Strike Three (Time for New Game)

August 5, 2013 by · Comments Off on Strike Three (Time for New Game)
Filed under: Summary 

Lindsay and Elmore City OK, St. Jo TX
20 May 13

SHORT: Strike 3, batter out for this system. Intercepted 3 supercells in 3 tornado warnings and 2 states, saw no tornadoes: 1) Lindsay OK, 2) between DUC-PVJ, 3) near St. Jo TX.


Setting up “the day after the day after the day before the day”
Somehow, on consecutive Kansas/Oklahoma tornado days, we had come up empty-handed in that regard–and worse, with very few decent photos or positively memorable experiences to show for it, despite multiple storms intercepted. This third chance, a cold front was moving very slowly SE across central OK, into an air mass characterized by upper 60s to low 70s F surface dew points, and strong surface heating. Many long-time, seasoned storm observers, in their pre-chase forecast musings, targeted the cold-front/dryline triple point area, forecast to be near FSI by late afternoon. Rich T and I wanted to hang a little closer (CHK area) for starters, but as it turns out, not even that was “close” enough.

My last forecast offering before hitting the road summed up the pre-chase situation fairly well:

    In some ways, this is a messier, more difficult chase-forecasting scenario than previous two days, and we still somehow avoided all the tornadoes on them. What does today have in store?

    Could be an early-initiation scenario (relative to previous days), especially on the “northern” end of the regime from the CHK-OKC area NEward, given positioning of the upstream shortwave trough, high CAPE, rich low-level moisture and likelihood of CINH eroding fairly quickly in SSW-ward zippering fashion. This looks like one of those patterns that support fairly quick SWward backbuilding after initial mode of relatively discrete storms. Two big questions to answer today:

    1. How long will discrete mode last?
    2. Will storms go too early and get messy while the warm-sector flow still is somewhat veered, and before low-level SRH picks up later in the afternoon?

Rich and I were rather worn out from the two prior days, but decided to head out anyway, given that the threat was within a couple hours’ drive of home. By the time we left, shortly after 1 p.m., deep towers already were building along the cold front W and SW of the OKC area, and along the dryline farther SW.

What was and could have been
Migrating our way SW, we noticed two main areas of development–a multicellular splotch near FSI (later to evolve into the DUC-PVJ supercell) and a more discrete, fast-growing echo SSE of CHK, headed toward PRC. The latter was closer, moving into a high-CAPE, moderate-shear environment, and more isolated, so we migrated that way for starters. A nice vantage from just E of Lindsay offered this early view of the young storm to our WSW, still small and beginning to fall under the anvil shadow of the FSI-DUC cluster (the latter’s anvil being visible at distant left).

Had the Moore storm formed either first, or a little later (with more time to get there), we might have targeted it instead. However, it developed to our NNW near Blanchard, with a rather ragged early look for such a big-CAPE day, as seen through the anvil precip of the Lindsay storm. Being in the immediate inflow of the latter, which still held some promise of growing and maturing, we held position.

Questions about our storm’s current and future integrity arose with the dramatic sharpening of the appearance of the future Moore storm, the narrow updraft of the Lindsay supercell as it moved nearby to our NW, and the rain falling into the latter’s inflow from the anvil of the DUC cluster.

Before long, the Lindsay supercell weakened dramatically, leaving us sitting there stormless with this decision: zigzag back NNE to I-35 and try to catch the northern storm, now tornado-warned and sporting a hook as it moved toward western Moore, or head S on a more straightforward path to ahead of the consolidating and closer DUC convection, by now also sporting a radar-indicated mesocyclone and moving NE (much faster approach). Chasing in the metro area also was considered a negative; so we turned S.

Soon after doing so, we heard a frantic TV simulcast over the radio describing a growing and potentially violent tornado moving into Moore. This was terrible news on multiple fronts. Moore had been devastated multiple times in the past 15 years, and this was the last thing they should have to deal with. Secondarily, we were getting the vibe that, for the third day in a row, it just wasn’t our day to see a tornado (despite not reaching the DUC storm yet).

