Cyclone Road


Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I chased with the whole crew today and managed to avoid any bizarre mishaps while observing and documenting some great supercells and two weak tornadoes.

We targeted the outflow boundary stretching from AMA to the southeast but lost our patience and headed north for the cluster of supercells and the developing storm moving in from Clovis. We intercepted the southern end of the cluster as it produced an amazing striated shelf cloud and a bright white hail core. We missed that first tornado reported by spotters, and the storm was soon outflow dominant so we shifted west for the former Clovis cell which was by then near Muleshoe.

We chased it south until it produced pseudo-tornadic spinups (meaning not obviously associated with RFD, outflow, alien spacecraft propulsion systems, etc) northeast of Amherst, Texas in Lamb county. Previous to this we observed a very long-lived gustnado which was obviously associated with strong outflow. But the later spinups occurred under areas of strong rotation after the influence of the outflow had subsided.

The storm chased us into Lubbock where we took shelter under the awning of an abandoned gas station and watched pea to marble to quarter size hail rain down in torrents. Very fun and successful chase day.

I want to thank the chasers in our caravan who helped
me after I struck a deer yesterday on State Road 160
in southeast Colorado. It is a rotten thing that an
animal like that dies for no better reason than a guy
racing around looking at clouds. But she leaped out
of a deep ditch into the road and landed right in
front of me, so there was no avoiding the crash. I
pulled over and other chasers hurried to help clear
debris from around the wheel well and evaluate the
drivability of my car after making sure I was okay.
The best news was that the deer definitely died
immediately, confirmed by Jason Persoff who was behind

I want to thank Jason, Tony Laubach, Steve Hodanish,
Dan Robinson, Bill Coyle, Jeff Gammons, Chris Collura,
Kersten McClung, Scott Blair, Mark Sefried, Kurt
Hulst, and others. Yes it was a long caravan but in a
moment of potential danger it was good to be among

We chased multiple storms as they moved off the
mountains near Trinidad, each progressively more
impressive until we saw a cone tornado about 0235z
near Pritchett, CO. I will post more detail and
imagery of my first relatively photogenic tornado of
the month when there’s some downtime perhaps tomorrow.
As for now we’re headed south to try our hand again.

Monday, May 30, 2005

We're using wireless internet at an undisclosed location along the Colorado Front Range.

Woke this morning to a flat tire and a truck covered in dirt from a wild roller-coaster ride along State Highway 193 which begins as pavement, transitions into gravel then mud and finally a mad-max style broken asphalt with massive potholes, roaming cattle, and long construction nails. One of the nails landed in the deep tread of my new rain tires, and after I'd unloaded my gear, Tony pointed out my completely flattened tire.

I'll fill in the details later, but within two hours we'd fixed the tire and enjoyed a great breakfast. So we're back in business now, waiting for storms to fire on the mountains and move into the flat terrain. For the first time in many days our midlevel flow and directional shear is highly supportive of supercells, and with adequate low level cape and a slowly-advancing warm front, we have moderate expectations for the day.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

I hoped to rejoin the band of gypsies composed of Jeff Gammons, Chris Collura, Kersten McClung (aka Weathervine) and Eric Nguyen and Scott Currens (aka Violent Plains Tours), who, along with Scott Blair, have had way too much fun in my absence. The setup took them to eastern Colorado, however, a more direct target from Amarillo, where they had spent the night. It was too late for me to catch them and so Tony Labauch and I went to Wakita, where Steve Miller, Dave Fick, Mark Sefried, and Bill Hark joined us. Not sure when I'll hook up with the other gang again; things are strange from year to year like that. Some people cross your path every other day and others you see once in four or five years until you run into them four times in a single afternoon.

The party was fun. Wakita is the first small town on the plains to actively market its "tornado heritage" and they're smart to do it. Forty or fifty chasers crowded the small downtown area, buying souvenirs and food, making contributions to the Twister Museum. The museum holds artifacts from the filming of Twister, the most fascinating of which are the photos of how much destruction Hollywood wrought upon this northern Oklahoma burg. The main (and only) road through town was literally covered in debris from buildings smashed to the foundation.

Wakita had already applied for a grant to bring down several structures badly damaged in a hailstorm a few years earlier, so the producer's plan to raze parts of downtown for the film's sake fit was ideal. Linda, the curator, told us there was something of a competition between other towns which had applied for state demolition grants. I suggested that holding an annual picnic for chasers and marketing their town as a chasers "home away from home" could be lucrative. She remains in contact with Bill Paxton from the film, and has sent him novels as prospective plots for a sequel. Apparently Paxton is directing movies now and involves himself with new productions.

Look for pictures of the Wakita gathering later in the day here.

The next ten days appear promising for supercells and tornadoes and the mood in Wakita was upbeat. Even Tim Marshall noted that southwest flow aloft in the midlevels was highly unusual for June. I asked him if that meant it would not last long and he nodded his head that indeed our bounty might be short-lived.

Tomorrow we're looking at the front along the Kansas / Oklahoma border or perhaps south of there, though the upper level support is weak. We're between systems and will have energy from neither the ejecting eastern cyclone nor the inbound shortwave which promises to keep things active on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Tomorrow I'll chase with Steve and the gang but with a northern bias. I'm looking toward an upslope event on Monday before dropping south for a interesting dryline setup in the Texas panhandle.

