Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elburn, IL Tornado Damage from October Super Storm

Well, the event ended up being a bust for me personally severe weather wise, but storms did cause significant damage in Illinois, and surrounding areas. Back in Champaign, a significant microburst removed portions of a roof from a home, and created havoc in the neighborhood. I'm sure estimated wind speeds will come out of that event as near or just above 100 mph. Just 10 mile away from DeKalb, an EF1 tornado damaged a couple farmsteads NW of Elburn, IL in neighboring Kane County. I went out during the evening to survey the damage. Most of the damage was limited to farm houses and other outbuildings, but one home that was directly in the path of an exploding barn suffered some damage from flying debris.

I put up a video with some clips of the damage, but personally think the photos below tell a better story. For video lovers, here you go. I suppose the high winds in the background a pretty neat:

Here's the flickr set of images:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Convection at dusk last night / tonight's wind

Went out on a "chase" yesterday that ended with a post-sunset intercept of some sub-severe convection near Bloomington, IL. Things looked decent for a couple supercells yesterday evening, but it was unclear if things would go before dark. Being a weekend, I decided to go for it since I was already in the target area of central IL. I left Champaign around 3 PM and made it to my Springfield target where I met up with Jarrod Cook, Mark Sefried and Mike Brady. We shot the breeze for an hour or so before the sun started getting lower on the horizon. Cells began popping up right at sunset, and were lining up along the drive home so we hit the road. I figured if anything went nuts I could easily pull off and shoot lightning photos.

Just as the last little bits of twilight were fading away a cell to my west started to organize, and began spitting out frequent enough lightning that I decided to pull off at the Hudson, IL exit along Interstate 39. I shot this little broken line of storms for probably an hour before they lost their photogenic appearance. With the remaining twilight behind the storms, a nearly full moon front lighting them, and city lights giving off a red glow and the lightning provided by the storms it was a photographer's dream. It's situations like that which almost make the camera operators job easy. All I had to do at that point was set up the camera and keep shooting.

The next 24 hours look very interesting in this region. It's not an ideal tornado chasing setup, but my meteorological senses are getting tingly all over for several reasons. The extreme storm system is expected to bomb out over the Minnesota and Canada border sometime tomorrow with a forecast low of 960 mb, which would rank it among the strongest in recorded history in this area. That alone will cause gradient surface winds of the likes that we have not seen in years. Surface gusts could hit 60-70 mph tomorrow afternoon in Wisconsin and northern Illinois as the dry slot wraps around the system, behind the cold front.

The cold front is another story, as it may bring with it a fast moving round of severe weather. I'd like to get excited about the tornado prospects, as I do think there will be a few tornadoes in central/northern Illinois into Indiana tomorrow, likely early in the morning. However, even if tornadoes do occur, almost everything is against one actually seeing it unless you are unlucky enough to actually be hit. The storms could very well pass through this area very near, or even just before sunrise which would obviously cause any tornado to be hidden by darkness. I don't expect a lot of lightning with the storms, so while night chasing in general is dangerous enough due to your inability to see the tornado, any tornado that strikes before sunrise tomorrow will be almost undetectable aside from radar, which will be hard enough in itself. Then, you add storm motions. Let's say an embedded supercell does begin producing tornadoes. You better be directly in the path of that thing right as it produces, because once it passes you up, at 60 mph the storm has passed you up and your chase is over. Then, you add the embedded nature of the tornado. See my video from the August 19 2009 tornado near Rochester, IL. Let's say you DO get near an in progress tornado. Congratulations, you've passed most odds. Now, can you see it?
The odds are any tornado that occurs tomorrow will not only be fighting daylight, and moving at 60 mph, but it will likely be partially or entirely obscured by rain. The best case scenario, is that isolated/scattered supercells form along confluence bands ahead of the main squall line and you're able to catch a view of one of those potentially classic supercells. However, I think this is a pretty unlikely scenario tomorrow unless some changes take place to the overall synoptic setup. If we end up with supercells ahead of the main squall line, we need to start talking historic tornado outbreak. I'm personally not ready to do that, but the overall "we've never seen anything like this" nature of the storm has my senses tingling, and my interest peaked.

