Author Archives: vtmet

The Storms of 2016


Some images and brief commentary on storms from both of our trips to the plains.  The first trip was characterized by murky daily forecast challenges which produced fairly consistent threats of severe weather, but less-than-ideal set-ups for tornadoes.  The second trip followed a long haul from Texas north to South Dakota in search of storms as the weather pattern transitioned into summer.  Both crews were fantastic companions on the road, and I truly enjoyed my time with everyone.

So, here we go:


Storm north of I-10 in Southwest Texas.  We made a long haul from Blacksburg to Texarkana (900+ miles) for the first night, and then a second long day to intercept this storm on day 2.


The view across the Raton Mesa region on the Colorado/New Mexico border:  stunning views with dramatic storms rising over the high terrain.  We set a Hokiestorm elevation record on an actual chase day:  8400′ or so high atop the mesas.


After bailing off of storms on the high mesas, we traveled north into Colorado…storms were winding down at this point, but no one really noticed with this spectacular landscape unfolding on our northward heading.


Samantha Wright’s hair provides a clue as to what is unfolding in this scene:  air races inward toward an organizing wall cloud.  Strong inflow winds combined with persistent rotation increase the odds that a tornado will develop from the wall cloud.  It did.


Alex Thornton’s photo of the tornado from the Leoti Kansas supercell.  This was as close to an ideal chase day as one could hope for:  a spectacular storm, a good road network for a close intercept, and uncrowded roads.

Storm Chase Day 06

Trevor White’s photo of the Leoti storm, including incredible lightning displays along with classic supercell structure, in a remote location with little damage potential.  What more could one ask for?


Closing in on the Leoti storm shortly after the tornado.  Inflow winds were so strong at this point it was difficult to stand at times, let alone take pictures!


A lowering sun provided spectacular back-lit conditions on the Leoti storm toward sunset.  Here, Anne Gale scans a wall cloud in the evening light.


Michael Krise, Kerrie Simmons, and Samantha Wright monitor the Leoti storm at sunset.


The explosive updraft of a Texas Panhandle storm.  This storm produced a brief tornado that picked up a tractor-trailor on Interstate 40 and deposited it in the median.


Early in the game on the Dodge City supercell.  Here, one of the earliest Virginia Tech storm chasers Seth Price (N3MRA) and WFXR’s Taylor Kanost who joined us for a story watch the early development of the wall cloud south of Dodge City Kansas.


One in a series of tornadoes touches down just northwest of our position.  Crew members look on as it tracks northward.

Storm Chase Day 09

Yet another tornado from the Dodge City supercell.  This particular tornado stayed on the ground for a very long time, and was still churning across the open country while two others touched down…three vigorous tornadoes on the ground at the same time.


Another view of the tornado, taken by Trevor White.  Hard to believe something so beautiful could be so destructive.


The tornado that refuses to dissipate, and another forms under the new/eastern side of the wall cloud.  Photo by Trevor White.


Seth Price’s photo of the menacing, ground-scraping wall cloud just south of Dodge City.  Note the circulation under the left-hand side of the cloud:  a tornado is already occurring, and would grow to be a large, multi-vortex storm.  A tornado emergency was issued for Dodge City Kansas based on this storm.dodgeemergency


The Dodge City multi-vortex tornado.  Fortunately, it passed west of the main part of town, producing damage only on the outskirts of the city.


An intensifying small-scale line in South Dakota begins to produce a photogenic shelf cloud.


Shawn Rosenthal clips a quick photo as the storm closes in on Eagle Butte SD.  We played tag with this across the state of South Dakota.sdradar2

The small white circle shows our position ahead of the new, severe-warned bow echo.  We were able to stay ahead of the system as we headed eastbound.  A few places ended in close calls as road work and changes in direction allowed the bow echo to close in on our position.


The view out of the van window at the time of the radar image above.  After a record-setting (fast!) gas stop followed by a southward turn in the road the bow nearly caught us, but we turned eastbound again and gained ground on the storm after that.


Caitlyn Stone checks out yet another approaching shelf cloud in southern Minnesota, as once again we were attempting to stay ahead of a storm the following day.  We spent much of this chase in the whale’s mouth just behind an advancing shelf cloud.


One last picture as the shelf cloud races overhead, followed by strong outflow winds.  We would play tag with remnants of this system all the way back to Virginia.  In the end, our crew logged nearly 11,000 miles over the course of the two trips, intercepted dramatic storms both tornadic and non-tornadic, and witnessed miles of spectacular scenery throughout the Great Plains.


















Incredible Storms, and Reloading for Trip 2.

