Cyclone Road

CHASE BLOG

Thursday, March 31, 2005


I posted a chase report page for yesterday's chase in Illinois here. I didn't get anything usable from the Peoria storm, which was the best of the day. Another example of why if you see anything even decent, you have to stop and shoot it. You can't keep convincing yourself the storm is going to get better and better and better. Oh well. I'm still not happy with my processing either. I have much to learn yet about the digital darkroom. And about focusing my shots!


It might take a while to get those pictures online. I have some other reading I need to finish and may wait until tonight to upload imagery. Basically only starting to get around today--need to get outside and enjoy the incredible weather!

A small wave is forecast to move through the northern and central plains early next week. This could be a player if it deepens, slows, and tracks more southerly.

In the land of fantasy progs, check out the solution at 276 hours from today's 12z GFS. This is a classic "synoptically evident" tornado outbreak. In fact, I'm going to grab these frames and post them: here's 300mb, 500mb, 700mb, 850mb, and surface with precip. If this were an actual upcoming event, chasers would be quitting their jobs and filing for divorce to position themselves anywhere along the warm front in southern Nebraska and on down the dryline into north central Texas. Where would I go if this output verified exactly as shown? Hmm....probably Harper County. I heard they see some decent storms there. :-)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


What a great time yesterday in central and east central Illinois, romping around a virtual supercell playground in very agreeable terrain. Kurt Hulst and I observed five supercells, moving south down the line of storms that trailed back to the southwest. We intercepted the “Peoria storm” in Peoria itself, after having observed an initial supercell to the north which organized briefly. On the PIA cell, which was easily the strongest of the day, we observed three funnels and one non-rotating vertical scud protrusion. We did not observe the “debris whirl” under any funnel that was reported by a citizen.

We chose PIA and the area south of there believing that a more strongly capped environment might maintain discrete cell modes longer while remaining close enough to the upper level energy and surface low to take advantage of favorable shear structures. In fact, the storm activity did not coalesce into a line until late in the period when the actual wind shift associated with the Pacific front overtook convection.

The first cell that caught our attention was near Fairview, with the cell that became the PIA storm to the south of it. Both were isolated, high-based, but organized with strong inflow and evidence of low to mid level rotation via banding and striations. Anvils were soft, however, as it was only about 19:30z and the storms had not moved into the higher theta-e environment or the strong low level jet.

On Stormtrack, someone commented how well-suited the roads northeast of PIA were for Wednesday’s storm motions and this was certainly true, but the roads to the southwest of the city are the opposite, and we struggled to maintain position on the northern storm while still keeping our south option open. At last, we moved north of I-74 and intended to cross the river near Chillicothe or Sparland, but discovered the road to Princeville—and our east option toward the river—was closed. Not just closed in the Kansas sense of the word, with complicated choreographies of workers and walkie talkies and stop signs, but closed as in a tunnel had been filled and the road just stopped at the side of this very large hill.

So we had nothing left to do but turn back toward PIA, and cut across the north side of the big supercell, and as we did the storm really cranked up, earned a tornado warning, and spit dime and nickel size hail. We observed the first of our funnel clouds in PIA, north of the highway, a white tapered tube embedded in rain and very high. We followed this cell for the next two and a half hours, and while it frequently rotated and produced vigorous inflow—yanking all kinds of debris and grass across the road at one point—we never saw anything other than high funnels or lowerings, always followed by some of the coldest and most damp RFD I can remember. At the time of the Metamora tornado report, we were looking directly into the area of rotation, and Metamora was in the storm’s core.

Tried our hand at other storms as well: one near BMI, then another coming into Champaign, but while some of the overshooting tops and backsheared anvils were impressive in the setting sun, none of the storms matched the strength of that Peoria cell.

In all, we chased storms from around 19z to 23:30z—a great way to spend the afternoon. Was good to see Mark Sefried and his chase partner Darrin, who showed us a comfortable mom n’ pop diner where we chilled out and talked about the day’s events. My thanks to Kurt Hulst and the people who called to volunteer nowcasting help. I’ll post some photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


One of my (many) problems is that I can't seem to remember for more than a few minutes that Illinois is really close! I mean, it's right over there. Chasing in Illinois isn't the three day, long-haul trek that Nebraska, Kanas, Oklahoma, and Texas have become for me since I moved to Bloomington. If I chased as far as even Springfield, I could easily be home by midnight.

I hate how much I vacillate on these early systems.


Joe Nield's post on ST just about torpedoed tomorrow for me. He's a smart met-chaser who knows this area and he evoked March 1, 2004, a bust I remember well and a date that fits with my 'everything one month behind' theory about how this year's severe weather season is unfolding.

I don't want to be tired and broke in June. I think in 2005, June is the new May.


There was a saying in 2004 that tomorrow was always better. No matter how great the supercells or tornadoes you saw on any given day, the models had something bigger and more dramatic coming up the next day or week and it never seemed to end. I doubt we'll see the likes of that again anytime soon. This year, it seems, next WEEK is always better. There's always a big and bad system coming down the pipe at 240 hours that promises a safe and synoptically-evident chase with which you can easily dismiss the garbage setup directly in front of you. Then of course, that distant chase turns out to be crap itself and you repeat the cycle.

