Slosh of the Air Masses

I’ve been too busy to do much BLOGging lately, but this has been a good brand of preoccupation. The most active early portion of storm chase season in my recent memory is calming down somewhat, and I have been fortunate enough to participate in most of the events as a mobile observer.

Here we are in mid-April, and in climatologically common fashion, several strong synoptic waves and short waves in the upper levels have come and gone since mid March. This is the time of year when, as Rodgers and Hammerstein once wrote, the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains…but then, back up them again, then back down again, then back up again, and so forth.

The difference is that, in many recent years over the southern Plains, the approaching waves were timed badly with respect either to the solar heating cycle or to scant return of Gulf moisture following its expulsion deep into the subtropics by preceding frontal passages. Granted, moisture return has been same-day and less than ideal for prolifically tornadic storms in most of these events. But there have been some, and I was fortunate enough to witness the beginning of one of the tornadic circulations (SW of Breckenridge TX near Eolian, 9 Apr).

More importantly, these systems have decorated southern Plains skies with an impressive array of photogenic supercells with amazing structure, the likes of which more commonly swirl across the high plains in May and early June than this region in March and April. Normally, I count myself fortunate to get the right days off and atmospheric cooperation for one or two great “structure storms” in a season. This year there have been five — three of them in one day (7 Apr on three sides of Wichita Falls) and two on the other (30 Mar around Corn and Gotebo OK).

Things have been so busy, in fact, between the usual family time, working during several severe weather events, and traveling for both business and pleasure (including visual indulgences of the atmospheric kind), that I’ve hardly had time to stop and smell the roses — or in our case, the eruption of pleasantly pungent wisteria blooms over our front porch that is being buzzed by clouds of ecstatic bumblebees on a daily basis.

In one six day period, I traveled from Norman to Orlando (to speak on TC tornadoes at the National Hurricane Conference), back to Norman, down to Mineral Wells TX the same day my flight got back…down further to Fredericksburg and Llano (yes…Cooper’s barbecue, German food and wildflower photography with Elke again)…back to Norman, down to Wichita Falls the same day I got back to Norman (three spectacular, sculpted supercells in one fine evening), then back to Norman the same night. This was after recent trips to Texas A&M in College Station, a US-China Symposium session here in Norman, and a regional severe weather conference in Beaufort NC — also to give talks on TC tornadoes. A few other chases also interspersed themselves somewhere in the past month, including a fun one with the kids down to southeast Oklahoma that was at least as much about dad time as about storms. It was good to get some rest after all that, but I ain’t complaining…far from it!

Usually I don’t like rushing around so much, but that was an absolute blast. I love learning and teaching about tornadoes and about hurricanes, so the combination of the two is outstanding. Then there is that great Texas Hill Country drive that Elke and I try to do annually anymore, usually around the peak of wildflower season if I’ve got fortuitously placed days off. The bluebonnets this year actually were better in North Texas, up around I-20, than in some of the usual hot spots like the Willow City loop, thanks to untimely dry and wet periods farther south. Nonetheless it still was a great time with fantastic food and scenery, and some time just to spend with my beautiful bride of six years. And of course, the feasts at the smörgåsbord of atmospheric violence…every one was an adventure unto itself, as all worthwhile chase trips are. I’ve just started posting photo-festooned summaries of those to our chase BLOG, and will continue to do so in the coming days or nights.

I’m going on a stretch of assorted evening and night shifts through early May that will curtail storm observing almost completely, but I am not complaining about that, either. Some years have been so lame, both atmospherically and as far as timing of opportunities, that I’ve been unable to chase even once by this time. it’s great to have some spectacular storms under the belt already, and a couple of period of more extended time off in mid May and mid June still are a good ways off.


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