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.)

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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.