So here we are, looking at a mostly unidirectional, fast moving storm in a too-cool, too-dry airmass in, of all places, Illinois. And it's March. If that's not a recipe for disaster, I haven't heard one.

But I live in Indiana, which is very close to Illinois. And I'm waiting for people to get back with me about my thesis, so I have time. I haven't chased since October. I have gear I'd like to test before May. I'd like to see a vertical cu.

This morning's ETA remains consistent with the basic timing and orientation of the trough. At last, I think the models have a fix on Wednesday and there are three targets emerging: northeast Iowa, northwest Illinois, and east-central Illinois to the Indiana border, all with unique sets of flaws. In northeast Iowa, vorticity advection and cold air aloft make a pseudo low-topped supercell brew, but helicity values are almost non-existent. Also, I don't happen to believe that enough moisture and heat will make its way up there. I am extremely suspicious of northern targets in March and haven't been wrong about that yet. Perhaps tomorrow will be the first time. Vorticity is a great and mystical thing, however, and it cannot be underestimated. Some friends whose opinions I respect also like that target, so that's one option.

Next is northwest to north-central Illinois, where helicity is better, moisture seems more assured, and upper level support is stronger. This is further from the vorticity maxima and could suffer from a dry intrusion at 850mb which would effectively mix out the boundary layer. We like dry air at 700mb for a number of reasons, but we don't like it at 850, where it gets too close to our surface parcels and makes us mad. There is nothing worse in the world than waiting in Illinois while your boundary layer moisture erodes from above: you can see the haze disappear and the cool, dry breeze mocks your foolishness.

The next target is central to east-central Illinois, all the way to the Indiana border. At 0z, this area has the best combo of CAPE and 0-3k SRH, but warmer air in the midlevels inhibits lapse rates, and outrageous wind fields would likely shear storms apart since even the most optimistic CAPE progs barely break 1000 j/kg. As well I expect much linear convection underway by 0z and this line will rapidly catch and devour any cell ahead of it. No, I think the game is from 18z to 22z if we're lucky: a four hour window for isolated storms at best, with two hours more likely. I see almost no chance for tornadoes except near that vortmax in Iowa and that's only if the moisture and heating show up as progged there.

I don't know which target I like best because I dislike things about all of them. Today I'll make ready for an early departure tomorrow: antennas on the truck, other gear in place, charge a few batteries. I suppose my final decision could come as late as tomorrow morning with an actual examination of surface conditions about 6:00 AM or so.

Monday, March 28, 2005


Quick update today: Illinois has popped up as a possibility for Wednesday, though the way the models are jumping around, my confidence is low. At least with an Illinois target, I can decide Tuesday night.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


My focus for chasing remains fixed on Wednesday, and the soap opera in model land continues. Last night the GFS came in with a strong solution for the day, with a slightly negative tilt that had a very beneficial effect on wind fields throughout the vertical: strong 850s out of the south and a deeper surface low.

This morning's ETA, which for the first time covers our target time (84 hours as of this morning's 12z run), also shows a day with great storm potential, but characterizes the wave as more neutral tilt. As with the GFS, this orientation difference is a huge consideration when examining lower level winds and the ability of the atmosphere to advect the moisture required for supercells. In the ETA, the 850 winds are out of the west-southwest until very late in the period, and they are weak. Not only does this bring in dry air which will mix down and decrease surface instability, but the weakness progged at that level also eliminates most of the 0-3k storm relative helicity. I haven't seen 0-1k estimations yet, and those should be a little better, but not much if we don't pick up some vigor with the windspeeds.

Earl Barker's Central US maps show this in detail. Most striking to me is the difference at 850 between 18z Wednesday and 0z Thursday. My points are valid for the 12z run, so if you're looking at this late Sunday night, you might be looking at a new run. Anyway, the point being that we have dry southwesterly air at 850 in the afternoon, then, six hours later, southerly winds with good moisture. This is not going to happen. One of those solutions will be correct, but not both. If it is the former, with the dry southwesterly air, the only chasing will be in extreme east-southeast Texas, in the Piney Woods, where the CAPE and helicity values are agreeable.

I don't want to spend much more time examining this, so I'll leave off with what I said yesterday: the models are still struggling for clarity with the mid-week system. It remains a setup with some potential for severe storms in chaseable areas, but the final diagnosis may come very late, which puts some of us in the awkward position of making a decision based on conflicting numerical guidance.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


As I wrote earlier this morning, something is amiss in model-land, and it would be a waste of time to invest much more time trying to piece it together. My conclusion is pretty simple: the ETA and GFS have a poor handle on this upcoming storm (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) and are all over the place about timing and orientation. I even checked the ECMWF and it is similarly inconsistent, though more in line with the NAM other than a deep surface low in the southern plains Tuesday.

The possibility of a chase still exists, but we'll have to wait until the system falls within the NAM's timeframe and draws closer. We may not achieve run to run consistency until it comes ashore and we see actual upper air sampling so the models have real data.

