Returns: A Modest But Happy Summary of The Year’s Storm Chases

Wow! More than a year has passed since I’ve posted in this blog. So much has happened, some of which amounts to a veritable sea change in my life. But I’m not going to get into that here. Relevant for is this: the site’s URLs, which acquired an unwarranted and unwanted prefix when I was forced to switch from my superb but now defunct former webhost to Bluehost, are now fixed, and this blog is properly searchable and functional again.* Already, in just a couple days, I’ve seen three sales of my book The Giant Steps Scratchpad, and hopefully this site can once again gain some traction as both a jazz saxophone resource and a chronicle of my obsession with storm chasing.

As the dust began to settle from a painful but beneficial transition, I found myself with the wherewithal to finally chase a bit more productively and independently than I have in a long time. It felt wonderful—wonderful!—to hit the Great Plains again in a vehicle that is trustworthy, economical, and comfortable for driving long distances. Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota—hello, old friends. It was so good to see you again at last, such a gift to drive your highways and take in your far-reaching landscapes . . . and yes, to exult in your storms, your wild convection that transforms your skies into battlegrounds of formidable beauty.

It is a long drive from Michigan to tornado alley, eight hundred miles or more just to get to the front door. Ironically, I could have spared myself most of my first trip. It landed me in Wichita overnight, then on to chase the next day in southwest Kansas and northeastward almost to Salina. No tornadoes, though. They were there, all right, but I was out of position and uninclined to punch through a bunch of high-precip, megahail crud along the warm front in order to intercept potent-looking (on the radar) but low-visibility mesocyclones. Two days later, though, on May 20 in northwest Indiana on my way back home, the warm front was exactly the place to be, and I filmed a small but beautiful tornado south of Wolcott. It was my one confirmed tornado of the year.

A few weeks later I hit the northern plains with my friend Jim Daniels, a retired meteorologist from Grand Junction, Colorado. It was his first chase, and for me, one of the blessings, besides the good fellowship and opportunity to build our new friendship, was introducing someone to chasing who already had his conceptual toolkit assembled. No need to explain how a thunderstorm works or how to interpret radar—Jim’s a pro; I just handed him my laptop, let him explore the tools, and we were ready to rumble.

Except—no tornadoes.

Then came August and a shot at severe weather right here in Michigan. I tagged along with a slow-moving, cyclic, lowtop supercell with classic features through the western thumb area of the state. It was nicely positioned as tail-end Charlie, sucking in the good energy unimpeded. A little more instability and it could have been a bruiser. As it was, it cycled down to the point where I thought it was toast, just a green blob on GR3, at which point, faced with a long drive home, I gave up the chase. Naturally the green blob powered back up and then spun up a weak twister ten or fifteen minutes later.

I didn’t mind missing the tornado. Well, not much. I had chased about fifty miles from Chesaning to south of Mayville, about two and a quarter hours, and gotten plenty of show for my money—rapidly rotating wall clouds, a funnel or two, and some really sweet structure of the kind you rarely see in Michigan. Then on the way back, as a cold front swept in, the sunset sky was spectacular.

Waterspout season has also come and gone, and I hit the lakeshore a number of times. One of those times was fruitful, and I captured some images of a couple picturesque waterspouts out at Holland Beach. They were all the more interesting because they occurred southwest of a clearly defined mesocyclone. But I’ll save that and a pic or two for a different post. It deserves a more detailed account, don’t you agree? is about jazz saxophone and improvisation as well as storm chasing. So if jazz is your preferred topic, stay tuned. It’ll be comin’ at ya. Got a few patterns and licks to throw at you that I think you’ll enjoy.

That’s all for now. is back in the race.



* The one exception is the photo gallery. Photos in individual posts work fine, but the links on the photos page don’t work.

Also, formatting is messed up in the text of a lot of older posts. So I still have some issues to work through with BlueHost. I’ll probably have to pay to get the image gallery working right again; hopefully not so with the formatting stuff.

June 12 Chase in Northwest Indiana and Michigan

There’s nothing fancy about these pics. They are what they are. But after a tremendously frustrating May–a rant I won’t even bother to get into right now–it is nice to have at least something to show.

The setup was a warm front strung from Iowa eastward across northern Indiana, typical of the south-central Great Lakes region. While the NWS was talking of a derecho, forecast soundings a couple days in advance seemed to point to tornadic potential. And indeed, on the day-of, the SPC issued a high risk across the area, with a 10 percent hatched tornado risk in the area where Kurt Hulst and I chased and a 15 percent hatch farther to the west.

