Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Zonal, with hidden treasures.

A zonal flow pattern will likely be in swing for the next 1-2 weeks over the central US. While a west coast troughing pattern tends to be preferred, zonal is sure a lot better than ridging. It will not be the most active start to May, but there will be chase opportunities scattered around the central part of the country. Looking at the long term models seems to be pointless anymore, but just this morning the GFS throws a tornado outbreak over Illinois and Missouri at 156 hours out, for next Tuesday. This isn't likely to pan out as it appears now, but does show that there are signs of these little shortwaves embedded in the broader zonal flow. These will be the hope to watch for over the next 2 weeks before we see another shift towards a larger troughing pattern.

The overall pattern might not look particularly favorable at brief glance, but I'd look for several good chasing ops through the first week of May, primarily over the southern plains of Texas and Oklahoma. Early to mid-May I'd look for a noticeable ramp up of severe weather events with a more progressive pattern and a northeastward shift in threat area from the current southern plains location to an area between Interstates 70 and 80 from Kansas and Nebraska into Iowa and Illinois. The middle part of May could be especially active in this region.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Oh Sunday. The big High Risk day in the central plains. I screwed up nicely, but not in the same fashion that a lot of the chasers in Oklahoma and Kansas did by missing the Roger Mills tornadoes in NW Oklahoma. No, I chose to sit that event out due to the long distance that would need to be traveled and the iffy storm mode forecasts. It was either going to go big, or be a huge waste of time and being early in the year still I decided to opt for a closer target that still showed some potential. The dreaded state of Iowa.

Heading to bed on Saturday night I did some forecasting online with buddies Jarrod Cook, Scott Kampas and Mark Sefried. I first eyeballed southwest Iowa. Looked like the instability axis would nose up in that location co-located with very strong low level winds ahead of the surface low in eastern Nebraska. Then something else caught my eye. It looked like a shortwave would be located over central Iowa in the earyl afternoon, leading to a very favorable tornado environment around the Waterloo, IA. I went to bed with Waterloo, as my target. It was a short 4 hour drive, and showed decent potential should the WRF verify.

I woke up around 6:30 AM to check things out. I wanted to wake up early enough that should SW Iowa look good with morning data I could still make that area in time. I wasn't pleased with anything that I saw. The entire state of Iowa was covered with low clouds and rain. Looking further west was not any better, as new thunderstorms were already forming in Kansas and Nebraska and moving into the state. I about set my laptop down and went back to bed right then, and probably should have done just that. However, as most know by now, it was the day before my birthday and I really wanted to get out there and see some storms. I decided to wait around for the 12Z RUC models to come in.

Bam! The RUC throws out 3200 j/kg CAPE and 300 m2/s2 low level helicity over SW Iowa. Wow... perhaps Iowa -will- clear out in time? I thought surely the eastern Iowa Waterloo target would not clear out in time, but perhaps SW Iowa would indeed, as I had thought the previous night. I decided I didn't have a ton of time to wait around and see, because if it did clear out but I was still sitting here in Champaign I'd likely be too late. I talked with Jarrod and Mark and came to a general consensus that we'd just drive halfway, check it out, and continue driving if warranted. I hopped on Interstate 74, took that to Highway 34, and kept trucking into southern Iowa. I didn't stop until I hit Ottumwa, IA. It had that "feel". Eastern Iowa just felt like a tornado day there. Any chaser who has been out there for a while knows what that feels like. It was hot and sticky, low level cu were racing from north to south and the southeast surface winds were howling. I should have stopped there! Perhaps eastern Iowa -was- clearing out! No, I continued heading for my other SW Iowa target.

Arriving in my target area, things already looked terrible. I met Mark and Jarrod in Creston, IA where we had a mostly non-severe squall line to our west, and nothing forming out ahead of the line at all. We noticed a few returns in northern Missouri and decided to give those a play, as it was our only hope. It was as we turned around and headed back east that I looked further NE on the radar screen. A lone supercell was tornado warned right next to Waterloo, IA. Bah!

Not only did the Waterloo target verify, it verified with a 21 mile track stovepipe tornado. The tornado rivaled the Roll, OK tornadoes that everyone is mad about missing in Oklahoma. Here's a shot taken by a local:*450/Tornado%20001.jpg

That's why the technology age is so "nice". If you blow it and miss something, it's no problem. Twenty people who had no intentions of seeing a tornado that day like you did, will be there out of dumb luck to film it and rub it in your face!

I'm not as upset about this one as I otherwise might have been. Looking back at radar data and such, even if I had gone to Waterloo, I don't know that I would have believed such an event would have happened. A mushy line traveled across eastern Iowa, that apparently hit the warm front and morphed into a tail end charlie supercell. Of course, being in Waterloo I would have given chase and at least been in intercepting distance once things started looking up.

Jarrod, Mark and I spent the drive home discussing over the radio all the reasoning behind our decisions, and what to change next time. We did come away with a wall cloud on one of the cells that originated out of northern Missouri, but it didn't compare with what happened at the target that we picked 24 hours earlier. Ah well, such is chasing. Especially chasing in Iowa. As Jarrod and I said last night after we saw the photos of the tornado, it only makes us want to get out and chase that state even more to show it that we will see a tornado there sometime.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Searching for the needle in the haystack...

Well, I'm not in Oklahoma. Or on my way. With my schedule this weekend, I'm free to chase both today and tomorrow but just didn't find it feasible making it to OK in time without putting my car in a ditch first. I'm bordering on worried about HP nature of supercells in that area today, which could be somewhat frustrating especially if the show is primarily nocturnal. Anyway, certainly worth a shot though as I'm sure we'll see some intense stuff come from the chasers in that area this evening.

My target today looks like west-central Illinois. Certainly more of a wait and see effort on this side of things as boundary interactions will play a huge role in getting anything worthwhile. On the whole, it could be a lot worse. Mid-level winds are lacking, but could be made up some by some good storm scale boundary interactions. Cape will be adequate for the first time this year, with surface based cape values 2000-2500 j/kg not unheard of. A weak wave may develop in Missouri today which should help keep surface winds southerly, which is a drastic improvement from the west-southwest flow earlier models had shown. Winds in the low levels continue to be adequate with a 40-45 knot LLJ across Missouri and Illinois. Helicity values are very low, however taking a closer look these values are taking into account an almost northerly, northeast storm motion today. Given the overall setup and east-west boundary I think a more east-northeast storm motion will be seen which may also improve helicity values some over the area.

An early look at things shows the cold front currently located along a line from Milwaukee to Kansas City. There likely won't be too much southward motion of the boundary this afternoon. A cluster of elevated thunderstorms has exited the target area, and is now lifting into northern Indiana. This cluster could have been key in laying down a very useful boundary this afternoon. In it's wake clear skies have given way to rapid surface heating with temperatures already in the lower 70s with dew points within a degree or two of either side of 60F. There is little capping in place today, so I'm weary of too much more convection being generated either along the cold front or on the outflow boundary from the early morning convection. I'd like to see things hold off until around 2 PM when we've had at least a few hours of adequate surface heating.

Overall, I think the general "area to watch" outside of the main event in Oklahoma will be east-central Missouri into west-central Illinois. Perhaps anywhere along the long line from Columbia, Missouri to Springfield, Illinois. I don't expect a very big day, but a few "surprise" tornado reports don't seem out of the question. I intend to attempt my best at being in the right place at the right time for those surprises.

EDIT: On a side note regarding my live streaming partnership with WDT Inc., CNN will be demo'ing use of the live streams during their prime time broadcasts this weekend during the severe weather event. While I'll be chasing the boring side in the midwest, I will be running the stream to help with the demo either way. Feel free to pop in and check it out on my live page, here:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Windmills and Lightning Bolts

Had hoped for a little more with a powerful little MCV moving across western Illinois this afternoon, but the moisture required was not in place yet. A few elevated thunderstorms were able to fire ahead of the mcv, so I went out to enjoy the warm weather and did some distant lightning shots at a favorite spot of mine.

Not sure what to make of the weekend yet. The big stuff may be confined to the panhandles, and I'm not sure I feel like bothering, surprising as that may sound. I'll be busy here in Champaign until very late Friday night so to make Saturday I'd likely have to drive all night just to get there in time to chase all day. Sunday does look like the bigger day, but not sure it's worth a one day there and back trip before Monday morning, my birthday!

Chase the cold front in Kansas, or chase the cold front in Illinois? This whole birthday weekend weather pattern is starting to piss me off. I'm already sick of 2009, and I didn't even have a decent chase until late May in 2008. Ah well... such is life in April.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Upcoming Pattern Shift

We're still looking at a pattern shift for the better beginning this weekend. I didn't bother taking any time off of work this week so the first day I'll be considering is Saturday, April 25th.

Right now there are a couple targets worth considering. The popular one thus far has been an area along the dryline from Kansas to the Texas Panhandle. One that has yet to be mentioned, and I'll likely keep to myself (and of course the 2 people that read this blog) is eastern Iowa. This setup is not nearly as enticing as near the main triple point in Kansas, but does have some pros that have me leaning in it's direction.