My plan is to make ready tomorrow in the unlikely event that I leave Monday for chasing Tuesday. That being said, I can't imagine how the boundary layer could recover in time for Tuesday, and a Tuesday departure for Wednesday chasing seems more reasonable, if the system doesn't take a dump on us.

The big caveat for this week is that recovery of moisture will be difficult to achieve. Beyond the mid-week action, nothing shows up until Day 10, and we've seen how that works out.


I was a few minutes into the models this morning when I realized that I had to open a Bob Dylan MP3 called "Ballad Of A Thin Man," a haunting piano rant in a minor key with the famous chorus:

"Something is happening here / but you don't know what is / do you, Mr. Jones?"


The forecast progs have taken a turn for the surreal in the last 36 hours and all we can do is watch and hope nobody gets hurt. First, the weekend system disappeared and Wednesday was on life support. Now, Wednesday is back again, Thursday reappears, and even Tuesday on ETA (84 hours as of 12z run) shows a 60F isodrosotherm all the way into southern Oklahoma. But no CAPE. None.

My first instinct is that something has gone very wrong. I don't understand how the model can show a surface temperature of around 75F with a dewpoint around 60F and yield not a single, solitary joule per kilogram of CAPE. Yes the coldest midlevel air lags to the west, but still....nothing?? The moisture on Tuesday must be extremely shallow as the 850 relative humidity progs show (by showing NO humidity at that level), but even that doesn't satisfy entirely.

Beyond that mystery, how do we advect those kinds of dewpoints so rapidly after getting our collective clocks cleaned by this weekend system that will fill the Gulf basin with screaming northwest winds? I don't have answers. I'm waiting for the new GFS this morning and keeping my doors locked!

BALLAD OF A THIN MAN (From 61st Street Revisited):

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
But you don't understand
Just what you'll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You raise up your head
And you ask, "Is this where it is?"
And somebody points to you and says
"It's his"
And you say, "What's mine?"
And somebody else says, "Where what is?"
And you say, "Oh my God
Am I here all alone?"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, "How does it feel
To be such a freak?"
And you say, "Impossible"
As he hands you a bone

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations

You've been with the professors
And they've all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You've been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald's books
You're very well read
It's well known

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, "Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word "NOW"
And you say, "For what reason?"
And he says, "How?"
And you say, "What does this mean?"
And he screams back, "You're a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin' around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?


Copyright © 1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music

Friday, March 25, 2005


Wow, the new GFS is a disaster. The Wednesday storm remains positive tilt and the weekend system is gone--gone as in poof, not there anymore. Lost in the medium-range nether regions of cyberspace. It seems hard to take until you realize that, one, it never really existed anyway, and, two, it could easily reappear on tonight's run. But going strictly by the latest output, we're back to our regularly scheduled offseason. Ouch!


Waiting for the new 12z GFS this morning. Last night's still showed the storm system for the middle of next week, though it was slower (again) than the prior run and more positive-tilt. It's always bad policy to take these things literally, so I'm not overly discouraged by the output. The more important news is that the system is still there, still sweeping through the plains, and which orientation axis it presents from run to run is too precise a determination for such a blunt instrument. If it were the NAM/ETA at 48 hours, we could worry. I didn't even wait for the weekend output--was tired and went to bed before it came out.

I still believe that I'll be chasing either Wednesday or next weekend. I'm ready to drop some of my percentage rules and just get out there, bust or not. I'm ready to see the plains and some vertical cu. More in a few hours when the new runs are in.

In chaser blog news, it looks like Brian Stertz has returned to his regular website for his updates, so I'll probably change his blog link to reflect that. What Brian does on his update page is very blog-like, but apparently he didn't want to tamper with the number of hits received by the more well-known URL.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


I'm short on time today, but scanned the 12z GFS for an update on next week's potential, and it looks as if the main system has slowed considerably such that the potential on Tuesday in the plains is shunted to Wednesday. This gives us another day for moisture return and recovery from the front that will move through the Gulf basin in the next 72 hours.

It's a major risk to try and time anything more than 100 hours out, so the bottom line is that the GFS continues, for the fourth consecutive run, to show an active and stormy pattern in the plains. We'll be chasing soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


High drama on the 12z GFS today. I don't know how it will pan out, but two words for my friends who might stumble across this post: get ready.

Amos


I've been watching Friday on the models and wanted to make a decision this afternoon, and it looks like I'll pass on this setup.

There are elements I like very much: strong west-southwesterly flow aloft over an increasingly warm and humid airmass with a lifting warm front. Man, those can be great. The problem is that the models don't (and actually cannot) show any disturbance or "kink" [I described this to a friend the other night as a 'ripple'] in the flow aloft that would serve to tighten up and organize the surface features and low-level wind fields.

On the last two model runs, the winds from 850 to the surface are weak and disorganized because there is nothing aloft helping to pull things together. The flow is great, but we need a kicker, and while those are quite common in a regime like this, the models will NEVER see them coming more than 24 hours out because they're too small. In fact, they are often undetected even on Day 1, either because they are unresolvable or they sneak in from Mexico, a notorious upper-air data void. So how do you find them? By running the biggest vapor loop you can download and staring at it for an hour, and, too, carefully examining upstream profilers and noticing the pertubation in the flow. Not easy to do, but the payoff can be huge.