6122013 Meso NW INThe photos show what we came up with in northwest Indiana south of Koontz Lake. The first blurry shot is of a small mesocyclone on a storm which, on the radar, gave only small hints that it could harbor one. Sometimes, given the right environment, what base reflectivity renders as amorphous blobs can provide surprises where you find a little sorta-kinda-almost hooky-looking little notch, and that was the case here.

For a minute, it actually looked like it might give us a tornado, but the lack of surface winds was a good clue that wasn’t gonna happen. Structurally, though, this little storm offered an interesting opportunity to try and read clues in the clouds as to what it was doing or planned to do. I’m not sure I ever did figure that out, but it was fun to watch.

6122013 Meso S of Koontz Lake INAfter watching it for several minutes, we dropped it to intercept the larger, more robust cell advancing behind it. This storm had displayed prolonged rotation on radar, and as we repositioned near a broad stretch of field that gave us a good view, we could see a stubby tail cloud feeding into a large, flange-shaped meso. The storm was clearly HP, with a linear look to it that suggests a shelf cloud, but there was no mistaking the broad rotary motion, and you can make out some inflow bands in the picture. At one point, a well-defined funnel formed just north of the juncture with the tail cloud (or whatever you want to call it) and the  rain core, drifting behind the core and into obscurity.

We played tag with this storm for a while, but it was toward sunset and getting darker and darker, and eventually we decided to call it quits and head back. The storms where we were just lacked the low-level helicity to go tornadic. There was ample surface-based CAPE–somewhere in the order of 3,000 J/kg, methinks– but whatever inflow was feeding them appeared to be streaming in above ground level.

So we headed back into Michigan, and as we drove north on US-31 near Saint Joseph, things got interesting fast. Green and orange power flashes suggested that a high wind was moving through nearby. A glance at the radar and, sure enough, there it was: a bow echo. It didn’t look terribly dramatic on radar, but looks can be deceiving.

Heading east on I-94, we attempted to catch up with the belly of the bow as it rocketed toward Paw Paw and Kalamazoo. The next fifty or sixty miles was a millrace of frequently shifting high winds and torrential rain punctuated by power flashes. At one point, we narrowly missed running into a highway sign that blew across the road in front of us. At another, we passed an inferno where a falling tree had evidently gotten entangled in a power line.

North of us on the radar, we could see a supercell moving over the town of Wayland. But it was a little ways beyond reach, particularly given the kind of backwoods territory that lay to its east.

The high winds and driving rain ended, ironically, as we entered Kent County. My little hometown of Caledonia got just a relative dusting of rain and maybe a zephyr of outflow. It was hard to believe how much drama was playing out just a few miles to the south.

Big thanks to Kurt for taking me out with him when I didn’t have the gas or the money to chase on my own. I needed to get out and chase, and the sneering irony of having a robust setup dropped in my backyard and not being able to do anything about it was really eating me yesterday. I got to go out after all, and it felt wonderful.


Quick Summary of Wednesday’s and Thursday’s Chases

Five days and nearly 3,000 miles later, I’m back from out west. This storm system proved to be a disappointment, but it did have its moments. Bill Oosterbaan and I intercepted a nice low-topped supercell in northeast Kansas on Wednesday night, and it’s possible that we witnessed a brief tornado. I need to scrutinize the brief footage I got of the storm feature in question. What was unmistakable was the broader circulation of the storm. It seemed weird to be chasing a north-moving storm with inflow from the northeast, but that’s how it was with storms that moved along a warm front–apparently across it–near a low center with a 500 mb closed low in the vicinity.

Yesterday was a more typical setup. We targeted the Muskogee, Oklahoma, area, which the SREF and RUC pointed to as offering the best overlay of instability and mid-level support, with the H5 jet core nosing into the region.

We were right on the first storms as they initiated, but they were feeble things that just couldn’t seem to get their acts together. With a long drive home lying ahead of us, we concluded to start heading north and settle for a nice lightning show on the way home.

But our prospects improved as the 500 mb jet began to strengthen. A couple of cells to our west and northwest intensified and began to take on a telltale appearance on the radar. A handful of scans later, rotation started to manifest on SRV. By this time we were on US 59 north of the Grand Lake of the Cherokee, east of Vinita and directly in the path of the southernmost cell. At a side road, we pulled aside and I tripoded my camcorder and videotaped some nice storm features: pronounced beaver tail, tail cloud, a nasty-looking wall cloud, and a wet RFD notch.

