Category Archives: The trip

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.

txwall

Small storms, big country.

mesa2

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′)

mesa1

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.

colorado1

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.

spanishpeaks

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.

storm3

storm4

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

storm5

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.

-Dave

 

 

 

The Countdown.

unionwallclouda

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.

packinglist

Dave

Welcome 2016 Crew!

andrewtxstorm

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

Time to apply for the 2016 Severe Storm Field Course!

20150605_020314025_iOSPhoto:  Kevin Myatt.

Applications for the 2016 Virginia Tech Severe Storms Field Course are now available!  If you are interested in joining the crew in the Great Plains for 2016, please read the information below and on the application very carefully!

The time is now upon us to begin planning for the 2016 course, and we hope to have the crew finalized before the end of the semester.  Our emphasis on safety and education will continue unabated. and once again we will roll westward in search of severe storms.  The tentative window(s) for the 2016 trip will range from May 16 – June 3.  Depending upon the mix and number of applicants, we may run two tripsThe storms dictate the trip, and if a favorable weather pattern is occurring, we may extend a trip to take advantage of it.  Flexibility is key, therefore each applicant must have this entire window of time available!

You will find the updated application and trip information in the attachment below.  If you are considering applying for a position with the 2016 chase crew, please keep these things in mind:

a) This trip is NOT for everyone…only those with a true passion for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes should apply.  It is a long and arduous journey, and if you are not committed to the study of severe storms, then you may well feel as if YOU should be “committed” by trip’s end!

b) Keep in mind the nature of the trip:  it is an academic exercise…not a vacation.  Every crew member will serve various duties on the trip, and full cooperation is not only desirable, it is mandatory.  When entering a severe weather set-up, everyone must be “dialed in” for efficiency as well as for the safety of the entire crew.

c) Expect some “down time” between storms.  It is impossible to forecast what type of pattern we may see any given year, but most years we do experience a lull in the action which may last for a day or two…or maybe a week.  PATIENCE is a prerequisite for this trip.  Forecasting and intercepting storms can be a frustrating affair:  busted forecasts, unfavorable terrain, unreachable storms, or dangerous locations can all play a role in whether we can safely reach a storm.  Be prepared for adjustments on the fly that are dictated by conditions in the field.

d) If you fear storms, please do not apply, and don’t undertake this trip for therapeutic reasons!  The near-storm environment is a volatile place, and most crews have to weather some intense or occasionally even frightening moments during their shifts out there.

So, if  you are certain this field course is for you, fill out the application form and either drop it by 101 Major Williams, or send it via e-mail to carrolld@vt.edu.

We hope to complete the selection of the 2016 field crew before the end of the semester.  Applicants will be selected based upon their response to the application question (why do you want to join the chase?), and background coursework in meteorology.  If you lack the background courses, those interested are still encouraged to apply, as the primary prerequisite is a driving passion for severe weather and everyone is given full consideration (the plan is to keep an “at-large” space or two open for non-majors).

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me carrolld@vt.edu,  or stop by 101 Major Williams,  or call 231-5469.   I’ll answer any questions you have to the best of my ability.

Application links:  (Word document or PDF)

vt-storm-chase-application

vt-storm-chase-application

If you are interested in the 2016 trip, be sure to submit your application no later than Friday, December 4, 2015.

Cheers,

-Dave Carroll

Storm Chase 2015 review

20150605_004646140_iOS

Below is the review of the 2015 Storm Chase second trip, as written by co-leader Kevin Myatt. The first 2015 Storm Chase trip also has a review, written by co-leader Chris White, linked here.

—–

STORM CHASE 2015, PART II, JUNE 1-8
by Kevin Myatt

The story of the 2015 storm chase second trip begins with the automotive difficulties of the first trip. One of three Virginia Tech Fleet Services vans used by the first group suffered transmission failure in the Texas Panhandle, necessitating it to be put in a dealership auto shop for repair in Dumas, Texas, and a rental van to be procured in nearby Amarillo. Upon learning that the van would take several more days to be repaired than originally hoped, the first group completed its trip and returned to Blacksburg with the rental van. By the time the trip was ending, one of the two remaining Fleet Services vans was also exhibiting transmission difficulties, and was sidelined.

With only 15 people going on the second trip instead of the 18 that went on the first, a sedan was secured from Fleet Services to replace the second van. Meanwhile, an initial trip decision loomed on whether we would first travel to Nebraska for storm potential, then drop down to Texas to deal with the repaired van and rental van a little later, or whether we would just get the van mess out of the way first even though it took us way from the core of early storm potential. It was decided the early setup in Nebraska wasn’t all that compelling, and it was best to go ahead and target Dumas/Amarillo for arrival on the afternoon of the second day, then bounce northward to eastern Colorado or western Kansas for potential storms on Day 3.

