9/9/16 Block – Homer, IL Tornado

At one point I remember being completely gripped by emotion as I stood there watching such a beautiful tornado as it just ripped one by one through house to house, shredding them into the air. I gasped out loud something along the lines of “This was such a perfect day, why does it have to look like this?”

This day was indeed a rare occasion in that I had not previously spent any time forecasting. As soon as I saw a confident update by the Storm Prediction Center warning for a small corridor of tornado potential, I dove into the data on the fly and determined that some way, some how I just had to be there. It just looked too promising.

20160909-182533-0079_1

This was the scene arriving near the tiny town of Block, IL, south of Champaign. A decently sized supercell with extremely low wall cloud sucking in warm, moist air from practically the ground.

20160909-183005-0089_1

Ragged.

20160909-183209-0091_1

My eyes were trained on this lowering as the classic area for eventual tornadogenesis; however, my friend and chase partner Will Wight made clear that this supercell was actually breaking into two circulations, a tiny knot rapidly forming on its southern flank.

20160909-183346-0093_1

We had less than 5 minutes notice after seeing this knot before a tiny circulation appeared on the ground less than a quarter mile ahead of us (just left of the silos and right of the trees). We reported the touchdown immediately to the National Weather Service, but we were directly in its path.

20160909-183538-0098_1

The initial touchdown was spine-tingling and terrifying.

20160909-183552-0101_1

20160909-183637-0107_1

It became a stovepipe in a hurry as it drifted into the fields south of Sidney, IL.

20160909-183651-0109_1

It looks like a puddle of water underneath the tornado. That’s where it was on the ground. Just in front of us. And yet it’s an amazing feeling knowing you’re not in danger.

20160909-183658-0111_1

20160909-183847-0117_1

Just down the road a bit.

20160909-184102-0125_1

Trudged a bit farther away now.

20160909-184142-0136-2

 

This image was taken a mere second before the farmstead in front of it was ripped apart into the air. A large piece of debris from the tornado’s previous target still floats in the air. No one was injured.

20160909-184222-0146_1

Feels like a nightmare.

20160909-184344-0149_1

We followed the tornado as it became nearly stationary before continuing on into what we thought was mostly-uninhabited farmland south of Homer, IL.

20160909-184646-0155_1

A lot of the traffic here appeared to be locals, waiting as the now tiny tornado crossed the road and ripped one-by-one through a few farmsteads that were just unlucky enough to be in its predetermined path.

20160909-184850-0159_1

20160909-184913-0161_1

Just the fact that this tiny circulation managed to tear through so many things was painful to watch.

20160909-184957-0165_1

But at the same time it was so beautiful.

20160909-185055-0169_1

Suddenly in a tizzy it erupted into a swirly drill shape.

20160909-185105-0174_1

Too amazing to take your eyes off of.

20160909-185122-0180_1

But debris still swirled around the ground.

It took awhile to adjust to what we had just seen. It was the most perfectly-executed intercept of an amazing tornado I have been a part of, but having to watch it do what it did was sickening. And yet this is what I love doing.

 

 

 

Advertisements

8/24/16 Kokomo, IN Area “Surprise” Tornado Outbreak

“Don’t be afraid to be wrong”, my professor told me before he challenged me to leave his class to test my knowledge and gut feeling while fueling my passion. Was I right? I can’t say. Never thought I’d be witness to one of this area’s most unexpected outbreaks of quite massive tornadoes.

Despite no mention of tornadoes, my friend and I’s faint worries were proven with a destructive tornado touchdown in Kokomo, IN and we set out to pursue a second developing line of mini-supercells. The environment was terribly moist and lacked significant instability and deep-layer shear, but with cloud bases almost on the ground and low-level speed and directional shear quite high, we recognized a threat of a couple weak mini-supercellular tornadoes. We had not quite considered wedges, however.

20160824-170739-0002_1

The first storm we followed initially was an obvious target, a long-lived mini-supercell trudging ahead of a line of storms. After a painful haul filled with blinding downpours and anticipation, as soon as we emerged from the rain we were subject to this jaw-dropping monster lurking a few miles ahead. This is it, my first “wedge” tornado, a condensed funnel wider than it is tall. Thankfully, due to lack of strong wind dynamics this day, the actual damage path was significantly smaller than it visually suggested. This was just northwest of Kokomo, IN, mere miles from the earlier tornado.

As the tornado became rain-wrapped, we recognized that our chances for safe spotting were about over for this storm. A second supercell followed behind it:
20160824-185321-185322_1

On such a “soupy” day, beautiful storms are often hard to come by. This day was an exception though, spitting out classic structures one after another.

20160824-185443-185444_1

As inflow strengthened and the circulation visibly tightened, I became extremely worried that the Kokomo area was in for its third significant tornado.

20160824-185644-185644_1

20160824-185901-185902_1

A slender tornado inched its way down briefly in the lower left third of the photo.

20160824-190547-190547_1

Thankfully, we were able to follow it out of the populated area without it producing a strong tornado, but the bowl-shaped lowering above gave rise to some of the fastest spinning motion I have ever witnessed.