Then, once the squall line of doom passes the area, the dry slot wraps around and we spend a good 12 hours in insane surface winds. We'll probably be seeing sustained winds above 40 mph for a couple hours, and I won't be shocked at all to see an 80 mph wind gust somewhere in Wisconsin or northern Illinois tomorrow afternoon.

I'm not planning a chase, per say at this moment. However, I'll be watching the event closely and will intercept whatever does occur that I feel I can do so safely, and with a potential reward. I'm not in to driving a ton of miles on a Tuesday for video of sideways rain, but should I feel my odds of photographing a tornado, or perhaps insane winds is decent, I have not put away the chase gear after last night's storm.

Flickr set with higher quality images:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Isolated tors in the Land of Lincoln today?

Looking like a pseudo-surprise chase day today in central Illinois. Only a pseudo-surprise because I knew the potential was there, but it looked marginal at best until this morning. Even when I woke up this morning I was fairly negative, but as the day has progressed over just the last two hours I'm feeling much more optimistic about a couple supercells, and even a tornado report or two across west-central Illinois this afternoon. I've got a fairly board target right now, but since I'm in Champaign for the weekend, things will generally be moving this way so I can hang tight and let things unfold. Watching the Springfield to Litchfield area right now, which will eventually move towards the Decatur to Effingham area this evening.

Abundant sunshine and howling south winds right now... how long has it been since we had that on a potential chase day? RUC forecasts have plenty of 0-3 km cape all along the I-55 corridor from St. Louis to Springfield, and even perhaps as far north as Bloomington. Lapse rates in the low levels are very steep. Keep this sunshine going and we could get some low topped storms to erupt along Interstate 55 by around mid-afternoon. It would be nice if we could get surface winds to back to SE in advance of the wave, but I'll settle for southerly. Should be sufficient for at least a couple low topped supercells, and perhaps a tornado or two with the dominant storms.

I'll try to post as updates come along, but for right now I'm eyeballing leaving Champaign at 2 PM with a starting point of Springfield.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hole punch clouds / Russell Woods

Just a brief post as I don't have a lot of time, but had a couple things I wanted to share.

First, and most recent was this evening when we had a couple "hole punch clouds" over the skies in northern Illinois and surrounding regions. I was indirectly alerted by a Facebook post by Scott Weberpal over southern Wisconsin that he had seen a couple this evening. I decided I'd keep my eyes on the sky as we're not overly far apart. In walking home from the grocery store with Tia just after sunset I actually spotted a couple moving overhead. After dropping the groceries off in the house, I hopped back out to the driveway and snapped a shot of them. They aren't the most textbook example, but still a pretty cool thing to see!

Here's a decent explanation of their formation:

Last evening I decided to get out and enjoy a pleasant evening with a rive to Russell Woods, outside of nearby Genoa, IL. It's only an easy 15 minute drive away so I figured it was worth checking out. I didn't have a lot of time before sunset, but it seems like a neat little place. I left the beaten path and explored the deep woods in search of some remaining sunlight to try and capture some fall colors. I didn't find a lot, but did find some hunter's metal elevated platform and decided to give it a climb, which gave me a decent view of the setting sun over the golden cornfields.

Kind of blurry because silly me, did not bother to use a tripod for shit shot.

View from high atop my newly acquired tree top observatory.

Snapped a quick shot of my observatory before I left.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Camping + Chasing

I made a post regarding the topic of camping while storm chasing on my personal facebook page a couple weeks ago, because as time progresses I'm getting more and more gungho about camping in general, and specifically camping while on the road storm chasing. Several storm chasers I know have done this, and for some it was simply the only way they chased. Most of them cited getting older and having more disposable funds to pay for a hotel at the end of the night as the reason they do it less now, or not at all. But hey, I'm a broke student and the idea of roughing it sounds like a blast, so it seems I'm in the prime for getting started.

