Cyclone Road


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sure will be annoying if tonight's 4k WRF is correct and storms initiate just north of ICT tomorrow. I don't intend to chase, motivated by an excessive desire to avoid two consecutive, expensive cap busts.

Meanwhile, I've spent several weeks processing some of Eric's images for his file with Corbis, the stock photo agency. In doing so I've learned a few things I didn't know before, and turned my attention to some of my own images tonight. I don't know if I've improved them significantly over previous versions, perhaps a little.

This is my favorite tornado picture I've taken since I started chasing, shot near Trego Center, Kansas on June 9, 2005. My full report page is here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm not chasing Thursday and therefore not up-to-date with the latest model data, or speculation about the position of fronts or drylines. It's not that I don't think the setup holds promise, but it's close enough to marginal and similar enough to a half dozen prior chases already this year that it seems like the right one to skip.

My choice practically guarantees close photo opportunities for high-contrast, sunlit tornadoes with elves and clowns skipping around the debris whirl. Imagine that on your favorite chaser's streaming dash-cam! I'll wait for the pictures Friday morning.

Simpleton I am, I'm watching possible dryline setups in the Texas panhandle and southwest Kansas on Sunday and Monday, scenarios I understand in terrain I love.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Scott Currens suggested a location outside Harper, Kansas where he'd conducted a survey after the May 12, 2004 tornado. We ventured out there and examined the trees, still severely damaged from the nighttime F4, with deep grooves and divets and a large metal plated wedged into the formerly live oak. Scott described how, a few days after the tornado, a visible circular area was scoured of vegetation, nothing left but red dirt, one of several clues that the tornado had stalled over this spot where it also destroyed a two story house. The residents were huddled in the basement and survived without injury.

We decided to wait for initiation near this place since it was rural but close to a town with a convenience store and a Subway. We had full data access, but no traffic or obstructions on the horizon in any direction. In short, a perfect place to wait. And did we ever wait. Bob Fritchie and Rachael Sigler joined us, along with their friend Chip, and they too examined the old damage.

Meanwhile, cu after cu dried up and blew away. We studied vapor loops and visible satellite images for any salvation. We followed the progress of the dryline religiously, checking every round of obs, buoyed by a 68F dewpoint from Bob's instruments that suggested moisture pooling. And it suggested, too, the bright green wheat all around us. We told ourselves the earlier subsidence would, itself, subside, and the vigorous dryline circulation would surely make itself seen. At least a line of bubbling clouds along the boundary? Nope. Nothing. Nada.

But that's chasing.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Like most who left early for west Texas, Bob Fritchie, Scott Currens, and I were happy to see the limited coverage and impressive character of the early convection, including a morning supercell. When the skies cleared sooner than we expected, an outflow boundary emerged in the growing sunlight. This looked like our play as the dryline was as sluggish as advertised in prior GFS runs and the morning RUC. Down with the WRF! But with sun on a boundary early in the afternoon, we didn't complain.

We stopped to examine the first storm east of Snyder, in the wind farm about ten miles from town. The new cell was disorganized and scuddish, but the bases scraped the ground and an inflow tail formed as we continued west toward a more impressive storm and better clearing. We were comfortable letting the first cell pass; the inflow was "cold-core chase" cool and we didn't want to be distracted so easily.

We stopped again ten miles west of Snyder. Our second storm of the day looked young but certainly more potent than the last. I stepped outside my truck without my camera as a man driving a long pickup and hauling a horse trailer stopped behind us. He asked about his prospects on 180 westbound. I told him a tornado watch extended to the New Mexico border, but as I added how the storm near us was probably no immediate threat, Scott Currens yelled: "Look!"

To our southwest by about three miles, a small elephant trunk tornado extended to the ground. This touchdown occurred at 1935z. As quickly as it appeared, it was gone, but the circulation remained. I retrieved my camera and raised it before the second funnel condensed only to find I was still on "BULB" setting from the lightning shots I took on April 17th in Dallas. Oops.

