Behind the Storms: Episode 3

Behind the Storms: Episode 3day2otlk_1730_april26

Gabe Garfield and special guests Kelton HalbertB and Andrew Lyons discussed the potential tornado outbreak on Tuesday, April 26th.  Check it out!

Some topics we discussed:

  • Veer-back-veer wind profiles
  • Southern target?
  • Mega CAPE vs. “Meh” shear

Run time:

41:10

 

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Behind the Storms: Episode 2

Behind the Storms: Episode 2

500wh.conus

Today, Tim Marquis and I chatted about today’s severe weather, as well as an extended discussion of the potential tornado outbreak on Tuesday.  Check it out!

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Behind the Storms: Episode 1

behindthestorms

Behind the Storms: Episode 1

500wh.conus

Tonight, Tim Marquis and I discussed the potential for a significant severe weather event next week.  We talked about the flooding in Houston, Tuesday’s potential tornado outbreak, social messaging, and medium-range tornado forecasting.

Length: 33:23

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Storm Podcasts Coming Soon!

I’ll be adding a podcast regarding next week’s severe weather event soon!

Gabe

 

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Rare Fall Tornadoes Possible Tomorrow

The ingredients are coming together for a rare fall-season outbreak of severe weather weather in the Plains on Monday.  The primary driver for this threat is a powerful upper-level trough entering the Plains from the western U.S. The flow at 500 mb will range from 40 kts, to a blistering 90 kts at the center of the jet streak.

500mbconus

NAM
500 mb
6 pm, November 16th
pivotalweather.com

Air will move down the Rocky Mountains, creating relatively low pressure east of the mountains.  As a result, a very strong pressure gradient will develop.  This will lead to the development of a powerful low-level jet, as can be seen in the NAM 850 mb forecast.

850mbconus

NAM
850 mb
6 pm, November 16th
pivotalweather.com

The resulting strong southerly low-level winds will transport unseasonably high moisture northward toward the Plains.  Dewpoints will be rather high for November, with the 60 F dewpoint line far into the Texas Panhandle.

Surface - Valid: 00Z 17 November Source: pivotalweather.com

NAM
Surface
6 pm, November 16th
pivotalweather.com

The colder temperatures high in the atmosphere and moist air at the surface will combine to produce substantial instability over the Southern Plains.

capesc

NAM
Surface Based CAPE
6 pm, November 16th
pivotalweather.com

Though surface-based convective available potential energy (SBCAPE) values will be somewhat low, large values of shear should compensate.  Deep-layer shear (0-6 km) should be more-than-sufficient for the development of strong supercells. And the all-important low-level shear values should be nothing short of incredible.  According to the 4 km NAM, values will exceed 200 m2/s2 in most places.

0-1km Storm Relative Helicity Valid: 00Z 17 November Source: pivotal weather.com

NAM 4 km
0-1km Storm Relative Helicity
6 pm, November 16th
pivotal weather.com

Generally speaking, tornadoes are possible when values exceed a 100 m2/s2.  So, with values well over 200 – and in some cases, over 400 – you get the idea that we could be in for a rather bumpy Monday evening.

The full effect can be quantified by the significant tornado parameter.  Values greater than 1 indicate the potential for tornadoes.  In this 4 km NAM forecast, local modifications of the storm environment result in values over 5!

stpsc

NAM 4 km
Significant Tornado Parameter
6 pm, November 16th
pivotalweather.com

Based on the aforementioned ingredients, the Storm Prediction Center has issued an enhanced risk for severe weather for most of the Southern Plains.

day2otlk_1730

Day 2 Outlook
Storm Prediction Center
November 16th

As far as timing is concerned, most higher resolution models are calling for isolated development to begin between 3 and 6 pm.  The NAM 4 km (featured here) is producing a couple of robust-looking supercells over west Texas into western Oklahoma by 6 pm.

refl_4km_nam

NAM 4 km
Simulated Reflectivity
6 pm, November 16th
pivotalweather.com

These storms are forecast to move into western Oklahoma and western north Texas after dark. This forecast sounding in southwestern Oklahoma shows a deep moisture layer, significant CAPE, and extremely strong low-level shear.

nam4km_2015111518_030_34.3--99.53

NAM 4 km
Forecast Sounding
Near Gotebo, OK
pivotalweather.com

Given the relatively cool surface temperatures and moist air, the cloud bases forecast to be a low 500 m.  So, no surprise: the forecast analogs favor tornadoes.

