Chase Log: May 28th, 2019 Lawrence, KS EF4 Tornado

A long and hectic birthday chase results in a giant tornado (first of 2019) near home in Lawrence, Kansas.

The morning started with a 15% hatched tornado risk for NE KS into MO and IA. I thought that this was a bit overdone, but it was my birthday, so I had to head out. At 1630z the outlook was downgraded to 10% hatched which I thought was appropriate. I decided to head out and went to Topeka where Lijun played with my moms dog Chapman for a while. We headed west to Junction City, as a triple point setup looked great in the Smoky Hills northwest of Salina. However, I headed south towards Herington, as the dryline along I-135 also looked intriguing. As I was going south on US 77, I saw an enormous updraft going up east of me, near Council Grove. I decided to head east from Herington towards Council Grove on US 56 after a cluster of supercells developing in the Flint Hills. I stopped a few miles west of Council Grove (where Lijun scared a prairie chicken) and contemplated my options. Northwest of Salina looked great, but that was a bit too far for me. The cells on the dryline near Hillsboro went up, but died soon after. I figured the cells to my east were my only option so I headed east through Council Grove on US 56. The supercells started rotating quickly and tornado warnings were issued to my east. I didn’t want to core punch, so I headed south to Americus and then to Emporia. I knew the supercell now going into Osage County was rapidly rotating and may have a tornado. I headed quickly east on I-35 to the US 75 exit and went north. The storm structure was hidden by rain, so it was hard to get a read on exactly what was going on. I zigzagged through Osage and Franklin Counties trying to catch up to the tornado-warned storm, and I had no data so I didn’t know what was going on. I finally got data as I came into Douglas County, and I was stunned to see a violent tornado signature over the south side of Lawrence. I drove as fast as I felt safe going to Baldwin City and then north on county roads from there. A huge rain-wrapped mass was to my north as I raced to catch up. As the tornado passed near Linwood, I saw power flashes in the rain, which was the only real indication that a tornado was there. After it became apparent that the storm was moving northeast into the KC metro, I headed towards home. I came upon the damage path just southeast of Baker Wetlands, where trees were shredded and structures were damaged. Everyone was safe in that area, so I drove home.

What a weird and shocking chase. I didn’t get a single picture the entire chase due to driving constantly to catch up with the storm. Driving all the way to Junction City only to see a huge tornado mere miles from home is strange enough. All this happening on my birthday is crazy.

My thoughts are with those affected by this tornado. Seeing a high-end tornado so close to home is humbling, and going through the damage path is something I won’t forget. Hopefully I won’t have to see something like that again. We’ll see what the damage surveys come up with, but an EF4 rating seems plausible.

Update: the tornado has indeed been rated EF4 based on damage in Linwood. It was on the ground from Lone Star Lake to just west of Bonner Springs, and was over a mile wide at points. A true monster.

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State of the Season: March 24th, 2019

As we begin spring here in Tornado Alley, there are promising signs on the horizon. We are currently ahead of 2018’s tornado count up to late March, with a few significant events in the southeastern US in the books. March 3rd in particular was notable, with devastating EF4 impacting Lee County, AL, along with several other strong tornadoes that day. March 12th brought the first Plains tornado event of the year with a few tornadoes in eastern NM and TX (a couple photogenic ones too). On the 23rd and 24th, supercells producing large hail impacted the OKC metro and the DFW metro. This has already been a far cry from 2018’s misery. The long range signs look pretty good, with another system possible at the end of this week. I believe my seasonal outlook, which called for a decent-to-great Plains season, is still on track. The signs for April-May-June are in general pretty encouraging. Perhaps most encouraging is the near total lack of drought across the entire Plains; all of Kansas in particular is near record levels of soil moisture. Hopefully, I will get my first solid chase of the year in the next few weeks.

Extra chases of 2018

While I have documented my good supercell chase days on other blog posts, I wanted to talk about the days I didn’t score. These are the days that I didn’t see a nice supercell or tornado, but I still want to report my experiences. These kinds of days can be learning experiences, both in getting accustomed to the terrain and landscapes, and also understanding why things didn’t pan out. I also wanted to include a couple days that I didn’t chase, but are still important events of the year.

May 3rd, 2018: Morris County, KS Storms

A couple days removed from the Tescott tornado, another day of storms presented itself. I didn’t have much expectations for this day; low-level moisture was pretty bad (maybe upper 50s dews) and low-level winds were veered to the SSW. Still, there was a lot of bulk shear, and after a couple other chasers on the discord decided to head out, I figured I might as well. I first headed west on I-70 and then south on K-177 to Council Grove. Seeing a storm in the distance, I moved west on US 56 to near Delavan. The storm was quite high-based but was spitting out lightning every now and then. I headed south through Burdick and began navigating the gravel/dirt roads in the rough terrain of the Flint Hills of Morris County.

