Chase Log: August 15th, 2019 Volland, KS Tornadoes

An amazing summer chase results in multiple tornadoes and superb structure in the Flint Hills of Geary and Wabaunsee Counties.

Some strong mid-level flow for August was present on this day, and accordingly the SPC put out an enhanced risk for severe weather with a 5% tornado risk for most of NE KS. Multiple outflow boundaries were present, making the exact location of initiation difficult to predict. The day before, I thought I would chase, but the morning of the event, I didn’t expect much. However, as the day went on, things started to look pretty good in the northern Flint Hills. My wife and I left home around 4:30 and went to Topeka for a bit, as we wanted to get some vegetables from my grandparents and I wasn’t in a hurry. Storms had initiated northwest of Manhattan, but they were on the cool side of the boundary. As the storms moved southeast, they would encounter a much better environment for tornadoes. I figured it would be best to wait somewhere southeast of Manhattan in Wabaunsee County to let the storms come to me. I unhurriedly went to Alma and Skyline Drive, which is a scenic drive on a hilltop east of Alma (also where KTWX Radar site is) where there is a great view in all directions.

6:52 pm, on Skyline Drive a couple miles southeast of Alma, looking northwest. A wall cloud is evident in the distance. I waited in this spot for quite some time as the storm was moving towards me. It was some distance away, close to Manhattan at this time. I waited here for about 30 more minutes before deciding to head southwest towards Alta Vista, as the storm had turned more to the south. After seeing a bobcat on K99 (don’t encounter those too often) I found a nice spot just south of K4 east of Alta Vista near a cemetery. IMG_0862 (2).jpg

7:59 pm, southeast of Alta Vista, looking northwest. The guy in the truck coming towards me (along with his two dogs hanging out the window) stopped to talk with me for a minute about the storm. The supercell was developing its structure better by this point, and it was definitely on an upward trend. IMG_0871 (2).jpg

8:05 pm, same location. Overall structure has markedly improved and a large, low-hanging wall cloud is visible. I was beginning to really believe in the storm, as it was rapidly intensifying. About five minutes after that photo was taken, strong rotation within the wall cloud occurred, and I told my wife that a tornado was coming. Sure enough, a funnel cloud began to form.IMG_0880 (2).jpg

8:13 pm, same location. A tornado is pretty obvious here, about 6-8 miles northwest of my location. While only on the ground for 30 seconds-1 minute, it was a rather nice one. It was also the first tornado that my wife saw clearly, and she took a short video that I posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycHAxbqIKBs). The storm continued to rotate strongly, and I suspected there was more to come. We stayed in the same spot for a while as the storm continued to rotate. For a while, a notable anticyclonic circulation was evident in the wall cloud, closer to us, and I thought we might get an anticyclonic tornado, but it didn’t happen.IMG_0894 (2).jpg

About 8:30 pm, same location, looking northeast. It appeared to me that there was a tornado ongoing, to the right of the electric pole. There was a lot of motion in there. I can’t be sure, and we will see what the surveys come up with. About ten minutes later, we left this spot to go east on K4 to try to go home, but we saw something that made us stop. As we were driving eastward, a white cone tornado became visible off to our north.IMG_0899 (2).jpg

About 8:44 pm, the intersection of K4 and Illinois Creek Road east of Alta Vista, looking north. We could see the tornado for quite some time but it was difficult to capture it in the darkness. The NWS surveyed the damage the next day, and rated it as an EF1 tornado that was on the ground for 7 miles and about 20 minutes, damaging some outbuildings and trees. At the same time as this tornado, another tornado was ongoing a few miles east of us that was confirmed by the NWS much later. After watching the tornado continue moving north and eventually dissipate, we headed for home and were treated to a great lightning display.

