Storm Chasing When Storm Chasing Wasn’t Cool

Dan Holiday awaits storms to initiate (with fellow chasers) in western Kansas. Spring 1990.

Waiting for storms to develop in western Kansas.  Spring 1990.

 

BARBER COUNTY, KS – When severe weather rumbled into south central Kansas on Wednesday evening, storm chasers were there to follow.  Lately, one Kansas sheriff even took to the roads with a bullhorn to ask those camped out along the highways to move.  Barber County Sheriff Justin Rugg said he only wanted everyone to be safe.   Storm chasing is hot.   But who could have imagined it would be this hot at a time when it wasn’t?

Things are different than they were in the early days.   In fact, technology has advanced storm chasing for those who are merely wanting to see a tornado up-close and in person.  All you need is a laptop, broadband Internet access, a radar program and a smart phone.   That makes you about as able as one can be to see magic in the sky.

For instance, twenty-five years ago it wasn’t uncommon to have a handful of storm spotters (or chasers) along with a member of the county fire department perched on a hill.  The crowded roadways of today just didn’t happen.   The reason might have been the lack of technology.   Then, you needed a Rand McNally road map, a weather radio, police scanner and a plan.   A chaser needed to know where storms were going to form.  Remember, in 1990 there was no way to access that information online unless you subscribed from National Weather Service data, usually via satellite.   Did I also mention that storm chasing wasn’t nearly as cool?

That all changed with the release of the move “Twister”.  The film hit theaters on May 10, 1996, in the midst of tornado season.   It was a smash.   That same year, a long line of storm chasers were parked along Highway 50 in central Kansas watching a rope tornado near the town of Buhler.   Storm chasing was cool.

As technology advanced, storm chasers became much like mobile disc-jockeys.  In the early-days of entertaining at parties, you needed to buy your equipment and your music.   Today, music can be shared, stored and downloaded instantly.  The horror of not having a Celine Dion slow-dance song for a bride’s first dance (that she forgot to request in advance) can be easily solved by downloading it in a flash.

Storm chasers don’t need a satellite subscription to NOAA’s data.  The road map is a dying breed.  New gadgets and GPS will take you where you want to go, when you want to get there.   The money shot of a tornado is not that far away, not that hard to find anymore.

All of this is okay.  After all, anyone who loves weather should be allowed to pursue their passion.   Technology has made it easier for those who haven’t studied weather and those who have.

There was a time though when telling your friends you were going storm chasing was met with laughter, or the response, “what a nerd”.

Now those same people will gladly line up to ride along to see Mother Nature’s wild side.

How times have changed.

 

 

The 5/9/15 Meade, Kansas, Supercell

I chased in southwestern Kansas yesterday afternoon with our good friends and partners Forever Chasing (@foreverchasin). Here is my partial analysis of how the events unfolded and what was going on during the chase.

The wind shear parameters yesterday (5/9/15) were screaming and were shearing storms apart in the middle part of the afternoon, and we actually at one point observed a shear funnel. Eventually, as the nose of theta-E advection (potential temperature in air parcels) moved in from the Texas/Oklahoma Panhandles along with a slight increase in surface based CAPE (measure of instability) to 2,000j/kg, severe thunderstorms initiated quickly in southwest Kansas. The supercell we chased started out as two discrete cells in the Texas Panhandle. Forecasts a few days before and observed analysis that morning favored merging storms after initiation, and sure enough these two storms congealed over the Oklahoma Panhandle and resulted in the process of mesocyclogenesis, which can be seen in the photo.

5:9 hp supercell photo

Supercell and mature mesocyclone in Meade County, Kansas, on 5/9/15.

Mesocyclogenesis is the development of a mesocyclone within a supercell, and is a region of vertical vorticity within a thunderstorm, and is a result of horizontal vorticity being sucked into a thunderstorms updraft. It was interesting to watch the entire evolution as surface temperatures were mild (only in the middles 70s), but the directional wind shear parameters were very strong as an 80-knot mid-level jet maxima arrived. The supercell began producing very heavy rain and then eventually extremely heavy rain, and a few times produced half dollar size hail (about 1.25 inches in diameter). We noticed low-level rotation at one point started to strengthen later on, and decided to drive east in Meade County. As we drove eastward into Clark County, we pulled off onto the side of the road as a Tornado Warning was issued for the supercell. There was well defined left-to-right motion within the mesocyclone as the rain curtains were being wrapped around the base of the storm, and we saw a few funnel clouds develop but then occlude, perhaps because there was not enough downdraft. Here are a few doppler radar images that I saved showing the merging and mesocyclogenesis.

