Monday, May 20, 2013

5/20/13: All Good Things Come to an End

We stayed the night last night in Guthrie, OK in preparation for our southward advance toward storms today near the Oklahoma/Texas border. We left the hotel around 10:30am and headed toward lunch in Oklahoma City. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant and left around 1pm. Little did we know, had we been in this area just one hour later, we would have been directly in the path of the eventual tornado that tore through Moore, OK and has the death toll as of 11pm at 51 people and many still missing. It's a terrible thing that has happened out there, having tornadoes go through the OKC metro area two days in a row. Your heart goes out to all of those that have been affected, especially the children in the school. But because we have certain chase rules we always follow, like not chasing in densely populated areas or near interstates, this ruled the Moore tornado out for us. Also, as a general meteorological/chasing rule, storms that fire in the southern most portion of a line or boundary tend to be the most tornadic of the storms. This is why the tornado in Moore today seemed very odd. This storm was not anywhere near the southern portion of what would eventually be a line of supercell thunderstorms. The southern most edge of storms was near Wichita Falls, TX. We headed to chase out there and in the process of heading south a storm had caught our eye directly west of us nearing the Pauls Valley, OK area. We decided to start chasing after this storm as at the time, it was our most southerly extent of storms. Upon starting to chase it, it became tornado warned and rotation was starting to show up on radar. Unfortunately, at the times the tornado was reported on the ground, it was either wrapped in rain or was too far away from our position that we just could not see it. We followed this storm throughout the entire day and although we never got to see a tornado, we saw the rotating wall cloud and what appeared to be the lowering funnel cloud at times. Storms had started to form south near Wichita Falls, TX but were firing so fast and became intense enough that we couldn't chase them as they became full of hail and would cut off our route to try and chase them. At this time, we decided that this would be the end of our chasing experience and began to point the van toward Tulsa, OK for the evening.

When I had signed up for this storm chasing class, I had talked to my peers who had taken it in previous years and asked them what their favorite parts of the trip were and what I should expect from it. At the end of these two weeks, I feel as if I've advanced immensely when it comes to forecasting severe weather and know how to identify so many things that come along with severe weather. The class isn't about seeing nothing but tornadoes, it's about learning the geography of places and different types of storm structure and forecasting and how we can take radar images and apply them to what we see with our eyes. You can only learn so much in the classroom, having the field experience cannot compare to anything, the last two weeks have been some of the greatest days of my life.

5/19/13: So Many Squall Lines

Today was supposed to be the best day of the best severe weather outbreak of the season so far. I was one of the chase leaders today, my third and final time. We set our sights on southeastern Kansas for the day. After getting to our spot, we had had very low clouds throughout the entire morning and into the afternoon which is not good for formation of storms. About an hour west we had a storm starting to form, becoming severe quickly. We decided to start chasing toward it as it kept growing. Eventually, due to the way the atmosphere was setup today, instead of storms being supercells which are good for tornado formation, all storms started to form into long lines of storms, called squall lines. Squall lines aren't usually great for finding tornadoes, but if you find one, it'll be in the southern edge of the line. The line of storms we were chasing never reached extreme severe potential, but we got to see some really good storm structure in spots. There were reports of tornadoes in Wichita, KS and Oklahoma City, OK today, both locations being out of our range at the time of the tornadoes. Unfortunately, there have been some fatalities with the tornado near Oklahoma City. Our outlook for tomorrow looks to be a little bit south of OKC. Hopefully we can see a tornado, it's our last day out chasing.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

5/18/13: TWC

Today is Saturday and also a day that has been published for quite a few days now that this whole weekend is supposed to be the biggest severe weather outbreak of the season. This means that hundreds of chasers will be out on the roads making it harder and harder for us to move and harder to find good spots to storm watch. We ended up chasing in central Kansas west of Salina but did not see any tornadoes. We once again did see some good storm structure and experienced a couple firsts in my book. We witnessed wind gusts up near 70mph, a heat burst which is warm storm air flowing down out of the storm during the dying phase, and lastly, a fairly decent sized dust storm due to the very high wind gusts. The location we were sitting at while experiencing all of this was also the same spot where The Weather Channel was sitting. About 50 yards away from us was Dr. Greg Forbes and Mike Bettes doing a live shot. I had wanted to go introduce myself, but we had pulled out of the location before they were off camera. It was sort of depressing to see online and Facebook that only 30 miles to our south, the storm we had wanted to go chase after but couldn't because it cut us off of the route we were going to take and we did not want to punch through the heaviest part of the storm, had dropped an amazingly photogenic tornado in the middle of a field that hit only one house and injured nobody. Those are the tornadoes we want to see.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

5/18/13: A Surprising Day

We started the chase day by shooting north to Winner, SD to sit and wait for storms to fire and move based on their location. Storms were forming south and west of Winner, they were nearly two hours south and west. Looking at the radar, it was going to be our only opportunity for the day. We headed toward the storms, which had started to form into a line of storms. Lines of storms are not typically the greatest thing to chase, but if you do end up chasing a line of storms, the southern most part of the line is usually your best bet. So we headed for the southern storm. After starting to catch up to the storm, it began to weaken more and more and became less and less exciting to chase after. I think we were all under the impression that the best part of the day to chase was past us, so we were beginning to just head toward the hotel. Luckily, as we were heading south toward Ogalalla, NE we noticed an LP supercell thunderstorm in the sky that wasn't showing up on radar.LP just stands for "low precipitation," a storm ideal for chasing. It was moving at a crawl and we were sitting in a great spot in the Sand Hills of Nebraska that let us view this storm. It had been given a tornado warning a little after we had stopped to take photos and just watch the storm unfold so we decided to stick around for a little longer in case anything came of the tornado warning. Unfortunately, after sitting and watching for about 45 minutes, a tornado never did form but we got to see some really great storm structure and witness an intense lightning show. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

5/16/13: Drive

Today was a day where we wouldn't be chasing at all. We want to set ourselves up for this weekend which is forecasted to be the biggest outbreak of the season so far. So we were all set to make our move from Burleson, TX just outside of Fort Worth to central Nebraska in Grand Island. There wasn't much to do along the way, our lunch consisted of a buffet in Gainesville, TX which had amazing catfish! The blog today will be very short, as I have previously said all we did was drive today. We're now at the hotel in Grand Island, NE and are planning on chasing tomorrow somewhere in southern South Dakota.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

5/15/13: We Have a Tornado....or Three!

