Cyclone Road


Friday, May 26, 2006

I've been on the road and visiting friends between chases. The balance of May and the first few days of June are perplexing and here's my quick & dirty take on the next 180 hours:

Saturday looks interesting in South Dakota. Sunday looks interesting in western Nebraska. Monday looks like a cold front will ignite storms in eastern and southeastern Kansas while plunging southward.

Saturday and Sunday both have major cap issues, resulting from the EML and typical 2006 style moisture problems via mixing. Both setups are also on the unfavorable side of the jet although GFS punches a seperate speed max into the Nebraska panhandle that could mitigate the jet quad problems. Subsidence isn't something either of these setups need, that's for sure. However, with strong surface lows progged for both days (on 12z ETA & 12z GFS both) and impressive low level jets, I wouldn't be surprised by a rogue supercell or two, given current solutions.

GFS brings the cold front deeper on Tuesday with scattered low level wind fields. Each day following, though 180 hours, looks benign, with midlevel ridging rebuilding over the Rockies by Friday.

Frankly there isn't anything on ETA or GFS that inspires me to spend hundreds of dollars. Perhaps it would be wiser to save the money for some pattern shift later in June. 2006 continues to vie for a place among the worst seasons in contemporary chasing history. At the moment, there is no rational reason to think otherwise.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Still set for a Tuesday chase somewhere in Kansas or Nebraska. The models are relatively far apart regarding the latitudinal projections for this shortwave trough, considering how near we are to the event. Numerical solutions range from southern South Dakota to central Kansas. NCEP products seem to agree on the speed of the wave, but if you bring the UKMET and EC into the picture, you add some longitudinal issues too. I think the "strategery" here is to get in the neighborhood and see where things line up Tuesday morning.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Just as we were ready to pay the tab, here she comes.

The benevolent NAM grants an honest to goodness chase day, and without a haze of questions and wishcasting (moisture will apparently always be a question, so take that as a given) on Tuesday May 23. This morning's 12z NAM forecasts a midlevel impulse to move through the northern plains and induce leeside cyclogenesis for a fine-looking supercell possibility anywhere in a rectangle defined by Junction City to Hays to Kearney to Lincoln. No reason to narrow that target yet though my suspicion for this relatively small impulse riding the top of a ridge is that it will move fast, so I'll discount the usual speed bias and give the central to northeastern portions of that target area some priority.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Right now Mother Nature is standing us up. We're waiting for her in the bar with our eye on the door and our hands around a fifth frosty glass of Shiner Bock, and the bartender and our new drinking buddies on either side know damn well that we're wasting our time. Is she ever going to show up? When will we figure it out for ourselves?

The question of when Chase Season 2006 will resume remains a vexing puzzle. It seemed as if mid-week was a lock, but the last few NCEP and EC products confound any long-range planning efforts. The bottom line is that I still don't know when my next chase will happen or where.

Maybe Tuesday in South Dakota? If that's the case, I have to get on the road early Monday morning. Right now I don't have the confidence to make that call.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

No significant changes on the operational GFS today although I'm beginning to doubt the prospects for chasing Monday and Tuesday between moisture problems and screwy low level wind fields. Wednesday still checks in as a legitimate potential chase day, anywhere from northern Kansas through southern Nebraska. Even then we're still fighting a strong cap. The EC from last night tries to rebuild the central CONUS ridge and force the jet back up and into the far northern plains by day 7.

Whatever happens for the rest of this chase season, it doesn't look like supercells and tornadoes will come easily. My suspicion is that those willing to take the most risks (in terms of chasing marginal setups) and drive the most miles will fare best. I won't likely be among that group this year if the marginal days are all in the Dakotas.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I wanted to share this letter from Westminster resident Clinton Taylor who gave me permission to do so. Eric Nguyen and I were among several chasers who helped with the Colin County Skywarn last week. The others that I know of were Mike Mezeul and Ken Fugate, who first reported the first tornado near or west of Anna, Sam Barricklow, Paul Stofer and others who reported the second and third tornadoes. I'm not sure who was able to stay with it once it was well northeast of Anna, but each of those guys deserves some of this credit.

More importantly, this is direct evidence that reporting via Skywarn can save people's lives. Mr. Clinton says below that he took shelter as a result of TV reports, and a local Sherman-Denison TV meteorologist told me on the phone last week that they were repeating our transmissions almost verbatim over the air. Here's the letter:

From: Taylor Clinton
Sent: Wednesday, May 17, 2006 4:25 PM
To: ''
Subject: Westminster Tornado

Dear sir,
I am a resident of Westminster and have been for 36 years, there are no sirens of course you know that, if them old people were asleep they had no idea what was about to happen. I know that there is enough money somewhere to have this type system installed, I'm sure that it cost lots of money but who in their right mind can put a price on human life, the people of Westminster are blue collar workers and have no extra money or they would pull together and pay for it themselves. My family and I happened to be up and watching the news and I got them in the bathtub and no sooner than I got the mattress on top of them the lights went out and it sounded like freight train going through the city, this tornado crossed 3133 about a mile and half from my house, what you do is AMAZING and I commend you and your fellow storm chasers for the unselfish acts you perform.

