Tornado Outbreak February 23-24, 2016 Analysis

From February 23-24, 2016, the biggest tornado outbreak of the year so far, as well as one of the largest February outbreaks on record took place. At this time, 7 people have died as a result of 61 tornadoes in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Damage surveys are underway, and this will be updated to reflect that. At this time, there are at least four EF3 tornadoes confirmed, with many weaker ones as well. One struck an RV park near Convent, Louisiana and killed two people during the afternoon of the 23rd, one caused major damage in Pensacola, Florida, one killed a person near Appomattox, Virginia on the afternoon of the 24th, and one caused major damage and numerous injuries near Tappahannock, Virginia. This will be an in-depth look at the event, looking from a synoptic perspective and a look at individual storms and tornadoes.

Late February 22 through February 23

A shortwave trough arrived in the Central U.S. on Monday, February 22. This induced a surface low to develop in Northern Mexico and Southwest Texas late that night. A Slight Risk of severe weather was issued for Southwest and South-central Texas, for the threat of damaging winds and some hail. There was substantial mid-level shear to organize storms; however, low-level shear and instability were not yet conducive for tornadoes. Storms began to fire in Southwest Texas near the Rio Grande. A substantial MCS developed, and impacted Del Rio, Texas, among other areas.radar1

Bowing line segment Feb 22 east of San Angelo, TX


Strong MCS Southeast of Del Rio, TX. This complex produced large hail and some damaging winds in South Texas. Note white colors on radar, where likely very large hail is occurring.


First Tornado Warning of the outbreak in Southern Texas; this storm did not produce a tornado.

Severe storms continued to impact Texas through the early morning hours on February 23. A MCV (Mesoscale Convective Vortex, or meso low) developed and moved across the Gulf towards Louisiana. This mesoscale feature later played a substantial role in tornadoes in Louisiana and Mississippi. A bowing line segment moved south of Houston, TX and produced a brief tornado west of Galveston.


Distinct TVS, where a brief EF0 tornado occurred at this time. Path length: 2 miles.
From NWS Houston: “brief, narrow tornado destroyed three sheds and damaged three homes.”

The SPC had outlined a Moderate Risk on February 23 (the first MOD of the year) for Southeast Louisiana, Southern Mississippi, Southern Alabama and the Western Florida Panhandle. This included a 15% hatched tornado risk (which is quite high). The SPC had even considered adding a High Risk at one point, but that did not happen. There were many tornadoes within this risk area, some strong/intense, and unfortunately, two killer tornadoes. The SPC, along with local WFO’s, did an excellent job conveying the importance of the situation, and I believe saved many lives. In fact, the NWS New Orleans office lost radar from a lightning strike as a tornadic supercell was heading directly towards the office (must have been quite scary!) and seemingly produced a tornado within miles of the office. While at least 3 people lost their lives on February 23, excellent forecasts along with timely watches and warnings likely reduced the number from what could have been more.

The first tornadoes of the day took place in the New Orleans metro. As the remnants of the early morning storms in Texas moved into the western Gulf of Mexico and West Louisiana, two tornadic supercells quickly developed in the warm sector in Southeast Louisiana. As the storms moved into the western parts of the New Orleans metro, one storm moved from St. Charles Parish into Jefferson Parish around 11 am Central time. A tornado was reported in St. Charles Parish (unconfirmed at this time), and as a new circulation developed in the storm, a tornado was confirmed in the western parts of Kenner.


The supercell which has the Tornado Warning produced at least one tornado in Kenner before moving over Lake Pontchartrain.

The tornado did some minor damage before moving north into Lake Pontchartrain. As the cells moved over Lake Pontchartrain, an impressive sight unfolded before the eyes of several people. Three waterspouts were seen moving towards the north shore of the lake; it’s unknown at this point if they reached the shore.

Around 12 pm CST, a supercell moved from Iberville Parish, Louisiana through Ascension and Livingston Parishes. A confirmed EF0 tornado hit near White Castle in Iberville Parish, doing intermittent damage along a 3 mile track. The circulation reformed, and an EF0 tornado then struck Prairieville, Louisiana in Ascension Parish.


