Saturday, May 31, 2008
Chase season 2008 is now officially wheels-off, batshit crazy: the muddiest, fastest moving, grungiest, structure-laden, torando-stewn season of my career. I drove home to Denton late last night, arriving at 4:30 AM, to feed the cats, grab fresh clothes, shower, and sleep for three or four hours before heading out again. In retrospect I should have stayed in KS, called someone to care for the animals, and bought new clothes where I was, but as usual the next day's setup didn't look great until the next day, which is today, which is why I'm back in the car. I haven't thought about image processing in days. I have dozens of emails waiting for replies, almost as many voice mails. Apologies to all; there just isn't time. I'm carrying around Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing like some kind of token detail to remind me of my other life. No I haven't read or written any fiction in about ten days. What's my novel about again? Something to do with Chicago?
Tomorrow I might play Oklahoma again because of an an ironclad commitment in Denton Monday morning. Unless I win the lottery there's no sneaking out of this one. Then I'll head out Tuesday for the second half of next week and another mind-bending round of storms and tornadoes. After that, I'm done.
Friday, May 30, 2008
A fun and productive chase day alongside mssrs Blair, Burtis, Currens, Deroche, Pietycha, Kampas, Davis, and Wellman at various points. Observed the Kearney, Nebraska tornado from inside Kearney, Nebraska. Condensation about two-thirds to the ground witnessed from the railroad bridge, but as would become the theme of the day we couldn't stop and shoot it. Too much traffic. Grew alarmingly clear a tornado was about to roll through town so I bolted for the eastern fringe on SR 30 and turned to watch. A narrow funnel to the southwest and a large, blocky tornado were ongoing simultaneously; some will claim the smaller funnel was a tornado, maybe so. But any question about the larger one was put to bed when it struck an electrical substation and a round of transformers exploded like pinwheel firework plunging Kearney, grid section by grid section, into darkness.
Debris floated overhead and I smelled acrid electrical smoke, almost within seconds of the transformers blowing. I don't know where the debris came from or what caused the scent, but the juxtaposition of phenomena made me decide to get the hell out of there.
Later we bailed on Nebraska to head south. What would become the "Glen Elder storm" was isolated with a consistent radar presentation for over an hour before we arrived about five minutes into its first tornado, very close or just west of Osborne, Kansas. This was a large cone that narrowed into a tapered elephant trunk with a great rope-out. I shot this on video for some reason instead of with the DSLR despite the calm circumstances and great, green foreground. I guess it was the camera I had in my hand at the time. Ten minutes later, rejoined by the rest of the crew, our storm opened a thirty minute round of barrels, cones, ropes, blocks, and bowls, a free-wheeling display of condensed tornadoes as if to make up for all the complaints about 2008 and the lack of clean tubes.
I shot over 80 stills and it's 3:00 AM. I reviewed a little over half and processed two, but it's time for bed. I will amplify and amend this report in the weeks ahead and post full reports to my website later.
For now, I'll post this image with the DOW (and chaser streaking the other way) as an apology to the DOW driver, whoever she or he is. I'm the fool who pulled out in front of you and then two minutes later slowed suddenly to find a place to safely exit the roadway (the giant bowl dropping behind us was interesting to me). I felt like the DOW was two feet from my bumper all the way across Tipton Road, and it was hard enough to stop for imagery as it was. I'm sure the DOW wanted to run over me, too. Anyway, a few poor driving decisions on my part.
Here's the first pic I've processed:
about 8:41 PM south of Glen Elder, Kansas
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I have a ton of stills I'd like to review as well. Maybe later tonight.
I scanned the GFS long enough to know I have to get as far north as possible tomorrow. This morning's 12z operational suggests Thedford, NE as a potential target, but there's no reason to fine tune or speculate until Thursday morning. If the target evolves north of NE/SD border, I won't make it. I can't leave DTO until the late afternoon tomorrow. It would be a relief, really...but then there's Friday and that looks well within range. More later.
A weird and frustrating chase day. We started in Dodge, confident about our position relative to moisture surging in from the south-southeast, an outflow boundary visible on DDC radar north and northwest of the city, and any potential dryline assistance, which as usual in 2008, failed to show up. Storms fired from a complex of showers north and northeast of Dodge, and the chase was on. I initially pursued a storm heading for Jetmore, then turned south for the southernmost cell of a triplet cluster. This soon evolved into an HP with marble to golf ball hail on the forward flank. I dropped in front of it and decided to head further south to a supercell approaching Greensburg, Kansas, of all places.
