Cyclone Road


Saturday, May 31, 2008

I'm racing for the point convergence along the outflow boundary in northwest Oklahoma. Last night, with Bob, Rachael, and Steve, I chased highly photogenic LP storms in southeast Kansas and extreme western Missouri. Richly grooved and twisting little storms with miniature mesos, wall clouds, and terrific positive CG strikes from the base. I shot as many pics of those as the monster tornado producer the day before.

Chase season 2008 is now officially wheels-off, batshit crazy: the muddiest, fastest moving, grungiest, structure-laden, torando-stewn season of my career. I drove home to Denton late last night, arriving at 4:30 AM, to feed the cats, grab fresh clothes, shower, and sleep for three or four hours before heading out again. In retrospect I should have stayed in KS, called someone to care for the animals, and bought new clothes where I was, but as usual the next day's setup didn't look great until the next day, which is today, which is why I'm back in the car. I haven't thought about image processing in days. I have dozens of emails waiting for replies, almost as many voice mails. Apologies to all; there just isn't time. I'm carrying around Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing like some kind of token detail to remind me of my other life. No I haven't read or written any fiction in about ten days. What's my novel about again? Something to do with Chicago?

Tomorrow I might play Oklahoma again because of an an ironclad commitment in Denton Monday morning. Unless I win the lottery there's no sneaking out of this one. Then I'll head out Tuesday for the second half of next week and another mind-bending round of storms and tornadoes. After that, I'm done.

He said.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Today is a down day (although convection around Wichita Falls may put the lie to that declaration, for other chasers, at least) and I'm still rushing around for laundry, oil changes, bills and other errands before sailing north again tomorrow afternoon. It would be nice if I could find an hour to watch the video from Friday's tornadoes. I guess this is the longest I've waited to review tornado imagery; granted if I thought it was spectacular I'd find the time to do it, but I literally haven't had a spare second. These last five days have been some intense miles. I think we spent more time inside tornado watches than out, and only infrequently found time to stand around and goof off.

I have a ton of stills I'd like to review as well. Maybe later tonight.

I scanned the GFS long enough to know I have to get as far north as possible tomorrow. This morning's 12z operational suggests Thedford, NE as a potential target, but there's no reason to fine tune or speculate until Thursday morning. If the target evolves north of NE/SD border, I won't make it. I can't leave DTO until the late afternoon tomorrow. It would be a relief, really...but then there's Friday and that looks well within range. More later.


A weird and frustrating chase day. We started in Dodge, confident about our position relative to moisture surging in from the south-southeast, an outflow boundary visible on DDC radar north and northwest of the city, and any potential dryline assistance, which as usual in 2008, failed to show up. Storms fired from a complex of showers north and northeast of Dodge, and the chase was on. I initially pursued a storm heading for Jetmore, then turned south for the southernmost cell of a triplet cluster. This soon evolved into an HP with marble to golf ball hail on the forward flank. I dropped in front of it and decided to head further south to a supercell approaching Greensburg, Kansas, of all places.

This new storm earned a tornado warning while I broke south to flank it to the northeast. I passed some horrific tree damage south of Macksville, apparently from the Greensburg tornado of 2007. Chilling reminder to see these massive oaks stripped and shredded like confetti---some surely more than fifty years old, now in piles like kindling. When I made SR 54, I turned west toward Greensburg and tried to drop south to get a view into the notch, but the sandy backroads were slippery and treacherous. The meso was tracking northeast toward the highway anyway, so I tried to stay between the hail and the circulation. My view into the notch was consistently obscured, however, by rain, though a long tail cloud (perhaps an outflow boundary, actually), pointed to the location of the rain-wrapped circulation. I paced the storm all the way to Pratt, where my friends and I convinced ourselves the day was finished. We turned south for Medicine Lodge to eat pizza.

Meanwhile, back at the meso, our storm tightened up and produced three apparently fully-condensed tornadoes (the distinction being important in this the year of invisible ropes and the like), while Scott Blair and I shared a large surpreme at Pizza Hut and entertaining conversation with Derek, Katie, Scott Currens, Mike Currens, Bob, Rachael, and Steve Vanderburg. We laughed and told stories until Tim Marshall, seated with Jimi Leonard and Scott Peake at the table behind us, read from his cell phone Rich Thompson's report of the cones south and east of Pratt, where we'd turned south just 30 minutes earlier. Wow. It doesn't get much worse than that.