Velocity display of the supercell after an EF0 tornado struck Prairieville, Louisiana

A gym sustained serious damage from this tornado while people were still exercising inside (none were hurt). The tornado lifted soon afterwards. Just southwest of the town of Livingston in Livingston Parish, the supercell produced yet another tornado. This tornado was considerably stronger than the two preceding it, and was rated EF2, the first strong tornado of the outbreak. At its widest, the tornado was 1/3rd of a mile wide and heavily damaged many structures and trees in the town of Livingston. Fortunately, nobody was hurt by this tornado. The supercell produced yet another weak tornado near the town of Montpelier in St. Helena Parish.

Around 3 pm, another complex of storms moved into Southeast Louisiana from the Gulf. A brief tornado occurred near White Castle in Iberville Parish (the second in the same area) and produced some  minor damage.

Paincourtville-Convent, Louisiana EF3

To the southwest of that storm, a supercell moved into Assumption Parish and a large tornado touched down southwest of Paincourtville. This tornado was likely heavily rain-wrapped through its existence. The already-strong tornado heavily damaged or destroyed several businesses and an apartment complex south of Paincourtville.


Debris signature evident near Paincourtville, Louisiana

The tornado continued northeastward and heavily damaged many homes. The second level of a well-built brick house was almost removed, which was awarded an EF3 rating, making this the first EF3+ tornado of the outbreak and the second of the year. The tornado damaged two homes near the Mississippi River and some intense tree damage was noted before the tornado crossed the river. The worst was still to come.

As the 300+ yard wide tornado crossed the Mississippi River, it slammed into the Sugar Hill RV Park. Numerous RVs and trailers were obliterated as the now high-end EF2 tornado tore through the area. Unfortunately, two people were killed and 75 were injured to some degree, including 7 critically. This was the second killer tornado of the year. The tornado began to weaken, still damaging trees and a home before lifting near Interstate 10.

Storms then intensified in far Southern Mississippi, and two EF-1 tornadoes touched down in Pearl River County. The tornadoes damaged trees and a few structures, with nobody injured. More weak tornadoes were confirmed in Washington Parish, Louisiana/Marion County, Mississippi, and Lamar County, Mississippi, mainly from a line segment with QLCS circulations. However, the rotating comma head of the line segment produced a strong EF2 tornado in Lamar County, Mississippi near Purvis. This tornado destroyed a mobile home, killing one person and damaging other structures and trees on a 5.6 mile track.

The same supercell that produced the Paincourtville tornado continued northeastward and likely produced a waterspout over Lake Pontchartrain. This waterspout came ashore near Akers in St. John the Baptist Parish and crossed Interstate 55. Some minor tree damage was noted, and the tornado was rated EF0. As this supercell moved over Lake Pontchartrain, another supercell developed on its southwest flank and moved northeastward through St. John the Baptist Parish. A tornado touched down west of the town of Laplace and produced substantial damage along its path. Trees were snapped and homes received minor damage before the tornado strengthened as it struck the Riverland Heights subdivision. Many homes had their roofs damaged and some roofs were removed. A narrow stretch of EF2 damaged was noted as the tornado moved through the Cambridge area. Many residences were heavily damaged. The tornado continued to strengthen as it moved through subdivisions in Laplace. After producing heavy damage in Laplace, the tornado crossed both Interstate 10 and Interstate 55 and dissipated. Overall, the tornado injured 17 people, but luckily no-one was killed.

Further east, a small thunderstorm tracked northward through West-central Alabama. It produced a brief tornado near Reform in Pickens County around 4:30 pm, and another brief tornado near Hackleburg in Marion County around 6 pm. These tornadoes did minimal damage to some structures, but mostly damaged trees.

The original Paincourtville supercell produced yet another waterspout that came ashore in Madisonville in St. Tammany Parish. This tornado was very weak and produced minimal damage along a .5 mile track, garnering a rating of EF0. Another supercell developed on the flanks of the Laplace supercell and produced an EF0 tornado in Lacombe in St. Tammany Parish. The tornado damaged a plant nursery, several mobile homes, and trees before producing minor damage to homes and dissipating.

A line segment in Central Mississippi produced a brief tornado in Yazoo County. As the system of storms consisting mainly of QLCS-type line segments pushed through Southern Mississippi, many brief/weak tornadoes were recorded, mostly in Greene and Wayne Counties.

Pensacola, Florida EF3

A large and impressive supercell storm was detected by radar over the Gulf of Mexico south of Mobile Bay before 6:30 pm. This supercell was moving northeastward towards Gulf Shores, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida.radar5.png

Supercell thunderstorm offshore of Gulf Shores, Alabama. It is likely producing a large waterspout at this time.