Dr. John, if you're reading this, I may make it your way yet!

Tonight I'm in Enid, Oklahoma, preparing for the chaser Picnic and Twister museum reunion celebration. Pattern is trying to shape up for the next ten days, but it may be slow going between now and Tuesday or Wednesday. We might see a little improvement every day.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

I snuck a peak at the HPC discussion and its fascinating. As close as they come to throwing up their hands.

Here's my thinking. We've been ridged for more than a week. Many models have indicated over the last four days and continue to indicate, though with some uncertainty, that the ridge is breaking down. It's late May--the climo peak of severe storm season. I'll gamble that the ridge falls. I sort of like that the guidance is completely useless at this point. We're all flying blind.

I'm leaving tomorrow for the second half of my chase vacation because I think there's enough signal from various models and ensemble forecasts that I'm confident the ridge will break down and zonal flow will replace it. That doesn't mean a powerful storm system will come through on that zonal flow, but it certainly ups the chances considerably. Once we establish the new pattern, then I think the models will have a better chance at detecting the various waves and disturbances necessary for supercells and maybe even a tornado or two.

I'm glad I won't have time today to watch forecast models all afternoon. Plenty of errands to run and I'm also reading Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, an amazing book.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Earlier today I wrote this:

"The large Canadian low that forms from the merger of the east coast and Hudson Bay troughs still gets pushed out to sea, as I mentioned in the earlier outlook, but on this morning's 12z GFS it is quickly replaced by ANOTHER large upper level low that drops in from the polar regions."

Two hours later, the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center wrote this:


Here's their full discussion. So we have official sanction for blowing off this morning's crazy ass GFS and continuing to expect a gradual ridge breakdown and all the good things that flow from that.

Moments after my last post, Tony sent me a text message saying he and Jon were booked at the Enid Best Western for Friday and Saturday in anticipation of the Wakita party. This was exactly the sort of thing I needed and I immediately called and booked myself both nights as well. To hell with the pattern. We'll get 300 stormchasers together in a little town and see if we can't figure this out.

I think the Wakita thing could be a real blast. A sort of semi-outdoor chaser-block-party with much more spontaneity and less commercialism than the conventions for example. I'm looking forward to it.

In case I haven't mentioned this before, Wakita is the tiny northern Oklahoma town which consented to its own devastation for the filming of the movie Twister. As a result there is a Twister museum in place now, and the 28th is the 10th anniversary of something to do with the movie or the museum, nobody really knows what exactly. Chasers who have been slogging it out daily under this unforgiving pattern won't need much excuse for fellowship and steam-blowing. Should be fun.

Came in this afternoon to check the new GFS and wish I hadn't. I suppose it's time to confront some ugly truths about 2005, that it stinks for instance, and that it wants to remain blocky and ridged and works hard to outwit any effort at transition.

This morning's GFS does something so outrageous that I wouldn't believe it if it didn't actually fit the trend this year. The large Canadian low that forms from the merger of the east coast and Hudson Bay troughs still gets pushed out to sea, as I mentioned in the earlier outlook, but on this morning's 12z GFS it is quickly replaced by ANOTHER large upper level low that drops in from the polar regions. This sets up a new blocking pattern, shifted east, placing all Tornado Alley in steep northwest flow aloft for more than a week. A series of cold fronts are forecast within this regime, which scour moisture.

It's a diasterous run.

Yes, these models have had a bad year, as we know. And, no, they don't handle transitional periods well. Since this is the first instance of this new solution, I remain skeptical about its liklihood even in a year when such an occurence seems the norm.

At the same time, I'm growing frustrated with the wait-and-see limbo. I've scheduled and cancelled and rescheduled my pet sitters more times this season than ever, and I remain mostly packed and ready to chase. It's hard to start a new work project when I literally don't know if I'm coming or going. The thought crosses my mind more and more to simply write off the balance of 2005, perhaps making one spot chase in June if something develops, and shelve the idea of spending an extended period of time on the road as I did in early May.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

My friends had a tough day in Colorado today. I didn't have such a great one here in Bloomington after learning that a clerical error had interrupted the awarding of my MFA. I took care of that after a boatload of stress that probably shaved several years from my life. My trip is delayed now until Friday. I'll make the Wakita party to see my pals and then hope for another ten days or so of chasing before I close shop on the season.

I also wanted to post a review I wrote on for my friend Lee Martin's novel, The Bright Forever. This is a great book and should be at the top of your reading lists. Here's the piece:

"There is a moment late in Lee Martin's The Bright Forever when a strange new piece of evidence emerges concerning the whereabouts of nine-year-old Katie Mackey. The girl's disappearance is the central event around which the novel unveils the carefully guarded lives of the people of Tower Hill, Indiana. As the citizens retire from an exhaustive, rain-soaked day of searching for Katie, they ponder the new revelation while drifting off to sleep. At the chapter's end, the reader is left awake, as if standing in the darkened village square with only an empty stone courthouse and the brush of wind against the sidewalks and shop windows. You might interpret this as an act of hospitality---an invitation to take a small break, perhaps make a cup of tea or even catch a few hours of sleep if, like me, you find yourself having read deep into the night. It would be un-neighborly, in fact, for the book not to offer such a moment of repose. Which makes it even more chilling.