Unless you want to hear the story of how we missed the Quinter wedge as it was crossing the road on Friday. I'll save that for later.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Waiting in Dodge City to see if the main boundary to our north/northwest/west will initiate or perhaps the OFB to our east, which is located in the deeper moisture. If storms fire here or west, they'll have to survive relatively high T-Td spreads to reach the higher theta-e air (but not before outrunning the midlevel support) in order to produce, unless...we can return better moisture into sw KS prior to initiation. Winds are backing in this region now, so it's possible.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Quick report for Saturday May 24, 2008

I started the day intending to head home to Denton, Texas, but in the parking lot of the Salina, KS IHOP decided to check out the outflow boundary in northern Oklahoma along the way. While model forecasted midlevels were barely sufficient (which profiler data later revealed as badly underforecast), the backed flow along the boundary and later a mesolow were interesting. Small reflectivities had already begun when we headed south. We were grateful the storm took so long to intensify or become surface-based as we had a long drive from I-70 down to the 35/412 intersection.

Soon after we reached the storm we witnessed our first tornado then observed between three and five more over the next several hours as the storm seemed to oscillate between HP and classic: hiding everything in rain until it revealed some occluded updraft that would tighten and drop a tornado. One or two of the tubes sent us scurrying for cover. One of the larger cones and its associated RFD blew tree branches and other small debris across the road as we hurried east.

Our chase group today was Scott Blair, Derek Deroche, Katie Burtis, Scott Eubanks, and myself.

The last three days have been pretty hectic. I haven't yet posted anything about Friday's chase when Bob Fritchie and I witnessed four tornadoes between Ness City and Quinter, and I haven't processed imagery of either day---all of that is forthcoming somewhere between laundry and cleaning the inch of mud from my floorboards.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Typing on the run here...Bob F & I witnessed 4 tornadoes yesterday between Quinter & Ness City. Power and Internet outages in Salina prevented posting imagery, though mine isn't nearly as amazing as what Ive seen on ST & television. Currently steaming for northern Oklahoma.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Taking the long way to Kansas tomorrow, starting with a stop in Norman to pick up my chase partner for the next few days, Bob Fritchie, then turning west for the dryline with a final goal of reaching someplace in west central Kansas by nightfall. I wish we could keep from counting tomorrow's 'modest detour' as an official chase, but I guess that's exactly what it is, so put me down for yet another cap bust in 2008. It'll be tricky because if storms fire in this target, they won't go up until 0z at the earliest, and if we stick around that long and chase until 1 or 2z we'll have quite a hike to make northwest Kansas or southwestern NE by Thursday. It's not out of range, just an old-fashioned target run. Two drivers makes that substantially easier.

Then the following chase days, Friday and Saturday, could appear in the same general region, so a few decent night's sleep are possible.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Here's an important post from my friend Shane Adams' blog about how chaser Mike Scantlin drove a victim of the Picher, Oklahoma tornado to safety on May 10th. Hats off to Mike.

There's a lot of chasing coming up in distant lands. Eastern Wyoming and west southwest Nebraska are potential targets for several days in a row starting Wednesday. I don't know my plans yet, though I anticipate catching at least one or two of the better setups, maybe more. It's that time of year.

Friday, May 16, 2008

On Wednesday May 14, Scott(s) Blair & Eubanks & I chased the SJT storms from immediately west of San Angelo, where the storm produced a relatively long lived appendage (rotation hard to discern), all the way to Brady, Texas, by which time the storm had merged with a second storm to its southeast and evolved into a dangerous supercell with damaging straight line winds.

Five miles southeast of Eden we observed sustained vigorous rotation in a large lowering. It was a bit too close so we scurried south and east to flank it. Because of the road network and poor conditions, we remained in the southern periphery of the hook and never had another good view into the notch. We experienced very strong RFD for as long as ten minutes, with several gusts exceeding severe criteria, I'm sure.

Scott B has been in Denton the last two days dealing with car issues, but he's back on the road right now and headed for Lawrence.

I could use the break in the pattern. Wednesday was my 15th or 16th chase of the year.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I'll stick with the nearer target to save time and gas and because I
think it's a wash in terms of pros and cons. Possibly better shear up
north, likely higher CAPE down here. Tonight's NCEP runs aren't as
awful with the lower tropo shear in the southern target, though its
far from ideal for tornadoes. Also the 850s back a little late in the
period for my taste, swinging around between 21z and 0z. But WRF
depicts fair, se surface flow ahead of the DL down here and I suppose
there's a chance for a mesolow at the triple point given the high
temps forecast in the region (despite signals of mid and/or high clouds).

GFS and WRF both suggest the triple point around LAW by 0z. 4k SPC
WRF fires a big storm that plows through OKC metro with other storms
south of DFW along the DL.