Wisconsin is what started this all off. There is plenty of space to sleep indoors up there, but this summer I said the hell with indoors, I'm sleeping outside. Tia as always was a sport and humored me on this one knowing how bad the ticks were this summer and that we'd be in the 90s during the day. I promise I vocalize my appreciation for her every single day. We ended up borrowing a tent from her family and were on our way. It ended up being a blast for the most part. The only stumble if you will, was on the final night when a thunderstorm complex hovered around the area. I initially said we'd be fine (and we ended up being just that) but in laying there awake surrounded by little pieces of heaven with the wind blowing through the trees and frogs croaking down by the lake the lightning continued getting more vivid and the thunder a little louder each time. Eventually we decided to call it and head indoors. But first, out of consideration for Tia's family I decided that I wouldn't allow their tent to blow away in a storm and that we'd take it down before heading indoors. Not having contacts in and the dark of night made that a real treat, and Tia managed to get not one, but two ticks on her in that short time but we came out alive.

In the end, how can you really beat this? I posted it before, but here is Tia and my sleeping spot for the Memorial Day weekend:

But now, we're armed and ready. Over the summer I became more and more gungho about doing this more often, and in more places. I decided that I needed a tent of my own, and wound up picking up this sweet Coleman Sundome 4 for about 20 bucks cheaper than normal in a sale at Farm and Fleet here in DeKalb. I picked up a bunch of other camping odds and ends, and by the end of the trip I was armed and ready for some camping domination. Now, if only we were not plowing headstrong into winter. I should add I also ordered an all-terrain air mattress that received rave reviews. The all-terrain label really only suggests it's a little tougher against holes and leaks, but it was also given great comfort ratings. It didn't cost any more than the non-all-terrain, so why not?

My digs for spring/summer/fall 2011:

In becoming gungho for camping in general, I've been thinking more and more about the idea of camping while I'm on the road storm chasing. The price of hotels (hotels that won't make you queezy when you walk in the door, and wary to lay any part of your body anywhere) are a chase killer for a college student chasing primarily solo. I will easily talk myself out of wanting to take a risk on a distant day when it becomes an issue of "Can I make it back home without stopping overnight?" When the answer to that question becomes a 'no', you can add about 65 bucks to your chase price tag unless you manage to meet up with others and split the costs. That's not an assumption I want to make going into the day, however. If I can find somewhere to sleep for FREE, then the chase or don't chase decision becomes a lot easier. To some, it's not worth giving up a hot shower and a comfy mattress, but to me the change is not all that hard to make and in the end I'd almost prefer it this way. It should be obvious enough through my photos that not only do I love severe weather, but I love nature in general. I love the wide open. Okay, so it doesn't have to be wide open so long as I'm enclosed by walls of trees and other naturally occurring boundaries. Winter kills me because I can't get out there and away from civilization. I will never be a city dweller because I simply can not be around urbanization too long without going crazy. My cabin fever not only extends beyond the walls of my home, but to the outreaches of the last building on the edge of town. To be able to plop myself down under the open sky in mother nature's guest bedroom after a storm chase only brings the entire experience full circle.

There are a couple obstacles that come along with this idea, namely inclement weather. However, in the great plains it's generally fairly easy to drive 50 miles or so to the west beyond the threat area and be sleeping easy for the remainder of the night. Should a storm arise in the middle of the night where I lay, I can easily toss everything in my car and ride the storm out. Perhaps to some this seems nuts and beyond the worth of saving money, but to a college student's wallet who NEEDS to chase that moderate risk the next day, an extra two tanks of gas in my wallet is a necessity.

I don't know - I'm just getting more and more antsy for this coming spring and summer thinking about riding around all day looking at beautiful stormy skies, before plopping down a tent and falling asleep under a star filled sky listening to nature, and then waking up in the morning to the sun in my face before doing it all over again. Storm chasing aside, I'll definitely be hitting up the camping scene A LOT next warm season. What a freaking great way to explore the mid-west when the storms are absent. I'll just spend the winter getting more and more gungho and really annoying about my new found love for camping.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Delayed Wisconsin stuff!

Well, I decided to make the steam devil stuff my priority and quickly got that stuff on the blog - but during a busy week quickly forgot about anything else. I was lucky enough to have the steam devil stuff featured on both SpaceWeather.Com, and Wired Science Magazine - thanks to them!

I meant to get a few of the other non-steam devil photos up from last weekend in Wisconsin. The trip ended up going perfectly, even if the weather was iffy at first. Leaving DeKalb under sunny skies and temperatures in the middle 70s, things looked great! However, and I knew it was coming - we punched through the cold front that had been waiting for us on the Illinois/Wisconsin border and were greeted by howling winds and a rapid drop from 70F to 52F by the time we arrived at the lake. Dealing with a completely saturated ground (which is all sand up there) and howling 45 mph winds there was no way the newly purchased tent was staying up. After combating the elements for a half hour, I managed to get the tent upright but as mentioned, the wet soil and howling winds weren't having it so I quickly packed things back up and we moved indoors.

We awoke to beautiful sunny skies and cool, but refreshing temperatures. Scott Weberpal joined Tia and I around noon and with a fire in the fireplace we enjoyed some good ole college football. The Wisconsin game ended up being blacked out by DirecTV so we marched over to Parker Lake Lodge and enjoyed the game with some good company, including a group of cyclists that had just finished biking from Chicago.

That evening Scott and I hit the lake in the row boat where he armed himself with the fishing arsenal, and I armed myself with the camera arsenal. We were accompanied by rather good sized fish leaping at times five feet into the air and flopping back into the water. I'd never seen anything like it on that lake before. It resembled the Asian Carp, of the Illinois River. Unfortunately, after a cold front passage all Scott could muster was an 8 inch or so northern pike that fell off his line before any photo could be taken.

Sunday was supposed to be the first frost of the season with temperatures plunging below freezing. I knew the lake temperature was still in the middle 60s so I figured plenty of lake steam would be present. Well, you all know the rest.

The rest of Sunday ended up being a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. Excluding the debacle that Friday night was weather wise, it was a perfect fall getaway.

Mr. Weberpal giving a face as he awaits that first "bite".

A perfect October evening on Deep Lake.

The morning of the steam devils. Hard to be this. Nothing but myself and the row boat under me making any noise except for the birds.

She won't win any beauty prizes, but this thing has certainly served it's purpose for many a year.
I'd sure trust it over the row boat with camera gear strapped around my neck.

Another hard to beat - the peace and serenity of a middle of nowhere lake, some spicy sausages on the grill, and the lovely Tia standing by with a book in hand.

Tia and her buddies sharing one last moment before the lake freezes over.

I feel like I've still got plenty of ramblings, but I'm just lacking the verbal creativity at this moment. This was hard enough in itself to plug out, but the photos were long overdue.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Steam Devils over Deep Lake

I ventured up north for an early fall weekend get-away to my family's lake house in Wisconsin this past weekend. With the first freeze of the season forecast as temperatures plunged to at or just below 30F and the lake temperature still in the lower 60s I figured photogenic morning steam would be a sure thing. I ended up with that and more, as steam devils, or little vortices in the steam started sprouting up around sunrise. Essentially these guys form under the same conditions that drive dust devils, as well as water spouts and land spout tornadoes, on a much much smaller scale of course.

Little areas of vorticity would be present as the very light winds roll the steam across the lake surface, while little updrafts due to the instability in the lowest of levels stretches the vorticity into at times tight little circulations in the steam. Pretty mesmerizing stuff to watch as they really do resemble little water spouts. I ended up almost core punching one on the row boat just after sunrise and noticed they even created little "swirl" regions at the surface of the water and base of the vortex, exactly as water spouts do. Unfortunately this was too difficult to actually document visually.

I managed a few decent photos, and composed a short video with some clips of some of the more interesting circulations. Unfortunately I hadn't planned on documenting anything interesting video-wise over the weekend so I left the HD camera at home and just had the little back up SD video camera. Better than nothing, I suppose.

For the video, I recommend actually clicking the link and opening in a new, larger window to be able to see some of the more subtle circulations.

There are actually quite a few circulations all in a line in that top photo.

For now I'll leave it at the steam devil stuff, but I've got plenty more to update on from the weekend that I'll save for a time that I'm more alert and coherent. I tried again for steam devils this morning at sunrise after arriving home late last night from Wisconsin and am now pretty crispy. Plenty more photos and other ramblings to come, however.