We still had time to do a quick turn-around and maybe catch the Moore storm after it crossed I-35; but stern-chasing a destructive event through the suburbs seemed rather unwise. By contrast, Elke, who had stayed home and was watching the event unfold on TV, was able to get a safe, in-person peek of the last few minutes of the Moore tornado simply by driving a few miles N and finding a hillside vantage (E. Franklin Rd E of 36th Ave). Some trees and terrain were in the way, but she watched as the Moore tornado (by then well E of I-35) appeared to her NW, narrowed, then roped out in wild, loopy fashion.

Meanwhile, an hour to the south, we simply had to digest the fact that we were missing what sounded like the worst central OK tornado event since 3 May 99, while also hearing a report of a brief tornado from the DUC storm that we hadn’t reached yet!

Post-tornadic DUC-PVJ supercell
Heading W out of Elmore City, we caught the former Duncan-area supercell W of Foster. Finding reasonable vantages was difficult amidst the shoulder-deprived roads, hills, trees, an abundance of both real and imitation storm chasers taking up the best pullouts, and storm structure that looked very wet and messy via glimpses through the obstructions. What was left of the main mesocyclone got wrapped in rain and lost its identity NW of Foster, as very heavy showers flooded the main supercell’s inflow region with their own stabilizing effluent. A newer meso seemed to get undercut as it crossed the road nearby, and as we experienced cold RFD outflow to its immediate SE.

Nonetheless, the storm tried, amidst all the convective-scale slop, to maintain some supercellular identity as it headed ENE between Elmore City and PVJ. This view, looking NW, was about its most robust appearance, with moderate visual rotation and a concurrent reflectivity hook on radar, before it crossed I-35 just N PVJ. After short deliberation in town, we let the gradually shrinking storm go, and plunged S on I-35 to intercept whatever would remain of a big North TX supercell located SE of SPS. It was either that or give up and crawl home in shame. Not being easy quitters, we decided to make a go of it.

Takin’ the Tejas plunge and back
Radar showed the Texas storm right-moving toward Muenster, so getting safely ahead of it would be easy at legal Interstate speeds. First, however, we had to reach to a spot just S of the Arbuckles before the front wall of a formerly discrete supercell–by now a messy storm tangled up with a large load of other convection, and dominated by a deeply rain-wrapped/forward-flank circulation. We beat that electrically active mélange of amorphous slop by just a few miles (structure so fuzzy it wasn’t worth a photo stop), then proceeded across the Red River. A left-mover we had been monitoring SSE of the storm was closing in fast, leaving us with (at best) a narrow window of potential before mutually assured convective disruption.

Turning W on US-82 aimed us toward a dramatically darkening and increasingly lightning-splashed western sky. After we left Gainesville, the former fuzzy mess that we had ignored got tornado-warned NE of ADM. That’s right–kick us while we’re down!

Between St. Jo and Nocona, we found a temporarily good place to park, as the supercell–by now an HP stormzilla into which the large left-mover already was ramming with great force–closed in. While waiting, we encountered Matt Crowther and Vince Miller, and had a short but nice chat with them.

When the approaching half of the sky looks like this, and then several minutes later, like this (notice the long line of fleeing vehicles), it’s not a wise idea to stick around sipping frosty brews and smoking Cuban cigars from the comfort of lawn chairs. Having no such suds, smokes or seats anyway (just shamefully seldom-used cameras), we high-tailed it E back to Gainesville. Meanwhile, ransacked by all the cell mergers, collisions and outflow, the formerly imposing storm became a gusty heap of rain and lightning. Whataburger time…

We ate, let the heaviest part of the cores slide by to our N, then shot the convective gap northward before some heavy, training and elevated storms reached the Marietta/ADM area. Some beautifully colored sky, just before and after sunset, greeted us near Springer. That offered but a small modicum of cool relief on part of what felt like a substantially large chase burn. By the time we rolled back N on I-35, in despair over the disaster in Moore, and with Rich’s chase vacation having ended on three straight swing-n-miss days, we were quite ready to carry out the sentiment expressed by the following quote from 2006…after all, our chances of seeing Sasquatch seemed greater at that point.

    “Let’s forget this tornado chasing and go look for Bigfoot.”

There still was some vacation time left for me, however. Soon, I would desire (and embark upon) some much-welcomed and soothingly corrective “High Plains Therapy”.