Shear is not as "woo'ing" as in Kansas near the dryline, and the mid-upper level winds will be more parallel to the boundary which might favor linear convection. However, the GFS has been consistantly weakening the cap in an area in eastern Iowa -ahead- of the boundary which would lead to more unforced cellular convection. Surface winds could be more pretty, but should a storm form in this environment there will be adequate shear for supercells and possibly tornadoes.

This is not a case of not being able to chase Kansas, thus picking a closer target. I could make it to Kansas by Saturday afternoon, but with both targets in easy reach I almost want to just go with the underdog location. There will not be hoards of chasers in this area, which while not that annoying to me personally while on the chase barring a couple idiots, would mean that should a storm decide to go nuts in this area I'll be the only one around.

It's still 96 hours out, so there is no point really in trying to nail down target areas. However, it's kind of to the point where we'll all be watching the models with our targets in mind watching for model consistency.

On a non-Saturday related topic, I've been getting more and more sickened by the online chasing community. The fact that we are now turning this once pure hobby into rewarded competitions makes me want to vomit all over my keyboard. I've considered removing all online contact with the chasing community, but do want to keep touch with the good few people out there. That said, high school-ish as it may sound, I have been going through and "de-friending" the majority of chasers I'm now friends with on Facebook. Unless you're someone I really look up to or respect, or someone I chase along side (which would have to fall into that first category as well, I guess) I just don't care what you have to say. That sounds awfully rude and stuck up of me, and perhaps it is... but I just don't care what most of the people out there have to say. I don't care to have my web browser littered with 50 feaux-tornado observations, new competitions, and SPC chaser "forecasts". I'm slowly going back into recluse mode, and don't really care to have others know all of my business either.

I don't even know where I'm going with this. Point is, the chaser community has derailed, and I don't really care to be associated with it anymore. I miss the early days when I got started, when it was me and the storm. Not me, the storm, and the other 4000 people who are going to ruin my mood by the end of the day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Birthday Chase?

All my life I've wanted nothing more than to go chasing and bag a tornado on my birthday. I mean, it's April 27th... it's not like I'm asking for a terrible time of year. I have had a birthday moderate risk, that being in 2002, but that was a pretty good bust weather-wise. Last year the temperature barely climbed into the 40's and we had a light drizzle with gray overcast skies.

This year looks about as good as it can a week out for some activity around next weekend. Starting mid-week we should see good return flow starting in the wake of this current system. Around Saturday or Sunday we could be seeing severe weather events somewhere in the central US. I'd be up for taking a trip out over my bday weekend, and then hopefully get a couple events locally through the week after that. It might be far out, but this is the first time I've been optimistic about a trend in the models in 2009. I have a good feeling about the April 25-30 time frame.

I've taken advantage of the slow period and done a little tweaking on the website. More rather, updating things I should have updated a long time ago. For those who care about chase vehicle setups, I've completed a little page with some shots of my car in "chase mode". Not really much to see...

I've updated my photo galleries and changed their layouts a little. Maybe I already mentioned that, because it's not super new. You can access each by clicking the individual link under the Photo Galleries section on the main page, on that side bar.

Go Cubs!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring, really?

Well, I'm sitting here on April 13th drinking an ice cold Coke and watching my Cubbies play their home opener at Wrigley Field. Everything seems to be perfectly in place right now, except one thing. I look at the window and see low gray stratus clouds with a light mist and mid-40's temperatures. This isn't a rare case in April, but it seems this has been the case the majority of the days over the last few months. After a brief warm stint in mid-March, the days have been gray and dreary with even mid-50's a rare treat.

While severe weather events are not a guarantee, this seems to be an especially lame start north of the Ohio River in the midwest. It's not even the low number of severe weather setups, it's the dreary weather. I don't need high risks and tornado farms to be a happy camper in the month of April, but show me the sun once in a while, yeah? I've been getting overly antsy to just get out and chase something... see the open road... puffy white clouds. I talked myself out of a desperation chase to Indiana today, which was probably a good thing. There have been a few tornado warned storms with supercell structure, but given the terrain and the marginal setup that will likely lead to a couple nice looking storms on radar but no tornadoes I'll be content staying here. Funny how much more enticing a setup like this is in a slow April than say, mid-June. Wouldn't even pay it any mind late in the year.

There isn't much hope in the near-future, but overall climate trends are favoring an active late-April. The fun stuff doesn't come until the last half of April into early June anyway. It'd just be nice to get out with a few teaser events. There will be chances in the central plains this week, but I'm socked with stuff to do every single day this week so I'll be sitting it all out. Can't say it looks good enough for a trip that far at this point in the year anyway.

Kind of funny last night, Tia made fun of me for being bummed that today's setup had turned to such crap. She made fun of the fact that I was sitting there pouting because the weather would not be awful and dangerous in everyone elses eyes.

