Cyclone Road


Monday, May 31, 2004

May is finished weather-wise and so am I. Likely will cease chasing operations and start visiting old friends and turn north for Indiana within a week or so.

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

Report: May 29, 2004 Concordia, KS area tornadoes

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
to choose.

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

Another big severe weather day on tap--looks like the grand finale of
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

We're in Denton, Texas checking data and making plans for the next few days. At the moment it's certain we'll chase on Saturday anywhere from north central Kansas to southeastern Nebraska into southwestern Iowa or northwestern Missouri.

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.

Chase Report: May 27, 2004 N TX Supercells

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

We spent much of the morning agonizing over various targets, ranging from Lubbock to Childress to Clinton to Enid to Coffeyville, Kansas. Finally we rolled out of Wichita Falls around noon and headed west toward Vernon. Around 3:00 PM, we set up camp west of Quanah and south of Kirkland in a remote field, watching a boundary bubble and roil to our north as a field of vigorous low cumulus slid toward us from the south. The cu marked the northern edge of the best moisture fields and we felt that when the moisture reached the convergence along the boundary, storms would fire.

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 cruised south through Oklahoma into northwest Texas tonight with some low expectations for possible organized storms along the cold front, much like I did the day after the Attica day last week. Similar results.

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.

Report: Monday 24 May 2004

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

I looked at last night's ETA, have not seen it today. As of the 0Z run, tomorrow's setup reminded me very much of yesterday's, with a somewhat weaker surface low forecast to form a little more north and east of yesterday's. Seems as if these Day 2 setups which are dependent upon smaller shortwaves get pushed back west as the models tend to rush the disturbance, so wouldn't surprise me to see many of the same areas in eastern Nebraska under the gun on Monday.

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
Nebraska tonight.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

We're in York, and between the watch, the data, the chasers, and the humidity, it feels as though something momentus is building. Almost an eerie sense of expectation, which might jinx the whole thing. 8)

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.

The world's quickest and dirtiest forecast this morning suggests an area from Red Cloud, Nebraska to Hebron. I hope this ellipses shifts southward about 50 miles, however. I'm concerned about the 850 winds slacking off near the border--not sure if that's model silliness or something to ponder. However, with due east surface flow, 850 from the southeast shouldn't be a problem. 850 at five knots would be a problem. Maybe the boundary will sink deeper into Kansas and under the better LLJ.

Friday, May 21, 2004

We observed a large tornado tonight about 9:46
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
Chance, Colorado.

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

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

We're riding west for the Front Range of Colorado where the air is thin, the storms sculpted, and the lifting mechanism is never ambiguous. Today's chase is a long-shot 600 mile road trip from Iowa, but we're ready to exit the Hawkeye state after yesterday's tomfoolery chasing NWS products and elusive flux convergence. Currently approaching Kearney, NE on I-80.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

We suffered our second bust day in a row today, chasing from eastern Nebraska to west central Iowa. While the setup offered strong instabilities, supportive wind profiles, and a disturbance aloft, the lack of adequate lifting at the surface failed to overcome even very weak convective inhibition. We pinned our hopes on a surface trough along which we hoped a confluence zone would provide for point convergence and lift. Didn't happen. We're spending the night in De Soto, Iowa, thirty miles west of Des Moines.

We're in Wichita, Kansas, preparing for a long haul north toward Lincoln, NE and the Missouri River Valley for what's shaping up as a substantial severe weather day, according to SPC.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Headed for Hays, Kansas this morning for the first
data stop.

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Friday, May 14, 2004

Spent last night and this afternoon in Denton running errands, sleeping well, eating right, and making phone calls. This morning I changed the oil at Wal-Mart and discovered the new Panera nearby! Very nice, but terrible location and view. Still, they know how to make a latte and they have wifi. Of course Brickhaus is still my sentimental java home, but....

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.

Here's a preliminary damage survey from Wichita NWS. This does not include our day's first tornado southwest of Medicine Lodge, which is covered by NWS Dodge City. Their report is forthcoming.

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.

546 PM CDT THU MAY 13 2004











Thursday, May 13, 2004

By pure dumb luck and a good breakfast at Kathy's Cafe in South Haven, Kansas, I passed the first cell east of Enid when it showed the slightest lowering and tried to wrap up before the front came along and smacked it. This was approximately 11:30 AM.

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.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Scott Eubanks and I dashed from Cheyenne Wyoming to south of Pierre, South Dakota in advance of an approaching dryline ahead of a large upper level storm system. A deepening surface low in the far west and strong low level jet raised our hopes for isolated supercells along the dryline. However the deep layer shear was poor and the boundary was parallel to the midlevel flow, so our mode was quickly linear and cells lined out while marching slowly eastward across the vast range of eastern South Dakota.

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

Little time to describe, but I like the area from
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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Monday, May 10, 2004

Currently in Julesburg, CO for options north and south along the front range. Possible DVCZ day today? Actually favoring southeastern Wyoming for storms next few hours.

North, north, north. We pressed further toward the
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

Eric Nguyen, Scott Currens, and I targeted O'Neill, Nebraska today, hoping storms would fire along a lifting warm front as an upper level disturbance moved across the state. A strong moisture axis lifted into the northern and northeastern Nebraska area, and we noted a fair cumulus field as we headed northwest into the upper rangeland of the state. Eventually we outran the moist tongue and the cu and so we stopped short of our target and waited around Norfolk.

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

The front should drift into northern Nebraska today
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
the best.

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Friday, May 07, 2004

I found an abandoned rural corner of southeast Nebraska about 5:00 PM and parked the truck on an inclined ramp to somebody's field. I shut off the radios, laptop, the cell phone, and the truck, and sat on the hood watching small cumulus struggle against the cap as the warm front drifted northward. I always enjoy the turbulent diversity of clouds along a warm front; too bad this one couldn't produce anything.

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.

Dense cloud cover and cool outflow is limiting heating across all of Iowa and parts of eastern Nebraska. Strong high pressure north of the stationary front maintains steady northeast to east-northeast surface flow down the Kansas-Nebraska border and throughout the southern tier of Iowa. Dewpoints in the lower to mid 60's are pooling along the boundary in extreme northern Kansas and working into southern Nebraska. At 15Z, a single station in southern Nebraska reported southerly winds.

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

Spending the night in Des Moines, Iowa tonight, planning to chase a warm front tomorrow which should stretch across the southern third of the state. The capping inversion is very strong, and the chances for surface based convection south of the boundary are slim, but if something goes, the helicity values along the front are excellent--low level shear supportive of mesocyclones and tornadoes. I'm at the top of a massive CONUS ridge right now, and hoping to take advantage of a belt of strongerly midlevel winds and cooler temperatures aloft combined with moisture pooling and flux convergence along the dryline.

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

My chase season begins in western Iowa with a warm front stretched across the state and impressive low level shear combined with strong instabilities as moisture pools along the stationary boundary. Tomorrow I head out for Des Moines or even west of there to see what Friday will bring.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Yesterday I thought it made sense to plan a Friday departure since the offshore system looked to impact the plains with zonal-flow shortwaves by Sunday. Today that doesn't seem like such a great idea. The medium range models continue to delay the next system's arrival, pushing it deeper and deeper into the period. At this point, I'm not sure when the next chance of severe storms will arrive. Perhaps Monday or Tuesday of next week?

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

Well it's May 1 and I have no idea when I'll leave for stormchasing. The current medium range forecast models show a consistent ridged pattern across the central plains of the US, though I noticed this morning's ETA begins breaking down the trough as soon as Tuesday over the west coast. 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.

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