This new storm earned a tornado warning while I broke south to flank it to the northeast. I passed some horrific tree damage south of Macksville, apparently from the Greensburg tornado of 2007. Chilling reminder to see these massive oaks stripped and shredded like confetti---some surely more than fifty years old, now in piles like kindling. When I made SR 54, I turned west toward Greensburg and tried to drop south to get a view into the notch, but the sandy backroads were slippery and treacherous. The meso was tracking northeast toward the highway anyway, so I tried to stay between the hail and the circulation. My view into the notch was consistently obscured, however, by rain, though a long tail cloud (perhaps an outflow boundary, actually), pointed to the location of the rain-wrapped circulation. I paced the storm all the way to Pratt, where my friends and I convinced ourselves the day was finished. We turned south for Medicine Lodge to eat pizza.
Meanwhile, back at the meso, our storm tightened up and produced three apparently fully-condensed tornadoes (the distinction being important in this the year of invisible ropes and the like), while Scott Blair and I shared a large surpreme at Pizza Hut and entertaining conversation with Derek, Katie, Scott Currens, Mike Currens, Bob, Rachael, and Steve Vanderburg. We laughed and told stories until Tim Marshall, seated with Jimi Leonard and Scott Peake at the table behind us, read from his cell phone Rich Thompson's report of the cones south and east of Pratt, where we'd turned south just 30 minutes earlier. Wow. It doesn't get much worse than that.
Unless you want to hear the story of how we missed the Quinter wedge as it was crossing the road on Friday. I'll save that for later.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Katie & Derek watch the wedge and associated satellite yesterday, 9m sw Perry
Right now we're headed for Dodge City, hoping the surface features sharpen up.
approximately 3:46 PM 8m southwest of Douglas, OK
6:04 PM, probably south of Lucien, but need to confirm, location uncertain
I started the day intending to head home to Denton, Texas, but in the parking lot of the Salina, KS IHOP decided to check out the outflow boundary in northern Oklahoma along the way. While model forecasted midlevels were barely sufficient (which profiler data later revealed as badly underforecast), the backed flow along the boundary and later a mesolow were interesting. Small reflectivities had already begun when we headed south. We were grateful the storm took so long to intensify or become surface-based as we had a long drive from I-70 down to the 35/412 intersection.
Soon after we reached the storm we witnessed our first tornado then observed between three and five more over the next several hours as the storm seemed to oscillate between HP and classic: hiding everything in rain until it revealed some occluded updraft that would tighten and drop a tornado. One or two of the tubes sent us scurrying for cover. One of the larger cones and its associated RFD blew tree branches and other small debris across the road as we hurried east.
Our chase group today was Scott Blair, Derek Deroche, Katie Burtis, Scott Eubanks, and myself.
The last three days have been pretty hectic. I haven't yet posted anything about Friday's chase when Bob Fritchie and I witnessed four tornadoes between Ness City and Quinter, and I haven't processed imagery of either day---all of that is forthcoming somewhere between laundry and cleaning the inch of mud from my floorboards.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
more complete report than I can compose tonight located here. I've spent my time with imagery, as you'll see below. I was shooting video today with my VX-2100 which as usual did a great job finding features in low light situations.
Times and locations are very tentative until we can coordinate timestamps and GPS log files. Other images I'll post later.
2248z 5m north of Alimota
2325z 8m ssw of Collyer
2325z 10 sse of Collyer (on ground same time as tornado above, we're in between)
2332z 4m ssw Collyer
(same tornado as above, moments later)
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Bob Fritchie, then turning west for the dryline with a final goal of reaching someplace in west central Kansas by nightfall. I wish we could keep from counting tomorrow's 'modest detour' as an official chase, but I guess that's exactly what it is, so put me down for yet another cap bust in 2008. It'll be tricky because if storms fire in this target, they won't go up until 0z at the earliest, and if we stick around that long and chase until 1 or 2z we'll have quite a hike to make northwest Kansas or southwestern NE by Thursday. It's not out of range, just an old-fashioned target run. Two drivers makes that substantially easier.
Then the following chase days, Friday and Saturday, could appear in the same general region, so a few decent night's sleep are possible.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Here's an important post from my friend Shane Adams' blog about how chaser Mike Scantlin drove a victim of the Picher, Oklahoma tornado to safety on May 10th. Hats off to Mike.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV) streaks east on SR 87 west of Eden, Texas, May 14, 2008
rotation developing ese of Eden, Texas, May 14, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
Five miles southeast of Eden we observed sustained vigorous rotation in a large lowering. It was a bit too close so we scurried south and east to flank it. Because of the road network and poor conditions, we remained in the southern periphery of the hook and never had another good view into the notch. We experienced very strong RFD for as long as ten minutes, with several gusts exceeding severe criteria, I'm sure.
