Monday, May 31, 2004
What a month! On my way home tonight I came up with the following numbers:
10,500 miles in 22 days covering 8 states: TX, OK, KS, NE, IA, CO,WY, SD. I went as far north as just south of Pierre, SD, and as far south as ten miles south of Stepheville, Texas. Went as far west as about thirty miles east of Denver, and chased as far east as thirty miles west of Des Moines, Iowa. I counted 21 supercells, and the tornadoes I don't know until I look through video etc. Using my personal estimate blended with the NWS surveys, it's something like 13-19. It doesn't matter--it was the best May of my life. 22 days that felt like two months..
ICT NWS survey of the Concordia storm released this afternoon, and like May 12, seems they believe what I count as two tornadoes is actually seven. The terrain was hilly in places and we couldn't see the ground, apparently a lot more funnels touched down than we realized.
Their estimates are here. We arrived in time for the last seven, which means some of what we saw hanging from cloud base was touching the ground, though we were often unable to see over small ridges and hills. Do we count these? That's a good question.
Sunday, May 30, 2004
The Weathervine crew and I observed two tornadoes
between Concordia and Belleville, Kansas yesterday in
the late afternoon. At one point, three massive block
wall clouds hung from the updraft base, and we had
high hopes for all three, but only one touched down,
followed by a smaller and more narrow funnel.
We started the day in extreme southeast Nebraska,
hoping to take advantage of high helicities from the
forecast east winds per the 12Z RUC and ETA. We
chased the first storm that fired in Thayer County
(again!) and chased it nearly to Beatrice as it
morphed and tried to organize. This storm earned a
tornado warning and we observed a mid level funnel
that was reported as a tornado later. However, this
storm was involved in an HP cluster and the mesos were
hidden and embedded in heavy rain. We knew about the
Concordia supercell since we had good radar coverage,
but wanted to stick with the target we'd worked hard
Finally, however, it was obvious this storm would not
escape the precip shroud and we dropped south,
approaching the Concordia supercell from the east. I
observed both tornadoes from the village of Wayne,
while Weathervine was closer to the storm having
elected to continue west.
Some images from Chris Collura are here:
We're having breakfast now, so more details later.
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Saturday, May 29, 2004
my chase season this year.
Right now Nebraska is filling in with clouds and some precip out
west by McCook. 12Z RUC shows lots of midlevel moisture working in
ahead of the trough. I actually like this because it creates the
baroclinicity I was hoping for up here. An examination of all
profilers and VAD profilers in the region shows weaker deep layer
shear and speed shear up here, better in western Kansas--downstream
of where the hotspot should be. I noted the large cap on AMA
sounding which will overspread Oklahoma later, and is the reason I
think, that RUC shows no precip in southern half of KS or anywhere
in OK by 0Z. I think that's nonsense, by the way, just trying to
see where the model comes up with that. Wind profiles in Oklahoma
are great, no doubt--highly supportive of tornadic supercells. As
the Day 1 mentioned, the midlevel flow perpendicular to the boundary
is perfect for isolated supercells which should be the mode in a
moderately capped environment.
Dewpoints working their way up into north Kansas and southern
Nebraska nicely on the strong 850 mb flow. Moisture is fine all the
way up to SD, and the new RUC picks up on this. You can compare the
9Z and 12Z runs and see the 70F isodrosotherm is much farther north
on the newer run at 0Z. The 12Z also returns the dry punch to its
former position in north central KS and maximizes instability just
east of this feature. It should be noted, however, that so far the
only place the moisture gradient is tightening up is southwest
Nebraska, where McCook shows the first sign of a westerly surge.
That will all shape up later as the surface low defines itself and
the attendant trough.
Clouds are mixing out quickly from west to east in Kansas, though
the early morning showers described in SWODY1 are visible now in NW
KS and SW Nebraska. I like those too. I like their cloud matter to
cool temps, I like their outflow boundaries later on---I'm a big fan
of the early morning precip north of my target.
I plan to take another hour with the data, maybe two. I have super
high speed internet in this motel, faster than home, and I don't
think I'm going too far today.
Tentative target at the moment is an oval from Concordia to
McPherson, dependent entirely on the definition of the sfc trough
and dry punch.
Friday, May 28, 2004
Sunday isn't as certain, though the SPC mentions a possible upgrade to moderate in their Day 3 outlook. We're open to chasing eastern Iowa or western Illinois, and if we do, then my plans for the next few weeks might change. I might return to Indiana for a few days to deposit my chase gear, catch up on bills and other business, then return to Texas to plan my move and visit friends. Probably 50/50 on the Sunday chase, but my gut says we will.
Weathervine flies out of DFW on Tuesday afternoon, so they're up for chasing until there's nothing left.
We chased three severe storms in north central Texas this afternoon and evening and witnessed a microburst that caused injuries and damage in Comanche County
Texas. I nearly became a victim myself as I witnessed my first flying structure in close proximity.
We started in Elk City and thought Thursday was an off day. On our way to breakfast, I grabbed my copy of Tim Vasquez's Stormchasing Handbook and searched for cool places to visit in Central Oklahoma. We settled on a ghostown not too far from Elk City then a trip up Mount Scott for some photos and sightseeing. However, after we ate, we took another look at data and noticed the 12Z ETA was much more encouraging than the 12Z RUC
had been, and our analysis of current conditions showed the energy moving into the southwest Texas region was relatively formidable. We considered that the surface features might react more favorably than the models showed. We elected to play the nose of the midlevel jet streak tracking from southwest Texas into the Abilene area.
A vorticity lobe out ahead of the main energy caused showers and storms to persist for
much of the late morning and early afternoon, but as these were high based and somewhat limited in coverage, I still believed our boundary layer was in fine shape. Also, winds just east of the dryline were backing nicely as a strong punch arrived on 30 knot plus westerly surface flow. Our low level jet was forecast to strengthen by the RUC, addressing our biggest concern---low level wind fields. Ultimately I think the weakness in this region of the vertical shear profile limited the lifespan of storms that organized later.
We stopped for data and sandwiches in Haskell, Texas, where I pulled up a radar and found a tornadic supercell already rolling through Fisher County just southwest of us. This tornado had produced damage east of Sweetwater, according to the warning, so the chase was on. We raced the storm to Lueders and, as we rounded the front side, the cell weakened and choked on the surrounding rain. We pushed south to Abilene and moved east on Interstate 20 where we soon caught up to another supercell forming along the leading edge of the gust front and producing four inch hail in Stephens County. Around Strawn, we observed a very ragged and disorganized lowering with a tail cloud, but all high based and non-threatening. As this storm was flying northeast at forty knots, we elected to drop south for the next organizing supercell taking aim on Stephenville in Comanche County. As we approached the city, the storm developed some rotation and a TVS signature (according to WeatherTap's RadarLab software), and we observed another lowering, this one much closer to the ground, hanging from a solid updraft base.
We continued south on 281 out of Stephenville to maintain our position when the storm collapsed and a strong microburst blasted across the road. These winds began with driving horizontal rain, then tree branches, and finally a large metal shed, ripped in
half, that floated above the treeline and looked to drop right in front of me on the highway. I thought it was a port-o-potty since I only noticed half the structure, but I still thought a serious accident was imminent, albeit a somewhat silly one. But even a
port-o-potty at 70 mph can probably finish you off. I slammed on the brakes though there was no real way to stop in time, and, like magic, the structure dropped into the ditch on the side of the road just as if someone had let it roll from the palm of their
hand?-this after having cleared trees at least twenty five feet tall. Needless to say, I was wide awake after that. The Weathervine guys, who have extensive hurricane experience, estimated we experienced wind gusts over 90 miles per hour.
We learned afterwards that residents of a mobile home suffered injuries from these powerful straight-line winds when their trailer was destroyed. We heard reports of detached roofs and downed powerlines in Stephenville and other parts of Comanche County. We radioed a report of the shed to Comanche County Skywarn, worried that another blast would lift the metal debris from the ditch into the road. After the storm gusted out, we returned north to Denton County and plan to move north from here for anything tomorrow and the big show Saturday.
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Eventually, we drove into Kirkland for gas and learned about the Tornado Watch to the north as we prepared to leave. We abandoned our target and headed for Altus, initially chasing the storm that approached Oklahoma City in the early evening. Steve Miller alerted us to a small storm exploding northwest of Quanah, so we turned to face this new convection.
We flanked the storm and, as we rolled along the eastern edge of the cell, it split. The northern split--which was mostly core--raced northeast as the primary updraft remained in place very near the Red River. The southern split died quickly and we rolled east in pursuit of the new dominant storm. Meanwhile, crisp and deafening lightning fell around us as we drove through the remnants of the south split core.
When we finally gained some ground on the storm in Tillman County, it collapsed and died as quickly as it had begun. We shot stills of a wine red hue painting the backside of the remaining updraft and called it a night.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
We pulled up a radar loop while in Duncan, Oklahoma and saw a supercell fire north of Abilene. We estimated from the speed and track that we could intercept this storm near Snyder, but when we arrived we learned that the storm was stationary along the boundary and actually backbuilding, with newer and more vigourous development to the west of the original activity.
At that point, I opted out of the chase and Weathervine continued south, reaching the storms an hour later and filming lightning and small hail.
I stopped for gas and asked an old gentelman in overalls and a baseball cap for a good restaurant in town. He wiped his forehead and said, "Well, there's the Rock Inn down yonder or the Maverick over that way, but whichever one you pick you'll wish you'd gone to the other." Then he chuckled at himself in a way that made me glad to be in Texas again.
A very bad chase day. We abandoned the northwest Missouri HP before it produced a wedge, turned around and arrived at the storm southeast of Hastings, Nebraska after it finished producing several tornadoes, including three simultaneously, then raced south to reach the Topeka supercells only to find our ways blocked by closed roads and backbuilding cores--all while they produced tornadoes on the other side. It was a combination of bad forecasting, poor data (we didn't have any nowcasting), and unfathomable bad luck that must be unparalleled in chase history.
Two major events with dozens of tornadoes, and we came away mostly empty-handed from both Saturday and today.
Sunday, May 23, 2004
This tornado approached the intersection of State Road 2 and Highway 160 in south Kansas near Harper as I turned south on 2. This is the not the same tornado as I posted last week that struck the small town of Attica. This was later in the evening and east of Attica by about eight miles. The tornado rapidly accelerated and came towards my location as I sped past. Recent damage surveys indicate the tornado dissipated just as it reached the road. I clearned it with several minutes to spare, but still came much closer than I had anticipated or would prefer.
May 12, 2004 / 8:26 PM / near State Road 2 & highway 160 southwest of Harper, KS
We're in Beatrice, Nebraska where the ATT tower suffered damage and my cell phone doesn't work. This is a blessing, really, since I've managed an oil change, shave, car wash, laundry all after having slept in until 11:00 AM. Now I'm going to re-organize and try to post some video captures from tornadoes in Colorado and Nebraska from the last three days.
The Weathervine gang, Garry Wellman, and his chase
partner Travis observed two or three tornadoes with
the initial supercell that moved from Thayer County
into Jefferson and then Saline Counties. I may have
observed a tornado west of De Witt, and another near
Plymouth after dark, all pending video review. I
didn't get a good look at any of them.
We targeted an area from Hebron to Red Oak and left
Schuyler about 12:30. We reached York and stopped to
check data. We decided York was a good location and
waited for over an hour, watching bubbling cu as the
boundary remained in place. I analyzed the
intersection of another outflow boundary oriented from
north to south which seemed to intersect the main line
of cu around Hastings.
We watched the McCook storm rotate and hook on radar,
and watched the storms to our north form as a line of
linear multicell clusters along the cool front/wind
shift. Later, these cells morphed into one of the
first supercells to earn a tornado warning west of
Omaha. Our area remained quiet as the cap eroded from
west to east. We grew restless, and though our
instinct was to remain in place, when activity fired
to the east of the McCook supercell, we rolled west on
Interstate 80. I thought it might be possible that the
widespread anvil from the McCook storm and cluster
might rob our target area of some instability. Also,
this activity moved so quickly that it seemed possible
they would overtake any storms firing in front of
Twenty minutes after we left York, the storm in Thayer
County, over our original Hebron target, erupted and
became severe as fast as any storm I?ve ever seen. We
bolted south to Hastings then back east on State Road
6. We intended to flank the storm to the north, then
cut in front of it using 81 or 15 southbound. However,
as we gained on it rapidly, the storm split, and the
northern core bulged out in front of us, blocking our
path with golfball and baseball hail. At this point,
my heart sank, knowing we would have to return west,
then south, then race east to flank the storm from the
southern side. It seemed almost no time before the
phone rang and Doug Kiesling told me he heard reports
of a wedge tornado north of Hebron.
By the time we reached 103, we?d turned the corner on
the supercell and I drifted through the abandoned
streets of De Witt while a mournful tornado siren blew
across the quiet, windless village center. A large
wall cloud hovered over the grain elevators as a few
brave cornhuskers stood in their doorways and watched
the lowering pass to the northeast. Earlier I'd
observed a massive lowering twisted at the bottom in a
strange configuration--this may have been a tornado on
the ground, but didn't seem so at the time.
This storm produced mesocyclones on several sides, and
as this wallcloud loomed over De Witt, another tornado
tore through Wilbur. We continued skirting the
southeast corner of this storm as the sun set,
recording blockish wall clouds, funnels, and needle
As for overall observations, Weathervine, Garry, and
Travis detected part of the first wedge tornado as we
sped toward the storm from behind. They also saw this
tornado (or another) illuminated by lightning as a
stovepipe. I believe I might have seen the former, not
the latter, but cannot be certain.
Later, as many chasers gathered south of Beatrice,
several of us observed a massive lowering to the
northwest, later reported by law enforcement as a
tornado on the ground. I?m not certain I saw this when
it was touching down. Overall I don?t have a sense
that I had a good look at any of these tornadoes. On a
night when many people may be searching for family and
friends, or just a place to sleep, it hardly matters.
Our thoughts are with the people in this corner of
Saturday, May 22, 2004
I've analyzed the intersection of an outflow boundary and west-east southern boundary just west of Hastings. I expect initiation to occur near this point (as it drifts east northeast) within the next 90 minutes.
Good luck all, be safe.
observing the tornado north of Norfolk, Nebraska and
west of Windside at approximately 8:45 PM CST. This
was a narrow, pencil-shaped funnel that spun rapidly
and held shape for about five minutes. We have some
video though our view was interrupted by the
interminable hills in the region.
This tornado emerged from the mesocyclone associated
with the northern portion of the complex in Wayne
County, a section of the storm that later died as the
southern half grew dominant. We chased the storm
until very late, hoping for more nocturnal luck like
Colorado the day before yesterday with after-dark
regeneration, but observed no other touchdowns despite
several new cycles.
This was another photogenic mothership supercell, and
we followed it east and across the Missouri River even
after having booked our rooms in Schuyler, Nebraska.
We thought it would be easy to find rooms in Omaha
later, but we learned a rough lesson in eastern
Nebraska lodging on the Friday night when many high
schools celebrate graduation. We finally pulled into
Schuyler, site of our original booking, about 2:30 AM
and rang the buzzer to wake Johnny, the proprieter of
Johnny's Motel. Johnny shuffled out in his robe and
allowed us to check in minutes before the squall line
blew through town and dumped torrential rain on our
So no pictures or video captures until
I-have-no-idea-when. The way this pattern is, it
might be a three weeks before I get the last two days
worth of imagery online. Obviously, today?s setup
dictates that we leave yesterday?s work for another
time. In 2004, tomorrow is always better, and this
morning that rule seems to have held once again.
I haven?t been able to respond to personal emails in
the last few days, today?s schedule is even worse.
Good luck to everybody chasing today.
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Friday, May 21, 2004
Mountain Time in extreme northern Washington County in
northeast Colorado after a marathon chase-positioning
journey from De Soto Iowa, where we spent Wednesday
night. This tornado finally emerged from a
long-lived LP and later Classic supercell that we
intercepted around Hoyt, Colorado, having watched the
storm since initiation from our vantage point in Last
Wednesday night, we had noticed the 50 degree
dewpoints ETA forecasted surging into northeast
Colorado, but since we were in Central Iowa, we tried
to ignore the strong midlevel flow and easterly
surface winds feeding into the post-cool front
environment. Several ingredients looked supportive of
Front Range upslope storms, and the memory of last
Monday when I played southeastern Wyoming rather than
the DVCZ was fresh.
This morning we decided to go for it.
The storm began as a miniature supercell which
struggled with balance and frequently produced cool
outflow and a ragged base. When the storm slid into
southern Morgan County, it strengthened dramatically,
such that within fifteen minutes the entire storm was
rotating, surrounded by elevated inflow bands that
arced into the mesocyclone like the feeder bands of a
hurricane. At this time, the storm was a beautiful
LP, but suffered from a lack of rain-cooled air to add
condensation to squared collar clouds.
West of Ft. Morgan, this trend changed. A large rain
shaft developed, and the base lowered rapidly,
including several rotating wall clouds and needle
funnels that never reached the ground after suffering
from cool and blustery RFD, one instance of which
reached about fifty knots. This was in Wiggins, where
the initial report of a tornado was made. This report
was incorrect?rather than a tornado, a large RFD plume
blew up southwest of the meso, and even held a
columneque shape momentarily before blowing sand and
dirt into our eyes and mouths. This was an
understandable error?the plume looked much like the
beginnings of a ground circulation but was not.
We followed the storm to Ft. Morgan, then used dirt
roads to the north and east, zig-zagging from Brush,
then down 34, and finally off the pavement into
northern Washington County. The storm was perfectly
balanced and several wall clouds and cylindrical
lowerings appeared and disintegrated. During one leg
of the pursuit, we looked to the north and noticed a
large cone. Everybody shouted ?tornado? on the radio
and switched cameras to low-light settings. Frequent
lightning from the core illuminated the smooth edges
of the funnel and the dust plume beneath. Jeff
Gammons rode in the passenger seat of the Weathervine
van and shot good video?his video captures will be up
soon on www.weathervine.com
Jason Foster used my camcorder's nightshot to record
the event while I drove.
We pursued the storm another hour before noticing
clear skies and crisp starlight on either side of the
shrinking updraft column. Tonight we?re in Sterling,
Colorado, a group of very happy and tired chasers.
Tonight?s event comes five years to the day after my
first tornado. It was also the last day of Raul
Benitez?s chase vacation with the Florida gang; he?ll
be returning to South Florida on Saturday morning so
we were glad to show him his third tornado in a week.
We enjoyed chasing with Tony Laubach, Ken McAllister,
Garry Wellman, Garry's pal Travis, and a few other
along the way.
Thursday, May 20, 2004
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
approx 7:11 PM
approx 7:27 PM
Jason Foster and I, along with the Weathervine bus, intercepted the tornadic supercell near Russell, Kansas and observed it exhibit several lowerings, rotating wall clouds, and a mothership meso between along Interstate 70 to Ellsworth. This storm emerged as the lone surviving cell from a complex southwest of Hays and tightened up when it crossed into the better moisture and stronger low level jet east of Russell. Quite a photogenic supercell that suffered from the brisk outflow/cold front on which it formed and cool RFD that undercut at least four serious attempts to drop a tornado. Encountered dozens of chasers on the roadway and all of them drove courteously and responsibly. A fun chase day in Kansas.
I also want to thank Steve Miller for his excellent nowcasting on May 16 in Nebraska.
Monday, May 17, 2004
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appeared in this morning's USA Today and found a
newsstand to grab a few copies. We were excited to
find the photo of Chris's Weatherlab, and then
dissappointed and angry to read the story--what is
certainly the most damaging story about stormchasing
to ever appear in national media, and something that
could very well attract the attention of the wrong
sort of ambitious legislators.
To use the language of contemporary politics, it was
"unhelpful" that certain chasers depicted our hobby as
some life-threatening enterprise on the edge of chaos.
It strikes us this morning as particularly ironic
that quotes about traffic congestion come from people
who work for the very tour groups whose giant buses
and trailing vehicles compose a sizable percentage of
that traffic. For those of us who haven't turned our
passion into a profit-making venture, it is an
especially bitter pill. Should independent chasers
abandon the field in favor of big cash vans? I can
say that, for one, if some form of regulation and
licensing comes down the pipe, it should be aimed
squarely at the tour groups and their owner-operators,
and all independent chasers should be prepared to join
Nowhere in the story is the chaser's role in Skywarn
mentioned. Nowhere in the story is our contribution
to severe storm science mentioned, the video used to
train spotters, or the sheer lives saved by the number
of extra eyes on a storm who have radios or cell
phones available. Instead, the one semi chase-related
death in Oklahoma is raised as some example of the
At least Gene Moore weighed in with some moderation,
mentioning that this hobby does a fair job of policing
itself and has for thirty years. Thanks, Gene.
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Tornado # 1 near Rockville, NE approx 6:50 PM
(click to enlarge)
[courtesy Jeff Gammons]
Jason Foster and I, along with the Weathervine gang and Scott Eubanks intercepted two tornadoes on a supercell that moved from Sherman to Howard County in southern Nebraska. We observed the first tornado near Rockville in southeastern Sherman County about 6:50 PM CST and the second near Boelus in southwestern Howard County about six minutes later. We were travelling southeast and then east on Nebraska State Road 58.
Our original target was Broken Bow, a location between the moisture and thermal axis and near the differential heating boundary stretching from southwest to northeast as cited by SPC in their MCD for the area. We believed the shortwave would likely help initiate storms along the boundary which would then move eastward into the low level jet and
intensify. This is more or less what happened.
We learned of the storm in Gosper County south of Lexington and I-80, and raced south on 183 to position ourselves west of the updraft region. However, near the intersection of 30 and 183, the storm had moved near enough that we observed the first of a series of lowerings and rotating wall clouds that tracked through Buffalo County. To mirror the storm's northeastward movement we navigated through some slippery Bob?s roads as the storm cycled several times, but without successful tornadogenesis.
As the storm reached the Sweetwater to Ravenna area, it intensified dramatically, morphing into a tall wedding cake appearance with strong inflow from the
southeast. On 68 north of Ravenna, a large but elevated rotating wall cloud hung over the road directly in front of us. We decided to scoot underneath it as it looked somewhat disorganized and offered us a chance to regain a favorable viewing position. This was a fortuitous move since, about fifteen minutes later, the first cone shaped tornado touched down about four miles to our north. It was down about one minute, and, from Boelus looking north, we observed the second tornado five to seven minutes later, this time at a longer distance?perhaps six miles. Our second tornado also presented a conical appearance and lifted quickly.
Several intersections were jammed with chasers and tour buses, which we evaded rapidly. However, most drivers behaved sensibly and co-operated. Again I think the publicity of sites like Stormtrack and lists like wx-chase have disseminated the ideas of pulling off the road and using hazard lights and watching carefully before re-entering the roadway pretty well.
The images above belong to Jeff Gammons. I have video of both tornadoes, but no intention of going through the rigmarole of producing screen captures when the Florida guys are doing that right now. Mine can wait for the next highlight tape. I
did not take still photos as we were moving and I was driving.
Friday, May 14, 2004
We're off to OKC this evening to spend the night and wait for the Stormtrack Picnic tomorrow at Rocky Rockovich's house in Piedmont, the annual event I've never attended before. I've always used any down day in May to recharge and hang out at home, but since Sunday looks like a Nebraska chase, it makes sense to hit the party and see everybody's video. I'm brining the Kansas stuff from the other day.
Did I mention that Denton has a Panera??? I'm quite excited. I wrote about three-quarters of my novel at the Panera in Bloomington; I assume I'll revise the bulk of it in this very chair with my lovely view of the RoomStore Furniture Gallery and the Wal-Mart Tire&Lube Express bays. An aesthetic miscalculation if there ever was one.
I would have sworn many of these were from the same circulations, but it was hard to know with new mesos every fifteen minutes. I did not see the last two tornadoes in this report, including the F4. Oops. The last tonrnado I saw was the third from the last listed here, touchdown at 8:29, which is the one I raced across State Road 2.
PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE WICHITA KS
546 PM CDT THU MAY 13 2004
...PRELIMINARY TORNADO DAMAGE SURVEY FOR HARPER COUNTY KANSAS...
AS OF 430 PM, THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFICE IN WICHITA KANSAS
HAS IDENTIFIED EIGHT CONFIRMED TORNADOES WITH DAMAGE PATHS. SEVERAL
REPORTS HAVE ALLUDED TO OTHER TORNADOES, HOWEVER, NO VISIBLE SIGNS
OF DAMAGE OR TRACKS COULD BE FOUND. THE FOLLOWING IS A PRELIMINARY
LISTING OF THE TORNADOES AND THEIR TIME OF TOUCHDOWN, TORNADO
STRENGTH, PATH WIDTH, AND PATH LENGTH.
753 PM - F0 TORNADO 1 MILE SOUTH OF ATTICA,
50 YARDS WIDE,
BRIEF TOUCHDOWN IN OPEN COUNTRY,
802 PM - F2 TORNADO 1 MILES SOUTHEAST OF ATTICA,
200 YARDS WIDE,
1 AND THREE QUARTERS OF A MILE LONG.
802 PM - F0 TORNADO 3 MILES SOUTH OF HARPER,
40 YARDS WIDE,
1 MILE LONG.
815 PM - F2 TORNADO 4 MILES SOUTH SOUTHEAST OF HARPER,
300 YARDS WIDE,
1 AND A HALF MILES LONG.
827 PM - F1 TORNADO 4 MILES SOUTH OF HARPER,
75 YARDS WIDE,
1 AND A HALF MILES LONG.
829 PM - F2 TORNADO 1 MILE SOUTHEAST OF HARPER,
100 YARDS WIDE,
1 MILE LONG.
908 PM - F4 TORNADO 3 MILES SOUTHEAST OF HARPER,
500 YARDS WIDE,
1 MILE LONG.
914 PM - F0 TORNADO 6 MILES EAST OF ATTICA,
50 YARDS WIDE,
BRIEF TOUCHDOWN IN OPEN COUNTRY.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Same story with a cell southwest of Oklahoma City about an hour later--I have pics of these marginally interesting lowerings that occured while the cells were semi-discrete and pulling fair inflow. However, same story as north: undercut rapidly. I weaved back and forth through the line on my way down 44 and then 81 towards Duncan, and crossed the Red River into my home state of Texas punching the core of a severe thunderstorm, definitely my coolest entrance.
Met up with the gang from Weathervine here in Denton, Texas, and watched Chris Collura assemble the coolest weather station in all chasing in their motel room a moment ago. Now I have my feet propped up on the desk, and I'm thinking about the full eight hours of sleep I'll get tonight, and the 500 miles I don't have to drive tomorrow.
Observed five tornadoes today on amazing, long-lived cyclic supercell. This thing produced mesos every twenty minutes and tornadoes every forty. This report is a work in progress and I'll fill in more details when it's not 2:30 AM.
Here some photos with timestamps. I'm not going to locate these geographically until I'm more certain. This chase will have to be reconstructed with radar loops and GPS log files. I'm sure the number of tornadoes involved will be a subject of debate. If we counted all the rapid dust rotations we saw between the major tornadoes, we might count in the double digits. But I'm convinced these were the same circulations that eventually filled in and produced the big stovepipes and tubes, so I think I saw five tornadoes, the next to last of which I barely beat across State Road 2--something I did not do on purpose.
I can't say I never saw anything in Kansas again.
Tornado # 1 7:23 PM
(click to enlarge)
Tornado # 3 8:13 PM
(click to enlarge)
Tornado # 3 8:14 PM
(click to enlarge)
Tornado # 3 8:15 PM
(click to enlarge)
Tornado # 4 8:37 PM(shot this while racing the tornado across State Road 2. Photo is blurry. Video will be better for this one.)
(click to enlarge)
Many thanks to Steve Miller, Jeff Gammons, and Jeff Lawson for nowcasting, and my chase partners Scott Eubanks, Tony Laubach, David, and Curt.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
When it was apparent we would soon overshoot the northern border of the continental United States, we stopped and turned around. We're spending the night in Grand Island, Nebraska tonight targeting west central and southwest Kansas tomorrow, though the target is very much up in the air. Another long haul tomorrow.
This is a personal record for me: five straight chase days in a row, and it looks as if I'll log at least another three before a possible day off. My laundry situation is close to crisis level. Luckily, I don't have a chase partner at the moment, though I will beginning Thursday. Poor Jason!
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Pierre, SD to south of Valentine, NE. Since I'm in
Cheyenne, WY, I have to get going. Eric and ScottC
are in Chadron, NE, a little closer to the target than
ScottE and I.
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Scott E, Scott C, Eric N, and I began the day in Valentine Nebraska and noted the strong shear forecast along the front range in southeastern Wyoming. For days we’ve been plagued with weak midlevel flow and we leaped at the chance to improve our lot with upslope on the business end of a moisture train from the southeast. With the synoptic low out west deepening rapidly, we debated the merits of the Denver area and the famous DBCZ. We considered that with great moisture, the famed post cool-frontal environment was nearly ideal for landspouts or weak tornadoes. However, midlevel winds were forecast at 15 to 20 knots, at least as of the 15Z RUC, and when we checked the Medicine Lodge (?) profiler near Cheyenne, we noted 40 knots at 500 millibars as early as 4:00 PM. Wyoming’s lack of moisture concerned us, but when you’re at 5100 feet (840 mb at one point), you don’t expect to need low 70’s, right?
Our first storm fired near Wheatland and we raced up 85 to catch it. It grew into a fully mature supercell with an impressive beaver’s tail and distinct rain core. We followed this storm over rural roads that led to “open range,” wide and empty country where the rocky cliffs, buttes, and mesas leave the impression that not another human being walks the planet. It is desolate and beautiful in the sort of stark, ambivalent way that chasers understand.
First supercell near Glendo, WY (click to enlarge)
A few brief lowerings appeared before our storm’s base grew linear and a new tower to the south grabbed our attention. Scott C and I left our first storm for the southern cell when the latter developed a backsheared anvil and ours began raining through its own updraft.
After we left, the storm re-intensified, of course, and Eric and Scott C enjoyed a great structure show, following the storm deep into east central Wyoming, finishing near the South Dakota border. Scott Eubanks and I finally intercepted our new storm east of Cheyenne, and drove south of the city to Carpenter to observe some weak wall clouds and follow the storm back through the city. The storm had produced a tornado report just across the border near Rockport, but Cheyenne only issued severe warnings for it, so we assumed the rotation had subsided.
We followed it through the city and drove north on 25, as the storm changed shapes and became a bowl shaped and impressive. Another cell to the southwest, however, began spinning like a top, and the striated updraft base hypnotized us into following it northwest of the city, in the direction of Federal. This storm was a gorgeous barber poll updraft LP, with the tightest and most dramatic striations I’ve seen in a long time.
Near Silver Crown, WY (click to enlarge)
Near Silver Crown, WY (click to enlarge)
The show continued for over and hour, from around 7:00 PM to 8:20 PM Mountain Time, leaving Scott and I in the silence that an awesome storm dictates. The only sound we heard was rapid inflow and the electric whir of our camera shutters. Several times scud attached to the base and began organizing, but the inflow was cool and dry by this time and tornadogenesis was impossible. We didn’t care.
Of course I wish we’d gone to Denver and seen all the tornadoes. Earlier in the day, in fact, Scott Eubanks joked about a likely Denver outbreak since we were passing up Colorado for southeastern Wyoming. As they say, sometimes the bear eats you. But our consolation prize tonight was a fine one—a breathtaking high plains LP in the beautiful open ranges of Wyoming. Many thanks to Jeff Gammons and Steve Miller for great nowcasting.
Monday, May 10, 2004
arctic circle to escape the strong low level capping
inversion and locate ourselves beneath stronger upper
level flow. In addition, the warm front lifted into
southern and central Minnesota and a cold front swept
down from the northwest.
Eric Nguyen, Scott Currens, Scott Eubanks, and I
started the day in Omaha and drove to Sioux Falls,
South Dakota where we met two chasers from Indiana,
David and a friend of his whose name I can?t recall.
We noted a midlevel disturbance moving into the region
from the west, and that surface winds in our region
were not backing as we had hoped east of the surface
trough. Low level shear was poor, but convergence
from strong southerly winds to our south enhanced
cumulus development back south near Vermillion.
We headed back down I-29 and watched the
southwesternmost tower develop a backsheared anvil and
an impressive flanking line. We intercepted the
storm, just before it earned the first severe warning,
as we crossed Missouri River on the new bridge south
of Vermillion. At the time, the stormbase was very
elevated and we observed only large rain and gusty
winds. Once across the river, we stopped to
photograph the storm several time, but continued west
to position for Monday?s storm. Of course, as soon as
we were thirty or forty miles away, using our wide
angle lenses to photograph the flared crown and
flanking line, the first tornado warning appeared for
the storm over Vermillion, stationary and impressive
on radar. However, storms west of our position close
to O?Neil interested us as well. Taking into account
the thirty degree dewpoint depression and southwest
surface flow, we decided to press on with the
impressive storm in our rearview mirrors.
Closing in on storms near O?Neil, we observed
spectacular ?god light? as the sunset beamed around a
very narrow updraft with inflow bands on either side.
Red and crimson rain-refracted sunlight south of this
feature made for a breathtaking show as we followed
State Road 20.
Apparently the disturbance aloft ignited the entire
cold front. A line of convection stretched from
Minnesota through southwest Nebraska. Like most
chasers we?re looking forward to the next several days
as the upper level system translates across the
central US and sends more timely shortwaves over the
juiced boundary layer.
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Sunday, May 09, 2004
Storms firing in central Iowa drew our attention as did the thickening cu field strung along interstate 80. However, we knew central Iowa suffered from weak upper level support and soon the storms near Des Moines grew multicellular. Surface winds in the area were veering to the southwest as well--we just didn't like the look of things over there. Plus, there was a fee to cross the bridge. Still we raced east and stopped at Decatur, just short of the Missouri River. We took another look at data from a convenience store across the street from a biker bar.
When the Norfolk storm fired closer to our original target, and in an area of more favorable low level shear, we turned around and retraced our path. We intercepted the southern cell of a split near the intersection of 32 and 15. Diving south on 15, I observed shear funnels and a narrow, barber poll updraft with rapid rotation about 6:30 PM. I also observed cascading condensation on what looked exactly like a gust front, but which rolled upward back toward the vault. At the same time, I observed strong elevated rotation. A tornado warning came a few minutes later.
I continued south to Schuyler as the storm became more elevated and the updraft base more linear. I met Nebraska chaser Chris Lenz and had a cool conversation on a dirt road as the storm gusted out. I used the break in the action to flank the developing cluster and work my way back north, believing that storms had moved off the boundary and lost their slim advantage in our marginal setup. Nearing North Bend on 30, another tornado warning appeared for the storm over Schuyler. Scott and Eric filmed a large RFD blast in a dusty field at this time and believe this helped prompt the warning. Sirens in Shuyler blew immediately afterwards.
I raced a train across the Platte River and, south of Morse Bluff, observed an elevated wall cloud. A new tornado warning for Butler County finished off the storm and it faded into the night with a spectacular orange and crimson sunset and continuous, pounding CG's. We returned to our new favorite motel here in south Omaha and are finally about to hit the sack.
I'll try to post pictures tomorrow--we have no idea where or if we're chasing.
Saturday, May 08, 2004
and we're following it. Prospects look weak for
supercells and tornadoes today--upper level winds are
weak and the capping inversion is strong. Still, CAPE
and helicity values are strong and we're hoping for
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Friday, May 07, 2004
Almost every feature of today's setup was out of phase today. The front stayed too far south to sneak out from beneath the very strong cap, and by staying south also avoided the best support aloft which remained in extreme northern Nebraska.
I met up with Doug Keisling of BNVN and chowed at Cracker Barrel in southwest Omaha, where I am now. Eric Nguyen and Scott Currens are on their way here--I expect them within the hour. We'll try it again tomorrow. I don't know anything about tomorrow's setup except that the warm front is a player and it's still right around here. I hope it moves far enough tomorrow to avoid the problems we saw today.
Aloft, dry air around 850 mb domintated soundings from Kansas along with a substantial capping inversion. Omaha's souding appears contaminated (any other opinions on this?) and DVN was apparently undergoing a thunderstorm when they launched. This hot, dry air above the surface will move into the target region and reinforce the already strong inversion.
In the midlevels, I analyzed a small disturbance currently over eastern CO and might have spotted the same on the vapor loop. This is weak if it's actually there, or it's possible I've analyzed the Rocky Mountains--LOL. If somebody with more upper air analysis experience for this area could weigh in, I'd appreciate it. However, I believe the 14Z RUC has picked up this disturbance and moves it into central Nebraska by 0Z, maybe too late to help. The good news upstairs is that Omaha's temp is -14C, cooler than forecast by the models.
It would appear that strong convergence along the front should have some chance to break the cap. The next question is, if the storms fire very close to or on the boundary, how long before they become elevated hailers on the stable side? Quickly I would guess. The best chance for surface based convection would seem to be somewhat south of or off the boundary (if we had another lifting mechanism for instance). The good news here is that the RUC depicts the intersection of a weak surface trough with the boundary around Omaha at 0Z. This creates a convergence area and a small 'warm sector' in which increasing flux convergence could challenge the cap. Whether or the not the front will ever make it to Omaha is a different question. I have my doubts. As for the appearance of a weak surface trough sufficient to assist in convergence, who knows?
Winds aloft are forecast to remain weak over central Nebraska, suggesting HPs if we're lucky or multicell clusters with hail if we're not. An increasing low level jet this evening should support any storms that appear, and helicity values along the front remain formidable, so tornadoes can't be ruled out if surface-based storms form.
Overall a highly conditional setup. My instinct is to stay in Des Moines for a few hours to see things develop rather than burning pricey gasoline touring the thick overcast along I-80. If I had to pick a target right now, I'd say 50 miles either side of a line from Wilber, Nebraska to Red Oak, Iowa.
Thursday, May 06, 2004
I found a great little coffee shop near my Motel here. In the morning I intend to sip a latte, read some fiction, maybe even write a little, and keep an eye on visible satellite imagery. I have access to I-35 north and south as well as I-80 east and west, so I'm set for access. Now I need storms!
My gut tells me the cap will break east before west, so I'll likely stay around here all morning and early afternoon.
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Monday, May 03, 2004
Yesterday I packed music and arranged the gear for efficient transfer to my truck. I spent an hour looking for my favorite Robert Earl Keen CD, thinking how impossible it would be to chase without it. Yes, I have work to do, but I'm easing into it. Very carefully. Today I plan to pay the rent, buy a larger CD storage case, call some people I haven't talked to in a while, and take a crack at a short story I need to finish after nearly a year of work.
Sopranos was outstanding last night, one of the best written and directed episodes in years. I was particularly struck by the Tony's panic attack in Doctor Melfi's office, where director Van Patton used some unique lightning and never-before-seen angles to disorient our typically buttoned down point of view during these sessions. Of course Gandolfini and Bracco are brilliant actors and the dialogue during the scene was crisp and surprising. We learned something about Tony that will resonate through the remainder of the series. Hard to believe the quality of this show remains so high.
Saturday, May 01, 2004
These models can change overnight in transitional seasons; you don't turn your back on May anymore than you walk away from a dryline with daylight remaining. In the meantime, I'll work on some short stories, think about breaking out the big bad novel, read some material of my choosing, and try to enjoy myself. Very strange not to be racing for the plains.