DENVER - It's been over a year since I left Colorado for grad school, so I was thrilled to see several days of good storm chasing shaping up across eastern Colorado.
I left my home in Illinois Tuesday afternoon for Kansas City where I was meeting my chase partner who was flying in that night. I got in a few hours before she landed and tried to get some rest as I was feeling a bit under the weather. After a short nap, I picked her up and the following morning, we were on our way to Colorado.
We left an hour earlier than our 9 a.m. planned departure as I was feeling as if we'd need the extra hour. Turns out we did, as nearly seven hours of driving later, we pulled into Bennett as a rare HP (high precipitation) moved near the airport with tornado warnings already in effect. After a quick fuel top-off, we moved north of Bennett to take position on the storm.
The HP nature of the storm made seeing into the business area of the storm nearly impossible. Reports trickled in of tornadoes being reported, and at one point, it was being reported that a large tornado was ongoing south of the airport. We had no views of this tornado due to precipitation, and very few other reports came in to convince us that there was an ongoing tornado. We continued to move east with the storm, playing deep in the hail core in hopes we could sneak a peek at one of these fleeting tornadoes.
The storm started to weaken, going from a supercell to more of a linear mess. We marched with it all the way to Byers, continuing to document the hail that had fallen from this storm. The landscape looked surreal with all the hail giving it a winter look in late May. As far as the eye could see, there was hail.
In addition to the hail, numerous roads were washed out from water flowing over the roads. Hail was also piled up in places, and a few hail islands were visible in the temporary rivers of water flowing along and over the roads.
The following day was not progged to be as intense, although severe weather and flooding were a distinct possibility as the overall setup hadn't changed much. After changing a tire, my partner and I drove a whopping 4.7 miles from the tire shop to out to our viewing spot off Colfax near I-70 of the storm over Denver.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the storm, which felt a little trigger happy to me as there was no low-level indication of anything tornadic. The warning would be cancelled shortly and replaced with a severe thunderstorm warning, but that too saw an early cancellation as the storm died a quick death.
Several other storms fired east of Denver, and we positioned on those near Byers only to watch those die. We figured our day was going to end prematurely, but then the real show finally got going south of Strausburg.
Slow moving, almost stationary storms, formed and dropped copious amounts of hail south of Bennett and tons of rain in Bennett. We tried to get into the hail core of of the storm, but it was drifting and developing northwest, and thus we couldn't get under it. We had a few brushes with sub-severe hail, but mostly filming the backside of the storm with all the hail.
We crossed I-70 on Kiowa-Bennett Road and were immediately greeted with stopped traffic as water was rushing over the road at the US-36 Junction. (See photo above.) We filmed as many cars unwisely crossed the flowing water, even as the rain and hail continued. At one point, a school bus approached, but made the smart decision to turn around and not drown. (See photo above.) Sadly though, he backed into a ditch rapidly filling with water and got stuck.
Having seen numerous vehicles cross the water, we decided to cross the water and see if we needed to help. Turns out the bus was empty of kids and was just the driver. Obviously my Subaru couldn't pull him out, so I offered to phone someone. He had already radioed in help. I returned to the car and almost as soon as I got back in, a tow truck came around the corner.
Without hesitation, the tow truck crossed the waters. As it plowed through the rushing water, it bounced around a bit as debris was now collecting on the road. He made it across without any issue and quickly hooked up and pulled the bus from it's stuck state in the ditch.
We stayed at the scene as the rain calmed and the waters receded. A sink hole had opened up just off to the west side of the road that had the cops keeping it closed even as the water had receded to the point where it was clear of water. It took a bit of time to deem the area safe, and finally traffic was allowed to proceed.
Our day was done, and we opted for one more night in Colorado with a relatively uneventful drive highlighted by the distant lightning of the former Colorado storms as they, too, said goodbye to the state on their way into Kansas. For us, we will depart my former home state for a couple days in west Texas before things really quiet down for the foreseeable future.
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