In the Texas Panhandle, once moisture hikes up the caprock, it's simply waiting for some disturbance like that to come along. With strong upper level flow, supercells are begging to fire. A respectable cap like Friday's can lead to isolated supercells in the most pristine chase country in the world. And that is how the caprock got famous. Some Texas chasers call a setup like this the "rinse and repeat" pattern: day after day of prevailing southwesterly flow aloft, with small disturbances to trigger isolated supercells but no front to wash away the boundary layer. That's not quite what's happening this weekend, however, since Friday's flow is the prelude to a large scale, positive-tilt shortwave that will drag a front through the area. But if the main system should slow, retrograde, or cut off, then west Texas and Oklahoma could see a few days of westerlies aloft, and there will almost certainly be storms. The "rinse and repeat" pattern doesn't require chasers to drive long distances, only to wait in leisure at the dryline each afternoon and pick 'em off. It's heaven.

Indiana, however, is not the starting point on that path to salvation. You simply cannot see the those small kinks coming 36 hours ahead of time. If you drive down there on faith and they don't happen---well, you've wasted a lot of gas. Yet if they're going to happen, you won't know for sure until that very morning or even afternoon. I have chased the caprock on days where I was never able to detect upper level energy of any sort, yet something came long to focus the point convergence along the dryline and initiate a storm.

I don't want to gamble this weekend for a few reasons. First, gas is too expensive. Second, the GFS is very promising for an active next 14 days and I'm crossing my fingers and knocking on wood that something a little more substantial comes along. We'll see. I hate the waiting, but I think it's smart in this case.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Well, no sooner do I write something mean about the models than they make at effort at reconciliation. Friday is back! The 84 hour solutions on this morning's ETA look somewhat promising, though of course I'm hungry for a chase after seeing other chasers pics from yesterday. More later.


WHY MODELS SUCK

Late last night, in the midst of all the post-chase hoopla from the southern plains, my friend Eric pointed out to me--at about 12:30 AM--that the upper level low was still in western Oklahoma. Western. The low had cut off and dug, and slowed way down from what the models had forecast. So my surprise in the last few days about the speed of the system being accurately forecast was misplaced. The models did NOT accurately forecast the speed of the low, they simply failed to adjust in the last few runs and get it right, like they normally do. The NAM continued to show a too-fast movement right up until the night before.

Eric noticed that the RUC accurately nailed the jet streak on its 12z run yesterday morning. Because yesterday was too late for me to make a decision, I hadn't even looked.

I can't decide how much difference it would have made, but probably some. This is the greatest handicap of chasing the plains from Indiana: reliance on computer models to make the go/no-go decision. Man, I can't wait to live in Tornado Alley again.

Monday, March 21, 2005


The good news for those of us who didn't chase and feel left out of the show is that the GFS tonight amplified a very active pattern over the next few weeks. I'm not so sure this next little wave on Friday will pan out, but behind it, and deep into the medium-range things continue to appear active and stormy. The first week of April could be very impressive.


The reports are coming in and several chasers I know did well. Eric Nguyen and Scott Currens picked up where they left off in 2004 with a very photogenic pair of tornadoes in northern OK (nearly on the KS border!) near Wakita. Eric has those photos posted now on his website here.

Also, Darin Brunin from Kansas reported a small tornado on the storm near Paris, Texas, which Scott Blair and Jason Politte saw also, according to reports. Other chasers saw some tubes with the storm out on Interstate 40 between OKC, TUL, and McAlester, which is what my target would have been if I'd gone.

Of course I would have liked to see the tornadoes, but I don't regret staying here. The northern Oklahoma tornadoes were too low percentage for this distance, and I would never drive from Indiana to chase around Paris or that northeast Texas area. If the same setup appeared tomorrow, I still wouldn't do it. Living in Denton...well, maybe. LOL. I should add that I know some local chasers down there who busted, too. Being in the neighborhood doesn't always guarantee success.

But a hearty congrats to those who scored! The season is underway.


The winds along the I-35 corridor in north central Texas will probably veer by 18z and I doubt initiation will accompany that wind shift along the surface trough. As for chasing near Bonham or Paris, been there & done that. I grew up in Bonham, racing around the Leonard Hills as a teenager, barfing at keg parties in the Fannin County woods. This is not chase country. Out by Texarkana, there are a few gaps in the trees, but it's a not a consideration at the distance I live now.

An analysis of morning obs shows the system is stacked and more neutrally tilted than the last few models showed, so directional shear will deteriorate rapidly as surface to 850 veers south and southeast of the low. I agree with SPC that the morning showers speed out ahead of the dryline to open clear skies for insolation, but so too does the helicity, since the wind shift/sfc trough is *not* the dryline today and the actual boundary lags well behind. Pre-frontal troughs suck--they steal your 0-1k shear while leaving you waiting for the dryline, meanwhile scouring moisture east of the boundary so that there's nothing left when the dryline finally mixes your way. This was the most striking feature of this setup when I first saw it a few days ago, and it's panning out that way.

