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…


Preparations for the 2015 chase

On this beautiful first Saturday of February my thoughts are already turning toward the upcoming chase trips to the Great Plains.  Dave will be getting more information out as the time draws nearer but I wanted to jump in here and promote the Google Hangouts (recorded on YouTube) regarding several previous Hokie Stormchase trips. Check out one or more of these Hangouts (full disclosure: they are posted on my YouTube page) if you want to hear about

– What a trip is like from the students’ perspective or

– Favorite websites that prior student chasers have used in forecasting storms or

– How the trip leaders view events of the 2013 second trip.

And as a BTW we may be conducting a Google Hangout before each of this year’s trips to go over some of the expectations and details. (More to follow on that later in the semester.)

Meanwhile the clock is ticking….

Chris White

Welcome 2015 Field Crew Members!

As we are currently watching the nor’easter blow by and feeling the strong northwest winds wrapping around the cyclone, we need to remember it won’t be long before we have our sights set on a storm of a different nature.  Take it from past crew members:  once you return from break in early March, departure for the trip seems to arrive very quickly!  In the meantime, look for e-mails, announcements and other postings as we head toward May and our time in the field.  Welcome aboard!  -Dave


2015 Virginia Tech Severe Storms Field Course


Applications for the 2015 Virginia Tech Severe Storms Field Course are now available!  If you are interested in joining the crew in the Great Plains for 2015, please read the information below and on the application very carefully!

The time is now upon us to begin planning for the 2015 course, and we hope to have the crew finalized by the end of November this year.  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 2015 trip will range from May 17 – June 12.  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 2015 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 2014 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

VT Storm Chase Application 2015
The crew members will be selected by the end of November.  If you are interested in the 2015 trip, be sure to submit your application no later than November 24.


-Dave Carroll