Day Six & Seven – Reluctant Return

Unfortunately, the pattern in the Great Plains has died and we’re not going to see any severe weather for more than a week. Virginia initially looked like it would have some potential today, but that also evaporated the closer we got to the setup.

We initially angled to make it back to Virginia from Minnesota for today’s weather, but once it became clear that nothing would materialize, we pulled up short and stayed in Jackson, OH.

Since this was just a travel day that closes out the chase, I’ll share a photo of a male Polyphemus Moth we met in Minnesota.

His name is Randy Moth.

Storm Chase Day 06 & 07

He looks like a Randy, right?

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Day Five – The Whale’s Mouth

We’re heading out in about 30 minutes from our hotel in Austin, MN so this one will have to be brief.

Our target yesterday was southwest Minnesota – not the best tornado dynamics, but it was the only place that was expected to really destabilize and provide energy for storms. All we ended up catching was another (fairly photogenic) shelf cloud. However, this time we ended up under it most of the time.

The area under a linear storm’s updraft is often known as the whale’s mouth due to the look of it as it engulfs you. This one was quite the sight, and we played tag with it all day into our travel at night.

It looked absolutely apocalyptic from the inside, but in reality posed basically no threat. Below are a few photos.

Today we’re blasting east to potentially catch a severe weather setup in Virginia. Storm mode isn’t super clear now, but it’s got potential to be one of the higher-end things we case. We’ll see!

Day Four – Morale Boost

Our adventure in the Northern Plains started with a fairly early wake up call in North Platte, NE to be able to make our target in west central South Dakota by storm initiation. As we blasted north, I warmed a Super 8 cinnamon roll on the dashboard.

Storm Chase Day 04

It’s good luck, or something.

The geography in that part of the country is interesting – we always hear about how flat it is, but that part of Nebraska is dominated by sand hills. Unsurprisingly, data connectivity on our drive out of Nebraska into South Dakota was pretty bad and we were, to an extent, flying blind. Fortunately for us, very little changed during our drive and we were able to just keep an eye on cumulus development.

Storm Chase Day 04Another one of our stops was at a historic train bridge across a river in either northern Nebraska or southern South Dakota. It had a pretty nice view, especially of our field of building cumulus clouds! The stop was abbreviated and we had a quick lunch before continuing on our path north. By this time a weak, unimpressive cluster of storms was initiating in northwest South Dakota, so we headed off in their direction. Upon reaching them some hour or two later, we were greeted with some underwhelming storm structure.

Storm Chase Day 04

A view of part of the updraft and some precipitation.

Storm Chase Day 04

A half-hearted initial attempt at a shelf cloud.

Our disappointment was fortunately short-lived. As we kept up with the storm jogging east, the shelf cloud built into a much more impressive stacked-pancake kind of structure.

Storm Chase Day 04

It was hard to process this and keep it looking natural.

Storm Chase Day 04

Taking a shelfie!

I took way too many photos as we headed east. The shelf cloud continued evolving and looking meaner as the storm clawed its way out of an unfavorable environment and into better parameters.

As the storm increased in intensity and began to bow out, we really appreciated the road we were on – it was a high speed route moving due east that had a bridge across the Missouri River. So unlike usual, we were able to stay out ahead of a rapidly propagating bow echo as it chased us toward our lodging for once!

Storm Chase Day 04

Sadly we had no syrup to go with these stacks.

Our crossing of the Missouri showed us a really impressive view of our storm. We had a brief stop prior to the crossing (left) that let us take a moment to appreciate structure before we hopped on the bridge to cross the river. The fact that the storm was still alive despite the poor environment was astounding to me – and it just continued building, and building, and building…

Storm Chase Day 04

A view of our storm looking south across the river.

Storm Chase Day 04

…and a view looking back north. Angry!

After our river crossing, we saw a massive amount of dust getting kicked up under the forward flank of our storm.

Storm Chase Day 04

A brief gustnado? You decide!

As the storm continued kicking dust up to our south, it eventually formed a really neat illustration of how air masses interact at the leading edge of a linear storm. The dust fills the area that is downdraft, and air being updrafted into the storm flows over it keeping it corralled.

Storm Chase Day 04

This is a textbook example.