This looks much like prior setups though with good trajectories for
true Gulf moisture and higher instabilities than earlier in the
season, perhaps we can get lucky. I'm trying to be optimistic and am
charging all batteries, etc. I'll put in a long morning's work and
head for the triple point around noon, probably through SPS then north.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I don't know about tomorrow. I'm not at all impressed and the May magic seems in short supply this year. The setup for portions of N TX along the dryline reminds me of the other dozen (literally) out-of-phase, weak low level flow, marginal DL/CF days I've chased this year, where the better target is somewhere else, but there's a decent enough target to stick around here and bust in crappy terrain. 2008 is killing my storm buzz. I'm embracing the idea that a big, fat cartoon ridge like the models were advertising several days ago is just what we need to hit the reset button on the season and start over around the 20th. For tomorrow I will either: (a) go to SE KS; (b) go to SPS; or, (c) stay in DTO and do some work.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

This is more a chase narrative than a strict report, but I'll integrate some meteorology for compliance. Frankly, my meteorology today wasn't very interesting--was yours? And I don't want to process any more damn wall cloud photos right now. Wall clouds are like dreams---to paraphrase Cormac McCarthy's great character Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in No Country for Old Men, they're really only interesting to the party concerned.

The day's first precip came in through the air conditioner about 4:30 AM. This was a window unit badly installed in the back wall of Room 31 at the La Siesta Inn of Seymour. And it was no trifling leak but a concentrated stream from around the unit and through the plastic grill onto the floor. I flipped on the light, a bare bulb screwed into the ceiling, and watched the puddle gather on carpet the consistency of Astroturf. If the water had been hail it would have bounced.

I found a second leak, in the bathroom, bubbling through fresh paint and collecting on the window sill and floor. After a radar check I went back to sleep, trying to imagine that I was camped near some meager waterfall.

In the morning my hostess agreed enthusiastically that the leaks in #31 were pretty stout, as if she and I were a pair of dour building inspectors and not the owner and her customer to whom she'd omitted any mention of these novelties the night before. I shook my head and left, driving around new roofing materials stacked in the parking lot.

Breakfast at the Rock Inn Cafe was delicious except for the raw pancakes. I didn't complain though because the waitress reminded me of the sweet, hard-scrabble women I worked with at the Bonham Dairy Queen when I was a kid. In those days the fast food staff consisted of these women, usually divorced and down on their luck, and us high school kids making extra money we didn't need, to spend on things we had no business buying. Along the front counter old-timers filed in and out for coffee and the latest news from the fields or their friends' families. I text-messaged a friend who also grew up in a rural Texas place. I said the old guys were lining up for breakfast and he quickly corrected me. "Bullshit," he wrote back. "They've been awake since at least 5 and are just going to sip coffee and shoot the shit." He was right, of course. It had been a long time since my days serving thirty-five cent cups with free refills to this crowd: these unrepentant smokers, hearty laughers, and the best storytellers in the world.

I waited in Seymour a while to see if skies would clear and offer some cold-core hopes later in the morning. It seemed we had several ingredients in place: more than adequate moisture return, ample mid-level cooling, and strong CVA between 18-22z. I shifted east to Ringgold and waited some more. Scattered cu thickened and surface temps hardly budged. The surface low drifted just north of the river. Seemingly all of chaserdom paraded past me and waved as if I were some friendly local figure, the mayor, perhaps, or a clueless volunteer fireman. They wore big smiles like a gang of kids headed for Six Flags. The big event of course was the impending Tornado Outbreak in northeast Texas, my old stomping ground.

I knew parts of Fannin County are tough for chasing; there's the Leonard Hills on the south side where local kids still "ratrace" and occasionally end their nights in violent collisions. I don't like chasing east of 35 when I can help it. But maybe today was the right day, I thought. I drifted further east to Gainesville and within thirty minutes showers appeared west-southwest of Denton. On my way south I realized I was wearing my "Bonham Boogers" t-shirt---a gag gift from a high school pal to celebrate the Texas-Oklahoma League semi-pro baseball team of 1922. The team had disbanded, along with the whole league, when a railroad strike prevented travel between competing cities. It's the only article of clothing I own with the word "Bonham" on it and I'd picked it thirty six hours before, a random choice prior to leaving for west Texas.

Outside Melissa our storm began to spin. With a large church in the foreground Robert Hall and I watched the rotation tighten up. It took a while but at last we had identifiable structure, so we started north up 121, towards Bonham, keeping the updraft in the sideview mirror and u-turning for occasional glances or a photo. We saw a few RFD cuts, a few odd, anti-cyclonic circulations, but mostly HP structure with a ragged, unpromising base. The storm had started as a linear segment, transitioned to a multi-cell cluster, and, despite a temporary flirtation with classic/HP mode, it never overcame its tendency to line out and split.