A chase to be remembered for a long time, this amazing storm became my favorite chase to date. The NWS in Topeka has surveys to do, but there were at least four tornadoes, and I saw at least two of them. This event will go down as one of the best off-season tornado events in eastern Kansas in recent memory. Interesting how in July 2018 I may have seen a tornado very close to where I was chasing on this day, but couldn’t confirm it, and it was a bit of a weight on my back. Spring 2019 also didn’t go too well for me, but this day completely redeemed my year.

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Chase Log: July 17th, 2018 Alta Vista, KS Tornado?

An impromptu chase in mid-summer rewarded me with a decent supercell that may or may not have produced a tornado.

July 17th was a pretty average summer day, with modest northwest flow aloft and a strongly veered (but weak) wind profile. An outflow boundary was present over the Flint Hills, but was moving southward. You want outflow boundaries to be about stationary for maximum effect, but I still was keeping an eye on mesoanalysis and radar. A couple storms developed near Manhattan, and another one popped up east of Junction City. It looked like junk on KTWX (Alma, KS radar site) but when I checked the Wichita radar it looked much more interesting. I decided to head west on I-70 towards it around 4:40 pm.

Sure enough, as I was heading west, I noticed it was starting to develop a telltale supercell shape. I should have left a bit earlier. I got off I-70 at the Alma exit in Wabaunsee County and headed south on K-99 and then west on K-4 towards Alta Vista. I got off the highway a few miles east of Alta Vista and headed southwards on gravel roads until I could find a good position.IMG_0610.CR2.jpg

5:42 pm, a few miles southeast of Alta Vista. Although structure isn’t great, a big inflow tail is visible on the right side of the photo. I was keeping an eye on the center of the photo, where the inflow tail is feeding into the storm. I crept west a bit on the road for a slightly closer look.IMG_0611.CR2.jpg

5:45 pm, a bit west of previous photo. A Rear-flanking downdraft cut is starting to show itself here in the center. I was starting to wonder if this storm was going to try to produce a tornado. As I was driving west and then south, a suspicious lowering appeared where I would expect a tornado in relation to the RFD cut. I stopped twice to look at it, but it appeared to just be scud rising into the base of the storm. I found a good stopping point to take some photos.IMG_0613.CR2(1).jpg

5:53 pm, six miles southeast of Alta Vista, looking WNW. The image is slightly color-enhanced to help with contrast. There is a bit of a lowered area in the center on the NW side of the RFD cut, right where a tornado usually would be. There appeared to be “scud” filaments rising into the feature. The feature persisted for approximately 3 to 4 minutes. If it was a tornado, it was likely very weak. I wasn’t completely sure what was going on, so I didn’t send a report to the NWS about it. Later as I checked my photos, I sent a report to the NWS via Twitter about my experience, explaining that I still didn’t know what that was. As of this writing, no tornado has been confirmed yet.

After the feature dissipated, the storm transitioned into an outflow-dominant state. I continued south and east some more to find a good spot.IMG_0616.CR2.jpg

6:10 pm, southeast of Alta Vista, looking NW. There is still somewhat of an RFD cut visible, but I was getting NW winds at this time. I was beginning to wonder if the storm had become elevated, as the outflow boundary was 10 or so miles south of the storm by this point. It appeared to try to bring in surface or near surface based inflow one more time, then started to dissipate.IMG_0620.CR2.jpg

6:26 pm, southeast of Alta Vista, looking east. A couple of nice rainbows ended a very interesting day in the Flint Hills.

Chase Log: May 14th, 2018 Arkansas City, KS Tornadoes

Another great chase day in 2018 started with very low expectations and resulted in two tornadoes in south-central Kansas northwest of Arkansas City, my third and fourth of the year and fifth and sixth overall.

