Cyclone Road


Sunday, June 25, 2006

It could be some time before I update again. I know this will drop me from many RSS feeds and links lists and that's cool; I won't take it personally. My other writing projects have priority and the time I spend thinking or writing about stormchasing is at its lowest annual point from now until late winter. In my archives which span more than three years, gaps as long as several months are common. It's a seasonal blog and my season is over. In the meantime, here's wishing all the chasers a tolerable summer as we gather optimism for a more promising 2007.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I called XM at 12:19 PM (according to their own records) attempting to disconnect my subscription to the Responder package and successfully concluded the transaction about 75 minutes later.

I was transferred five times, told that the "cancellation department" was the only group who could terminate my account. But after each transfer, I was dumped back into the general customer service queue where after hold times of around ten minutes each I was told, yet again, that the "cancellation department" was what I needed. I talked with both American and Indian representatives, and I talked to one supervisor who gave me a 219 phone number and said I'd have to call myself. This turned out to be Barons where the cheerful young lady who answered shared my bewilderment. Of course she didn't have any access to my XM account. "This happens all the time," she said. "They're not very bright."

So I started over. Finally, I reached someone who seemed to know what he was talking about, but of course he also could not disconnect my service. He transferred me again, and at long last I talked to the "cancellation department."

Here's the important part of this post: 800-998-7900 is the direct line to the deeply secretive XM cancellation department. Hopefully posting it here will save others some time. I'll investigate any alternatives to XM for 2007.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

On Friday, Robert Hall and I drove all the way to Guymon Oklahoma via Childress, then returned to Denton on the "Northwest Passage" through Woodward and Oklahoma City in the same day. We spent about sixteen hours in the car and came away with very little for our efforts outside the fun of playing a tough forecast puzzle. I'm pretty sure we didn't solve the puzzle, or even if a solution existed, but that's the best I can say for the chase. We positioned ourselves to the northeast of the dryline arc (there was no real bulge as the GFS had optimistically depicted) along the northernmost tier of counties in the Texas Panhandle. The dryline showed up nicely on the AMA radar as a fine line convergence boundary and we found backed surface flow with some small moisture pooling. Once again, despite the advection of a thin layer of new, gulf moisture, our boundary layer dried rapidly during the afternoon through mixing. Even our little slice of moisture pooling in the Oklahoma panhandle went bust and the cells we chased were sloppy multicellular junk.

Today, Robert and I recruited Eric Nguyen to join the folly and we headed for Wichita Falls where we all hoped that even if the shear was weak and the surface conditions scattered, we could conjure a storm between the outflow boundaries from overnight convection, mongo CAPE values derived from projected 70F dewpoint pooling along and south of the Red River, and at least marginal deep layer shear between thirty-five and forty knots.

Of all the days in 2006 I expected Saturday would be best inoculated against the mixing plague because moisture return was so vigorous for thirty-six hours prior to the event. Last night, on our way home, Robert and I noticed elevated, puffy cumulus racing north on the strong low level jet. Southern plains chasers recognize this as a sign that the Gulf of Mexico is wide open, streaming moisture into the warm sector, and it is almost always an auspicious portent.

Except in 2006.

In 2006, our dewpoints dropped like the atmosphere was slipping off the Earth and into the vacuum of space. Sometime around 20z or 21z, Wichita Falls plummeted from 70F Td to down around 63F. I couldn't believe it. Then more stations dropped, even those in Central Texas along the original path of the New Moisture Express. Yes our 850 winds were veered and dry and of course extreme June heat in Texas facilitated vertical motions, but wow! Like Friday, we bolted north, this time taking refuge along an outflow boundary where moisture and easterly surface flow seemed to be preserved from the ominous scouring. Small cells fired in a line along the boundary but they were multicellular garbage of the highest order. We theorized that subsidence from an early jet streak was playing havoc with our lapse rates and that our cold air advection in the midlevels was lagging behind--a key ingredient for the day's success. Surface winds relaxed to five or ten knots.

We returned to Denton and enjoyed a big meal at Johnny Carino's. We went to the bookstore and after leaving there, noticed new storms to the west and southwest. I checked radar when I arrived home and watched the small, isolated storms develop some rotation on the backside, and was about to walk away from the computer when a tornado warning for Mineral Wells came at 8:10 PM. This was a big fat surprise and I bolted back into the truck to engage a storm closer to me in Wise County. I assumed that whatever conditions had induced a tornado down south couldn't be too dissimilar here (unless it was a specific outflow boundary) and so I played around in the wind and rain for another 90 minutes, wasting even more gas and entrenching 2006 in my memory as the biggest piece of shit chase season imaginable. I'm happy to say I hung with it and exchanged punches until the bitter fucking end, but now that it's over (and for me, it's so over...let me count the ways), I can't say I'm sorry.

Good riddance.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Here's the best of what I saw in 2006 (so far), which isn't much and nothing that hasn't appeared in this space recently. Many are video grabs, the result of low-contrast tornadoes and confining myself to the camcorder when chasing with Eric since he was already shooting stills. I was mostly lucky to see what I did, but Eric and I can take some credit for May 5 when after a good hail beating we dove back into the rocks to find the tornadoes below. 2006 was a dry, capped, and mixed-out storm season no chaser will soon forget. All my reports are located here.

(Another chance at high-based outflow-dominated storms this Friday from Liberal to Childress. I'll probably bite for nostalgia's sake)

April 23 near Salina, Kansas

April 23 near Salina, Kansas

April 24 near Randlett, Oklahoma

April 24 near Randlett, Oklahoma

May 5 near Seminole, Texas

May 5 near Patricia, Texas

May 5 near Patricia, Texas

May 9 near Gainesville, Texas

May 9 near Gunter, Texas

May 9 near Anna, Texas

May 9 near Anna, Texas

May 9 near Westminster, Texas

May 30 near Boise City, Oklahoma

May 30 near Stratford, Texas

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I've spent the ten days since my last post writing and reading and monitoring the medium range forecasts for a possible last few chase days. Teaching in a university is a sweet gig--I'll never argue otherwise--but if you don't spend the "free" time of summer writing and trying to publish, the gig won't last. I didn't request any teaching assignments this summer because I planned to finish a story or two and work on the novel-that-ate-my-thirties. I'm off to a fair start since I returned from chasing. Much of my reluctance to chase the setups lately comes from the good writing momentum I've accumulated as much from the forecasts themselves.

Several friends have found photogenic supercells in the high plains, including Montana and Wyoming. The last few days produced striated LPs and impressive shelf structure there and on the Colorado Front Range, too. The chase season continues for people still in the field, and while tornado chances are consistently weak because of shallow moisture and persistent mixing, storms in these modestly-sheared environments are striking.

The forecast for late next week shows consistent height falls over the northern plains. Yet we still lack the lee side troughing to advect a resupply of deep moisture. Worse, last night's EC suggests the ridge will rise again as the jet scurries back into the northern plains and southern Canada on days 8 and 9. After this morning's ensembles, I don't see a chase in the next ten days, after which climatology closes the curtain and turns on the house lights for chasers living in the southern plains. July and August setups are typically extremely conditional under a strong cap. They're great when they go, but if you don't live in the neighborhood you can't drive 1000 miles on those rare summer chances where shear and instability threaten the well-established inversion.

It looks like the end of my chasing this summer, then, barring some major change in the next several days. If I can finish more important projects, I'll produce a chase video over the winter since I have three years of unreleased footage and a little more experience with the editing process. As for this blog, I guess an update twice a month or so is reasonable, with the pace increasing closer to Fall and any potential October chasing.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I returned yesterday from a nine day trip chasing storms and visiting friends. Even when the weather doesn't cooperate it's good to see people who you only meet once or twice a year out on the road. During the trip I chased in Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Iowa, and Minnesota. Adding Oklahoma to the list from April chasing and it sounds like I should have thirty-five reports at least. But that range is simply the product of how hard storms have been to find. I was lucky to see a handful of good storms and tornadoes in May 2006. If my circumstance were similar to many friends of mine who chase for a limited and scheduled time period, I could have easily walked away from 2006 empty-handed.

I counted the entries on my chase report page this morning and discovered that I'll have fewer full reports than any since 1999, when I lived in Florida during the first half of May. I even checked my blog again to confirm that there were no serious chases between May 9 and May 30th--it seemed too amazing to believe--but it's true. Nearly all month we've fought a ridge of high pressure over the central plains and the ridge has won. The next ten days look worse than ever, a very stable inter-mountain ridge to rush summertime temperatures and stifling humidity over the southern plains. Anemic surface flow will evoke late July.

Over the next several weeks I'll complete my reports and post a collage of the best images and video from the season here on my blog. Like all chasers I'll monitor the medium-range forecast for one last blockbuster trough to crash through the north plains (like late June 2003), but my primary attention returns to my neglected writing (I'm turning into a post-MFA cliche' here) and other career matters. Good luck and happy hunting to all chasers still in the field.

Blog Front Page