Elaborate Tornado Avoidance Techniques

July 27, 2013 by · 2 Comments
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Southern Kansas to east-central OK
19 May 13

SHORT: Intercepted 4 supercells in 3 tornado warnings and saw no tornadoes: 1. NW of Ark. City KS, 2. near Parkland OK (middle storm of OK triplets), 3. ENE of Prague, 4. Near Okemah and Okmulgee. Somehow managed to miss all the tornadoes two days in a row.


Setting up “the day after the day before the day”

Having intercepted clearly the most unfavorable of several Kansas storms the previous day, the “day before the day”, Rich T and I were determined to get on a tornadic supercell on “the day”.

A classical setup set up for the corridor from southern KS to central OK, with rich low-level moisture return, a strong dryline, a lack of antecedent precip to mess up the boundary layer, large low-level hodographs, and strengthening deep-shear vectors with a decent component across the dryline. In short, this was a prime southern-plains tornadic-supercell regime, the only potential hitches being mode certain initiation with storm-mode concerns up north (near a cold front) and initiation questions farther south.

Our strategy, therefore, was to get in between the two ends and be in prime position to strike like a predator at the best developing storms in a corridor from OKC-ICT. We arrived early at a truck stop N of Perry and awaited development. Early storms near ICT looked interesting, even supercellular and potentially tornadic, (one did produce there), but also, potentially tangled up quickly in a messy cluster near the front. Fateful decision #1 had been made: blow off the early, tornadic ICT storm for more discrete and ostensibly longer-lasting activity to form closer, later.

Two areas of convection began to develop almost at once: just W of us, moving NNE toward Wellington, and about 75 miles SSW of us, on the NW fringes of the OKC metro area. Either was easily reachable. We had much better visibility on the closer activity, which seemed likely to remain in a favorable environment well into mature stages. Fateful decision #2 was sealed: check out the closer storms, which would take us away from central OK. We had seen this picture play out several times before–jump on middle or northern convection only to have the southern storm near OKC produce tubes (whether or not we would see one with our convection). Still, we risked missing something closer to home for something closer to us.

(Somewhat) northern play

Fully aware of that dubious history, we headed N to near Blackwell and took a look at the growing Cb, already showing some supercellular characteristics on radar–as did an initially separate, trailing storm behind the cold front and to our storm’s WSW. This is how it looked before the base came into view. We hopped N of the border, zigzagging E and W a little across I-35 N of Wellington to get in viewing position. The storm turned out to be a messy HP with poor contrast. Only a brief, surging attempt to wrap a mesocyclonic occlusion was visible, with a funky, spiked, ground-tickling tail cloud, before it buried itself deeply in rain again.

Optimism wasn’t the word here. The storm had 1) accepted a cascade of percip from the dying remnants of the post-frontal supercell, 2) dealt with big towers and showers forming and merging into its rear flank, and 3) interacted with a new, quasi-linear frontal segment nearby. Meanwhile, radar showed the storms near OKC coalescing with frightening speed into a big, honking supercell near Edmond. This is when we started getting that sinking feeling…here we go again.

Back to central Oklahoma

Fateful decision #3 actually didn’t take long: let’s not linger with this HP rubbish, and try our best to bust SSE ahead of the now violently tornadic convection just NE of Edmond (or anything that might form farther upshear). We didn’t dither on this, which made an intercept from that distance at least marginally feasible. Somehow, the at HP rubbish, and accessory convection building into its flank, produced a small but photogenic tornado near the South Haven exit of the Kansas Turnpike…not long after we left!

Unaware yet of that morale-crushing development, we made decent time southward on US-77/177 through PNC to the Cimarron Turnpike, then SE on the speedy slab. All the while, we could see the booming, huge flanking towers rolling into the back side of the leading storm, now near Stroud, with a known history of atmospheric violence. However, as we closed in for a potential end-around the back side, potentially in the Bristow/Kellyville area, the convection was softening, the mesocyclone weakening, the storm moving into somewhat cooler, lower-theta-e air.

Resigned to missing all that storm had to offer, we saw two newer supercells on radar, and fuzzily from the sunny N side–a small one to our near SSW, near Carney and trailing behind the first. The westernmost storm was organizing fast…over Norman! That was the cell we really wanted to see, with its unimpeded inflow and longer prospective resident time in juicy air…but the middle storm (which was sucking some outflow from the formerly tornadic lead supercell) was smack in the way.

