November traugh: Colorado snow blizards and severe storms in Kansas

Yesterday, as Spoternet and Skywarn severe weather trackers, we followed a negative tilt low pressure system, that moved through Colorado drawing cold winds down from the north, and producing snow and icy roads in Colorado, while bringing strong warm surface winds up from the south forming violent severe weather thunderstorms from Dodge City, up past I-70 and beyond Russel, Kansas yesterday evening.

This was a particularly interesting storm system to track. I left Colorado in a light snow storm with fog, and 40f temperatures heading east bound on I-70. I was traveling a few hours behind Basehunters: Colt Forney and Lauren Hill.

Driving through the low pressure system I managed to leave the snow behind, and reached clear skies near Burlington, Colorado. I then crossed a dryline boundary a few miles east of Colby, Kansas. The change in atmospheric conditions were amazingly abrupt. Just east of Colby, (within 5 miles), I went from experiencing moderate north winds and 40f temperatures, to strong 56 mph south-backed surface winds containing a powerful dust storm, and warm 75f temperatures.

Potentially tornadic supercell in line of severe warned storms

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At Wakeneey, Kansas, I drove south on HWY 283 to Jetmore, and then east towards Kinsley, and stopped briefly about 5 miles east of Burdett, KS. I encountered a violent line of severe thunderstorms a bit east. These severe storms produced non-stop lightning an hail, and my particular cell produced strong inflow bands, a well defined wall cloud with a number of funnels, including one rain wrapped funnel. The rotation seemed to be occurring in kinks in the line of severe storms that produced a number of discrete-yet-connected supercell-like structures (See slideshow of pictures of these severe warned storms).

While watching a rotating wall cloud, I got a surprise emergency weather notice on my Android cell phone that warned me of severe weather conditions in my area, based on my current GPS position!

I had heard NWS was working on the software to let people know of warnings via cell phones, if they were entering, or were located within a watch area, and yesterday, I actually got to experience a cell phone warning on my location, first hand!

I think such warnings can save many lives, especially for casual tourists who are not monitoring weather conditions during road trips, or for people at home or at work, and who are in the path of a dangerous storm, and happen to have either an iPhone or Android. This emergency warning technology is a great early warning advance.

After watching my strong storm move northeastward, I made a long trip back to Colorado. The road conditions were fairly dry until Burlington, Colorado, and then conditions became treacherous. I had a Radar Scope application on my cell phone, and noticed the back side of the eastward progressing low pressure system was creating blizzard conditions right where I was planning to drive.

Between Burlington and Limon, Colorado, the air temperature dropped below 32 degrees, and blizzard-like conditions hit my area of I-70 with a vengeance. The previously wet roads quickly iced-up under the dropping temperatures (below 32 degrees) and roads were coated with black ice, followed by several inches of solid slick rhyme ice. Ahead of me were cars in ditches on each side of the road. I called-in the first few vehicles I saw to police, but as the number ditched vehicles kept increasing, I headed west-bound, now fearing for my own survival, as a number of semi trucks that had passed me earlier, were in the ditch as I passed. The blizzard got more dangerous, as I continued for almost 190 more miles over some of the worst icy roads I have ever driven.

Fortunately, I made it to Denver where ‘magnesium chloride’ removed the dangerous ice, and I finally made it back home at around 3 am.

I found yesterday’s experience of driving across a low pressure system (from west to east), and from cold blowing snow to violent thunderstorms and warm night temperatures with relatively high dew points, a very interesting experience to happen within a single day.

One warning I take from yesterday is how fast conditions can change within a few hundred miles. I now realize it is conceivable to be stranded in a snow blizzard or caught in a tornado within a 300 mile drive. Fortunately, I had both down jackets, food, water and winter survival equipment in my car, along with rain jackets and severe weather emergency equipment, as well, and realized both could have become necessary yesterday. The next thing I learned about experiencing vastly different dangerous storm conditions, is that just because severe thunderstorms appear to line up and as such appear non-tornadic, there can be kinks in a line of severe thunderstorms that can develop discrete rotations, and therefore pose a potential tornado threat, as well.

From yesterday’s experience, it has become apparent to me that preparing for a number of extreme weather threats when driving cross country is an important consideration for all travelers.

More Safety Info:

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