For now, I'll continue sitting here watching my Cubs play in horizontal drizzle with temperatures hovering just below 40F, looking out at the long term trends for any sign of convective hope. At least it will be warmer next week, if you want to believe the GFS. Warmer, but even more boring. I'll take boring with sun and warmth over active, but with all the fun being in the south while being north-sided over and over by low pressure systems bringing weather days like today. Maybe I should just move to Tennessee for the early spring months.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tornado Indentification Guide

In response to the recent sudden confusion amongst storm chasers in identifying what is and is not a tornado (or perhaps there is no confusion, only a case of tornado-count-envy) I've decided to create a handy little image glossary to which you may compare your images to, in order to decide if what you bagged the other day was indeed a tornado!

Tornado! We'll start with an easy one. Note the wide area of convection extending from the cloud base to ground level. This is a good indication you are viewing a tornado! Congratulations, you are currently viewing a tornado!

Tornado! Note the condensation cloud extending ALL the way from the thunderstorm base to the ground, with a debris cloud at ground level. This is a good indication that you are currently viewing a tornado!

Tornado! This one is tougher. There is a defined funnel cloud, but it does not fully extend to the ground. But look at ground level, there is indeed a small condensation vortex indicating that damaging rotating winds are reaching the surface indicating, you are currently viewing a tornado!

Funnel cloud. NOT a tornado. While this is a good indication you may see a tornado soon, this is not conclusive evidence that you have a tornado in progress. The storm is rotating, but it is likely not making it to the surface. This is a cool catch in itself, so you might as well call it as it is; a funnel cloud. Sorry, you are not currently viewing a tornado.

Wall cloud. NOT a tornado. A wall cloud is another good indication you may see a tornado with your storm and that there is healthy updraft and potential rotation (a topic for another day) but is not an actual tornado. Note the time of day and distance in this image, as it helps makes things a little harder to see. The complicated viewing location does not however mean you should assume a tornado is in progress. Hard to see storm features do not equal a tornado. Sorry, you are not currently viewing a tornado.

Hard to see wall cloud. Tornado?! Note the lack of a clear view of ground level. Hills and trees will occasionally block your view of the surface under the wall cloud... this is actually NOT a tornado. Just a low hanging wall cloud in a location where a view of the ground is not possible. This does not mean you should be claiming a tornado in progress.

Obscured view. Do not yet post on Stormtrack that you bagged a tornado.

Unobscured view of the same wall cloud. Sorry, you were not currently viewing a tornado.

Gustnado. NOT a tornado. Wow, look at all that dust! Surely I'm seeing a tornado now! Note the linear cloud base indicated by the backside of an outflow dominant storm complex. Often times linear outflow driven storms will have a strong surge of air along the leading edge that will kick up dust, that will at time exhibit weak rotation. The lack of rotation at the cloud level will indicate that this dusty area is overall, harmless.

This is also not to be confused with the "dust whirl". Often times near a wall cloud or under the base of a violent supercell thunderstorm an area of dust may be kicked up. This is under a rotating storm, surely this must be a tornado, right? Often times, no. The underside of a supercell thunderstorm is very chaotic, with wind currents of all sorts heading in different directions. Dust can be kicked up for any sort of reason other than being a tornado in progress, so please, evaluate your situation a little more before calling in a tornado each time you see a dust whirl. Sorry, you are not currently viewing a tornado.

Shelf cloud. This is not even a wall cloud or mesocyclone related, so, please do not tell me any dust you saw under this was a tornado. This laminar cloud structure will likely occur on the leading edge of a linear outflow driven complex of storms and may indicated damaging winds approaching your area, but is one of the best signs that you will not be seeing a tornado in the near future on that storm. Sorry, you are not currently viewing a tornado.

Multiple Vortex Tornado! You are viewing a tornado! However, this area of multiple-vorticies is NOT many many tornadoes. One experienced tornado chaser lost much respect from me when he reported one long track multiple vortex tornado as over 20 &*^@ separate tornadoes. Yes you are viewing a tornado. No, you are not viewing 20 tornadoes.

Tornado! But wait, look at the copyright. I did not take this photo. I was on the storm, and was looking that general direction. HOWEVER, I did not have a view of the tornado from my vantage point.

Being on a storm that has a tornado reported, and looking in the same general direction but having no idea a tornado is in progress, but later finding out that one was reported that you could not see does not equal seeing a tornado. Sorry, you did not view a tornado. There is no such thing as hindsight chasing.

All images on this blog are my own (except the above image, courtesy of Dick McGowan of and should not be reproduced or used without my possession. You may however, share this blog at your own will with your own tornado-identification troubled friends!