The storm exhibited very impressive rotation, and was likely a cyclical supercell producing large waterspouts. In fact, there was a debris signature shown on this storm, despite the fact that it was over water. The situation became very worrisome as a likely waterspout was approaching Orange Beach, Alabama. Thankfully, it weakened considerably just miles offshore. However, the storm wasn’t done.

As the storm moved onshore, it moved northeastward into Escambia County, Florida. The rotation restrengthened as the supercell was over a large, populated area, and dropped a strong tornado near the Pensacola International Airport on the northeast side of Pensacola. The tornado ripped roofs off of houses, snapped power poles and extensively damaged trees while moving northeast. The tornado crossed I-10, and damaged many trees in the area. EF2 damage was noted as two houses had their roofs removed. At the Mooring Apartments, major damage occurred as the second floors of two buildings were gutted. The General Electric plant had a warehouse destroyed, and two units of the Grand Baroques Townhouses were destroyed. Likely near peak intensity, the EF3 tornado moved across Escambia Bay, and reached the other shore in Santa Rosa County. Some debris from the GE plant was found on the western shore of Escambia Bay. The tornado weakened considerably in Santa Rosa County, producing some EF1 damage before dissipating.

While an intense tornado had moved through a heavily populated area, only three people were injured, and miraculously, nobody was killed. Had the tornado touched down earlier and cut through more of Pensacola, this would likely not be the case.

Overnight, more tornadoes were recorded in Southeast Alabama and Southwest Georgia. These were mostly weak and brief, but there was some damage on the northwest side of Dothan, Alabama.

February 24

As the system ejected north and east, the deep surface low moved from Northern Mississippi towards Cincinnati, Ohio. A warm front pushed the cold air damming that was present in the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic, creating an impressive thermal boundary that was to serve a nefarious purpose later (locations not far from each other had 20+ degree temperature and dewpoint changes).  The SPC issued a Moderate Risk again, this time for Central Virginia into Central and Eastern North Carolina, with a Slight Risk in Central Florida as well. The cold front extended from the Appalachians to off the west coast of Florida, sparking intense thunderstorm activity in the Gulf of Mexico. These storms moved eastward into the Florida Peninsula near Tampa Bay, spawning a few tornadoes. Near Duette, Florida, in Manatee County (where an EF2 tornado killed two people on January 17) an EF1 tornado snapped trees along an 8 mile path. A brief tornado touched down in western Virginia and damaged homes, snapped trees, and blew a mobile home off its foundation. Another brief tornado touched down in Wayne County, North Carolina and damaged trees, mobile homes, and a turkey barn.

This tornadic thunderstorm produced two brief tornadoes in the Port Charlotte, Florida vicinity.

A thunderstorm complex moved into Charlotte County, Florida and produced two brief tornadoes. The second of the two, an EF1, damaged over 30 homes, a few of which received major damage.

In Southeast Virginia, what would be the deadliest tornado of the outbreak touched down just west of the town of Waverly in Sussex County at 2:35 pm. As the tornado struck the town, two mobile homes were destroyed, killing three people in one of them. Many homes and businesses also received damage along a 9 mile path. The tornado was rated EF1, showing that it doesn’t take a very strong tornado to be deadly. This tornado was also the first deadly tornado in Virginia in February, but unfortunately, not the last.

Near the town of Colerain, North Carolina (which was hit very hard on April 16, 2011, when an EF3 tornado killed 12 in the town) a brief EF0 tornado touched down. In far Northern South Carolina, another EF0 damaged trees in Chesterfield County. Further north, things were only getting worse.

Evergreen, Virginia EF3

Just before 3:30 pm, a supercell thunderstorm produced a tornado in Campbell County, Virginia. At first, the tornado was weak, damaging trees and outbuildings before strengthening to an EF2 near Chap. The tornado damaged structures and outbuildings as it moved northeastward through Appomattox County. A poorly built home was destroyed before the tornado struck Evergreen at EF3 strength. A small home was leveled, and some outbuildings and mobile homes were obliterated. The tornado tore a roof off a home near Holiday Lake State Park before it lifted. Overall, one person was killed and 7 injured along a 17 mile path. This tornado was the first EF3+ tornado to occur in Virginia in the month of February, but again, it wouldn’t be the last.

