Insomnia woke me around 4 AM, but I drifted back to sleep. A nearby lightning strike woke me around 5 AM. I’m trying to get back to sleep. It is a couple of hours before breakfast in the first (and mesoscale discussion) of the day have already been issued.
The NAM and GFS models are still calling for a big event today:
The current tornado probability [for the day as a whole] looks like this:
Severe wind probabilities for the day are as follows (per the 4 AM models):
And severe hail looks like this, per the same forecast for the day:
Current weather looks like this:
And the tornado parameters at the moment are well below any kind of threat threshold:
I will be watching these carefully as the day unfolds.
The sky was intensely red a moment before I took this picture, but it recalls the old expression “red in the morning, sailors take warning.” 8am – updates to the maps above show little change:
Up to this point, nothings severe reported:
15:10 – Arrived at the Naperville emergency operation center (DOC). Started up the weather computers and radios, in preparation for arrivals about their staff later in the afternoon. Traded in my XL size polo shirt for a new uniform shirt in a medium. (Doing a happy dance on the inside!)
15:35CDT – An axis of steep lapse rates is oozing east from Iowa.
1730 CDT – Looks like a tornado watch is imminent, per mesoscale discussion MD1020.
1810 CDT – tornado watch number 286 is issued. The EOC goes into operational mode.
While the situation could change from the forecast above, I heave a sigh of relief that the primary area of a risk is to the south of the Chicago metro area. Had this been forecast to occur 25 miles further north, the situation could have been very dangerous for the western suburbsand Chicago proper. Once again, we dodge the bullet, it seems.
1834 CDT – A severe thunderstorm warning goes up near Amboy, Illinois. Even at this point, Al Fisher and I spot a strong couple of forming on the base philosophy velocity plot.”Why aren’t they issuing a tornado warning on this,” we ask one another.
A few minutes later, that warning is issued. NWS policy states that once a storm is tornado-warned, it retains that warning until the storm falls apart. This is how the NWS errs on the side of caution.
The good news is that they are able to issue this with a high degree of confidence, as a number of spotters and chasers (the little red dots in the picture below) are already on the storm, As this radar scope pro composite reflectivity/base velocity product shows:
This tour’s leadership includes veteran chaser and guide, William (Bill) Reid and drivers Bob Smith (a wildlife biologist) and Bill’s colleague, Rook, who used to work with him as a contractor meteorologist before the National Weather Service and FAA thrust the job of observations and Forecasting on air traffic controllers at small airports.
The rest of the team is a mix of returning chasers (like David Balfour and myself), first-timers from the UK and Australia, and a handful of sky-lovers from all across America (most of whom have had some kind of tornado encounter during their lives). About half of us are degreed scientists (meteorologists, biologists, chemists). Several of us work in IT. Many of us have desk jobs (and need a little excitement to break up the hum-drum routine). There are 16 of us altogether, two full vans of people.
Our vehicles are comfortable 15-passenger vans with broad windows to offer a clear view of the sky from every seat. Over the years, the technology has evolved, so each van has onboard WiFi connections to the broadband modems used to download weather maps and forecasts, view BIll’s many chase trip logs, and exchange email between our laptops (and smartphones) and the outside world. Everybody has a little nook for camera gear and the snacks we carry (as real meals will be few and far between once the atmosphere recovers).
The weather briefing is a little bleak for the first half of the trip: Sunday’s tornado barrage in Nebraska has scrubbed the moisture out of the Great Plains, leaving us only a low potential to see severe weather far to our east (in the ‘jungles’ of Missouri). A strong ridge — the chaser’s arch enemy! — will dominate the plains for 4-5 days thereafter. We get a refresher on the ingredients for severe weather, so we will be reminded when the outlook for chaseable storms improves.
We also get our official T-shirts. This year, Tempest added a nice personal touch: a personal greeting tag attached to each team member’s shirt (pictured above).
