Friday, April 22, 2011

4/15 chase photos, and today's plan

Bummed that we didn't get a surprise tornado, and then even more bummed that I sat out a day that produced significant tornadoes in central Illinois I have delayed in putting up the photos that I took on the chase to sw Illinois a week ago today.

Fellow meteorology student, Heather Brinkmann and I intercepted a minisupercell right on the surface low from Farmersville, IL north to Williamsville, IL, near the Springfield area. It produced one funnel cloud that lasted for several minutes, and was reported by law enforcement as a tornado. Never did follow up if it touched down or not, but from our distant vantage point it looked fairly harmless.

I'm going on a convenience chase solo this afternoon toward the Springfield and Jacksonville areas, perhaps further south toward St. Louis. I might not otherwise consider it being this far north, but being a holiday weekend I am planning on heading to Champaign to spend the weekend with the family anyway, so since I'm heading south for that I'm going to keep an eye on perhaps diving a little bit further west before heading home.

It doesn't scream an obvious tornado day, and the target area is currently being worked over by a large mcs. That usually goes one of two ways - either subsidence sets in, and holds strong all day leaving you under nothing but sunny skies, or elevated grunge. That, or subsidence clears things out letting the atmosphere destabilize before clearing out and allowing for thunderstorms to erupt in the wake of the mcs toward evening. We'll hope for option two. I'll likely play right on the warm front, perhaps re-enforced by an outflow boundary left by the current complex of thunderstorms. At this point, lets call my target along a line from Litchfield to Winchester in sw Illinois. This is probably further north than most are playing today, so we'll see how that works out.

Current plan is to get off my butt and actually leave DeKalb, and then evaluate things on the road. If it looks like there is no way in hell things will go once I'm at Bloomington, I'll just head se toward home. But, if it passes the Bloomington test, I'll drop to Springfield and do the same. Once I'm there, I'll figure out if I want to head toward the Winchester target to the west, or drop south to the Litchfield target. I'll do my best to update the blog as I travel using my new nifty droid. Well, new as in, I got it last year and am just now getting to use it for chasing purposes. The stupid thing was having a hell of a time remaining connected to my lap top on the chase last week. Ah well. I need to freaking leave.

Here are some photos... first one is a video capture of the stupid funnel cloud that tried, second being the supercell over Springfield, and last and certainly least, the supercell becoming an HP as it is overtaken by the bow echo behind it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Big won't do it, so we'll go marginal

Going to try my hand at a fairly marginal cold core-esque chase near St. Louis this evening. Will be pairing up with fellow meteorology student here at NIU, Heather Brinkmann. I've been eyeing this one for a few days, and at times it looks amazing, and others not so much. But, typically with a day such as this you won't know for sure until a storm pops up and develops a hook echo quickly and goes tornado warned. That, or we sit and watch mush all afternoon and drive back empty handed.

Will be shooting to be near the St. Louis area around 1 or 2.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shabonna Hike

Made my first trip out to Lake Shabonna for the year this evening. Temperatures were well into the lower 70s, so the weather couldn't have been more perfect. I didn't take a huge hike, and probably wound up walking maybe a mile and a half before parking my butt next to the lake in a little wooded area and just enjoying the quiet for an hour.

The sun eventually began heading down toward the horizon so I decided to start walking back. I hadn't taken any photos yet, so I got the camera out with the idea of taking a few shots on my walk back to the car. I snapped this guy shortly after turning around. With low expectations, this might actually be my favorite shot that I've ever taken out there. Perhaps it's just me. Just something very relaxing about it. With low expectations heading in... this guy just may make it into a frame on my wall.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sameday Lameday

Well, another chase op, and another botch by Mr. Pritchard. Obviously should have been in northern Iowa on Saturday evening but commitments back home in Champaign prevented me from even considering it. I saw some incredible looking hodographs prior to the event but didn't torture myself by watching the entire thing unfold. It wasn't until I was heading back to DeKalb around midnight on Saturday night that I heard what all had happened (and was STILL happening).