So what will serve to focus convergence and convection in the high-dollar targets of southeast OK and northeast Texas? I'm not sure. Boundaries left over from the morning's convection? I don't know. I'm certain storms will fire there, but less sure about how you would arrange to meet them. All I see in my mind are trees when I try to imagine the setup for that area. LOL. It's like the forest even interferes with forecasting. Another possibility is that the weak CIN erodes completely and the WAA regime simply explodes all sorts of showers and storms, with supercells embedded in that activity. That's a typical March grungefest and another argument for staying in northern Oklahoma.

A very telling indice today for those staying home is the 0-1k EHI value, which measures SRH and CAPE (SB, I believe) and has proven effective at discriminating between tornadic and non-tornadic supercells. Despite the boffo moisture in east Texas, I expect EHI values will be approximately similar for east Texas as for the cold-core target in northern Oklahoma since helicities up north will hold longer. The values will be much more impressive in east Texas the longer the surface flow remains backed, however.

Purely for visibility purposes, I'd play the OKC cold-core target. Might be some beautiful structure with those and a tornado or two can't be ruled out.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


The new NAM (NAM & ETA are the same; I use the labels interchangably) is out on NCEP's site and it still looks too fast for my taste. I think it may have sped up again from the 0Z run; in any case, it looks like this is not going to be a 'west of 35' event, or if so only briefly. It's also possible the best instability will be well west of the highest helicity values. Additionally, each run has shown tons of precip in the target area for the 12 hours prior to convection. I wasn't chasing anyway, but this morning's model makes me feel better about the decision.

EDIT: Should add that NAM and GFS both hint at another system swiping the plains later in the week, perhaps around Thursday or Friday around southeast Kansas. I'll turn my attention there.


Last night's 0z NAM run was slower and more negative tilt than the one before, or the GFS prior, and looks like a more chaseable system. Though SPC and local offices are directing attention to northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma, if this morning's run continues the slowing trend, areas along and west of I-35 become very viable chase targets. I think they were as of last night's models, actually. I think the caution is that the areas of maximum instability represent a greater tornado threat, but I think by the time the storms arrive, a squall line will have already formed.

I'll be throwing all this out the window momentarily when the update arrives. We shall see. My prospects for chasing are poor. I've just returned from a four-day trip to Iowa and have so many school-related tasks tomorrow that chasing this first system doesn't make sense for me. I'll have to nowcast for buddies and catch the next one.

Saturday, March 19, 2005


I wanted to add to my previous post that any forecasting I discuss on my blog is strictly related to chaseable areas, essentially what Eric Ngyuen defines as chase alley.



For example, there may be a terrific chance of tornadoes and supercells and dancing bears in Shreveport, Louisiana at 2z Tuesday, but I don't pay attention to anything outside the spatial boundaries of the blue line above, or the temporal limitations of chase-light, or through about an hour after sunset. In other words, I'm talking about flat terrain with superior visibility during daylight hours. Outside that range I pay no attention whatsoever.


Sunday and Monday are shaping up as marginally attractive chase opportunities in Texas or Oklahoma. SPC mentioned the possibility of supercells on Sunday, and Monday's setup I've been watching on the NAM and GFS for a few days. Looks like sufficient moisture will advect into the warm sector for thunderstorms ahead of a large upper level low that deepens and stacks out over the plains. It's a slow-moving, neutral tilt system that by 0Z Tuesday shows fairly unidirectional wind profiles in chaseable regions down there. However, between 18-22z, there is some indication that 0-1k shear values could support isolated supercells and possibly tornadoes given the dynamics.

I also look for the system to camp further west than advertised allowing more time west of I-35 in better terrain for chasing. Models always tend to rush these systems, particularly early in the season. Rather than I-35, we *could* be talking about northwest Texas or even the panhandle by tomorrow night.

All that said, I'm not a fan of stacked lows with their lack of turning from 850 up and their veered low-level winds. This setup also shows marginal convergence along the dryline as the streamlines are essentially parallel to the boundary. There is potential in this setup for drier air (coming from the southwesterly 850s) to mix down out ahead of the dryline and reduce instability in the region immediately east of the confluence, a classic "CAPE-robber" scenario. This is an incredibly frustrating situation where your moisture dissipates while the boundary is still 50-100 miles to your west, so that when the dryline brings its magic, there's no rabbit left to pull from the hat. There are questions about widespread precip early in the period also.

So another chase that falls into the "if I still lived in Texas" scenario, because, if I still lived in Texas, Denton looks like a decent target, and I would wake on Monday and say to myself, 'It's great to wake up in the target!' Instead I'm 14 miserable hours from the Golden Triangle, and so I expect that after work Monday, I'll fire up the various chase applications and settle in for some nowcasting and wood-knocking with my Red River and Sooner state pals.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


I sympathize with Tony Laubach who wanted to install his Jotto Desk but for the annoying snowfall in his area. I've been waiting myself for one day comfortable enough to install the Wx-Worx reciever in my car and test it, but haven't found such conditions until this week--in Iowa City. Yet I left the unit along with all my cameras back in Indiana and so was a little spooked by talk of a potential chase in Texas this weekend. Some of my pals down south are looking at Sunday in particular, but I'd be shooting with a Kodak Insta-FunPix if I headed that direction instead of returning to Bloomington.