You won't accept this kindness because you know what sort of men are still awake in Tower Hill, men like Raymond Wright, a boisterous and extroverted construction worker who offers too much advice and harbors a dark alter-ego, or the bachelor Henry Dees, a polite and fastidious schoolteacher who becomes, as the novel peels away layer after layer, one of the most simultaneously engaging and creepy characters in recent memory. They are awake, Katie is missing, and by now you know that the conclusion of The Bright Forever will be as vital and utterly compelling as what had come before.

Lee Martin renders an Indiana town with a facade of congeniality as the perfect backdrop for the increasingly dark interrogation of his characters' interior lives. Clare Mains is the late middle-aged woman who marries Raymond R. because loving people was "all she knew how to do." But beneath her effort to ward off a lonely widowhood, she senses the strangeness of her new husband and yet shows a merciless cunning when their relationship is threatened by events. Gilbert and Patsy Mackey, Katie's parents, live with a deep regret despite their manicured lives, their suburban royalty unspoiled until Katie fails to return one evening from the public library. Their son Gilley, a bright and particular boy, is conflicted between his love of family and the sense that he, too, is something of a strange bird like Henry Dees or even Raymond R.

The Bright Forever is masterfully narrated by multiple voices, and together they make a sort of chorus, though each is distinct and nuanced through Martin's graceful prose and ear for dialect. Their song is about our love for beauty and the violent side of human nature, and they whisper a final refrain about the tragic ways these two essential compulsions can meet."

Flippity floppity. Ridge still breaks down on this morning's runs, that's the most important thing, but many details are different. I'll say one thing for 2005: I'll never forget it. What a mixed up year.

It's ominous that the string of slight risks from SPC runs out on Day 3. Sort of remarkable that we've seen slights every single day for weeks now, despite the pattern.

I still want to be in place when the ridge breaks down. I may delay my departure by a day or two. I still plan to make the Saturday picnic and/or chasing.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Latest models (18z runs of ETA and GFS plus 12z EC) show the reemergence of the southern jet stream, and a large upper low moving from western Mexico into the southwestern US, concurrent with a strong upper low forecast to plow into the Pacific Northwest beginning around Friday morning.

These systems should make significant impact on the increasingly narrow western ridge. Ensembles suggest decreasing heights across the western US in favor of more zonal flow, a solution favored in this morning's CPC discussion:

We still have problems to overcome, namely the retrograding eastern trough which merges with a middle Canadian low to form another monster cyclone north of the border, creating a confluent zone of northwest flow aloft over areas north of Interstate 70. However, with the weakening of the ridge in favor of zonal flow, it's possible we can finally ship these damn Canadian and east coast lows out to sea.

I have some measure of confidence this is possible. If it happens, I think the generally progressive pattern we've experienced--despite the consistent blocking--could continue, paving the way for an active first half of June as shortwaves ride the zonal flow into the central US unimpeded and with more impressive boundary layer instability after a week of ridging.

That's some wishcasting, I know, but I think there's evidence things may improve on a large scale.

None of this matters much to our friends in the field, who have a red box and a tornado-warned storm in Yuma County, CO right now. I hope they find a big, backlit cone and snap 2005 out of her trance.

I intend to leave Bloomington Wednesday for possible chasing in New Mexico on Thursday and Friday, then the Twister Reunion and Picnic Saturday in Wakita, followed by whatever Mother Nature has in store for us during the climatological peak of tornado season this holiday weekend.

Huge confusion on the times for the tornado imagery below. I've finally worked it through and I'm fairly confident now that the first image was taken around 2153z from just south of South Plains, Texas looking west.

The second image is from two hours later, at 2354z, and I'm still working on exactly where we were and what direction we're facing.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

I don't know when I'll chase again. I'm growing restless already, but the models are crappy and I think June might be worth waiting for. The upslope events look good, but I don't know about what's behind them. I want to attend the Wakita picnic, and I'd like to say a proper goodbye to my Florida friends who I didn't see that last night in Kansas.

I should have more imagery posted here within 24 hours. I captured some good video yesterday, plan a little more today. I have to finish some reading first, however.

An interesting scuffle broke out on the Stormtrack forum today. This is a sign of what a tough chase season we've experienced. Chasers are grumpy, depressed, and short-tempered. Some people at home criticized those in the field yesterday for failing to acknowledge the strength of the capping inversion. The sort of people who write these post-event indictments couldn't chase their way out of a phone booth, but some meteorology programs breed a sort of Mr. Magoo buffoonery when it comes to chasing. I'll post the link to the topic, and my contribution below.



"It's perfectly reasonable to discuss the failure modes in a setup, but the tone of the two Target Area posts that raised hackles is pretty unprecedented. Lampooning chasers from the comfort of your apartment or the Map Room, for a cap bust of all things, is incredibly bad form, not to mention wildly bad luck. Of course luck has nothing to do with it, right?

Forecasting severe storms is a combination of science and art, and chasing relies even more heavily on the art side of the ledger. This is something like what others are describing by the word "faith." It may be a surprise to some people that any of us can learn the science. Yes, we'll learn it inefficiently. We'll learn it imperfectly. But sooner or later, we'll get it. Plenty more, in fact, than we need to successfully intercept supercells and tornadoes. Sorry, no exclusive domain there, I'm afraid.

