Melting Hail and Singing Frogs

May 1, 2013 by · Comments Off on Melting Hail and Singing Frogs
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Mulhall to Stillwater and Ripley OK
14 Apr 13

SHORT: Intercepted marginal/intermittent supercell–pretty storm–between Mulhall and Perkins OK.

LONG: Another day waking up during the late afternoon, after a night shift, offered a conditional opportunity for storm observing. In a year already shaping up to be sparse for such activity, this day offered at least marginally suitable wind and moisture profiles along or near a cold front, somewhere between OKC and southern Kansas.

One major concern was that any storms forming along the front, near and N of the KS border, would be undercut by the frontal air mass; so I played wait-and-see with shallower convection to its south. Finally, a clump of deep towering cumulus became apparent on visible satellite imagery NW of OKC, giving that look I’ve seen many times before of an incipient storm genesis area. Seeing that, I plotted a likely storm-motion vector that would take any resulting activity across I-35 W of SWO, threw the gear into the vehicle, and zigzagged to the Interstate to engage the prospective quarry.

As I passed downtown OKC, I could see deep towers to the NNW-NE glaciate. Radar reflectivities showed growing echoes in the same area, the spawn of the upward-motion zone responsible for those early towers. By the time I got to the high overlook near Mulhall, a series of mostly high-based and small (but deep) towers to my WNW-W were evolving into a more discrete and distinct storm.

From even these early stages, the storm was pretty, but had a pronounced core plummeting through the middle that limited the size of the upshear part of the updraft. This general configuration continued throughout its remaining lifespan, although the updraft did grow appreciably as it approached I-35 and moved into higher-PW boundary-layer air. I headed E to SWO a.k.a. Stillwater a.k.a. Stoolwater, then as the storm assumed marginal supercell characteristics, dropped back S toward Perkins to let it approach. The storm was high-based as expected, outflow-dominant, still with a small updraft, but severe-warned due to hail.

Knowing the tornado potential was next to zero, I let the rear-flank downdraft pass overhead then followed along behind the storm for a potential sunset view. In the Ripley area, still on the back edge of the rear-flank core, I encountered some hail up to about 8/10 inch in size, and reported that via the NSSL-PING app. A garishly painted tour vehicle zoomed east, into the core; but I opted for the colorful side of the storm, spread out beautifully across the eastern sky into which its slowly shrinking form receded. The earlier high-PW air began to be offset by diabatic surface cooling, and the storm spun down from the Perkins area eastward.

Cool, earthy aromas of fresh rain, melted hail and slightly pounded vegetation was welcomed by a chorus of frogs–something very seldom heard in these parts during the past couple of hot, drought-inflamed years. This was the full-sensory experience of storm observing, where even the feel and taste of the air was fresh, clean and wholesome.

After relaxing and enjoying the experience for a spell, I headed back through Perkins for a quick bite of fast food, then S down US-177, I-40, OK-102, and OK-9. It was a fun “backyard” chase that was most welcomed, while still getting me home in time to spend some time with my daughter and beautiful bride (who stayed home) before work.

Bittersweet First Chase of 2013

April 29, 2013 by · Comments Off on Bittersweet First Chase of 2013
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Tecumseh, OK
30 Mar 13

SHORT: After waking up, jaunted a short distance E to watch storms take on beautiful and photogenic sunset textures. Got an unwanted reminder about humanity.

LONG: I had been on an overnight shift that morning, knowing of marginal daytime supercell potential somewhere over the central or eastern parts of the state. The threat depended on the alignment and character of boundaries–some yet to be made.

After awakening rather late in the afternoon and gathering my senses, Elke and I noticed towers erupting along one of those features–an outflow boundary a short distance to our east and south. The eastern towers were in a more favorable moisture and lift environment, and showed decent mass continuity visually; so we proceeded on a mini-chase E along Highway 9 toward Tecumseh.

This all was shortly before sunset, so we stopped at a really good overlook 4 W Tecumseh for the preferred western view. Towers rose deeply and broadly into a downshear anvil while crisply alight in the late-day sunshine.

As we watched this newest, somewhat high-based storm build into the back of its loosely organized convective cluster, a very friendly, middle-aged farmer living in the nearest house came out for a chat with us, then went back to his chicken coop and brought us two fresh, warm eggs from his hens. He told us how happy he was to get a new start in life with his wife, reminisced on his days as an Air Force pilot flying around storms, then headed back to his house.