Scott B has been in Denton the last two days dealing with car issues, but he's back on the road right now and headed for Lawrence.
I could use the break in the pattern. Wednesday was my 15th or 16th chase of the year.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
think it's a wash in terms of pros and cons. Possibly better shear up
north, likely higher CAPE down here. Tonight's NCEP runs aren't as
awful with the lower tropo shear in the southern target, though its
far from ideal for tornadoes. Also the 850s back a little late in the
period for my taste, swinging around between 21z and 0z. But WRF
depicts fair, se surface flow ahead of the DL down here and I suppose
there's a chance for a mesolow at the triple point given the high
temps forecast in the region (despite signals of mid and/or high clouds).
GFS and WRF both suggest the triple point around LAW by 0z. 4k SPC
WRF fires a big storm that plows through OKC metro with other storms
south of DFW along the DL.
This looks much like prior setups though with good trajectories for
true Gulf moisture and higher instabilities than earlier in the
season, perhaps we can get lucky. I'm trying to be optimistic and am
charging all batteries, etc. I'll put in a long morning's work and
head for the triple point around noon, probably through SPS then north.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Yesterday I was sure the ultimate chaser nightmare would come true for me: observing a tornado without any camera gear. I spent the afternoon in Dallas taking in another round of the JMW Turner exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. Turner was an English landscape painter who was, essentially, the 19th century's greatest storm chaser. Instead of a DSLR or HD camcorder, he used oils and watercolor.
Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth
Much of Turner's work deals with atmospherics and light either as a direct subject or a background. For the image above, the story goes that Turner had himself lashed to the mast of the steamboat in order to experience the storm directly. At a talk I attended yesterday, one of the Turner scholars said: "When everybody else was going inside to get away from the weather, he was going outside."
Anyway, when I went outside after the museum closed, a supercell fired up right over my head. I had to laugh. I had intentionally blown off chasing yesterday because of other projects and the terrain challenges where storms were expected. That's right: on a big MDT risk day in the middle of May, I went to an art museum instead of chasing. I've chased southeast Oklahoma before. Fuck that. It's frustrating just thinking about it. And I never expected storms this far west on the dryline.
So, no cameras. But I had my computer, and in the computer bag all my laptop-related chasing paraphernalia. Within five minutes and I was up and running with a full chasing data suite. As I started combing the Arts District for a gas station, I realized the only camera with me was my shitty cell phone version on my ancient Nokia. I pondered hunting down a Wal-Mart somewhere for a 35mm disposable. By this time I knew a tornado outbreak was underway up north, saw how every warning text included reported tornadoes on the ground, and I didn't doubt that my storm would produce a big tornado, too, just to mock my neglect and lack of preparation.
I gassed up, raced east on I-30 to escape the downtown morass, and waited on this little cell to organize. It split once, twice, and a third time before rising to the steering current and rocketing out of Dallas County to the east southeast. I chased it before giving up at Kaufman when I could smell the rich pine forests around the corner.
Here's the picture I took with my cell phone at Kaufman before parting ways with the shrinking storm base.
On a more somber note, a lot of people lost their lives and many dozens more were seriously injured in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. These fast moving and violent supercells wreaked tremendous damage in long swaths which were a function of their speed. It's a reminder of what it means to be on the business end of these phenomena.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
The day's first precip came in through the air conditioner about 4:30 AM. This was a window unit badly installed in the back wall of Room 31 at the La Siesta Inn of Seymour. And it was no trifling leak but a concentrated stream from around the unit and through the plastic grill onto the floor. I flipped on the light, a bare bulb screwed into the ceiling, and watched the puddle gather on carpet the consistency of Astroturf. If the water had been hail it would have bounced.
I found a second leak, in the bathroom, bubbling through fresh paint and collecting on the window sill and floor. After a radar check I went back to sleep, trying to imagine that I was camped near some meager waterfall.
In the morning my hostess agreed enthusiastically that the leaks in #31 were pretty stout, as if she and I were a pair of dour building inspectors and not the owner and her customer to whom she'd omitted any mention of these novelties the night before. I shook my head and left, driving around new roofing materials stacked in the parking lot.