As storms moved into the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina metro, a brief tornado touched down in northwest Durham in a wooded area, where extensive tree damage occurred. Further north, an EF0 tornado damaged trees and homes in Fluvanna County, Virginia. Around 4:30 pm, a strong tornado touched down northeast of Oxford, North Carolina, in Granville County. The EF2 tornado damaged many trees and destroyed outbuildings  on a 5 mile path from Granville County into Vance County. The same supercell produced another tornado in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Many trees were downed and some homes received minor damage from this EF1 tornado.

Tappahannock, Virginia EF3

As most of the activity was seemingly winding down around 6:30 pm, a strong, long-tracked tornado touched down in King and Queen County, in eastern Virginia. Initially at high-end EF1 strength, the tornado strengthened into a large EF3 tornado near Dunbrooke, where three unanchored homes and two mobile homes were swept away. West of Tappahannock, the tornado weakened slightly to EF2 strength, but many homes were heavily damaged and outbuildings were destroyed. The tornado then crossed the Rappahannock River and moved into Naylors Beach. Some small homes were destroyed, and a large home lost most of its second floor. Through the rest of the path, EF1 damage to homes, trees and outbuildings was observed before the tornado dissipated. Overall, 25 people were injured along a 30 mile path. The two EF3 tornadoes were the first EF3+ tornadoes in Virginia in February, and the first EF3+ tornadoes in Virginia since the Glade Spring, Virginia EF3 on April 27,2011.

Even further north, a powerful MCS was moving through eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland at more than 70 mph. The MCS spawned two tornadoes; the first an EF2 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This tornado heavily damaged nearly 50 buildings, including a large Amish schoolhouse which was destroyed, and a building with 100 people in it attending an auction which had its roof torn off. In addition, a van with many passengers was blown into a field, but luckily no-one was hurt. This was only the second tornado recorded in Pennsylvania in the month of February. Another tornado touched down in Bradford County, Pennsylvania which damaged a few homes and many trees. Two more brief tornadoes were confirmed in Virginia before the storm system moved northeast. It is also interesting to note some of the storm motions; towards the end of the event, as storms moved through the Northeast, some warnings indicated the storms were moving in excess of 100 mph.

Looking back at the first major outbreak of the year yields some interesting notes. This outbreak pushes the U.S. far above average for the year. In fact, it has been one of the most active January-February periods of recent memory. There are signs that March could continue this trend. The four EF3 tornadoes recorded during the two day period are also interesting. Last year did not have four EF3+ tornadoes until May 6, 2015. 2015 also did not have 9 tornado-related fatalities until May 25. While the first day of the outbreak was not unusual for February, the second day of the outbreak was quite unusual for February, as multiple tornadoes, including some strong, touched down across Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. All in all, 2016 is off to a fast start, and it could stay that way for March.


Severe Weather potential February 22-24, 2016

UPDATE (12:30 pm 2/22): The SPC has already issued a Moderate Risk for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida for 2/23 for damaging winds, hail, and strong, long-track tornadoes. Everything seems to be coming together.

It’s starting to look like a potentially significant severe weather event will affect the Gulf Coast states and the Carolinas. As models have been coming into better agreement, the event is looking likely. I would like to say that at first, this could be a high-impact and significant severe weather event, and a tornado outbreak is possible.

Starting into specifics: As a shortwave trough digs into the Southern Plains, a surface low will develop in Northern Mexico and track northeastward. The exact strength and timing of this low will be critical in determining specific timings and threats, but per the 0z Euro on 2/22/16, the potent 988mb low will be in Northern Louisiana around 6pm on 2/23. This low will move to near Columbus, Ohio by 6pm on 2/24. The wind fields and associated shear values are impressive, to put it mildly. An intense jet streak will round the base of the trough (100+ kts at midlevels) and the low-level jet will be cranking, maxing out at or above 70 knots.

This is a sounding from the 2/22 0z NAM4-km run for 3 pm on 2/23 near Lafayette, Louisiana. Even with a little veer-back-veer, this is a very impressive sounding. Note the SRH values of 500+. Any storms that form will be able to easily rotate. Perhaps even more worrisome is the threat overnight 2/23-2/24:

This sounding is for 12 am near Dothan, Alabama. SRH values are even higher than earlier. The potential for nighttime tornado activity is rather ominous. Should also note that with both of these soundings, storm motions will be quite fast. Further northeast into the Carolinas, there is also a significant threat, especially during the afternoon and evening in central and east North Carolina. This part will be updated as we grow closer to the event.

