My First North Dakota Chase This Saturday

I've never chased storms in North Dakota, but that's about to change. Tomorrow Rob Forry and I are hitting the road for the severe weather event that's shaping up for Saturday along the Canadian border. This has been a puzzling scenario to forecast, with the models gradually aligning after painting some radically different scenarios. The NAM has wanted to move the system eastward faster and place the better  tornado action across the Canadian border, while the GFS and Euro have been more  optimistic and, I believe--I hope--more accurate. What the heck--Canada may get more shear, but North Dakota has the big CAPE. We'll find out Saturday. Lacking an extended driver's license that would grant me access to Canada, I'm counting on North Dakota to deliver. I feel confident enough that it will that I'm taking the chance. I keep eyeballing the region from Minot east toward Rugby and Devil's Lake, and north, and a bit south. Skew-Ts have looked consistently good in those parts, and there's plenty of CAPE to get the job done--around 4,500  J/kg MLCAPE per the GFS. My hope is that all that luscious, pent-up energy will produce something like what the NAM 4km nested CONUS radar shows at the top of this post. Come on! Big tubes and gorgeous storms drifting across the wide sublimity of the North Dakota landscape, and then steak and beer later on.

Memorial Day 2012: A West Michigan Lightning Extravaganza

I have yet to take some truly razor-sharp images of lightning, but each time I go out, I learn a little more about how to improve my lightning photography. Last night afforded me a great opportunity. Storms forming ahead of a cold front moved across Lake Michigan and began to increase in coverage as the night progressed, and I roamed with them across West Michigan from the shoreline at Whitehall and Muskegon State Park to inland northeast of Lake Odessa. My expedition was marred by the fact that I left the adapter plate for my tripod at home. I compensated by setting my camera on top of my dashboard and shooting through the windshield, an arrangement that works okay but which considerably limited what I was able to do at the lakeshore. Using the hood of my car to steady myself, I managed to capture a few shots of a beautiful, moody sunset, with the red semicircle of the the sun gazing sullenly through rain curtains of the advancing storms. However, parking by the side of a busy road where everybody had the same idea--to pull over and watch the storms roll in over the waters--just didn't work very well. After too many time-lapse images marred by tail lights (see photo in gallery below) I decided to hightail it and try my luck inland. It was a good choice. The storms multiplied as I headed back toward Caledonia, and with lightning detonating to my north and closing in from the west, I decided to continue eastward till I found an ideal location--a place far from city lights and with a good view in all directions. I never expected to drive as far as northeast of Lake Odessa, but I'm glad I did. Note to self: STOP USING THE ULTRA-WIDE-ANGLE SETTING WHEN SHOOTING LIGHTNING. Zooming out all the way to 18 mm is just too far, and cropping the shots doesn't work well. The crispness goes downhill. For all that, the images below aren't all that bad, and a few turned out really well. After Sunday's busted chase in Nebraska, it was nice to enjoy a few mugfulls of convective homebrew right here in West Michigan. I finally arrived home at the scandalous hour of 4:15 a.m., far later than I ever anticipated. I was tired but pleased. This Memorial Day lightning display did not disappoint.

Photos from the April 14, 2012, Kansas Tornado Outbreak

May has been an astonishingly idle month for chasing storms, at least from the standpoint of a Michigan-based chaser who can't afford to travel a thousand miles to tornado alley on every whim and wish of a slight-risk day. So tonight I finally got around to capturing a few still images from my video of the April 14, 2012, tornadoes in Kansas. Please excuse the graininess. These are, after all, video grabs, and the original footage was shot right around and after sunset. So ... not high quality, but great memories of an exciting and rewarding chase day. You can read my written account of it here.

