Cyclone Road


Saturday, June 25, 2005

FCST for Sunday June 26

I'm new to this setup, only having looked at the 0z ETA tonight and
without examining any current data at all, but thought I would mention
a few things that caught my eye, so more bullet points than a real

First, MikeH made the excellent point that with the ongoing convection
in central NE attm (3z) the boundary is likely to stay further south,
or more likely, a secondary warm front will appear south of the
primary baroclinicty up north.

The better midlevel flow seems to be in SD and NE, near where this
secondary wf might camp out. This is south-southeast of the sfc low,
but the sfc always backs ahead of a dry punch like the one ETA is
showing, and though northern NE looks stoutly capped, this whole thing
reminds me a little of the Arthur NE day.

Given the odd orientation of the s/w tomorrow, I would not be
surprised to see the sfc low emerge well away from where the model
puts it tonight.

An oddity in the 0z ETA is an arc of midlevel moisture at 18z
stretching from western SD through central NE and into KS then back to
the southwest. This is gone at 0z and I don't know what if anything
it means. I haven't spent much time trying to think of why its there.

If I was out--which I now wish I was--I'd look at Valentine to Pierre and adjust based on cloud cover and other obs. Looks good. Several friends of mine are chasing and I wish them luck!

I'm moving back to Texas on July 23rd, returning to the city I always seem to visit on my way to the next adventure, Denton. I have some chance for a teaching gig at my old haunt, the University of North Texas, and I'm looking forward to the familiar surroundings in which to make another round of revisions (hopefully the last) to my novel, then start another one. Doesn't hurt either that Denton is a fine base for stormchasing. I don't have any sense that I'll be "settling down" there, and am beginning to wonder if that sort of thing is in my future at all. My parents moved us around when I was young, and I seem to get restless after three to five years, wherever I am. It will be hard to update the blog regularly, but check back every week or so as I'll post imagery from the new digs and then, eventually, begin posting some of what we saw in that last, amazing week of chasing in early June.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

This was going to run in a national weather magazine, but for various reasons, I'm sending it to a literary magazine. Here it is:

"Mark Svenvold’s newest work of nonfiction, Big Weather, artfully depicts the dust-bitten grind of tornado hunting. The book also tries to explain why chasers do what they do, but the psychology proves an elusive target. The book’s final movement is undone by spurious material unrelated to chasing, the sort of bolted-on concluding chapters that suggest a rush to press.

Stormchasing and extreme weather footage have emerged in contemporary media in a complicated and interdependent relationship. Most chasers regret the “torn porn” phenomena of shaky video and roiling funnels grinding through neighborhoods, though we often provide the substance of these productions. Big Weather interrogates the contradiction of chasing as an idealistic quest versus commercial rewards. Svenvold shows the strains on marriages and friendships, and describes mavericks who risk financial and physical well-being on gambits like the armored Tornado Intercept Vehicle, designed—as you might guess—to probe a twister. He follows chasers who pull survivors from damage moments after a wedge destroys Hallam, Nebraska, but also notices those who market overextended reputations for accolades and the few dollars available in saturated image and tour markets. For narrative tension, Big Weather exaggerates both the purity and the greed of chasers on either end of the spectrum.

Svenvold’s research involved thousands of miles of “extreme sitting.” An admitted outsider, he gawks at SUVs decked with computers, strange radios, and antenna farms surrounding rooftop weather stations. A poet by training, he employs graceful language to deliver telling detail. He describes chaser Matt Biddle’s unusual spatial orientation:

Matt began talking about winds coming off “the front range.” We were moving through a landscape unbroken by any range that I could see…The range in question, of course, was the Rocky Mountains, hundreds of miles west of us, beyond the earth’s curvature, yet as close and familiar in Matt’s mind and as crucial in their influence on the day’s events as if they were right in front of us.

The book works best rendering these unglamorous realities of chasing. One afternoon, Svenvold and Biddle are near two great storms, one of which is further away and reportedly producing a tornado. They must decide which storm to chase. Their decision has as much to do with instinct and experience as science and technology.

Surprisingly, Big Weather gets the science right, though it is not a science book. Svenvold realizes that forecasting tornadic storms depends on identification of surface features such as drylines or outflow boundaries and learns a thing or two about them himself. The book uses a working knowledge of tornadogenesis theory including rear flank downdraft influence.