Sunday... it just wasn't there. Once I saw the 0z model suite once I arrived back in DeKalb around 2 AM my storm chasing heart sank. Waking up in the morning, it was more of the same. I never even got into chase mode... it was either far into northern Wisconsin or nothing. I should have just gone to the family cottage up there because according to preliminary reports a tornado passed 10-15 miles north of the lake. Of course, had I known that, then yes I would have gone up there but who would have known.

I spent my moderate risk day doing yard work, going grocery shopping, and then making a taco bar for myself and Tia for dinner. An orphan anvil from convection that -tried- to go to our southwest sprinkled on me as I walked back from the grocery store with food in hand. After making a delicious dinner and stuffing my sorrows away, the cold front began to light up. I was in no mood to get suckered out for a storm to die, so I waiting until things were knocking on the door here. A storm rapidly intensified and I figured I was in business, so I finally flew out the door to head NW of town to shoot lightning photos. Once I got out there, it was quiet. Too quiet. Not a single flash of lightning. I brought up radar on my phone and sure enough, I had immediately killed the storm by even leaving the house.

There was more stuff trying sadly to go to the southwest, so I said the hell with the storms, I'll just go to the wind farm. At least I'm happy there, regardless if I have a storm to shoot. I scraped by the west edge of DeKalb and then eventually headed south of town on my usual route to my "sittin' spot" at the wind farm. I didn't even make it halfway before the sky just started lighting up! It was the craziest thing. This storm just went from no flashes at all, to flashing about every 5 seconds. I didn't have time to look for fancy spots to shoot, so I found a farm entrance deal and whipped my car off the road. Threw the camera up and had maybe two or three minutes of lightning before the storm tanked as fast as it blew up. It was quite beautiful for the time that it was around. The moon was out, directly behind the storm and illuminated the towering clouds a light blue color. I could even see the base of the storm (though, no tornadoes like there was supposed to be this day!).

Anyway, I shot this guy, and his little neighbor in the wonderful warm howling south winds before the outflow boundary over took me and I was being sprayed by rain and 40 mph winds. Headed back in a slightly better mood... but not exactly carrying what I'd expected from a day that had everyone poo'ing their pants at three days out.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sunday Funday

Well, it took some convincing but I'm finally there - Sunday looks fun. People had been screaming about this day for the better part of a week already but I just didn't see it. The shape was just not there, if that makes any sense. However, I'm ready to call a fairly decent severe weather event for Sunday evening and the overnight hours for parts of the midwest.

I'm going to be back home in Champaign-Urbana until Sunday morning and am actually going to keep this discussion short so I can hit the road, but here's what I see.

The obvious cons to me are the lack of surface convergence along the dryline during the afternoon and early evening hours across the warm sector in central Iowa. Right ahead of the dry punch in central or eastern Iowa is where I would ideally plant myself right now, but I'm becoming concerned about day-time supercells in this chaseable region. I'd like to see a percentage of how many chase days I'm NOT concerned about potentially not getting daytime supercells in the days preceding them. Also, I would like to see the surface winds back a little more in the warm sector. Where we stand now, we would still probably be talking about supercells producing tornadoes on any storm that managed to erupt, but back the surface flow even slightly and I think we add wedge tornadoes to the menu on this one. The low will essentially bomb out right around sunset, which will likely force a backing of the surface winds in the warm sector. While this would greatly enhance the tornado threat (and associated LOCAL tornado threat in northern Illinois overnight) it may also mean the fun holds off until right around dark.