20150601_125323385_iOS

So our motley crew of a dark blue rental van, a car and a single remaining Fleet Services van rolled out from Blacksburg on June 1, and we made it all the way to Van Buren, Arkansas, on the Oklahoma border by late evening. That 904 miles was apparently a first-day Hokie Storm Chase travel record. Core-punching a pulse storm in Tennessee was really the only weather event of note on the route. The second day was a quick roll across Oklahoma to the Texas Panhandle. We arrived in Dumas about 3 p.m. and were ready to leave by 7 p.m. with the rental van turned in and the repaired van in our possession. We drove northward to Garden City, Kansas, late on the evening of June 2 to put us in reasonable position for potential severe weather to the north and west the next day.

Chase 1: Colorado Front Range, June 3

Our morning analysis on June 3 indicated three areas of supercell potential: (1) southeastern Wyoming, (2) the Colorado Front Range/Palmer Divide area and (3) north-central Kansas. Wyoming was the hardest to reach but offered the greatest likelihood of storms firing. North-central Kansas offered the least chance of storms developing but, if they did fire, the greatest chance that some could become violent supercells with tornado potential. We opted for the middle ground, Colorado, more reachable than Wyoming, more storm potential than Kansas, but somewhat less chance of storms developing than Wyoming and somewhat less potential for high-end supercells than Kansas.

By mid-afternoon we arrived at a railroad park in Limon, Colorado, where three of us on board (leader Dave Carroll, alum and Weather Channel producer Kathryn Prociv, and yours truly, co-leader Kevin Myatt) had waited out a total bust to end a frustrating June 2011 chase trip. But this time, storms began developing along the Front Range of the Rockies, and we eventually motored west toward Kiowa, Colorado, to take a closer look. Diving south from Kiowa to the ghost-town-like Elbert (complete with a saloon), we traversed a gravel road onto a foothills plateau (6,500 feet above sea level) that afforded us an unobstructed view of a developing low-precipitation supercell to the west.

20150603_204614510_iOS

We watched as the cell cycled a few times, producing wall clouds and textbook LP structure. We were often in bright sunshine as the storm moved almost nowhere.

20150603_205627234_iOS

20150603_214828701_iOS

Finally grudgingly drifting a little northeast, we headed back to Kiowa and to a water tower-graced hilltop spot east of town to watch the storm. This is where we met up with two Hokie Storm Chase alums — Stephanie Pilkington (2010), who now lives in Colorado, and Seth Price (2003-06) who lives in New Mexico. A WeatherNation TV crew also interviewed Dave as a dark lowered base on the storm cycled behind us.

20150603_223815872_iOS

20150603_230026697_iOS

The first cell began dying as it began ingesting cooler, drier air from the east, and new storm base to the west looked considerably more robust. We pushed west as far as the southern Denver suburb of Elizabeth to take a look, but both chaser convergence and normal commuter traffic became problematic. So we tracked back eastward toward Kiowa. At one point, a lowering just to our north developed rapid rotation, and many of us thought it was about to drop a tornado nearby as we stopped to watch behind a steakhouse. The supercell was apparently ingesting helicity left behind by the original storm we had followed.

No funnel dropped, and we continued eastward, back to the same hilltop we were at earlier, and then further eastward, occasionally stopping for a view. The storm gradually became undone, choking on the same cooler, drier air to the east as the first.

We retreated back to Limon to spend the night.

Chase 2: North-central/northwest Kansas, June 4

A cold front had cleared the instability out of southeast Wyoming, so this basically left the two other options from the previous day for June 4 — the Colorado Front Range/Palmer Divide area, and north-central Kansas. In both cases, it appeared instability and shear were a tick higher than the previous day, so there was more chance for violent supercells and possible tornadoes.

We decided to travel east for north-central Kansas, where a warm front lifting northward seemed to offer the potential for lift and helicity that could ramp up some mean supercells. Kansas had produced at least one very picturesque and tornadic supercell the day before.

By mid-afternoon we arrived at Stockton, north of Hays, and everything suggested a Kansas tornado threat — breezy southeasterly winds, oppressive humidity, and darkening bases of growing cumulus towers. Short term models showed that the Significant Tornado parameter — SigTor — was 11 just 1 county to our east, when 5 is often considered a red flag for the potential of long-track, violent tornadoes. As we waited at a town park, turkey towers began poking high a few miles north toward Phillipsburg, and we thought that soon we’d be moving on a severe storm.

But something strange happened as we drove north toward Phillipsburg for a better looked — the sky began clearing. A stout cap and perhaps some subsidence on the backside of a passing upper-level shortwave were too much for convection to overcoming. A gnawing feeling of a “bust” began to grip us — intensified by the social media photos pouring in of several spectacular tornadoes not far west of Limon, where we had started the day.