Explaining chasers proves more difficult. Big Weather relies on socioeconomics and western philosophy, but mistakes the cultural moment that makes chasing possible as the motivation. Cars and disposable income allow chasing, of course, but these facilitators do not contain the chaser’s awe for storms and tornadoes any more than does the necessary Gulf moisture or lee-side troughs.

Svenvold betrays frustration with his own explanations. Pondering current events during a chaser convention, he writes: “Against this backdrop, storm chasing itself, for all its…complexity, seemed an extravagant, late-phase indulgence, a way of taking up the violin while Rome burned. There was just something inescapably untenable about it all.” Chasers recognize this accusation, albeit in less articulate terms, from spouses, friends, and employers.

Chapters on The Weather Channel and Accuweather, plus broad-brushed global warming ideas, stray from the Big Weather’s primary aims: the chaser’s compulsion both under the sky and in the heart. This story should end where it began, in Matt Biddle’s car, perhaps after a busted chase when an unrelenting sky and the toll on human relationships and adult responsibilities looms most starkly to chasers. In that vulnerable moment, Big Weather might have revealed something more unexpected about its characters.

Svenvold’s book is like a chase. It targets chasers and finds them, but ultimately looks the wrong direction despite the effort. This is like missing a tornado by seconds, or hearing radio reports of a rain-wrapped twister in the hook, mere miles away but visible only from the small and occluding notch. Despite this, Big Weather is worth buying for the same reason a busted chase is worth risking—because its about the journey as much as the destination. From Svenvold’s depiction readers can form their own conclusions about motivation. Or, like chasers, they can dispense with inadequate psychologies and consider instead the endless plains sky, and the sudden mountains of air and water roaming that wild landscape."

Monday, June 13, 2005

What a day. EricN, ScottB, JasonP, and I observed 6 to 8 tornadoes, including elephant trunks, cones, ropes, and a large red-dust ingesting wedge in the Garza and Kent County regions tonight between 2330z and 0245z. It was one hell of a chase and an incredible way to end the best week of chasing in my life. I'll try to have a few stills and video grabs on my blog within a handful of days, but my chase vacation is over and I'll likely take my time doing so. Tonight I'm going to sleep eight full hours!

A few interesting notes about tonight's storm: it seemed to ingest convection to the south quite easily, then translated rotation southwest into the new southern flank rapidly. Also we observed, like yesterday, that tornadoes frequently occured well after mesocyclonic occlusion, when the rotation would quickly tighten and decend, but well after the wrap around precip and even hail swung around fully.

I finished my chase vacation with five tornado-day chases in a row, going all the way back to Arthur County, Nebraska, then South Dakota, Trego County, Kansas, and the last two tornado days in the great great Texas panhandle. I could not have asked for a more spectacular introduction to mid June chasing, a time period I'm normally forced to skip. Never again.

I'm finished chasing this season. I have to get back to Indiana and prepare to move while trying to fix my truck in time. Full chase reports for the 2005 season should be updated on my page by December, and sometime in March I hope to release the sequel to Seven Years On Cyclone Road.

I want to say thanks again to my great pals who helped make 2005 the best chase year of my life bar none. I'll see you guys under the next meso.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Today's forecast is extremely difficult, with all sorts of ongoing convection. This is the last day for a while, and I want to get it right, so am focusing on areas I think have some chance to develop moderate instability, then hoping boundaries find their way to those regions. Very backwards forecasting technique, but it's a real mess today.

I'm ten days behind on emails. Bills are stacking up at home and I haven't shaved in several days. I appreciate everybody's patience.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

We saw three or four tornadoes in the Wayside area this evening: a narrow needle tornado, a fair-sized elephant trunk (which was in the distance under an occluding meso), then later a fully condensed cone on the ground. EricN, ScottB, and JasonP may have observed a fourth tornado immediately preceding the needle funnel, but I was dealing with cameras and didn't see it. Video grabs and a few stills to come later tonight.

I'm southwest of AMA at an intersection of two outflow boundaries. The intersection is highly visible on AMA radar right now and we like the developing instability and improving midlevel flow. This could be one of those quiet days that produces nicely, particularly after the bust for many chasers and the SPC alike on yesterday's tornado watch in the panhandle. There is the tendency to underhype setups the day after a disappointment just as many are inclined to overhype the day after an outbreak. It's sort of a subsident effect, for those who get geeky meteorological humor.