Along the Long Lake Trail

This has been the quietest May I can recall weatherwise. The peak month that I and hundreds of other storm chasers have spent the better part of a year anticipating has turned out to be a dud. Maybe around the latter part of the month things will improve, but there's nothing to look forward to for at least the next week. If the weather isn't going to offer anything chaseworthy, then the way it has been is exactly the way I want it to be: blue, crisp, and beautiful, warm but not hot, with the sun smiling down on a landscape that's getting on with the business of spring. A couple days ago, I took a walk down the Long Lake Trail just north of Gun Lake State Park in northern Barry County's Yankee Springs Recreational Area. It had been a while since I had hiked the trail, and this time of year is perfect for the venture, so off I went. The first mile or so of the trail winds through hardwood forest, skirting a small bog and a tract of red pine, then sets you on a quarter-mile stretch of boardwalk through part of the swamp that surrounds Long Lake. It's a lovely hike that offers plenty to see if you know your native plants and their habitats. Here are a few of the highlights. The odd little plant to your right, which somewhat resembles miniature corncobs, is called squawroot (Orobanche americana). It is a common woodland plant, parasitic on oak trees. Click on the image to enlarge it. The trail winds through some particularly pretty territory. The photo below gives you an idea. There are a number of other images at the bottom of this page to keep it company. Ferns were in the process of unrolling their fronds. They never look more dramatic or more artistic than this time of year, when they're in their "fiddlehead" stage. Farther down the trail, where the boardwalk commences, marsh marigolds scattered Pointillistic fragments of butter-yellow across the swamp floor. Picking up on the golden theme, the first few flowers of small yellow ladyslipper orchids (Cypripedium calceolus var. parviflorum) peeked out shyly from among lush skunk cabbage leaves. The swamp is full of poison sumac, a small tree with which I've had considerable experience recognizing and avoiding. It is related to the cashew and also, of course, to poison ivy. Eating poison ivy at age six was not one of my intellectual zeniths, and it's not an experiment one should undertake casually. Long after the initial bitter burst of flavor has faded, the experience lingers in a way a body is not apt to forget. Word has it that poison sumac is even more virulent than poison ivy. That's not something I care to put to the test. Interestingly, the sap of its equally toxic cousin, the Japanese lacquer tree, is used as a varnish which produces some beautiful objets d'art, though how a body works with a medium like that is beyond me. But enough of the swamp and its sumac. Stepping off the far end of the boardwalk and farther into the woods, I encountered an elegant young beech tree standing sentinel on a mossy bank. I walked a bit farther, then turned back. The slanting sun rays were filtering long through the leaves, the temperature was cooling, and it was time for me to go practice my horn--which, by the way, I've been doing pretty consistently. But that's material for another post. Right now, check out the rest of my photos in the gallery below.

Last Day of March: A Retrospective on One Really Weird Month

Here on this Saturday afternoon, poised at the tipping point into April, I look back on the past month and think, "What the heck was that?" March 2012 has been the oddest March I can recall, and if it is exiting like a lamb, it is not a very nice lamb. But at least it's behaving more the way I'd expect it to. The first half of the month took the end of an abnormally warm winter to outlandish extremes, with record-breaking high temperatures across much of the nation. Here in West Michigan, not only did we consistently experience temps in the 70s, but we had a number of 80-degree days, one or two of which climbed perilously close to the 90-degree mark. For a while, it looked like we were emerging from the winter-without-a-winter into the summer-without-a-spring. It was ridiculous, and to me, alarming. What kind of spring, to say nothing of summer, did such an anomaly presage? Would the nation wind up with another killer heat dome like last year's, only maybe worse? Would the southern plains bake once again under an intolerable drought? With the Gulf of Mexico's moisture conveyor wide open, the lamb-like warmth of early March fostered some particularly leonine severe weather on March 2 in southern Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and other nearby states. It was the most lethal March tornado disaster since the 1966 Candlestick Park tornado claimed 42 lives. As the warm spell continued, wildflowers bloomed in the woods a month ahead of schedule. Maples exploded into chartreuse and red blossoms, hyacinths decked themselves out in yellow, cherries and other flowering trees put on their finery, and hepaticas, spring beauties, and trout lilies sprinkled the forest floors with color, all weeks ahead of their normal season. Now here we sit with flowers blooming and trees leafing out, and today's temperature is forecast to hit the low 50s. Yesterday we almost got snow. The unseasonable warmth left us a week or so ago, and now March is acting like itself. Except, what's with all these daffodils and pink plum blossoms? The severe weather also seems to have regressed, which I suppose is just as well. I'm presently eyeballing what looks to be the next major trough, which according to today's 6z GFS will swing into the plains Friday. At present, Saturday looks to have better potential, but at 180-plus hours out, there's obviously a whole lot of wait-and-see involved between now and then. The system that is presently working its way through looked similarly promising a week ago, but it rapidly deteriorated into a poster child for why anything beyond three days out is just a prompt, not a forecast. Anyway, right now, on this last day of March, I'm peering ahead and wondering: next Saturday, April 7? Maybe. Granted, I was entertaining similar speculations last week about tomorrow's no-show. Still, it's nice to have hit that time of year when the wildflowers are blooming, the robins are tugging worms out of the turf, and fools like me are once again gazing into the long-range crystal ball and thinking, "Hmmm..."

March 12, 2012, West Michigan Supercell

Well, what do you know! My purely speculative ruminations a few days ago on some possible upcoming severe weather materialized. The NAM, which was odd-man-out among the various forecast models, proved in the end to have the best handle on today's setup in terms of moisture and instability. Those mid-50s dewpoints it kept promising actually showed up--I took a read of over 56 degrees in Portage on my Kestrel--and so did sufficient instability, courtesy of clearing that allowed the sun to work its mojo over West Michigan. Here was the setup, in brief: • A mid-level low over Wisconsin directing southwesterly upper flow over Michigan. • Diffluence overspreading the lower part of the state. • A 70-knot 500 mb jet max nuzzling into the area. • Below it, 45-knot 850 mb winds continuing to strengthen. • A clear slot moving in from Illinois, breaking up the overcast from earlier storms into a nice cumulus field with room for decent insolation. • From those same earlier storms, wet ground that contributed to the boundary-layer moisture. • Adequate instability. From the afternoon's SPC mesoscale graphics, it looks like we saw upwards of 500 J/kg MLCAPE--in the early spring, sufficient to get the job done. • Low-level helicity in the order of 200-250 m2/s2--easily enough for tornadoes, though none were reported. I expected to leave my place in Caledonia and head south toward Kalamazoo around 3:00 p.m. However, clearing was moving into southwest Michigan so rapidly, with an attendant, juicy-looking cumulus field, that at 1:30 I could no longer sit still. I grabbed my gear, gassed up and Rain-Xed up, and hit the road. At the Marathon station on US-131 and 100th Street, I snapped a couple photos of the clouds while I waited for Tom Oosterbaan to arrive. In the topmost image, you can see how much shear was messing with the enhanced cumuli. Once Tom arrived, we headed down US-131 toward Kalamazoo. On Center Avenue in Portage, south of I-94, we hooked up with Tom's brother, Bill, and Dave Diehl. The four of us sat and waited, watching little storms on the radar pop along the lakeshore and head northeast and larger ones march across Grand Rapids and farther north. Eventually, a vigorous cell that was moving in from around Benton Harbor continued to strengthen as it pulled closer to PawPaw. Cloud tops on this guy shot up rapidly as it moved toward us, and it began to take on that telltale supercellular look. This was our baby. Bill took off west to intercept it directly in PawPaw. Tom and I headed north back up US-131, then caught M-43 west toward Bangor. A few miles down, a turbulent updraft base came into view. It was moving our way fast, and we decided that the better approach would be to jet back to 131, head north, and catch the storm as it approached and crossed the highway. WOOD TV8 contacted me before we hit the exit ramp, and with my live stream going, a live phone-in underway, and an optimal view of a robust-looking wall cloud with a rather impressive tail cloud advancing from my west, pulling over onto the shoulder of the ramp seemed like my best move at that point. I did, and from what I hear, the live stream turned out really nicely on television. As the wall cloud drew nearer, I took off once again, and we drew near to its southern edge as it crossed the highway, attended by a precip-filled RFD notch starting to wrap around it. The storm was tearing along, and as it moved off to the northeast, I had a hunch that our day was over. We tried hard to catch up with the storm again, but it was moving too fast. Bill, on the other hand, had repositioned well off to the east and was in a prime location to intercept it. He did, and followed it a long way east. How he managed to keep up with it during its course through rural Barry County, which is some of the most unchaseable terrain imaginable, I'll never know. (Actually, I probably do know--I've been on a lot of chases with Bill--but I ain't divulging his secret, not me.) After flirting briefly with another cell that blew toward us from Plainwell, Tom and I headed back toward 100th Street, where I dropped him off at his vehicle and then headed home. This was a fun little local chase--less than 200 miles and nothing spectacular, but full of interest and a really nice way to kick off the spring storm season in West Michigan. Just for grins, here is a brief video clip of the wall cloud as it passed over US-131.

An Interview with Shane Adams, Part 1: Retrospectives and Perspectives on Storm Chasing Yesterday and Today

In recent years, due largely to the influence of Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series, storm chasing has exploded as an avocation. What began over fifty years ago with a handful of individuals roaming the American heartland in pursuit of nature’s most violent and beautiful storms has evolved into a hobby practiced by multitudes, shaped by the media, and facilitated by state-of-the-art technology.

Today, equipped with a laptop, a modem stick, and radar software, a beginning chaser has an excellent chance of seeing tornadoes right out of the starting gate. But it wasn’t always so. Once there was no GR3, no mobile data, no live streaming, not even any laptops—and nowhere nearly as many chasers as there are today.

New chasers conceive of storm chasing as it is, not as it was. That’s inevitable. People live in the present, not the past, and any of us can only board the train from the platform we're standing on. Yet the past wasn’t all that long ago—that pre-tech era when the tools of the trade were few and the likelihood of busting far greater. Those of us who came up during those simpler times treasure the experience and carry a different perspective than those who cut their teeth on techno-chasing.

To scores of chasers who have been around the block a few times, Shane Adams needs no introduction. Shane has been a storm chaser since 1996. He’s well-known as a passionate and highly experienced chaser who lives, eats, and breathes storm chasing. With six storm chasing videos to his credit, Shane is the host of the weekly podcast The Debris Show; and, with his girlfriend and fellow chaser, Bridget Geaughan, he is the coauthor of the storm chasing blog Passion Twist.

Shane was good enough to do a written interview with me covering a broad range of topics of particular interest to storm chasers. The questions and responses range from the retrospective and occasionally philosophical to the practical.

Shane is an articulate, thoughtful, and passionate interviewee with much to share. Since the article is lengthy, I’ve broken it into two parts. In this first part, Shane talks about his personal development as a storm chaser; and, in the light of his own experiences, he reflects on the state of chasing today.

In part two, which I’ll release in another day or two, Shane talks about his personal approach to forecasting and chasing. He shares his unique account of chasing the tragic May 4, 2007, Greensburg, Kansas, supercell, and he looks back on the three most outstanding chases of his career.

Enough of my introduction. Here’s part one.


Interview with Storm Chaser Shane Adams

. Question: Some background stuff to begin with. Talk a bit about your boyhood. You currently live in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. Have you lived in Tornado Alley all your life?

Shane: I was born in Oklahoma City and lived there until my parents divorced at age four. After the divorce, my mother and I moved to Healdton, Oklahoma, which is in the southern portion of the state. Growing up there for me was fun, because we lived in the same house for thirteen years, and I made many lasting friendships and knew the area well. We had a pasture that butted up to our neighborhood, and my friends and I would spend countless hours playing out there, back when kids actually played outside. That was pretty much my life pre-storms, although growing up in Oklahoma my entire life, I had been aware of storms as far back as I could remember.

Q: What event, or events, first served to flip the switch of your fascination with tornadoes?

S: As I mentioned, I had always known about thunderstorms. I can remember way back, first seeing this weird word they always used on television weather warnings: tornado. I knew about severe thunderstorms but had no clue what a tornado was. My mother tried to explain it to me, but her very limited knowledge and understanding, coupled with my young mind, just didn’t really paint the picture.

Then April 10, 1979, came along. A massive F4 tornado ripped through southern portions of Wichita Falls, Texas, just eighty miles southwest of Healdton. A few months later, one of the local television stations did a story on the tornado. I was in my room when suddenly my mother started yelling for me. I ran out into the living room, and she pointed to the television. I looked at the screen and saw a huge, black, boiling mass of cloud scraping along the ground below the most ominous sky I’d ever seen. “There,” she said. “That’s a tornado.”

I was hooked for life.

Q: It’s one thing to be intrigued by tornadoes; it’s another to actually chase them. When did you first start chasing, and what inspired you to do so? What was your first chase like for you?

S: I dabbled with chasing for years before I really started, but this was nothing more than glorified spotting. I would move from one edge of town to the other, but when the storms moved on, I never followed. I did this infrequently from 1988–1995.

On April 21, 1996, I went on my first true chase, where I actually drove out of town, over the road, to try and find a tornado. However, this too was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and I only had a cheap disposable camera and a cooler full of ice in case I found big hail. There was no plan, except that if I got into hail bigger than golfballs, I would back off, fearing a tornado I couldn’t see would be close behind.

I did get hail up to golfballs that day, saved a few in my cooler, and took a few snapshots I never developed. But this was nothing I would consider a real chase by my standards. To make it a real chase for me, there must be a video camera for documentation. Otherwise, it’s just a drive.

My first “official” chase was June 6, 1996. I was working a landscaping job with a friend of mine named Greg Clark. It started to get stormy early that afternoon, so we decided to knock off early. I said on a whim, “We should go chase these storms and try to find a tornado.” Greg not only liked the idea but suggested that we grab his mother's video camera and tape the experience. It had never crossed my mind to actually videotape a tornado, but I was wild about the idea. (As it turned out, having the video camera that day was pivotal towards me becoming a chaser).

We grabbed the video camera, stopped by my place to look at a live update from one of the local television stations, and then took off towards a storm that was tornado-warned. There was no plan; we just called it as we went. All I knew at the time was, you want to be out of the rain, so we just drove right into the heart of the storm until the rain stopped. A lowering was to our south, so we turned east to pace it. We stopped, and I started shooting video. Literally seconds after I did, a small tornado formed out of nowhere, right in the spot I was pointing at, lasting less than a minute. It was pure dumb luck, but it was a critical moment for my chasing future.

Q: That first tornado obviously hooked you. What was your growth curve as a storm chaser like from that point?

S: I laughed out loud when I read this one. To put it simply, I was horrible. For years. I got by the first four or five years on sheer passion and tenacity. I didn’t know anything about the atmosphere or that I even needed to. Computer models were something I didn’t even know existed for the first year I chased. All I was armed with was an unrelenting, unrivaled passion to see tornadoes. There really was nothing else other than the minimal, basic structural and behavioral experiences I was slowly developing as I chased more and saw more.

As the years started going by, I started to recognize patterns and tendencies purely from what storms looked like or what the sky in general looked like. By my fifth season, I was pretty good at working a storm—meaning, how I handled it once I found it—even though I knew virtually nothing about finding storms. Basically, I learned how to chase storms way before I ever learned how to forecast them.

Q: Who were some of your key influences during those early years—people who helped you learn the ropes or who simply inspired you?

S: The first storm chaser I ever heard of was Warren Faidley. I received The Weather Channel’s Enemy Wind on VHS for Christmas in 1992 and wore the thing out. I had no clue there were people out there who actually chased storms seriously. But even more, I had no idea there were several people other than Faidley who had been doing it for years.

The first storm chaser I began to seriously follow and look up to was Jim Leonard. He was bigger than life to me. I was brand-new to chasing and just discovering the wonders of my storm chasing passion. Jim was the guy who, in my eyes, had done everything I wanted to do. His dedication to the art of chasing, and the fact that he’d started around the same age as I was and was still as dedicated well into his forties, was amazing to me. I idolized him, and I’m not the star-struck type. I met him briefly at a landspout seminar hosted by Al Pietrycha in Norman in 1997. I asked him a few questions about what was, at the time, my favorite intercept video from him: his June 8, 1995, Allison, Texas, wedge tornado. It was such a thrill to actually be standing next to my hero, although he had no clue who I was or that I worshiped him LOL.

Another chaser who, in my later formative years, really reached out to me was Gene Moore. He realized how ignorant I was but also saw my passion and dedication. While he could’ve easily ridiculed me, he instead took the time to talk to me about a few things he considered the basic, important essentials for storm forecasting. Things I still use to this day, every forecast, every chase.

Q: You came up in a time when technology and the media hadn’t yet shaped storm chasing the way they do today. What was chasing like for you in those days? What benefits do you think you gained from the minimalist, old-school approach that younger chasers today are missing?

S: The main difference between chasing now and chasing when I started is the laptop computer, but that’s over-simplfying things. Back in the day, we didn’t just not have computers, we didn’t have smart phones or iPods either. Today’s chasers never have to deal with long hours on the road the way chasers did years ago. Sure, twelve hours cooped up in a vehicle is still extreme, but it definitely softens the experience when you have constant entertainment at your fingertips, the way you would at home.

Chasers today don’t talk to each other, they chat. They stream. They surf. They listen to music. There will be a carload of chasers and each one will be in their own world, playing on a cell phone. Chasers today will never know what it’s like to spend twelve hours in a car when all you have for passing the time is conversation. And many times for me personally, I didn't even have that, because many of my past partners were champion sleepers when there was nothing exciting going on. It takes a special kind of person to willfully strap themselves in for a ride that could last over twenty-four hours, with absolutely no guarantee of seeing anything—even less of a guarantee without constant streaming data 24/7 to lead you to the storm on a string—and absolutely nothing to pass the time. These techno-generation chasers will never experience that level of dedication, and quite frankly, if many of them were to, I doubt some would stayas dedicated.

Basically now, chasing is just people doing all the same things they would be doing at home otherwise, except there’s a drive involved and maybe a storm or tornado. The “grueling, long hours” which are so often brought up by chasers praising their allegiance to their craft are nothing more than what they do every day, except they have to stop to use the potty.

I’m very grateful I was able to endure the type of chasing I did for a good number of years. We would jump in a car and drive to Missouri or Illinois from Oklahoma on a whim, with nothing to guide us except NOAA radio. We were always broke, so hotels were an extremely rare treat at best, maybe once or twice a year. Normally we’d just drive in shifts, and do straight-through chases of twenty-four hours or more. And this was with no Internet, no Spotify, and no Angry Birds. Just a carload of guys who shared one common goal: to see a tornado.

One time in 2000, we left Norman at 1:00 a.m. and drove straight through to North Dakota only to miss all the tornadoes by forty-five minutes. We stayed the night in Fargo, then drove straight back the next day, missing even more tornadoes because we got there too late again. That was a 2000-mile, two-day trip for some thunder and lightning. We had several of those back in the day, when the only thing fueling us was the desire to simply see and videotape a tornado.

There are few of today’s new chasers who would ever willfully endure that type of experience. Kids today want everything on a plate, with a remote, a keystroke, or some other too-easy device designed for no other purpose than to make an already easy life that much easier. A lot of chasers like to toot their own horn (nice pun, eh?) about how dedicated, extreme, and hardcore they are. Doesn't take much to drive 500 miles when you know you’ve got Internet the entire way and a nice, comfy hotel bed waiting for you that night. Try it with nothing but a NOAA radio and knowing that regardless of what happens, you’re not sleeping again until you get back home the following day. That’s hardcore.

But it’s a different world, and I have to accept that. I look around, and I really can’t relate to most newer chasers. They rely on electronics for their lifeblood, they care as much about making money as simply videotaping a tornado, and they’re all so busy trying to come up with the next big thing or gimmick. For me, at the end of the day, it’s about the storms and tornadoes, period. Streaming doesn’t matter, money doesn’t matter, and every other chaser out there doesn’t matter. All that matters is my video camera and that tornado in front of it. My day ends when the last tornado ends and the setting sun bleeds away. Their day is just beginning, hustling to contact brokers or potential customers with their day’s bounty. That’s fine for them, but chasing isn’t work for me. It can’t be, because I love it too much to ruin it by putting money at the top of the priority list. Everyone likes to deliver that famous line, “Hey, if I can get some money back that’s great,” but the reality is, once you taste money from chasing, it stops being about seeing storms and starts being about selling video. Because making $$$ from chasing is too much work for it not to be the top priority.

I’m happy fading back into obscurity, with my long resume filled with amazing catches the world doesn’t value because they haven’t been splashed all over the internet and television. I’m perfectly content to sit back and watch the flame wars, the ego battles, and of course, the constant brand/money wars. I watch this blur of an activity, as it is today, and smile inside, thinking back to how simple and innocent it was so many years ago. Even more simple and innocent years before my own career started. I’m proud to have come along when I did, to get a taste of the tail-end of a great era of storm chasing. There’s no doubt I’m the chaser I am now because of the way I learned, and that’s something I cherish. I haven’t seen the most or the best, been the closest, or lived through the worst, been the most famous or the most respected. I’m just doing my own thing the best way I know how, and will continue to trudge forward, ever-attempting to pen the next chapter in my life’s storm chasing adventure.

