Jun 052013
 

Checking the Storms!

Checking the Storms!

Active severe weather is expected once again this weekend over the Great Plains the return of a strong jet stream over a high humidity air mass. This time, an area from Nebraska/Kansas eastward to northern Missouri is in my sites.

This is an interesting, but not too uncommon, set up for June. The air is forecast to become unstable on both Saturday and Sunday over the areas mentioned.  The upper level jet stream will return to a stronger flow level but those winds will actually be more out of the northwest instead of southwest or even west.

What this means is that supercells which deviate to the right of the flow would actually travel close to due south!  It requires taking all chasing strategy and rotating it clockwise ninety-degrees.

Now, Saturday looks like a Nebraska, northern Kansas target. The only way to do this chase safely is to stay overnight.  Since there would be another storm chase possible on Sunday to the east, I’d hang out for that one and then come home late on Sunday.

So if there is anyone who would like to make a weekend of it, let me know!  Keep in mind that storm season is winding down and/or shifting too far north so this may be one of the last chances!

The other option would be to forget Saturday and only chase Sunday. I’m less sure about severe weather (well chase-able stuff anyway) on this day but hey, this many days out, there’s room for it to come together.

So in this case, leave Sunday morning, come back Sunday night. Tentative target area northeast Kansas into northern Missouri.

This is really all up to demand.  Let me hear from you!

ted@tedwkeller.com

 

Jun 042013
 

El Reno Tornado of May 31st, 2013

El Reno Tornado of May 31st, 2013

Tornado intercepting, media reporting, storm gawking, storm chasing, storm tours, storm research and storm spotting ; all of these activities involve being in the field or on the road and close to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.  But what are the differences?  And what is considered “close”?

Let me start with storm spotting. Storm spotters form the backbone of the severe weather warning process and here’s why: these volunteers are dispatched to pre-determined locations during potentially severe weather to watch for threatening weather. Usually, spotters are in areas with good visibility and positioned in a westerly direction from towns or cities. This is of course to watch activity coming in from the west. Spotters are not chasers. The vast majority of storm spotters are HAM radio operators.  Many of them are rescue, first responders or law enforcement officials.

Storm researchers are often out during severe weather.  In my definition, this includes collecting meteorological data in close proximity of storms.  Doppler radar on wheels and mobile meso-net vehicles (vehicles with sensors on board) fall into this category.  A handful of universities have teams which go out during severe weather situations.  There are private individuals which perform research too.  Tim Samaras, who died in the El Reno tornado (along with his son Paul and another researcher Carl Young), was one such researcher.  He endeavored to place flat, disk-looking probes in the path of a tornado in order to collect pressure information and video cameras shots from various angles.

I remember watching a video presentation given by Tim Samaras at a severe weather conference.  The video showed his deployment of a probe in front of the Manchester, SD tornado in 2003.  The really amazing thing to me was after he placed the probe, he looked up at the approaching tornado, looked back at this probe, picked up the probe, ran down the road with it and placed in a better spot! All of this occurred of course while the tornado was getting closer and closer.  I still use the pressure drop data collected by “probe 3”  in my Weather and Climate lab.

Pressure Drop Measured by  a Tim Samaras Probe

Pressure Drop Measured by a Tim Samaras Probe

The scientific contributions made by Tim Samaras toward understanding the dynamics of tornado is to be honored, as is his passion for what he did and the concern he showed for the safety other chasers. He will be missed.

Storm chase tours take paid guests out into the field to chase down severe storms and tornadoes.  Some of the long established tour groups have a solid reputation for safety.  Many other have popped up recently promising a wild ride and an extreme adventure.  There are a lot more of these than there used to be. I started a formal chase tour company myself this year.  If you have read my blogs, you know my philosophy on what is safe and what isn’t. Most of these groups don’t get too close.  I sell mine on the whole experience, from forecasting to road strategy to field observation to radar interpretation.  Seeing a tornado would be great, if it can be done safely!

Storm chasers fall into a broad category. Some are out there to get great video. Some like the thrill and challenge of predicting which storms will “go” and then figuring out how to catch them.  Many are very responsible, calling in storm reports and rendering assistance to storm victims. Many chasers are essentially mobile spotters. There are many cases where vital storm reports for a given area come from chasers who might live states away.