Anyway, I like the setup and my friends who've looked say tomorrow is also encouraging. We'll see how it plays out.

Friday, June 10, 2005

We're in Amarillo tonight. It was obvious quite early that the day was shot for chasing, and we took time for a long lunch at Pizza Hut in Shattuck, Oklahoma then dinner at Hooters here in town. We gathered for an impromtu video party showing our best catches from the last several days then retired to a hopefully long night's sleep.

Sunday will be my last chase day, so I'm hoping the next two setups are productive.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Very glad west side of OB has stalled invof DDC. Construciton on CO 71 southbound slowed me badly; TX PH target would have been impossible. Currently 90 miles north DDC and intend to to stay just east of OB/DL intersection. Wondering what their merger (as mentioned in MD) further north does for lift; interesting to consider. Much prefer idea of init on DL, movement off eastward, then storms intersecting OB nearer maturity. So will likely play as far south as possible to get some seperation between boundaries, depending on DL movement of course.

Construction on Colorado 71 southbound killed my good time. Just arriving at Colby now. Luckily, looks like the western end of the OB will stall in OK panhandle, so I can still make Beaver area. Headed south after fast gas stop.

Racing south for Pampa, Texas area and dryline/outflow boundary intersection. Don't know if I'll make it, but riding hard to try.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Washing laundry in Sterling, Colorado today. Saw there was a few tornado reports from Kansas. We never considered chasing the boundary today because we couldn't find any backed surface winds and the models never backed the winds, plus we really like northeast CO tomorrow. Guess we needed the down day; nobody is complaining about missing the storms down there.

We're buying a bottle of wine and hunting an Italian restaurant when I finish with the clothes.

The weekend is supposed to be quite a severe weather extravaganza. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday all have rumors swirling about. I find it counterproductive to scour the models days in advance when I'm in the field. It's the opposite of the weeks before I leave, as long-time readers know. In March and April, I analyze every run of every product out to 384 hours. In the Alley, I take it one day at a time. Much nicer.

Time to check the wash.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

My video didn't make TWC, though it was the day's best footage and it was on their desk first. Mysterious forces at work I'm sure. Anyway, thus ends my efforts to sell same-day footage. Definitely not worth the hassle and stress.

Today, I find myself parked in the same spot beside the Roadway Inn at Thedford, Nebraska almost 24 hours later. So, right about now, SPC should issue a long-ass red box and I'll start driving to a cool storm.

Though I think today looks similar in many ways to yesterday, mainly because the upper low hasn't moved much, there are a few important differences, namely the lack of a small disturbance which helped erode the cap and pave the way for early dryline initiation. However the cap is a little weaker today, so who knows.

I don't know if we should discard the RUC entirely or not. Given the orientation of the upper low, it seems reasonable that the surface features could jump around or never firm up and deepen in any one place. I agree with the west central SD I-90 target many chasers have cited, though I may play south of there, perhaps around or north of Valentine.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Is this a sign of the times or what? I'm in Thedford, Nebraska, south of Valentine on 83, in the middle of the Sandhills, and I have a great WiFi signal but no cell service.

At the moment I'm undecided about my next move. I have had consistent cu and elevated showers following me to the southwest for some time, associated with a weak upper level impulse that was the vort lobe I mentioned from the ETA. But the convection isn't exactly impressive, high based, low-topped cu producing virga. The cap appears quite stout per observations. No other cu in sight attm.

Looks like the dryline is focusing additional convection west of LBF, and that too is within range if I stay here.

The other option is blasting north to the interstate, then racing west toward Rapid City, South Dakota, which is where Steve is going, Ibelieve. That's a haul for me.

RUC shows the dryline mixing east sharply in the next several hours and focusing convergence along and east of 83. The model breaks out precip along the boundary between 0z and 3z. I'm leaning toward playing this scenario and trying to have some patience. Dewpoint depressions are high everywhere and I guess the most optimal tornado location will be along the front, well north of me.

