Monday, May 28, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
The chase began near La Crosse, Kansas where we followed a couple of developing supercells that had quite a bit of dust kicking out from under their ouflow. We followed a right-moving cell for quite some time, all the way to Bunker Hill, Kansas, as it cycled through weak and strong stages. This is the storm that produced the aforementioned string-like funnel cloud. Many a wall cloud came from this storm, but it was just too disorganized of a structure to get things going for a tornado. The storm that would form quite a few tornadoes (including an EF2-rated one near... you guessed it... La Crosse, Kansas) finally got its act together just to our southwest near sunset, but we had to bug out just as that was happening because we were so far away from Oklahoma City where we needed to be so that our tour guests could fly out. It's really too bad that we had to miss these tornadoes, but that's part of having to deal with the logistics of tour guests and the unpredictability of storm chasing. The storm structures were certainly spectacular though and we did see quite a few gustnadoes and dust being blow around. Video from these storms will be processed and uploaded tomorrow night when I get some time.
Yesterday and today have really been the same day for me. After we finished chasing in Central Kansas we had to make a bee line for Oklahoma City, where we made it in to town just after 3:30am this morning. My flight left at 7:35am this morning meaning I had to be at the airport around 6am, so I actually had no time to sleep in the interim. It's good to be back home in Louisville after being so tired! During these three weeks I've been with Storm Chasing Adventure Tours this month we've gone 8,383 miles across Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas. There are so many areas that we visited this season that I've never been to before, especially near the Mexican border in Laredo, Texas and Big Bend National Park. But I'm not done yet. After a few weeks at home and abroad, I'll be back out storm chasing again for a week starting on June 23rd and going through the 30th. This is typically a time where severe weather is found up north in the Dakotas and Nebraska, so I'll be flying out to Denver in about a month's time to meet up with everyone. A photo album of this year's chase so far can be found on my Flickr and Facebook accounts along with the slideshow below:
Friday, May 25, 2012
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Thursday, May 24, 2012
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Tomorrow will likely be a travel day back to Kansas or Southern Nebraska as we await Friday's potential chase setup. Storms tomorrow will be up near the Great Lakes in Wisconsin and Michigan and we just don't chase there due to the distance from the Plains and lack of good chase environment up there. Strong capping should keep storms from going up in the central and southern Plains, but we'll keep an eye on that in case that changes. Friday's setup may be decent if capping aloft doesn't ruin it. A deepening trough out in California and hopefully some better moisture return from the Gulf of Mexico should create potential for severe weather. A strengthening low in Southeast Colorado/Southwest Kansas should provide ample surface wind support for rotating storms should this pan out as forecast. The Storm Prediction Center already has a 5% risk area for this in their 3-day severe weather outlook. I'm crossing my fingers that this setup will yield some good storms because Friday is my last day chasing in the Plains until late June!
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012
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Monday, May 21, 2012
Yesterday evening we saw a wonderful view of the annular solar eclipse just south of Lubbock, Texas. This was my first solar eclipse and even though clouds obscured our view of the maximum "ring of fire" portion of the eclipse, it was a spectacular sight. It was good that we had an eclipse because the storm threat that we were targeting in that area was never realized. A good convergence boundary formed and intensified quite a bit, but it seems the "cap" (warm layer of air aloft) was too strong to get any good storms going. There was one small storm that formed to our east, but it quickly dissipated since it was moving into cooler air.
This morning we're waking up to some very good news. Last night's model runs, particularly of the Rapid Refresh, were quite pessimistic about today's setup in Northeast New Mexico and the western Texas Panhandle but early this morning things changed around considerably. The main difference here that I've noticed is the amount of moisture that will be available in this area. For example, the 4z run of the RAP model late last night had dew points near 50 degrees in Northeast New Mexico. The 13z run of the same run this morning has dew points from 60 to 65 degrees. That's a huge difference! Right now the dew points in the northeastern section of New Mexico are in the mid to upper 50's, so the newer runs of the RAP model with the increased moisture are looking good since higher dew points will move in this afternoon.
Having these higher dew points is so important because this moisture is pure thunderstorm fuel. Putting more moisture into the air near the surface increases instability because you have more latent heat contained in the air as it rises. As such, the CAPE (instability) forecast on the RAP model has responded very positively to the model's higher "correction" in dew point this morning and we're looking at a situation where instability should be quite good at just under 3000 J/kg in most spots around Northeast New Mexico, parts of Southeast Colorado, and the western Texas Panhandle. This is pretty good!