Meanwhile the sun sank low in the west, and the big dome of convection assumed a gorgeous golden hue in the opposite part of the sky. Over the next 20-25 minutes, an assortment of intervening scud and multicell asymmetries developed, contributing colorful texturing and some oddly beautiful patterns of light and shadow to the storm scene. Meanwhile, we could see the ultimately tornadic Muskogee-area convection in the hazy, distant NE, its tops reddened by the last sun rays of the day.

Visible filaments of lightning were sparse, though the storm flickered rather frequently with deeply internal discharges. Hungry for dinner, we headed back home, and the convection took off southeastward into the hills and trees. The resulting supercellular-multicellular conglomeration traveled deep into the night, over and beyond the Ouachitas, producing hail estimated up to 2.5 inch diameter in Atoka County. From the remote perspective of my operational severe-storms forecasting shift, I saw the same convective cluster travel the breadth of southern Arkansas, finally dissipating near dawn as it massed over the Mississippi River near the Louisiana-Mississippi line.

In one of those moments that just makes one both angry and sad for the state of humanity, I very recently looked up the farmer’s name to make sure I remembered it correctly. Unfortunately, I did. He was listed and pictured in the official database as a registered sex offender, convicted in OKC in 2008 of dealing in illicit images of children, and turned loose on probation after serving three years behind bars. I guess that explains the “fresh start” out in the country.

Being a father, this sort of thing just makes me furious. It is also a shame to have the memory of a fine storm-observing jaunt soiled in that way. Sometimes what should be a good story just doesn’t have the happy ending we like.

It will be hard to look at those shots, or think of this trip, without being reminded of its dark side discovered later; but if we don’t still appreciate the good and beautiful that we saw…then evil wins. That must not be allowed to happen. So I tell this story in hope that you, too, can absorb unfortunate news and overcome its impact with the overarching grace of the perfect Artist who produced that sky.

Early Father’s Day Gift…of Storms

July 22, 2012 by · 2 Comments
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May, OK
3 Jun 12

SHORT: Intercepted splitting, intermittently severe thunderstorms in NW OK.

LONG: This would be the inaugural day of Elke’s and my annual Great Plains vacation together, and as always, one brimming with hope and anticipation for two weeks of adventures across whatever lands the atmosphere lured us. The medium-range pattern suggested (ultimately correctly) that we would be spending a good deal of time in the Dakotas, Wyoming and western Nebraska. Until then, and along the way there, we had this risk for high-based but potentially severe and photogenic storms in northwest OK and southwest KS.

Overnight MCS action had left a morning outflow boundary from southwest AR through OKC to the northeastern TX Panhandle. A departing MCV aloft, followed in close order by a weak 500-mb shortwave trough, would yield only subtle shifts in the muddled large-scale support for convection over the area near the dryline-outflow intersection. Deep-layer flow was modest; so some storm-scale help would be needed to even get sustained rotation. Nonetheless, it was a chance for a scenic storm along the way to future days’ chase chances, and in the company of friends.

David Fogel’s dad Bob happened to be in OKC for a wedding the prior day, and joined him, Keith Brown and the two big dawgs for the afternoon to see firsthand this long-described phenomenon of storm observing on the Great Plains. It was a great pleasure to meet Bob at long last, and to share a chase day with him. We all headed out of OKC and up the Northwest Passage, stopping for automotive, human and canine fuel in Woodward as towers erupted to the NW. We intercepted what became the most interesting and persistent area of convection near May, a little bitty splitting updraft pumping out a great big anvil.

It was a rather easygoing and relaxing scene–a good one for Bob and DF to savor before they had to return to OKC for Bob’s flight the following morning. The dawgs seemed more interested in relaxing than in the storm, but they were well-behaved and apparently didn’t fart too much.

As for the storm, it drifted S, then split some, then propagated back NW, expanded, and dissipated, as we maneuvered around the May/Buffalo/Laverne area. When it became obvious the convection was falling apart, we bid farewell to the Fogel men, Fogel dawgs and Keith, and headed toward DDC to spend the night. Along the way, we found a line of utility poles apparently tilted by severe winds at some recent time, with replacements already in the ground.

Dinner and lodging (and even the faucet water) were lousy; so we made haste out of Dodge the next morning on the road northward to what proved to be a very enjoyable two-week sojourn over the blue highways of Middle America.

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