10/31/97 FL Chase South Florida
by Amos Magliocco



From: Amos Magliocco (elmo1@ICANECT.NET);

Subject:    Florida Chase: 10/31/97

I left the Ft. Lauderdale area around 14z and headed straight up the center

of the state on State Highway 27, with the intention of staying along the

center of the warm sector and placing myself in Haines City (between Orlando

and Tampa) so that I would have enough road choices to intercept storms

moving ashore and inland.  I assumed we would see a large rain shield over

the center of the state with embedded storms and my hope was for isolated

severe cells along the southern periphery of that activity.  Wind fields

were strong and there was sufficient shear for some rotation, and, as I

stopped for gas in Sebring, there was a 15kt southerly flow at my back

pouring the moisture into the area.

At 11:36, as I drove between Sebring and Avon Park along Hwy 27, Tampa NWS

issued a tornado warning on a waterspout moving ahore southwest of Longboat

Key.  I assumed the spout would be gone soon, but the associated storms

coming ashore sounded interesting and, at Avon Park, I headed due west on

State Road 64 through Hardee County.  About two-thirds of the way through

Hardee county, funnel clouds were sighted south of Bradenton and another

tornado warning went up for Western Manatee county.  This, I believe,

(without the benefit of radar or sat) was the beginning of our supercell.

Just past state road 675, still on Highway 64, this storm moved into view to

my northwest.  Movement was northeast at 20-25 kts and the map showed no

north-turning roads for me for several miles.  I was bound to continue west

before I could go north, and the storm was bound to go northeast, so I

stopped to enjoy the fleeting encounter.

A wall cloud formed about two miles north of the roadway and began to

rotate.  The updraft base of the storm was gourging itself on the most

fantastic inflow I have ever witnessed, literally sucking in everthing

around it from all directions.  The convergence was spectacular and I knew

something had to happen soon.  The wall cloud went through several stages of

formation and degeneration before disappearing over a small hill.

My next opportunity to go north and get back to my storm was Highway 301

North, which took me to 674 and a chance to go east again.  Now I was behind

it.  I accelerated. At 1:56, a Tornado Warning was issued for southeastern

Hillsborough County.  Somewhere on 674, between roads 39 and 37, I exited

the map and took my chances with the local road network  and a compass in an

attempt to get better position.  Twisting through these unnamed roads, I saw

the most striking images of the chase.  Several large trees had been ripped

from the ground and set down like toothpicks.  Telephone poles leaned over

the road and several utility  lines were down.  From one side of the road to

the other, there was a distinct path of damage.  A few hundred yards down

the road from this, a family was standing in the front yard of their small

home, staring into the sky.

Today, I realize that these images would have made some profound

photographs, but I thought there was still the chance of seeing the thing

itself, so I drove on.  Back on 674, I sped toward Highway 37, a its

wonderful northeastern tack.  As if on queue, a Tornado Warning was issued

for Western Polk county at 2:09 EST for a Doppler indicated rotation, "just

to the south of Mulberry near Route 37."   I was about 6 miles behind now.

I raced north up 37 with the back of the storm to my northeast.   At

Bradley, fire trucks and amulances went past toward Mulberry, which was now

the new prize.  For in Mulberry was Highway 60, and a path east.

By now, the very competent Polk county SKYWARN group was conducting a net,

and were in condition "yellow," referring apparently to a status system they

use.  On the southern outskirts of Mulberry, another Tornado Warning was

issued for Polk county, indicating a tornado near Brewster (which I still

haven't found on a map).  "This tornado is moving...in the general direction

of Bartow."  While these warning weren't necessary to follow the storm, they

were a great motivation to continue my crazy navigation through the

backroads of Polk county!  Bartow is five or so miles from Mulberry, right

on Highway 60.

What must have been just a few hundred yards from 60 East, one of the storm

spotters informed the net controller that Highway 60 between Mulberry and

Bartow was closed!  Closed!!!  Cruel Fate.  My mind began to race: how could

I get through this road block?    Of course I would not, but I thought of

simply going off-road and around it, or perhaps flashing my Denton County,

Texas ARES card.  No, FHP would not be impressed.    My only hope was to

continue due north on Highway 37 another 11 miles to Lakeland and then go

east on a road that is not labeled on my map.  This path led ultimately to

my original destination of Haines City and, as I made the intersection and

turned right, Melbourne issued a warning for a torandic circulation 5 miles

southeast of Winter Haven.  My storm was alive and well, but I was too far

west now and never recovered my position.  Finally reaching Haines City well

behind the storm, I bought two Big Macs for two dollars and listned to

another warning go out for Osceloa county: a rotational signature 6 miles

south of St. Cloud, far to my NE.

Lessons learned from this chase: stick to your forecast.  If I had not

exited Highway 27 when I did, I would have been in Haines City in plenty of

time to position myself to intercept this storm, which was the original

strategy.  Still, the wall cloud, the damage path, and the tension of a true

pusuit made for a happy Halloween.


Amos Magliocco KC5VPD

1463 Presidio Drive

Weston, Florida 33327