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KDDC Doppler radar image. There’s a severe cell north of Beaver, Oklahoma, and another one entering the Oklahoma Panhandle at that time.

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Storms were merging by this time and mesocyclogenesis was observed on radar by the developing hook echo on the southern flank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eventually, the storm went tornado warned as the radar detected rotation. We eventually witnessed a wall cloud that developed very quickly, and also produced a large funnel cloud for an ephemeral period.

 

By the time of the tornado warning, we drove northward toward Minneola before getting onto Highway 54 to stay out of the precipitation core as rotational velocities on doppler radar were intensifying. Heading east on Highway 54 out of Minneola, we pulled over again and noticed a well defined lowering and a wall cloud that developed quickly. While rotation at first was meager, the wall cloud began to rotate very fast and I noticed on the right side of the wall cloud a large funnel starting to rotate violently. However, perhaps due to weak downdraft temperatures, as well as the sun setting, the funnel occluded a few minutes later as the storm started to become outflow dominant. We drove east on Highway 54 and were treated to a beautiful lightning show that illuminated the leading edge of the gust front as the storm’s inflow was cut off for good. Later that evening, a large multi-vortex tornado formed well to our north, but no damage was reported thankfully as it remained over open fields.

Model guidance is suggesting the return of cyclonically curved flow by the end of this week (May 15th or so), and will be watching forecast trends over the next few days as we will get a better understanding of what hazards and storm modes to expect. We will be streaming live with Forever Chasing, as I mentioned at the beginning.

Chase on (safely).

– Student Meteorologist Harrison Sincavage, Penn State University

Tornado Touches Down in Lincoln County, Kansas

Image courtesy of KSN.com.

Image courtesy of KSN.com.

LINCOLN COUNTY, KANSAS – A supercell thunderstorm went tornadic on Wednesday afternoon in central Kansas.  A tornado touched down in Lincoln County about 2:30 PM CT.

The twister was initially spotted 6 miles south of Lincoln and moved toward the city, narrowly missing it by about 1/2 mile.

Storm spotter Matt Unruh told KSN.com that there was some tree damage to the cemetery and an old farm implement dealer.   The twister also downed some outbuildings, power poles and tree limbs.

The tornado just missed the Lutheran Church located just south of Lincoln.

 

Tornado Tower Twisting Toward Tulsa

Proposed Tulsa Tornado Tower Illustration

Proposed Tulsa Tornado Tower Illustration

TULSA, OK – A tall tornado may be on order very soon for the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

It was February when we first heard talk about the idea of building an actual tower that looked like a tornado in the downtown portion of the city.  The idea originated with the architect firm Kinslow, Keith, and Todd.

Since that time, people in 50 states and 44 countries have seen or heard about the story.

Those with money want to be part of the whirlwind of activity.  In fact, investors in Asia and Europe are saying they want the tornado tower to be built sooner than later.

KFOR.com reports that the proposed site is about a fourth of a block but could be larger.   The size will depend on whether the tower is 17 or 30 floors high.

Officials are now saying there is a 70-80 percent chance the tower will be presented to city leaders for approval within 2 years.

Taking Action During Severe Weather Is Up To Us

Image via Huffington Post

Image via Huffington Post

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA – A Severe Thunderstorm Warning is in effect….A Severe Thunderstorm Warning is in effect….  We hear this alert quite often each year.   But to some, it becomes numb to the ears.   Many of these warnings are issued each year.

When hail is greater than one-inch in diameter or winds exceed 58 miles per hour, a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.   Not all severe thunderstorm warnings carry their weight.   In other words, some of them are a typical average thunderstorm that rumbles through with a small area receiving gusty winds and not much more.

The problem is, you can’t always be sure.

With each storm that misses your home, there will be one that doesn’t.   And should your roof wind up in the neighbors swimming pool, it may feel like a tornado but it might have been that severe thunderstorm warning.   The same warning that you stopped paying attention to.   The weather radio sounded one too many times.   Finally, you unplugged it.   Enough.

About six months ago, while co-presenting some weather information to a Kansas State University communications class via Skype, we posed the question, “How often do you take action when you hear that a severe thunderstorm warning has been issued?”

While we could not visually see students raise or not raise their hands, the analysis proved its point.   We were told by Dr. Steve Smethers who presided over the class that only about 3% of students signaled they would seek shelter or take some sort of action when a severe thunderstorm warning was issued.   Tornado warnings received a different response.   Far more of those in the class said they paid attention and would head for shelter.

The National Weather Service has taken steps to differentiate one severe thunderstorm warning from another.  In fact, some severe thunderstorm warnings get tagged with “tornado possible” or “potentially dangerous situation”.  It is the government’s way of emphasizing that not all severe thunderstorm warnings are treated equally.