Days like May 14th, 2018 are pretty common late spring/early summer days; a lot of instability with not much wind shear. This can lead to lots of storms that aren’t organized enough to produce tornadoes. On the morning of the 14th, I woke up to a Slight risk by the SPC with less than 2% tornado risk. I still had some hopes of a chase, so I paid some attention to how things progressed. By late morning, the SPC put a 2% tornado risk for eastern Kansas and western Missouri. I noticed a surface boundary of some kind (maybe the synoptic stationary front or an outflow boundary) moving slowly southward near Wichita, then stalling out. With a large amount of instability and a diffuse boundary of some kind, magic can happen. I figured in a slow year like 2018 I had to take my chances, so I left home around 1 pm to my initial target of El Dorado, Kansas. I got on the turnpike and saw some severe-warned storms to the east of Cassoday. I should note this was my first time in that area of the Flint Hills, and it was beautiful. I considered driving east towards the storms once I got to El Dorado, but there were some storms trying to form further south, near Winfield and Arkansas City. I thought these storms would have the best shot at having good structure at least. I arrived in Arkansas City as some updrafts were going up, but they were still competing for space. I found a good spot to watch things west of Arkansas City for a while. One storm started to look good, but a left-moving supercell developed and started to move towards it.IMG_0511

4:26 pm, a few miles south of Geuda Springs, Kansas, looking southwest. You can see the updraft base on the right (or north) side of the storm, meaning it had anticyclonic rotation, and posed no tornado threat. The storm wasn’t severe warned at the time, but it looked like it might contain some hail, so I wanted to sample the core. I drove through the tiny town of Geuda Springs, heading north, (where a turtle was in the road and a kid came out to grab it) and found a paved road heading north. I stopped at the Slate Valley Church four or five miles northwest of Geuda Springs where I awaited the heaviest precipitation. Sure enough, I saw some small hail after a few minutes, and I was fairly satisfied with my chase day.

A peculiar thing happened around this time; the left moving supercell merged with another storm to its north and became a right-moving supercell. I noted this on radar, and as I was in the core (north of where the updraft base would be) I headed back south towards Geuda Springs. I found a good spot to watch the storm for a while just west of town.IMG_0513

5:23 pm, just west of Geuda Springs, looking northwest. A nice updraft base is quite prominent here. I was beginning to have some hope for this storm, but there were other storms forming to the southwest that kept crashing into the big storm and disrupting it. I made a comment to my group chat at this time that I thought it would have a chance if other cells stopped merging with it. About ten minutes after this shot, another cell merged with it. I stayed at this spot, waiting to see what happened.IMG_0516.JPG

5:49 pm, same location. After the merger, another updraft base formed in about the same location. This one wasn’t as impressive as the first, but I had some hope still, as there looked to be one more merger coming up. If the storm could survive it, we might be in business.

After the merger, I headed northward now, as it looked like the storm was moving a bit north of due east. I stopped at the Slate Valley Church (again) and checked the radar on my phone. I was stunned to see that rotation in the supercell had rapidly increased. It appeared to have ingested a boundary of some kind, increasing the helicity in the near-storm environment. I could see a clear slot, but there was no visible rotation in the cloud base. My phone rang, and my phone said the call came from Wichita. The National Weather Service in Wichita called me to ask what I was seeing. I told them I saw on radar the rotation had increased, but I couldn’t make out any visible features of interest (like a wall cloud, funnel cloud). They thanked me and told me good luck, and I drove back south towards Geuda Springs. I found a good gravel road to stop on with a couple other chasers. I looked to my north and gazed upon an amazing sight.IMG_0519.JPG

6:09 pm, a few miles northwest of Geuda Springs, looking north. A wall cloud is visible less than a mile to my north. It was an incredible feeling, being so close to the center of the storm. The storm was strengthening rapidly at this point. My phone got an alert saying that the NWS had issued a tornado warning for that area.IMG_0520

6:11 pm, same location. There was visible rotation in the middle of the photo. There was even a funnel-wannabe at a couple points, but the storm seemed like it wasn’t ready to produce quite yet. I was lashed by rain as the rear-flanking downdraft pushed eastward, signalling a temporary end to the tornado threat. The storm was nearing the Arkansas River, meaning I had to pick a good river crossing to my east. I drove through Geuda Springs (again) and found a good road with a bridge heading east.IMG_0523.JPG