The condensed iterations were painfully brief, a trend I expected to continue given the poorly-structured wall cloud. Instead of spinning the dial to Av, I went fully automatic. Now the shutter was too slow to hand-hold because I was on ISO 100--but I shot anyway. Shoot now and sharpen later. The results are about what I deserved.

At the next intermission, I switched to full manual and raised the ISO, but too late for that one.

The meso surged toward Snyder. Bob filed a report on Spotter Network after finding his AT&T cell signal absent. But our SN report was noted only by those monitoring the placefile or the website, I'm afraid. It's my understanding that Midland doesn't recognize SN reports yet. It's a sign of the strange techno-times we live in that not one of us could make a call from west of Snyder, while our Sprint cards stayed connected all the while.

So we hurried back east. From immediately west of Snyder, we observed a large circulation carrying debris high in the air, about 1950z, a strange and impressive sight given the lack of condensation. This appeared to be in the southeastern quadrant of the city. I shot stills but haven't examined those yet. With his cell signal recovered, Scott called Midland NWS directly.

We encountered moderate damage on the eastern side of Snyder, including downed power lines at the 180/84 intersection. We circumvented these and continued east. When we caught up to the storm again we met one of the most powerful RFD blasts I've ever experienced. A power pole north of highway 180 was snapped in half at the intersection of CR 481. Not blown over--snapped in two--with the upper half tilted over and hanging, by all appearances, from the wire still attached. This cable and the other lines shook violently. Fearing power lines coming into the road and what storm features might reside to our east, we pulled over. With the storm moving quickly and appearing more HP-ish on radar, we turned around for the "Lamesa" storm back west.

At Snyder we dropped south for Vincent. From there we snaked to SR 1584 where we turned north and witnessed the rope-out of the Lamesa stovepipe. We u-turned east again to keep ahead of the impressive structure and follow a parade of organized gustnadoes. At one point in the adventure, someone reported an "extremely large and dangerous" tornado on the ground, probably the grossest misrepresentation I've seen make its way into warning text. This was well after the documented stovepipe; I have no doubt it came from the large and continuous gustnadoes, especially from Ackerly to Big Spring. They were large, that much was true.

With some distance, we were treated once again to a deeply-grooved, stacked plate structure, oddly common this year. As Roger mentioned, the inflow tail was insanely long, stretching over the horizon.

At last we raced to intercept the kitchen at Farolito's Mexican restaurant in ABI, where the green enchiladas are well worth the trouble.

And that would be a blue sky cap bust. More later.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Should arrive Pratt 20z and will reexamine from there. Prefer to
cross my fingers w/DL circulation than go north since I have to be
back in TX Fri afternoon. Like everything about the region except
unfavorable jet quad and lack of precip on models.

weak tornado west of Snyder, Texas ~1935z, April 23

long inflow tail later in the day

This is the best I can do on short notice. The first picture is bad, out of focus and everything else. I suffered some camera trouble due strictly to user ignorance. We witnessed the rope out stage of the Lamesa stovepipe (did NOT see the stovepipe itself), and I'll worry about those images after tomorrow's chase. Time to sleep.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bob Fritchie, Scott Currens, and I observed three tornadoes today, two around Snyder, Texas at 2:35 and the next about ten minutes later. The first was a fully condensed funnel which appeared twice, the second a large circulation southeast of Snyder containing debris. We witnessed moderate damage on the eastern side of the town. Our last tornado was the ropeout of the Lamesa, perhaps around 5:15 PM, but I'm uncertain of the times until I check my camera. Took stills of all three; no idea how they turned out. Preparing to chow down in ABI.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The first caprock chase of the year is always one of my favorite events, for reasons both mythic and meteorological: all the historic supercells through the years, as well as the wonders of orographic lift. There are probably as many variables in "caprock magic" as there are Dairy Queens east of Levelland, but the phenomena is real. I remember toward the end of the day on May 5, 2002, standing on the side of the road while Al Moller described the effect of inflow channeling through the canyons. What a place. Hopefully we can keep the dryline up on that great stage tomorrow.