The ART of forecasting and of chasing, however, is a little harder to acquire and much harder to quantify. From what I can tell, they include pattern recognition, perfecting the numerical model in your HEAD, a willingness to gamble, and finally (maybe most importantly): karma and character.

Chasers are optimists. The ones who are not don't last. The reason is that supercells and tornadoes, in ANY setup, are inherently unlikely events. So of course the forecast from chasers will focus on the ways supercells and tornadoes may form, because that's the way we have to forecast. That's where character comes in, fortitude, and the ability to bounce back after a cap bust and go right back at it. Listen, all of us know about the failure modes. We know FIRST HAND how many ways sups and tornadoes can fail to form. Sitting in a classroom doesn't give you some additional insight that we miss when baking under a hot sun.

You may think you can look at a sounding for a potential severe weather event and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the cap will hold, but here's a news flash: you don't. You just think you do because you haven't gone stormchasing very much. Forecasting convective inhibition is the single most difficult task in predicting severe storms and nobody has perfect skill. Not Tim Marshall, not Roger Edwards or Roger Hill or even undergraduates at esteemed meteorology schools. The difference is the that the chasers I mentioned are actually aware of this.

Most chasers I know with tens of thousands of miles under their belt agree that if all other parameters are present and supportive of supercells, and the cap looks remotely breakable, you have to chase. You chase because we're lousy at picking when the cap holds and when it doesn't, as I'm sure the outlook forecaster who issued Tornado Watch 311 would agree. You chase because missing that tornado while sitting at home is infinitely more painful to real chasers than a cap bust afternoon of throwing Frisbees and hanging out with friends. You chase because it's May, and things tend to lean toward their climo norms. Weak setups on model output tend to come out more favorably in May as often as they don't. Not so in March and April when weak setups tend to get worse.

But if somebody has found some new methodology for eliminating the guesswork in forecasting CIN and initiation, then by all means get that paper written and into peer review so the unwashed can benefit from the insight."

Saturday, May 21, 2005

My friends out in the plains suffered a tough day today, a clear-sky cap bust in Nebraska that even the SPC thought would break. Tornado Watch 311 was cancelled without a cloud in sight, the result of a layer of warm air just off the surface that impeded the upward movement of surface parcels. Cap busts are as tough as they come because all the other parameters--heat, moisture, lift, and shear--can wait in vain for the first bubbling cumulus to pierce that inversion. If it never happens, it is the most humiliating sort of misadventure.

Today's bust for my friends comes on the heels of long drives to South Dakota, and Oklahoma before that, all without any luck. It's a tough game when you put in the long hours and thousands of miles for nothing, and what we'll see as a result of this unforgiving 2005 is a considerable thinning of the herd.

2003 and 2004 were remarkable years, the best in a generation at least, and the profusion of chase video and seemingly easy success created hundreds of internet-ready chasers, those who surfed a few hundred messages on Stormtrack and spent $1000 on equipment before declaring themselves ready for the show. But like they say about stocks, everybody is a genius in a bull market, and the illusion created by such a fruitful tornado season led many to misguided conclusions with severe consequences.

A few people invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in armor-plated "tornado intercept vehicles", hoping to drive them into the center of a twister. A dozen new chase tour companies appeared, including one with which I'm associated, and the waiting lists for even the most recent entrants were quickly filled. Television stations hired chasers, weather websites asked chaser to write columns, and poet Mark Svenvold took time out from his busy Manhattan lifestyle to examine and explain us to his east coast gliterati companions.

Yet the atmosphere remained doggedly unimpressed with chasers or their growing popularity, and 2005 reminds us that chasing is hard, success is guaranteed nobody, and that good times must be appreciated as gifts rather than taken as some sign of anointed passage onto a higher level of chasing skill. Everybody gets a tan under a clear sky bust, veteran and newcomer alike. The difference is who comes back the next time.

My friends are headed for Colorado tomorrow for a few days of upslope setups. They chase on.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The wooded hill country of the White River Valley, as essayist Scott Russell Sanders has described the Bloomington area, was shrouded in thick fog as I rolled into town last night. It was a stark contrast from the large and sunny skies I'd grown accustomed to on the plains, where a tough chase season earned me a well-tanned face. I have to admit that descending into the misty forest was a little depressing, though I'm glad to see my friends, my bed, and a bookstore where you can find a few more literary volumes than just Tuesdays With Morrie.

On my drive home, I called Barnes and Noble and reserved copies of Lee Martin's The Bright Forever, and Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. I'm eager to dive into both after a run of errands and bill-paying this afternoon.

The Twister movie reunion / chaser picnic is scheduled for May 28th in Wakita, Oklahoma, and I'd like to attend that as long as there's some promise of severe weather around that time. If not, I'll wait until early June. At the moment, I don't see much on the models to lure me back. However, I think friends of mine will find some success on the Front Range and perhaps eastern Kansas tomorrow with northwest flow aloft.

Over the next week, I'll capture video segments and post grabs from the few weak tornadoes I saw, and also improve the still photos I posted in this blog for inclusion in the final reports on those chase days.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I'm in stop and go traffic in north St. Louis. The stormchase season will retire to distant corners of Middle America in the next ten days, marginal setups along the Colorado front range or northwest flow events in Nebraska, all on the periphery of a massive high pressure ridge forecast to camp over the heart of Tornado Alley.

