April 1st, 2015
Every season tends to kick off with less than optimal setups, and 2015 was no exception. That being said, it's probably the most prepared I've felt for the first chase of the year and really did the most I could given the conditions. Met up with Nick Beaulieu, the editor-in-chief of our student newspaper to show him what chasing a local setup was like. Left Omaha around 4:30pm with an initial target north of West Point, NE.
Storms fired but it took us a little longer than anticipated to get out of Omaha. Storms to the north of West Point would be tough to catch up with and would eventually run into the river, so we opted to head west towards Columbus where the front was. Could make out a slight notch in the line on mesoanalysis (the HRRR had depicted the same feature) and gunned for the storm near Madison, NE that went up slightly ahead of the rest of the line. Note the thin blue line of outflow we're behind here in this image. Ahead of that line, nice warm 80s and calm. Behind it, cooler upper 60s and a constant 40mph cold outflow.
Things looked good upon approach, though "good" is certainly a relative term at this point in the year. Just seeing an elevated base with a legitimate rain/hail core was refreshing. Even spotted a couple of tiny funnels under the base, but not really anything worth reporting or even shooting from our present vantage. Headed east on 91 towards Leigh, NE where we set up to take some photos/timelapses for the first time. Got plenty east of the storm expecting it to speed up as it lined out, but not the case this time. Not sure I've ever seen a line move at a leisurely 10-15mph, but it was almost annoyingly slow.
Positioned ourselves to the east of the storm for the best photo light. The sun setting underneath an elevated storm base is hard to beat in terms of setting a dramatic scene. We still had a good bit of waiting to do yet though.
Storm finally starting to get closer now, moving pretty much due east towards us. Took a panorama with Nick walking back to the car.
Obligatory documentation of the "chase vehicle" under the first storm of the year.
Hail core wasn't more than a mile off by this point, so we got back in the car and drove east to get ahead of it again. Evidently at this same time Mike Hollingshead was getting April-fooled by this chase as his car stranded him just a couple miles from where we were. Stuff like that (car being able to turn on) that you completely take for granted until you read his account of the day here.
Stumbled across this really sweet scene with a small local cemetery as the sun began to set underneath the base to our west. Nick thought I was just stopping to shoot the cemetery. Nope. Old gravestones underneath a well-lit storm though? Sign me up.
Another quick pano as Nick headed back to the car. Pretty much just a game of stay-ahead-of-the-precip-until-the-sun-sets.
A few more miles east and we found our foreground just before the sun hit the horizon. Little farmstead on the horizon. Definitely nothing rare or out of the ordinary for rural Nebraska, but everything looks dramatic when dwarfed by a storm.
Not a ton of CGs out of this storm, but plenty of smaller cloud-to-cloud bolts. Caught one lame CG just as the light died.
Now it was decision time. Keep following this portion of the line back into Omaha, or drop south and west to intercept a stronger portion later on? Gas is cheap and you never know how many photo opportunities you'll get before storm season is over. We opted for a night intercept of the line to the south.