You just don't see a primed air mass like this ahead of such a dynamic system very often. Look at last week, we had a system that is all sorts of messed up dynamic wise combined with a shallow moisture plume returning to the target area literally just in time. Now, we've got a system that at 60 hours out looks like a system that is darn hard to complain about kinematically, with the MAJOR factor being the fact that a conducive warm and moist air mass will actually be in place the day before the event! Moisture is already surging northward at 60 hours out, and will be in place the afternoon before the event is even progged to happen. Middle 60s dew points have already reached central Missouri. So we've got the system with early spring dynamics, plus an unseasonably buoyant air mass in place well ahead of time. I think that is what interests me most.

I'm confused on what to do about the day though... but there is time. I'd love to scoot into eastern Iowa and bag a tornado or two, but in talking with Gilbert Sebenste moments ago he and I are both concerned about two separate tornado maxima. The first being along the dryline (a dryline in Iowa?!) and cold front during the late evening hours across central and eastern Iowa into southern Minnesota, and then hours later into the overnight a second tornado maxima may occur over northern Illinois, perhaps into southern Wisconsin and central Illinois where the low level jet absolutely howls after dark. That will greatly enhance the tornado threat in what may end up being a broken line of supercells by that point. In that case I would likely try what I can during daylight in Iowa, and then race home down Interstate 80/88 so that I can be back at the homestead before any tornadic supercell came knocking on my overnight doorstep.

So, I'll be handling the forecasting duties for NIU this weekend and have inherited a High Risk from Gilbert Sebenste, so after running through the forecast tomorrow morning I will try to nail down some more specifics on the ole blog. For now, I'm watching the eastern half of Iowa chase-wise, but keeping my third eye on the homestead for a potential duck and cover event.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cycle exploration and campus lights

I finally started on that little idea I had earlier this winter; exploring the DeKalb area on my bike. I'm only planning to live here until I am done using the city for it's University. I'd still like to say that I came, saw, and conquered. I figure, what better way to see the area, and get out in the fresh air than to take to the road on my bike. I've got a sweet early 1980's Sekai 2000 that used to be my grandpa's. I found it stashed away in the back of the garage at the lake house in Wisconsin. It hadn't been used for decades, and I was in need of a new bike. The thing was still in excellent shape and just needed cleaning up, and a new set of tires!

So, Friday afternoon I found myself watching the Cubs lose on Opening Day in classic fashion blowing a lead. My cabin fever was just screaming, but it wasn't an overly beautiful day. It had just finished spitting large snow flakes, temperatures were in the low 40s, and the north wind was screaming. I couldn't take it anymore though, and set off on my bike with no real target in mind. Before no time I was on the outskirts of town, and soon cruising the open country roads. I hit up the airport first, since I had never actually been out that way before. I was hoping I'd time it right and catch a plane landing or something, but it isn't exactly near the top in terms of business.

I hung around on some of the back roads a bit, before looping back around into the east side of DeKalb, actually hooking up with the bike trail that passes through town. I then took that back down toward the old coal loading tower down in the old industrial part of town.

I was about 30 minutes from sunset at this point and could tell we may be in for a decent one, so I decided to just hang there for a half an hour and enjoy some quiet while waiting on the sun to duck below the low clouds we still had in place. In that magic moment, the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds casting everything in a red glow. It soon disappeared, and I made my chilly way back home. I ended up right around 10 miles for the trip, which wasn't bad considering the weather conditions. Hoping for better this week...

I decided against chasing yesterday in Iowa. If the storms had been a bit closer, perhaps I'd have been in the mood for some fun, but I just couldn't get myself to drive 2-3 hours for a non-tornado situation at this point in the year. I figured stuff would blow up into a line and march this direction shortly after dark which is what ended up transpiring. I ventured back to the parking deck on campus and was actually surprised to find quite a crowd. A few were fellow meteorology students from the school, a few were just hanging out enjoying the show and there was another photographer who's name I did not catch who seemed to be out there fairly regularly. I'm sure I'll run into him plenty more.

I had hoped for more cloud to ground action, but a few dinky crawlers on the leading edge had to suffice. The next couple days look fairly bland, if not a little warmer at least. Here's to hoping I can finally get myself inspired to get out and chase down a tornado soon.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

NW Illinois surprise today?