We intercepted the supercell south of Topeka, another supercell twenty miles east of Emporia, and finally a derecho that blasted us with powerful winds and blinding rain.

We talked all morning about what our lifting mechanism was supposed to be in northeast Kansas today. The front was too far west, the pre-frontal trough/windshift was interesting but was that enough convergence? There was some upper level support around TOP but could it break the cap? We visited the Eisenhower Center at Abilene (can't recommend this great little Kansas town enough) and left when the MCD was issued.

We went south to Emporia, and watched the cluster of storms near TOP become more organized and discrete. Around 0z, we shot northeast (thanks for the roads, Ike!), intercepting the TOP supercell just south of the city, where it had already developed a large wallcloud and striated banding around the forward flank. This hasn't been the May of photogenic tubes for me, but the storms are making up for it with their detailed, laminated structure. We pursued this storm until the tail-end charlie cell to the west became dominant, then moved west on 35 to flank that end storm. We headed north on 75 up into the notch and saw a great CG show that lasted well past sunset. We stayed with the now southward-moving supercell by dropping down on 75.

When the storms congealed, they formed a powerful derecho which overtook us south of the interstate, where the extreme rain and powerful winds forced us to stop. Scott Currens and Eric Nguyen measured winds sustained at over 60mph for nearly ten minutes with a 72mph gust we reported to TOP on their 800 number. This was an amazing core! No hail to speak of, though Tony Laubach and Jon Van de Grift heard some pea size stones ricochet off Tony's car.

After the core passed, we dashed to a Wendy's about five minutes before they closed, along with a half dozen other windblown chasers and truckers who found themselves diverted around a section of I-35. I never saw the damage, but I assume a ten mile or so stretch of highway was blocked when tractor-trailers were blown over in the powerful microburst.

This was an intensely fun chase that included Scott Blair, Chris Collura, Jeff Gammons, Scott Eubanks, and Kersten McClung in addition to those I mentioned already. Chasing with a great group like I'm privileged to do makes it even tougher to decide if I should hang it up for a few weeks or so and return when the pattern is more favorable. I'll probably go home, but the amazing storms and camaraderie is hard to leave behind.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Another way to get attention is driving around Roswell, New Mexico, the UFO and alien visitation capital of the world, with strangely festooned SUVs and vans sporting antenna farms and weather stations while tourists compare ET-look alike bobble head dolls and lamposts with black oval eyes. Where's Mulder and Sculley when you're playing upslope on the front range?

We saw some stong storms west of Roswell, New Mexico yesterday, one of which produced a consistent rotating wallcloud that surprised the hell out of us given the weak parameters. Then we saw a sunset that blew our minds, with a mountain and red mammatus all in the amazing view. I took nearly thirty exposures and can't wait to process a few. A top three sunset of my life. Made the day. Took dinner at a great place called Farley's, where they served giant portions, weak drinks, and seated us at a big round table that the caravan's mafia-movie fans loved (this one included).

Today I'm in an Amarillo coffee shop working on my book review for a weather magazine. Sent a draft to a friend of mine and he wrote back that it was less than great. So I dropped out of the caravan (currently Weathervine, Violent Plains plus guest, and Scott Blair) and decided to hit the keyboard this afternoon. I'll catch up with the group tomorrow, probably in northwest Kansas to play the dryline Tuesday, then the lee trough Wednesday, and after that who knows. Might have a few down days, maybe more than a few. I'll worry about it later.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


Chasers gathered like horses at the starting gate in the parking lot behind the Childress Kettle yesterday around 20z. They were drinking free cokes from the movie theater and using the Kettle wifi signal, waiting until a tower exploded south of town. Most of my friends chose a direct route south on 83, under the young core, but I thought it would be clever to move east then dive in front of the storm, but FM 1033 southbound out of Kirkland curved back to the southwest too much, and the storm intensified rapidly—spewing mushy hail well downstream—and I had made a critical error right out of the gate.

Mercifully, the storm remained non-tornadic long enough for me to gain a great view into the notch from north of Crowell on State Road 6, and I maintained a more or less favorable viewing position all day. However, as we moved into north central Texas from northwest, into Cottle, Ford, and Knox counties, the sight lines worsened from occasional trees and hills. We saw the upper half of the white cone tornado Blake posted, but I have no imagery since I was driving like crazy at the time to escape the core. We were never able to stop for more than five minutes before this deviant mover was on us again. I’m certain this was the tornado, however, because Scott Eubanks called out over the radio, “There’s a cone—folks, that might be a tornado on the ground.” I hope somebody in our caravan had the presence of mind to aim their cameras in that direction at the time Scott made that transmission. Or if anyone was recording at all, we can check the time and see if his report came at the time of Blake’s tornado. Steve Miller, Jeff Gammons, Chris Collura, and Kersten McClung saw a separate tornado west of Benjamin which was on the backside of the storm complex. I did not see this feature.

The storm transitioned from a classic to a more disorganized HP, with several areas of strong rotation and multiple notches along the southeastern flank. It was hard to know which one to monitor, and impossible to see them all. The road network was no help, and dirt roads were mostly impassable from the earlier MCS rains. I tried one, early in the chase after my maneuvering mistake, and rolled about thirty feet into deepening mud before backing out very slowly and without breathing.