The shirts (pictured at right) feature tribute to engineering whiz and self-taught meteorologist Tim Samaras (left), his son and photographer Paul Samaras, and Tim’s longtime chaser partner Carl Young. Also depicted is one of the ‘turtle’ probes that this team would anchor in the path of oncoming tornadoes to measure temperature, wind, and barometric pressure. One of thsee 40-pound probes, an original design by Tim Samaras, took the first readings from inside a tornado (as well as video inside the funnel from ground level). The November 2013 National Geographic magazine talks about the life and death of Tim Samaras, who had received several recurring grants from ‘NatGeo’ for his groundbreaking weather research and amazing photos of his work.
1045 – We depart for southwest Missouri, where our best chance — but not a great chance— for some storms exists.
1223 – as we approach the outskirts of Tulsa, light rain starts
1238 – Heavy rain as we pass through the Tulsa metro area.
1450 – cross into MO on I-44. For about 45 seconds, no rain, then car wash 2 begins.
1510 – we make a 10-minute pit stop at flying J in Joplin, MO, where and EF-5 tornado plowed through on 22 May 2011. The regional hospital in Joplin was so badly damaged, that they had to tear down and build a new one. Many people lost their lives that day. I was out with the Tempest Tours team chasing that day, but was near Southwest City, MO, several counties to the south. Today, the storms are only delivering rain and LOTS of lightning. Apparently, delivering lightning is a local specialty.
1525 – dpt Joplin for points east.
1541 – We take the Sarcoxie exit south.
1544 – Travel east, out of Sarcoxie
1600 – Cross highway MO37
1607 – Arrive at Pierce City, MO
1617 – Depart Monett, MO, eastbound on highway on H. The radar show several storms, but nothing is rotating:
1631 – We move south, past Verona, continuing eastbound on US 60E. Trying to get ahead of the outflow boundary into warm air, where we might see some lightning and hail together. We are briefly pinged by pea-sized hail.
1700 – We enter Springfield, MO from the south. We have abandoned hope for today being a good severe weather day, at this point. It looked like we might see some good storms on the front of the outflow boundary, but they never materialized. We had a brief encounter with a storm that was dropping piece sized hail near Monett, but that is all. Mostly driving through a long car wash, getting wet, and everybody getting my impromptu mini-lecture on how all the various radar screens — reflectivity, base velocity, storm relative velocity, etc. work.
1745 – Check in at Days Inn (near huge, new Bass Pro store). WiFi here is DaysInnBassPro ( YES, really).
I wonder if I’ll be logging into FishNet. (LOL) The storms slog slowly to the east, but weaken as they go. (Yawn!)
Here we are:
1900 – Meet for dinner. We eat at a local sports bar and grill, Bair’s. I opt for the buffalo chicken salad, a luxury meal compared to the convenience sore meals that lie ahead. We watch the Boston-Montreal hockey game (a warmup for Bill’s game, the L.A. Kings vs. the world). Bill jokes about the Cubs wasting all those runs, as the rain approaches. If the game is rain out before the 5th inning is done, it’s a ‘no-gamer’. (The Cubs go on to slaughter the Cardinals 17-5 in 9 complete inning. Nice try, Bill!) I remind Bill how much I’m looking forward to the Blackhawks-King series for the conference finals, should each of us cheer our respective NHL favorites on to victory.
EOD – We return to the motel. Here our route for the days ends.
We blow off a little steam with a lobby party. This particular Days Inn sells a little alcohol at the front desk.
This morning started with a MOD RISK declared for Chicago and environs:
There was also much discussion about a HIGH RISK being declared, with a focus on the severe wind and hail threats:
While the tornado threat has been downplayed, I feel a bit wary about the hatched 10%(+) area:
Even early in the day, the severe parameters show signs of moving ‘into the hot zone’ later today:
We’ll have to watch this one carefully (as Gilbert Sebenste pointed out in my Facebook news feed). Gilbert is a respected expert in Northern Illinois weather, and I’m glad we have him watching our area. He’s generous with his knowledge and is a great natural teacher. (Frankly, I wish there was some way I could carve out time to attend either his meteorology classes or the one’s Paul Sirvatka teaches at College of DuPage. Both of the gentlemen have a great sever weather sense, and I’d be delighted if their wisdom would rub off on me. I could always use more.)
