Cyclone Road


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm not chasing Thursday and therefore not up-to-date with the latest model data, or speculation about the position of fronts or drylines. It's not that I don't think the setup holds promise, but it's close enough to marginal and similar enough to a half dozen prior chases already this year that it seems like the right one to skip.

My choice practically guarantees close photo opportunities for high-contrast, sunlit tornadoes with elves and clowns skipping around the debris whirl. Imagine that on your favorite chaser's streaming dash-cam! I'll wait for the pictures Friday morning.

Simpleton I am, I'm watching possible dryline setups in the Texas panhandle and southwest Kansas on Sunday and Monday, scenarios I understand in terrain I love.

Friday, April 25, 2008

And that would be a blue sky cap bust. More later.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Should arrive Pratt 20z and will reexamine from there. Prefer to
cross my fingers w/DL circulation than go north since I have to be
back in TX Fri afternoon. Like everything about the region except
unfavorable jet quad and lack of precip on models.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bob Fritchie, Scott Currens, and I observed three tornadoes today, two around Snyder, Texas at 2:35 and the next about ten minutes later. The first was a fully condensed funnel which appeared twice, the second a large circulation southeast of Snyder containing debris. We witnessed moderate damage on the eastern side of the town. Our last tornado was the ropeout of the Lamesa, perhaps around 5:15 PM, but I'm uncertain of the times until I check my camera. Took stills of all three; no idea how they turned out. Preparing to chow down in ABI.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The first caprock chase of the year is always one of my favorite events, for reasons both mythic and meteorological: all the historic supercells through the years, as well as the wonders of orographic lift. There are probably as many variables in "caprock magic" as there are Dairy Queens east of Levelland, but the phenomena is real. I remember toward the end of the day on May 5, 2002, standing on the side of the road while Al Moller described the effect of inflow channeling through the canyons. What a place. Hopefully we can keep the dryline up on that great stage tomorrow.

Glancing over the 12z operationals and the 12z 4k WRF, I like this setup despite the questions regarding precip. These early showers seem to fire well east of the dryline, in warm air advection and with limited areal coverage. On the backside of the early wave, I'm counting on a little subsidence to put a stop to the nonsense before 20z. After that, we might have a few boundaries to work with. Of course if skies clear too quickly we could be dealing with larger T-Td spreads, in which case outflow boundaries could come in handy.

Low level shear has been progged as highly supportive for several runs in a row, with >500 m2/s2 3k SRH and ~200 m2/s2 1k SRH values along and east of the DL at 0z. If high clouds clear out early enough and temps soar, I expect a stout DL circulation.

4K WRF mirrors the operational WRF DL surge, at 0z (graphic valid until 1AM Wednesday):

Also, 4k WRF has a more modest late afternoon precip forecast (21z) [link valid until about 1:00 AM Wednesday morning]

Anecdotally, I recall more luck than not with 50-ish kts of midlevel flow overspreading ~2500 j/kg up on the caprock, especially with strongly
backed surface to 850 winds. With the potential benefits from boundaries from morning precip, I can live with the washout risk.

Favoring WRF's DL evolution, I'm interested in the area from Childress to Tulia to Lubbock to Guthrie. I don't buy the 12z GFS stalling the DL entirely if a secondary, lower level wave actually arrives around 0z.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Here's the longer version of yesterday's odd chase. I observed the northernmost supercell first, taking a position near Chico, Texas, but I was blocked from further approach by Lake Bridgeport. The storm showed disorganized lowerings but became outflow dominant. When rain from the southern storm contaminated the updraft region, I dropped south toward Weatherford. I noticed that even as my old storm became more linear, it continued to show strong low level rotation in the "notch" features that developed along the forward flank. The southern cell showed a similar pattern.