We finally had to disengage and blast east, but we were treated with quite the show while we retreated. Our setup isn’t quite as clear this morning as we were hoping it would be, but I think we’ll be going after something tornadic in Minnesota later on today.

Storm Chase Day 04

I love a shelf cloud that says “I’m gonna kill you!”

Day Three – Geometry

In storm chasing, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Yesterday was a a travel day for us, in which we headed from Lubbock, TX to North Platte, NE.

There was murky setup in extreme south Texas basically at the border that was set to blow cells up all over the place and produce some severe wind and hail. Synoptic scale parameters for supercell development and maintenance were laughable at best, and the road network and terrain weren’t going to be fun to work with. That said, based on reports, the setup seems to have locally overachieved – but at this point, there’s no looking back!

We’d been eying the end of this week in the upper Midwest for a while for some severe potential, but today has turned out to be a bit of a dark horse. We started heading up here before the SPC actually issued a categorical outlook, and today we woke up to our area upgraded to a slight risk. It’s mostly for wind and hail from an MCS but, like the southern setup yesterday, we’re hoping for some local overachievement. Chasing yesterday and chasing today were mutually exclusive because of the distance, so we opted to punt yesterday and put ourselves in position for today.

A fairly nice wind profile coupled with moderate instability has a pretty good shot to produce us a discrete storm or two that we’ll be able to play tag with for a while up in South Dakota before everything congeals into one big line. The road network is pretty good and visibility will be a whole lot better than where we were chasing a couple days ago in Texas. Looking at the probable placement of storms today, I don’t think it’s super likely we’ll back a tornado – at this point I’m mostly optimistic with regards to storm structure. We’ll see though!

Storm Chase Day 03

Western Kansas is pretty flat. Monument Rocks are visible off in the distance on the right.

Day Two – Chunky Tomato

Soup.

Convective soup.

Yesterday reminded me a lot of chasing in Virginia and North Carolina – not enough capping and no real dominant cells.

We woke up in Texarkana, AR and blasted west as fast as possible to try to make a day two chase in west Texas. We were thinking somewhere in the Lubbock area or a bit west would be ideal. Unfortunately, by the time we were nearly to Abilene storms had gone up all over the place.

We eventually decided to bite on a cell that had gone up near Colorado City.

Storm Chase Day 02

A blurry image of our brief view of some kind of backlit lowering.

We played tag with our cell briefly until it started entering an area where storms had previously passed, where it would most likely fall apart. So, we began to look elsewhere.

A couple cells were trying to go up east of Lubbock, but looked wholly unappealing. We ultimately settled on a weakly anticyclonic left-mover just to our west. We maneuvered around to its west side to get a good view of its updraft, but by that time it was falling apart.

Storm Chase Day 02

…that’s all, folks.

We landed in Lubbock, TX for the night. Soon we meet to figure out what to do over the next few days. Unfortunately with the rather muddy pattern, that’s up for debate.

Day One – Somehow More Ambitious

On the first trip, we headed out intending to make a south-central Texas severe weather setup. This trip, we’re headed out for somewhere west of Lubbock, TX to catch storms as they fire on the dry line on the TX/NM border… which is going to be somehow more ambitious.

I described our day two storm intercept last trip as a “diving catch.” I have no idea what to describe today as should we be successful.

Our trip to Texarkana, AR was pretty uneventful. We made absurdly, insanely good time – at least for us. In fact, typically the photo that I’ll use from the I-40 route is a sunset image crossing the Mississippi River. Except this time that won’t be possible, because somehow we beat sunset by two hours.

So, here’s a picture of the Mississippi.

Storm Chase Day 01

Muddy!

Recap – Ten, Eleven, Home.

Day ten began in Dodge City, KS following our significant tornado day.

Regarding that day – I still haven’t gotten around to analyzing my images to figure out exactly how many tornadoes we saw, but I now know it was at least eighteen. I had previously counted a pair of tornadoes orbiting around the main circulation as a single tornado, but they are in reality a pair of distinct satellite tornadoes. Counting the cone tornado that was on the ground as well, that makes a total of three tornadoes that storm had on the ground at once.

Unreal.

Our setup for day ten was kind of muddy… very large risk area where something would probably go up, but nothing was really guaranteed. The morning started with a brief look at some damage around Dodge City. After that, we hit the road for Salina, KS. However, when no cumulus field went up in the area and there was development southeast of Wichita we headed that way.