It is difficult to describe our two Kansas chase days over the past couple of weeks.  The first day west of Scott City yielded the first tornado of the trip, but the structure of the storm was simply jaw-dropping.  Wall cloud after wall cloud, frisbee stacks, mammatus fields, the storm had it all.

Storm Chase Day 06

Trevor White’s photo of the Kansas tornadic supercell.

Our second Kansas day found us south of Dodge City, where we watched the towering cumulus explode into the atmosphere.  This would become the monster storm that would produce tornado after tornado, and prompt a rare tornado emergency for Dodge City as a large and destructive tornado approached the populated area.  Too many photos, and too long of a story to put it in words now, but a few photos of the Dodge City storm:

Storm Chase Day 09

Trevor White’s photo of the long-lived tornado south of Dodge City KS.


A large, multi-vortex tornado churns toward Dodge City KS. Fortunately, it skirted the western side of the city, sparing the populated area a major hit.

Trevor White was able to post a more complete description of these two days, and his photos are always worth a visit:

Gearing up for departure again, and hope to post more when time permits.  Right now, sleep is a priority.



Stop-gap post

Just a photo of a wall cloud taken southeast of Lubbock TX on Sunday…on the move today for a couple of LONG hauls ahead.  Good forecast yesterday, but the storm evolution did not allow us to engage the storms as they congealed into a line, and the southern cell was simply out of play with the distance and road network.


Small storms, big country.


We tracked storms across the high country of northern New Mexico and close to the Front Range of Colorado, taking in spectacular views of storms over stunning landscapes.  Our venture included Capulin Volcano National Monument, and we spent the entire afternoon atop the high mesas east of Raton NM.  I will let the pictures speak for me this time.

(photo above:  storms frame the view across the top of the mesa, at an elevation over 8,000′)


The view eastward from the high mesa:  a lonely road crosses the top, where we only saw one other car all afternoon.  Pronghorn antelope grazed near the roadside, and a coyote ran across the road in front of us at one point.  At this elevation, temperatures remained in the 40’s all afternoon.


The view greeting us as we entered Colorado.  Billowing storm clouds and breathtaking landscapes.  These areas are nothing short of national treasures, period.  And we MUST act as responsible stewards of these incredible places.


Our view of the Spanish Peaks.  Nothing I can add here. Stunning.

A fast start to the 2016 trip.

Cisw4ZJUYAIHfzlPhoto taken by Samantha Wright.

The first few days of the 2016 trip were long ones:  900+ miles driving on the first day followed by another 600 miles and a storm intercept on the second.  Going in we knew that the best chance for storms was in southwestern portions of Texas, so we decided on a marathon drive from Blacksburg to Texarkana for the first night, arriving in Texarkana around 1:30am EST (12:30am CST).

The marathon didn’t end there:  our second day we arose early and hit the road, aiming for San Angelo Texas in hopes of making it there in time for a day-2 intercept of a storm.  We made it, and intercepted a cluster of storms south of San Angelo.  Road networks were limited, so our time on the storm was laced with constant analysis of its motion relative to the single road that would dictate a safe retreat.  We would stay with the storm as long as we could in one location before being forced to retreat a distance and start the process over again.  A very low wall cloud accompanied by strong inflow winds greeted us on a narrow one-lane (but paved) road.  As the storm closed in on our location, we moved east and then south to stay close along the one road that could lead us to safety if needed.



Heavy rain and hail rapidly approach, and we depart in a hurry.  The heavy precipitation core enveloped the road a minute later.


The menacing storm continues to move ever closer, and we linger as long as safely possible.

This was not a big tornado day, and we didn’t expect one.  The ingredients were simply not in place for a greater tornado threat this day.  We did accomplish a couple of very important things though:  1) we safely made it back to the plains   2) the crew made the most of the opportunity to learn the forecasting, navigation, and storm analysis needed for a successful intercept.

If the upcoming pattern is any indication, this day of training on a storm will be a valuable asset in the days to come.





The Countdown.


Lightning highlights a dramatic wall cloud near Union City OK in 2013. This storm produced a tornado a short time later.

Less than one month now until the first trip departs for 2016.  Everyone should begin making final arrangements/logistics for each trip departure:  make sure you have transportation to campus on the departure days, have a flexible pick-up upon return (which may vary by a day or two depending upon the weather pattern), and have your gear lined-up according to the attached packing list.  We will have one meeting in the next couple of weeks to go over last-minute details.  Fasten those seatbelts.



Welcome 2016 Crew!


Looking forward to rolling toward storms with everyone, and that time will be here before you know it.  A few more details need to be worked out with logistics, and you will receive periodic updates over the coming months.  We will have a meeting with the crew early next semester.  Enjoy winter break, and remember…as each day passes severe season creeps closer.   -Dave