We reserved hotel rooms in Colby, Kansas, back on I-70 in the western part of the state, and expected to return for an early dinner and turn-in (8:30 being early on a chase day). But as we traveled west from Phillipsburg, a storm popped up in southwest Nebraska, a little too far for us to engage. Then, another developed due west of our location near Atwood, Kansas. So we quickly decided to head toward it, hoping to salvage something out of the day.

When we finally got a full view of the storm from base to anvil, our jaws collectively dropped at the intense structure of a low-precipitation supercell with a tight, twisting updraft almost like a barber pole. We dropped southward on a gravel road to get in good position to view this hail-chunking beauty without being dented by it. Soon, it was tornado-warned.

20150605_003657259_iOS

20150605_004759572_iOS

While pausing to examine the LP supercell, we noticed dark bases to our south and southeast, and tall bubbly cauliflower above them poking skyward. We realized that new storms were starting to develop. Traveling west and north wasn’t really an option with the LP dropping hail up to the size of tennis balls, so all we could do was poke south on the gravel road right under the storm bases, hopefully getting out from under them before they decided to dump torrential rain — or worse — on us.

We made it out to a highway at Rexford, Kansas, and turned back to watch the cell we were just under continue to grow, then start to spin noticeably, and eventually pull cloud material underneath it into a lowered base or “wall cloud.” Our second supercell of what looked to be a busted afternoon had formed right before our eyes. It also soon gained a tornado warning. We were eventually chased away from our viewing location by a very close bolt of lightning, and we retreated back to near Rexford to continue watching the storm.

20150605_020314025_iOS

As darkness fell, the supercell we were watching and two others to the east and south began to coalesce into a cluster. A frenetic lightning show — 30 to 50 flashes per second at its peak — ensued. Thoroughly mesmerized, we stayed on a country road and watched this for about 90 minutes.

Fully sated by an evening of storm structure and continuous lightning, we drifted back to Colby after 11 p.m.

Chase 3: Eastern Colorado, June 5

The 3 options of our first day and 2 options of our second day appeared to be narrowed to just one on the third day: Colorado. A passing shortwave promised to give a little boost to the storms that had been occurring along the Front Range and Palmer Divide on the previous two days.

We were strongly questioning the decision to head toward the Front Range again when we encountered foggy, drizzly, chilly weather for 60 miles in eastern Colorado. At a rest stop not far east of Limon, we re-evaluated, and decided that any storms of note to the west would develop only right in the Denver metro area with both heavy chaser convergence and Saturday local traffic. We decided to head eastward, closer to the Kansas border, where sunshine was eroding the wedge of cool, damp air and would lead to greater instability, though later firing storms.

We motored back to Burlington, not far west of the Kansas line, on I-70, then north to the small town of Wray, where we waited outside a 7-Eleven. Storms began to develop to our west and southwest, and gained tornado warnings fairly quickly. The storms closest to us to the west were in a tangled mess, so we targeted the storm to our southwest, near I-70, that was still discrete.

Reversing course on U.S. 385 south to Idalia, we caught a view of a rain-free base on the storm to our southwest. Finding a viewing spot just west of the town, it quickly became obvious that what we thought at first to be a rain shaft near the right edge of the rain free base was more solid. Our eyes and more advanced camera equipment quickly made out one tornado on the horizon, soon confirmed by spotters much closer to the storm north of Stratton, Colorado, as NOAA weather radio warned of a “large and dangerous tornado” with the storm.

Storm Chase Day 05

Storm coverage soon became a problem, as storms popped up in numerous locations and began to fuse into an organized cluster or MCS. Visibility on any tornado was soon obscured by rain, and we had little choice but to make a run for it north and east. We saw at least one nice LP-like structure on the road ahead of us, but the curtain was closing behind us.

20150606_001241530_iOS

Most of Nebraska was behind an outflow boundary, so the cooler, more stable air reduced the tornado and severe storms risk as the storms moved northeast. But we drove through periods of heavy rain and vivid lightning through the evening all the way to Kearney in the central part of the state, where we overnighted to set up for the next day’s potential.

Chase 4: Northern Nebraska, June 6

We awoke in Kearney with plans to motor toward the SPC’s 10% tornado risk zone in north-central and northeastern Nebraska. The zone had shifted northward and eastward overnight, touching parts of neighboring South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. A cold front would be moving into warm, humid air to trigger initiation, with a moderate amount of shear aloft.

We drove to Norfolk, Nebraska, for lunch and recon. A couple of storms began to fire to our northwest near O’Neill, and we made our way northwestward. Early on, it looked promising as the storm we viewed from a highway hilltop vantage point several miles southeast of O’Neill had solid early-stage supercell structure, periodically dropping a wall cloud. At first it was heading east parallel to the U.S. 220, but then angled more east-northeastward. There were no good road options to hang closer to the storm.

