Saturday, June 25, 2005
I'm new to this setup, only having looked at the 0z ETA tonight and
without examining any current data at all, but thought I would mention
a few things that caught my eye, so more bullet points than a real
First, MikeH made the excellent point that with the ongoing convection
in central NE attm (3z) the boundary is likely to stay further south,
or more likely, a secondary warm front will appear south of the
primary baroclinicty up north.
The better midlevel flow seems to be in SD and NE, near where this
secondary wf might camp out. This is south-southeast of the sfc low,
but the sfc always backs ahead of a dry punch like the one ETA is
showing, and though northern NE looks stoutly capped, this whole thing
reminds me a little of the Arthur NE day.
Given the odd orientation of the s/w tomorrow, I would not be
surprised to see the sfc low emerge well away from where the model
puts it tonight.
An oddity in the 0z ETA is an arc of midlevel moisture at 18z
stretching from western SD through central NE and into KS then back to
the southwest. This is gone at 0z and I don't know what if anything
it means. I haven't spent much time trying to think of why its there.
If I was out--which I now wish I was--I'd look at Valentine to Pierre and adjust based on cloud cover and other obs. Looks good. Several friends of mine are chasing and I wish them luck!
Thursday, June 23, 2005
"Mark Svenvold’s newest work of nonfiction, Big Weather, artfully depicts the dust-bitten grind of tornado hunting. The book also tries to explain why chasers do what they do, but the psychology proves an elusive target. The book’s final movement is undone by spurious material unrelated to chasing, the sort of bolted-on concluding chapters that suggest a rush to press.
Stormchasing and extreme weather footage have emerged in contemporary media in a complicated and interdependent relationship. Most chasers regret the “torn porn” phenomena of shaky video and roiling funnels grinding through neighborhoods, though we often provide the substance of these productions. Big Weather interrogates the contradiction of chasing as an idealistic quest versus commercial rewards. Svenvold shows the strains on marriages and friendships, and describes mavericks who risk financial and physical well-being on gambits like the armored Tornado Intercept Vehicle, designed—as you might guess—to probe a twister. He follows chasers who pull survivors from damage moments after a wedge destroys Hallam, Nebraska, but also notices those who market overextended reputations for accolades and the few dollars available in saturated image and tour markets. For narrative tension, Big Weather exaggerates both the purity and the greed of chasers on either end of the spectrum.
Svenvold’s research involved thousands of miles of “extreme sitting.” An admitted outsider, he gawks at SUVs decked with computers, strange radios, and antenna farms surrounding rooftop weather stations. A poet by training, he employs graceful language to deliver telling detail. He describes chaser Matt Biddle’s unusual spatial orientation:
Matt began talking about winds coming off “the front range.” We were moving through a landscape unbroken by any range that I could see…The range in question, of course, was the Rocky Mountains, hundreds of miles west of us, beyond the earth’s curvature, yet as close and familiar in Matt’s mind and as crucial in their influence on the day’s events as if they were right in front of us.
The book works best rendering these unglamorous realities of chasing. One afternoon, Svenvold and Biddle are near two great storms, one of which is further away and reportedly producing a tornado. They must decide which storm to chase. Their decision has as much to do with instinct and experience as science and technology.
Surprisingly, Big Weather gets the science right, though it is not a science book. Svenvold realizes that forecasting tornadic storms depends on identification of surface features such as drylines or outflow boundaries and learns a thing or two about them himself. The book uses a working knowledge of tornadogenesis theory including rear flank downdraft influence.
Explaining chasers proves more difficult. Big Weather relies on socioeconomics and western philosophy, but mistakes the cultural moment that makes chasing possible as the motivation. Cars and disposable income allow chasing, of course, but these facilitators do not contain the chaser’s awe for storms and tornadoes any more than does the necessary Gulf moisture or lee-side troughs.
Svenvold betrays frustration with his own explanations. Pondering current events during a chaser convention, he writes: “Against this backdrop, storm chasing itself, for all its…complexity, seemed an extravagant, late-phase indulgence, a way of taking up the violin while Rome burned. There was just something inescapably untenable about it all.” Chasers recognize this accusation, albeit in less articulate terms, from spouses, friends, and employers.