Since the middle storm was considerably smaller than the others, with lower VIL and MESH hail indicators and a thinner forward-flank core, we made fateful decision #4, hedged a bet against the risk that could strengthen its hail production, and headed S through its forward-flank core toward the Agra/Parkland area. True to its algorithmic evolution, that core indeed contained only marginally severe hail and was surprisingly translucent, allowing us to pop out of precip a safe distance of 4-5 miles ENE of the storm’s mesocyclone. We could check this out briefly while plotting a course to get ahead of the Norman storm, by now producing a tornado over Lake Thunderbird–just a few miles from both my house and Rich’s. That sinking feeling came back again.

Yet we weren’t obligated to leave this storm just yet, not with us in an unusually good vantage point for this hilly, forested part of the central Oklahoma crosstimbers, and a tightening mesocyclone approaching rapidly on track toward a spot on the highway immediately to our north. From a distance, the main cloud area was so low that it might have appeared tornadic, but we certainly were close enough to confirm otherwise. As it crossed less than a mile away, the persistent, deep, scuddy lowering was rotating, but not especially fast, and had no debris or dust beneath. Inflow felt rainy and somewhat cool the whole time, which seems to have been more related to the earlier storm than this one. Nonetheless, it tried hard (deeply enhanced crop)…just not hard enough.

Having spent just a few minutes examining that supercell, we made our expected run for the former Norman storm, now approaching Prague, offering a tremendous radar signature, and yielding terrible media-broadcast tales of tornadic destruction from the Dale-Shawnee area. By the time we got to I-44 and US-377, it was obvious we would have to either: 1) make a big zigzag to take a safer approach, or 2) penetrate this storm’s forward-flank core too, but come out perhaps even closer to what was known to be a dangerously tornadic mesocyclone on 377.

No, thanks…fateful decision #5–live to chase another day! I don’t know what would have happened had we turned stupid and tried to core-punch that sucker, but I’m glad not to know. Even though the NWS tornado mapping for the event shows a break at 377, the risk was too great…and of course gorilla hail can take out a windshield and end a storm intercept quickly. Notice also the tornado path NE of Prague, between there and Welty (the W road E0960 off OK-48, halfway from Bristow to I-40).

Zooming safely ENE on I-44 then S on OK-48 toward Welty, we passed instead through far-forward-flank precip that was dense but only rain. We passed through hilly terrain near Welty and hunted for the first relatively open view of the big supercell that wasn’t right in the path of the meso. By the time we saw the storm, looking W on side road E0980 S of Welty, it was a deep, dark, low-contrast, HP drum. The storm definitely was producing a tornado at the time based on official mapping, but one we just couldn’t see with our eyeballs because of extremely dense wrapping precip. At the time of the last shot, the tornado would have been directly down the road, in the distance (deeply enhanced crop).

Shortly after I walked a little way down the road to try a different angle (deeply enhanced crop), a small car pulled up. The unknown chap inside noticed I was shooting the storm, and started an impressive routine of big-timing, offering instruction about the supercell’s structure and what was going on where. His descriptions were fairly accurate in a general sense, but this presumptuous little game was wasting both of our times and just had to stop. I’ve seen and studied a supercell or two myself over 28 years of storm observing and professional meteorology, so it was hard to resist temptation to bust out laughing. Instead I decided to have mercy and let him off the hook relatively painlessly. Once I could get a word in edgewise, I succinctly discussed the likely pattern of vorticity lines around the wrapping, precip-filled occlusion downdraft and its interface with the forward-flank gust front of a supercell of this configuration and morphological stage. [Thank you V.O.R.T.EX.] Quickly my interlocutor quieted down and turned his attention back to the storm. 🙂

Duly amused and a bit grateful at not being recognized, and not wanting his vehicle (or its glare) to take up too much of the shot, I wished the dude good luck, and jogged back up to the vehicle. Rich (who had stayed by the vehicle) and I watched hard for any evidence of the ongoing tornado somewhere in there (deeply enhanced crop). The rotation of the precip cage and surrounding cloud deck was impressive, but we still couldn’t see the tornado by eye. Even the deep enhancement leaves room for doubt.