20150606_222427530_iOS

And then, storms began going up everywhere. The radar quickly turned into a cluster of cells all over north-central and northeast Nebraska, some severe with notable hail cores. We ended up spending more than an hour under a gas overhang at Plainview, Nebraska, protecting the vehicles from possible hail, until we finally had an opening to head southward.

We got a few decent looks at supercell storm structure within a mostly multicell as we motored south to Norfolk, but the day had not turned out anything like we expected or hoped.

20150607_015611068_iOS

We ate a quick dinner at Norfolk and then headed south and east into Iowa, barely outrunning a squall line, arriving at Stuart, Iowa for the night.

Chase 5: Central Illinois, June 7

Though it was only the seventh day of our planned 10-12-day storm chase trip, we began our trip east toward home. It did not appear the next trough in the Plains would set up shop until late in the week when we would already be having to head home, anyway, and central Illinois offered the best shot at high-end severe storms on this Sunday. Dave and I have a strong love for central Illinois as a chase target, because of its Kansas-quality prairie chase terrain in many locations, little or no chaser traffic and successful chases we have had there in 2006, 2007 and 2009.

East of Des Moines, we encountered another automotive obstacle: A blown tire on the one remaining chase van that had no experienced transmission problems. Blessedly, this blowout occurred right as we were exiting for gas anyway. The tire had a large patch of missing rubber, and all we had was a “doughnut” spare, so the tire would have to be replaced. Newton, Iowa, had a Wal-Mart nearby, so 3 of us drove there to let them have the old tire and replace it with a new one while the rest of the crew waited at the gas station. All told we were only off the road about 90 minutes.

20150607_144152139_iOS

Still, it was a delay that put us behind the day’s storm activity. But the time we got to Galesburg, Illinois, in the western part of the state, storm towers were already climbing to our south and southeast, and quickly went severe while we ate a quick lunch. We had wanted to be south of the storms when they fired. So this left us with having to weave our way between cells and through weaker cells southward on state highways through rural Illinois towns that slowed us down. We hit many periods of heavy rain and gusty winds — and had one road detour where large trees had been toppled by wind minutes before we arrived — but we eventually punched through the storms into sunshine.

We worked our way back north to a cell on the southern edge of the scattered cluster draped east-west through central Illinois, catching some nice shelf cloud structure. As a “tail-end Charlie” cell on that particular line segment pulled eastward, it developed some storm-scale rotation and picked up cloud material for a wall cloud.

20150607_222837716_iOS

20150607_231039140_iOS

When that cell passed, we headed southward — right past Abraham Lincoln’s gravesite at Springfield — and then eastward as the storms to the north coagulated into another big rainy mess, similar to Nebraska the day before. But again, radar was showing significant rotation in another tail-end Charlie cell on the southwest edge of main mass, and after some debate and discussion, we eventually made our way northward toward that storm.

We entered Piatt County, Illinois, and tracked northward to a spot between Monticello and Maroa Illinois — very near where we made our storied “Maroa Miracle” supercell intercept in a nearly dead northwest flow severe pattern in 2006 — and watched as the lightning-heavy, striated mesocyclone tracked to our north, providing one final (or so we thought) jaw-dropping spectacle to the 2015 Storm Chase second trip.

20150608_012246840_iOS

The storms on the nearest edge of the complex quickly formed a bowing segment that began expanding south and racing more rapidly southeastward. This necessitated a quick retreat southward as dark fell, which put us sideswiping wind gusts exceeding 50 mph, with plenty of dust kicked up. We attempted to outrun the bow for a couple hours, but finally decided it was futile, that it would overtake us, so we pulled off I-57 and let it run over us. Fortunately, the part of the storm that came over us at that location did not have winds that were even greater than 40 mph.

After sitting through downpours for a while, we finally headed back north to Champaign and eventually Danville, almost right at the Indiana border, for the night, encountering some flooded parts of the interstate along the way.

Return to Blacksburg, June 8

We went home on the eighth day of the trip, a couple days earlier than expected but with a quiver of interesting storm intercepts more full than most of our longer trips.

We ate a group lunch at Steak & Shake in Chillicothe, Ohio, and then made our traditional last stop at the Tamarack travel center in West Virginia.

But this trip had one last amazing storm moment for us. A line segment formed in southern West Virginia, and we were outrunning it on our last 50 miles into Blacksburg.

20150608_191428185_iOS

As we got to Blacksburg, a multi-layered shelf cloud filled the sky and rolled over the Virginia Tech campus. The chasers in the car went to the top of a parking deck to get a good look, but it was impressive from any viewing point.

What an ending to the 2015 Hokie Storm Chase season.

20150608_235602074_iOS 20150609_000247917_iOS