More importantly, the capping inversion will remain relatively weak throughout the evening.  So it is quite possible that storms will produce tornadoes after dark.  This reflectivity forecast gives the idea that small line segments may form, but semi-discrete storms could persist toward 9 pm.

refl_4km_nam_03UTC

NAM 4 km
Simulated Reflectivity
6 pm, November 16th
pivotalweather.com

In summary, there is a good chance of significant severe weather across west Texas into western Oklahoma, with the threat of large hail, damaging hail, and tornadoes.  There is definitely no guarantee of an outbreak of tornadoes, but it would be good to start reviewing your tornado safety plan – especially if you live in western Oklahoma or west Texas.

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An Unforgettable Chase – The EF5 Moore Tornado (5/20/13)

Two years ago today, I observed an EF5 tornado ripping through Moore, Oklahoma.  Before the tornado, I had always wondered what it would have been like to see an F5 hit Moore (thinking of 5/3/99).  I never thought that I would actually find out.

That morning, I woke up late, in anticipation of a late start to my work day at the National Weather Center. Since it was a weekday, I wasn’t planning on chasing. Out of curiosity, though, I thought I would check out the forecast. While waiting for my computer to boot, I went outside to get a feel for the weather. It was sunny – but cool – and stratocumulus clouds were racing northward with the low-level jet. It just had the “feel” of a big day (most folks who have spent significant time in Tornado Alley know what I mean).

I went back inside to check out the forecast. After going through the usual parameter checking, I perused a few convection-allowing models (weather models that predict actual thunderstorms). An ominous forecast was projected: supercell thunderstorms would develop in central Oklahoma by mid-afternoon. I became increasingly concerned about the possibility of a significant tornado not far from Norman.

OUN WRF - May 20

8 hour forecast of updraft helicity and reflectivity from the OUN WRF on 5/20/13.

About an hour later, I arrived at work. Realizing that storms were already firing, I started to become antsy.  I checked the SPC mesoanalysis, and realized a very potent atmosphere was already taking shape. Dewpoints were close to 70 F, instability was extreme, and low-level shear was strong enough to promote strong tornadoes – long before the usual increase of strong winds near sunset.

I was able to get off work, but I started my chase a little late (around 2 pm).  I called a friend of mine to see if her chase group had left town yet. I was very relieved to find out that I had caught them in time (I didn’t want to chase alone). So I quickly met them on the southeast side of Norman, where we began our chase.  A major supercell had already developed near Duncan, Okahoma, so we took off on Highway 77 to go toward it.

Near Purcell, we learned that a storm near Newcastle had already become tornado-warned.  A quick check of radar showed a very poweful-looking supercell with a large hook echo.  We immediately decided to go north toward it. While were driving into Purcell, we heard a report of a tornado with this storm.  That was quick!  One of my chase partners pulled up the KWTV live feed on her phone and saw that a photogenic stovepipe tornado had formed.  By the time we entered I-35 north of Purcell, the tornado had already become a wedge (a period of about 3 minutes). We zoomed north as quickly as possible.  As we went along, the rock-hard flanking line becoming visible – some of the most powerful convection I’ve ever seen. In Norman, we scanned the sky to the northwest, looking for the tornado.  It was too hazy.

At Tecumseh Road, we exited I-35.  It was about 3:05 pm.  While crossing the bridge near the Healthplex, we caught our first glimpse of the tornado to the west-northwest. Though it was still hazy, we could easily make out the massive wedge against the pale orange sky behind it.  I couldn’t believe my eyes: it was happening again.  A violent tornado was moving into Moore.  To say it was “surreal” is a vast understatement.

We continued west until we arrived at Santa Fe, where we turned north.  Trees and houses obscured our view for a while, and during this stretch the funnel transitioned to a stovepipe.  Near the intersection of Indian Hills on Santa Fe, we saw the tornado again.  There, I was stunned to see the violence of the motion at the base of the funnel.  Other than the El Reno tornado of May 24, 2011, it was the most violent tornado I’d seen.  I began to pray incessantly as I realized it wasn’t going to stop before Moore.

IMG_0625

Moore EF5 tornado as viewed from Indian Hills and 36th. 3:15 pm on 5/20/13

Fearing a right turn by the tornado, we turned onto Indian Hills – just south of due east from the tornado.  We stopped at a church parking lot along the road to film the tornado.  As the tornado drew closer, I began to see large chunks of debris encircling the tornado.  I looked above the funnel and saw shimmering pieces of metal – roughly 3 or 4 times taller than the funnel.  The updrafts in the tornado were incredibly powerful: at this time, the tornado moved a large water tank (10 tons empty) over a half mile and deposited it in someone’s backyard.

IMG_0564

10-ton tank tossed 0.5 mi by the Moore tornado.

Around the same time, an unmistakable roar became audible.  I would liken it to the sound of a thousand waterfalls.  No straining was necessary to hear it, even from a distance of two miles.  I can’t convey the horror of realizing that people are probably dying right in front of you. The usual excitement of seeing a major tornado was nowhere to be found.  All I felt was anxiety and fear: this wasn’t happening to strangers, this was happening to my friends.  It was sickening.

The tornado became increasingly rain-wrapped as it approached I-35.  I thought, mistakenly, that the tornado was widening into a large wedge. The reality was that a combination of rain and debris created the illusion of a larger tornado.  Around that time, I remember looking north and seeing Andy Alligator’s / HeyDay with the dark mass behind them; it was such a strange contrast!

As we were crossing I-35 on Indian Hills, it was pure chaos. A traffic jam had developed south of the tornado on Telephone Road, and a cop was yelling at us to keep it moving. We continued east as we lost sight of the tornado, now wrapped in rain and hidden by buildings. About 5 minutes later, the tornado came out of the rain as a much-smaller stovepipe. Even though it was smaller, video that I saw later revealed it to be quite violent near the base. Just as we were driving north for a close approach on Sooner Road, the tornado began to rope out – and quite spectacularly. The funnel writhed chaotically for about 30 seconds, debris centrifuging outwards and falling downward.  Forty minutes after it began, the tornado dissipated.

We couldn’t believe what we had just seen. We listened to horrifying reports on the radio of complete devastation, somewhere near the Warren Theater. We realized that we had just seen a historical tornado, but there was no celebration in our vehicle. I guess the best way to describe it is “numbness.” We contemplated returning to Moore to help, but we realized our ignorance of how to help could put us in the way at best, or get us killed at worse (downed powerlines, glass shards, nails, etc.). So, we decided to chase on.

The remains of the Briarwood Elementary School.

The remains of the Briarwood Elementary School.

We saw another tornado near Pauls Valley. It was a 30-second multiple-vortex tornado. Normally, I would’ve been thrilled to see it. But I can honestly say that I’ve never been less enthused to see a tornado. It seemed as if the rest of the chase was simply out of obligation, because I didn’t want to regret it in the future. Mercifully, the rest of the event was lackluster, as storms lined out in southern Oklahoma. It is a day I will never forget.

Video of the chase.

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One Year Later: Reflections on the Loss of Tim, Paul, and Carl

Image

It’s been a year.  In one way, that’s very easy to believe, because so much has happened.  Some of it has been negative, but most of it has been positive.  I’ve made new friendships and deepened others.  The numbing fog of loss has given way to hopeful – but sober – clarity.  Yet, in many ways, there is still a certain unreality about what happened.

Did we really lose Tim, Paul, and Carl?  It all feels a bit illusory still.  I replay the events over and over in my mind.  But, for some reason, it becomes less real – not more.  I know the story through and through, but full acceptance remains elusive.  I suppose that’s true for almost any traumatic loss.

And, I’m certain there are other impacts that I can’t quite see, because I’m in the thick of them.  I don’t chase storms the same way anymore.  I don’t think about tornado victims the same way anymore.  I don’t think of friendship the same way anymore.  So much has changed.  And yet, I feel that the changing isn’t near done.

But I think that this is good.  The smelling salts of tragedy are not pleasant, but they can be beneficial.  Feeling the impact of extreme loss can afford the sobriety that causes one to treasure the gifts that remain.  I know, for my part, that I cherish my relationships with my family and friends more than ever.  It’s a direct result of experiencing the loss of Tim, Paul, and Carl.  And while I would – as my friend Marc Austin puts it – trade all the tornadoes I’ve seen if it would bring them back, I know that my life is all the better because of what happened.

And yet, I still miss them.  I can still hear Carl trying to talk me into chasing the next setup, his cheery voice almost convincing me to join him.  I can still hear Paul talking hopefully about his ambition to become a movie maker, and me not doubting for a minute that he would succeed.  And I can still hear Tim talking about tornadoes of antiquity, and feeling that I had found a kindred spirit.  I wish I’d had more time with them.  But I thank God for the time I was able to spend with them.

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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