Beginning as a classic supercell, the storm looked for a while like a tornado breeder. But after predictably morphing into an HP, it eventually lined out and got absorbed into the wad of convection springing up to its south. Lack of adequate helicity is probably what kept this and other storms non-tornadic. METARs showed backed surface winds in the vicinity of the storms, but from what I observed, surface inflow was non-existent to weak. Hodograph curvature doesn’t matter much if boundary layer wind speeds are puny.

I have a few photos to process that I’ll slap up in a day or two, possibly along with a radar grab or two. Right now, though, I’ve got some work I need to accomplish before the work week ends, so here’s where I sign off.

So You Want to Be a Storm Chaser

The long months are here for storm chasers. Winter, the season of convective inactivity. The time some of us love but most of us simply endure. Three months–four, really–lie between now and our favorite time of year when the spring storm season begins to ramp up.

These are not idle months, though, or at least, they shouldn’t be. Now is the time for chasers to be cracking the books, reading papers, doing what they can to hone their forecasting skills. One great tool for achieving that objective has been the chase cases on Stormtrack.

For those not familiar with them, the chase cases are a user-based initiative in which, for a given case, a forum member volunteers to supply suites of data commonly used by chasers to pinpoint their targets. The data is typically gleaned from NOAA archives of actual weather events, with the first batch of maps, soundings, radar, satellite images, and SPC text products usually time-stamped 00Z on the night before the event. Chasers consult the data and determine their initial staging areas, then adjust their positions as subsequent forecast suites are released over time. A typical chase case can take three days or more to complete, depending on how busy the person supplying the data is.

At the end of it all, the players get to check their positions with the final radar images and storm reports and determine how they fared. Since these virtual scenarios are based on actual severe weather events that include verified tornadoes, the value of the chase cases is obvious. Besides being just plain fun, they allow participants to compare notes with what others are noticing in the forecasting tools and how they’re interpreting that information. They really help a person sharpen the razor during the snowy season.

Chase case number 5 ended last night. A northwest flow event, it was a tough nut to crack, and a lot of people busted, including me. At one point, six of us selected Woodward, Oklahoma, as a place to hang out under a boundary. It was a virtual chaser convergence, one of several that occurred on this case, and it got me to thinking. Forty-four people participated in case number 5–not many, given the vastness of the territory actually involved; yet many of us wound up clustering in the same places and wound up on the same storms. My question: What fraction of actual chasers out on a real chase day did we represent? In real life, given a major chase event, you can bet that the number of people pursuing storms would far outstrip forty-four.

It’s no secret that the hordes are increasing rapidly every year. Thanks to media shows such as Discovery Channel’s highly popular Storm Chasers series, what used to be a pretty solitary activity practiced by a relative handful has spiraled into a circus out on the Great Plains. Today it seems like everybody under the age of 30 wants to be a storm chaser, or at least, they think they do.

Far be it from me to separate between a host of yahoos who mistake opportunistic lunacy for the art and science of chasing storms, versus the far fewer individuals whose interest is rooted in something more trustworthy than reality TV. It’s your right to chase storms if you want to, and everybody has to start somewhere. Shoot, I’ve been chasing for coming up on 15 years now, and I still consider myself rather green. Number of years doesn’t automatically translate into expertise. Nevertheless, I’ve seen enough to have formed some opinions about where storm chasing seems to be headed as more and more new blood flocks to Tornado Alley. To those of you who, inspired by what you’ve seen on television, plan on heading to the Plains for the first time this coming spring, I have this to say:

Don’t be an idiot.

I mean it. I’m not saying don’t go. I’m saying, before you go, learn about what it is that you’re getting into. There’s more to it than you realize, and if your knowledge thus far comes from watching a TV series or a handful of YouTube videos, then honestly, you don’t know jack.

Start with this thought: Storm chasing is not about getting as close as you can to a tornado. “Extreme chasing” is a fairly new phenomenon that has been glorified by the media to the point where it has, in impressionable minds, set a new and dangerous standard. But it’s not the historical norm. The reality is, most veteran chasers have generally maintained a safe distance from tornadoes. So banish any images of driving to within 100 feet of a tornado. Hello? It’s a freaking TORNADO. And you’re not Reed Timmer or Tim Samaras. Those guys have knowledge and experience you can’t even imagine, and what you’ve seen of them on TV has been just one highly condensed, scripted, edited, incomplete, and not altogether accurate part of a much bigger picture. Trying to shortcut what is in fact a pretty involved learning curve could easily get you killed or maimed for life.