As the storm moved from Ford to Knox counties, the front cell tightened into a gorgeous mothership with several layers—my second amazingly picturesque storm within a week. This shelf cloud reminded me again of that derecho in south Kansas and northern Oklahoma on May 27, 2001, an awesome sight to behold.

I’m not sure why this storm failed to produce a more significant or long lasting tornado, though Blake’s image is certainly an excellent tornado. The midlevel winds were more than sufficient and the last time I checked storm relative anvil level flow, it was around forty knots. This storm rode the boundary for a while but may have slipped off as it turned right into hotter air and higher LCLs. There was plenty of instability and shear. Anyway, congrats to those who had photogenic images from favorable angles. I’ve missed those for two days in a row, but both storms were magnificent enough that it’s hard to feel sorry for myself. You just don’t see these kinds of storms too often.

Today we’re recharging batteries and washing clothes before heading to southeastern NM to play upslope and possibly a dryline on Day 3. I will post images on my blog from the last three days of chasing before I go to sleep tonight. I’m downloading them onto the computer now and will process tonight and post. Grabs from video captures may take much longer.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Quite an impressive mesolow forming near Plainview at 18:30z. Winds strongly backed and moisture pooling east and southeast of this feature; CDS dewpoint increased 6F since 13z. Helicities should be fair in the backed winds ahead of this feature. Slow moving outflow currently south of CDS stretching east should lay across the river by 22z. I'm interested to see if storms can fire in the CAPE max forecast west of CDS by 12z RUC and move along the boundary.

I began to capture video and process images last night until a series of big thunderstorms (imagine that) barreled into town and caused intermittent power failures. My room was on the end of the building, with only a thin wall between my bed and the wild night, a large red semi truck parked just outside. Took a while falling asleep as I imagined these storms producing a quick tornado and dropping the truck on my head. I unplugged my gear and stayed awake watching bad local television and the periodic weather updates from a bleary weathercaster who'd been on the air for more than a dozen hours.

Tomorrow is a down day and I'll dedicate the whole morning to posting images from both the Grand Island mothership and yesterday's tornadoes.

Today we're in Childress, Texas, with an outflow boundary from yesterday's action parked to our south. It is forecast to lift northward into increasing unstable air as the clouds burn off and the sun cooks a moist airmass below. Strong midlevel winds and excellent directional shear, particularly north of a mesolow forecast just west of Childress on the 12z ETA promote conditions again favorable for supercells and tornadoes along the boundary. RUC is forecasting over 4000 j/kg SBCAPE just north and east of a dryline bulge nosing near CDS at 0Z. I anticipate that by 22z, the boundary will run from CDS to north of the river with the CAPE bullseye on the western end. This is a particularly gruesome combination, as storms are very likely to fire on the tail end of this outflow and follow forecast storm motions of east-northeast right along the boundary. Storms on the boundary will tornado and may do so repeatedly.

After looking at the long-range progs last night, I'd say this is the last shot of supercells and tornadoes for northwest Texas for a while, so we're going to chase for all it's worth.

Housekeeping is growing impatient so no proofreading for this entry.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A string of violent supercells rolled over the caprock tonight. We caught our first storm just east of Plainview at around 21z and chased that one and another further southwest in the line until about an hour ago. We saw three tornadoes, one near Lone Star (some are calling this White Plains--Roger Hill's great vid on TWC though our view was much lower contrast), another tornado to the southwest of that one immediately afterward, then a large cone spotted by eagle eyes Tony Laubach and Scott Eubanks through a rain shaft on the second cell near Quitaque and Turkey.

We started in Colby, Kansas, departing at 8:45 AM and driving hard all the way to Plainview, Texas when the storm was only about an hour old.

Each cell hit the boundary and spun like mad--there were rotating wallclouds continuously during the storm's life cycle, and the storm settled into a beautifully sculpted updraft after dark, leading the long line of storms that stretches back to Plainview even at this hour.

I should have time between tonight and tomorrow to process some images, since for the first time in many days I don't have to drive 500 miles for the next day's target.

The caprock strikes back!

I like Lubbock today, but we're so far away. Currently racing south.

We chased the isolated supercell that fired near Colby and maintained strength through Oberlin and across the Nebraska border. However the front didn't seem to have the same effect on this storm as it did other and we dropped the weakening storm and shot north toward McCook and up state road 83 to intercept a storm which may have caused tornadic damage around Curtis in northern Frontier County. We saw a large metal grain storage facility that had been ripped from the foundation and thrown across the road. It lay crushed and twisted on the wrong side of the road, as well as downed fence posts and pieces of large metal piping strewn through the fields. However, the storm that caused this was quickly escaping into a larger convective cluster; a typical warm front grungefest where, because temperatures and dewpoints are so close (usually a good thing) and storms are so widespread in coverage (always bad), it becomes very difficult to maintain position or orientation for chasers and supercells alike. This front held fog and racing low clouds on a 700mb jet streak that pushed our storms well left of the morning's estimated storm motion of fifteen knots northeast.

We dove southeast to escape the rapidly closing cluster, hearing reports of large hail and passing parked cars with shattered or missing glass, and found another storm near Holdrege that produced a lowering with tail cloud and RFD notch, but no tornado. Too cold and too fast for that. I have heard reports of a tornado near Garden City caught by Dave Crowley and Justin Teague, and also rumors of Nebraska tornadoes further east than our target.