An ever increasing proportion of chasers are casual storm gawkers who use their mobile phone for a radar screen and go. They usually don’t travel very far from home. They have very little understanding of what they are looking at. Terms like storm motion, mesocyclone occlusion or rear flank downdraft mean nothing to them (but boy are they important!)

Media chasers are both local and national.  It is common in larger television markets or those in “tornado alley” to deploy helicopters during severe weather. Many capture the tornado in action. We saw such a copter flying along the southern edge of the El Reno storm on Friday.  Of course, The Weather Channel drew a lot of attention to itself  when Mike Bettes and producer were rolled several times in their vehicle by the El Reno tornado.  They are extremely lucky to be alive.

Then there are the tornado interceptors like the Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV) with Sean Casey and the Dominator with Reed Timmer.  These folks drive right at tornadoes and strive to be very close if not ultimately inside of them. Now the vehicles they drive are armored, offering a great deal of protection.

Our Chase Path Relative to the El Reno Tornado

Our Chase Path Relative to the El Reno Tornado

The reason I’m going through the trouble of distinguishing between these groups is that the term “storm chaser” is used as a net to capture all of this activity. So when people say “storm chasers save lives” or “they cause road congestion” or “they set a bad example and are reckless  ” or “they are collecting valuable scientific  information”, well, some fit these definitions better than others!

Since I just started chasing storms is tour company mode and in light of the recent events in Oklahoma, I have to ask myself  “am I out there for the right reasons?” and “am I comfortable doing this?”  My answers is yes.  I feel like I am responsible and careful.

I said I would talk about how close is too close.  Generally, distance buys safety!  The farther away you are, the more time you have to react.

I do need to make a statement from a meteorological perspective: there is no reason to believe that any tornado will move in a linear or continuous sort of way!!  Mother nature gave us some ominous signs this season: Cleburne, TX and Bennington, KS come to mind.  Tornadoes near both of these cities were large, dangerous and made some unusual turns. My blog on the Cleburne tornado can be read here.

My sincere hope is that all “storm chasers” carefully consider all future chases.  Learn, err on the side of safety and remember that the entire development of severe storms is a process and a quite amazing one at that.  Appreciate the whole package!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 032013
 

The View Due North From Near Minco OK at 7:13 p.m.

The View Due North From Near Minco OK at 7:13 p.m.

In part one, I described being on the southern edge of the El Reno/Union City tornadic supercell.  Now I’ll discuss what we saw at our new position as another circulation developed to the WNW. I’ll also tell you about an exodus out of the Oklahoma metro area!

We could no longer stay with the stronger circulation which was connected to the El Reno/Union City tornado. It was headed for the metro area of Oklahoma City and the interstates, I-44 and I-35, were not doable.

Therefore we set our sights on a new circulation center which was taking shape northwest of us.  We drove south a tad and then set up northeast of Minco, OK. It was a relief to find a good vantage point without a crowd of chasers or other traffic nearby!

From here we watched carefully, looking at first to the northwest and then eventually north. Once again, wall clouds and perhaps rain-wrapped tornadoes might have been located right where we were looking but they were not visible.  Eventually, a rear flank downdraft swept over our position from the west. It was time to move on.

As we only had about 30 more minutes of usable light and with yet another circulation taking shape to our northwest, we thought maybe one more stand somewhere was possible.  But a flow of traffic south out of the Oklahoma metropolitan area had other ideas!

It was incredible.   Traffic moving south on highway 4 was just creeping along.  It was common for vehicles to turn on their flashers and treat the northbound lane as a southbound lane!  Jeff and Bryan fortunately used smartphones and found a series of back roads which got us off the main highways while also staying off of I-44 and I-35.

Along the way, while passing just southwest of Norman, we could see power flashes (power transformers being knocked down) to the northeast.  I imagined while in the situation that this was caused by straight line winds. It remains to be determined by survey teams out of Norman whether a small tornado was connected to the flashes.

Combo Chase Graphic for 7:13 p.m.

Combo Chase Graphic for 7:13 p.m.

We had to travel south to Purcell, OK to find the next route east out of the area.  While traveling east on highway 39, streams of cars where headed west. Also, for at least 20 miles, every north-south road which stopped at 39 was clogged with headlights coming from the north as far as you could see.

We felt like refugees.  It was surreal. People were scared.

It was a combination of being literally ambushed by tornado tracks over the last few weeks along with advice to flee if you could and also just normal rush hour traffic.