4:10 pm, a few miles east of Burdick, looking southwest. The storm is quite high based here with little in the way of supercell structure. This gravel road was the only road around for several miles, and it was not a straight north-south or east-west road, so navigating was difficult. Couple that with relatively fast storm motions and I didn’t have much time to dawdle. I followed the storm back to Council Grove before it fell apart. I contemplated heading home, but a new line of storms developed to the west, and I headed back west on US 56 for a closer look.

5:14 pm, a few miles west of Council Grove, looking WNW. There were a few lightning bolts, but these storms were pretty benign. After a while of looking at these cells, I headed back home.

May 29th, 2018: Udall, Kansas hailstorm

May 29th was one of the bigger chase days in May 2018. NW Oklahoma into SW Kansas looked like the target going into the day, and that’s where most chasers focused on. I wasn’t willing to go that far, so I looked at areas closer to home. An east-west boundary was draped over the Wichita area, and adequate cape and shear was present. I thought it would be worth a shot, so I went down the Kansas Turnpike to Cassoday, and intercepted a weakening shower. I saw on radar that storms were initiating near Arkansas City and moving north towards me, so I headed to El Dorado, then south on US 54, then west on US 400 to Augusta, then south again on US 77 (neither the first time nor the last time in 2018 to take these roads). A decent little cell was going up west of Winfield moving north, so I headed west towards Udall on K-15. The cell had a mesocyclone, so it was a supercell, but it looked intriguing. The mesocyclone was narrowing and lowering, and was a good photo op. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a good spot to take a photo yet, and I drove through Udall. I found a due north road and drove on it for a few miles before I noticed hailstones littering the ground. I stopped as I realized that the hail was falling just in front of me. I got out of the car and could hear the stones falling on the house just a hundred yards in front of me.

6:58 pm, a few miles north of Udall. These hailstones are at least 1 inch in diameter (possibly larger), and as I was the only spotter in the area, I reported them to the NWS. My report made it into the SPC reports for that day and then into Storm Data, so I’m pretty happy about that.

7:05 pm, same location. The storm continued northeastward for a bit before fizzling out. Maybe capping was too strong that day, not really sure. In any case, as there weren’t any more good storms developing, I headed for home.

July 18th, 2018: Overbrook, KS storms

Hot on the heels of my maybenado day in the Flint Hills, I headed out again on a very marginal day. This time, there was big cape but little shear. The shear was forecast to arrive eventually, but I was afraid that the storms would die out before it did. Storms started to fire in southern Shawnee County and slowly moved southeast. I set out around 6 pm and drove down towards Carbondale in Osage County and got a nice car wash. It became pretty obvious that not much was going to happen, as the storms were very high based and outflow dominant. I headed east towards Overbrook on US 56 and then south a bit.

7:33 pm, a few miles southwest of Overbrook, looking southeast. While the storms themselves were nothing remarkable, I saw some nice rainbows, including this one. I headed home soon after.

July 19th, 2018: Topeka, KS area windstorm

The windstorm/derecho/whatever on July 19th was the biggest wind event that I have experienced. Widespread tree and power line damage occurred around the city, and around 18,000 people were without power at the peak. In the early afternoon, a cluster of thunderstorms developed in north central Kansas and moved southeastward. The storms became severe and moved through Manhattan, with some damage there. As the MCS got closer to Topeka, it grew in strength, with winds over 70 miles per hour reported. Around 3 pm, the MCS reached Topeka and caused widespread damage. A wind gust of 82 mph was recorded as numerous trees and power lines were downed. Some structural damage occurred as well. At home in southeast Topeka, I estimated wind gusts to at least 60 mph, perhaps higher. A neighbor had some minor tree damage, and our home had some shingle damage. My grandparents got it worse; most of the shingles on one side of the roof were gone, and trees and power lines were damaged at the farm house. Quite an amazing event.

August 16th, 2018: Topeka area storms

August 16th was a decent summer day with a slight risk for severe weather. I convinced my wife to chase that day, and thankfully, a decent storm developed right over south Topeka. I drove to my grandparents house so we could get a decent view of it.

3:07 pm, south of Topeka, looking west. There is a defined updraft base in the center of the picture, but it looks as if the storm is elevated. In any case, the storm was producing quite a bit of lightning, so as it drew near we got in the car. I wanted to sample the core for hail, so we headed west and south a bit. I did find some pea sized hail but nothing substantial. After the storm passed over us, we followed it into Douglas County.

3:42 pm, west of Clinton Lake, looking east. It appears as if there is hail falling in the middle, but I couldn’t find any more. Not long after this, I called it a day and went home.

