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Co. Tyrone Storm Gust Front & Whales Mouth - August 5th 2015

I saw August 5th as a potential chase day 48 hours in advance however I couldn't make up my mind if it was worth chasing or not at this point. An unstable SWflow across the country with the midlands of Ireland and N. Ireland smack bang in the middle between a low pressure centre off the NW coast and a cold front moving in from the E later in the day. My main concern was the small CAPE values of 400 below the border and 200-100 just above the border across SW. N. Ireland, the actual land coverage of CAPE was narrow and I wondered if anything could develop in time within that small zone, also there looked to be a great deal of cloud cover all day significantly suppressing solar heating and the thought of driving far from home in such a messy wet set-up was far from appealing, however every cloud has a silver lining and what sold the day for me was the presence of good speed shear so there was a chance of organisation and perhaps even a tornado. I couldn't justify driving far S into the Irish midlands for such a set up on this occasion so I decided to chase into S/SW N. Ireland near the border as this would take me into an area of unstable air which coincided with prime heating, furthermore models indicated intense precip rates here too so I suspected I would be in for at least a chance of something happening.

My target area became the Fermanagh-Enniskillen-Omagh sector, I expected convection to fire along and ahead of the front and move N and E over the border into range, the plan sounded good to me so I decided I would make Enniskillen my base. This was a very low risk set-up, the chances of thunder/lightning was extremely small, in fact, the chances were so low I wasn't expecting any so my main goal was to capture good video footage of torrential rain and flooding scenes and with luck I would be able to sell the footage later and make some money, after all, this is how I make a living. My Mother wanted to come along with me for the day which was fine by me as it would be nice to have some company on these longer chases and besides she is retired so this would be a good way of getting out for the day and after all who knew what we might see, my Mother knew from previous storm chases with me in the past that it can often turn into an exciting day with the added benefit of exploring new parts of the country she has never seen before, I felt the same way about it to, it's an adventure, so with that in mind we hit the road S from Maghera in a relaxed and calm state of mind with very low expectations.

The journey S was under rain and grey skies, we arrived in Enniskillen early and had hours to kill before things kicked off later in the afternoon or early evening so for the moment all we were thinking about was passing the time and filling our empty stomachs. I wanted to check out Enniskillen castle however the normal road was closed off due to maintenance work so we got diverted into the S side of town not knowing where to go next, I spotted the brown tourist sign for Castle Coole and took that road, this was one of the castles on my list to visit so now I had the chance to get a visual on it while waiting on weather to happen. Once we paid into the grounds we relaxed in the castle cafe - which was the castle stables at one time - and had a sandwich, cup of tea and slice of chocolate cake which topped up my energy levels nicely. Luckily the cafe had wifi so I got online with the lap top to check out the latest situation. Storms had broke out across the E midlands far below the border which didn't surprise me but so far nothing in the N, however radar showed a cluster of moderate showers moving swiftly N and E, they where to the SW of Enniskillen and gaining ground fast, outside the sky was grey and flat and had that warm sector look to it however the rain had stopped and the air felt surprisingly warm and close, I suspected that once those showers arrived here they might form into something, or else it would be a damp squib. Nick Finnis had issued a convective outlook for Ireland and N. Ireland for multicells and mentioned the backing winds for tornado potential so that was music to my ears. We walked around the grounds and spent a good hour in the old stables and hiked around the castle itself which looked more like an ancient mansion surrounded by green fields, trees and a lake below. Mum wanted to walk to the lake however I was worried about heavy rain arriving soon and didn't want to be caught out in it however I was talked into it, so we went in search of the lake which took us much further away from the castle than we had anticipated, then as I had expected, rain hit and intensified in a major way and within 30 sec's we were drenched, my jeans were soaked wet straight through to my skin and we had to walk the whole way back to the van, I hadn't any spare trousers with me (lesson learned) so I would end up spending the rest of the day driving in wet jeans.

On an instinct I decided to get out of Enniskillen town and into the N to get an eye on the sky. The traffic delays were very bad and it seemed to take forever to get through the numerous traffic lights and this frustration was not helped much by several ignorant drivers behind beeping their horns because I obviously wasn't moving fast enough to please them at roundabouts and junctions, these were extremely rude people with no manners, when I'm at a very busy roundabout or junction with a lot of traffic moving I will make my move when I'm good and ready and when it's safe to do so and not because of an idiot behind me who has no patience. After what seemed like forever we got out of town and took the option for Castle Archdale then the sky got interesting, a line of very dark clouds could be seen to the W covering the sky in a linear fashion behind the rain, they looked threatening at times with bulging sections along the base so we pulled into the car park at the Country Manor House and watched while the rain lashed the windscreen. The black clouds were soon lost from view as heavy rain turned everything into a wet grey colour, I knew this was going to be one of those days of bad visibility and poor light for structure, however I wasn't expecting any this day so even briefly seeing this was more than I had expected. My gut instinct informed me to move N again and try and keep up with the now invisible cloud base so we continued on towards Lack where the roads were flooded at the sides with torrential rain, we parked up a road on a hill looking toward the main road and took some video of the water running down the street and the traffic driving through the flooded water, things looked more intense to the N so we continued on in that direction once again.

Once on the country roads between Kesh and Omagh we saw a line of clear air and sunlight miles away ahead of us then when we cleared the precip a very dramatic cloudscape emerged into view, it was moving N and E and keeping up with us so I accelerated and got a few miles gap between us and the clouds then we pulled over in a narrow opening in the hedge at the road side for a few shots. This was looking SW at the advancing leading edge of what was now a giant convective line, this was the gust front of this huge linear storm which was covering the entire skyline behind us, it was very black and nasty looking with heavy precip behind us catching up, this is 10mm wide angle. I ran across the road to to the grass verge for a few more images, the rain was starting to fall and I knew we had to move again to stay ahead of it, the Sheep were agitated in the fields as if they knew bad weather was on the way, I observed inflow and rotation near the precip/gust front intersection then ran back to the car. Mum was pointing straight out the window ahead of us at the leading edge of the gust front as there were were fingers of rotation going on there too, so we hit the road again N trying to keep ahead of it.

