Cyclone Road

Friday, May 16, 2003

Cold Core Low Chase: May 16, 2003

Denton, Texas--Steve Miller and I chased across Oklahoma on Friday, racing the upper low responsible for Thursday's tornadoes, and found ourselves surrounded by small, tropical-style miniature supercells which produced dozens of brief, weak tornadoes. We missed them all. What we finally caught a line of storms south of Bristow near I-44 on the eastern edge of the surface low, well behind the storms which generated tornado warnings near McAlester and other communities. We started an early drive from Amarillo, but we were late for the best storms east of the metro area. Here's some of what we saw near Bristow:

Saturday is a needed down day. I plan to wash my incredibly dirty vehicle and replace an antennae decapitated on Thursday by power lines which hung low over the road after the tornadoes ripped through the poles. I didn't intend to collide with these wires; we spotted them at the last moment and were thankful they only damaged a single antenna. I anticipate other down-day activities like laundry, writing more detailed chase reports, and catching up with some local friends.

Tornadoes Rake Texas Panhandle

Two Tornadoes W of Mallet, TX (2003 Steve Miller / Amos Magliocco)

Steve Miller and I intercepted three tornadoes this afternoon and evening with a storm that moved from north of Dalhart northeast through Dallam County in the extreme North Texas Panhandle. Due west of Mallet about seven miles, the large mesocyclone produced a multi-vortex wedge tornado and a long, elephant trunk satellite tornado simultaneously. Later, northwest of Texhoma in the Oklahoma panhandle, we observed a small white rope tornado.

Scott Eubanks and John Poch also chased with us. Huge thanks to Phillip Flory for excellent nowcasting. More detailed report later.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Caprock Magic Show Later Today

Lubbock, Texas--Watching a very powerful mid-level impulse churn towards the Texas panhandle right now where a juiced boundary layer awaits. I have no doubt that some storms will have tornadoes; the question is whether or not we'll see them or be on the right storm. We're gonna try. Our target at the moment is from Dimmit to Hereford, Texas, eding north along with the front. We expect long-lived supercells to travel east or just north of due east, so we could chase them right along the I-40 corridor into Oklahoma later today. We'll see.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Tomorrow's Big Event
Lubbock, Texas--Big event on tap for tomorrow. Dr. P, if you're reading this, call my cell phone. I plan to call you in the morning; we just arrived. Tomorrow, playing the triple point whereever it sets up. More in the morning.

Update from the road
Steve and I wait in the Seymour library watching convergence along the Red River as the outflow boundary slides south. We're nervous about the cap, weak mid-level winds, and other mesoscale vagaries. We're excited about the backed flow along the boundary and the Day 2--haha. Tomorrow looks like a big event out near LBB. Edwards's new outlook upgrades the language for the event.

Life in Lawton

Lawton, Oklahoma--Steve Miller and I are in Lawton, Oklahoma this morning, the town that supports Fort Sill, known to the US Army as the home of the field artillery. No cannon fire to report here but hopefully severe storms will thunder up and down the dryline this afternoon where the warm front and dryline intersect near a developing surface low north of Abilene. Our setup today is highly conditional and depends much on deep layer shear and airmass recovery, which this morning looks fair at least.

Yesterday was an old fashioned cap bust in Northern Oklahoma. We played the intersection of the dryline and a large outflow boundary sliding southwestward from a large cold pool generated by an early morning MCS in Eastern Oklahoma. Eric Nguyenand Scott Currens waited out in the sun with us as we made jokes about Weather Channel commercials and threw rocks at signs. Later we encountered Roger Hill and the Cloud 9 Tour groups at a great Chinese Buffett in Enid, Oklahoma. On our way to Lawton last night we saw several DOW trucks parked on the of the road in Kingfisher, their crews enjoying a meal at the humble looking City Cafe downtown.

Tomorrow we expect a serious day of severe weather in West Texas. Lubbock may be under the gun, caught between the dryline to the west (maybe) and an approaching strong upper level vorticity maxima, currently off the coast of California.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Waiting in Clinton Country

Clinton, Oklahoma--Steve Miller and I are in position for storms firing along the dryline and warm front tomorrow. Our target area as of tonight is approximately Dodge City, Kansas to Woodward, Oklahoma. Here we go again!

Headed Back to Kansas

Denton, Texas--A triple point setup in Southwest Kansas is the starting point for what could be another active week of severe weather in the Central and Southern plains. While nothing on the order of last week's chaos is expected again (probably not for many years, honestly), a more typical, and likely more chase-able pattern of isolated supercells should settle in with a northwest flow regime and instability at the surface. My current plans are to leave Denton this afternoon and camp in Woodward Oklahoma, giving me position in Southwest Kansas or Northwest Oklahoma should the warm front not lift as far north as originally progged.

