Alberta Foothills Weather

August 4-6 – Electric long weekend

Quite a busy August long weekend for weather watchers in Alberta.
Mother Nature got busy on day 1, Saturday, sweeping a line of nasty storms down from the northwest, doing quite a bit of wind damage on it’s way to Edmonton. The Heritage Festival at Hawrelak Park was evacuated an hour before closing, then the Big Valley Jamboree music festival near Camrose was temporarily halted while storms roared by there. Some pretty heavy wind damage in Whitecourt from 100kmh+ estimated winds and further down the line in Onoway where the school took some serious damage to it’s roof.
Just as the sun set, a line of storms began to fire to the north of here and for the next two hours we were treated to a fantastic lightning show streaming across from west to east just a few miles to the north. I’ve never seen so many transformer hits while out watching a show, big fat cloud to ground bolts lighting up at least four of them in green-blue flashes and one much bigger multi flash hit, maybe a substation. The hail planes were all over it the entire time, darting in and out of the cloud right where the lighting bolts were hurling out.

Sunday we were out west of Rocky Mountain House by mid-afternoon sitting in the smoky hills watching a cell try to make a run down highway 11. It tried and tried but never amounted to much more than a 50,000 foot rainbag. It was cheating anyway, like wearing high heels, it was already 8-9000 feet off the ground before it even started.
Right on the edge of good flow aloft but with no flow at the low levels it just floated along being an air conditioner, trying occasionally to develop a little lowering here and there until it caught something very close to the wall that is highway 22. It looked like it was developing a lovely exposed mesocyclone, but it wasn’t spinning, it was pushing along to the east. I don’t know exactly what happened, maybe a little mid level jet hit it from behind, maybe it just shed the rest of it’s husk and left the updraft, but it quickly lost it’s nice shapes and turned into a yawner.

Monday we got our big nasty night show for the year, I hope.
Watching the foothills churning all afternoon, looking like they were about to have a big release at any time, it happened about 7pm, when what looked like a gust front/ outflow boundary came flying out towards Drayton Valley.
It spread out to the east and south, then hit something near Rimbey and really blew out to the south, right over the yard. I was out watching it come in a few miles to the north and heard the wind coming across the wheat field, it beat me home and for the three hours we were in the middle of a big windy lightshow, bolts dropping all around, one of them taking out the power early on. 30mm of rain in the first 20 minutes and 50mm before it was over, enough to get the sump flowing, with no power for the pump. Fun!

Tomorrow is a dangerous looking day.
Plenty of flow aloft from the southwest, plenty of instability, and stiff low level flow from the south mean that whatever comes off the hills tomorrow will likely have some degree of spin to it. It’s going to be a day to watch your butt if you plan to be out in it having a look.

Highly charged thunderstorm over Sylvan Lake, Alberta - August 4, 2012
Lightning bolts rain down on the east side of Sylvan Lake, Alberta - August 4, 2012Heavy lightning near Penhold , Alberta - August 4, 2012Severe thunderstorm and lightning near Pine Lake, Alberta - August 4, 2012
Alberta foothills thunderstorm trying to organize near Nordegg, Alberta - August 5, 2012Supercellular looking thunderstorm south of Rocky Mountain house, Alberta - August 5, 2012Supercellular looking thunderstorm south of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta - August 5, 2012
Thunderstorm near Sylvan Lake, Alberta - August 6, 2012

August 4 Carvel RADAR loop
August 5 Carvel RADAR loop
August 6 Carvel+Strathmore RADAR loop

This is a timelapse of the August 5 storm. The first segments are from south of Rocky Mountain House and span about a half hour, the back view is 1.5 hours from the yard looking southeast after it had passed.

Sleepy July ends with a bang

Trying to make a post in July about interesting July weather was an impossible task.
Plenty of miles driven, quite a few photos taken, but really nothing very interesting around here for three full weeks.
Warm smoky air aloft, pushed up from burning Colorado, really put a damper on everything, snuffing out any storms before they could get off the foothills. Some good hailstorms to the north and south, and some beautiful big cells right in the mountains, but in hail alley where July supercells are usually abundant, there were few.
Big heat and humidity is usually a cue for something ugly to come out of the hills but the warm chapeau above would not break, promising looking setups melting away into the soup.
The always present smoke took most of the fun out of canola season this year, hazing out any nice puffs that did manage to sprout.
Of the last 4 days of July, we had tornado warnings for three of them.
The foothills roared to life on Saturday the 28th, cells streaming out early in the day. I got a late start and headed west to see what was coming, just a bit too far north as it turned out. As I was sitting at Dickson Dam watching the horizon I got a call from Brandon that he was watching a tornado on the ground west of Carstairs. A beautiful cell had wrapped up and dropped a very picturesque tube right on highway 22 south of Cremona, yanking a truck and holiday trailer off the road and into a hay field before tearing up a patch of trees and lifting the roof off a ranch house. Brandon’s report and photos from the day can be seen on his blog here.

After a day off on the 29th, the hills came alive again on the 30th. I was out trolling around Bearberry watching and waiting for something to eject, southeast wind roaring into the smoky hills. When it did come out it was in a hurry. Almost as soon as it began to form any structure, it formed a big rotating mesocyclone and within minutes had split into 3 or four large rotating masses. Within minutes of that a sudden low level push from the northwest started to stretch it out towards Sundre and almost immediately a shelf formed, almost to Caroline. To me, shelf means wind, which means retreat, which I did. Flying home to beat the hail, I could not keep ahead of the wind and got stopped 5 feet from the driveway by a big tree down across the road.

July 31st I could not chase and had to watch from afar as storm after storm raked Sundre and Olds with hail. Nasty looking things on radar with spinny bits all over the place I was sure there would be a report of a touchdown somewhere east of Olds but I never heard of one.

The hail planes have really been logging the hours this year, attacking anything that looks like a cloud, and whether or not you believe they make any sort of difference, the crops look amazing. I have only come across two spots of bad hail damage this year, one east of Lacombe and the other south of Bergen road from the wind event. It would be hard to tell the Bergen event happened in the canola field I stopped to look on the 6th. We stopped by the same field on the way down to check out the tornado damage from the 28th and what was canola salad three weeks ago had rejuvinated into a healthy looking patch again, in full bloom.
I haven’t been around Olds since the nasty stuff on the 31st so the crops may be a bit more beat up now.
This is the bad time for hail, cropwise. Heads on cereal crops are huge this year and now they are starting to fill out and gain weight, stems are getting stiffer, starting to dry out a bit and getting fragile.

August long weekend gives a good chance of a surprise somewhere around here. I hope it’s a pretty surprise instead of an ugly one, I’d prefer nothing at all to a repeat of August 3, 2009

July 28 xsm RADAR loop
July 30 xsm RADAR loop
July 31 xsm RADAR loop

Thunderstorm trying to spin up in the Alberta foothills west of Caroline, July 12, 2012Thunderstorm trying to spin up west of Bentley, Alberta, July 18, 2012Stranded updraft in a high shear environment northwest of Rimbey, Alberta, July 23, 2012High shear, fast moving storm north of Eckville, Alberta, July 23, 2012
Darkling shadows roll over the yard, July 24, 2012Weak thunderstorm near Penhold, Alberta -  July 25, 2012Funnel cloud peeks out the bottom of a weak storm north of Stauffer, Alberta - July 28, 2012Tornado damage south of Cremona, Alberta - July 29, 2012
Thunderstorm starting to rotate near Bearberry, Alberta - July 30, 2012Thunderstorm threatening to drop a tornado northwest of Sundre, Alberta, July 30, 2012Thunderstorm starting to stretch out near James River Bridge, July 30, 2012Thunderstorm over Sundre, Alberta - July 31, 2012
Thunderstorm rolling out of the Alberta foothills northwest of Sundre, Alberta - July 12, 2012

A pair of close lightning strikes and ripping thunder from July 20th and July 25th, don’t forget to crank the volume!

July 5, 6 – Foothills softies and a trip down Bergen road

The farmer’s tan has gotten under way the past couple days, trolling around mostly in the sun watching what could roll out of the hills. It hasn’t been much.
Thursday afternoon I met up with Brandon west of here and we got out the lawnchairs at a nice viewpoint north of Stauffer to observe whatever the footies might stew up for us. Warm air was building in aloft from the south already but a little disturbance was forecast to jump over the mountains from BC and perhaps stir something up.
Not a lot to see, but something to look at everywhere, storms were really struggling to get going all along the hills, unable to get to even 25,000 feet. We watched a sad looking thing to the south pour its insides out trying to get out of the hills for a few hours, then it finally got free and headed east. It got a tornado warning but looked pathetic from this side so I went home. It did start to look better on RADAR from about Olds, but storms often look better on RADAR than they do from the ground. Brandon went south for a look and said it had some spinny stuff in it, can’t wait to see some photos of it from that side.

I wasn’t expecting to see anything worth looking at yesterday with the warm pushing in from the south, but if it’s there what can ya do? Before noon the sprouts were going up to the west, looking sad to start but after a few tries a nice looking cell finally came out for a run at Sundre and Olds. I got in front of it as it was starting to turn south at Didsbury, ending up a few miles west of Carstairs in a pea patch watching little eddies floating around in the base and some nice lightning bolts. It wasn’t interested in doing much, having a hard time getting any altitude, pulsing a few times and dying off shortly after crossing the QE2.
That was fine with me, the sun was out and it was as short trip up to Bergen road.

I spent about an hour looking around the area of the wind event on July 3, and I think it was a wind event, not that a tornado isn’t a wind event, but from what I saw it was more likely a straight line wind, a heckuva big gust.
What I saw reminded me of the damage around Markerville after the nasty gust-front driven hailstorm we got here in 2006 but with a lot less hail damage. Everything I saw was blown to the northeast, along the track of the storm. Trees, debris, what was left of canola fields, everything going one way. I did not go off the range roads and tried not to gape into folks’ damaged yards too much so there certainly could be a lot I didn’t see.
There were a few “huh?”s along the way, the older house on the south side with big old trees does look like a tornado went by, but just across the road, not a shingle bent or even a tree down. Big hay shed blown apart, but at the two farms a few hundred yards down the road on the same track, nothing. Across the road is a hay tarp still attached to the bales. The shed likely had its big door open to the south and got a big mouthful of wind.
I haven’t heard the official word on what it will be called yet.

Now the heat is on, and I’m getting antsy.
Evapotranspiration is at maximum, crops are heading out and the canola is just about to explode into a yellow sea across the prairies. Temperatures in the 30C range fill the 5 day forecast and it is supposed to be too warm aloft, too quiet wind-wise for any storms to form. If the models are right.
A large amount of convective energy is going to be trapped overhead, waiting for a ripple in the jet, or a wiggle in the dryline, or a big tree to fall over out west of Sundre and it’s on like donkey kong.
The next batch are unlikely to be softies.

Map and photos of wind damage area along Bergen Road west of Olds, AB - July 6, 2012Thunderstorm west of Sylvan Lake, AB - July 5, 2012Thunderstorm northwest of Carstairs, AB - July 6, 2012
Thunderstorm northwest of Carstairs, AB - July 6, 2012Thunderstorm east of Carstairs, AB - July 6, 2012Thunderstorm approaching of Carstairs, AB - July 6, 2012

July 5, 2012 Strathmore RADAR loop
July 6, 2012 Strathmore RADAR loop

A few minutes of timelapse from west of Carstairs as the storm was taking a dip to the south, and about the last half hour of it’s convectivity before it started to cave in on itself.

July 1, July 3 – Hail and wind

The hail planes of Alberta are logging plenty of hours this year, a very busy start to July.
Storms boiled off the foothills early on Canada Day, not looking too healthy to begin with. Fighting the cap, they couldn’t get up far enough to sustain until they moved into some warmer landscape. We were out having a look to the west at what was going on but got chased home by an ugly core that went on to lay a thick stripe of pea hail from Gleniffer Lake to Bowden and on to Trochu. I went for a spin behind it to see what it had dropped but didn’t find much hail other than the Bowden strip. There was much more water. Rivers of it running through fields that should be dry enough to walk around on at least. The ground around here is completely saturated, it can take no more.

After a cap loading day around here on the 2nd, things got cooking again early on the 3rd, a wave of nasty rolling out of the hills heading northeast shortly after noon riding a cold front aloft. I went out west to watch the line come in, southeast wind pouring into it and low level clouds flying to the northwest. It was only 16C at the time, but with all the juice stored from the day before, it was enough for an eruption. A second wave caught the first one just south of here and it really lit off, tops approaching 40,000 feet, lots of spinny stuff going on.
About the time Brandon and I were texting back and forth about the hangy down bits we could see to the south, a wind event took place on Bergen road southwest of Olds. Some are calling it a tornado, some want more proof, but whatever the case, it took the roof off somebody’s house and chewed up a lot of property, which is bad. I don’t see why it could not have been a tornado, I was expecting to see one form any time while I was watching. There was certainly enough shear there for a little one like that.
The storm continued on to Red Deer where it gave the city it’s first flooding of the 2012 season that I know about.
20-30mm of rain and pea hail in 20 minutes jammed up the storm sewers, instant lakes popped up all over the place.

No more water can be consumed by the landscape without a good week of sun and heat.
This is exactly what the forecast promises, steadily warming for as far as the forecast dare go.
A big ridge with toasty temperatures above should keep the skies quiet after tomorrow, it’s going to be hard to get an anomaly if the models are right, but one can always hope. I am hoping something pretty will rise up for us tomorrow afternoon west of here before the warm air aloft builds back in from the south.

July 3, 2012, 2pm – Strathmore RADAR zoomed and overlaid on a map
July 1, 2012 Strathmore RADAR loop
July 3, 2012 Strathmore RADAR loop
July 3, 2012 Visible loop
July 1-3, 2012 IR loop
Red Deer flooding video

Canada Day thunderstorm west of Red Deer, AB - July 1, 2012Weathermod radome at Olds - Didsbury Airport - July 1, 2012Severe thunderstorm near Innisfail, AB - July 1, 2012
Double Rainbow north of Olds, AB - July 1, 2012Double rainbow southwest of Red Deer, AB - July 1, 2012Rainbow, grain elevator, train and cows southwest of Olds , AB - July 1, 2012

This is a timelapse of the July 3 storm looking south toward Olds, Innisfail is to the left of the frame. Start is 2:15pm, end is around 2:50pm.

June 29 – Waiting patiently for the eruption

All the goodies of June have passed us by so far, but there are a few hours left. Nothing but sog and mosquitoes since the last post, the jet stream is toying with us.
Being on the cool rainy side has left the landscape around here as wet as it can get, ditches are like jungle but a lot of fields are very water stressed. Huge patches of yellow where the new crop was standing in water are going to put a dent in the totals come harvest time, there are still a lot of big puddles where there shouldn’t be any at this time of the year. It’s wet.
Crops that had a good start before the deluge came are now exploding with growth and peak evapotranspiration is just around the corner, all we need is a bit of heat and BOOM.
The hefty jet that left us wet really lit the goods up on the warm side, the southeast inflow was strong enough to blow a few tornado alley chasers across the border looking for tubes. Most of them found what they were looking for eventually, in Saskatchewan. The main reason for this post was to park a few loops of the event for the record. I’m not sad this missed us, huge hail in the Taber area, big hail in a lot of other places, 100kmh winds.

The long range models, as in beyond two days, I do not trust in July. Well, anytime really.
At this time of the year the focus is on the 500mb jet. The heart of this upper level river of wind is the place where bad things happen. Without sufficient flow aloft to ventilate, storms choke on their own spew. When the jet is flying out of the southwest and the surface winds are flying from the southeast, the setup is there for big, ugly, rotating storms.
With so much wet in play to the east/southeast, feeding up to the foothills and pooling there, storms could get crazy this year. If the jet plays. Even a little bit.

It may even try to play today.
Whenever it decides it’s ready, I’ll be waiting.
The surprise days are so much more fun.

Soggy fields and softie storms north of Olds, AB - June 29, 2012
IR loop June 25-27, 2012Canadian prairie RADAR loop June 25-27, 2012Stratospheric storm tops south of the border, 12:20am June 26, 201224 hour precip for June 25, 26, 27, 20122012 June precipitation

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