Still conditional setup today in Nebraska, as I posted last night, but at least SPC slighted the dryline today and outlooked for 2% tornado probs. My target area seems capped capped capped but I'm hoping the CIN erodes after 0z and some forcing arrived in conjunction with the vort lobe which ETA still shows swinging into the western and central portions of Nebraska early tonight.

I'll have lunch in North Platte, head north to Thedford, then meander up to Valentine eventually. A trip through the Sandhills.

Looking over the ETA tonight, I see a highly conditional setup in north central Nebraska for Monday. SPC favors southeastern MT and northeastern WY, but I don't want to drive that far, so I'm playing the closer area.

The model forecasts a vort lobe to swing into western NE around 0z and there's a signal of 700 mb vv's in the same region. This is a poor excuse for lift in a highly capped environment, but shear and instability are there in bushels.

Dewpoint depressions could be high depending on how long after peak heating storms fire, but I don't know that there's any sort of boundary in place, so I would say tornado chances, given convection at all, are quite low. If something can fire, however, supercells seem likely given highly supportive CAPE and 0-3k SRH values under 30 knots of deep layer shear.

I suppose I'll target Thedford to Bassett, but I'll take my time getting there since I think initiation will be late if at all. I might get an oil change in Grand Island or even wash a load of laundry if there's time. If nothing happens, I'll call it repositioning.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

I am currently in Topeka working on my book review. That will take a few hours. Afterwards I'll head north, using the 18z ETA to choose a destination that makes sense for Tuesday chasing.

About yesterday, it seems the same fate befell dozens of chasers. Darin Brunin wrote that after seeing my report, he wondered if he was in the same car.

Since it never occurred to me to continue chasing what we ominously had called "storm number one", and it was actually an easy decision at the time, I don't feel too badly about it now. What would really bite is if I'd had reservations about breaking off, like I did on the 24th last year. This is different somehow.

So we move on.

I have some challenges ahead. First, I don't have a job for the first time since I was 16 years old. Second, my lease ends on July 30th andI have to leave Indiana, but I won't know where until I *get* a job. My car is wrecked and will take at least three weeks to fix, I'm guessing, which means I'd better get it in the shop before last week of June. Getting complicated already.

So right now I plan to chase Tue, Wed, and Thursday if applicable, then return to Indiana to get the vehicle repairs underway. With the rental, I'll start job-hunting, and visit North Texas in the midst of that. I'll bring my gear in case there's a chase handy, but chasing will take a backseat to other priorities.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Bad day chasing. Here's my report posted to Stormtrack.

"First, it sucks that people's homes were destroyed by this tornado and related storms. Their problems tonight exceed mine by an inestimable amount as I am safe and sound in a Kansas motel. That acknowledged, here's my report.

I chased the storm that produced Mike's tornado from initiation until about five minutes before it dropped the stovepipe, according to my calculations. We were in the Kickapoo Indiana Reservation west of Horton when we concluded that the storm looked bad visually (it did), was generating outflow (it was), had turned toward less favorable terrain, and that the storms west of it were more appealing on radar.

We had seen a wall cloud that fell apart quickly before our outflow began, but thought that storm #2 in the line was a stronger candidate. That storm generated a large bell-shaped lowering that began rotating but never touched down that we could see.

According to my calculations, we missed the first tornado by about eight miles or five minutes. After chasing over 10,000 miles this season with very little tornado imagery of any worth, that is a real kick in the teeth.

Congrats to Mike and others who stayed on the storm all the way to the river (or even back across). This is the second time in two years I've made a disasterous choice in that same little area--I hope to never see it again as long as I live.

And again, it sucks much more to lose your house than to miss videotaping a tornado, so it's all relative."

SPC issued a high risk this afternoon for a large area of eastern KS, southeastern NE, and adjacent regions. Strong upper level dynamics associated with an upper level negative tilt trough pull the year's best moisture values under a clear sky to achieve extreme instability with values >3500 j/kg in most of the warm sector.

With powerful upper and low level jets intersecting over much of eastern and northeastern KS, we're looking for surface boundaries and other subtle features to serve as convective focus for today's storms. A very good chance of tornadoes, some of which could be violent, across the high risk area today.

Eric and I are in Russell, Kansas and plan to head east on Interstate 70 while refining our target.

Friday, June 03, 2005

I was driving northeast along State Road 54 (repositioning for tomorrow) this afternoon when a small storm fired behind me in southern Meade County about 22z. I was aware of the earlier tornado reports and the vortmax overhead and decided to follow this thing for a while.

I flanked it to the east and observed a sustained wallcloud from about 2215z to 23z. At one point, I was convinced the wallcloud would touch down as it was low and the rotation quite pronounced. I do not believe that it did, however.

Frankly, it was one of the best wallclouds I've seen in 2005, on a storm which on the Baron's composite (which isn't saying much of course) looked like a small shower, albeit with a 55dbz core.

I was unable to call DDC since I didn't have a cell signal, and now the storm has dissipated. I'll send them pics later tonight or tomorrow.


This was a tough forecast. Eric Nguyen, Dave Fick, and I woke in Garden City and headed for Sheridan Lake, CO, hoping for storms to fire on the higher ground and move into better theta-e air as the midlevel flow improved. But in the back of our minds we knew that not having a real focus for initiation could be a problem, and the cap was worrisome. Our cu field began to dissipate and the first Denver-area supercell fired. When storms began near Limon, we raced north and caught the Limon cell as it was entering the city. We heard reports of a tornado earlier and softball hail on the highway. As the storm came into view, we knew we were on something special.

This supercell was absolutely stunning. It outclassed the GRI mothership from the 10th and I would have never guessed seeing two storms of that caliber within four weeks time. A deeply striated and vigorously rotating storm, it was so incredible that one member of our group jumped back on Interstate 70 in order to race AWAY from it to get that Chris Kridler-style distance shot a la May 29, 2001.

Dave has video of a white cone tornado which I didn't see since we all separated at several points during the chase. He is attempting to document where and when, but this is clearly a small tornado Dave captured while looking into the elusive notch.

We ate dinner in Kit Carson and emerged to find a small LP spitting CGs and spinning underneath a deeply starry sky. We hurried away from the city lights to shoot nighttime long-exposures of this amazing little barber pole updraft. Had it been daylight, this storm might have outdone the Limon storm from earlier. What incredible Colorado structure. I'm anxious to sift my images and post a few to the blog, but it's time for bed.

With both Eric and MikeH on this storm, get ready for some breathtaking images of Colorado at its best.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Here's the damage to my truck from having struck a deer on State Road 160 in southeast Colorado Tuesday. I will have some storm (and tornado!) images posted before I leave my motel room tomorrow late morninig or early afternoon.

Photos courtesy of Tony Laubach and Verne Carlson.

I have fallen behind replying to phone calls, emails, and PMs on the Stormtrack site. I apologize, but I have had to use any spare time in the last 48 hours beginning the insurance process, having my truck examined for drivability, and continuing to chase. I don't know when I'll catch up. Perhaps in a handful of days.

As for tomorrow, we talked about the Palmer Divide as a potential tornado target before the SPC Day 1, and I still like that area. However, between 0z and 3z in southwest and southwest-central Kansas, as the system kicks out, some parameters are pretty scary.

If you look at this while the 0z run is still posted, see this panel for an overlay of CAPE and 0-3k SRH at 3z (10:00 PM Thursday night)

That's extreme instability co-located with extreme helicity beneath forty-five knots of deep layer shear. My impression is that supercells firing on the dryline bulge around 0z to 1z will become violent as they move into this area of extreme instability and enhanced shear and produce possibly a few violent tornadoes. I expect tornadic storms will continue well into the night throughout parts of southern and central Kansas. SPC's 5% tornado probability is grossly underestimated in my opinion. The area should have a 15% hatched.

But it will be a long wait for us, especially with supercells firing east of Denver and producing tornadoes as they track into the backed flow along the front. I'll probably try to avoid looking at XM for as long as possible...LOL.

I'll stay here in my motel in Garden City until checkout and post images and video grabs from the last several days. If I ever go to bed tonight.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I see strong instability up against the lift is in west central KS around Garden City, on the nose of the "jet" if you want to call it that. Anything south is on the wrong side of upper flow.

Looking at current moisture field composition suggests we may again struggle to realize ETA's happy-go-lucky ideas on return. My confidence in that model's ability to forecast moisture is shot.

Given the erratic resolution of sfc features with this system, I'd reserve judgement on a definitive target until tomorrow morninig obs. Looks like another good chase day for several potential targets.

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