Glancing over the 12z operationals and the 12z 4k WRF, I like this setup despite the questions regarding precip. These early showers seem to fire well east of the dryline, in warm air advection and with limited areal coverage. On the backside of the early wave, I'm counting on a little subsidence to put a stop to the nonsense before 20z. After that, we might have a few boundaries to work with. Of course if skies clear too quickly we could be dealing with larger T-Td spreads, in which case outflow boundaries could come in handy.

Low level shear has been progged as highly supportive for several runs in a row, with >500 m2/s2 3k SRH and ~200 m2/s2 1k SRH values along and east of the DL at 0z. If high clouds clear out early enough and temps soar, I expect a stout DL circulation.

4K WRF mirrors the operational WRF DL surge, at 0z (graphic valid until 1AM Wednesday):

Also, 4k WRF has a more modest late afternoon precip forecast (21z) [link valid until about 1:00 AM Wednesday morning]

Anecdotally, I recall more luck than not with 50-ish kts of midlevel flow overspreading ~2500 j/kg up on the caprock, especially with strongly
backed surface to 850 winds. With the potential benefits from boundaries from morning precip, I can live with the washout risk.

Favoring WRF's DL evolution, I'm interested in the area from Childress to Tulia to Lubbock to Guthrie. I don't buy the 12z GFS stalling the DL entirely if a secondary, lower level wave actually arrives around 0z.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Here's the longer version of yesterday's odd chase. I observed the northernmost supercell first, taking a position near Chico, Texas, but I was blocked from further approach by Lake Bridgeport. The storm showed disorganized lowerings but became outflow dominant. When rain from the southern storm contaminated the updraft region, I dropped south toward Weatherford. I noticed that even as my old storm became more linear, it continued to show strong low level rotation in the "notch" features that developed along the forward flank. The southern cell showed a similar pattern.

Near Azle, I turned on FM 730 with a southwesterly tack to skirt the core. While I was flanking, Parker County spotters reported tennis balls and baseballs on the north side of Weatherford, with a lone softball report as well. This was an important development as the hail effectively pinned the spotters along and south of the interstate. I turned briefly east and then south on FM 3325 to approximately seven miles east of Lake Weatherford. Another lake. The updraft was to my west and growing obscured as the old long-lived hook folded into more of a notch. Though I haven't checked archived data, I believe the storm retained supercellular characteristics at this time, around 7:15 PM.

Just north of the FM 3325/White Settlement Road intersection, a large wallcloud came into view, about four miles to my west. This feature was connected to the base of the storm. In the photo above, a forward flank cloud deck in the immediate upper foreground hides the real base. That cloud deck is not the distant storm's base. Nor is the blocky condensation from which the tornado extends the updraft base; that's the wallcloud. This configuration was more apparent in later views from White Settlement itself, when the storm was closer and base and wallcloud both became visible. At the time, it was confusing. I stopped on the crest of a private driveway as cascading "sheets" of condensation moved from north to south into the wallcloud. The primary "core" of the wallcloud, on the left side, assumed a cylindrical shape and began to rotate. An RFD cut appeared on the southern edge and a funnel extended rapidly. I wasn't confident about what I was seeing, but thought I should keep shooting stills and sort it out later. As I mentioned, I put the time of this around 7:22 PM, and it lasted no more than ten seconds. I've guessed it was approximately four miles NNEof Willow Park, Texas or eight miles ENE of Weatherford.

When I logged a funnel report on spotternetwork, my position and therefore my report appeared about twenty miles west of the actual observation, due to a problem with my GPS data stream. Moments later, a Parker County spotter logged a full tornado report on SN in the correct position. Presumably this spotter had a view of the base of the funnel and confirmed that it reached the ground. Either this spotter or another contacted NWS by phone; the ham operator at FTW mentioned the report on the Parker County net minutes later. Most of the spotters were still trapped in Weatherford or down on the highway, having taken cover from the destructive hail. I didn't realize this until later and after talking with other people today. If I could do it over, I would have called FTW first and worried about SN later, but with the confirmed report (and a tornado warning already in effect), I concentrated on fleeing the mongo hail.