I have more to talk about including the overall situation that day in the Oklahoma City area, the tragic deaths of veteran storm chasers, the close call of other chasers, my overall view of storm chasing and a list of links and resources you should check out. I hope to release the third blog on Tuesday.  I also have a video review in the works!

In the meantime, please watch this excellent documentary on the chase experience that day as recorded and recollected by tour guest Bryan Snider.

 

 

Jun 022013
 

Rotation in Storm Near Bridgeport, OK

Rotation in Storm Near Bridgeport, OK

My guests on this chase tour were Bryan Snider from Phoenix, AZ  and Jeff Bowers from Springfield.  Jeff and I left Springfield around 9 a.m.  Bryan flew into Tulsa the day before and we picked him up along the way.  My thanks to both of them for the support, documentation and navigation help during this storm chase tour!

Anyone who is familiar with my blogs knows I avoid metropolitan areas while storm chasing.  I had no idea how much this philosophy would pay off on this day.

This chase consisted of a series of well-timed moves. We know the trouble would start somewhere west or northwest of the Oklahoma City.  We went down to Chickasha, OK and hung out just west of town a bit. This is when we first noticed some storm towers trying to poke through the cap. A cap is a warm layer of air aloft which tends to limit or prevent vigorous thunderstorm growth. A cap can be broken by daytime heating or by air being forced up through it.  It was apparent these first attempts were collapsing. It was also apparent that in about an hour, the cap would break.  This stop is where the first videos, pictures and time lapses were taken.

We then headed west to Anadarko, OK to get better aligned with the building cumulus towers.  More checking, more adjustments.  We headed north toward Binger, OK.

As we got to Binger, the first storms became visible.  Instead of the tops getting squeezed off by the cap, we now had a full-fledged storm with a base staring back at us!

While moving north, we had a choice to make: left would put us through Binger and on to Bridgeport on Interstate 40 while right would take us more northeast. I decided, based on what I was seeing, to take the slightly more westerly route northward.

The very interesting stuff starting happening while sitting in a casino parking lot just south of I-40 near Bridgeport. There were three cells on radar, which went under a severe thunderstorm warning shortly after our arrival. The southern most cell started to take over.  I’m pretty sure we were looking at the beginning rotation of what would eventually become the El Reno tornado. (see phot0)

Going east on I-40 wasn’t really an option given the eventual ESE motion of the storms. We decided instead to backtrack south to Hinton, OK and then to “stair-step” southeast, staying south of the storm. This also had the advantage of keeping south of the Canadian River and therefore good exit option south.

We stopped to try and see what was obviously a strong tornado developing (radar rotation very tight) to our north near I-40 but we just couldn’t see it through the rain! We did see a television helicopter flying back and forth along the southern edge of this storm.

Eventually, we ended up over on highway 81 south of Union City.  I check radar storm motions carefully and decided we could drive north just a bit toward Union City.  The next stop we made allowed us to see the Union City tornado to our NNE.  Once again, poor contrast and lots of rain prevented a clear view of this dangerous storm.  I’m told this afternoon that Bryan could see the tornado with the footage he shot and I’m anxiously awaiting this view of the storm!

Now, we decided as a group that further pursuit of this tornado was simply not an option as it was heading for Oklahoma City.  About then, we noticed a new circulation developing to our northwest.  We focused on getting in a good position to see this storm should it develop more.

In part two, I’ll talk about the second circulation and about the mass exodus out of the Oklahoma City metro area.

Also, a video review is in the works along with more pictures for the slide show.

 

May 302013
 

Severe Outlook for Friday

Severe Outlook for Friday

The atmosphere over Oklahoma looks quite unstable on Friday. This combined with a strong jet stream will mean another round of severe storms for that area.

I will likely be targeting an area close to the dry line over central Oklahoma.

“Tornado Ted’s Storm Chase Tours” will leave on a chase around 9 a.m. on Friday. I believe we have two guests already and there’s room for a few more!

For review, this is a one day chase; we’ll come back to Springfield in the Midnight to 1 a.m. time frame.

The cost is $199 per guest.  If I confirm guests today, some cash back will kick in. $10 each for two guests, $20 for three, etc.

Contact me via social media or e-mail at: ted@tedwkeller.com

 

 

May 282013
 

cherokee_tornado_slidesThe system in the central U.S. continues to remain a big player in severe storm and tornado development through Friday.

I have prior commitments on Wednesday, giving several talks on severe storms to CU workers.