We got on a low-precipitation storm and briefly followed it. Unfortunately, ultimately what happened is our storm fizzled and there was a large wedge tornado just east of Salina.

Whoops.

In storm chasing, nine out of ten times when you don’t see cumulus clouds in your target area, you’re going to bust… yet bust we did. We made the best decision we could with the information at hand, but sometimes in chasing that’s just not enough. It’s a tough pill to swallow, missing a storm like that.

…but catching over eighteen tornadoes in two hours the previous day made it much easier.

Our trip home consisted of an all-night marathon that got us home by 4PM on Thursday, which included a Hokie Storm Chase first: riding off into the sunrise.

I’ve included a few images from our brief damage survey, our storm, the drive back, and an unrelated image of Snowball, one of several unofficial canine mascots of the Virginia Tech Meteorology Club.

This chase is by a good margin the best I’ve participated in. It had it all – stunning landscape, incredible storm structure, and a (probably literally) once-in-a-lifetime ballistic tornado-producing storm.

But, that’s all behind us now and I’m in full recuperation mode now to be ready for the second trip departing Monday.

Let’s go!

Day Nine – Dodging a Bullet

Dodge City, KS dodged a bullet yesterday. The fact that a storm that directly affected the metro area caused two injuries and no fatalities is nothing short of miraculous.

We got on this storm right at initiation, when it was nothing but a cumulus tower. We had no idea what it was to become – and I would not have believed it had someone told me.

Storm Chase Day 09

Innocuous, right?

We had gone a bit north of it to watch cumulus towers go up, but as soon as we looked back we knew it was the one and doubled back south. We pushed through the early precipitation and got a nice view of the updraft and precipitation vault on the way through. It’s rare to get this view; once storms actually get going it’s not easily accessible or safe to be in.

Storm Chase Day 09

To the left, updraft. To the right, precipitation.

We stopped next to a very nice family’s property on a dirt road to watch the storm. It began to produce a wall cloud, but it was initially unimpressive.

Storm Chase Day 09

Yep, it’s a wall cloud!

…soon, however, it started extending fingers toward the ground. Sometimes two or three at a time. I didn’t think much of this at the time but it should have been a sign that this storm was going to be a monster.

Storm Chase Day 09

Two funnels for the price of one!

Soon, it finally managed to produce the first of many tornadoes.

Storm Chase Day 09

It almost couldn’t, but it finally did.

Eventually, it put down a very large, long-lived cone tornado. It was at this point we realized that we might be about to watch calamity play out in slow motion in the suburbs of Dodge City.

Storm Chase Day 09

Soon after this image was taken it ingested a lot more debris.

We repositioned closer to the storm to get a better look and, on the way, saw that the storm simultaneously had the original cone tornado on the ground as well as two satellite tornadoes around the main circulation.

Once we stopped, we were treated to a really good view of the base and tornadoes.

Storm Chase Day 09

“Just” one tornado.

Storm Chase Day 09

Two tornadoes on the ground at once.

Storm Chase Day 09

A tight view of the tornado as it chewed through some farmland, kicking up dirt.

The base then grew and dropped lower to the ground, as it dissipated the cone and reformed it as an elephant trunk tornado. We were nervous it was about to put out a large wedge tornado and head into the city.

Storm Chase Day 09

This storm makes exactly zero sense.

We repositioned and watched it produce several more tornadoes, including a several multivortex tornadoes and a wedge.

Storm Chase Day 09

Extremely violent tornado.

By this point, a storm was coming up behind us getting ready to drop large hail on our heads, so we left the tornado behind and high-tailed it east to get out of the way. On the way, unsurprisingly, the storm produced several more tornadoes.

Storm Chase Day 09

A bit overcooked, but I’m running out of time to write.

We stopped by a gas station for a while to watch the sunset then headed to our lodging.

Storm Chase Day 09

Some lightning happened but I didn’t catch it. Use your imagination!

My current count of tornadoes produced by this storm is at about 17. This breaks the Hokie Storm Chase record for tornadoes from one storm, and I know I’ve missed some – so this will most likely break the single-day tornado record as well.