Breakfast at the Rock Inn Cafe was delicious except for the raw pancakes. I didn't complain though because the waitress reminded me of the sweet, hard-scrabble women I worked with at the Bonham Dairy Queen when I was a kid. In those days the fast food staff consisted of these women, usually divorced and down on their luck, and us high school kids making extra money we didn't need, to spend on things we had no business buying. Along the front counter old-timers filed in and out for coffee and the latest news from the fields or their friends' families. I text-messaged a friend who also grew up in a rural Texas place. I said the old guys were lining up for breakfast and he quickly corrected me. "Bullshit," he wrote back. "They've been awake since at least 5 and are just going to sip coffee and shoot the shit." He was right, of course. It had been a long time since my days serving thirty-five cent cups with free refills to this crowd: these unrepentant smokers, hearty laughers, and the best storytellers in the world.
I waited in Seymour a while to see if skies would clear and offer some cold-core hopes later in the morning. It seemed we had several ingredients in place: more than adequate moisture return, ample mid-level cooling, and strong CVA between 18-22z. I shifted east to Ringgold and waited some more. Scattered cu thickened and surface temps hardly budged. The surface low drifted just north of the river. Seemingly all of chaserdom paraded past me and waved as if I were some friendly local figure, the mayor, perhaps, or a clueless volunteer fireman. They wore big smiles like a gang of kids headed for Six Flags. The big event of course was the impending Tornado Outbreak in northeast Texas, my old stomping ground.
I knew parts of Fannin County are tough for chasing; there's the Leonard Hills on the south side where local kids still "ratrace" and occasionally end their nights in violent collisions. I don't like chasing east of 35 when I can help it. But maybe today was the right day, I thought. I drifted further east to Gainesville and within thirty minutes showers appeared west-southwest of Denton. On my way south I realized I was wearing my "Bonham Boogers" t-shirt---a gag gift from a high school pal to celebrate the Texas-Oklahoma League semi-pro baseball team of 1922. The team had disbanded, along with the whole league, when a railroad strike prevented travel between competing cities. It's the only article of clothing I own with the word "Bonham" on it and I'd picked it thirty six hours before, a random choice prior to leaving for west Texas.
Outside Melissa our storm began to spin. With a large church in the foreground Robert Hall and I watched the rotation tighten up. It took a while but at last we had identifiable structure, so we started north up 121, towards Bonham, keeping the updraft in the sideview mirror and u-turning for occasional glances or a photo. We saw a few RFD cuts, a few odd, anti-cyclonic circulations, but mostly HP structure with a ragged, unpromising base. The storm had started as a linear segment, transitioned to a multi-cell cluster, and, despite a temporary flirtation with classic/HP mode, it never overcame its tendency to line out and split.
Before I knew it we were in those same Leonard Hills, then headed north on 78 into Bonham. At the Braum's on Sam Rayburn Drive ("Mr. Speaker" being Bonham's most prominent son), we gave up the chase. I ran into someone in the restaurant who I hadn't seen in twenty years. I apologized for not remembering her name. The teenagers behind the counter overheard us and asked if I had had this or that teacher in high school. Many are still teaching there. After dinner I drove around the old streets, narrower than in my memory, and thought that for a busted chase, I'd seen worse.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
7:14PM from six miles west of White River Reservoir (12m sse of Crosbyton)
8:22 PM 10m west of Guthrie looking southwest
It was clear the initial convection from southeast NM was struggling to organize, splitting even before there was hardly anything to split. When a short line of stout convection fired to the east, I backtracked from Brownfield to Tahoka along with JR Henley and Ken McCallister. I'd earlier run into Jon Merage from Denver also.
South of Crosbyton we observed an isolated storm with some vaguely organized structure, and a broadly rotating wall cloud about six miles west of the White River Reservoir. At one point this was a large, symmetrical block which we should have photographed when we had the chance, but the storm also collapsed easily and yet another storm fired to our east-southeast.
From ten miles west of Guthrie, weak rotation and recognizable structure combined with modest lightning opportunities. The storm never threatened a tornado.
Our storms appeared CAPE-starved and suffered from weak low level wind fields. It's possible the strong outflow boundary from overnight convection made it impossible for the areas east of initiation to recover fully.
Monday, May 05, 2008
I'm curious if storms that mature along or immediately east of I-27, especially northeast of AMA, might outrun their upper level support as they approach W OK. I'll chase up there but with an eye on development to the south and hope for sequential storms more firmly within the core of the jet.