This morning's models are mixed concerning chase potential. Sunday looked far better to me on yesterday morning's GFS than it did on the 0Z or this morning's 12z NAM, which showed weakness from 850 to 500 mb on Sunday morning, but good moisture return along and east of I-35. It doesn't jump off the page as anything other than the first system of the year, something I would savor if I lived in Texas with only four or five hours and $30 gas at stake. But living at the edge of the realm and with the oil barons squeezing us until we squeal, it's harder to justify. I'm more interested in the system that follows it, at 180 hours.

In any case it's time to activate the XM and data card when I get home. Things are becoming too volatile and chase setups can appear very quickly now as we reach late March and early April.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


I found some sunshine and warmer temperatures here in Iowa City, Iowa, where I'm visiting a friend and hanging out for a few days. Looks like we might reach fifty degrees or more today, and with the approaching system could see even warmer temps later this week. Strange to come to Iowa for Spring Break weather, but it beats Indiana.

I didn't bring any cameras or other chase gear, only my laptop. If there had been any signal on the models of an impending chase, I might have activated XM and tested everything on the long drive over, but I don't see anything promising in the next ten days. The GFS begins an active split flow pattern aloft, however, which brings the potential for short-notice systems in the southern plains and that will require vigilance. The later periods continue to indicate ridging over the central US to close March, so I doubt I'll chase before April. As Scott Currens points out in an ST post, waiting until later in the year saves gas money.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Okay, if you look at the GFS for March 26th on this morning's 12z run, and compare it to the maps I posted a few days ago, you'll see why we can't put faith in extended models. As of the current run, there is no hint of the promising system and in fact we have a massive western ridge behind a digging eastern trough. If the eastern trough re-emerges (and it has been around now for some time), it will keep Indiana in winter, and send one backdoor cold front after another into the plains.

These models seem to struggle most around the time of seasonal transition. The climatology built into their DNA can't decide what season to "favor" when we're transitioning, and so on some runs you get more winter (like today's) and other runs you get the start of spring (like the last few). Which is correct? Who knows? Stay tuned! Eventually, spring will come, models or no.

Yesterday's chase 'errands' were buying a new bottle of Rain-X and a cheap container with a nylon strap to hang around the driver's side headrest for blank high-8 tapes. Yeah, I'm getting near the bottom of the list of prep work now, which isn't surprising since I try to time it so that I'm ready to go by March 15. If a chase popped up suddenly now, I could jump in the truck and activate XM while rolling down the highway. I'd be pretty well set.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


Of course the GFS looks different today, as we knew it would. The good news is that we continue to see a more active, warm-season style pattern pushing into the solutions. However, as Brian Stertz points out (Brian is posting again to his regular page and not his blog), the eastern trough keeps sending backdoor cold fronts over the plains.

Better now than in May.

Brian points out the potential for a system in deep west Texas this Tuesday the 15th. It looks like many dynamics are in place, but coming so soon on the heels of a frontal passage (see what happens to dewpoints from 0-84 hours), it's not likely to produce much beyond sculpted LP storms. Those can be fine-looking and satisfy some SDS, but they're not worth a trip from Indiana for me. I'll see plenty of non-tornadic storms this season; no reason to start early on that.

I ordered digital high 8 tapes from an online site yesterday, TapeStockOnline. I was planning to order from Ecost.com but their site was down and I wanted to get it done. TapeStock has a good reputation and low prices. They shipped my tapes last night and I have a FedEx email with tracking number this morning. So far so good. Beats paying twice as much at BestBuy.

So the wait continues. The countdown on my front page shows we are under fifty days until May 1.

Friday, March 11, 2005


The first legitimate chase opportunity of the season has popped up on the GFS...at 372 hours. LOL! This would be Saturday March 26, on which day last year I was chasing little LPs in the panhandle the night before the big Oklahoma day.

So for laughs, I'm going to post these images borrowed and shrunken from Earl Barker's excellent site.

500 mb chart, dynamic negative tilt trough




850 mb, strong low level jet



Surface low more or less Texas panhandle 0Z



If all this verified perfectly, we'd be chasing anywhere from I-27 to I-35 west to east, and from I-20 to State Road 160 in Kansas south to north. Yes that's a huge target, but c'mcon. This is two weeks from now. LOL! So we'll keep the charts here on the blog and see what happens. Cross your fingers!

Thursday, March 10, 2005


I have completed a proper report page for May 12, 2004. I avoided it for so long because I knew it would take a while; there was much video and stills to cull through, and I attempted to synchronize GPS with video, radar, and damage surveys. I forgot that after Tony and I fled south on SR 2 that day, I managed to turn to shoot the tornado as a DOW vehicle passed in front of it.



