Sunday, July 19, 2009


From time to time, I have mentioned that I enjoy stormchasing with one of the reasons, my interest in photographing thunderstorms. Chasing storms often involves driving many kilometers around Southern Alberta in order to observe active thunderstorms. It is not uncommon for me to end up empty handed. I spend a fair amount of time forecasting, both before going on the road as well as during the chase, using a variety of sources including Environment Canada for weather data. As a weather observer, I have spent time and effort in learning meteorology and the intricacies of severe storm prediction from various books on weather and through my own experiences. Today was to be a day of relaxation, however I was returning from running a errand, when I noticed Cumulonimbus clouds building Northwest of Calgary, and after a quick stop at home to grab my camera gear, I was on my way north. I checked my VHF radio, making sure that the weather alert feature was activated as I drove north, while keeping a eye on the Cumulonimbus clouds that were becoming tall, dense, and shaping up nicely for a thunderstorm. I turned west at Balzac and with a eye on the Cumulonimbus clouds, I continued driving in a northwesterly direction. Afternoon thunderstorms in Alberta normally begin due to the temperatures generated on hot days. However, they can also form along a cold front when warm buoyant air is forced upward by the heavier cold air mass that cuts under the warmer air. I realized that's what was happening as this storm formed, as I could see what was a squall line building along a cold front that I soon would run into as I neared Madden. I had my HF radio on and made contact with Egon VE6EGN on 3700 mhz at his home near Drayton Valley west of Edmonton. I reported my findings to Egon, who brought up the latest radar map on his computer showing the area surrounding Madden and Bottrel. He confirmed what I was seeing on the ground as rain began to pelt down on the windshield of my truck. As the rain intensified, and then switched to hail, I slowed to a crawl and finally pulled over because of the very poor visibility. I got a chuckle when about this time my radio came to life, as Enviroment Canada issued a weather alert for this thunderstorm that I was now in the center of. Within a few minutes the hail subsided and I was able to get back on the 766. I now headed south, as the storm was travelling in a southeasterly direction at approximately 30 kph. I was able to keep up to it without any difficulty, as I followed along and from time to time, driving in to the storm. I continued to play hide and seek with this thunderstorm that continued to produce heavy rain as it hopscotched its way across Canola fields that lie in its path. The temperature had dropped continuously from a high of 21 degrees Celsius when I had first approached the storm, to a low of 12 degrees Celsius when I had driven in to the storm. The temperature continued to hold at this temperature as the storm crossed the QE2 in a southeasterly direction.I was now on the 567 headed east and just in the trailing edge of the storm. I lost some time as I crossed the QE2 at Balzac due to slow moving traffic, caused by the storm that continued to dump heavy rain, as it worked out its anger on anything that got in its path. I continued to follow along, staying back just far enough to allow me to continue to shoot photos, and at other times pulling over and observing the storm from freshly soaked roadways that bordered fields that had just been drenched by this thunderstorm. This thunderstorm proved to be on the mild side as thunderstorms go, and did not develop into anything substantial with a rotating cloud base that could possibly produce a tornado. Upon reaching highway 9, I turned south and as the storm continued on its southeasterly heading, it slowly pulled away from me as I continued south to highway 1. Before long Environment Canada issued a weather alert on 162.400 mhz for Wheatland County, including Vulcan and surrounding area. I had pulled over and got out of my truck as the storm moved away. The surrounding Canola fields looked stunning in the late afternoon light as the sun was now out and drying things out. I just stood there, taking it all in and in awe of this summer thunderstorm that had kept me entertained for the last several hours. With that I headed home, plotting strategy for my next encounter with a summer thunderstorm. Gotta love it.

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