Near Azle, I turned on FM 730 with a southwesterly tack to skirt the core. While I was flanking, Parker County spotters reported tennis balls and baseballs on the north side of Weatherford, with a lone softball report as well. This was an important development as the hail effectively pinned the spotters along and south of the interstate. I turned briefly east and then south on FM 3325 to approximately seven miles east of Lake Weatherford. Another lake. The updraft was to my west and growing obscured as the old long-lived hook folded into more of a notch. Though I haven't checked archived data, I believe the storm retained supercellular characteristics at this time, around 7:15 PM.

Just north of the FM 3325/White Settlement Road intersection, a large wallcloud came into view, about four miles to my west. This feature was connected to the base of the storm. In the photo above, a forward flank cloud deck in the immediate upper foreground hides the real base. That cloud deck is not the distant storm's base. Nor is the blocky condensation from which the tornado extends the updraft base; that's the wallcloud. This configuration was more apparent in later views from White Settlement itself, when the storm was closer and base and wallcloud both became visible. At the time, it was confusing. I stopped on the crest of a private driveway as cascading "sheets" of condensation moved from north to south into the wallcloud. The primary "core" of the wallcloud, on the left side, assumed a cylindrical shape and began to rotate. An RFD cut appeared on the southern edge and a funnel extended rapidly. I wasn't confident about what I was seeing, but thought I should keep shooting stills and sort it out later. As I mentioned, I put the time of this around 7:22 PM, and it lasted no more than ten seconds. I've guessed it was approximately four miles NNEof Willow Park, Texas or eight miles ENE of Weatherford.

When I logged a funnel report on spotternetwork, my position and therefore my report appeared about twenty miles west of the actual observation, due to a problem with my GPS data stream. Moments later, a Parker County spotter logged a full tornado report on SN in the correct position. Presumably this spotter had a view of the base of the funnel and confirmed that it reached the ground. Either this spotter or another contacted NWS by phone; the ham operator at FTW mentioned the report on the Parker County net minutes later. Most of the spotters were still trapped in Weatherford or down on the highway, having taken cover from the destructive hail. I didn't realize this until later and after talking with other people today. If I could do it over, I would have called FTW first and worried about SN later, but with the confirmed report (and a tornado warning already in effect), I concentrated on fleeing the mongo hail.

The line followed me into the Metroplex. I turned around occasionally to see if the notches would spin up something else. On White Settlement Road I was able to track the still-prominent wallcloud, then followed 820 north along the western side of Fort Worth to the northwest quadrant. I saw a few lowerings, nothing impressive. But traffic made this an increasingly dangerous effort. I dropped south onto I-30 with the notion of posting myself immediately east of downtown Dallas for some skyline lightning photos. Well, I'd never tried this before, and found it a frustrating effort. Beyond elevated roadways, I couldn't find a single prominent vista. I'm sure there's many; I just don't know where they are. I don't make a habit of chasing downtown so I've never had cause to look.

The squall line swallowed me as I flailed around Deep Ellum looking for a view. Then I drove home in the rain.

Structurally, this convection was well beneath 2008's standard. The best part of the chase was that it started late, so I'd already put in a day's work, and it ended back home without incident. If I ever complained before about the lack of chasing in northwest Texas or southwest Oklahoma, I take it back. I'm ready for the caprock or the front range or any high plains vantage point. Maybe next week.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

There's a chance of isolated storms in north Texas later today, though we'll more likely find a squall line coming through the area as instability is limited by poor moisture and warmer-than-ideal upper level temps. Strong forcing along the front should fire convection west of the metroplex, around 5:00 PM according to the latest short-term models. If the storm mode is isolated, supercells are possible. I'll bring my gear but I don't expect to chase.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I did not see a tornado yesterday. A lot of people did, some more than one. I saw wrapping rain curtains, a narrow funnel descending from a wall cloud (but with the lower half blocked by trees), dust kicked up at the ground, and scary tendrils on the edge of gust front curtains, but no tornadoes. My problem was a combination of bad roads, rough terrain, poor or tardy decision-making, and rotten luck. But a few decisions were good.

