After stewing in the warm sector of our latest Pacific storm for 36 hours, enduring periods of heavy rain, intense thunderstorms and interludes of steamy sunshine, we left Columbia this morning, bound for our Littleton, Colorado farm. Having checked the Weather Channel before our departure, we noted that the storm system's upper level low was still centered over western Kansas and that its dry line, responsible for the wealth of tornadoes over the previous 24 hours, was about to reach Kansas City.
Fortunately, the severe weather was down in northeast Oklahoma and we left the balmy air of Missouri as we crossed through a modest band of rain showers and entered cooler, drier air in eastern Kansas. Sunny conditions persisted into central Kansas but once we reached the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, its massive turbines spinning in a strong south wind, a band of clouds appeared across the western horizon. We soon realized that the clouds represented the eastern wall of the storm's low pressure swirl; produced by uplift and rotating counterclockwise around the center of low pressure, the direction of cloud movement changed as we continued west along I-70. Moving northward in central Kansas, the clouds were coming from the west in western Kansas and were drifting southward in eastern Colorado. Finally, as we neared the Front Range, upslope showers developed as a northeast wind from the atmospheric swirl pushed humid air toward the Palmer Divide and Front Range foothills. Rising, cooling and condensing, this upslope flow produced snow showers above 7000 feet and sleety rain on the High Plains.
An eleven hour (800 mile) drive had taken us from balmy, 70 degree F air on the west edge of the storm system to chilly showers of rain and sleet on its western rim. En route, we crossed all of the storm's component air masses and directly witnessed the atmospheric swirl of its central low. What better way to appreciate the structure and power of these massive storm systems?