On Thursday and Friday, more severe storms are expected. At this time, it looks as if the storm activity on both days will stay east of I-35 in Kansas and Oklahoma. This makes these two days either two separate “Quick Shot” chases (there and back in one day)  or a modified “Lock and Load”  (we chase, stay overnight and chase again the next day before arriving home).

This has been an active spring with lots of noteworthy tornadoes and severe storms.  This pattern is very good for “more of the same”!

Storm chasing is a fantastic experience.  It is thrilling to pick targets, make decisions, watch the storms ignite, track them, make adjustments, check the radar, recheck the data and rethink the chase!  The tour will always push to the absolute limit of daylight to give you every opportunity to see storms.  It’s even better if you don’t have to figure out where to go, fuel the car, buy the technology, the list goes on. Let a professional do the work!

The cost for a “Quick Shot” is $199 with multiple person discounts.

If anyone shows an interest in a “Lock and Load”, the cost is $499 (includes one night stay, single occupancy).  Multiple person discounts and roommate savings would also apply.

This Spring, I have logged over 4,800 miles in storm chasing!  My total fuel costs are around $930. I’m serious about storm chasing and have a desire to make it a trip you won’t forget!

Contact me via social media or e-mail at: ted@tedwkeller.com

 

May 282013
 

Moisture (humidity) Convergence at 5 pm

Moisture (humidity) Convergence at 5 pm

The chasing tour went out to Kansas on Memorial Day.  My choice for developing storms didn’t pan out as well as areas north of our position.

First off, we were treated to some awesome turbulent eddies on the underside of a cold outflow boundary in western Missouri along highway 7.

We traveled up to Kansas City and then west along I-70. We ended up on the southern end of tornado watch which was hoisted for northern Kansas and southern Nebraska.

The key meteorological players in this chase were the dry line, an old cool air boundary and an upper level storm coming out of Colorado.

Turbulent Clouds Above a Cold Outflow of Air

Turbulent Clouds Above a Cold Outflow of Air

Chasing is full of decisions.  One of them often is: do we need to travel farther or is where we are just fine?  If this particular tour was un-tethered (meaning we could spend the night) the distance from Springfield is not much of an issue.  But for tours requiring coming back the same day, distance plays a factor.  Here’s what happened.

The combination of low level wind shear and unstable air was extreme across a large area of central Kansas, curling northwestward into Nebraska and even portions of Colorado.

This was out ahead of a dry line. The dry line is a major player in the development of severe storms in the Great Plains.  This line was moving eastward and was producing a great deal of converging, unstable air. (largest blue bulls-eye on map)  We eventually ended up around Ellsworth, KS which is just southeast of Russell. (in the bulls-eye).  All parameters looked good.  Towers (tall cumulus clouds wanting to be storms) were visible from our location. As radar looked better we literally moseyed along, staying  ahead of the developing cells.

Now, rewind just a bit because a discussion did occur about the merits of travelling north to near the Nebraska border to chase.  This would have been closer to the center of the eventual tornado watch.  But everything looked nearly perfect where we were, so we stayed put.

I say this because as it turns out, a supercell did travel out of Nebraska and into extreme northern Kansas. This tornado was captured near Cora, Kansas by the seemingly fearless (and armored!) Reed Timmer and troop.  I included the video below. While we were staying ahead of the storms we decided to chase, a tight rotation could be seen on this  northern storm. However, it looked severely wrapped in rain (video shows this) and therefore only someone willing to be right on top of it would see anything.  That is something my tours will never do!

After following the storms of choice it was starting to become clear they weren’t organizing. It appeared to be a combination of warm air aloft coupled with slightly less overall shear. This meant storms were being forced from below but needed continuous forcing to keep going. Also lack of great shear lead to multicell clusters rather than supercell storms.

The low level rotation was however quite good which lead to shots like the ones I included in the video: hints of low level rotation but no supporting, sustained updrafts above.

As a chaser, I’d love to see a tornado every time. But the goal of chasing with me is to learn about what makes severe storms, why they form where they do and why sometimes they don’t.  Seeing a tornado is a treat when storm chasing; it is certainly not a guarantee. Especially when additional non-meteorological considerations of safety and distance are thrown in.

Here are some videos:

Amazing Video from Inside this Tornado from Sean Casey and the TIV

Reed Timmer in the Dominator

My Review From the Road of the Chase

May 272013
 

tor_probs

SPC Tornado Outlook as of 6 a.m. Monday

I’m heading out on a storm chase to north central Kansas today!