As the morning wore on, the air was increasingly humid. Definitely, “air ya kin wear’, to use a Northern Virginia-ism.
A MOD RISK day in Oklahoma (but I’m working in Chicago), so we’ll chase virtually.
SPC’s tornado outlook has a big sausage-shaped area (hatched!) along western Oklahoma, but where do we target within a 96,000 square mile blob?
INITIAL TARGET: Hobart, OK
VIRTUAL BASE: Salina, KS
RATIONALE: Looking over RAP and NAM (WRF-NMM) models, I see 30-40kt 500mb winds over southwest Oklahoma.
Checking this vs. the Dew point, moisture convergence, and CAPE/CINH, the area from the southwest corner of Oklahoma to Weatherford, OK looks like where I’d predict a good chance to strong tornadoes. Using the NAM model, I see precipitation broken out for my target area during the 18-21Z area.
0840CDT: If I started from a virtual base city of Salina, KS, I’d be at the waffle maker at someplace like the Days Inn Salina South reviewing these models.
My departure would be at about 9:30 a.m., with an estimated arrival at Elk City, OK of about 3 pm (a 5.5 hours drive via I-35S and I40W).
0853CDT: METAR at Salina: KSLN 291353Z 19015G27KT 10SM BKN020 23/19 A2968 RMK AO2 PK WND 15031/1307 SLP038 T02280189= Translation: 73 deGF and mostly cloudy. A brisk S to SSE wind at 17mph with gusts to 31mph. 1004mb pressure. Dewpoint is 66F already. “Air you can wear.”
13:34CDT: In the virtual world, I’m stopped to gas up for the afternoon near El Reno,OK, make a bathroom stop, and re-assess conditions. I regret having to bypass Moore, for a look from I-35, but I’ve headed west on I-40. I can’t observe the sky in the real world, but the surface map, visible satellite, and webcams give me an idea what I’d think if I were there: continue west for now, then re-assess at 14:30 or so.Temperature at El Reno is 77F with a *screaming* 68F dew point, scattered clouds, and a healthy 27mph wind. It seems that moisture is getting carried WAY north of my position. But, I also need to be patient!
Maybe I’ll stop at Sayre, and consider going north, as storms are already popping west and north of there. A huge TOR watch area — the red shaded area in the map below— covers much of western Oklahoma and continues north into Kansas (where a really long line of chasers are heading west on US54, apparently try to catch the storm straddling the Clark-Comanche county line, south of Dodge City).
Now the hard part: do I abandon my original target or hope the southern storms produce. Choices, choices, choices!
14:00CDT – After watch radar and checking SBCAPE, I decide to abandon my target. Tall, ferocious storms are building on the OK-KS line, head up through Watonga on US270W, hoping there are still storms to chase around 16:00CDT. Supercell composite is 12 for the area. Hopefully, I can make good time without getting a ticket. *Looks both ways, crosses fingers*
16:00CDT: Look like storm to the south is picking up. Dropping south to Seiling,OK
1630CDT: Storms east and west. Will stick with the westerm storms, aiming for the ‘tail end Charlie’. Head south on US183.
Problem: Not many road options until Clinton!
1730CDT: I see (from GRLevel3) that Vic Gensini from CoD is on the storm by Memphis, TX. I’m going to let it come to me. It’s adjacent to the new ‘tail end Charlie’ to its southwest. *crosses fingers*
[NOTE: Real-world issues have interrupted. I may have to break off this virtual chase.]
RESULT: A work-related crisis took me away from this virtual chase, but I would have reached sever storms in any case.
There were several tornado reports nearby, but odds are that I would NOT have seen them. As the map below indicates, most of the significant tornado action occurs north and outside of the originally predicted sausage-shaped area of high tornado probability.
Heavy rain and nautical twilight level darkness (well before sunset). I experienced fat raindrops, pea-sized hail (reported to mPing only), and multiple lightning strikes less then 1/4 mile from my position (by the 5-count-per-mile method). Happy to be indoors, in case I lose power.
Looks like storms will train through my hometown a while longer:
Also have multiple warnings on these storms:
Wow’ MyWARN looks like a slot machine when the coins drop.