Getting close to tornadoes is just one style of chasing. I have friends who practice it; it’s a choice they make based on their level of experience and situational awareness, which I respect, and I’m not going to knock them for it. They know the risks. For that matter, I’ve been pretty close myself on a few occasions, not always by choice. Every storm is different. In general, though, keeping a good mile or more between you and a tornado isn’t wimpy, it’s smart.

Enough about that. Here’s my next bit of advice: Respect others who are on the road, and respect locals whose lives can be impacted both by the weather and by your own actions. Chasing a storm doesn’t accord you some sort of elite status to which traffic laws don’t apply. Parking your car in the middle of a traffic lane in order to take pictures of a storm is selfish, inexcusable behavior; either find a damn turnoff or else keep moving until you locate a place where you can pull over onto the shoulder. And driving 30 miles an hour over the speed limit endangers not only you, but others as well, particularly in a rainy storm environment where hydroplaning is a real danger. Last May in South Dakota a bunch of chasers, including me, had to deal with a very pissed-off sheriff whose attitude toward us had been provoked several hours prior by a chaser who blasted past him at 90 miles an hour. The sheriff was preoccupied at the time; otherwise he’d have busted the guy. As it stood, one thoughtless driver gave that LEO a bad impression of chasers in general, and he took his anger out on us. So remember, you don’t own the road. And no, being a rugged, individualistic American citizen doesn’t give you the right to conduct yourself in ways that negatively affect other people.

I could probably have lumped both of my preceding points together by saying, educate yourself and use common sense. First and foremost, learn about storm structure and morphology. Discard any high-octane media images you may have of storm chasing and instead find out what it takes to chase safely and successfully. I highly recommend West Texas storm chaser Jason Boggs’ educational resource site–it’s a gold mine of information. So are severe weather forecasting guru Tim Vasquez’s books, available through his business, Weather Graphics. If you can only afford one book, get The Storm Chasing Handbook. It’s a great introduction to the nuts and bolts of chasing storms.

Storm chasing is an incredible avocation with rewards that extend beyond the beauty and drama of the atmosphere to other dimensions, aesthetic, intellectual, interpersonal, and spiritual. But by its very nature, chasing storms is also a potentially dangerous activity. If you’re going to take it up, the smartest way to go about it is to exercise humility and restraint, and to make learning your priority rather than an adrenaline rush. Pursue that first objective and the second will come in due time.

Be safe. Be smart. Be courteous. The Plains have gotten smaller and more crowded in recent years. How you conduct yourself on them, and the attitude you display, makes a difference for everyone.

Yazoo City Tornado Number Two: A Stormy Night in Mississippi

Last night’s tornado in Yazoo City, Mississippi, thankfully appears to have been not nearly as bad as its monstrous EF-4 predecessor back in April, but it was bad enough. It was one in a round of tornadoes that trampled across the South yesterday afternoon on into the night. Fed by ample moisture and energized by bulk shear exceeding 60 kts and 1km helicity exceeding 300, supercells had no problem firing up and dropping tornadoes. At the time of this post, seven tornado reports have been logged for Dixie Alley–one in Louisiana and six in Mississippi. (A tornado was also reported in northwest Missouri, but that’s far removed from the southern storms and was a separate situation.)

I watched my GR2AE radar screen in disbelief last night, shortly before 9 p.m. EST, as strong circulation progressed from the southwest toward Yazoo City. “No way,” I thought. “No freeking way.” How could the same small town get clobbered by a tornado twice in the same year? It wasn’t going to happen. It just couldn’t. But it did.

At 8:18 CST a tornado warning was issued–a continuation of a previous warning–which contained the following statement: AT 816 PM CST…LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT REPORTED DAMAGE FROM A TORNADO JUST PASSING THROUGH THE CITY. THIS TORNADO WAS LOCATED 6 MILES SOUTH OF EDEN MOVING NORTHEAST AT 50 MPH. At that point I could see the potent SRV couplet moving right through what appeared to be the south edge of the town. According to reports this tornado crossed the path of the April storm, like a letter X. Fortunately, it appears to have been nowhere nearly as large or violent, and a scan or two later showed the mesocyclone weakening considerably as it left the city. Here is the string of reports from the National Weather Service at Jackson:

0800 PM     TORNADO          5 SW YAZOO CITY         32.81N 90.47W
11/29/2010                   YAZOO              MS   AMATEUR RADIO


0808 PM     TORNADO          YAZOO CITY              32.86N 90.41W
11/29/2010                   YAZOO              MS   AMATEUR RADIO

            THE AREA.