The line followed me into the Metroplex. I turned around occasionally to see if the notches would spin up something else. On White Settlement Road I was able to track the still-prominent wallcloud, then followed 820 north along the western side of Fort Worth to the northwest quadrant. I saw a few lowerings, nothing impressive. But traffic made this an increasingly dangerous effort. I dropped south onto I-30 with the notion of posting myself immediately east of downtown Dallas for some skyline lightning photos. Well, I'd never tried this before, and found it a frustrating effort. Beyond elevated roadways, I couldn't find a single prominent vista. I'm sure there's many; I just don't know where they are. I don't make a habit of chasing downtown so I've never had cause to look.

The squall line swallowed me as I flailed around Deep Ellum looking for a view. Then I drove home in the rain.

Structurally, this convection was well beneath 2008's standard. The best part of the chase was that it started late, so I'd already put in a day's work, and it ended back home without incident. If I ever complained before about the lack of chasing in northwest Texas or southwest Oklahoma, I take it back. I'm ready for the caprock or the front range or any high plains vantage point. Maybe next week.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tornado ~4m NNE of Willow Park, Texas @ 0022z, observed from ~3 miles west

Observed a tornado this evening, approximately four miles north-northeast of Willow Park, Texas, or eight miles east-northeast of Weatherford. The funnel I saw lasted about fifteen seconds, and soon afterwards multiple reports of a touchdown came in through Skywarn and other sources. The time of the tornado was about 7:20 CT.

The lifespan of this tornado was rapid, evolving from this to the picture above in less than a minute, then back to this a minute later. An ugly crop of the tornado here.

Here where I estimated the tornado occured:

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There's a chance of isolated storms in north Texas later today, though we'll more likely find a squall line coming through the area as instability is limited by poor moisture and warmer-than-ideal upper level temps. Strong forcing along the front should fire convection west of the metroplex, around 5:00 PM according to the latest short-term models. If the storm mode is isolated, supercells are possible. I'll bring my gear but I don't expect to chase.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Thursday, April 10, 2008

I did not see a tornado yesterday. A lot of people did, some more than one. I saw wrapping rain curtains, a narrow funnel descending from a wall cloud (but with the lower half blocked by trees), dust kicked up at the ground, and scary tendrils on the edge of gust front curtains, but no tornadoes. My problem was a combination of bad roads, rough terrain, poor or tardy decision-making, and rotten luck. But a few decisions were good.

On the bad side, I sat around like a chump thinking how outflowy the storm looked before I got my ass back in gear. In the positive column, I was about to go north into the meso when I saw Shane and Mickey turn around and take another route to flank it. I decided that theirs was the wiser choice. There are risks I'm simply no longer willing to take. So part of what I saw, or failed to see, stemmed from my own choices. I'm okay with that.

So, no tornado for me. Congrats to those who scored.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Very little time for a writeup so I'll post some bare details and save the rest for after our chase tomorrow in west central Texas.

On Monday, 4-7-2008, I encountered vigorous enhanced cu in Baylor and Wilbarger Counties around 2:30 PM. These struggled with the capping inversion but continued to regenerate at the focal point of what appeared to be a small mesolow. Finally one of these broke the cap and the chase was underway. A cluster of three cells merged rapidly into a large supercell. Just west of Electra, the storm produced the brief tornado I show below.

I was unable to see debris at the ground, but my friends Bob Fritchie and Rachael Sigler, with numerous other chasers, witnessed the circulation and resulting dust swirl. Scott Blair chased with us this day as well.

As this storm weakened, we repositioned to new convection to the southwest: two new storms which became isolated supercells on their own. The northern storm was near Mankins. Despite interference via outflow from the southernmost storm, this cell maintained an impressive radar presentation and several wall clouds.