Chapters on The Weather Channel and Accuweather, plus broad-brushed global warming ideas, stray from the Big Weather’s primary aims: the chaser’s compulsion both under the sky and in the heart. This story should end where it began, in Matt Biddle’s car, perhaps after a busted chase when an unrelenting sky and the toll on human relationships and adult responsibilities looms most starkly to chasers. In that vulnerable moment, Big Weather might have revealed something more unexpected about its characters.
Svenvold’s book is like a chase. It targets chasers and finds them, but ultimately looks the wrong direction despite the effort. This is like missing a tornado by seconds, or hearing radio reports of a rain-wrapped twister in the hook, mere miles away but visible only from the small and occluding notch. Despite this, Big Weather is worth buying for the same reason a busted chase is worth risking—because its about the journey as much as the destination. From Svenvold’s depiction readers can form their own conclusions about motivation. Or, like chasers, they can dispense with inadequate psychologies and consider instead the endless plains sky, and the sudden mountains of air and water roaming that wild landscape."
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Texas BBQ Trail, moving from Black's in Lockhart to Louis Mueller's this morning in Taylor, Texas. In between we hung out in San Marcos, drank by the river, and finished tonight with an amazing Italian meal at Vespaio on South Congress.
Tomorrow I drop Jeff off in San Antonio and start the long drive back to Indiana. Probably arrive home sometimes Friday night. I'll sleep until Sunday, no doubt.
While having my oil changed, I corrected another image from June 12. Most of my imagery from that crazy day was video, and I don't have the time or room on my laptop hard drive to capture it. But some still images are acceptable, and I'll continue to post those as time allows. Here's another.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Monday, June 13, 2005
A few interesting notes about tonight's storm: it seemed to ingest convection to the south quite easily, then translated rotation southwest into the new southern flank rapidly. Also we observed, like yesterday, that tornadoes frequently occured well after mesocyclonic occlusion, when the rotation would quickly tighten and decend, but well after the wrap around precip and even hail swung around fully.
I finished my chase vacation with five tornado-day chases in a row, going all the way back to Arthur County, Nebraska, then South Dakota, Trego County, Kansas, and the last two tornado days in the great great Texas panhandle. I could not have asked for a more spectacular introduction to mid June chasing, a time period I'm normally forced to skip. Never again.
I'm finished chasing this season. I have to get back to Indiana and prepare to move while trying to fix my truck in time. Full chase reports for the 2005 season should be updated on my page by December, and sometime in March I hope to release the sequel to Seven Years On Cyclone Road.
I want to say thanks again to my great pals who helped make 2005 the best chase year of my life bar none. I'll see you guys under the next meso.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
I'm ten days behind on emails. Bills are stacking up at home and I haven't shaved in several days. I appreciate everybody's patience.
Tornado #1 needle funnel after larger cone that I missed (video grab)
Tornado #2 distant elephant trunk on occluded meso to the southwest (video grab)
Tornado #3 power flash (video grab)
I chased with Jason Politte, Eric Nguyen, and Scott Blair today. We began around Hereford, nearby the intersection of two outflow boundaries. Towers went up rapdily around 21z and we took off for a small storm west of AMA. We caught this cell south of Interstate 40 and chased it nearly an hour as it developed increasingly lower wall clouds beneath a smooth, well-rounded updraft base. I'm not sure why this storm didn't produce a tornado, though it didn't seem to have much mid-level rotation while we chased it. I know this isn't a direct predictor of tornadogenesis, perhaps the opposite in fact, but outside the smallish size of the storm, I'm not sure what precluded a touchdown. The base was low enough, the storm was on the boundary, and with due east winds the 0-1k SRH should have been at least supportive. We noted weak surface flow, however, and that may have been the primary failure mode.
We heard NWR's report of the tornado north of Happy and took off for the southern storm. We caught this cell just east of the interstate on FM 285 (a famous road for those who remember the original Happy day) and observed several lowerings spin and updraft new condensation, coming lower and lower to the ground. At last, one meso tightened and produced a cone (I missed this but others confirm), which transitioned into a needle that I caught on video. In between, Scott Currens spotted an elephant trunk tornado, but in the distance! This tornado was spinning beneath an occluded meso, which on this day was what tornadoes waited for. Our next two tornadoes would descend from occluded updrafts which then stretched and spun. This includes tornado #3, shown below, which condensed and spun violently for several minutes, creating the power flash I grabbed from tape.
The exhaustion is incredible and I'll be months reassembling all these chases, correcting images and posting full reports. I hope I finish in time for the 2006 season. In the meantime, these images are the least pleasing of an incredible week. I was never in a great position to film or shoot, and always had power poles, wires, or some other nonsense in my way. So it goes.
Considering the prospects for weak midlevel flow today and marginal lift in our target area, we were more than happy with our afternoon.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Anyway, I like the setup and my friends who've looked say tomorrow is also encouraging. We'll see how it plays out.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Sunday will be my last chase day, so I'm hoping the next two setups are productive.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
In chasing it is often better to be lucky than good, and today I was very lucky and only good enough to avoid screwing up one of the great chase days of the last few years. June 9 deserves a place alongside the best chase days in recent memory, producing a wide range of violent, photogenic tornadoes from south of Lubbock, Texas well into Nebraska.
I witnessed four tornadoes from the storm that began in central Ness County Kansas and moved into Trego County where it wound up and developed several large cones, funnels, and stovepipe tornadoes, along with the most violent rear flank downdraft winds I've ever seen.
I started in Sterling and raced south, thinking the outflow boundary and dryline would intersect somewhere in the eastern Texas panhandle. But the surface low in southeast Kansas was ejecting faster than the 9z RUC model had shown, and my intersection point was progressing steadily northward. This was a good thing, too, because construction slowed me terribly in Colorado. If there had only been the one storm near White Deer (which did produce a tornado, according to several chasers), I would have been hard pressed to arrive in time.
I revised my target to Beaver, Oklahoma, then finally Dodge City, Kansas. I arrived at Dodge in time for the first small storm that fired ahead of the dry punch. At this time, the Hill City area storm was cranking up, and I knew my friends were up there bagging tornadoes like a shopping spree. My little cell by Dodge died rapidly, and I noticed the storm two counties north, in Ness County, was shaping up nicely. I hurried back up 183 and intercepted this storm about ten minutes before it began exhibiting rapid rotation---the most violent cloud base rotation I have ever seen. It spun and spun and I was amazed that such a violently turning storm was not condensing or even building downward. Then suddenly everything changed.
As the storm snagged the boundary, it began rapidly updrafting new condensation, and the show was on. The first and second tornadoes are so remarkably similar at one stage of their lives, it's nearly impossible to tell them apart, with the perfect collar cloud orbiting each. But the second tornado morphed into a large elephant trunk that touched down ~2240z and began to cross the road in front of me. This was about ten miles south of Wakeeney on 283, very near Trego Center, Kansas. This tornado was on the ground for nearly fifteen minutes. Then it lifted and another came down--not the same funnel; clearly separate post-occlusion tornadoes. This one began moving to the east northeast and I was behind, since I had allowed the tornado to cross the road in front of me. Unfortunately, my camera was zoomed all the way out and so my video makes it look as if I was further from the tornado than I was. Not that it matters, but it was so breathtaking that I stopped shooting digital stills at one point and stared in awe. I like doing that once in a while. The obsession with recording this stuff can sometimes interfere with the actual experience. It's good to put the cameras down for a few seconds and humble yourself before something so majestic.
I called Dodge City NWS to report the tornado (I had cell service for once!). Then as I turned east to follow, a large RFD plume was roiling in the field ahead of me. Then I observed an area of flattened vegetation moving rapidly, with some of the vegetation being pulled out of the ground and flung through the air! This was RFD--there's no question. But it was particularly violent and I turned south to escape and took the next east option. Strange as this sounds, that RFD was more unnerving than any of the tornadoes, including the one not far from me.
When I rounded the corner again, a white cone tornado was still on the ground. This was either the third tornado which had never lifted or simply a new one. After this, a new mesocyclone to the west produced another brief tube, and the show was over. The storm elongated and the shear weakened. Amazing what can happen in about four hours.
Special thanks today to EricN and ScottB for comparing notes on the forecast, and congrats to those guys for the getting the best of BOTH storms, Hill City and Trego County.
We have heard reports of damage to homes and property and hope the residents of northern Kansas made it through this dangerous night safely.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
We're buying a bottle of wine and hunting an Italian restaurant when I finish with the clothes.
The weekend is supposed to be quite a severe weather extravaganza. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday all have rumors swirling about. I find it counterproductive to scour the models days in advance when I'm in the field. It's the opposite of the weeks before I leave, as long-time readers know. In March and April, I analyze every run of every product out to 384 hours. In the Alley, I take it one day at a time. Much nicer.
Time to check the wash.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Today, I find myself parked in the same spot beside the Roadway Inn at Thedford, Nebraska almost 24 hours later. So, right about now, SPC should issue a long-ass red box and I'll start driving to a cool storm.
Though I think today looks similar in many ways to yesterday, mainly because the upper low hasn't moved much, there are a few important differences, namely the lack of a small disturbance which helped erode the cap and pave the way for early dryline initiation. However the cap is a little weaker today, so who knows.
I don't know if we should discard the RUC entirely or not. Given the orientation of the upper low, it seems reasonable that the surface features could jump around or never firm up and deepen in any one place. I agree with the west central SD I-90 target many chasers have cited, though I may play south of there, perhaps around or north of Valentine.
Last night's tornado near Arthur, Nebraska. Hoping my video will run on TWC in the morning. More details later, must sleep. Obviously, a great chase.
Monday, June 06, 2005
At the moment I'm undecided about my next move. I have had consistent cu and elevated showers following me to the southwest for some time, associated with a weak upper level impulse that was the vort lobe I mentioned from the ETA. But the convection isn't exactly impressive, high based, low-topped cu producing virga. The cap appears quite stout per observations. No other cu in sight attm.
Looks like the dryline is focusing additional convection west of LBF, and that too is within range if I stay here.
The other option is blasting north to the interstate, then racing west toward Rapid City, South Dakota, which is where Steve is going, Ibelieve. That's a haul for me.
RUC shows the dryline mixing east sharply in the next several hours and focusing convergence along and east of 83. The model breaks out precip along the boundary between 0z and 3z. I'm leaning toward playing this scenario and trying to have some patience. Dewpoint depressions are high everywhere and I guess the most optimal tornado location will be along the front, well north of me.
I'll have lunch in North Platte, head north to Thedford, then meander up to Valentine eventually. A trip through the Sandhills.
The model forecasts a vort lobe to swing into western NE around 0z and there's a signal of 700 mb vv's in the same region. This is a poor excuse for lift in a highly capped environment, but shear and instability are there in bushels.
Dewpoint depressions could be high depending on how long after peak heating storms fire, but I don't know that there's any sort of boundary in place, so I would say tornado chances, given convection at all, are quite low. If something can fire, however, supercells seem likely given highly supportive CAPE and 0-3k SRH values under 30 knots of deep layer shear.
I suppose I'll target Thedford to Bassett, but I'll take my time getting there since I think initiation will be late if at all. I might get an oil change in Grand Island or even wash a load of laundry if there's time. If nothing happens, I'll call it repositioning.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
About yesterday, it seems the same fate befell dozens of chasers. Darin Brunin wrote that after seeing my report, he wondered if he was in the same car.
Since it never occurred to me to continue chasing what we ominously had called "storm number one", and it was actually an easy decision at the time, I don't feel too badly about it now. What would really bite is if I'd had reservations about breaking off, like I did on the 24th last year. This is different somehow.
So we move on.
I have some challenges ahead. First, I don't have a job for the first time since I was 16 years old. Second, my lease ends on July 30th andI have to leave Indiana, but I won't know where until I *get* a job. My car is wrecked and will take at least three weeks to fix, I'm guessing, which means I'd better get it in the shop before last week of June. Getting complicated already.
So right now I plan to chase Tue, Wed, and Thursday if applicable, then return to Indiana to get the vehicle repairs underway. With the rental, I'll start job-hunting, and visit North Texas in the midst of that. I'll bring my gear in case there's a chase handy, but chasing will take a backseat to other priorities.
Saturday, June 04, 2005
"First, it sucks that people's homes were destroyed by this tornado and related storms. Their problems tonight exceed mine by an inestimable amount as I am safe and sound in a Kansas motel. That acknowledged, here's my report.
I chased the storm that produced Mike's tornado from initiation until about five minutes before it dropped the stovepipe, according to my calculations. We were in the Kickapoo Indiana Reservation west of Horton when we concluded that the storm looked bad visually (it did), was generating outflow (it was), had turned toward less favorable terrain, and that the storms west of it were more appealing on radar.
We had seen a wall cloud that fell apart quickly before our outflow began, but thought that storm #2 in the line was a stronger candidate. That storm generated a large bell-shaped lowering that began rotating but never touched down that we could see.