There was also likely a tornado with the storm we approached near Anthony and possibly even another later than that.


This is the closest I've come to chase season without knowing precisely when I'll leave or how long I'll be in the field. My novel is sitting with my thesis director and also an editor on the east coast right now. The book is on a sort of two-track progression as both a master's thesis for the MFA and simultaneously as a product for sale to publishers. Obviously the sale of the book would mean as much if not more than the MFA. The degree is a given; I'll have that in my pocket in six weeks. Publication, however, is never a given. Odds are that any writer's first novel will live in his desk drawer hidden from the world.

The reason I'm in a holding pattern for chasing is that I don't know yet how much revision either my director or editor will want and when. I'm waiting for the hammer to fall, the other shoe to drop, whatever. So I close my eyes and tell myself I'm heading out May 1, immediately following the 13z SWODY1. Heh.

I ran a GFS loop for the 0Z run, and only looking at dewpoints it seems we're in no danger of launching the chase season anytime soon. At 180 hours, the 60F isodrosotherm is well offshore in the GOM. So if you use that as a starting point and figure three days at least for significant recovery, we're looking at the 19th or 20th before we could have real hopes. Of course the GFS can change dramatically from run to run, but this has been a very consistent solution for a while now.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005




Here's a great pic of Sonny Rollins, for whom the new cat is named. One of Rollins' greatest records was the album Saxophone Colossus which the new Sonny seems to dig when it's playing on my computer speakers.


Thanks to my chaser-blogger pals for adding my link to their cool pages.

Low temps and snow-shine here in Bloomington today. About an eighth of an inch dusting fell under partly cloudy skies, some of the snow coming while the sun was beaming fully. That was an interesting sight.

The setup on GFS has changed of course, and now there's nothing promising until the very last frames at 384 hours, which is about as valid as the Farmer's Almanac. That's life with the extended models. Of course it works the other way, too. As fast as a good setup can evaporate, another can appear. Sudden changes for the better become more and more likely as we transition into spring. But overall, it looks like March will be quiet for chasers through the first fifteen days. My current thinking is that I won't activate XM until the day before the first chase. It would be nice, however, to have a decently warm day to haul it outside and see if its still receiving a signal.

There's an interesting talk on WX-CHASE concerning how to evade a tornado that has you cornered. Primarily chasers are discussing the three bad options: riding it out in a car, abandoning the vehicle for a ditch, or abandoning the car to take shelter beneath an overpass. When somebody as experienced as Gene Moore comments that he's been inside six tornadic circulations in 34 years of chasing, that says it's not only possible, but likely at some point in my chase life.

My first thought is that every situation like this will be unique, and so you can't apply some blanket 'policy' with any seriousness. I'm sure Tim Marshall would have never thought he was going to bail out and hide up under the Shields Street Bridge on May 9, 2003. But he looked at the situation and took what he thought was the best option.

My second thought is that one of the ways this could happen is if an HP shrouds a large or fast-moving tornado. I have seen big tornadoes emerge from rain shafts before and if you're not looking for it, you would never know it's there. This occurred with the Mountain View, Oklahoma F3 on October 9, 2001. It moved into a rain shaft, then came out again, but while it was there it was impossible to see. So if this happens, and suddenly the tornado is right beside you, and it's clear that you will not escape it, then what? I don't have the answer, but my intuition is that if a tornado is already that close (less than 100 yards? 50?) then fleeing on foot isn't going to do much good. I wonder if you wouldn't have a better chance (albeit still a lousy one) by simply punching the accelerator and hoping to hell you slip between vortices and get out in one piece.

The best thing about this conversation is that rather than dwelling on the morality or wisdom of getting "too close," the conversation makes people realize how bad the choices are if you find yourself in that situation. Chasers with any sense will think about this in the field and remain vigilant about not getting into a fix like that. It's about the best we can do.

Monday, March 07, 2005



Sonny, six months old

Haven't blogged for a few days because I've been incorporating a new cat into the apartment. This is Sonny, named for the saxophone player Sonny Rollins, whose music was known for its hard-swilled romance, and this cat reminds me of that somehow. Plus it sounds like the name they'd given him at the shelter, Jimmy, so I don't lose the long-vowel sounds that he's associated with himself all this time.

My cat of fifteen years, Walt, passed about three weeks ago, and it was getting time for my current cat to have a new pal. Chasing takes me away from the apartment for weeks at a time, and I don't like to leave cats here with only the daily visit from whomever is caring for them. So far, Oreo and Sonny are tolerating one another acceptably well for three days into the show.

The GFS shows a potential storm setup at 180 hours that will have chasers buzzing, finally. Nice negative tilt trough brings deep layer shear and a 991 mb surface low to the south-central plains, the telltale 850mb low setting up in E CO earlier in the day. This is a key sign for people who make the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma their primary hunting grounds.

However, like all first systems of the year, it has a major drawback, usually either temps or moisture, and this one looks very dry. Because of the cold front about to march its way to Cuba, this system comes along too soon after the front for sufficient recovery. Unless the front stalls much earlier than expected, dewpoints for this episode should range in the low to mid 50's. My experience is that only in May or June can the boundary layer recovery rapidly from such a large scale polar front. Not in March.

