag to the bare essentials, after all whatever I take I am going to be carrying around Los Angeles International and into every hotel room across the alley. Even though I’m mostly prepared I am sure I will end up doing a bunch of things at the last minute, after all you can never be too prepared when going chasing after thunderstorms and tornadoes. 

And why is it I can’t shake that weird feeling of nervousness and excitement? Worrying about connections, of how far we are going to have to drive to see a storm on the day we arrive, or of the season remaining quiet and seeing no storms at all during the trip! Well, hopefully that last thing won’t happen, the forecast models seem to be suggesting an end to the ridging high pressure pattern that has kept storm chasers far away from the plains if not sitting at home. That’s the danger when you book a time period months ahead as many chasers do (including me), no matter how many times you look at the climatology you just never know what the season will throw up; whether you will luck out and get to improve your tan under a ridge, see a single extraordinary tornado, or get a full blown tornado outbreak. 

Its always interesting keeping in touch with my friends in the US, particularly those that chase storms. Sometimes you get incredibly jealous when they get amazing storms and tornadoes and you are around the other side of the planet unable to do anything about it (April 14 this year saw 80 tornadoes in an outbreak over Kansas). Then there are others where you enjoy teasing them as the entirety of May (traditionally the peak month of severe storms and tornadoes in the Great Plains) has produced very little in terms of severe thunderstorms…like this year. Fortunately for me (but unfortunately for residents of Tornado Alley) there appears to be an upper-level trough moving into the west of the continent, which should mean that Tornado Alley fires up again and will begin to live up to its name. I guess what really says a lot about how things work in the alley was our experience last year. We chased for five weeks and saw 22 tornadoes, but 19 of those came in a single 5-day period that produced 242 tornadoes (out of the May total of 320). So even though May has been quiet up until now (only 47 tornadoes reported to date), it might only take a single day to change that in a big way. That’s what makes the United States and Tornado Alley a special place. 

Sometimes looking at the models you wonder why you are bothering to fly 16 hours to the Northern Hemisphere just to see storms. One of my fascinations about chasing storms is just never knowing what the atmosphere is going to serve up; even if the environmental conditions appear to be very similar between days, it may have little control over storm mode or how they appear. Even the most ideal looking day in terms of environmental conditions can leave you with endless blue skies in the plains and nothing to show for it, the ever depressing ‘bust’ of chasing. 

A lovely sunset on a blue sky bust in Oklahoma. Not a storm formed.

The next day can have a very similar environment, and unlike the previous day have one supercell thunderstorm that goes crazy, or have a whole outbreak of storms across hundreds of kilometers. 

The other extreme, when given huge amounts of instability and shear a tornadic supercell near Kingfisher, Oklahoma
I guess that’s why I really enjoy looking at the environments associated with severe thunderstorms, trying to understand the ingredients that make them tick and what differing combinations can produce in terms of not only storm appearance, but also the physics within the storms. With the conditions for severe storms and in particular supercells an almost daily occurrence in the US during active periods I guess its little wonder that I would go every spring if I could! 

So I guess I’d better get back to the anxious excited countdown (36 hours, 35 minutes, 34 seconds until I depart for Brisbane…but I’m not counting), getting that last job done for the research until I get back (well, I will still be writing but that doesn’t count), and maybe just checking I’ve packed everything one more time… John

2011/2012 Australian Season Trailer Release - Another Level

Hi Everyone,
As promised, today we have released our DVD trailer for the Australian Season 2011/2012 entitled "Another Level". To view the trailer, please click below, and to preorder simply click the DVDs for purchase above or visit

Welcome to the 2012 US Chase Season

Hey Folks,

Great to see you all back visiting for the season ahead. You might have noticed we've made quite a few big changes to the website, and have added a bunch of additional things. We have a heap of exciting new stuff that we hope to show you over the course of our chasing, and will be giving daily updates on all things storms in the United States from May 20. While May to date has been relatively quiet when it comes to the storms in the states, things are looking like they might heat up just at the right time for our arrival. So make sure you check in daily to see our latest adventures with photos and video! 

There is also going to be something rather exciting happening on other fronts from the Hunters of Thunder in the next day so stay tuned! Let us know  what you think either here or on our facebook page: