This chase day started out with a little bit of frustration.. I had been keeping a very close eye on the HRRR and NAM in the days leading up to the 21st, but was not seeing anything all that spectacular the morning of.. The SPC Convective outlook had pulled the slight risk well south, and the models didn’t show much of anything developing. That being said, I’ve learned not to fully trust the models and not to second guess my gut feeling. There was a nice lake breeze coming in off of Lake Erie and a triple-point setting up SW of Georgian Bay. With that, I decided to get ready to head out. The worst that would happen is I would bust, and with it only being May that wouldn’t be that big of a deal to me. I started to prep the truck and finally hit the road at about 12:30pm … a short time after, a severe thunderstorm watch was issued for Southwestern Ontario and any uncertainty that was still floating around inside my head faded away into obscurity. I headed to Tillsonburg to pick up Spencer Sills after which we headed to London to meet up with fellow chaser Harry Schut and Victoria Mattan from CTV News, who would be following us during our chase.
Spencer and I arrived at the McDonalds near Wellington Road and the 401 at about 3:30 to find Harry waiting for us. We sat around looking at the models and radar data while waiting for CTV to arrive and saw that there was a nice cell going up near Petrolia which looked very promising. CTV arrived around 4PM, did their interviews and shot “B-Roll” footage for use on the air later that night. We then made a bee-line towards West Lorne, Ontario to catch our first cell of the day.
It’s difficult to tell from a still photo, but the above is a photo of a very low and ragged rotating wall cloud. It flirted with the field in front of us for a little while, but the cell became outflow dominant killing any chances of it producing. We followed it down to the shores of Lake Erie where we ran into David and Brian Chapman, followed shortly thereafter by Patrick Kerrin. While over Lake Erie, the cell produced an elevated funnel which quickly dissipated as it moved further off shore and headed towards Ohio.
After taking a number of photos, we headed out to catch the second cell of the day just northwest of Glencoe, Ontario. This cell presented us with yet another beautiful wall cloud and even teased us with a little nib a few times as it tried to produce. While watching the wall cloud, we ran into fellow chaser Travis Farncombe. It’s always nice to put a face to a name, since most of us have only spoken to oneanother through Twitter or Facebook.
We were now beginning to hear the roar of hail in the distance and quickly realized that we were about to get cored. You can see the hail shaft in the above photo on the right hand side just over the road. Below is a video of the hail hitting us… I honestly thought I was going to lose my windshield. Hail was consistently loonie to toonie size (2.5 – 3cm) with many golf balls (about 4.3cm) thrown in towards the end. My chase truck now has hail dents all over.. but I think of them as a badge of honour, so I’m not complaining.
After the hail passed, thick hail fog developed and the sun came out making for some great photos.
Here is the report on the chase that Victoria Mattan of CTV London put together, featuring Spencer Sills
Video courtesy of CTV London – Copyright 2014 by Bell Media.
We then headed south towards another cell that was building behind the one that had just passed. While driving to catch it, we ran into an amazing abandoned house.. David and Brian Chapman were behind us and I think we almost caused an accident as we slammed on the brakes to turn around and take a closer look. The building cell in behind the abandoned house along with the sunset made for a photographers’ dream. I personally took nearly a hundred pictures of it as the sun set behind. One of my favourites is below.
Some things are best kept secret, and the location of this little gem is one of them. Sorry everyone, but I have seen far too often that once the location of an abandoned property gets out, especially online, the vandals will eventually catch wind of it which will only ruin it for us all.
Below is a shot of the backside of the cell we were going to catch lit up by the sunset.
It was now well after 8:30PM and our chase day was still not over. We headed down to Rondeau Provincial Park to meet up with David and Brian Chapman once again to get some lightning shots as the cell moved out over Lake Erie. Unfortunately, most of the lightning was within the cloud itself and there were hardly any CG’s. It did make for a few nice photos though, like the one below. If this had been an hour later, we wouldn’t have been dealing with twilight which would have made for an amazing shot with the stars above and the storm cell in the distance.
After chatting with David and Brian about the days events, we all headed back towards London. Along the way, Spencer noticed a monster cell building north of Listowel, Ontario and we decided we were going to try and catch it. It was now about 11:30PM and Harry had to call it a night, so we dropped him off at the McDonalds where we met up earlier so he could get his truck and head home. Spencer and I headed up to London International Airport (CYXU) to wait for the cell to roll in. This thing was like a strobe light in the distance and we captured some great lightning shots.
Shortly after our taking our lightning photos, we started to see the shelf coming into view. One word sums it up; “WOW”.
After this rolled through we called it a night. It was now nearly 1AM and I still had a 2 hour drive back to Richmond Hill. I took Spencer back to his place and started the long drive home. I finally got to bed that night at around 4:30AM, only to have to get back up by 8AM for work. It was worth it though, this is easily one of the best early season chase days I have ever had. Nearly two weeks later (as of writing this chase log), the excitement is still there.
I’m hoping the rest of the season plays out to be just as successful as this day was.
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