6:28 pm, just east of Geuda Springs. The small feature just above the cedar bush in the middle-left was something to keep an eye on. Sure enough, as I continued eastward, it developed into an impressive funnel. I found a gravel road to stop on a few miles northwest of Arkansas City.IMG_0525

6:35 pm, a few miles northwest of Arkansas City, looking north. Obvious funnel in the middle (obscured by a power pole). You may be able to make out a darker area in the rain where the tornado is touching down. I could see a swirling motion at the ground, so a tornado was in progress. Later, it was confirmed as an EF0 tornado that downed a few power poles. The tornado appeared to be weakening after a few minutes, so I drove eastward and found a spot to get a look into the storm as I came into Arkansas City. I could barely make out a tornado roping out in the heavy rain as I looked northwest. Turns out that this was a separate tornado, so that’s two on this chase. I drove east of Arkansas City, hoping to keep ahead of it, but the combination of terrain, bad road networks, and the fact that the storm appeared to have permanently transitioned to an outflow-dominant state made me decide to head for home.

For a day with almost zero expectations going in, this has to be considered a great chase. Hopefully there is more to come in the next few weeks.

Chase Log: May 1st, 2018 Tescott, KS EF3 Tornado

Easily the best chase of my life so far, I witnessed two tornadoes in north-central Kansas, including the large, intense Tescott/Culver, Kansas tornado.

This day (and week) had been on many chasers’ minds for a while, as computer models indicated a large trough would develop in the western US and move slowly eastward. May 2nd had looked like the biggest day for some time, while May 1st was a “day before the day” kind of setup. I had planned on chasing for a few days, as central Kansas is not far from home, and I felt like there would be a good chance for tornadoes. The SPC issued a 10% significant tornado risk for May 1st, in a relatively small area of central Kansas, including Great Bend and Salina. Supercell thunderstorms were forecast to develop in the mid-afternoon, and if they remained isolated long enough, would have significant tornado potential closer to sunset. I decided that Great Bend would be a good starting point for my day and left home around 9:30 am.

I topped off my gas tank in Ellsworth and briefly visited the Cheyenne Bottoms nature center before arriving in Great Bend. There were a lot of chasers in Great Bend (and other towns nearby) as many people from out-of-state had decided to take a chasing vacation (chasecation) for this week. I met some of my fellow chasers before storms developed, and around 2:30 pm I headed north to Hoisington. Several storms were forming from north of Hays south to Dodge City; the question was which storm would go on to be a long-lived supercell. A couple of strong cells developed east of Jetmore, so I drove west of Hoisington to near the small town of Olmitz and found a nice spot to let the storms come to me.IMG_0448

3:31 pm near Olmitz, looking WSW. At this point, storm cells/updrafts were still getting organized. I was pretty sure one of the cells to my southwest was going to be a good one, it was just a matter of waiting. Once an updraft became established, I moved a few miles further west to near Otis to await the storm.

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4:17 pm near Otis, to my southwest. An updraft became dominant southwest of Rush Center, with a base visible in the middle-left of the image. The storm is still 30-40 miles away from me at this time, and is moving in my general direction, so I figured staying at this spot and waiting for a while would be a good course of action. I kept seeing chasers heading west around this time so I figured I must be doing something right.IMG_0459

4:24 pm, same location. It didn’t take long after the supercell fully developed for a healthy wall cloud to appear. Chasers closer to the storm reported some light rotation in it at this time. After a few minutes, the wall cloud became obscured by rain from my vantage point. Some rotation was continuously occurring on the storm.