On the bad side, I sat around like a chump thinking how outflowy the storm looked before I got my ass back in gear. In the positive column, I was about to go north into the meso when I saw Shane and Mickey turn around and take another route to flank it. I decided that theirs was the wiser choice. There are risks I'm simply no longer willing to take. So part of what I saw, or failed to see, stemmed from my own choices. I'm okay with that.

So, no tornado for me. Congrats to those who scored.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Tomorrow brings a conditional threat of tornadoes to southwest, south-central, and central Oklahoma from around 22z tomorrow evening to 3z Tuesday morning. Model forecast wind fields and thermodynamics are supportive of isolated supercells with an attendant tornado threat, but chasers are worried about moisture, as we often are this time of year. Current surface charts and morning soundings show a shallow moist layer off the Texas gulf coast. It isn't clear how we'll return adequate moisture fields to reach the low 60F Tds projected by the WRF and GFS. And, even if we reached the ~62F Td neighborhood, our dewpoint depressions are still likely near 20F, resulting in high based storms with potentially cool(er) RFD. That makes tornadogenesis, especially in the absence of boundaries, more difficult. Targets tomorrow range from Lawton to Clinton.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Next week looks busy for chasers. Based on this morning's 12z GFS, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday all carry potential for severe storms and tornadoes, with strong surface lows, backed winds, and varying degrees of moisture and instability. It's an unusual pattern for early April, I guess, with sustained southwesterly flow aloft as opposed to the single, powerhouse systems we often see. Monday looks more like June than April. Winds aloft are strong enough to support supercells, but just barely, and storms should move at a leisurely pace if they form.

We'll see what happens. WRF hasn't performed well in the 60-84 range. Friends of mine who forecast for a living say they don't rely on it more than 36 hours in advance. I'll wait for a system with guaranteed low level shear; I've had enough veering to last me the balance of the year.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I'm pretty sure I've used this story before in reference to Mike Hollingshead's pictures, but here goes again. In 1967, the Beach Boys were working on their soon-to-be legendary album Pet Sounds when the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The story goes that the Beach Boys were so amazed and stunned by the revolutionary new sound and concept that they halted recording for more than six weeks, listening to Pepper over and over. I felt that way last night, before I started processing my pictures from 3-30, when I saw Mike's images from the same storm, same time, posted here.

There's simply nobody on Mike's level now. There are fine photographers in chasing producing different kinds of images--some unique visions, to be sure--but Mike has a mastery over his camera, lenses, and the use of light, especially with nocturnal atmospheric phenomena, that is unmatched in the world. Beyond the simple beauty of the images, Mike's pictures present a consistent aesthetic derived from his particular way of seeing these events, a sort of "philosophy," if you will, which inhabits and animates his work, and which is markedly lacking from inconsistent or clueless photographers, like yours truly, for example.

This is the difference between an artist and someone who pushes a button on a box. The good news is that this quality seems to be a product of both his natural "eye" and a tremendous amount of hard work, the latter of which is possible for anyone willing to pursue his or her craft with the same relentlessness Mike does.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mike and Eric's book, ADVENTURES IN TORNADO ALLEY: THE STORM CHASERS was featured in a story in The Daily Mail overnight, which Drudge Report linked later in the morning. Great, invaluable exposure for the book.

Other news, I chased in southwestern and south central Oklahoma both Sunday and Monday. Found an impressive, wedding-cake updraft near Granite, Oklahoma on Sunday, then some powerful storms later that night. I'll post pictures late tonight. It was a blast chasing with Scott Blair, Scott Currens, Bob Fritchie, and Al Pietrycha.

Monday yielded little in the way of photogenic storms; I did not venture east of I-35. I tried to catch anything west of the highway in chaseable terrain, but it never happened. Finished the day in Denton with Bob, eating well at Giuseppe's.

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