Category Archives: Storm chase

Canadian, TX tornado – May 23 2019

May 23rd, 2019. Day 4 of our 2019 chasecation. Only a few days after the infamous and frustrating “high risk bust” in Oklahoma on May 19th (which remains the worst chase day I’ve had), we found ourselves in the Texas Panhandle under a Moderate risk – having driven all the way from Missouri the preceding day, where we had successfully chased the deadly Golden City tornado.

We based ourselves in Perryton, only a few miles south of the Oklahoma border, and in traditional chaser fashion took up residence in McDonald’s (cheap coffee, fast food, WiFi… heaven!).

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McDonald’s in Perryton, TX, with a developing severe thunderstorm behind, 2:27 PM.

By around 3:30 PM we were extremely close to a severe thunderstorm, but the visibility was terrible. Anyone who chased during this period will recall just how much haze and dust there was, and we were filled with the same frustration we felt back on the high risk day. Eventually, we gave up on this storm due to an inability to see anything noteworthy. It went on to be tornado-warned shortly after we abandoned it, so we thought we had made a huge mistake…

How close we were to the storm vs. the seemingly quiet grey skies we could see…

However, by 5:30 PM a new tornado-warned cell had developed further south, and we were ready and waiting – along with a huge number of other storm chasers which included the TORUS field campaign and Reed Timmer! We were in a perfect position and very hopeful, but yet again visibility was extremely poor due to the haze. Several possible wall clouds were noted amongst the murk, but the comparison between the NWS warning of a “very dangerous storm” and what we could actually see was stark.

The Dominator, and a healthy looking tornado-warned storm on radar – but not looking at all interesting in reality!

So, we gave up on this storm and headed a bit further south and east, now concerned that the storms would grow upscale into a linear mode – though we were far enough from the KAMA radar that there was quite a difference between the radar reflectivites and the ground truth (always worth remembering the beam height!).

At around 7 PM, we pulled over to look west and re-think our plan. At this point I’d pretty much lost hope, and I was chatting to a fellow frustrated storm chaser about the haze. Suddenly, one of my chase team (thanks Rounak!) suddenly cried out “THERE! ON THE HORIZON!” (make sure you read that in an Australian accent).

Our first view of the tornado (looking W from US Highway 83 N of Canadian) as it appeared on the horizon in the wilderness, and the accompanying radar presentation. Note that the storm was not tornado-warned whilst a large tornado was already in progress, highlighting the need for spotter observations.

Sure enough, a big wedge tornado had dropped to the ground and emerged out of the murk, and out of a region where there were so few roads it was almost impossible to actually be close enough to see the tornadogenesis. After grabbing a photo and quickly tweeting NWS Amarillo (important storm chaser duty), we all hit the road and bolted north to get close to the tornado – filled with awe and adrenaline that there was actually a big wedge on the ground and we were about to get really close to it! *cue classic excited girly noises*

By 7:09 PM we were just NW of Canadian on Highway 83, and now very close to the wedge. This is where the whole experience became surreal, and the reason I’m writing this blog. Here I was, standing under a kilometre away from what must have been, at that time, the most violent atmospheric phenomenon on Planet Earth. Wind and rain were lashing us, and right in front of us was this huge tornado churning along through the high Texan plains. It was making an incredible sound which I can’t quite describe, but I think at the time we described it as “eating”.

A collection of photos of the Canadian wedge tornado taken around 7:11 PM.

Some might have felt fear, others might have felt satisfaction or scientific curiosity.

I just remember feeling completely transfixed. I remember other members of my crew shouting that we should go because we were probably about to become too close, but finding it very difficult to tear myself away from it no matter how close it was becoming.

The tornado felt strangely personable. Now, I’m aware that’s a strange thing to say, and you might roll your eyes reading about a meteorologist having a moment like this. But in that moment I felt a transcendental connection to the atmosphere which I’m sure I won’t ever forget. I am now finding that it is difficult to put it into words.

Maybe it was a rush of knowing that the thing I love most – the atmosphere – was producing a deadly amount of vorticity right in front of me. Deadly, but in a peaceful way – tornadoes aren’t malicious, because the universe isn’t malicious (I’m sure this is almost a quote from Interstellar). Maybe it was the realisation of a life-long dream to get close to a wedge tornado.

It is moments like these why I chase storms. To be right there with the awesome power of nature, and to be all-encompassed by such a tremendous, indescribable feeling. I’m not religious, but I’d like to think this is what seeing God would feel like.

The tornado was rated EF2, but NWS noted that it may have been stronger during its time out in the open fields.

Kansas Storm Chase – Oct 4, 2016

For almost a week, Tuesday October 4th was looking like a pretty exciting day, with the GFS forecasting an aggressive dryline (~30F DWPT gradient) to pass through OK/KS with the potential for some decent severe weather. It was somewhat forgotten about due to Hurricane Matthew – indeed, The Weather Channel could barely find time to dicuss the situation even on the morning of the 4th.

So, here’s a summary of my day. I chased with 3 of the other Reading students at OU.

