3-29-16 SPC Outlook
3-29-16 SPC Outlook

This was a very impromptu “chase” that involved zero planning. Heather had heard that there was a chance of thunderstorms later in the evening and wanted to try out her new lightning detector gadget she got for Christmas. Sounded good to me, as it give me a chance to test some of my own equipment. I checked conditions around our area and decided that heading north towards Fort Collins would be our best bet.Heather got home around 4:45PM and started to gather her camera gear, but we hit a couple small snags.

  1. We never actually tested the lightning detector with her camera.
  2. None of the organizing storms were actually producing any lightning, so we had no clear target.

The cable that came with the lightning detector was supposed to work with her camera. It didn’t; wrong connector. We spent an hour on the web looking for solutions/part/options to no avail, which cost us a chunk of daylight time.

BUT, the delay turned out to be useful. We saw that we didn’t have a chance in hell of actually getting out of Denver in time to position near the cell(s) racing north through Longmont and Loveland. The speed of the storms and traffic conditions made it almost impossible. Once we got moving I realized that there was a growing cell heading NE directly at us through Highlands Ranch. We got off the I-225 north on Mississippi Ave. and headed just to the west of the freeway, looking for a park to set up in.

I had decided on Jewell Wetlands Park, sight-unseen. I should have known better and I started to realize it as we got closer. Seem it’s a WETLANDS park. Tall trees, swampy. No vantage points to speak of. So we went slightly further west and found Utah park, where set up

We took pictures and filmed for about 10-12 minutes. I commented around 10 minutes in that we should probably pack up in 5 or we were going to get wet. Two minutes after that it started to hail on us. The hail was pea sized, but was very soft; it kept exploding when it hit anything. We jumped in the car to head NE out of the way; and here is where I truly learned to appreciate radar scan times.

The storm had actually overtaken us more than I realized and a good portion of it was already northeast of us. I missed the speed of the movement and the growing size. I was looking at old radar data when I decided we needed to move. Good thing the hail was pretty squishy! Doh.

At Mississippi Ave. again we had a choice, chase this cell (driving through it or try to get east of it), or look for something else. High traffic and the thought of driving through newly wet roads with tons of people on them decided it for us. We got back on i-225 south and headed slowly towards the I-25, now in rush hour traffic. The tentative plan was that a new cell was heading NNE up from around Roxborough and we might be able to check it out closer to Castle Rock. Then my radar updated and it became apparent that it was moving more NNW.  By this time we had hit the I-25 and I realized that it was fairly close to 7PM. We probably only had a half hour or so of light left. Time to end this and get dinner.

However I forgot we are in daylight savings time again. Arizona rookie move! We ended up at Park Meadows and ate at the food court for dinner and left at about 7:30. We still had some light out. We might have been able to do more. Doh again!

Overall, this trip did exactly what it needed to. It showed that city chases aren’t going to work very well, let us test camera settings, showed what we need to do to streamline preparation, and helped me learn to trust my eyes more than the radar. In short, this trip let me screw up with minimal consequences.

Lessons learned

  • Chasing in rush hour is totally feasible…as long as you want to head INTO the city. 😛 The line of cars heading south out of the Denver metro area soured us quickly on going too far north.
  • Chasing in cities (or at least Denver) sucks. No vantage points, heavy traffic. I knew this, but now I KNOW this. It’s just not feasible to stop anywhere we need to to take pictures.
  • I need to learn how to use the Canon point and shoot, or just try it for video. I didn’t use it because I didn’t have time to figure it out. This is just dumb; I know better.
  • I REALLY need to get better directional bearings so I can track storm position. When we hit the park I was fine, when we set up and the storm moved I couldn’t get my head around which direction was where because the storm had shifted too. This could be bad in an actual severe storm. I may need to get a compass if we continue to use Heather’s SUV for chasing. If nothing else, remember which way the roads near us run and judge the direction from that.
  • The iPhone compass app is….interesting. Not in a good way. iPads don’t even have one!
  • I need to decide which gadget does what. I was using my phone for radar, navigation, AND video, which ate the battery up in a hurry. I didn’t think to grab the tablet to navigate and check radar until we were at the park already.
  • I need to communicate better with Heather when she’s the driver. I find myself frustrated because she’s apparently not psychic and cannot instantly figure out where I want to go. I need to be more clear I guess.
  • Remember to clear off the iPhone’s storage before a chase. I had no storage problems but I only filmed about 10-12 minutes. This ended up being 1.7GB of storage.
  • I need to learn FiLMIC Pro better. I’d only really played with the app a couple times so some of the functionality was lost on me. Total newbie mistake.
  • Figure out how I want to use the Samsung phone/camera. Maybe as a dash cam? It just sat in my bag for this trip.
  • Test new toys long before the chase!

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