All in all, I’m getting fairly concerned with this setup. The event on February 15-16 had quite a few tornadoes, a few of which were strong, including the Century, Florida EF3 (which was the first EF3+ in Florida since the Groundhog Day outbreak of 2007). Everyone in the Gulf Coast areas should have ways of receiving warnings, especially with the overnight threat. With everything said, here are my current thoughts:

Storms will fire overnight in Central Texas on Monday, February 22 and track eastward. Initially, these storms will likely be mostly elevated with some hail, but any surface-based storms could produce an isolated tornado or two. The threat will start to ramp-up substantially by noon on 2/23 in Southeast Texas, possibly affecting the Houston metro. During the afternoon, the storms will quickly move eastward into Louisiana and Mississippi and the parameters will increase for tornadoes. Some significant/long-track tornadoes will be possible starting in the afternoon in Louisiana. By nightfall, storms will likely be in Southern Mississippi and moving into Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The tornado threat will NOT decrease during the night, as the parameters do not decrease with time. By daybreak, the storms will be from Central Georgia into Florida. At this point, the storms may weaken. However, during the day on 2/24, it appears possible that storms will restrengthen in the Carolinas, and the significant severe threat there will be in the afternoon and evening on 2/24.

My prediction for number of tornadoes is 12, with a couple of them strong.


Event Analysis for February 15-16 Severe Weather Event

It seems like the narrative of the last year or so has been when there is a substantial event forecast, it mostly busts, while when little activity is expected, an outbreak occurs. This continued on February 15 and the morning of the 16th, when likely between 15-20 tornadoes touched down across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. The SPC had highlighted the central Gulf Coast and the outer banks of North Carolina for potential severe weather the day before in Slight and Marginal risk areas. A 5% tornado contour was present from New Orleans, LA to Hattiesburg, MS to Pensacola, FL. While the general area was correct, what was forecasted to amount to a few tornadoes turned into the most substantial event of the year to date. Why did this happen?

Above is the special 18z (12 pm) sounding from New Orleans, LA. CAPE is in the 1300-2000 range, which is rather impressive for this time of year. While the wind profiles are not ideal for tornadoes, they are sufficient; Storm Relative Helicity values and lapse rates are definitely enough for organized storms and tornadoes. Significant tornado parameters are between 1-2, showing potential for a couple strong tornadoes. A key point was made by storm chaser Brett Adair (who lives in Alabama and is quite knowledgeable in these kinds of events) who said that while some parameters were not ideal, low-level instability combined with very cold air at mid-levels (otherwise known as lapse rates) can overcome some of these deficiencies.

The day before the event, I predicted 3 tornadoes, and said it was possible to go above 5. I was quite wrong, along with most other predictions. While the potential was certainly there, I (and many others) did not think that the high-end potential would come to pass. With that said, there were some things I should have noted. Lapse rates, along with CAPE, were quite impressive, and storm relative helicity values were also fairly high. There was just enough shear to keep storms rotating and to produce tornadoes. It was a hard forecast, and a reminder to people that cold-season events such as these remain very difficult for meteorologists to nail down.

The best thing that happened was the fact that there were no fatalities and not many injuries attributed to the storms, even though some of the tornadoes were significant and in fairly heavily populated areas. That is the best thing that can happen.


Slight Severe Threat for Monday, February 15, 2016

On 2/15/16, there appears to be some potential for severe weather over southern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama, with the activity possibly including eastern and southern Louisiana and into the western Florida panhandle. At this time, the SPC has the area roughly from New Orleans eastward to Pensacola, Florida and northward to Hattiesburg, Mississippi included in a Slight risk for severe weather. At this time, (the day before) the threat does not look as substantial as Groundhog Day did, where there were a few strong tornadoes across eastern Mississippi and western Alabama. However, that does not mean folks in these areas should let their guard down. Before I go further into forecasts, I will say that I would not be surprised to see a couple tornadoes in this area tomorrow.

Much still remains to be seen with this system, and like many cold-season severe events, makes a tough forecast. There is still considerable model spread at this point, with the evolution of a central and eastern US trough and associated cyclogenesis and warm air advection. The NAM, as usual, is the most aggressive with instability and overall severe threat. However, the NAM has done fairly well as of late, and needs to be considered. If the NAM pans out, there could easily be a few tornadoes tomorrow. Once the HRRR comes into play here, we will start to get a better idea of what will happen tomorrow.

The above picture shows the STP values for 3 pm Monday from the 4km NAM model. While these values are not off the charts, and do not show too much potential for strong tornadoes, a couple tornadoes are possible. 