October 8th, 2018:

A fall marginal risk/2% tornado threat drew me out of the house. I headed west through Topeka to the Maple Hill area in Wabaunsee County and drove north from I-70. A linear mess of storms developed and moved quickly northeast.

2:56 pm, west of Maple Hill, looking northwest. A decent attempt at some shelfy structure is evident. A local in a truck drove up next to me and we chatted for a bit about the weather. After he left, I looked at radar, and I saw a bit of a notch in the line where rotation was present had developed near Alma. I headed west towards Paxico and stopped for a bit.

3:08 pm, just north of Paxico, looking southwest. The precip-filled area in the middle was a notch in the line. There was some decent rotation briefly on radar with it, but I never saw anything with the feature, and the storms became completely outflow dominant not long after. I saw that a supercell was trying to develop further south, near Eskridge and Harveyville. I headed east and then south near the Wabaunsee/Shawnee County line, but that storm junked out quickly. I headed east to get ahead of it, but as the storm was moving over south Topeka, it was difficult to find a good spot. After it moved over Topeka, it became very outflow dominant, so I went home soon after.

2018 in retrospect and a look ahead to 2019

As the 2018 chase season ends, many chasers are saying “good riddance.” A very unsatisfying year for most, 2018 will be near the lowest total tornado count on record for the United States, with no violent tornadoes (a real anomaly), and the southern Plains in particular had a bad year. 2018 was good to me, with three great chase days (May 1st, May 14th, June 26th) and Kansas overall was better in 2018 than in 2017. However, that was not the case for most. 2018 had some fantastic tornadoes (Laramie WY June 6th, Camp Crook SD June 28th, Douglas WY July 28th) but few chasers saw the best ones. The High Plains of WY/MT/SD, along with Iowa, had a banner year, but elsewhere 2018 will not be missed. In my “look ahead to 2018 post” I think I did a fairly good job of diagnosing the possibility of another subpar season, and it seems 2002 and 2014 were fairly decent analogs to 2018. What does 2019 have in store?

It’s going to be tough to be worse than 2017-18 for chasing. Perhaps the worst two year stretch since 2001-02, chasers have been pretty downtrodden lately. I do have good news for everyone: I expect 2019 to be better than 2018. Why do I say that? Let’s take a look at analogs and ENSO and the like.

We are in the midst of a weak-moderate “Modoki” El Nino event with a slightly negative PDO. El Nino is predicted to remain steady-state until the spring when it should wane. the PDO may start to go positive again as we enter 2019. I saw an interesting graphic (which I can’t seem to find now) a few months ago showing every year since 2000 and their related ENSO strength. Most of the years in the weak-moderate Nino category were good chase seasons. Taking a look at ENSO, overall SST anomalies and other factors led me to pick some analogs for 2019.

My top 5 analogs for 2019 are 1987, 1995, 2003, 2005 and 2015. This is pretty good news for chasers, as the only subpar year in that group is 1987, and even 1987 may be an improvement over 2018. 2005 and 2015 were OK-to-good, and 1995 and 2003 were very good years.

1995 and 2003 were both very good years with some high-end events. May 1995 was a very active month, with much of the country getting in on the action. The beginning of June was a landmark period in the Texas Panhandle, with multiple days of significant activity. 2003 was slow until mid-April, but a couple of decent days in OK started off the chase season. The first ten days in May were incredibly active, with an astonishing 401 tornadoes recorded from April 30th to May 11th. There was at least one F3+ tornado on May 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th, and 10th. May 15th featured a big day across the TX/OK panhandles into SW KS. Late June was another big sequence, with South Dakota having a huge day on the 23rd. I would be more than happy if 2019 is similar to 1995 or 2003.

2005 and 2015 were decent years with some positives and negatives. 2005 had a nice event in late April and again in mid May, but early June was quite active with multiple memorable chase days. 2015 had many good chase days from early April through June, but more than once days failed to reach their high ceilings, leaving a bad taste in chasers’ mouths. Still, spring and summer 2015 was pretty good, and multiple big days in November and December made 2015 a pretty decent year.

1987 was the worst of the five analogs, and it was quite bad. The only memorable stretch was in late May in Texas. We really need to hope 2019 isn’t like 1987.

So how do I see 2019 playing out? A fairly slow start to tornado season seems plausible, with significant tornado activity waiting until mid-late March possible. April might not be too active, but May should be a big month (especially relative to 2018). June will also be active in my opinion. Overall, there is a pretty good shot at a nice chase year.

