July 1st, 2011 - Shelf Cloud and Lightning Day

June 30th, 2011
Cap bust / Canadian Disaster day

Chased with:

After our Canadian cap bust, we had a shot at redemption for Friday, July 1st.  And wouldn't you know it... there actually ended up being a tornado warned storm coming out of South Dakota!  We cruised down there to see what we would find.  Just having some storms made us extremely happy.

The storm started out moving around 20mph N/E.  We were really trying to make it down to the storm in time for it to produce.  Suddenly, the storm was upon us.  It really gained strength as we were driving and went from 20mph N/E to 45+mph E.   Before we knew it, we were more or less right in the inflow notch of the storm.  There were several very intense moments following, with low hanging scud and movement above and around us.  

As Skip describes it, it was basically "We've gotta get in there!"  immediately followed by, "We've gotta get out of here!"  And then followed by a lot of myself grabbing the "oh,shit" handle and saying, "Drive faster, okay?"  At one point we had up to golfball size hail.  (Click here for a little video on us driving in the hail.)

The storm was really hauling ass, and at some points we were driving even upwards of between 80-100mph to get ahead of it.  By the time we got out ahead of it, we realized how crazy this storm was.  It looked like death.  These images are not color enhanced.  They are only enhanced with a contrast boost and slight sharpening.

We decided to drop south to the next cell down that was severe warned.  The storm we were ahead of, we were barely ahead of it, and it was getting increasingly impossible to stay ahead of it.  The thing was massive, and had some of the strongest winds Skip has ever experienced.  The radar scan looked like a hurricane, with the yin and yang.

We dropped behind and south of the cell and as we moved south we saw the damage the storm had done. A great deal of straight line winds, and then we came upon structural damage.  We saw some people outside and we stopped to make sure everyone was okay.

Locals Portrait #11:

Luckily, their home was okay and nobody was hurt.  Skip reported the damage on Spotter Network and we moved on.  Trees were down in several towns spanning a county or two from the derecho.  We were wanting to stop to gas up and pee, but the first three towns we stopped at were without power.

We ended up finding a gas station with power, and after stopping we moved on to our southern cell.  And what followed was some of the most incredible shelf cloud structure I've ever seen.  

This storm was also moving pretty quickly, so we only had about a minute at a time to stop and take photos.

We ended up stopping and there was a bit of lightning happening with the shelf cloud.  We literally did not have any time to set up tripods, so I sat out the side of the van and braced my elbows on my knees for some high hopes in long exposures (1/20 hand held) with a higher f/stop.  And wouldn't ya know?  I got it. I'm very proud of this shot.

 (image copyright Jennifer C Brindley, may not be used or reproduced without express written permission)

And then, we had a sunset that even kicked the crap out of the one we had the night before.  What a gorgeous summer sky, and an amazing day.

After the sunset, we stopped to do some lightning photography.  I'd been sorely missing lightning shots all year, and was thrilled we might have a few hours to shoot lightning.  We found a decent spot to pull over and there was a huge field with lightning bugs.  So cool.

storms photos

lightning bolt photos