Frustrating day, but I have no regrets about our target; it was the obvious choice, and the company was great. I chased with some of my favorite road pals: Tony Laubach, Scott Eubanks, Scott Currens, Eric Nguyen, and a few others. We had a good time despite not seeing the sort of storms we'd hoped for. Don't know where tomorrow will take us.

I haven't processed images from Tuesday yet because Hollingshead's pictures are so good and because it's late and we have another long drive ahead of us tomorrow, perhaps into the Texas panhandle to play the dryline which produced so well tonight in Kansas. At least we know this airmass CAN support tornadoes occasionally.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Mike called me at one point yesterday during this storm and asked, "Is this a good enough Nebraska storm for you?" LOL. The answer is HELL YEAH. I was glad Mike was there because a storm that beautiful needs great documentation. We drove south late into the night, and have now moved east to Colby, so I haven't had time for any pics, but this storm was one of the top three I have ever seen, and it was stacked, striated, and violently rotating for over three hours. Mike's photos are previewed here.

I saw many funnels and RFD plumes that could have been reported as tornadoes, or maybe they were tornadoes, I don't know. I didn't see anything I thought was a tornado, but Verne Carlson and his crew spotted a full nighttime tube on the southernmost meso.

I was thrilled with this storm, particularly since at around 23z, Neal Rasmussen and I were talking on the phone about how much longer we'd wait before heading south. Right after our last call, cu formed all over, and the GRI mothership began. I'll never forget this storm. I'll post a full report in the right place later.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Wow. Well I like my Ansley target even MORE now. LOL. However front might not lift that far north. Broken Bow area under cloud cover. Front intersects I-80 where I am now in Lexington and it is very apparent visually; one of those boundaries with a big neon sign: chase me. And so I will and worry about sleep in July. moisture pooling south of the front nicely and RUC brings wrap around dews nearly to 60F here, CAPE to >2200 j/kg. Low cu already bubbling and front is lifting north of the highway a little now; much hotter than only 20 mins ago.

The plains are an amazing place. Driving interstate 70 this afternoon, I was thinking that aside from the occasional islands of American pop culture and box stores at exits, and cell towers cutting into the horizon, the landscape is unchanged since the migration of humans into this part of the world. Most Americans going between coasts are bored to tears by the stretch between say, Salina and Colby, as I drove today, but this is chasing's greatest concert hall, where the sky is a massive stage and chasers jostle for the best possible seat.

Tomorrow's show might be not play too long. Going into Nebraska again in early May, for a relatively marginal setup this far west. But I'm playing it west because Wednesday and the following days look strong along the dryline in Oklahoma and Texas, and I don't want to put myself too far from those setups. So I'll fall in with Tony Laubach and his crew, who know the area well, and see what we can see from around the Ogallala to Grand Island area.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Scott Eubanks and I are in Wellington, Kansas after a long drive from Childress. We have low cu, and our cirrus shield, which was pretty recent for this part of the I-35 corridor today, has burned off. For most of the day, this area from Enid to ICT was under relatively fair to sunny skies, and the surface temps reflect this as they have reached 80F around the area. Several boundaries in place including a northwestward moving boundary from the earlier E KS MCS. We'll see if something can go.

This morning in the shower, The Who's Greatest Hits song, "Don't Get Fooled Again" playing in my head. But chasing involves a lot of foolishness and so we'll probably give it another go today.

Last night's "storm" coming off the caprock was weak and generally uninteresting,
succeeded only in remaining strong enough to keep us from leaving earlier.
At one point, while we watched the storm from the side of the road, Tim Marshall
and Carson Eads pulled over. Tim rolled down his window and said, "Aren't you guys
embarassed to be chasing out here?" Indeed we were.

Today I'm looking for insolation wherever I can find it as early as I can find it.
The RUC shows a clear area developing by 18z between Enid-Ponca City-Witchita area, which expands in coverage ahead of the dryline. I could talk about all the other parameters in place, but the last two chases have taught me that, with this airmass, all that matters is getting the sun on it.

We're in Childress and should be on the road within 30 minutes. I'm having problems with the laptop and haven't been able to answer emails. I'm using the motel computer to forecast this morning and generate this.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

I like the potential in the Texas panhandle, with moisture and weak LLJ as the main limiting factors for long lived supercells. I'd like to see the clouds burn off sooner rather than later, too, though this seems to be underway. I'm headed for Shamrock to check data, then likely south toward CDS area and progged dryline bulge.

Friday, May 06, 2005

A habit of mine in chasing, developed altogether unconsciously, is arriving a day or two early before a big system rolls in. I like to take a look around and gamble on what some chasers call the "event before the event", meaning the early storms that fire the day before widespread severe weather is expected. Today is just such a day. I'll have to cross the border into New Mexico to greet the incoming system and the odds are long. The dryline is diffuse and may not sharpen or move enough to create any convergence, and the cap is stout beneath weak upper level ascent. So I could be in for a good tan beneath the unforgiving southwestern sun. So it goes.

Many are headed north for the SPC slight risk and I can't blame them. There's a better chance of convection up there.