I'm looking much further north than most are today.

If there is any chance for long lived discrete tornado producing supercells I can't see it being anywhere but right on the triple point in northwest Iowa, and along the Illinois/Wisconsin border. Unfortunately, this is where quality moisture will arrive last, so we may never see CI occur in this region. However, right in the moisture tongue where it curls nw ahead of the surface low I do think there will be a narrow daylight shot at an isolated supercell or two. I'd put my money somewhere around Dubuque, IA. Unfortunately this is a difficult target as it hugs the Mississippi River valley. If I feel there is a decent chance at quality moisture arriving in time, and seeing the cap erode in this region I will likely set up somewhere on the Illinois side of the river just south of the Wisconsin border. I'm optimistic that moisture will arrive literally just in time, and that forcing ahead of the low will be enough to kick off a storm before sunset. While it's certainly getting ahead of the game, I believe that if we do see a supercell or two in this region they could be quite beautiful. With these 'moisture arriving just in time' events you'll often end up with high visibility for this part of the country and perhaps some beautiful structure at twilight. That is of course, if we get a storm to go.

I feel strongly about anywhere in se Iowa and northern Missouri being nothing more than a sunset view of a ragged shelf cloud. Due to locational bias, I haven't even looked at the Kansas target.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring has arrived! Sort of...

Well, by all accounts we are exactly where I want to be. The Chicago Cubs are on TV, and I've got a potential chase day coming up! That said, the Cubs have already blown a lead late and are down big and the huge snow flakes falling outside in a rain/snow mix with the temperature hovering around 40F don't scream severe weather. But hey, I'm not about to complain. There isn't much that makes me happier than eyeballing a potential storm chase while watching the Cubs on WGN, win or lose. That pre-season anticipation looms huge on both sides. As always, on opening day I am forever hopeful that this year will be a big one on the North Side. I'm hopeful that the youth movement can make some noise for the Cubbies in 2011! On the weather side, on April 1st I'm always just certain that this will be my most successful year of documenting severe weather ever. Some years it works out that way (2008), and some years it just doesn't (2009)!

2010 was a year of mixed feelings. On paper, it was a year that I have to say is hard to complain about. Several decent tornado intercepts, and perhaps my biggest leaps photography wise even though I only came away with one tornado photograph. That has to change this year. I've already informed Tia that when she chases with me this spring and summer, she is ordered to force the video camera out of my hand and demand that I shoot still photos. There is more than one instance on video this year where Tia has a beautiful shot of the tornado, and rather than snap still photographs I grab the video camera from her and botch the video while not shooting any stills. No more!

I'm wary about getting too excited about the upcoming chase opportunity in Iowa on Sunday evening. After June 5 2010 I said I would not chase in Iowa until it produced a photogenic tornado. I sat out the op a week ago and low and behold a beautiful rope tornado was produced near my target in SW Iowa. I never really considered chasing that far on such a marginal day, but the state did finally produce and my ban has been lifted.

At 48-54 hours out I'm not going to talk about targets, but I'm eyeballing the triple point just ahead of the surface low which should be somewhere in SE Iowa, perhaps into northern Illinois if we're lucky and the more progressive SREF is correct. Ridiculous H7 temperatures for this time of year seem to be capping off every potential warm front day we see in this region during the early part of the season. It appears that the EML will work into the target region early in the day capping things off, but cooler H7 temperatures are advected in during the evening which would theoretically allow for thunderstorm development near the triple point. Now, whether the erosion of the cap is a fluke for this morning's run or not will remain to be seen. I'm hopeful, even though the day will likely place me in Iowa. Monday's potential has gone to crap, and chasing on a weekend would be easier anyway.

So, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't letting myself get a little bit too excited about this one. After such a long winter in which we're WELL above average in terms of cloudy days I really need to get away. Didn't I just come back home from Arizona?