Finally we dove south toward Archer City and followed the last storm east until it morphed into a deeply-grooved barrel updraft, a gorgeous little LP to end the day.

5:01 PM 2m west of Electra, Texas (cropped from larger image)

5:07 PM 2m west of Electra, Texas (cropped from larger image)

5:31 PM

5:57 PM, Electra storm fading fast

7:41 PM, near Mankins

8:16 PM near Windthorst, Texas

8:28 PM, near Windthorst

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Tomorrow brings a conditional threat of tornadoes to southwest, south-central, and central Oklahoma from around 22z tomorrow evening to 3z Tuesday morning. Model forecast wind fields and thermodynamics are supportive of isolated supercells with an attendant tornado threat, but chasers are worried about moisture, as we often are this time of year. Current surface charts and morning soundings show a shallow moist layer off the Texas gulf coast. It isn't clear how we'll return adequate moisture fields to reach the low 60F Tds projected by the WRF and GFS. And, even if we reached the ~62F Td neighborhood, our dewpoint depressions are still likely near 20F, resulting in high based storms with potentially cool(er) RFD. That makes tornadogenesis, especially in the absence of boundaries, more difficult. Targets tomorrow range from Lawton to Clinton.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Next week looks busy for chasers. Based on this morning's 12z GFS, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday all carry potential for severe storms and tornadoes, with strong surface lows, backed winds, and varying degrees of moisture and instability. It's an unusual pattern for early April, I guess, with sustained southwesterly flow aloft as opposed to the single, powerhouse systems we often see. Monday looks more like June than April. Winds aloft are strong enough to support supercells, but just barely, and storms should move at a leisurely pace if they form.

We'll see what happens. WRF hasn't performed well in the 60-84 range. Friends of mine who forecast for a living say they don't rely on it more than 36 hours in advance. I'll wait for a system with guaranteed low level shear; I've had enough veering to last me the balance of the year.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I'm pretty sure I've used this story before in reference to Mike Hollingshead's pictures, but here goes again. In 1967, the Beach Boys were working on their soon-to-be legendary album Pet Sounds when the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The story goes that the Beach Boys were so amazed and stunned by the revolutionary new sound and concept that they halted recording for more than six weeks, listening to Pepper over and over. I felt that way last night, before I started processing my pictures from 3-30, when I saw Mike's images from the same storm, same time, posted here.

There's simply nobody on Mike's level now. There are fine photographers in chasing producing different kinds of images--some unique visions, to be sure--but Mike has a mastery over his camera, lenses, and the use of light, especially with nocturnal atmospheric phenomena, that is unmatched in the world. Beyond the simple beauty of the images, Mike's pictures present a consistent aesthetic derived from his particular way of seeing these events, a sort of "philosophy," if you will, which inhabits and animates his work, and which is markedly lacking from inconsistent or clueless photographers, like yours truly, for example.

This is the difference between an artist and someone who pushes a button on a box. The good news is that this quality seems to be a product of both his natural "eye" and a tremendous amount of hard work, the latter of which is possible for anyone willing to pursue his or her craft with the same relentlessness Mike does.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mike and Eric's book, ADVENTURES IN TORNADO ALLEY: THE STORM CHASERS was featured in a story in The Daily Mail overnight, which Drudge Report linked later in the morning. Great, invaluable exposure for the book.

Other news, I chased in southwestern and south central Oklahoma both Sunday and Monday. Found an impressive, wedding-cake updraft near Granite, Oklahoma on Sunday, then some powerful storms later that night. I'll post pictures late tonight. It was a blast chasing with Scott Blair, Scott Currens, Bob Fritchie, and Al Pietrycha.

Monday yielded little in the way of photogenic storms; I did not venture east of I-35. I tried to catch anything west of the highway in chaseable terrain, but it never happened. Finished the day in Denton with Bob, eating well at Giuseppe's.

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