A large upper level storm is moving through the four corners region this morning, looking stronger and more negatively-tilted than almost any prior model run. If enough energy moves with the vanguard of this disturbance, the dryline could kick off some storms in eastern NM. I like the diffluence aloft, the somewhat-sharpening dryline, a nearby cap edge, and the showers that rolled through the area this morning, which might lay down an outflow boundary and lower temps enough to bring down the dewpoint depressions later.

I'll leave for Union County, New Mexico shortly, targeting somewhere between Clayton, NM and Trinidad, CO.

Thanks to everyone who has emailed! When I get another down day, I'll fire off some replies. Hope to see you folks out here soon.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A tough forecast right out of the gate. Tomorrow is a marginal chase day, but I'm game for anything along the dryline from Lubbock up to Oakley, Kansas. I'm in Woodward, Oklahoma now, and could cover any point along that boundary by initiation tomorrow. I do not intend to drive to the slight risk and have no opinion about it good or bad. Here's an email I wrote to some friends of mine a moment ago:

"...Looking over the 18z ETA, which I never do but oh well, the best deep layer convergence is along the Texas/NM border west and southwest of LBB. UVVs show a little life in this area. There's also at least marginal storm relative anvil level winds there and midlevel southwesterly flow of ~35 knots. The low level jet really cranks between 21z and 0z and begins to back, creating the favorable deep convergence. Dryline doesn't want to move much during the period and may even retreat--like I said, the whole setup is nothing to write home about. I'm trying to find a place where a static dryline doesn't kill things; I'm wondering if I can make up convergence at the surface by marginal convergence from 925 (sfc at LBB?) through 850?

In Kansas, the dryline could be somewhat sharper given nearer proximity to upper level ascent, and the ETA has insisted for three runs in a row on steeper lapse rates and longer-lasting SBCAPE values, still well over 1500 j/kg at 0z when the Panhandle has dropped into the 500 j/kg range. Western Kansas is elevated too, of course, but streamlines are progged perfectly parallel to the boundary.

The model forecasts an area of enhanced helicities near Liberal, probably because the strongest low level jet energy is progged there around 0z. That's grasping for straws I know--but I'm trying to take this all into account.

ETA has performed so poorly with dewpoints so far in the last 24 hours (check the mesonet) that I hesitate to do anything based on its instability forecasts. I trust the dryline location and movement (lack thereof) much more, and I suspect that this system, as it is trending more negative tilt run to run, will slow, perhaps deepen, and maybe take a more southerly course depending on how quickly the eastern ridge collapses of course. This would favor the southern target as well, since an even slower solution would have very weak midlevel support in Kansas and marginal support in extreme eastern NM along the border.

Anybody have a spare dart they'd like to throw at this board?"

One of the great thrills of the chase season is that first day. By the time you return home, there's no telling where you will have been or what you will have seen. The anticipation is amazing.

So far all I'm seeing is thick stratus here in northeast Oklahoma where I spent the night. Today's chances for thunderstorms are practically zero, so I'm considering my relocation options based on tomorrow's potential. I'm frustrated that once again the Texas caprock is being squeezed out of the action as a powerful upper level storm looks to track further north than progged earlier in the week. This shifts our target area away from the moisture source, though the models are going haywire with 60F dewpoints up to nearly Canada.

At the moment, I'm favoring the Oklahoma panhandle for isolated storms on Friday. I intend to stay in northern Oklahoma today to keep my options open, perhaps shifting to Enid which has a nice downtown and a few real museums.

The southern plains are on the wrong side of the jet Friday, in an area of convergence aloft which causes sinking air, called subsidence, which will reinforce a strong capping inversion above marginal moisture. This morning's NAM, however, takes SBCAPE to 1500 j/kg in the northern Texas panhandle and Oklahoma panhandle, where it sits beneath intersection 850 and 500 mb jets. Deep layer shear is good, but low level turning might be marginal, particularly if the dryline doesn't sharpen up and mix east a little. We need the dryline to come out and maximize our point convergence. If it doesn't, we'll have a cap bust. One way to gauge the dryline's potential for movement is the depth of moisture east of the dryline--the thickness of the air its approaching--and NAM is inconsistent with these values. A retreating dryline, on the other hand, is chaser death. The moment it begins "sloshing" back west, we're finished.

I'll keep Kansas open as an option, and the southern panhandle. But at the moment, Friday isn't appealing enough to burn a lot of gas repositioning. So off to Enid.

Monday, May 02, 2005

My long time chase pal Jeff Gammons has a great-looking new blog up and running here. Jeff and the Weathervine team are preparing for their annual tornado hunt after a wildly successful 2004 hurricane season in which they documented the daytime, landfalling Category 4 Charley, then went on to see several more spectacular storms later in the year. Their Charley intercept will probably be considered the greatest hurricane chase and documentation of this generation. It won't be topped anytime soon.

I admit having been suckered into a medium-range shell game by the computer models last week, though the Arkansas chase was a legitimate excursion. Now the models are at it again, this time with good agreement between the ECMWF, GFS, UKMET, and even NAM out to 84 hours regarding the evolution of a large scale trough into the western US. If you accept the possibility of such a thing in a year where Amarillo sees FIVE INCHES of snow on May 1, this would signal the shit hitting the proverbial chasing fan starting Saturday.

Do I believe such a thing? Of course! I'm making ready as we speak, while also working on a small-scale weather-related writing project that I hope to announce in a day or two. Might make a buck from it which would satiate my early chase-season restlessness.

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