0810 PM     TORNADO          YAZOO CITY              32.86N 90.41W
11/29/2010                   YAZOO              MS   AMATEUR RADIO


0810 PM     TORNADO          YAZOO CITY              32.86N 90.41W
11/29/2010                   YAZOO              MS   EMERGENCY MNGR

            WITHOUT POWER.

0810 PM     TORNADO          YAZOO CITY              32.86N 90.41W
11/29/2010                   YAZOO              MS   AMATEUR RADIO


While Yazoo City stands out by virtue of having gotten hit twice this year, other communities also sustained damage. The show began in the afternoon and evidently continued through the night, because when I woke up this morning and fired up my computer, I saw a tornado warning in Alabama. Tornado watches are currently in effect for the southeast, and the SPC shows a slight risk extending north as far as southeastern Pennsylvania, with a 10 percent hatched area reaching from South Carolina into Virginia.

The images on this page are GR2AE volume scans of the next supercell southwest of the Yazoo City storm, heading on a trajectory just west and north of Port Gibson. Click on the images to enlarge them. The time was 0232Z, or just a couple minutes after 8:30 CST. The topmost frame shows a hook and correlated structure above it, with the suggestion of a pretty healthy BWER. The bottom frame depicts vigorous rotation.

Late October Chase Bust

After 1,200 miles and a busted chase in northern Missouri and southwest Iowa, I returned home at 2:30 in the morning. Why on earth, you may wonder, would I travel all that way to watch storms that never did more than produce weak wall clouds and a bit of hail? What madness possessed me and my chase partner, Bill Oosterbaan, to go storm chasing this late in the year anyway?

For one thing, the setup actually looked promising on paper. You can read all about it in my previous post, but the long and short of it was, the right ingredients looked to be in

place. For another thing, look: it’s the end of October, and in view of the fact that I’m probably not going to see another chaseworthy setup within a day’s drive for the next four or five months, I’ll take what I can get. I grasped at a slimmer straw than yesterday’s for my first chase of 2010, and now, at the end of the year, it was nice just to get out, hit the open road one last time with my long-time chase buddy, Bill, and take whatever came our way.

I might add that, had we actually gotten a tornado or two, Bill and I would have looked like storm chasing geniuses, the guys who score on a day when other chasers stay home. Talk about my status as a chaser going up! “How did you know?” everyone would ask. I’d just smile sagely. “Instinct,” I’d reply. “You get to where you can just sense it in your gut.”

Excuse me, I seem to have been dreaming. As I was about to say, dropping south out of Des Moines down I-35, we headed toward a small convective cluster in northwest Missouri near Maryville that was trying to get going south of a weak warm front. The shear was present to help these storms organize and you could see them doing their best, but  evidently the instability

just wasn’t enough to really inspire them. Firing toward the end of peak heating with rapidly waning insolation, the storms may have choked off the CAPE with their own shadows. Maybe a little more moisture would have done the trick, maybe a little better heating, but whatever the case, the storms never offered much more than some weak wall clouds and a bit of hail.

Our first storm actually looked promising for a minute, exhibiting a decent wall cloud that

looked like it actually might intensify. But that never happened. What we were left with for our long drive was an enjoyable afternoon and evening roaming through the hilly, autumnal landscape of Missouri and Iowa, doing one of the things we both love best–following the sky, chasing the clouds.

Review: “Bullseye Bowdle” DVD

It all came back to me yesterday evening, just as if I was once again sitting in the front seat of Mike Kovalchick’s Subaru Outback blasting east down US 12 in South Dakota. There it was–the Bowdle wedge, seething like a boiling, black cauldron in the field north of our vehicle.  Thanks to a beautifully produced new DVD, my buddies Tom, Bill, and I relived what was unquestionably our most unforgettable chase of the year.

To the guys at Convective Addition: Bravo, gentlemen! “Bullseye Bowdle” is a superb chronicle of the amazing May 22 north-central South Dakota cyclical supercell. From the first tornado of the day, to the massive, violent Bowdle wedge, to the infamous “farmer’s field” debacle, this video provides those who chased that day with an opportunity to relive its events, and those who didn’t with the chance to drool over what they missed.

