The first significant severe weather outbreak of an early-firing season occurred across parts of the Mississippi and Tennessee river valleys on Thursday, with (SPC map linked here) more than 237 high wind reports and at least a dozen reports of possible tornadoes. Typical for a late winter/early spring event, the system had lots of shear but limited instability — so there weren’t many large hail reports (only 4) as the convection remained relatively low-topped but contained numerous areas of rotation and downdrafts.
From a chase perspective, this would have been a very difficult day for us. While the terrain of eastern Arkansas and extreme southeastern Missouri (the “Bootheel”) is relatively chase friendly — cleared, flat agricultural land, mostly– the early winter darkness of February is not. Most of the tornado reports occurred after dark. Also, discrete cells separated from the squall line failed to form, for the most part, except for a single short-lived (but briefly tornado-warned) cell in daylight near Jackson, Tenn., far east of where we would have likely been positioned. Instead, most of the action occurred in a long and wide squall line, which developed numerous mesocyclones as it interacted with backing winds and a stalled frontal boundary as it moved eastward. Heavy rain falling with the strongest part of the squall line would have likely cloaked almost any visual features hiding withing the murky mass even in broad daylight. The best chance of seeing anything of interest may have occurred near dusk in the Missouri Bootheel, where a couple of short line segments formed and tornadoes developed near the ends of those lines.
But if we’re out for something similar come May or June, we’ll simply do our best to view the best storm we can while staying safe. In places like central Nebraska in 2005, Wisconsin in 2006 and central Illinois in 2007 we’ve scored some interesting storm intercepts in less than stellar setups involving squall lines or murky storms clustering together. And in 2006 and last May, we’ve simply let squall lines pass over us dramatically, if we perceive the large hail/embedded tornado threat is very low.
The central U.S. looks to be under the gun Sunday with a very similar storm setup.
— Kevin Myatt