We woke up this morning looking at weather data for our possible chase locations today. I was a chase leader for the second time and I was looking to redeem myself after feeling a little less than enthused about the first time. Having stayed the night in Abilene, TX in order to setup for our chase today, we didn't think we would have to go far to see a few thunderstorms and some good structure. Our plan was to move a little northeast to Albany, TX and sit at the city park and wait for storms to fire off of the dry line bulge. The dry line is an area denoting the large dew point temperature gradients. On the west side of the dry line, dew points are mainly in the 30s while east of the dry line dew points may reach above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Just east of this dry line is a popular place for severe weather to form. We had setup shop directly east of the dry line and waited a while. Right on queue, storms had begun to fire just west of the line and within 10 minutes, a storm had gone from not on radar to severely warned. We loaded up the vans and left the park where other chasers were also staying at and headed south to the storm. Just our luck, a storm had started to fire and head directly to where we had been sitting just as soon as we left the park. Unfortunately, neither of these storms were long lived and died off and were off the radar within another 20 minutes. So as we sat at a high school in Moran, TX just southeast of our original location in Albany, we noticed on the radar these storms firing about an hour to our east that had been consistently growing and remaining strong on radar. They were starting to become supercell thunderstorms, the thunderstorms known most for spawning tornadoes. Since nothing was or appeared to be initiating where we were currently at, we decided our best bet and our last bet would be to try to catch up to these storms that were to our east. Little did we know at the time, these storms would eventually make national news for the destruction they caused.

We started heading down Texas road 180 toward Mineral Wells, TX. As we were approaching Mineral Wells, looking to our southeast we could see really great storm structure with overshooting tops. The extent clouds can reach is the bottom of the stratosphere and then they will start forming laterally, which is why we have "anvil clouds." Anvil clouds are associated with thunderstorms and these overshooting tops result in an extremely strong updraft of air into the storm, which makes the clouds able to break through and into the stratosphere. Every storm that had eventually spawned a tornado tonight had an overshooting top. As we had eventually dropped south into Millsap, TX we had had our first sight of a tornado. This was one tornado this particular storm had dropped. Later on, although we did not see it, the storm dropped another tornado that had reported six fatalities and over 100 injuries. We continued to move in increments south and east following two storms now, both of which had tornadoes associated with them. We were tracking directly behind the storms and had no intentions of trying to punch through the storm, it would have resulted in major hail damage to the vans. We were watching the skyline along Granbury, TX and had a HAM radio in the van as well so we were able to hear the storm spotters with where the storm was tracking. We were looking directly at the tornado but could not see anything due to the tornado being wrapped in rain. We knew the tornado was there though because we watched power lines explode and transformers blow up and turn the sky blue. Night was starting to fall so chasing became more and more dangerous. Chasing at night is HIGHLY advised to be avoided. Sometimes it's hard enough to see a tornado in daylight if it's rain wrapped, so having no natural light makes it impossible to see a tornado. So naturally, because the storm was still dropping tornadoes and was tracking perpendicular to our intended route, we did a little night chasing! This was the time where we had seen what we thought was just a wall cloud due to its size, but later found out this was in fact a tornado as we had heard that it was causing destruction up to a mile wide. The only way we were able to see this tornado was because the lightning would light up the sky around the tornado, showing its monstrosity. While seeing tornadoes is an extremely exciting and awe inspiring experience, they can be equally devastating to towns and communities and cause fatalities.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

5/14/13: Finally, a Storm!

 We finally had a day of storms ahead of us, something that we hadn't seen for the previous three days. We were so excited to see anything other than clear blue skies that it didn't matter how intense the storm was. From our morning meeting we had picked a place just southeast of Sonora, TX that had a turn off area/picnic area that was good for viewing. We had gotten to the place early, around 1pm, in order to be able to watch the storms build and move past us from beginning to end. After sitting there for around four hours and a radar that showed absolutely nothing firing, we decided to push north toward a complex that had been moving across Texas for the past few hours. It was technically a squall line at the time which isn't necessarily great for trying to chase sever weather, but since we hadn't seen the hint of a cloud in three days we were willing to move toward it. To our surprise, and a little bit of luck, what was a squall line had turned into a single cell thunderstorm with hints of supercell intensity at times. We got to our location, about two miles south of Big Lake, TX just in time to watch the storm move across the sky to our north with a really good looking shelf cloud. Skies were becoming increasingly dark and winds were starting to change. When we had gotten to Big Lake, temperatures were reading 85°F and after sitting and watching for about 10 minutes the gust front had pushed through, kicking up all kinds of dust while pushing through. This had plunged temperatures from 85° to 66° instantly. All of us were super excited, smiling from ear to ear at the fact that we got to see some weather. Tomorrow's out look looks even better than today's did and I will be the chase leader for tomorrow, meaning that I need to know the most about what we're doing and where we should go tomorrow after looking at as much data I can. After we finished watching the storm in Big Lake roll through, we headed north to Abilene which is where we will be chasing tomorrow. The outlook for tomorrow is calling for possible tornadoes with the biggest threat being large hail.