This is a forecast sounding from near Meridian, Mississippi around 3 pm Monday. The CAPE is likely overdone, but the shear profiles are there for tornadoes. Lapse rates will be sufficient for organized storms. It appears that the main threat in Mississippi may be further south of Meridian, from Hattiesburg southward. Analysis of the forecast reflectivity and updraft helicity tracks shows potential for both supercells and QLCS structures. I won’t be chasing, but if I lived in the area, I would keep an eye on the sky.

All in all, I would be surprised if this goes higher than a Slight Risk. Even if this were to validate on the higher end of the forecast, (NAM) I doubt we would see an outbreak. With that said, at this point I believe there is a pretty good possibility that there will be 1+ tornado, and it’s possible we see 4+. I think a good number right now is 3 tornadoes.

Typhoon Soudelor: August 2015, Jiangsu Province, China

My first (and so far, only) experience with severe weather of a tropical nature came this in August 2015. I was visiting my girlfriend and her family in east China, all the while keeping an eye on the tropics, as typhoons are quite common that time of year in east Asia. Unfortunately for me, the strongest typhoon in nearly twenty years hit east China mere days before my plane arrived. However, another typhoon formed in the Pacific and moved westward, becoming the second strongest tropical cyclone to form in the Northern Hemisphere in 2015 (only behind Hurricane Patricia). Soudelor struck Saipan as a Category 2 hurricane, doing extensive damage. The storm continued westward and made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on Taiwan’s coast, then emerged from the Taiwan Strait and made its final landfall in Fujian Province, China as a Category 1 hurricane. After the storm weakened, it merged with another system in China and moved into Jiangsu Province.

The torrential rain fell for two days, and combined with some tropical storm-force wind gusts, some trees and powerlines fell. While the storm was not exceptionally powerful, the rain was some of the most intense I have experienced. It reminded me of summertime squall lines or bows that often form in the Great Plains; the difference, of course, being that the typhoon lasted for days, not an hour or so. Although Typhoon Soudelor weakened considerably by the time I encountered it, I was still impressed by the storm. Hopefully, the next time I go back to China, I can see a stronger storm (and get some video of it, too.)

First Chase: Osage County, KS Supercell, June 4, 2015

My first storm chase was nothing to write home about (but I am writing it here) and would hardly qualify as such. In early June of 2015 I was training for my new job at Dillon’s in Topeka, KS. I had to drive to the other side of town for training early that morning. After I was done, I took a look at my newly-acquired app RadarScope (love it, by the way) and saw a telltale supercell storm moving southeast across southeast Wabaunsee County and southwest Shawnee County. Seeing that the storm wasn’t far away, and having time to spare, I drove south into northwestern Osage County to take a look at it. Driving between the towns of Carbondale and Scranton, I saw a magnificent sight. To the right of the road was an impressive hail shaft containing golf ball size hail and heavy rain, and to the left of the road was a fantastic mid-level mesocyclone. At one point as I was looking at the storm a bolt of lightning shot from my right to left, which would have made a beautiful picture. I drove on a gravel road, as the storm began to dissipate, and I got into some nickel and dime size hail. I took some pictures of it, and drove home. For my first chase, I got some nice structure and some small hail-could be worse.

The days that changed everything: May 20-31, 2013

OK, that might be a little much. Truth is, I didn’t start planning to have a career in meteorology until my junior year of university, in late 2015. I should have realized my calling much earlier, but that cannot be helped now. However, I consider the time of May 20-31, 2013 pivotal in my life.

It was my senior year of high school, and to be honest, it seemed like the best year of my life. I was quite happy with where I was in life, and I was wrapping up my high school career. The only problem was, I had no idea what I was going to do in college. Sometimes I would consider meteorology, but the math seemed too hard (I was right!). Biology was an option, and so was geology (my first of three majors). The question became: What do I really want to do? I had no real direction. However, surrounded by friends and having the time of my life, there was no concern in my head. While the events in Oklahoma during the end of May wouldn’t change this state of apathy, the seeds were planted for my future calling.

I remember looking at the SPC outlooks for May 20th (even when my interest in weather waned, I would still often check the outlooks) and seeing a moderate risk for severe weather that day. While this happens rather often in the plains states in May, it still carries some weight to me. I got home from school around 2:40 on Monday, May 20th, and turned on the Weather Channel, and what happened next would stay with me forever.