Now that we've cleared moisture and instability for take-off on this event, let's go over what the winds will be doing. The change in the surface wind forecast between last night and this morning hasn't been as great as the change in dew point, but we're still seeing some differences. Winds today will mostly be out of the south-southeast or southeast in the region, with some places especially in Northeast New Mexico seeing a more easterly wind vector than what models were showing yesterday. Storms today will be forming in what we call upslope flow, so having more easterly winds blowing up the higher elevations in this region should create an ample source of lift. This should also increase wind shear a bit due to a contrast with the northwesterly winds aloft at 500 mb (18,000 ft) and create the potential for more organized, isolated storms. When you couple helicity, which is spinning in the atmosphere that takes wind shear to create, with the increased instability that we'll be seeing in a mathematical formula, you get an index called the Energy Helicity Index (EHI). I usually don't look at indexes and parameters too much since they get in the way of looking at the basics behind a storm setup, but EHI is one I do like because it's simple and gives you a decent idea where a tornado threat may set up since helicity and instability are so important. Values last night were slim to none on the models for EHI in our target region, but today with the increased moisture creating more instability we're seeing a marked upswing in forecast values to 2 or more in places.
Even though these values are higher than previously thought for today, we're still not looking at any sort of severe weather or tornado outbreak here. What we are seeing is increased potential for an isolated, organized chance for severe weather in this region that may carry a bit of a tornado threat with it. Right now we're monitoring current conditions across the area and picking out where storm formation may first occur. We drove through some storms this morning on our way from Lubbock to Amarillo as you see on radar there to the right, but those are clearing and the majority of the western Texas Panhandle and Northeast New Mexico is now clear from the rain. A pretty shallow cloud deck is hanging around in Northeast New Mexico at the moment, but there should be time to burn that off and create instability from the heating of the day this afternoon.
Taking all of these factors into account, the Storm Prediction Center has issued a Slight Risk for severe weather in portions of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and even the extreme western Oklahoma Panhandle. The Slight Risk includes a 2% tornado risk due to the increased shear and instability that's expected this afternoon that could create some supercell storms. I'm not a big fan of the northwesterly winds aloft at 18,000 feet today because you generally want southwesterly winds up there to bring in drier air aloft and enhance wind shear a little bit more, but this will have to do today. We've seen decent storms with this kind of upper-level wind situation before so it's not enough to rule anything out. It's nice to be able to chase on a day when we thought we would not be able to, so anything we see today will be icing on that cake!
Sunday, May 20, 2012
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Saturday, May 19, 2012
A rash of tornadoes southwest of Wichita, Kansas near Harper has us a little down this evening since they happened during our day to switch up tour groups in Oklahoma City. Unfortunately there was damage reported with these tornadoes, which seemed to be all rope-like based on the photos being posted via social media. The rope structure of these makes sense given the low moisture in the area which means that cloud bases were high. For tomorrow the setup does not look as favorable for tornadoes given the still marginal amount of moisture in the region and weaker upper-level winds, but our sights are set on Western Oklahoma and the Panhandle region of Texas as the cold front that triggered today's madness continues southward.
The Storm Prediction Center has a general thunderstorm risk with a 5% severe probability for the area in question tomorrow. They're not real optimistic about severe storms based on the weak upper-level and surface winds, but we'll see how that develops tomorrow. The one thing we have going is that the direction of the winds at the surface (mostly easterly) will contrast well with the mostly westerly winds at 500 mb (18,000 ft) for some directional wind shear. Good storms may be hard to come by on Monday, but as the trough that I mentioned in the previous blog post begins to move in I think our prospects will improve during the week.
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Friday, May 18, 2012
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Thursday, May 17, 2012
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Last night I had a good internet connection at our hotel and was able to upload some video. Check out my footage of our encounter with golf ball size hail and flash flooding east of Lajitas, Texas on Monday:
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Today's storm setup in Texas looks very marginal so we're touring the Big Bend area and then heading north so we can be ready for storms that may form in Eastern Colorado later on this week. With limited moisture in the Plains it might be hard to find some good storms over the next few days. We'll make the best of it!
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Monday, May 14, 2012
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IN THESE AREAS...STEEP LAPSE RATES/MODERATE DESTABILIZATION ANDVEERING WIND PROFILES WILL BE SUPPORTIVE OF SUPERCELLS WITH LARGE HAIL AS THE PRIMARY HAZARD...ESPECIALLY MONDAY AFTERNOON/EARLY EVENING. STORMS MAY AGAIN CONGEAL/ORGANIZE INTO ONE OR MORE SOUTHEASTWARD-MOVING LINEAR CLUSTERS WITH A DAMAGING WIND/HAIL THREAT CONTINUING MONDAY EVENING/NIGHT ACROSS THE RIO GRANDE RIVER VICINITY.Get the latest storm chasing updates on my Twitter and Facebook accounts!