Mar 172015

tor_lowSevere weather hasn’t been very widespread this year in the U.S. and the Ozarks have been quiet too.

Through March 19th, we haven’t had any severe thunderstorm or tornado warnings in the Ozarks. This is certainly good news and not too unusual for our area.

But the U.S. has been quiet too.  Only about 20 tornadoes have been reported since January 1st. This is far below the 10 year average of 130 tornadoes for the same period.

The jet stream pattern holds the key to understanding the lack of severe storms.  The entire eastern and central U.S. has been in a persistent pattern of strong cold fronts diving far south. This has prevented the development of areas of warm and unstable air necessary for storms.

It’s actually not too unusual to have tornadoes in the deep south in winter but the pattern this year has mostly shut this down.

Edited from a press release from NOAA:

NORMAN, Okla. During a month when severe weather typically strikes, this March has been unusually quiet, with no tornado or severe thunderstorm watches issued by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center so far. And, National Weather Service forecasters see no sign of dramatic change for the next week at least.

“We are in uncharted territory with respect to lack of severe weather”, said Greg Carbin, SPC’s warning coordination meteorologist. “This has never happened in the record of SPC watches dating back to 1970.”

Since the beginning of 2015, the SPC has issued only four tornado watches and no severe thunderstorm watches, which is less than 10 percent of the typical number of 52 tornado watches issued by mid-March. The approximately 20 tornadoes reported since January 1 is well below the 10-year average of 130 for that time period.

There is no one clear reason to explain the lack of tornadoes, Carbin said. “We’re in a persistent pattern that suppresses severe weather, and the right ingredients — moisture, instability, and lift — have not been brought together in any consistent way so far this year.”

Forecasters expect a change soon, however. April and May are typically the busiest months for severe weather and tornadoes. Patterns can change in a few days, Carbin said, and it’s important to be prepared for severe weather when it occurs.

Analysis of the ten lowest and ten highest watch count years through the middle of March reveals little correlation to the subsequent number of tornadoes through the end of June. For example, early 2012 was particularly active with 77 watches issued through mid-March. The subsequent period through the end of June was unusually quiet for tornadoes with about 130 fewer EF1 and stronger tornadoes occurring than what would normally be expected. On the other hand, 1984, with a relatively low watch count of 28 through mid-March, became more active and by late June had about 100 EF1 and stronger tornadoes above the long-term mean of 285.

Sep 022014



Stockton Wall Cloud – Austin Houp

National Weather Service storm surveys reveal two addtional EF-1 tornadoes in northern Newton County near Saginaw.

The first round of storms came into the Ozarks as a line from the northwest during the pre-dawn hours.  The line was beginning to lose some of its energy but it was still able to produce widespread 45-50 mph winds in Springfield.  A power pole was snapped on north Glenstone near Evangel College which knocked out power in that area.

More storms began to develop during the early evening.  A storm which passed over Stockton, Missouri around 7 pm showed increased rotation around 7 pm.  The storm had an impressive wall cloud as viewed from the Stockton High School.  This storm was tornado-warned as it continued east into Polk County. Several other photos showed the impressive circular flow in the lower portion of the storm.

Another line of storms approached extreme southwest Missouri in the 11 o’clock hour.  This line produced a swirl or small scale low at its northern end as it passed just south of Joplin in extreme northern Newton County.  This small scale low appears to be responsible for an EF-1 tornado touchdown near Leawood around 11:08 pm, part of a more extensive area of wind damage.

Wind damage continued to be reported as the low traveled east-northeast. Damage was reported in Aurora and also in Republic before the feature fell apart over Greene County and Springfield after midnight.

Related Content: Slideshow of Radar Images and the Joplin Area Tornadoes

Jun 162014

Matt Coker

Matt Coker

Most people won’t see one tornado in their lifetime much less two.  But cameras were all over a Nebraska supercell thunderstorm on Monday evening as it produced two tornadoes at the same time!

There are many ways a thunderstorm can produce multiple tornadoes.  One way is for one tornado to die away and back up into the colder part of the storm while a new tornado takes shape, usually to the east or southeast of the old tornado.

Thunderstorms which produce multiple tornadoes like this are called cyclic tornadic supercells.

In the Ozarks, the Stockton tornado of May 4, 2003 was actually the second of a total of three tornadoes produced by one supercell thunderstorm.

Aug 022013

Radar/Clouds/Instability at 3:30 p.m.

Radar/Clouds/Instability at 3:30 p.m.

Here is an update to the severe storm potential for later this afternoon and evening.  I also have a video briefing recorded at 3 pm you can view.

All of the Ozarks continues to be in a slight risk for severe storms.  The same area is in a broad 2% risk of a tornado.

Isolated non-severe cells have bee popping up over southwest Missouri this afternoon. They do no pose much of a threat for severe storms.

Areas of extreme western Missouri and all of eastern Kansas have seen the air become increasing unstable through the late afternoon hours. Storms which fire in these areas will quickly become severe and slide east southeast through the evening hours.

There is a boundary in western Missouri I will eye carefully for any storms which latch on providing an enhanced severe or even weak tornado threat.

Otherwise, the best chance for severe weather is between 5 and 7 pm and west of Springfield.

Thereafter, the storms will congeal into a large rain machine.  Flash flooding will be possible over some areas of the Ozarks and a Flash Flood Watch is in effect for tonight and through the weekend.

Here is by VBLOG of the severe threat recorded at about 3 pm. Stay alert!

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!


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:



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!

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