Author Archives: vtmet

Big days in Colorado and Kansas…

Will have to default to Trevor White’s posting while we are on the move again.  Multiple chase days in a row are great for storms, not so much for sleep and time to post summaries of our days.  This photo is from Kathryn Prociv and shows our evening wall cloud in Kansas, and the link to Trevor’s blog post.  More when time permits…


High plains storms and why we love them.

With limited time to write, I will link to Trevor White’s blog and his photos…

His thoughts echo those of many of us, and enjoy the pictures!


Trials on the road.

Perseverance.  It can be a learned art form, and spending weeks on the road in search of storms can test how much of it you possess.  After a major vehicle breakdown, we limped into Dumas TX with a totally shot transmission.  With Memorial Day weekend looming, we knew prospects of getting it fixed were not good.  After taking the van to the local Chrysler dealer (Edwards Chrysler in Dumas…a top-notch owner Gary Edwards and his staff went out of their way to try to help us), we discovered that the repair was a major one and parts would not be available until after the holiday weekend.  Time to move on and figure a way to get everyone back on the road.  After a trip to Amarillo and returning with a rental van, we were off to Colorado in search of a storm.

We targeted Colorado once again on Saturday, and intercepted a spectacular supercell near La Junta, which became tornado-warned after we had been observing it for a while.  Perched on a hillside overlooking the town, the storm produced a spectacular wall cloud with a readily-observable clear slot and RFD.  The storm cycled a few times, producing new wall clouds, moving ever-closer to our position.  Inflow into the storm was impressive, with plumes of dust (of which we have seen very little this trip) racing inward toward the circulation.  We never saw an obvious tornado, but this was one of those storms that didn’t need it…the storm itself was plenty.

A busy time on the road.

Trevor White's photo of the Grandfield supercell in SW OK

Trevor White’s photo of the Grandfield supercell in SW OK

After a long haul from Blacksburg to Conway Arkansas on the first day, we departed from our lodging stop in Arkansas in order to potentially intercept storms in the Red River Region of Texas/Oklahoma.  We knew it would be a long-distance running intercept (on a similar long-distance chase in 2010 we intercepted a tornadic supercell after driving from I-40 in Arkansas, so we have done this before) and some degree of luck would have to be on our side as storms would have to fire in a reachable area.

Diving southwest of Oklahoma City toward Lawton we intercepted a severe-warned cell which later became tornado warned, but opted to continue southward in an effort to reach storms forming in a more unstable environment.  We intercepted a tornadic storm just north of Grandfield Oklahoma in the southwestern part of the state just north of the Red River which forms the border with Texas.  We knew the order of the day would be messy high-precipitation supercells with poor visibility, and that is what we got.  Our long-distance travel hampered our ability to maneuver to the southern side of the storm as we had to approach it from the north.  With limited road options (side roads with washouts due to heavy flooding continue to be an issue throughout the southern plains this year) we jabbed at the storm from various vantage points, as spotters confirmed a tornado with the storm.  At one point we were close to the storm, but rain shrouded the base of the storm, hiding the tornado(s) from view.  We continued to flank the storm on limited roads, finally opting for a second storm to the south after the Grandfield storm eventually began to form a small bowing line.

Our day did not end with these two storms, as another storm formed after dark shortly after we checked into our lodging stop for the night.  With radar running and students analyzing the storm, we drove south of the projected path in order to see if we could get a visual on the nighttime tornado.  Once again, heavy rain prevented clear viewing.  After a long two hours we returned to our rooms for the night having logged a 10-hour drive followed by a 5-hour chase.  An exhausting first day, but a good experience with a couple of HP supercells.

One week…

…and we will be on-location in the Great Plains.  Over the coming days our initial targets will become clearer, and we will choose our route west.  If it appears the southern plains will be the location of choice, we will roll west on I-40 through Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock and OKC.  If the central or northern northern plains look active, we will take the WV Turnpike and cross IN, IL, MO or IA.  Each route has its own flavor (and traffic headaches), either way our student crew will begin to analyze set-ups for severe storms over the coming days.

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

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

Pre-Trip Testing & APRS

Our departure date is closing fast, and pre-trip testing of all radios, etc. has begun.  Fired up the old Kenwood dual-bander and proceeded with a quick check of the APRS, which seems to be running fine.  The old D-700 is still a great rig for the road.  About one-half of our crew are new amateur radio operators, and one of the items I try to expose them to is APRS (automatic packet reporting system).  APRS is an amateur radio-based two-way digital communications system, which allows us to both transmit and receive valuable information on the road.  Our first year of utilizing APRS in the field was in 2003, when crew member Seth Price (N3MRA) rigged it for our field course, which was back in the days of tethering laptops to cell phones, and accessing data on storms through analog cell signals in the more remote locations in the plains!


One of the most common functions is the reporting of the operator’s position via GPS, but short text messages, telemetry, and even weather data can be transmitted via APRS.  Successful packet transmission depends upon the availability of digipeaters and our ability to reach them.  In some areas if you are following us online, you will notice our position does not change for stretches of time.  As soon as we are able to hit a digipeater on the road, our position will be updated again.  With the ability to transmit and receive several types of data, it is truly a versatile communications system for field work involving severe storms!

Our position on the IL/IN tornadic supercell via the APRS tracker.

APRS/Nexrad image showing our position near a tornadic supercell near the IL/IN border in June 2009.

The Countdown Begins!

day1otlk_1300“Game on” today out west, which signals a turn toward spring weather and our upcoming departure!  Please see the attached packing list for the trip, and make sure you put your kit together well in advance of the trip.  If you plan to bring a camera, videocam, etc., make sure you become very familiar with its operation, and you know how to quickly use it in low-light conditions.  For example, I filmed a great storm out the window of the van years ago, only to find out later that the auto-focus gave me a great picture of the raindrops on the window instead of the tornado outside.  I can laugh about it now, but at the time I can assure you I was not amused!

Packing:  it is absolutely imperative that everyone pack light.  The vans are laden with technology, and everything else must be packed in the back so that we have a clear route in and out of the vehicles in case we have to move in a hurry.  Pack light!  A 12″ x 24″ duffle/gym bag w/ shoulder strap is perfect. packing list

Departure Information: 

Trip 1: will depart from the Surge Parking Lot on campus at 9:00am on Monday, May 18.  Initial return date will be Friday, May 29.  Keep in mind that if the pattern is active, we may opt to extend our stay a day or two (we aren’t leaving a Moderate Risk in the TX Panhandle behind!), so keep your schedule open for an additional couple of days beyond the planned return date.

Trip 2: will depart from the Surge Parking Lot on campus at 9:00am on Monday, June 1.  Initial return date will be Friday, June 12.  Again, please keep your schedule open a couple of days beyond the planned return date in the event we extend the trip.

I will send out more information via e-mail to the crew as departure approaches.  Seven weeks and counting…