The models firmed up over the previous day that we’d be looking at north Oklahoma/south Kansas for the majority of the storms, with the SPC issuing an ENHANCED risk for that area near the surface low track. Considering this, the morning sounding from Lamont, OK was exciting – with a 50kt LLJ just above the surface, a load of cyclonic shear and a low-to-mid-level zone of steep lapse rates.

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The north looked an obvious target, with all the right conditions and latest HRRR and NAM runs suggesting a strong, quasi-linear system to develop in the late PM. However, the HRRR began to suggest an isolated supercell would develop SW of Norman/OKC. Despite the potential for this to be both severe and sexy, we deemed the probability lower, and headed north, whilst our American OU friends headed SW.

Leaving Norman at 12:30pm, our initial target was the Oklahoma-Kansas border. We steamed up I-35 and upon nearing Kansas headed northwest. The skies were clearing, wind was picking up (and the LLJ above very much visible in rapid cloud motion) and temperatures rising.

About 2:45pm we pulled over to check the latest data (yes, the car is very yellow).

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The latest HRRR suggested between 3 and 4pm would be ‘kickoff’, with stuff initiating west and also rather too far to the north. We elected to head somewhere between these two zones and made our way straight to the dryline, which was lying just east of Pratt.

As we heard of the tornado watch issued for the area, the first supercells went up in the region to the north just as the HRRR had expected.

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Then, west of Kingman, we got our first cell of the day right on the dryline. It grew rapidly before our eyes.

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Knowing this was now an active region, we headed back towards Kingman – LTE was sparse in Kansas, so it also gave us a chance to check the radar and the latest HRRR. The storm became fairly high precip, with some small hail thrown in.

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After getting drenched, we noted the HRRR had the most potent stuff near the border around 6pm, so with sunset in mind, we headed south along the dryline where we also saw a few other stormchasers. We passed through some more small hail, which was illuminated by the low sun angle.

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Just north of Harper we stopped to take a breather. The wind was very much sweeping across the plains – I recorded 26mph on my handheld anemometer at head height. Convection was initiating to our SW, but we also had a beautiful storm to the NE heading towards Wichita.

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It had a favourable radar signature and a strong inflow (left of image), with mammatus developing on the anvil. The moment it became severe warned was the fastest us four guys have ever moved. We made straight for it.

Approaching Norwich from the west, we glimpsed…something. Lots of excited noises. When the trees cleared on the horizon it turned out to just be deceptive scud (no rotation), but still made for a good view. The storm continued to have evidence of a hook, so we carried on.

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We stopped north of Norwich in an open area, where we elected the storm was now too far north to chase given the setting sun and stuff developing to the south. We got a good view of the low wall cloud and hail core though!

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Standing in the open plains of Kansas with this storm in the distance and huge rumbles of thunder filling the sky is an awe-inspiring feeling.

As the rain arrived, we headed south. The convection was now really going off in a line and we had to head right through some of it, which had hail mixed in. The radar screenshot below is just after the worst of it!

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In Argonia we stopped to fuel up from a jerry can which took much longer than it should have thanks to a dodgy valve. The system we’d pushed through was now to our east and intensifying rapidly – it was quite the show whilst we faffed around with the car.

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Fuelled up we headed due east, straight for the system. It was clearly now quite strong, but a lack of LTE data meant we were working with a 20 minute radar lag. Conditions rapidly deteriorated – southerly winds became very strong, with lashing sheets of rain and hail obscuring the sunset (which looked almost like the moon). Visibility was less than 10 feet. The car was struggling to go straight with the surface water. Then, the radar updated.

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Realising the severity of the condition (the radar reflectivity doesn’t do the precip intensity justice), the track of the storm and the potential for a hook echo (sadly, I couldn’t load the velocities!), we quickly turned and drove the hell out of there. That was when the worst occurred. “Just keep going straight ahead”, was the best advice we had for Kieran, who was doing his best to keep driving.

Outside of that we took some time to reflect on what had just happened. Since winds were southerly throughout, we’ve concluded this was in no way tornadic but a strong downdraft region. It was the first time I’ve been properly scared by weather I was in.

From here, with light fading, we headed west then south with the line of storms out in front of us. This provided a fantastic lightning display once it had got dark, so we spent some time just standing outside in the plains, watching. I saw a few positive CG strikes, and a couple of what could have been blue jets – fleeting flashes out of the top of the Cb, much faster than the main lightning.

Kieran captured this fantastic photo of us watching the lightning. “This is my church, it’s a religious experience” was how I summed it up.

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This marked the start of our journey home. Upon reaching N Oklahoma (by the way – the state sign on the KS border has been shot repeatedly, which is very amusing) we realised we had to drive back through the storms (our rapid retreat from the earlier encounter had left us the wrong side of everything). Given the region around I-35 wasn’t severe-warned, we continued on, though the rain was so bad we had to do 30-40mph for a good 5 minutes.

In the distance we could see the supercell that the HRRR forecast to develop near Norman had indeed formed, so those who did chase SW didn’t go home empty handed – and it too had a pretty significant hook…it just didn’t quite happen (thankfully, because Moore has suffered enough!).

We finally got back to Norman at midnight – a 12 hour chase, which I’ll never forget.

I can’t wait for the spring.