I spotted our Michigan contingent–consisting of Bill and Tom Oosterbaan, Mike Kovalchick, and me–in a number of scenes. Hey, now we’re stars! Or just walk-ins, I suppose. Getting filmed on various chase videos that day seemed almost inevitable, since everyone out there was tracking the same slow-moving storm, albeit approaching it from different angles. “Bullseye Bowdle” does a splendid job of presenting multiple perspectives on each tornado.

The storm structure that day ranged from breathtaking to unbelievable, and this video captures it all, from storm initiation to the phenomenal, bell-shaped meso with an immense cone/quasi-wedge beneath it west of Bowdle, and plenty more. Of course, the powerful Bowdle EF-4 wedge is the show’s main act. But the graceful, highly photogenic tornado that formed northeast of Bowdle after the wedge dissipated is also spotlighted, and deservedly so. If you want to get a good look at multi-vorticity, check out the braided appearance of this tornado. During its truncated tube phase, it looks as if it were literally woven out of delicate, pirouetting vortices, like a strand of yarn in which you can see all the individual threads–simply amazing, not to mention quite beautiful.

And then, yes, there is the farmer’s field. Those of us who were there will never forget it: our narrow escape from disaster, and the craziness that followed. Having survived both the tornadoes and the ensuing lunacy, each one of us has a story to tell, and it’s nice to see part of that story dramatized on film. I love the footage of the drill-press tornado! But for me, the most jaw-dropping part is Adam Lucio’s segment of a tornado forming right by the vehicles, not more than 30 feet from one of them. I failed to witness that spectacle when we were actually sitting out there in the middle of the South Dakota prairie, but the video shows it clearly. It was a moment worthy of every expletive under the sun, or in this case, the mesocyclone.

My favorite comment in the video occurs as two sets of headlights appear on the horizon, heading toward us through the darkness. Adam Lucio: “Off in the distance we can see help is on the way.” Ha! Not quite. Swap out the “P” in “help” for a second “L” and that assessment would have been spot-on. I can’t make a blanket indictment of the locals since some of them were decent folks, sympathetic, and extremely helpful, and the land owner’s initial anger was understandable; but there were others who in my opinion behaved–how shall I put this? I’ll say it delicately–like wholesale, unmitigated, gold-gilded, rhinestone-encrusted, butt-drunken, power-abusing, 24-karat jerks.

Okay, I got that out of my system. Moving right along: The Convective Addiction crew have thoughtfully included a section featuring a time-lapse chronology of the storm as it busted the cap and began spitting out tornadoes. The value of this section, besides the fact that it’s just plain fun, lies in how the faster motion highlights aspects of the storm that I normally wouldn’t have noticed. It’s fascinating, for example, to watch the dramatic, cascading interaction between the flanged meso and an adjacent inflow band as the RFD carves a clear slot between them.

The video concludes with a well-presented synoptic and mesoscale overview of May 22, 2010 which does a good job of describing the setup. I don’t recall (and can’t check, not owning my own BlueRay player) whether it discussed the cap, which was the big forecasting question mark for that day. But the cap obviously blew, and the meteorological analysis does a good job of showing the ingredients which combined to make May 22 such a dramatic chase.

Besides some fantastic footage, Convective Addiction has also selected some tasty music for their sound track. However–and this is something I appreciate–they use the music judiciously, not to the point of overkill. In a chase video, I want to hear the reactions and interactions of the chasers; the sound of the wind, the rain, the passing traffic, and hail pelting the windshield; the real-life environmental stuff. That’s part of what puts me in the picture, and the storm chasers who produced this video clearly feel the same way. I know these guys like their jams, but in “Bullseye Bowdle” they wisely focus on the storm, the tornadoes, and the human element of the chase.

If I have any critique to offer, it would be that in their next video–and I hope there will be a next, and many more to follow–the editors of Convective Addiction might consider offering a brief wrap-up where appropriate in order to avoid the somewhat jarring effect when a video segment ends abruptly.

Bottom line: If you’re a storm chaser or just enjoy watching storm chasing videos, then “Bullseye Bowdle” is a must for your DVD collection. It’s available in both standard resolution and BlueRay at Convective Addiction.


For the sake of complying with new federal regulations, whether real or imagined: This review is not a paid review. I’ll gladly write reviews for pay. In this case, though, I bought the DVD with my own sweet shekels and I’m writing purely because I like “Bullseye Bowdle” and think you will too.