May 2017 chase season update

It’s already May and I only have one decent chase to show for it. Pretty disappointing chase season so far, as none of the early season events were very chaseable and April was largely a bust around here. While there was tornadic activity in the U.S. during the last week of April, the warm/moist air stayed well to the south of Kansas and there was nothing to chase. The next week+ also look pretty bleak as far as severe weather is concerned, not just around here but across the Plains. There are some hints that an active pattern will start to return somewhere in the May 10th-14th timeframe, with activity possibly picking up considerably by the third week of May, but this is pretty far out. I’m hoping for some better chase days ahead.

Chase Log: October 6th, 2016 Alma, KS Shelf Cloud

On a fall day in October, an Enhanced risk of severe weather was in effect for SW Iowa, SE Nebraska, NW Missouri, and much of Central and Eastern Kansas. By mid-afternoon, a 10% hatched area for tornadoes stretched across East-Central Kansas. There were 16 reports of tornadoes this day, but as I worked until 4:30, I saw none of them. Instead, the storms lined out by the time I reached them. I did get some good pictures of linear and possible HP Supercell structure near Alma, Kansas.

20161006_092502

On the morning of the 6th, a complex of elevated thunderstorms affected much of Southeast Kansas. This mammatus was a nice sight to start the day. Through the morning and afternoon, I monitored conditions carefully, as I had set my sights on this day for a while. I had class until 12:15 pm and work until 4:30 pm. by 12 pm, there was already a brief tornado reported in far SE Kansas, and by 3 pm, the tornado reports were rolling in across Kansas. A few weak tornadoes touched down in Cowley County, doing some minor damage to trees and an outbuilding. However, around 4:15, an EF2 briefly touched down east of Salina, Kansas, destroying a barn. Soon after that tornado dissipated, an even stronger tornado touched down in eastern Saline County. This EF3 tornado, the strongest of the day, tracked 6 miles through Saline County and completely destroyed a mobile home. Two other notable tornadoes tracked further north, one through northern Clay and southern Washington Counties, and a strong tornado tracked south of Clay Center, Kansas. Of course, I missed all of these. I left work soon after 4:30 drove west on I-70 from Lawrence. 20161006_170528

In Topeka, the anvil from storms to the south was visible above me, while the anvils from storms near Manhattan could be seen off to the west. This didn’t look like a good sign to me, but I hoped for the best. By around 5:30, I made it to Alma, Kansas where the storms were approaching from the west. At this point, they had consolidated into a line of storms, and the tornado threat was pretty low. The line was moving eastward at about 40 mph, so I figured I would find somewhere to get good photos and wait out the storm. I drove south of Alma on K-99, hoping to see some good structure. I drove west on a dirt road over a hill, and gradually the leading edge of the outflow approached. I turned around and headed back north towards Alma, as some rotation on radar showed up north of there.20161006_180322

6:03 pm: About three miles south of Alma, looking northwest. The linear nature of the thunderstorms produced this shelf cloud. There was some rotation to the north of my location, so it’s possible this is some sort of supercell structure, but from my vantage point, it looked like just a shelf cloud. The beautiful landscape of the Flint Hills really helped the scenery.

20161006_180637

6:06 pm: One mile south of Alma, looking due north. I’m pretty proud of this picture, if I do say so myself. There was some construction on K-99 here, and I was at first angry that I had to stop here. However, as the storm approached, this breathtaking view appeared in front of me. The precipitation core of the storm is quite obvious, even without any filters used on my phone. I’d say this is my best picture so far. After the light turned green, I made it under a gas station canopy before the storm hit. There was some pretty good lightning, heavy rain, ~40 mph winds, and some small hail, but nothing too serious. I drove home after that, while the storms quickly weakened as they moved eastward into Topeka. I was pretty unhappy that I missed the main show. Even for May, it would have been a good day, but for October, you can’t get much better than multiple strong tornadoes in north-central Kansas. In hindsight, I should have asked off work. Such is life for a student.

Slight Risk of Severe Weather March 1, 2016

At present, the SPC has a Slight Risk for severe weather for March 1 for the area between Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Atlanta, Georgia and Cincinnati, Ohio. The biggest threat will be damaging winds, but somewhat of a tornado threat exists, especially from Northern Tennessee into much of Kentucky. Not expecting a big day, but a few tornadoes are possible.

3/1/16 0z 4km NAM shows a line of storms from Tennesee into Mississippi. However, it shows more cellular activity in Central Kentucky. If this pans out, the tornado threat will be maximized.

Forecast sounding for above model and time near Campbellsville, Kentucky. While instability is not high (especially dewpoints), decent lapse rates and rather large hodographs show the possibility for tornadoes. Strong tornadoes are not expected; this will be more of a brief tornado threat.

At the moment, I believe we will see a tornado or two tomorrow. It seems that so far this year, when tornadoes are even remotely possible, we get one or two at least. I will estimate that we get two tornadoes on March 1.

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.