Keep up the good work, we need more people like ya'll.
Thanks again,

Clinton Taylor

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I've been too busy chasing to weigh in the chase season doomsday scenario forecasts. But now the evidence is overwhelming that the plains will be without supercells and tornadoes for some time, perhaps a long time. There is no chase in the foreseeable future and no definitive signals of when the pattern will change. In short, it's about as bad as it can get. Lucky for us, May is famous for turning around rapidly and the medium range models are famous for inaccuracy. In the meantime, I'll settle into some writing and reading long overdue from the busy school year. If chase season cranks up again, that's great; if not, and if we've already seen the best 2006 will offer, then that's fine too.

One fun diversion is watching the Republican Party rip itself to shreds. What an amazing gift to the hapless, dopey Democrats when the Republicans decided to turn their insatiable hatred of all humans who don't look and sound like them against the very ethnic group that might have provided a foundation for American conservatism well into the 21st century: Mexican-Americans. Yes, many Hispanics have a religious-based social conservatism that made them natural allies for more moderate social elements of the right wing. Karl Rove saw Mexican-Americans as absolutely THE vital new constituency for Republicans in the next fifty years. Courting their political allegiance was the primary project of his vision for not only George W. Bush but the whole party. I'm sure that for Rove, these last six weeks have been a complete disaster. He would probably rather be indicted (which rumors from D.C. say will happen next week) than see his life's work to co-opt Latinos go down the shitter.

But I don't think the Mexicans are such huge GOP fans today, do you? Something about trying to make felons out of people who come here because Americans have jobs to offer probably turned them off. Haha. Historically, this is no surprise. All immigrant groups to America eventually learn who the Republicans really are, just like my grandparents did and all those who come to the factories and fields Americans are unwilling to work during boom times. Then, when the economy sours, the wild-eyed racism of the radical right comes flaming out of the friendly mask of the Republican Party. "Go home, Jose!" they scream until the money flows again. They did it to the Chinese who built the railroads, the Italians who made shoes, and now the Mexicans who do almost everything. Luckily for America, and all humankind, the American right wing will be out of power very soon.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

From a new story in the Denton Chronicle/Dallas Morning News:

Collin County has a system to call residents with warnings, but it was not used. Marshal Deffibaugh said there was not enough time, and the tornadoes knocked out power and telephone lines.

Bullshit. Why doesn't one of these reporters check the warning times? This situation is extremely frustrating to me. I have contacted the Fort Worth NWS and Warning Coordination Meteorologist Gary Woodall. Gary does an excellent job and North Texas is lucky to have him. A more experienced chaser suggested to me that this would be the best way to approach the question. Let's hope a better, less psychotic answer is soon forthcoming from somebody in Colin County.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Paul and Mary Newsom, ages 82 and 80, died in their Westminster home last night. A Grayson County teenager was also killed while taking shelter under the stairwell of his home. The teen and his family had some warning, obviously, but the Newsoms relied upon the telephone warning system as Westminster has no sirens. The call never came.

This Dallas Morning News story along with reports from the AP claim that Colin County officals state that they didn't have enough time to activate their telephone warning system. This NWS page shows the progression of warnings coming from their office along with direct citation from the Colin County Skywarn net, in which I was participating. The first tornado warning came at 10:08 PM, as you can see. Later warnings cited Westminster over and over, and the estimated time of the tornado's arrival. At least 45 minutes progressed between the first warning and the time Westminster was hit.

This is a fucking outrage. People in rural Colin County ought to march to their county office buildings and drag some of those fatass bureaucrats into the street and hang them upside down like Mussolini. They are NEVER going to have more time to activate that system than they had last night--ever. Not even in broad daylight.

If the system is broken, admit it. Otherwise, someone must answer for the failure to warn people whose tax money and elected officials were supposed to keep them safe.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Eric Nguyen, Scott Eubanks, and I observed some marginally severe but photogenic LP/Classic hybrid storms with striated updrafts and stacked plates near Dodge City, Kansas yesterday. These storms fired on the approaching cold front as our dryline failed to mix northeastward sufficiently to provide lift, a concern I had the day before. I'll post images in a few days.

Today's forecast is extremely complicated, with a few targets possible, especially southern Oklahoma around the I-35 corridor and the central to eastern Texas panhandle. We're in Woodward, Oklahoma trying to make a decision.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Tornadoes southwest and southeast of Patricia, Texas on May 5, 2006. Chasers Eric Nguyen and Amos Magliocco. ©2006 Amos Magliocco

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Eric Nguyen and I observed two tornadoes Friday evening, the first southeast of Patricia around 0102z and the second southwest of Patricia at 0111z. The first was a tapered funnel that became visible in a circular rain curtain that surrounded the entire meso and grew into a large cone. The second was a large, cigar shaped tornado with a tapered end that emerged when we were north-northeast of a new meso. This tornado spun gracefully over a field and roped out.

Our original target was Midland where we hoped the synoptic boundary and a dryline might combine to fire storms which could move along or south of the front. We shifted north when we realized the storm near Hobbs was on the intersection of our boundaries. We noticed the cu in our area were drying out and that our winds were becoming more southerly. We went to Andrews and then north to Seminole before closing on the large, well-structured supercell.

We chased the various iterations of this storm from east of Seminole in Gaines County to near Knott in Howard County. We tangled with extreme hail early in the day and as we followed behind the core were amazed by the fields full of baseballs. While we played in the hail trail, our storm became multicellular and elongated. We noticed a new meso to our southeast and a wall cloud emerging. We continued to try and flank the storm but its consistent south southeasterly motion and rapidly developing southern flank mesos effectively kept us in hail for hours. Poor road networks didn’t help. Still we never saw stones the size we encountered near Seminole. At last the storm split completely and the southern cell became a powerful supercell. Soon afterwards we observed the first tornado.

I’ll provide more detail later. Street Atlas 2006 crashed from a runtime error and I lost the GPS log file. As a result, our positioning will be estimated at best. I’ll attempt to post video grabs on my blog tomorrow or the next day.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

It's tough to pass on these relatively close setups, especially since Texas has been deprived of deep moist convection for so long. But today's scenario will not deliver the promised midlevel vigor we had hoped for and moisture fields appear too meager for strong instability. The stationary front is further south than we'd planned which is typical for this sort of regime. This morning, it looks to settle along a Midland to San Angelo or even Junction axis. That's not great chasing terrain.

Tomorrow we should enjoy stronger midlevel flow overspreading the whole region and that will improve things a lot. I wrapped up classes yesterday and don't mind the idea of running errands or even relaxing a little today. But tomorrow I want to be on the road if at all possible. We're on the clock now.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I observed the Childress-area storm yesterday from around 22:30z until it merged with the cell encroaching from the south. I saw several interesting lowerings and solid wall clouds, including one that wrapped itself in rain and then re-emerged in dramatic fashion like 09 June 2005 and the Hill City tornado. I had a great view of these features and zoomed in with the VX2100 and never discerned any rotation.

Later I caught the storm near Quanah and made the mistake of staying on State Road 287, where the second meso developed near the road. The first meso, which raced to the northeastern quad of the storm, produced a brief cone tornado that Mickey Ptak and Chad Lawson caught. Jay McCoy also witnessed this tube. Congrats to those guys. I should have been more aggressive with my positioning, but the storm gusted out so powerfully earlier and was producing such copious, debris-laden outflow that I assumed its tornado chances were nil. Never assume anything in May, I guess.

As for the next several days, I don't think model guidance is ever less useful than in regimes like the current one in the southern plains, esp TX and OK. A stationary front, modest flow with small impulses, potential waves from the Mexican data void, and outflow boundaries galore intersecting with drylines are like the perfect storm of everything models do badly.

That being said, the NAM this morning wants to make wine from water (or Coke from Pepsi for you secular types) and give us not one, but two more days of weird boundary chasing, on Thursday AND Friday in right about the same areas as yesterday and today. Wow. Difference on this run mainly in the strength of flow aloft: NAM increases 500mb winds to AOA 40 knots and THEN brings through a wave here and there for added dynamics. If that will verify, a fun time should be had by all. Where and how are the sort of details we won't know until the morning of Day 1.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The first day of May is one of the calendar's happiest events for storm chasers. Almost all chasers agree that this is prime time, a middle ground between the more southerly April setups and June and July in the central and northern portions of Tornado Alley. Tim Marshall's well-known missive "When it's May, you chase" reminds us that during the next six weeks, setups are as likely to improve over model forecasts as deteriorate. Marginal scenarios easily become tornado producers because of an unexpected extra ten knots of flow, or surprisingly quick moisture recovery.

May 2006 opens with a zonal, northwesterly flow pattern and models suggest a run of marginal setups this week, exactly the sort of days that one could safely ignore in March or April. But now it's May, and if a chaser can cook up some instability near a boundary with decent flow aloft, anything is possible. Challenges include a surface high in the southeastern US and backdoor cold fronts sweeping over the plains from an entrenched east coast trough, a regime that could make supercells and tornadoes scarce for the first dozen days or so.

My chasing is limited for the next six days as the semester winds down. After that, I'll be ready for the several weeks of open range chasing that is one of my teaching job's biggest perks.

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