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4:48 pm, same location. As the storm got closer to me, it started to lose some of its splendor. It became largely outflow dominant, with little tornado potential. I moved back eastwards to near my first spotting location. At this point I realized that my camera had low battery (rookie mistake) and I didn’t get many good photos for a while, as I had to conserve my battery. The storm, while still a supercell, continued to lose its good structure. A supercell had begun to develop on the southwest flank of the first storm, and another storm was approaching from the south, likely to kill the first storm. Seeing as there was another impressive supercell near Greensburg, and some other chasers I knew moved towards it, I began to head to the south to intercept that one. I traveled down dirt and gravel roads for around 20 minutes and began moving east on K-4 east of Claflin, thinking I could quickly go south. However, I began to realize that it was likely too far to go. Some chasers who were on the first storm reported that the supercell that developed on its flanks had begun to organize, so I decided that hell or high water, I was going to stick with the northern storms.

Driving northward from near Bushton, I had to drive down dirt road after gravel road to get to the new supercell. I’m glad this area has such good roads, as they afforded me the chance to catch up with the storm. I could make out the mesocyclone of the supercell, with a relatively high base. The area became very hilly southwest of Ellsworth, and while beautiful, was getting somewhat difficult for chasing. IMG_0474

7:08 pm, west of Ellsworth, looking north. While contrast isn’t very good, it’s easy to pick out the funnel cloud. Some chasers closer reported that there was ground circulation at the time, so it appears as if this was a tornado. The storm still has a fairly high base, which explains why the funnel didn’t reach the ground. I stopped a few minutes for pictures, and the tornado dissipated. I continued east to Ellsworth, and drove north through town. The storm was to my northwest by this point, so I got on I-70 eastbound to get east and then north of it. Driving east, I noticed the storm was looking pretty impressive, with a strong rear-flanking downdraft cut in the base, and although it was tough to see in the rain, a wall cloud appeared to be taking shape. Many chasers were doing the same thing I did, and some got off I-70 at Brookville Road in western Saline County, heading north. I thought about doing that, but decided one more exit would be best. I got off at Hedville Road with a couple other chasing vehicles, and turned north.

As I drove north towards the small town of Culver, a large lowering was evident. Due to the hills/trees, I couldn’t see what was going on at ground level, but I remarked “it looks like that whole thing is a tornado.” Surprisingly, I was right. In a chatroom I use for weather and chasing, another chaser reported a cone tornado, but he got too far behind it to tell what was going on. I thought I saw something in the mesocyclone, but rain and scud clouds obscured my view. I drove northward until I finally came into a relative low spot and the town of Culver was in front of me.

My jaw dropped as I looked to my left (northwest) and a large, violent-looking tornado loomed in the distance.IMG_0061

7:53 pm on the south edge of Culver. Tornado is approximately 3-4 miles to my northwest at this point. There’s even some greenish colors east of the tornado. The guy in the foreground is Aussie storm chaser Daniel Shaw, who I follow extensively.IMG_0480

7:55 pm, same location. The tornado began to grow larger as it continued northeastward. The motion at the base of the tornado was quite impressive. Although the tornado was rated EF3, it was likely capable of causing EF4 damage at some point during its life.IMG_0483.JPG

7:57 pm, same location. Tornado is moving more north than east now and is heavily rain-wrapped. I stayed in this spot for a few minutes, and although rain was covering the tornado, I could still see the violent motion of the vortex. Many chasers were driving north, hoping to get a better view. I decided to head eastwards, thinking I could take US 81 towards Minneapolis for another intercept. However, the sun was setting, and the storm looked like it was going to stay HP (high-precipitation) so I drove south on US 81, got on I-70 east, and made it home.

The National Weather Service in Topeka surveyed the tornado the next day and rated it EF3 based on damage to a home southwest of Minneapolis (far to the north of where I saw it). It touched down at 7:41 pm in far northwest Saline County, moved into Ottawa County, missed Tescott to the southeast by about a mile, moved north of Culver and dissipated southwest of Minneapolis around 8:10 pm. It was on the ground for 14.5 miles and 29 minutes.

Interestingly, I chased twice in this area last April. I even drove down this same road chasing some garbage storms (can’t even remember the day) and on April 19th, I drove through Tescott. Third time’s the charm, I guess. A great start to May for me, and hopefully there will be more to come.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.