The way that we, the media, relay these details highlighted in warnings is critical.   It might result in the way they are perceived by the public.  For instance, “…take this warning seriously, the National Weather Service says this severe thunderstorm is packing winds of 80 to 90 miles per hour.   It is causing widespread damage, so to move to shelter and treat it like it is a tornado…”

Much like Monday’s severe storm in Louisiana, we saw again that significant damage can occur in a good old-fashioned severe thunderstorm warning.   A slow moving railroad train was blown off of a tall bridge about 10 miles east of New Orleans.  Some of the railroad cars were empty and were tipped over like toys.  Winds were estimated at 70 miles per hour.   Thankfully no one was hurt.

The bottom line is that you may never get everyone to pay attention when a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.   But once one is issued, it is up to all of us to take personal responsibility for ourselves and our family.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it is a flood, earthquake, tornado or typhoon.   If we don’t take personal responsibility, no warning can save anyone.

 

 

 

 

Car Lot Hopes To Cheat Mother Nature

Image courtesy of WFAA-TV.

Image courtesy of WFAA-TV.

DENTON, TX – When your car lot is located in tornado alley, it is difficult to avoid getting battered by hail every so often.

One dealership is sick of having a “hail sale”, especially after suffering $45,000 in storm damages to 22 cars in 2014.

WFAA.com says Ezec Auto Sales on Fort Worth Drive is doing something to thwart car damage anytime that the risk of hail is in the forecast.   They drape tarps over their cars on the lot.

“Sometimes people are kind of laughing, criticizing when we’re doing that,” said manager Ezequiel Quinonez.

Their theory is that hail just might bounce off the tarp, minimizing any damage.   “I don’t know if it will help us too much, but at least we’re trying our best,” said worker Lucrecia Quevedo.

Image courtesy of WFAA-TV.

 

Rare Tornado Hits Southern California Desert

Image courtesy of NBC Los Angeles

Image courtesy of NBC Los Angeles

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA – The National Weather Service confirms that a tornado touched down Tuesday just north of a desert town in Riverside County.

Forecasters believe it was a strong thunderstorm with just the right ingredients that occurred between 3:45 and 4:00 p.m.

The twister did not do any significant damage and remained in open desert, therefore it was rated as an EF-0.

 

Second Hurricane Name Removed Forever

imagesNEW YORK CITY, NY – Just last week the World Meteorological Organization announced that “Isis” was booted from the 2016 list of hurricane names.   Its association with the brutal Islamic State militant group is why the name was replaced with “Ivette”.

But, that’s not all.

A second name, “Odile” will not be used in 2020 and was removed at Mexico’s request.  Hurricane Odile battered the Baja Peninsula in September of last year and was one of the most powerful to hit Baja in history.   11 people were killed as a result of Odile.

Other famous storms that have been erased include Sandy in 2012, Katrina in 2005 and Mitch in 1998.

 

TV Weatherman Retires After 66,000 Forecasts

KDKA-TV Meteorologist Dennis Bowman who retired on April 17th.

KDKA-TV Meteorologist Dennis Bowman who retired on April 17th.

PITTSBURGH, PA – He’s been a mainstay on KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh for  years.  On Friday, meteorologist Dennis Bowman is saying goodbye.

The legendary weatherman has been helping people plan their days and keeping them safe during severe weather since 1972.

Give or take, it’s estimated he did about 66,000 forecasts on television.

Bowman has worked in Missouri, Indiana, New York and Kansas but spent the last quarter century in Pittsburgh.  16 of those years were at WPXI and a decade at KDKA.

The CBS affiliate says that their long-time weatherman was once a TV station pitch man selling everything from vacuum cleaners to grain silos.  It was a common occurrence in the early days of television.

He’s also been a ventriloquist, game show and children’s show host.

Bowman said, “The forecast will never be perfect, just as those of us who forecast it won’t be.  But it gets better and better all the time, and we can only imagine what the next four decades will bring.”

 

Isis Removed As A Hurricane Name

NEW YORK CITY, NY – The United Nations has made the decision to remove “Isis” from its list of future hurricane names.  Time Magazine reported that the downloadU.N. deemed it inappropriate because of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group.

Clare Nullis is the spokesperson for the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization.   She said it’s not unprecedented for the group to make such a change.

The list rotates every six years and if hurricane names are removed, it is often because they caused too much damage and too much death.

The WMO Hurricane Committee doesn’t take a vote, but decides by consensus.

Isis could have been a named storm in the Eastern North Pacific in 2016.   Isis has been replaced with Ivette.