I’ve never heard of a storm that was so able to effortlessly put down tornado after tornado without any RFD occlusions. From looking at the radar data in real time, it seems like the storm blew up on a boundary and then just continued eating that boundary for its entire life cycle, thus helping to spin the storm up and maintain rapid rotation. This will be a very heavily studied tornado; CSWR was there with both DOW6 and DOW7 to collect dual-Doppler data and OU had RaXPol in the field. With any luck, I’ll be able to get this data in the coming months.

Here’s a link to a radar loop of it, showing most of the tornadic phase as well as the boundary it was riding.

Day Eight – Country Roads

Yesterday was a 100% forecasting success. We knew there would be outflow boundaries laid down by previous storms and we also knew that there would be at least one triple point formed by an outflow boundary and the dry line. Ultimately we found one, just southeast of Amarillo, TX and set up to watch it.

…that said, we once again battled a terrible road network.

Storm Chase Day 08

Our storm fires at the triple point in the Texas Panhandle.

We watched visible satellite and radar for a while and, when our storm finally fired, we waited a few radar scans to make sure it would survive and then made moves to get to its base. We caught up to it at a rest area with a nice view and could see its (fairly high) base with a wall cloud underneath.

Storm Chase Day 08

Classic high-based convection.

Storm Chase Day 08

On the upswing!

Upon seeing this, we knew something was wrong. Dew points were supposed to support very low cloud bases yesterday, and this clearly was not. Eventually we came to the conclusion that the storm was ingesting dry air, preventing it from thriving.

Occasionally the storm would find moisture again, and rapidly rise and rebuild its anvil. Each time this happened, I hoped the storm had finally found the moisture axis and really start to take off, but it was not meant to be.

We ended up sitting by the side of the road for fifteen minutes or so, planning what to do next as chasers streamed by us, angling for some cells that had gone up south of us near Lubbock. We, however, could not go south because we wanted to keep Nebraska in play for the following day.

Storm Chase Day 08

A transient funnel produced by our storm.

Eventually a cell fired, and we got on it. It produced a brief funnel as we watched, but little else occurred. Eventually we decided to go north of the precipitation at the rear of the storm to have a look at both our storm and the one to the north.

We carefully moved north, taking care to keep an eye on radar to make sure we would not run afoul of any hail. Soon, we popped out north of the rain.

By this time, our storm had actually developed an anticyclonic velocity couplet and briefly became an anticyclonic supercell. That, however did not last long. It ingested a small updraft on its south side, and somehow transitioned to being a normal cyclonic supercell. I’ve never seen an anticyclonic hooked supercell, much less seen one transition seamlessly to a standard cyclonic supercell.

It went tornado warned, and ultimately put down a very brief tornado on the highway that overturned a semi.

Storm Chase Day 08

The back side of the storm after the tornado, showing the updraft as well as the anvil.

A couple chasers had witnessed and filmed the tornado, so Jamie (our National Weather Service embed) spoke with them, reviewed the video, and contacted the National Weather Service office in Amarillo. As this happened, we watched the updraft of our storm fizzle and die off.

Storm Chase Day 08

This is not a healthy storm.

As we ended our chase, we were once again treated to a beautiful backlit view of convection. It’s unclear where we will be today, but there’s a more significant tornado risk than before and it’s bound to be an interesting day.

Storm Chase Day 08

Anvil striations are a thing of beauty.

Day Seven – Midway

The meaning behind my title is twofold. One, we are about halfway through trip 1… two, yesterday we were caught midway between the good storms in south Texas and west-central Kansas.

As of this morning, we’ve gone 3,954 miles through eight states. We’ve caught an insanely beautiful supercell, a tornado, and have seen absolutely stunning landscape. Since we’ve had a relatively good trip thus far, I think the remainder of our decisions will be geared toward swinging for the fences. High risk, high reward type setups that might produce, but if they do will be astounding. We’ll see though!

Yesterday we tried to target a bulge in the dry line near Lubbock, TX. This theoretically was going to back the winds and give us a solid tornado threat. Unfortunately, our hunch didn’t pan out and we ended up busting after briefly playing tag with some messy convection. During the process of aborting the chase, we did see a pretty good looking wall cloud associated with a cell we dodged south of. After getting west of the convection, we were treated to a nice view of an anvil as well as a good sunset.

I’m running short on time, so I’ll just leave a set of images in the slideshow below.

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