The idea is to stay away from the precip/rain because once you are under that you will have no visibility of cloud structures so by keeping in front of the system and by continuously doing so you will have a good few of the constantly changing cloud structure, however it all depends on how fast the system is moving and your road network, not to mention your choices. 10 min's later I could see the menacing gust front in both wing mirrors behind me and a quick glance out the window revealed a stunning gust front, this was mean looking, black, low to the ground and even had several areas were a green tinge could be made out, at this point it was extremely photogenic and I really want to get images however our view was constantly blocked by trees, hedges, hills and power lines, sometimes the roads in this country are a nightmare for chasing, getting a good flat view across the landscape of a storm is not as easy at it seems, especially when you are being chased by that very storm, in these situations every minute counts. I saw a small road which cut through the countryside to my R which lead onto a hill, I had never been on it before so I took it in the hope of getting a good view, I drove up for 10 min's and came to a dead end at a farm house and surrounded by trees, I had been snookered, so I back-tracked onto the main Kesh road again after wasting valuable time then raced N as fast as I could.

Once again we got ahead of it and into better countryside, now was the time to find my spot and get images, we where just a couple of miles to the S of Omagh and still on the road to Kesh near the junction, I didn't want to get tangled up in traffic on the busy main road so I stopped at a small lay by near the junction. It wasn't perfect but it was OK and would have to do so I set up the Go Pro facing S then climbed over a gate and entered a big field which was much better than I had hoped for. I ran through long wet grass and got soaked once again, but this time I didn't care, and made it to the top of the hill in the middle of this beautiful green field, and there was the gust front clearing the tree line taking up the entire sky and heading straight for me.

The storm announced its a arrival with a very loud rumble of thunder, the kind of thunder that has a crack sound do it and which gave the impression of great anger, this storm had just become electrified when it arrived, talk about perfect timing. The lightning was doing its thing unseen behind the vast silver precip core behind the trees, the thunder was unnerving in a strange way, maybe it was the fact that I was standing in an open field at its mercy which got me on edge, I panned across the sky shooting 10mm stills while while trying to observe everything that was going on, I could see very solid cloud structures behind the rain and several small areas of local rotation too.

Within min's the storm was on me and despite the poor light it looked menacing and very dramatic considering the grey flat light I had to work with, photography was extremely difficult due to the dark countryside and the short time I had to work out settings so I did what I could. This was one of my favourite images showing the underside of the gust front with whale's mouth structure, these kind of features are always seen on big outflow systems, especially convective lines/squall lines or on big multicell thunderstorms which become outflow dominant. Cold air from the thunderstorm's precip core (outflow) spreads outward across the landscape lifting warm moist area ahead of it forming this large curved cloud formation which does look like the inside of a vast mouth where the term gets its name from. Thunder cracked and rumbled close by to my right and although I didn't see the lightning I could certainly 'feel' the charge in the air. I was absolutely delighted at this point, I had choose this area as my target and that's exactly where a storm was happening so my personal forecast was good which felt quite awesome, unknown to me at this time this storm was now spectacular on radar, this linear complex stretched S-N in a E moving line from the Republic midlands into W N. Ireland and this portion of it had red and white radar echoes at the top of the scale indicating intense rainfall levels, this was a strong storm and it was producing a nice cluster of c-g lightning, areas of Enniskillen where we had been earlier were getting flooded, however now we where on the leading edge and getting great cloud structure, this was much more than I had expected this day so I was more than happy.

I was completely surrounded 360 degrees by whale's mouth, it was all around me and overhead too, the dramatic sculptured clouds were breathtaking, I took a couple of quick video clips spinning around to show its full extent, it was like looking at a huge silver-grey wall of cloud curving around me, this was looking SW, you can see traffic on the main Enniskillen-Omagh road.

Turning around 180 degrees behind me facing N towards Omagh and you can see the leading edge of the massive gust front hugging close to the ground, more thunder and developing rain forced me to leave the field so I ran back down and over the gate and was back beside the van again.

I turned the Go Pro around and began taking video facing S towards the advancing wall of precip, there was lightning going on in there somewhere which I hadn't seen yet so I hoped the Go Pro would catch it. Much to my delight it did, this in-cloud (i-c) bolt lit up the precip from within as it whipped across a large area of sky (this is extreme wide angle) and above my van, this was a nice personal catch. We drove N again through Omagh then onto the Cookstown-Omagh road where we played a game of catch and mouse (the storm was the cat) trying to stay ahead of it once more, I lost count of the many back roads we took, one of them was so small the van could barely fit on it, not to mention the fact that the tarmac had been ripped up into pieces with large ragged pot holes with the road covered in large stones, it was quite a nightmare and sore on the tires, from this crazy road there was an open gate into a field so I walked in there and watched the dark clouds approach however by 19.30 it was clear the storm was on a downward trend, it was moving N into stable air and cooling temps so was in the process of winding down so we left it in peace and drove home and made it back for 20.30 which made for 8 1/2 hours on location this day.

Full chase video filmed with the Go Pro Hero 4 Silver and my Canon DSLR with 10mm lens. I have to say I really enjoyed this chase, I left with the expectation of just getting heavy rain however I ended up with lightning and an impressive gust front with whale's mouth which was entirely unexpected so it was a very good chase indeed. Thanks very much for reading.


Martin McKenna

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