Note: 8 a.m. SPC now up to a moderate risk!

The dry line, currently present in southwest Kansas will advance east and northeast today.  It will do so into air which will be very unstable. Also, a temperature boundary will be left behind by a line a storms now advancing through northeast Kansas.

All of this will set the stage for possible tornado development.  The area in yellow is pretty much the target area with only minor adjustments needed.

I am hoping that any tornadoes that develop today will do so over open country! (my last two chases had tornadoes in metro areas: Wichita and Oklahoma City).

This is a “Quick Shot” tour with no overnight stay. We’ll leave the city around 10 a.m. We would be back in Springfield between Midnight and 1 a.m.

Anyone who is interested call contact me via social media or e-mail at: ted@tedwkeller.com

Upcoming Storm Chase Tours

 Posted by at 8:25 am on May 26, 2013  Storm Chase Forecast  No Responses »
May 262013
 

SPC Outlook for Severe Storms Monday

SPC Outlook for Severe Storms Monday

The weather pattern this week is evolving much as it did last Saturday-Monday over the central U.S. Several rounds of severe storms will occur with severe weather expected somewhere in the central U.S. each day through at least Thursday.

With regard to my tours, here’s how it might shake out:

Monday

I’m considering a “Quick Shot” one day tour to northeastern Kansas on Monday.  I’ve been watching a streak of jet stream winds which could develop over this area, enough to produce supercell thunderstorms.  There would be ample unstable air in place.

We would leave by late morning Monday and come back in between Midnight and 1 a.m.

Tuesday

While the pattern will be slightly more favorable on Tuesday, it will be a tad farther away. While this would normally trigger a “Lock and Load” tour requiring an overnight stay, I have prior commitments on Wednesday which would likely prevent me from chasing.  Tuesday might change into a “Quick Shot” depending on exactly how the pattern evolves. This would be doable, stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday

Prior commitments, no chasing

Thursday-Friday

These are a way off still but there are pretty good indication of a strong jet stream and unstable air will continue to be in close proximity. Chasing is definitely on the table for these days.

As always, contact me on social media or my e-mail if you are interested in an exciting storm chase tour!

ted@tedwkeller.com

May 212013
 

The radar view once we settled in on the hill

The radar view once we settled in on the hill (white circle)

The Moore/Oklahoma city was the single most devastating storm I have tracked while storm chasing!  I sit here the next day thinking about the destruction and loss of life caused by the storm and I still get a bit weak.

I’m writing this blog from a storm chasing perspective.

When you set out to chase storms, lots of factors need to be considered.  The one I wrestled with yesterday was seeing the incredible signature on radar, knowing it was a low-to-the-ground tornado and realizing it was likely tearing apart the towns it was striking, how do you chase?  My answer was: you don’t!  Not in this situation.

If we had come up from the south or west, it would have been different.  The tornado developed over open areas with good visibility at the start.  Here’s one video (although still way too close for a tour group!):

When it comes to the safety of guests, I wasn’t willing to drive into a relatively unknown metropolitan area to chase this storm. I actually think we would have been successful at seeing this monster tornado had we decided to drive in. But with regular traffic, gawkers,  emergency vehicles, flying debris (it goes farther than most people realize, the day will come when a chaser is hurt or killed by this!) and the unknowns about the exact size of the storm, it was a conscious decision not to chase any closer.

We decided to wait for the storm to come to us.  We spent a lot of time searching for a safe spot with a good view. But as I found out last year, the area east of the Oklahoma City area is much like the Ozarks, lots of hills and a surprising number of trees.  It took us about a half hour.  We ended up on a hill which provided a great vantage point but in a surreal twist we were just on the southern edge of the path of the tornado which struck Shawnee the day before!

The idea was to watch the tornado pass safely to our north. Fortunately, the violent tornado lifted. We saw the storm, tracked the weaker circulation and watched in pass to our north.

During the entire time coming down from Missouri through Oklahoma, the focus was on the science of severe weather forecasting.  We talked about things such as dew point depressions, helicity, old outflow boundaries, CAPE (a measure of unstable air), the dry line, jet stream winds and rotation cuplets on radar.

My tours are about the science of forecasting severe thunderstorms, tracking their development, explaining what is happening and staying safe!  Seeing a tornado is a great experience, I strive to do it, but it has limits.

Here’s a bit of video leading to our hill top perch: