February 20: The “Everything” Storm System

February 20 2014 Davenport I find this screenshot of the Davenport, Iowa, radar fascinating for its variety. Captured at roughly quarter to five in the afternoon eastern time, it shows just about every conceivable kind of Midwestern weather in operation simultaneously. Tornadoes and funnel clouds. Squall line with embedded supercells. High winds. Hail. Flooding. Snow. Fog. Have I missed anything? If weather systems were baked goods, this one would be an Everything Bagel.* As I write, the squall line stretches from eastern Indiana all the way down to south central Louisiana and out into the Gulf of Mexico, and it is progressing eastward, continuing to generate high winds, tornado warnings, and flash floods. All in all, quite an active day for this waning February, particularly considering how far north convective weather has occurred. In the face of this winter's record-breaking snow and cold, today has been a potent harbinger of what this spring, when it finally arrives, may hold. Even here in Caledonia, we got a few rumbles of thunder, though nothing like what folks a few hundred miles south of us have experienced. The irony of it is, after this, it's back to winter again. Serious, snowy, cold winter, with no sign of a letup anytime soon. Eventually, of course, the arctic air will retreat, but not without a fight. Today was just a promissory note, a down-payment, on things to come. I'm in no hurry to collect. In fact, I'd just as soon get dumped on--seriously dumped on--just to see how much more snow we can squeeze out of this winter before a warmer pattern sets in. We've already experienced unreal; let's shoot for insane. We've come this far, so what the heck, let's do this thing right. But then--let's have spring. I'm lightning-starved and thunder-hungry. ----------------------------- * That is one of the worst analogies I've ever come up with, but I don't care. Well, I care enough to write this footnote, but that's all.

Winter Solstice 2013: Tornadoes (or Not) in Dixie Alley and Ice Storms North and West

It has finally arrived: Winter. Astronomical winter, that is. Meteorological winter has already been with us for three weeks, beginning December 1, and in my book, that is the more climatologically accurate date. Particularly this year. For the first time since 2009, we in Michigan have been experiencing a good, old-fashioned Great Lakes winter. Here in Caledonia, the snowfall has exceeded a foot, and Lisa, who arrived here from Missouri five years ago hating winter and now loves it, dotes on it, rejoices in it, has been having a high good time during her two daily walks, equipped with brand-new winter hiking boots and a warm, warm, waaarm and dry, dry, dry waterproof down coat. I am not so enthusiastic about all this white stuff as Lis is. My interaction with winter consists largely of sitting indoors at my work station, gazing out through the sliding door, watching the finches argue at the feeders and the woodpeckers whack away at the suet, and watching snowflakes pirouette gracefully out of the sky, and thinking, "Can we get this over with?" Yes we can, in a few more months. Because today at last we tip the scale, and from here on, daylight will be on the upswing. Two weeks ago, on December 8, the sun set in my town at 5:08 p.m. EST, just as it had been doing for the preceding four days, hovering within the eight-minutes-past-the-hour range but setting just a few seconds earlier each day. The 8th was the earliest sunset date of the year. From then on, sunset time would arrive incrementally later. For the next five days, through December 13, it would remain at 5:08, but instead of losing seconds, now it would begin to add them back until, on December 9, the sun would set at 5:09. The converse does not, however, hold true for the day's first light. The sun will continue to rise later and later until January 3 of the new year. By then, the sun will have been rising at 8:14 a.m. for five days until finally, on that date, the sunrise will, like the sunset, hit its own tipping point. From thenceforth, losing a few seconds each day, it will begin its slow march toward an earlier and earlier hour. On January 8, it will rise at 8:13 a.m.; on January 12, at 8:12; on the 14th, at 8:11; and so it will go, until on the 31st, it will rise at 7:59. By then, the sun will be rising approximately a minute earlier each day, and we will have gained fifteen minutes of sunrise time. Why, then,  is today, winter solstice, so special? Because today marks our shortest period of overall daylight, the narrowest space between sunrise and sunset. From tomorrow on, even though the sun will continue to rise later and later for a while, the sunset time will begin to outpace it and the gap between sunrise and sunset will broaden--slowly at first, then with increasing swiftness. By the end of December, we Grand Rapidians will have gained 41 seconds of daylight for a total of 9 hours, 14 minutes, and 16 seconds on December 31. By March 18, we'll be adding daylight at 2 minutes and 15 second per day, at which point we'll have maxed out and the gains, while still continuing up to the summer solstice, will become gradually less. You now know more about the winter solstice than you probably ever cared to. What makes this particular solstice even more interesting is the weather that's shaping up for it, which shows promise of making it a headliner with tornadoes in the deep South and ice storms to the north and west. Day 1 Winter Solstice 1630 Mod Risk 2013Here is the 1630Z convective outlook for today, depicting a moderate risk stretching from western Kentucky and Tennessee southwestward into Louisiana, with a 15 percent hatched area for tornadoes. Given the brevity of daylight, I find this situation interesting but not particularly appealing.  A look at forecast soundings suggests a crapload of rain, low CAPE, and high helicity, all driven by massive shear and Jackson MS 19Z RAP_Skew-Trocketing along through formidable terrain. A lot of chasers are out there, and I'm sure that if I lived in that area, I'd be among them, but looking at the Shreveport radar, I don't feel like I'm missing out on something. I got my fill of chasing fast-moving, rain-wrapped storms last November in optimal territory, and considering how that chase turned out, I think I'll be a lot more selective about such scenarios in the future. That said, I wish those who are out there good success. And safety. Drive carefully, mates and matesses. No storm is worth jeopardizing your safety over. As for me, I'm sitting well on the other side of the cold front, and freezing rain is in the forecast, though my local WFO has backed off on it in their forecast discussion. Lots of areas in the Midwest are getting hit with icy conditions, making for hazardous driving, power outages, downed tree limbs, and the like. The day grows later, and so far, glancing at the radar down south, I just don't see anything very exciting--just a messy-looking MCS with one cell south of Memphis showing a hint of rotation. Only wind reports so far, and I suspect that's how this thing will continue to play out. Tough for anyone who drove down there hoping for more; good for denizens of the region. And so enters the winter of 2013–14. Time to wrap up this post and get on with the rest of this afternoon.

Mini-Tornadoes: Defining a Microscale Mystery

In Europe they have mini-tornadoes. There was a time in my callow, formative years as a storm chaser when I was unaware that there was such a thing, but one learns. Besides, even veteran American chasers could make the same mistake as I, and probably have done so many times. From the reports, photos, and videos I've seen, a mini-tornado so closely resembles a standard-issue tornado in appearance and effect that here in the United States, most chasers would find it impossible to tell the difference. However, Europeans--newscasters and reporters in particular, who are largely responsible for disseminating the mini-terminology--are more discriminating and not easily impressed. In Europe, it seems that anything less than a Great Plains-style wedge isn't considered a full-fledged tornado. Not that wedges are a common occurrence across the pond. The perspective I've described appears to be based not on great familiarity with tornadoes, but rather, on a paucity of experience with them other than what is gleaned through viewing videos of the mile-wide monsters that stalk the American prairies. Now those are tornadoes! Compared to them, a trifling, block-wide vortex is ... eh. Small change. Plenty of U.S. chasers would take exception. The problem is, no mini-tornado criteria have been established that could provide a basis for arguing that probably 99.9 percent of mini-tornadoes are simply tornadoes. Not that at least one attempt hasn't been made to provide such criteria. Back in 2006, in a thread on Stormtrack, I myself presented a plausible set of determinants for mini-tornadoes, complete with a damage-rating scale, and I'm surprised that the NWS never adopted it. Follow my logic and you'll see for yourself that true mini-tornadoes are a phenomenon few Europeans, let alone Americans, ever encounter. Mini-Tornado Criteria A true mini-tornado must meet the following standards: . •  It is five feet tall or less. Of course, this implies an extremely low cloud base. You'd have to squat in order to get a decent photo. •  Width: Two feet or less. •  Human response: You feel a strong urge to say, "Awww, ain't that cute!" You want to pet it and maybe even take it home with you and give it a nice bowl of debris. •  The synoptic conditions can be contained within five city blocks. •  Overshooting tops can be viewed from above by taking an elevator to the ninth floor. •  Damage (introducing the M Scale):
  • M0: Damage?
  • M1: No noticeable damage.
  • M2: No, there's no stinking damage. Now go away.
  • M3: Okay, some damage now. Card houses knocked over unless securely glued together. Hair ruffled. That sort of thing.
  • M4: Now we're talking damage. Well-built card houses scattered into a lawn-size version of 52-Card Pickup. Ill-fitting toupes snatched away. Nasty things happen when you spit into the wind.
  • M5: Inconceivable inconvenience. Securely glued card houses swept entirely away and lofted across the lawn. Well-gelled hair twisted into impressive new designs. You want to get out of the way of this baby.
I hope this helps. Of course, according to these criteria, I suppose the UK has yet to experience a true mini-tornado. Someone should probably inform the press. And none of us should hold our breaths waiting for such an occurrence, because, truth be told, mini-tornadoes are extremely rare. But not utterly non-existent. The late, talented storm chaser Andy Gabrielson managed to capture on video his personal encounter with a good mini-tornado candidate on May 24, 2010, in South Dakota.* Check out his YouTube video at 1:56, and like me, you too can say to yourself, "What the heck was that?" --------------- * The footage up to 1:56 is not a mini-tornado.

A Session with the Doc

This storm season of 2012 started with a bang but then rapidly fizzled into a pathetic whimper. Now summer is here, and with the mid-levels heating up and dewpoint depressions widening to the point where one needs binoculars in order to see the cloud bases, I'm sensing the onset of Supercell Deficiency Syndrome (SDS). I hate that feeling. Half the time I want to curl up in a dark corner like a giant pillbug of despair, and the other half, I want to go out and beat the tar out of the first stupid simile I encounter and then run naked through a funeral parlor. SDS is not a pretty thing, and mine does not improve as I get older. So this year I've decided to meet the malady at its onset with aggressive therapy. Today I had my first session. As you can see from the following transcript, it went beautifully. --------------- Psychiatrist: Okay, Bob, I'm going to show you a series of images, and I want you to tell me what each of them reminds you of. Me: A tornado. Ps: All of them collectively remind you of a tornado? How do you know? You haven't seen any of them yet. Me: Nevertheless, they remind me of a tornado. Ps: All of them? Me: Try me. Ps: <Hrrummph!> ... Very well, let's proceed. [Shows me a large black blob on a sheet of white paper.] What does this look like to you? Me: A tornado. Didn't I tell you? A niiiiice condensation funnel lowering into the middle of a great big grassland, with really cool suction vortices swirling around its periphery and... Ps: Yes, yes, that will be fine, Bob. Now what about this image? [Shows me another blob. I don't know why he's asking. This one is clearly...] Me: Wow! AWESOME wedge! Where was that? Is that Manchester? Man, I wish I'd been there! Ps: Most of my clients see a butterfly. Me: Yeah, well, most of your clients are several boogers shy of a sneeze. Dang, what a monster! Ps: [Arching one eyebrow and chuffing thoughtfully on his pipe.] This promises to be an interesting session. [Shows me yet another blob.] Don't tell me you see a tornado in this too? Me: Stovepipe. Plus some really nice structure, very impressive. That is one wild-looking tail cloud! Where are you getting this stuff from, anyway? Hey, wait a minute ... that looks like one of Mike Hollingshead's shots from Hill City. I hope you got his permission. Ps: I don't know who Mike Hollingshead is, and this is not a photograph. It's a Rorschach inkblot, and I don't understand how you're seeing so much detail in it. Me: [Chuckling.] I've made it my business to notice the details, Doc. For instance, looking at this next image, which is clearly a nice elephant's trunk, I can see a clear slot wrapping nearly all the way around the funnel. The tornado is in the process of occluding--see how it's tilting? Ps: [Leaning in for a closer look.] I'm trying. Hmmm ... yeah, I think so. Kind of. Me: It's getting set to rope out. Another minute or two and it'll be gone--and meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for another circulation to start forming right about where--hmmm ... Ps: What? Me: We're in kind of a bad location, Doc. I think we need to reposition. Ps: Bob, we're in my office and it's a beautiful day outside. There's absolutely nothing to worry about. Me: But ... Ps: Now, what do you see in this next image? Me: Looks like the same storm, only a couple minutes later. The edge of the meso is right overhead and a cone is starting to drop. Doc, I really think we should ... Ps: [Smiling at me sagely. I hate it when people smile at me sagely.] Bob, trust me, we're fine right where we are. Repeat after me: "I am not out in the field chasing storms. I am in my therapist's office. There is no storm. I am perfectly safe." Me: There is no storm. I am perfectly safe. But Doc ... Ps: Perfectly safe, Bob. Just tell yourself that. You need to replace your negative self-talk with positive affirmations. Now, let's take a look at this next ... hey, what happened to the sunlight? All of a sudden it's pitch black outside. [The sound of a mighty wind swells up out of nowhere, rapidly intensifying to a deafening roar. The windows shatter. One wall rips away, revealing a millrace of debris blasting through the street. A cow flies across the room and a combine crashes through the ceiling, landing directly in front of Doc's desk. A playful little vortex finger snatches away his toupee. Then, just like that, the pandemonium ceases and all is still except for the clatter of errant pieces of lumber falling to earth. Doc is still sitting in his chair, wrapped around with pink insulation. His eyeglasses are crooked, his pipe has been replaced with a large cigar, and there is a wild look on his face.] Ps: What the hell ... what the bloody hell?!! Me: I tried to tell you. Ps: But ... but ... Me: Doc, this has been a great session! I can't tell you how much better I feel already. I never thought that just a few minutes with you could make such a difference. Ps: But ... Me: You, sir, are a genius, that's all. A genius! I hope we can have lots more sessions just like this one. Ps: *%@#!!!! Me: Could you repeat that for me, Doc? I want to write it down--it's pithy and I'm sure it's valuable. Wait, never mind, I recorded our whole session so I can review it later. Well, time's up and I've got to get to another appointment. I'll just clamber over the remnants of your office and be on my way. But I'm going to call and schedule another session with you as soon as you've got your clinic rebuilt. Good luck with that, by the way. Yeesh, what a mess! -------------------- That was just a few hours ago. I felt so depressed when I walked into my session with the doc, but now I feel great! It's amazing what a good therapist can accomplish in just a single visit, and I can hardly wait for my next appointment. I have a hunch, though, that it may not be for a while.

An Active Weather Pattern Moving In

These next few days look interesting severe-weatherwise from the northern Plains into the Great Lakes. Today holds the potential for a significant blow near the Missouri River in South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa. Here is a RAP forecast sounding for Sioux Falls, SD, for 00z tonight. I've been eyeballing that area via the NAM for a number of runs. Capping has been an issue for a while now, but NAM has consistently wanted to break the cap in the area I've mentioned. If I could have found a partner to split costs, I'd have left last night, but the thought of going it alone and blowing a wad of cash on a cap bust--a distinct possibility, with 700 mb temps hovering AOA 12 degrees C--spooked me. Now I think I should have taken the risk. Today could be another Bowdle day, and I wish I was in Sioux Falls right now. Some of the  indices there for this afternoon look pretty compelling, at least if the RAP is on the money. The cap could break between 22-23z, and if that happens, then walloping instability (mean-layer nearly 3,900 J/kg CAPE and -10 LI) and mid-70-degree F surface dewpoints will surge upward into explosive development, and ample helicity will do the rest. However, the SPC is not nearly so bullish as the above sounding, citing the complexity of the forecast due to capping and the lack of dynamic forcing. That's been a repeated theme. Today looks like one of those all-or-nothing scenarios where chasers will either broil in a wet sauna under merciless blue skies or have one heck of an evening. Boom or bust for those  who are out there. As for me, this evening I will either be watching the radar and beating my head against the wall or else congratulating myself on my good fortune for not going. But I'll also be packing my gear in preparation for tomorrow, and later tonight I'll be hitting the road with Bill and Tom. I'm uncertain what Sunday holds, but last I looked, the dryline by the Kansas-Nebraska border looked like a possibility on both the NAM and GFS. The weak link seems to be the dewpoint depression; it's wider than one could hope for, suggesting, as the SPC mentions in its Day 2 Outlook, higher LCLs. I haven't gone more in depth. We'll look at the model runs again tonight and pick a preliminary target for tomorrow.

First Plains Chase of 2012 Coming Up

I headed this afternoon to my tax man's office with a sense of dread and walked out with glee in my heart and a refund coming to me from the IRS. Sweet! Just what I need to help finance my storm chases this year. I am due for some good ones. Last year I was miserably sidelined while my friends pounded the highways during a spectacular, albeit tragic, tornado season. This year, God willing, I'll witness some beautiful tubes and breathtaking structure drifting across the vast sublimity of the Great Plains. March 2 was a mind-blowing start. Now I hope to capture my next round of video in a few days. I won't bother with talking about forecast models and such right now, though you can bet I've been keeping my eyes on the GFS and the Euro, and now the NAM. The big thing is, instability, moisture, and shear all seem to be lining up nicely. So Thursday evening I'll be heading for the convective manna-land of the West with my buddy, Bill Oosterbaan. Joining us will be a friend of his from across the state as well as Steve Barclift, an editor from Kregel Books who shares my love of storms and has been wanting to chase a few of them with me. Hopefully this weekend will provide both of these guys with a great introduction to the science, the art, the craft, and the awe of storm chasing. I am so looking forward to chasing storms once again out on the prairie! At last! There is no other place on earth like the Great Plains! 'Nuff said for now. Right now the other half of me--the jazz musician half--is calling out to me and demanding some time practicing my sax. Who am I to say no. I'm off.

Hurricane Irene in North Carolina

Hurricane Irene demonstrated to me conclusively that hurricanes aren't my thing. Maybe I'm too cautious; maybe I'm downright chicken; maybe I'm smart. Certainly I'm inexperienced; just as certainly, I've never felt the same fascination for the hurricane environment, as I've understood it, as I have for tornadoes and supercells. However these various factors work in combination, the bottom line is, while I'm glad I got the opportunity last weekend to experience an impressive degree of Irene, if not her full fury, I doubt that my future holds any more hurricane interceptions. Hurricanes and tornadoes are different animals, and the mindsets required for a severe weather junkie to appreciate the two are worlds apart. A tornado is ephemeral, arriving and departing in minutes; a hurricane is a time commitment of hours, possibly a lot of hours. A tornado is something you go to see; a hurricane is something you go to experience. A tornado's human impact is terrestrial; a hurricane's, amphibious, bringing the ocean with it as it arrives onshore. A tornado is something you seek to avoid getting munched by; a hurricane is something you purposely allow to ingest you, and it requires that you be willing to risk circumstances of a kind and scope that can outstrip anything even the worst tornado can produce. I'm by no means minimizing the lethal, wholesale destructiveness of tornadoes. I'm just saying, we're comparing apples and oranges. Yes, both storms pack a heckuva lotta wind, both are capable of horrific impact on communities, and both can kill you equally dead. But beyond that, the similarities vanish. Different personalities embrace the variables in different ways. My friend and long-time storm chasing partner, Bill Oosterbaan, is now hooked on hurricanes. His brother, Tom, enjoyed doing the eyewall with Bill at Morehead City, North Carolina, but I suspect that once was enough for him. As for me, witnessing the massive surf pounding Atlantic Beach as Irene approached, and watching tropical-storm winds and hurricane-force gusts blast our hotel inland at Greenville, was all the taste of Irene I needed. Don't get me wrong--the experience was thoroughly exhilarating, and I'm really glad I went. I just can't see doing it again, particularly with a stronger hurricane than Irene. I never expected to go to begin with. As Bill and Tom were making plans a few days in advance, I chimed in on the discussion, but I had neither the money nor the driving desire to join them, though I confess that I was intrigued. Then Bill called me three hours before their departure with the news that their trip would be underwritten and wouldn't cost a cent. Would I like to go? It was a kind, thoughtful offer. Bill knew that this storm season--historic and record-breaking as it has been for tornadoes--had been a miserable one for me as far as chasing went. Between family responsibilities and personal finances, it had been an utter washout, to the point where I've felt awkward even calling myself a storm chaser. Yeah, I've earned the merit badge over the last 15 years, but you wouldn't know it judging by this year. Bill and Tom, good friends that they are, knew that I had felt the disappointment keenly and wanted me to have at least something to show for circum 2011. So, making a last-minute decision, I grabbed the opportunity, threw some clothes into my softside, grabbed my gear, and off we went.

GPS and Live-Stream Hassles

Bill had made arrangements with WOOD TV8 to live-stream Irene using his new, super-fast Asus quad-core laptop. Unfortunately, DeLorme's serial port emulator wouldn't work with the laptop's 64-bit Windows 7 OS, nor would Bill's GPSGate recognize the DeLorme puck. The long and short of it was, while Bill could stream through iMap, there was no way of showing his location, rendering his live stream useless. My computer isn't as fast as Bill's, but it's fast enough, and it didn't pose the same problems. However, for some reason, I kept losing my mobile signal Friday as we headed towards Morehead City. Worse yet, my output on iMap appeared jerky and horribly pixelated, to the point where I finally just gave it up. So much for live streaming for both of us. And so much for getting the trip underwritten.

Big Surf at Atlantic Beach

Friday, August 26. After checking into our hotel in Greenville, North Carolina, we set off for Morehead City. When we arrived, the bridge to Atlantic Beach beckoned, so over we went. We parked in a lot occupied by various media crews as well as casual sightseers. With just two hours before law enforcement intended to start kicking people off the island, we bundled on our rain gear and took in the massive waves pounding the shoreline. The eye of the hurricane was still a good 150 or more miles south of us, but the wind was stiff and the sea a maelstrom of spuming breakers and brown, roiling undertow. My YouTube video doesn't do justice to that wild, watery scene. The waves farther out in the video had to have been a good 15 feet high, their tops trailing spray into the gale as they raced toward shore. By the way, that's me in the rain jacket and shorts, cavorting in front of the waves. Hi, Mom! Bill was determined to stick around and experience the eyewall, and I had the nervous sense that he wanted to hang out on the barrier island. My concern was that the island might wind up underwater, and that even Morehead City could get inundated by floodwaters, or the storm surge, or both. It just didn't seem wise to me to locate ourselves that close to the Atlantic shoreline. Irene, which the day before had been forecast to make landfall as a category 3 storm, had by now been downgraded to a top-end category 1, but she was still an abnormally huge hurricane. I was concerned that our escape routes would be cut off and we would find ourselves stranded, with nowhere to go and the ocean encroaching on us as Irene's eye moved in. High winds I'm fine with--bring 'em on; I like it. But I prefer them as a dry-land phenomenon, not a maritime experience. Ultimately, I wimped out. The guys graciously brought me back to our hotel in Greenville, which was where I'd thought we would ride out the storm to begin with. I felt ashamed of myself for inconveniencing them, and I knew that Bill was disappointed. We've shared so many storm adventures over the years, but this wouldn't be one of them. To be fair to myself, my reasonings--not all of which I've elaborated on here--were, I believe, fairly sound. Plus, again, I've never felt drawn to hurricanes the way I am to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Still, I had moved from an asset to a liability. I beat myself up for quite awhile, so in case anyone reading this post feels inclined to pitch in their two cents, spare yourself the effort. I already did the job for you. That said, there was something to be said for peeling off my sopping clothes--which, thanks to a catastrophic failure on the part of my Helly Hansen rain suit, had gotten totally drenched--and then kicking back on a dry bed to watch the unfolding coverage of Irene on TV.

Saturday, August 27

When I awoke, Irene was making landfall at Morehead City. I picked up the phone and called Bill. No answer, and no surprise. I wasn't certain whether the cell phone towers were working, but I was sure that the guys had their hands full. The television showed the west side of Irene's eye squarely over their heads. Outside, the wind was lashing a tree out in the courtyard and blowing a fine spray of rain against the window. Hurricane rain is not like the rain you get with an ordinary thunderstorm. The hydrometeors are smaller, halfway between droplets and wind-driven drizzle. But what a drizzle! Watching the stuff lash horizontally across the landscape, alternating between lighter respites and sudden, heavier bursts that tumble along like fog shot from a cannon, you really can't fathom just how much is actually falling. The answer is, lots, an almost inconceivable amount. By and by, I got curious what the view offered from a vantage point other than my fourth-floor room. Grabbing my video camera, I took the elevator downstairs and headed for the hotel entrance. There, for the first time, I got a good taste of Irene. Greenville may not have been in range of the hurricane's full force, but the westward extent of her tropical-storm winds had surprised forecasters, and my location lay within a concentrated area of those winds. With sustained speeds of 55 mph and gusts as high as 75 mph, there was more than enough to hold my interest. The higher winds in a hurricane are associated with its rain bands. When you see one of those bands approaching your location on radar, you can count on two things happening simultaneously: It is going to get very rainy, and it is going to get very windy. The transition occurs with a suddenness that verges on explosive, and in Greenville, its effect was everything you could imagine. Trees were down, and more were going down all the time. Branches were snapping. Power was out over a large area. In the hotel, the electricity flickered off and on, off and on, but amazingly, it somehow stayed with us for all but one two-hour stretch. As for Internet connection, forget it. I had been without radar updates since shortly after 8:00 a.m. So much for getting GR2AE volume scans of Irene while she was over Morehead City. They'd have made a nice memento for the guys, but there was no accessing the data.

The Storm Troopers Return

Bill and Tom returned around 3:00 in the afternoon, exhilarated and exhausted. After showering up, they headed back out into the wind and rain to catch dinner at one of the few open restaurants. They returned in an hour and filled me in on their eyewall experience. It sounded awesome, and I'm glad it was everything they'd hoped for. I can honestly say I didn't mind having missed it, but I was pleased that they got what they were after. Particularly Bill. Experiencing a hurricane is something he'd been wanting to do for several years, and now that he's gotten it in his blood, I'm quite sure he'll do it again. We started for home around 8:00 Sunday morning. The first 25 to 30 miles westward were littered with downed trees. Some of them blocked the road, requiring us twice to find an alternate route. In a few places, yards and even homes were flooded. Corn fields had been flattened by the wind and rain, and the tobacco, while not appearing as badly ravaged, had clearly taken a hit. Other more compact crops such as cotton and soy beans had fared better. Fourteen hours later, a few minutes after 10:00 p.m., we rolled into Bill's driveway, and a short while afterward, I was in my own vehicle driving east down M-6 toward home and my sweetheart, Lisa. Will I do another hurricane? Well, I didn't entirely do Irene for reasons I've at least partly explained. I did, however, get enough of a taste to confirm my sense that hurricanes don't exert the same pull on me as tornadoes. I'm grateful to Bill and Tom for wanting me to join them--thank you so much, guys! I really appreciate it. Those middle rain bands in Greenville may not have been as intense as what you witnessed, but they were a blast, and I'm very glad I got to see at least that much of Irene. However, lacking the passion required for accepting the risks involved, I would likely be just as reluctant to commit to a landfall intercept in the future as I was this time, and thus I would simply detract from the experience for others. That wouldn't be fair to them or enjoyable for me. So, while the old saying may be, "Never say never," I seriously doubt that another hurricane lies on my horizon. Not anytime soon, anyway. If you enjoy multiplied hours of wind, water, sweat, and uncertainty, then a hurricane just might be your thing. Me, I'll stick with tornadoes. They're not so all-fired comprehensive.

Tornadoes in North Central Nebraska

With family visiting from various long-distance places of the globe, I'm not posting much these days. However, last night provided an interesting spate of late-season tornadic activity in north-central Nebraska that I'd be remiss in not slapping up a couple images from GR2AE at the peak of the activity. Look at that pinhole in the reflectivity knob! I was even better defined in the ensuing scan, after which the rotation became more diffuse and the storm began to weaken. Prior to this, a few dedicated and fortunate chasers videotaped a nice stovepipe tornado near Wood Lake. All this in northwest flow with the storms moving in a south-southeasterly direction.

The Historic 2011 Tornado Season in Review: A Video Interview with Storm Chaser Bill Oosterbaan, Parts 2-4

This post continues from part one of my video interview with Bill Oosterbaan on his storm chases during the monumental tornado season of 2011. Since the interview involves one chaser's recollections, it obviously can't and doesn't embrace the entirety of this year's significant tornado events, such as the April 9 Mapleton, Iowa, tornado and the April 14–16 outbreak. The latter event was historic in its own right, the worst outbreak to occur since February 5–6, 2008. During most years it would have been the biggest headline maker for spring storms; yet in 2011, it got eclipsed three weeks later by the deadly super outbreak of April 25–28; and again on May 22 by the heartbreaking disaster in Joplin, Missouri, where 158 lives were lost. The tornadoes of 2011 will long be remembered for for their violence, size, and path length; for their sheer number; and for their devastating impact on large towns across the South and Southeast. In the following videos, my friend and long-time chase partner Bill talks about his experiences in Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. If you haven't already seen Part 1, I encourage you to start there and view the entire interview in sequence. These videos constitute a person-to-person conversation, not a series of tornado clips. In fact, due to issues with his camera, Bill regretfully didn't get the kind of video record he hoped for. He did, however, manage to film the Vilonia, Arkansas, wedge; and, equipped with a new camcorder on June 20, he captured some interesting and exciting footage in Nebraska, some which you can view here and here. Bill, while I couldn't join you on most of your chases this spring, I'm glad you had such a successful season. I know the dues you've paid over the years. You're the McCoy.

My Great 1,600 Mile Chase Bust

Monday and Tuesday this week were the storm chase from hell. It you're looking for a nice, upbeat post about chasing, you'd best skip this one. My feelings about my fiasco in Nebraska may have mellowed down enough for me not to unleash a full-bore rant anymore, but I've still got enough gunpowder left to blow off a few firecrackers. That's the result when impediment piles upon impediment and frustration upon frustration. With my sights Sunday night fixed on western Iowa and eastern Nebraska the next evening, I set my alarm clock for 4:30 a.m. and hit the sack. I was awakened by early morning light filtering through the window. Light? I glanced at the clock. It said 6:30. My alarm hadn't sounded and I was running late. Nuts. But okay, no problem. After a fast shower, I kissed Lisa good-bye, threw my gear into the car, and hit the road. I still had plenty of time to make eastern Nebraska, and that was a good thing because the SPC had bumped the focal point for tornadoes west. No time to analyze models--I just had to trust the Norman weather pros and hope for the best. Off I went. Thirty miles down the road in Zeeland I made a delightful discovery: I had left my debit card in my other pants pocket. This was the beginning of woes. Self-possessed person that I am, I responded calmly and maturely by protruding my eyeballs, depressurizing my feelings constructively using the special vocabulary that I reserve for just such occasions, and, a cat of nine tails not being handy, by rapidly banging my fist on the steering wheel in lieu of self-flagellation. Retrieving my debit card meant losing over an hour. I now was pushing the envelope, but I could still make eastern Nebraska by late afternoon. This being probably my last crack at a good setup in a record storm season during which I've been miserably sidelined, I was determined to try. So off I went again. I wasn't far south of Holland, Michigan, when the disquiet in my stomach became a bubbling, and the bubbling escalated into the kind of tar-pit-like seething that tells you a quick trip to a bathroom will be required in the near future. Between southern Michigan and east of Chicago, I made three pit stops. Another 45 minutes, literally gone down the toilet before I finally popped some Immodium and put an end to the rumblings. By the time I drew near to Omaha, the show was underway. A tornadic supercell was moving up out of Kansas into Nebraska toward the center of the surface low. My friend and long-time chase partner Bill Oosterbaan, who had called me as we both were initially approaching Zeeland and just as my debit card fiasco was commencing, was now far ahead of me and positioning himself for the next storm down. That storm went spectacularly tornadic and Bill got some great footage, probably the best he's gotten so far. But there was no way I could make it that far west in time to catch tornadoes. My show was clearly going to be the pair of cells to my southwest that were heading toward Lincoln. They were my one chance. But they were south of the warm front, and while surface winds were southeasterly, the storms were moving north-northeast. The low-level helicity required for tornadoes was lacking. My hope was that as the storms headed north they would tap into increasingly backed winds. But all they did was backbuild and congeal into a nasty squall line. My hopes were still up as I approached Lincoln; however, as I finally drew near to the northernmost cell along US 77 west of Roca, I could see that I was screwed. The cells had congealed into a pile of linear junk. I had driven over 750 miles to chase a shelf cloud, and it wasn't even a particularly photogenic shelf cloud. True, it had the local media in Omaha screaming about 75 mph winds and flash flooding, but I've seen plenty better right here in Michigan. Linear mess-oscale convective systems are our state storm. No point in prolonging the pain. I started heading home, my idea being to get far enough east that I'd have time to chew on the system's leftovers back in Michigan the next day. Bill had business in Iowa and was overnighting at the Hilton in Marshalltown, so I bunked with him there. He'd gotten four tornadoes in Polk County, and we reviewed his footage. Very nice stuff! He'd gotten close enough to a large tornado to capture the roar. Here's his YouTube clip. Sigh. So near and yet so far. An arcus cloud isn't much of a compensation prize compared to a tornado. Of course there was still tomorrow back home. A warm front looked poised to drape right across Grand Rapids with SBCAPE in the order of 4,500 J/kg--an optimal setup for Michigan, except that the models consistently depicted the 500 mb jet hanging back just to the west in northern Illinois and Wisconsin. Bill and I in fact hooked up again the next day after his business meeting and briefly discussed chasing the low in Wisconsin. But that area is some of the worst chase terrain imaginable, so we scrapped the idea and went our ways. Somewhere around Davenport, out of idle curiosity, I checked out the SPC's mesoanalysis graphics and noticed that the mid-level energy appeared to be nudging eastward toward Michigan. Hmmm...maybe there might be a bit of a show after all. I gave Kurt Hulst a call. He had hung back in town and was planning to chase today, not expecting much but thinking that the big CAPE could compensate somewhat for poor upper air support. I agreed, particularly now that it looked like 500 mb and higher winds might reach the threshold for storm organization. Later VAD wind profiles at GRR showed nice veering with height along with 30 kt winds at 18,000 feet. Not a setup to die for, but it might just work. And it did. A beautiful supercell fired up along the warm front, and Kurt was on it in a heartbeat. He got in some nice chasing on several storms, witnessed rotating wall clouds and a funnel extending halfway down, and did some call-ins for WOOD TV8. Good work, Kurt! As for me, I got delayed by a traffic bottleneck in Joliet, Illinois, and attempting to find a detour proved to be a huge, time-consuming mistake. I finally arrived in Michigan in time to chase storms, but not the ones on the warm front. Once again I had to settle for what I could get as I belted east down I-94 and punched through the line near Marshall. By then the mid-level winds had backed off and I was left with the usual, disorganized Michigan crap-ola. There was a lot of that, though. The warm sector was remarkably juicy, and more storms kept popping up behind the main line. Heading back through Battle Creek, I parked in a lot across from the old Kellogg Museum and watched a couple of cells south and west of me detonate their munitions. I'll say this: The lightning this day was intense, lots of brilliant, high-voltage positive strokes, many of which struck close by. It was an impressive, beautiful, and exciting pyrotechnic display. But now that it's all behind me, my tornado tally for this year remains zero. Between Monday and Tuesday I drove over 1,600 miles and blew through around $200 worth of gas to see nothing that I couldn't have seen by simply sitting in my apartment and looking out the window. It's frankly a bit humiliating, considering what a benchmark season this has been for storm chasers. Family comes first, though, and tight finances in a rotten economy have been a potent regulator. Sometimes all a body can do is choose his attitude. I confess that mine wasn't all that great these last couple of days, but I talk with the Lord about such things. It's the best I can do: put my feelings before Him honestly, then do what I can to adopt a more positive spirit and move on. Still...it sure would be nice to see a tornado yet this year. Just one. I don't think that's too much to hope for. Sigh. Maybe this fall.