Here's the WRF forecast sounding for Pampa at 0z Works for me.
(valid for 0z WRF)
I'm also interested in this stalling line of showers and storms stretching from Tulia to east of Roswell right now and the chance for a boundary to emerge. I remember Al Moller telling a group of us years ago why it was critical not to dismiss the existence of a boundary just because it wasn't readily apparent from morning sfc data or satellite imagery. Previous convection, even overnight, was often the only significant marker. As I recall he was taking issue with the tendency to rule a boundary "washed out" too easily.
A little wishcasting goes a long way on the caprock. For tomorrow, WRF signals a relatively cloudless afternoon. A storm on a well-roasted boundary in the environment shown by that forecast sounding is about as much as we could hope for.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Friday, May 02, 2008
"When it's May you chase." --Tim Marshall
Almost broke this old axiom yesterday. Glad I didn't.
After today's severe weather out east, the moisture will be shunted into the GOM until further notice, or at least until Wednesday, according to the GFS. I checked the EC and it also signals the a relatively weak, low-amp trough early to middle next week. This far out, that's about the best we can do for numerical certainty. Normally I'd be happy for a modest system without wild-ass kinematics, as up on the caprock or the high plains they often produce lumbering, isolated supercells with manageable tornadoes, but if our moisture takes a Caribbean vacation tomorrow we'll need something strong to haul it back to the dryline in time. We'll see. For now, what's certain is that there's no chasing for a few days--beyond that who knows. You never close your eyes too long in May.
A few minutes after I shot the funnel posted below, one of the Skywarn net controllers talked about the image he was watching on a live television feed from a chase-copter hovering nearby. He said the rotation on the ground was from an "invisible rope." I thought, yep, that's 2008 for me so far: incredible structure with invisible tornadoes. Or "explain-adoes" as Scott Currens calls them. The ones where you have to direct the viewer to stand on his or her head, listen to Coleman Hawkins records and drink three gallons of water to see the tornado embedded somewhere in the image. There, see, right there! Don't look straight at it. Okay, it's late.
The shot below was taken looking north from the intersection of S Choctaw Road and E Reno Avenue at approximately 0030z. That's the Choctaw Church of Christ in the foreground, I believe, as best I can confirm from Google Earth and glean from the sign. A few minutes after the photo, damage reports came in. I don't know if this is a tornado or not. It looks like an elevated funnel to me.
0030z in Choctaw
over-processed crop of the same image, (spire up/funnel down)
I didn't intend to chase today at all, but I put in a fair day's work and left Denton for Ardmore, then left Ardmore when a new field of cu formed west of Norman. I came into the metro area in time to see a 6-7-05 style LP-ish updraft which appeared more than willing to produce a tornado. By the time I made the corner onto 240 eastbound, I thought a tornado was imminent, from a vigorously rotating wall cloud. I raced east to get the structure and tube both in the shot. Alas, it wasn't to be. Bob Fritchie, Rachael Sigler, and their co-worker Chip joined me later as we zig-zagged through mountain and meadow into the forest. Big dinner at Chilli's back in Norman followed.
In hindsight, I had last Thursday too much in mind when choosing to sit the day out (which I didn't do anyway), but it was clearly a stronger system without the specific jet quad deficiencies that may or may not have plagued us last week, and with much colder air aloft and stronger 'kinematics.' When the surface low formed out west and the cu fields appeared in south central OK, it was obvious this wasn't an identical scenario. I'm glad I left Denton when I finally did.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
do. I wavered last night when I saw the sfc Tds higher than expected,
but this morning's soundings from TOP, OUN, and points west, plus the
12z RUC currently coming available on UCAR, makes initiation along the
the dryline in southern KS and northern OK (before FROPA) too
conditional for my $200 in gas.
RUC is more aggressive with the veered 850's and drying trend at that
level, making the possibility of entrainment along the boundary a
nasty possibility even if the DL mixes east aggressively, as has been
depicted in many runs. On the vapor loop currently, the system and
all its wonderful kinematics aren't exactly in a big hurry; the center
of the upper low is lollygagging around northwest CO. This doesn't
seem like great news for daytime init along the DL.
It's always scary to turn away from the sort of highly supportive
environment like will develop in the eastern third of KS and into
northeast OK, with plenty of juice and a boundary waiting to go. In
May. Ugh. Sounds like a bad idea when I put it that way!
If I lived closer, even just a little, I'd recon to SE Kansas,
probably northeast of ICT by a county. But not from here.