Friday, March 04, 2005


I'm still in a rush, but I did the blog links anyway. Heh. Rather than a webpage, sort of an outdated way of thinking, I have added these chaser blog links to the menu bar on the left side of the page, as you can see. I'll continue to grow this list as I find more chasers in the blogosphere. If you know of any, send me an email.


I'm excited about how many chasers are opening blogs. Today I noticed my friend Sheila Ward opened hers, and so the list is growing. Since these blogs have RSS feeds, they can monitored through email programs, news readers, or even personalized web portals like My Yahoo.

For example, I use Mozilla's Thunderbird email client, and the blogs I watch appear in the tree of folders and inboxes along with my email accounts. New posts to these blogs look like new emails, and when I click on them, I get the blog's "page" or post in the preview window, just like a new email. I also have a module on My Yahoo dedicated to these blogs so I can keep up when I'm on the road and don't have access to Thunderbird. I like this because you can pay attention to the chasers whose opinions you most value. This is a fine alternative to the message boards and email lists.

This weekend I'll create a dedicated webpage listing chaser blogs, a sort of directory for these things. I would do it right now, but I'm a little pressed for time. In the meanwhile, here's the dedicated chase blogs I'm following:

Sheila Ward's Stormimagery.com

Brian Stertz

Kurt Hulst

Tony Laubach's Storm Chase Journal

Jeff Lawson


Sally's World: (not always chase related, but good content)

And even the SPC is in on the act with an RSS or XML links on their main page.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


On Caravans



Chasers often travel in packs, frequently referred to as caravans. These can range from two vehicles, which barely qualifies, to a dozen or more cars and trucks and vans in a row, such as with a large group from a university, or a scientific project like VORTEX with its mobile mesonets, doppler radars, and command cars. Whatever the case, the instinct to travel together and share information and the long road hours comes naturally to most, but every year chasers consider the good and the bad of these random, rolling gatherings.

The benefits are obvious: you make a lot of friends in chasing and it's great to have them around, especially when the target is hundreds of miles away and there's little else to do but chat on the radio and bolster each other's hopes for a successful day. All of this is contingent on caravan members having radios, usually amateur radios on the 2 meter band. Chasers share updated weather information from changes in surface or upper air conditions to the latest forecasts from local offices or the Storm Prediction Center. When the real chasing starts, they swap opinions about intercept strategies and the visual diagnosis of the storm: whether or not it looks healthy, how fast it's moving and what direction. They may discuss navigational options and other critical choices, and this is where things can get complicated.

Real-time tactical chasing isn't committee work. A caravan that has traveled many miles or even days together often has an inappropriate sense that it should stay together, even when that becomes either impractical or dangerous. I know a chaser who ran his truck into the ditch because he was so desperate to stay with the vehicle he'd been following the whole day. A Texas DPS officer was forced to rescue him while a tornadic supercell approached. I myself pulled into traffic without looking on Texas State Highway 287, almost causing a serious accident with my good friend Blair Kooistra. People have asked about following who did not have maps or radios, or much of a clue about what they were doing. I have caravaned with chronic tailgaters, a practice I loathe since chasing frequently involves the need for sudden stops. I always pull over and tell these people to pass me and not get behind me again. Last year for the first time, I told someone they could not follow me, that I "didn't do caravans."

But that's not really true. What I don't do anymore is caravan with people who seem either unqualified or unlucky. Unfortunately, it is true that the more you chase, the more you value your chase time, and the less likely you are to gamble by complicating it with people you don't know. There's just too much at stake. Nor do you want to be around someone who seems to suppress tornadoes, as silly as that sounds. Many chasers who think the world of one another have no luck together. Rich Thompson and Roger Edwards, two of the best tornado forecasters on earth, chased many dozens of times before landing a tornado. Was their pairing an unlucky one? Some would say so.

There is no rhyme or reason to luck in chasing or the "luckiness" of any combination of chasers. It has nothing to do with how long you've chased together. Last year, Tony Laubach and I outran a nasty black stovepipe that intended to kill us, and in doing so, deposited about fifty years of good luck in less than forty-five seconds by my accounting. Yet I have chased with others several times who I can't help but associate with a distinct lack of tornadoes. Chasers think that way. It's not scientific, but enough time in the field hones instincts beyond what we see or measure with instruments.

So what can you do about caravans? Not much. You can spend a lot of energy trying to engineer the precise caravan you want, but if the participants are coming from different states, odds are that you will expend mental energy fruitlessly. Others you don't want will join, some you want will leave. This can distract you from reading the sky or the data and interfere with a forecast or even tactical decisions later. You have to let caravans happen. If they become unbearable, you sneak out. Hopefully you avoid the long ones; they always seem to create problems. I think three vehicles is the ideal number, but any orderly and small procession like that, giving off that 'got-it-together' vibe, is bound to attract two or three or four more chasers. Then you're in a train, waiting for the wreck.

Like so many other elements in stormchasing, the caravan is unpredictable and mostly out of the chaser's control.

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