After that, the visual appearance got even messier, the mesocyclone shifted NW then NNW of us, and RFD precip began to hit. We bailed S, glancing back at the remnant circulation crossing behind us (by then nontornadic, as it turned out) expecting that to be our last view of the storm in the fading daylight. An awful lot of rain was falling well S of the hook of our previous supercell, and once we got out of a cell-phone hole and saw radar again, it was obvious why. Yet another supercell had gone up farther SW, playing a game of mutual hindrance with the former Norman-Shawnee-Prague storm. They were aligned in ideal geometry to dump rain and/or outflow into each other’s inflow regions!

Enough was enough

Despite its ragged and somewhat high-based appearance (looking NNE from near Castle), we followed the last supercell N a few miles out of Okmulgee before twilight and unimpressive structure mercifully ended the intercept. Somehow we had witnessed four supercells and no obvious tornadoes on a big-event day, and aside from that, had seen very little in the way of photogenic structure. On top of our chase failures the previous day, this dealt a most demoralizing blow; and that wasn’t the worst of it.

At some point in there, I learned that the beloved cat Iniki, who suddenly had fallen ill a couple of days before, had to be put to sleep by an emergency veterinarian the same evening, while I was out driving hundreds of miles and failing to see anything of note. I never got to hold her and say goodbye. This day officially sucked. How could doing an activity I loved so much get so stinking miserable?

We ran into Bobby Prentice and Scott Fitzgerald at an Okmulgee gas station, hearing of I-40 being closed on our way home due to tornado damage (indeed, it was). We didn’t need more bad news. Yet, to make matters worse, we then learned that the Shawnee tornado had been a killer, and also, crossed the power-supply lines N of Rich’s house and cut electricity thereto for many hours ongoing. His food was unloaded into my fridge and big freezer, and he stayed at Elke’s and my place that night.

Our wish for the 20th was to turn the heretofore painful storm-intercept fate of the previous two days around on the third and final day of this weather system, despite fighting the urge not to even bother…

Casual Country Drive

July 11, 2013 by · Comments Off on Casual Country Drive
Filed under: Summary 

Mustang OK
8 May 13

SHORT: Casual intercept of some multicellular to marginally supercellular storms on the E edge of a favorable air mass.

On this day, I didn’t expect to be out there storm observing. I had a shift beginning at 9 p.m., and the best supercell potential along the dryline was too far SW and W for any meaningful intercept activities. However, after a late-afternoon wake-up, some convection had fired W of the OKC metro area in the warm sector and along outflow/differential-heating zones from early-day activity.

I knew this wouldn’t be an important tornado setup, because of the potential for messy storm modes and the lack of more robust deep-layer winds, but perhaps one of these initially high-based storms could rotate and exhibit photogenic structures before entering drier air closer to home. Elke and I made the ad-hoc decision to go for a casual country drive out to the Tuttle-Yukon area for 2-3 hours–one that also involved some elements of a convective sky.

Storms that had looked strong W of OKC moved into the dry air and weakened– a fate sure to befall those developing on the W side of the same cluster. Still, the boundary was weakening and moving slowly E and NE, expanding the moist sector in that direction through late afternoon and evening. Perhaps storms could follow us back home and, as a bonus, offer some always-needed rain.

Terrain between Tuttle and Minco can get rather choppy, thanks to easy erosion of the Permian red-clay shales and siltstone layers into the nearby Canadian River valley. Still, we found a vantage a few miles WNW of Mustang to watch a marginal supercell that was becoming elevated over the boundary put on one last structure show.

Except for the singing birds, mooing cows, and an occasional local resident puttering along the back road, we had the farm and sky scene all to ourselves for about an hour as this storm merged into the cluster to its N, and other convection formed on its trailing flank. Despite dealing with flimsier convection than observers were enjoying at greater distances, it was a nice relief to enjoy such a relaxing storm experience without any pressure or enticement to be elsewhere, and to do so as an appreciative couple.

Many more storms soon developed and filled in rapidly, between the initial cluster to our W-NW and dryline storms over SW OK. These started flinging CGs ever closer to us, so we eased back into Mustang for a fast-food dinner. The band of storms grew in length and intensity, forming a jagged squall line with occasional, embedded bowing segments.

This system followed us closely back down OK-4 and OK-9 to home in Norman, whereupon I had to turn right around and head to work. I got there in plenty of time, but actually had to stay outside in the vehicle and wait for the lightning-infused core to pass, pinging NSSL Ping with reports of heavy rain, small hail and minor flooding before heading inside.

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