I can vividly remember the coverage of the Moore, OK EF5 that day. Watching the tornado tear through the town that had been hit so hard only 14 years before was sickening, and yet I couldn’t stop watching. They would often show the KFOR coverage, where Mike Morgan told people to drive away from the tornado if they didn’t have a basement (which, even then, sounded odd to me) and I was transfixed to the TV as my family was preparing to move. The slow moving tornado ripped through Moore and was shrouded in so much debris the funnel became indistinct. The horror of realizing hundreds of homes, and some of the people in them, were being obliterated on live television dawned on me. I couldn’t stop watching what happened. I was amazed to learn a day or so later that only 24 people died. The slow-moving nature of the tornado, along with the excellent lead time, precluded what could have been much worse. A tornado akin to the El Reno wedge, (I’m getting to it) which was much larger and heavily rain-wrapped, could have caused a much higher fatality rate.

With the memories of Moore still in my mind, I saw a substantial risk for severe weather on May 31st. I watched the Weather Channel during the afternoon as the storms began to fire in western and central Oklahoma. I can clearly remember Mike Bettes and the Weather Channel crew reporting on the tornado getting closer to their location, and soon after they went off the air, Greg Forbes saying he believed they were not in a good position. The most vivid memory of mine was Bettes reporting that he and his crew were hit by the tornado. The El Reno tornado was officially the largest tornado in history (although there was at least one larger-the May 3, 1999 Mulhall F4) and had doppler estimated wind speeds of near 300 mph. Interestingly, it produced no EF5 damage, so the tornado was rated EF3. (I may make a blog post about this subject later; in my opinion, the El Reno wedge should have been rated EF4) While it is likely not one of the strongest tornadoes of all time, the tornado is quite memorable for its size and for the deaths it caused. Renowned researchers Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young were killed as their car was likely hit directly by an intense sub-vortex. The only storm chaser deaths attributed to a tornado were on this day. All of the events that day created a lasting impression on me. I did not pursue a career in meteorology at first, but May 20th and May 31st were important events in my current meteorological pursuits.

June 18th, 2006 Stoughton, WI Landspout

This is going to be short, as I am reciting from memory. Living in Madison, Wisconsin, I had the luxury of the many lakes and rivers nearby to amuse myself. My father and I enjoyed fishing, while my sister and mother were more of the hiking sort. As I recall, sometime around June 10, 2006 (probably not that date, but close to it) we had a severe weather setup in southern Wisconsin. Tornadoes were possible, and as I was quite interested in meteorology at the time, I would always get excited at the possibility of tornadoes and severe weather.

On August 18th, 2005 one of Wisconsin’s largest tornado outbreaks on record occurred. 27 tornadoes touched down in the state that day, with the most significant and memorable tornado tearing through southeastern Dane and into Jefferson counties. This tornado would be long known in the area simply as “The Stoughton Tornado.” While the tornado did not impact much of the town itself, rural subdivisions north of the town were devastated. The large, slow-moving F3 tornado (initially in consideration for an F4 rating, quite a rarity in that part of the state) killed one person and injured over 20.

Quite ironically, I was visiting my grandparents near Topeka, Kansas that day, so I missed all of the action near my hometown. However, almost a year later, I would see my first tornado. The severe setup the day before busted (as almost all setups in southern Wisconsin do) and the next morning was comfortable and sunny. My family and I decided to go to Lake Kegonsa State Park, located on the north side of Lake Kegonsa. Stoughton is located on the southern shores of the lake. As my family arrived at the boat dock, as soon as we got out of the car, the tornado sirens began to sound their characteristic wail. When I heard the sirens, I noticed some cumulus towers across the lake over the town of Stoughton. Full of curiosity, I went to the dock to get a better look around the trees. I was astonished and amazed by what I saw.

Across the lake, under the low cumulus cloud, I saw a spinning funnel that was in its dissipation phase. I couldn’t imagine that it would be spinning so quickly. As we were northeast of the clouds, my mother decided we better leave the area. We packed back into the car and went to the southwestern shore of the lake to do the activities we planned to do before, and I was rewarded with a nice largemouth bass. Interestingly, the landspout touched down briefly, doing no damage, but it was in the same general area as the F3 tornado less than a year before. I began to wonder if that area was especially prone to tornadoes. Not much to tell about this event, but I consider it a turning point in my life. As I got older, my interest in the weather began to wane, until a tragic 11 days in 2013.