Before I knew it we were in those same Leonard Hills, then headed north on 78 into Bonham. At the Braum's on Sam Rayburn Drive ("Mr. Speaker" being Bonham's most prominent son), we gave up the chase. I ran into someone in the restaurant who I hadn't seen in twenty years. I apologized for not remembering her name. The teenagers behind the counter overheard us and asked if I had had this or that teacher in high school. Many are still teaching there. After dinner I drove around the old streets, narrower than in my memory, and thought that for a busted chase, I'd seen worse.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

I guess analyzing the boundary today won't be much of a problem, lol. Tough choice currently about which direction to take west, I-20, 380, or 287. I'm nervous the boundary won't lift north as quickly as I'd like, and it seems easier to follow it from the south. 12z RUC adds to previous concerns about a sluggish DL, holding it at the border probably because of pressure falls on the western side. So this feels like a repeat of two weeks ago: let the boundary do the work. I'll split the difference and go west on 380, initial target of Jayton to Crosbyton. Not where I'd hoped we'd be chasing...again.

Monday, May 05, 2008

0z WRF shifts the target slightly north and east, but I'll resist that until I see the GFS or real data tomorrow. It seems DL placement is not a strongsuit of this model in 2008.

I'm curious if storms that mature along or immediately east of I-27, especially northeast of AMA, might outrun their upper level support as they approach W OK. I'll chase up there but with an eye on development to the south and hope for sequential storms more firmly within the core of the jet.

Here's the WRF forecast sounding for Pampa at 0z Works for me.
(valid for 0z WRF)

I'm also interested in this stalling line of showers and storms stretching from Tulia to east of Roswell right now and the chance for a boundary to emerge. I remember Al Moller telling a group of us years ago why it was critical not to dismiss the existence of a boundary just because it wasn't readily apparent from morning sfc data or satellite imagery. Previous convection, even overnight, was often the only significant marker. As I recall he was taking issue with the tendency to rule a boundary "washed out" too easily.

A little wishcasting goes a long way on the caprock. For tomorrow, WRF signals a relatively cloudless afternoon. A storm on a well-roasted boundary in the environment shown by that forecast sounding is about as much as we could hope for.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

12z GFS and 0z ECMWF are in fair agreement regarding the position of the upper low over south central Arizona on Tuesday afternoon and attendant sfc features on the high plains as stronger upper flow overspreads the region. Two areas of interest for potential SVR: ahead of the nose of the upper jet in the eastern TX PH / NW Texas, and east-northeast of the surface low in NW Kansas or even SW Nebraska. The latter area suffers weakness aloft (WRF's 0z Wed 500mb winds in NW KS are ~20kts) and the potential for anemic SR anvil winds, and the former shows surface flow more parallel to the DL, though capping doesn't look like an issue. For what it's worth, WRF agrees with bringing lower 60F Tds up to the DL in both targets and depicts morning precip to the east, raising the premature hope for boundary interactions. For now I'll go with the flow and plan for the southern target until there's more support aloft up north.

Friday, May 02, 2008

"When it's May you chase." --Tim Marshall

Almost broke this old axiom yesterday. Glad I didn't.

After today's severe weather out east, the moisture will be shunted into the GOM until further notice, or at least until Wednesday, according to the GFS. I checked the EC and it also signals the a relatively weak, low-amp trough early to middle next week. This far out, that's about the best we can do for numerical certainty. Normally I'd be happy for a modest system without wild-ass kinematics, as up on the caprock or the high plains they often produce lumbering, isolated supercells with manageable tornadoes, but if our moisture takes a Caribbean vacation tomorrow we'll need something strong to haul it back to the dryline in time. We'll see. For now, what's certain is that there's no chasing for a few days--beyond that who knows. You never close your eyes too long in May.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hard as it is to ignore a plains MDT in May, that's what I'm going to
do. I wavered last night when I saw the sfc Tds higher than expected,
but this morning's soundings from TOP, OUN, and points west, plus the
12z RUC currently coming available on UCAR, makes initiation along the
the dryline in southern KS and northern OK (before FROPA) too
conditional for my $200 in gas.

RUC is more aggressive with the veered 850's and drying trend at that
level, making the possibility of entrainment along the boundary a
nasty possibility even if the DL mixes east aggressively, as has been
depicted in many runs. On the vapor loop currently, the system and
all its wonderful kinematics aren't exactly in a big hurry; the center
of the upper low is lollygagging around northwest CO. This doesn't
seem like great news for daytime init along the DL.

It's always scary to turn away from the sort of highly supportive
environment like will develop in the eastern third of KS and into
northeast OK, with plenty of juice and a boundary waiting to go. In
May. Ugh. Sounds like a bad idea when I put it that way!

If I lived closer, even just a little, I'd recon to SE Kansas,
probably northeast of ICT by a county. But not from here.

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