(Coming in Part Two: personal forecasting and chase approaches, the 2007 Greensburg storm, and top three career chases.)

Winter Storm in West Michigan

I don't normally let so much time elapse between posts, but...
  • •  I've been hugely focused on an editing project; and
  • •  I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago, greatly curtailing my activities; plus
  • •  this has been an abnormally warm, largely snowless winter thus far; and so, adding everything together
  • •  I haven't had much to write about.
But that has changed with the arrival of this latest winter storm, which I am live-streaming on iMap even as I write. Here's what it looks like on the radar as of around 9:20 a.m. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) A little farther down the page is a corresponding view from my balcony here in Caledonia, Michigan. Let's put it this way: it's not very pleasant outside. The Grand Rapids weather office has this to say:




The updated aviation forecast includes this addendum:
Latest station ob at GRR shows a temperature of 27 degrees. That's not at all horrible for this time of year in Michigan. What we're getting is actually standard fare. But that's not to make light of it. Conditions certainly aren't balmy, and a 20-knot northwest wind doesn't help. This is a great day to be inside. It's times like now when the benefits of working at home become strikingly apparent. No scraping ice off the windshield of my car. No driving down icy roads. Just a manuscript to edit while catching glimpses of the birds swarming the feeder against a backdrop of windblown snow. Life's good things aren't necessarily pricey. I'm content with a cuppa joe, a warm apartment, my work in front of me, and a pretty landscape outside the window with the snow piling up. From the looks of it, we've got around four inches right now. Bring on the rest of it. I'm not going anywhere.

Another La Nina for Winter 2011–2012

Snowfalls that paralyzed entire regions. A record-breaking tornado season. An unrelenting summer heat dome that baked much of the nation for weeks on end, coupled with disastrous drought conditions in the southwest. That has been our weather year 2011 to date, courtesy of its La Nina, which commenced in June of 2010 and ended last April. In another month, we can kiss the whole mess good-bye and good riddance. It's not the kind of year a body wants to see repeated anytime soon. But with yet another La Nina winter shaping up, chances are that's what we've got in store. In its typical terse language, NOAA's Enso Cycle: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions sums things up thus:
• La Niña conditions are present across the equatorial Pacific.
• Sea surface temperatures (SST) were at least -0.5°C below average across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.
• Atmospheric circulation anomalies are consistent with La Niña.
• La Niña is expected to strengthen and continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2011-12.
. The United States needs another La Nina right now the way a sick drunk needs another bottle of Boone's Farm. We're still reeling from the previous episode, and now here comes round two. While no one can predict with certainty how it's going to play out, the generalities are these:

• The north-central CONUS and portions of the Great Lakes down through the Ohio Valley are likely to see colder and wetter conditions.

• The south and southwest can expect warmer and drier weather--not welcome news to those living in West Texas and other places that have already endured week after rainless week this summer.

Also, while you won't find it stated in ENSO literature, statistically, tornado outbreaks east of the Mississippi have tended to occur during La Nina springs. Whether a correlation does in fact exist, circum 2011 certainly seems to corroborate the notion. Let's hope that this new player turns out to be La Nina Lite in terms of its impact. I can't imagine that it will be as nasty as its predecessor, but anything is possible. We're only getting started, and already the Northeast has gotten clobbered with a record-setting winter storm. The plus side is, parts of the drought-stricken West have received a rare and welcome snowfall. That's good, and I hope they get more precipitation, lots more, be it snow or rain. For those of you who pray, this new La Nina is something to enter in your prayer list and keep an eye on. This winter could be another bad one, and storm chasers may once again have their hands full next spring. Let's hope that Dixie Alley experiences nothing like what it did this year. We'll find out five or six months from now.

Autumn in Grand Ledge

I don't normally post twice in the same day, but I thought I'd share this photo. I took it this last Saturday, October 8, on the island in Grand Ledge, Michigan. Autumn was at its peak, and this shot captures well the flamboyance of this past, spectacularly beautiful week. Click on the image to enlarge it, then lose yourself in the almost overwhelming collage of color.