According to my calculations, we missed the first tornado by about eight miles or five minutes. After chasing over 10,000 miles this season with very little tornado imagery of any worth, that is a real kick in the teeth.
Congrats to Mike and others who stayed on the storm all the way to the river (or even back across). This is the second time in two years I've made a disasterous choice in that same little area--I hope to never see it again as long as I live.
And again, it sucks much more to lose your house than to miss videotaping a tornado, so it's all relative."
With powerful upper and low level jets intersecting over much of eastern and northeastern KS, we're looking for surface boundaries and other subtle features to serve as convective focus for today's storms. A very good chance of tornadoes, some of which could be violent, across the high risk area today.
Eric and I are in Russell, Kansas and plan to head east on Interstate 70 while refining our target.
Friday, June 03, 2005
I flanked it to the east and observed a sustained wallcloud from about 2215z to 23z. At one point, I was convinced the wallcloud would touch down as it was low and the rotation quite pronounced. I do not believe that it did, however.
Frankly, it was one of the best wallclouds I've seen in 2005, on a storm which on the Baron's composite (which isn't saying much of course) looked like a small shower, albeit with a 55dbz core.
I was unable to call DDC since I didn't have a cell signal, and now the storm has dissipated. I'll send them pics later tonight or tomorrow.
This was a tough forecast. Eric Nguyen, Dave Fick, and I woke in Garden City and headed for Sheridan Lake, CO, hoping for storms to fire on the higher ground and move into better theta-e air as the midlevel flow improved. But in the back of our minds we knew that not having a real focus for initiation could be a problem, and the cap was worrisome. Our cu field began to dissipate and the first Denver-area supercell fired. When storms began near Limon, we raced north and caught the Limon cell as it was entering the city. We heard reports of a tornado earlier and softball hail on the highway. As the storm came into view, we knew we were on something special.
This supercell was absolutely stunning. It outclassed the GRI mothership from the 10th and I would have never guessed seeing two storms of that caliber within four weeks time. A deeply striated and vigorously rotating storm, it was so incredible that one member of our group jumped back on Interstate 70 in order to race AWAY from it to get that Chris Kridler-style distance shot a la May 29, 2001.
Dave has video of a white cone tornado which I didn't see since we all separated at several points during the chase. He is attempting to document where and when, but this is clearly a small tornado Dave captured while looking into the elusive notch.
We ate dinner in Kit Carson and emerged to find a small LP spitting CGs and spinning underneath a deeply starry sky. We hurried away from the city lights to shoot nighttime long-exposures of this amazing little barber pole updraft. Had it been daylight, this storm might have outdone the Limon storm from earlier. What incredible Colorado structure. I'm anxious to sift my images and post a few to the blog, but it's time for bed.
With both Eric and MikeH on this storm, get ready for some breathtaking images of Colorado at its best.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
Photos courtesy of Tony Laubach and Verne Carlson.
As for tomorrow, we talked about the Palmer Divide as a potential tornado target before the SPC Day 1, and I still like that area. However, between 0z and 3z in southwest and southwest-central Kansas, as the system kicks out, some parameters are pretty scary.
If you look at this while the 0z run is still posted, see this panel for an overlay of CAPE and 0-3k SRH at 3z (10:00 PM Thursday night)
That's extreme instability co-located with extreme helicity beneath forty-five knots of deep layer shear. My impression is that supercells firing on the dryline bulge around 0z to 1z will become violent as they move into this area of extreme instability and enhanced shear and produce possibly a few violent tornadoes. I expect tornadic storms will continue well into the night throughout parts of southern and central Kansas. SPC's 5% tornado probability is grossly underestimated in my opinion. The area should have a 15% hatched.
But it will be a long wait for us, especially with supercells firing east of Denver and producing tornadoes as they track into the backed flow along the front. I'll probably try to avoid looking at XM for as long as possible...LOL.
I'll stay here in my motel in Garden City until checkout and post images and video grabs from the last several days. If I ever go to bed tonight.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Looking at current moisture field composition suggests we may again struggle to realize ETA's happy-go-lucky ideas on return. My confidence in that model's ability to forecast moisture is shot.
Given the erratic resolution of sfc features with this system, I'd reserve judgement on a definitive target until tomorrow morninig obs. Looks like another good chase day for several potential targets.