While I Was Out Chasing Sunday’s Storms…

Win a few, lose a few, the saying goes. Maybe so, but when it comes to chasing storms in Michigan, sometimes the losses seem just flat-out absurd.

Take this last Sunday, for instance. Kurt Hulst and I traveled over a hundred miles in order to intercept a storm down by Plainwell and track with it through the jungles of Allegan and Barry Counties, searching for a decent location for viewing. Meanwhile, a cell blew up just to our north and put down a tornado just four miles southwest of my apartment in Caledonia. If that isn’t a swift kick in the pratt with the steel-toed boot of irony, I don’t know what is.

True, it was a weak tornado; and true, it was probably rain-wrapped and hard to see; and true, it lasted only a minute or so, and catching it would have been pure serendipity. But still…just four freeking miles away… In the words of the inimitable Charlie Brown, “AAAUUUGGHHHHH!!!”

Sunday wasn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened to me, either. A few years ago, I was heading back north through Indiana, homeward bound from a futile chase, when my buddy Bill Oosterbaan called to inform me that a tornado had just passed through Caledonia. If I had been home, I could have stepped outside my sliding door and watched it blow through a couple blocks to my east. But no, that would have been too simple. I had to go gallivanting all over the countryside in search of what, in my absence, was delivered gift-wrapped to my backyard.

Chase storms for a while and you’ll find yourself collecting flukes, ironies, hindsights, and head-banging experiences like some people collect porcelain animals. It just goes with the territory, particularly if you live in the Great Lakes, where picking a chase target is nine times out of ten just an educated crapshoot.

Well, what the heck–at least Kurt and I saw a fairly impressive wall cloud east of Plainwell, out near West Gilkey Lake. We were too far away to confirm rotation, but the cloud was morphing rapidly, displaying obvious rapid motion. For a minute I thought it might even be putting down a tornado, but at our distance, we couldn’t make out enough details to know one way or the other. I called in a report to KGRR, then watched the storm fizzle and die shortly after.

Here one second, gone the next–that’s how it goes here in Michigan, supercell heaven of the Midwest.

April 22-23 TX-OK-KS Storm Chase

As I begin this post, the first major tornado-producing storm system of 2010 is moving to the east after taking 10 lives in the South yesterday. Already a tornado-breeder, the system matured yesterday into a wide-scale outbreak driven by hefty bulk shear, massive low-level helicities in the order of 600 and above, and CAPE values up to 2,500. Yazoo City, MS, was hit hard by a powerful, rain-wrapped wedge. The verdict remains open as to whether this was a single, long-lived tornado that traveled as much as 200 miles, or one in a series, which seems likelier.

Sorry, I can’t offer a write-up on yesterday’s storms. I was home sleeping, and I have no regrets that I missed anything. With the models suggesting rain-wrapped, low-visibility tornadoes rocketing along at 50 mph or more; with the potential for hydroplaning while driving at gonzo speeds in order to keep on top of fast-moving, rapidly morphing storms and avoid having them get on top of us; and with the logistical madness of three sleep-deprived chasers–Bill Oosterbaan, Mike Kovalchick, and me–having to backtrack afterward to Saint Louis where my car was parked and then drive 450 miles back to Grand Rapids, the negatives of chasing this big, messy, and dangerous tornado outbreak seemed to easily outweigh the potential payoffs.

So Bill, who was determined to catch the action, made arrangements to hook up with Kurt Hulst and Bill’s brother, Tom Oosterbaan, in Illinois, and then he dropped Mike and me off at my car. The two of us headed home, and I can tell you, it felt mighty good to crawl under the covers upon my return and sleep until 1:00 in the afternoon. After talking with Tom yesterday evening, I’m glad I chose as I did.

I may have more thoughts to share about yesterday’s scenario, but I’ll save them for another post. The previous two days in Texas and Kansas deserve some attention in their own right, and not just as the prequel to the big, day 3

outbreak. They may have been a bust for me tornado-wise, but they were nevertheless the first decent system of the year and my first chase out on the Plains. It was a blessing to get out on the road once again and see the vast, textured expanses of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

Naturally, the landscape included the TIV2, which at this point should be designated a mobile national monument of the Great Plains. Back in 2008 we had bumped into its predecessor in Nebraska; this Thursday, we pulled into a gas station in Pampa, gassed and Rain-Xed up, then drove around to the other side of the station, and surprise! There it was–the Tank and its entourage. Cool! Who can resist taking a few photos? Not me.