20160824-191003-191003_1

Clouds were in rotating knots.

20160824-191123-191123_1

It is now we believe our third tornado formed just north of Sharpsville, IN. The strongest rising motion from the ground I have ever seen arose from the solid vertical wall of cloud on the lower left.

20160824-191152-191152_1

This unknown mass was contorted in ugly, ripped shapes.

20160824-191229-191229_1

It became tighter then wrapped in rain.

20160824-191409-191409_1

It was now obvious a rain-wrapped tornado spun furiously in a ball of rain.

20160824-191501-191501_1

As the rain cleared, a murky cylindrical tornado appeared.

20160824-191538-191538_1

It became lopsided, then quickly dissipated.

Just as it disappeared, we noted the storm next in line appeared ready to produce a tornado. A confirmed tornado was reported, but we missed it en route.

The day was quickly turning into an unexpectedly dangerous nightmare.

We eventually caught up to this third supercell and followed it closely, meanwhile watching behind it as a fourth beautifully sculpted mini-supercell erupted. We reassured a few frightened locals as best we could, but we just did not know anymore what the day had in store.

20160824-201428-201429_1

Next time we looked back on the fourth supercell near aptly named Windfall, IN, it was a frightening beauty.

20160824-201509-201509_1

All storms seemed to look the same this day, a never-ending army of mirrors. There was something strange and unreal about them.

20160824-202202-202203_1

This was likely the closest near-miss of the day, a gorgeous ground-scraping rotation near Windfall’s windfarm. No tornado.

20160824-204358-204358_1

Worried that a fifth supercell was forming behind it, we left the former storm for a better view near Hobbs. Something was in the air, as this next storm also failed to produce a tornado despite very strong rotation.

As darkness grew, we were forced to leave, as the mini-supercells failed to produce anything in the way of lightning to aid our spotting.

Of course, we had to dodge a sixth tornado-warned supercell through Tipton, IN.

 

 

 

 

6/14/16 Guthrie, TX Supercell

This day reminded those who forget that even though all of the math and variables may not line up, that just has jack to do with how stunning nature is when she wants to be. Yes, it can be oddly pleasing sometimes to see everything come together so perfectly that what happens next is beyond belief, but most often you’d just rather not have that happen. Our initial target of southeast Kansas looked like it had some of the ingredients for this to happen, but when early morning storms sank through the area it became apparent that there was little chance better storms would end up forming and taking advantage of these.

Basically the only place that had a shot at some evening storms became near Childress, TX, as it was on the intersection of the dryline and a boundary left by the earlier storms which would help force them up. Naturally, being prepared to go watch some storms for an entire week prior, we went there.

20160614-184149-8594_1

The dryline was the only thing that could provide nearly enough forcing today. Energy was incredibly explosive, though, with CAPE reaching 5,000. As a result, one tiny tower formed near Paducah, TX that went from zero to 60 quite fast.

20160614-185612-8595_1

It got a bit bigger. I also got a respect for pre-dampened clay roads. Definitely not a good idea. A group of chasers got stuck ahead of us, and getting around them was still the most accomplished feeling I felt the whole trip. Thanks to my driver.

20160614-190715-8599_1

Finally got my abandoned house and storm photo.

20160614-191504-8604_1

20160614-193655-8620_1

It did briefly attempt to spin up pseudo-funnels a couple times, but less moisture near the dryline meant that cloud bases were a bit high, making the odds of a tornado touching down less than ideal. To make matters worse, even though there was just enough shear to get by, the low-level turning and strengthening of the winds was just not there, with barely a light breeze as we stood before it.

20160614-194616-8625_1

For all the locals north of us, their night was full of thunder and hail. For everyone south, blistering heat and humidity, but sunny skies.

20160614-200640-8632_1

The explosive instability gave the updrafts quite a nuclear look. There were twins at this point, with the one behind catching up to our initial storm and merging together with it.

20160614-202314-8652_1

One storm now. Anyone on this road was a chaser. Texas is so empty.

20160614-202449-8658_1

Hard to explain how hot it was.

20160614-204106-8672_1

Definitely enjoying the show.

 

20160614-204415-8680_1

It was like all the energy everywhere was exploding into the atmosphere.

20160614-205144-8694_1

20160614-210003-8710_1

The RFD cooled us off to probably just under a 100 degree heat index. It was really spiky looking.

20160614-212228-8717_1

We got ahead of the storm one more time as it started spitting out constant lightning.

20160614-212702-8739_1

20160614-212818-8750_1

20160614-212944-8762_1

20160614-213014-8765_1

The spiky inflow bands gave it a menacing look as hot air streaked into the storm from all directions.

20160614-213650-8791_1

20160614-213802-8795_1

20160614-214126-8801_1

Explorers.

20160614-214143-8802_1

20160614-214237-8806_1

20160614-214404-8812_1

Patience.

20160614-214613-8822_1

These guys really wanted their picture taken with lightning. Their photographer missed, but I didn’t!