Denton, Texas--Sunday I spent in Denton seeing a few old friends and taking care of errands necessary before the next long week of chasing beginning next week. Denton was cool and breezy today with plenty of sunshine, so I sat in front of my favorite coffee shop and soaked in the place. I love this town. I planned to see more people tomorrow including some friends from the writing program at UNT, but the atmosphere calls and so I hit the road for Kansas not too long after checkout tomorrow.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Report: OKC Supercell 5-9-2003

Denton, Texas--Dave Fick and I chased the tornadic supercell in Oklahoma on Friday from near Rocky in the southwestern part of the state through the Oklahoma City metro area and up the turnpike through Tulsa county, until the storm weakened on radar. We estimate being engaged with this spectacular, cyclic supercell for almost
seven hours and over two hundred miles, during which it generated close to forty tornado warnings, I've been told. We stopped around 2:30 AM, dazed and delirious with adrenaline and exhaustion.

We believe the dry air in the lower levels in Southwestern Oklahoma, per the 18z OUN sounding Thursday and related to the veering low level flow earlier in the day, prevented the storm from dropping a tornado until it reached the then-recovered moisture axis closer to the metropolitan area.

The storm exhibited dramatic rotation and stunning features throughout its lifecycle, including the largest wall cloud and most impressive, stretching tailcloud I've ever witnessed. This occurred during the daytime and our imagery is quite good.

During the nighttime portion of the chase, we caught several lightning-assisted glimpses of the tornado as it moved through the eastern half of Oklahoma. During much of the chase through the metropolitan area, the storm was to my west, both as we went north along the western side of the city and then as we went east along the northern access. Thus I filmed using a window mount facing those directions and was unable to observe (mostly) what the camera was filming. Traffic was heavy.

I have yet to review the 90 or so minutes worth of video I shot during the entire event. I will coordinate my video timestamps with the GPS log and damage reports to specify what the imagery shows when. That job starts tomorrow.

Dave and I followed rural roads and Route 66 parallel to the turnpike to maintain our position relative to the storm as it moved along the interstate.

We continued to witness lowerings and upper halves or upper thirds of the tornado, our view of the base often blocked by the trees. However, as the storm caused damage at several points along our chase, we're confident that our captures reflect the tornado(s) at several stages during the storm's lifespan.

We came through Stroud minutes behind the tornado. We observed metal roofs, signs, and tree limbs down as well as power poles and some severe vehicle damage. the power was out and stunned residents wandered along the blackened sidewalks and into the rainy streets. Another meso was forming behind us, with the possibility of another tornado on the heels of the first. We told people to take cover.

The disheartening scene in Stroud reminded me of all the devastation and broken lives I drove away from this week, headed for the next target area.

About one mile south of the intersection of State Road 102 and I-44, we approached the outer circulation of the tornado: our winds suddenly erupting from the west carrying debris and unfamiliar sounds. We reversed course and did not come that close again. Obviously this was unintentional. As I understand was the case with Tim, Gene, and Karen, we believed the tornado was to our northeast when it was apparently to our due north, or perhaps reforming above us.

This storm constantly regenerated mesocylones and carried several simultaneous circulations. This would have been a difficult to monitor during the daytime; at night it was very hard.

I don't prefer night chasing or chasing in metro areas, but Dave and I had access to several sources of information about the location and movement of the storm and tornado. First, the OUN live updates gave critical timely information about the track of the tornado. Dave monitored a television in his car to view up to the minute radar imagery with street level mapping. We listened to spotters and other chasers, and last, but far from least, we had the excellent nowcasting services of Jeff Gammons.

Jeff has nowcasted for me all week, from Kansas City, through Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma chases. On Friday, Jeff stayed up with us all chase, and, in fact, gave us preliminary setup updates along the way to our target. His work was invaluable and I owe him barbecue at Clark's in Tioga, Texas, as well as a t-bone from the Ponder Steak House.

Perhaps the most dangerous moment of the chase came when a well-known chaser, in the company of a news van, passed a line of vehicles on a slick, two-lane highway going into a curve with traffic approaching from the opposite direction. This idiotic maneuver was performed at high speeds. None of us in the group appreciated this chaser's decision to put our lives at risk in the interest of his video sales. Please don't email me for the name.

Dave and I chased today as well in Eastern Oklahoma, with no success. But as we were on the road again, I have yet to transfer any imagery or begin reviewing the GPS log. I expect the full chase report will take several days. My digital stills I can post tomorrow. I don't have firewire with me and will take my tape to a friend's house here in Texas to upload captures. I'm hoping to get the captures up by Tuesday night.

It was easily the most grueling and exhilarating chase of my career. When we realized the storm had weakened east of Tulsa, we celebrated. We intended to stop soon and believed the devastation and loss of life behind us far greater than what it was. We understood a major catastrophe had occurred on the Interstate, and that does not appear to be the case. We're grateful.

Congratulations to the chasers who had success this week. More importantly, congratulations to the Storm Prediction Center, local NWS offices, broadcast media,and storm spotters who worked hard to keep people safe. Imagine what an outbreak of tornadoes the magnitude of this one would have done forty or fifty years ago!

The integrated warning system has performed brilliantly. Also as importantly, people reacted to the information they received, taking shelter and saving themselves--the one thing that none of us can do for them.

Let's hope next week takes us back west of I-35 and into open rural areas.