As for chasing storms, Thursday was a should’a. We should’a either listened to Mike and headed for western Kansas, where most of the tornadoes occurred later in the day, or else gone with Bill’s and my initial impulse to chase the bigger CAPE, albeit forecasted low helicities, near Childress, Texas. For that matter, if we had endured the initial grunge in Wheeler, or better yet, just parked along US 60 east of Pampa–in other words, if we had just sat and waited–we’d have been golden. Instead, we sacrificed an opportune position and went after some cells that fired to our northwest along the dryline. Doing so made a certain amount of sense, as those storms were already looking supercellular and were moving toward the warm front and better helicities, while the cells popping up to our south in advance of the dryline seemed to just sit there and languish. So after the northern storms we went.

Bad decision. One of the southern cells developed steam shortly after we made our move. We could still have turned around at that point, but we chose to commit to our decision and wound up betwixt and between the vortex breeding grounds to our south and north. As a result, we found ourselves looking forlornly at the radar as the southern cell shaped up beautifully and began churning out tornadoes, while our storms struggled valiantly but

never quite got their act together. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that good things come to those who wait. And, I might add, that model SRH is nice if you can get it to cooperate, but it can be deceptive. Helicity is prone to change with the storm environment in ways that forecast models don’t anticipate. If CAPE and 0-6 km shear are sufficient, storms may just generate their own low-level helicity.

Anyway, we chased the dryline storms and busted. Our storms tried hard to tornado, but they just couldn’t quite manage to produce. So instead of the blue ribbon, we wound up with honorable mention: some decent structure, including cool-looking wall clouds, a few funnels, and–as tail-end Charlie went high-precip in the Oklahoma panhandle–a nice, banded-looking storm with a formidable shelf cloud.

As for Friday, we picked exactly the right target up in northeast Kansas along US 75 just south of the Nebraska border. We were smack in the axis of a nice moisture plume. But nothing happened. As the afternoon progressed, the cumulus field we were sitting under began to generate towering cumuli, but these turkey towered and busted against a mid-level cap that just wouldn’t erode. So that was that. Looks like a lot of other chasers got disappointed as well by the northern play. It happens. We finally cut our losses around 7 p.m. and headed back east toward Saint Louis and a band of storms that was moving toward I-70. Ironically, one of these produced a series of tornadoes. If Thursday had been a should’a, Friday was an if-only. If only we’d targeted northeast Missouri…but there had been no reason to do so that we could see.

Now another storm system looks to be moving into the Midwest later this coming week. The action could be closer to home, but I’ll think about that in a day or two. Right now, it’s time to make this post, rest up, and get on with the rest of life.

Midweek Severe Weather Potential for the Midwest

A significant weather event appears to be shaping up for the northern plains and cornbelt this coming Tuesday. For all you weather buffs and storm chasers, here are a few maps from the 18Z NAM-WRF run for 7 p.m. CT Tuesday night (technically, 00Z Wednesday), courtesy of F5 Data.

A couple items of note:

* The NAM-WRF is much less aggressive with capping than the GFS.  The dark green 700mb isotherm that stretches diagonally through central Minnesota marks the 6 C contour, and the yellow line to its south is the 8 C isotherm.

* The F5 Data proprietary APRWX Tornado Index shows a bullseye of 50, which is quite high (“Armageddon,” as F5 software creator Andy Revering puts it). The Significant Tornado Parameter is also pretty high, showing a  tiny bullseye of 8 in extreme northwest Iowa by the Missouri River.

Obviously, all this will change from run to run. For now, it’s enough to say that there may be a chase opportunity shaping up for Tuesday.

As for Wednesday, well, we’ll see. The 12Z GFS earlier today showed good CAPE moving into the southern Great Lakes, but the surface winds were from the west, suggesting the usual linear junk we’re so used to. We’ve still got a few days, though, and anything can happen in that time.

SBCAPE in excess of 3,000 j/kg with nicely backed surface winds throughout much of region.

SBCAPE in excess of 3,000 j/kg with nicely backed surface winds throughout much of region.

500mb winds with wind barbs.

500mb winds with wind barbs.

MLCINH (shaded) and 700mb temperatures (contours).

MLCINH (shaded) and 700mb temperatures (contours).

APRWX Tornado Index (shaded) and STP (contours). Note exceedingly high APRWX bullseye.

APRWX Tornado Index (shaded) and STP (contours). Note the exceedingly high APRWX bullseye.