# Understanding Hodographs

There are several tools in the arsenal to assist storm chasers and meteorologists with determining severe weather, as well as how and where it will form. One of these tools uses is a Hodograph. The hodograph plots the wind speed and direction as it rises into the atmosphere. Typically these “plots” are from 0-6 kilometers, or basically in layman’s terms from the surface to 18,000 feet in height.

In order for meteorologists to plot these hodographs, they must first take a sample of the atmosphere through what is called a sounding. A weather balloon is launched, (yes they still do these) and the data is fed into the box attached to the weather balloon. Once the box is retrieved, the data is uploaded into a computer and is plotted out in graph form. This give the meteorologists an idea of how stable or unstable that atmosphere it and which way the winds are moving at different heights. This is where the hodograph comes into play. Here is an example of a hodograph.

As we look at this hodograph, the radial graph shows the ground relative direction of wind (azimuth from center) and the wind speed (distance from center) Each leg of the cross + shows direction. The bottom of the + would be north or 360 degrees, the top of the + would be south or 180 degrees, the left of the + would be east or 90 degrees and the right of the + would be west or 270 degrees. The circles surrounding the cross hair are the wind speeds given for that specific wind direction. The plot points V0 – V4 show the wind vectors (direction). Here is the same graph showing the first plot.

This plot shows the winds at the surface at 161 degrees (SE) at 25 knots (28 mph). Here is the next plot:

This plot shows the winds at roughly 3000 feet up at 175 degrees (SE) at 42 knots (48 mph). Here is the 3rd plot:

The 3rd plot shows a big change in wind direction with height. Now the winds at roughly 6500 feet up are at 204 degrees (SSW) and they have increased to 54 knots (62 mph). Here is the 4th plot:

In the 4th plot, we now see that the winds at roughly 10,000 feet have turned again and are now at 229 degrees (SW) and are at 59 knots (67 mph). Here is the 5th and final plot:

The 5th plot point shows that the winds at 13,000 feet remain at 59 knots (67 mph) but they again have turned direction and are now at 241 degrees (WSW). When plotting these hodographs, one must also understand that we plot the winds toward the direction that they are blowing.

So what does this all mean? We as storm chasers look at these graphs to see what type of storms will happen. When the points of V0 to V4 are plotted on the graph, these vectors (direction) are what is know as wind shear. Wind Shear is a change in the wind direction with height. The Bulk Shear (which is typically done from 0 kilometers to 6 kilometers) tell us in a round about way if the plot will produce supercells or not. A basic rule of thumb is that inf the Bulk Shear is greater than 25 knots (28 mph) it is strongly associated with supercell development. Anything less that 25 knots (28 mph) is associated with non supercell storms. It is this type of plot graph above that forms rotating updrafts in supercell thunderstorms which can produce tornadoes.

Is this the only means on which to forecast the possibility of tornadic storms? No. This is just one tool that is used to help us. The hodograph that was just illustrated above shows that the “curved” plot points have winds turning clockwise and in the Northern Hemisphere, a clockwise curve is most commonly associated with storm rotation. There are several parameters that we must study to make an effective forecast on what can possibly happen and the hodograph is one of the tools to assist us.

# Chasing The Plains.. High Risk Outbreak 4/12/2012

There had been much hype and talk for a week prior to the events that unfolded on April 12, 2012. The Storm Prediction Center issued a Day 3 Moderate Risk for southern Nebraska, All of central Kansas and part of northern and central Oklahoma. We decided to go with an on-call chase as the ingredients were coming together for an outbreak of severe weather in the Plains.

On April 10, 2012, The Storm Prediction Center issued a Day 2 High Risk. There were two target areas. The first target area was in northern Kansas and south central Nebraska, where a surface low was tracking out of Colorado towards the northeast. The winds aloft were condusive to severe weather development as the Jet Stream was maximized in this area  as it rounded the base of the trough. The second target area was along the dryline in western and central Oklahoma and Kansas, which, during the spring storm season, is always a player for anyone to witness severe weather if conditions are right and certain parameters exist.

Prior to departing on early Saturday morning, I wanted to take one last look at the 0700 UTC Day 1 Outlook for 4/12/2012. This outlook would decide on which target area to choose and what time we would leave to get into position. The outlook showed the same parameters and areas, with both areas showing a 60% hatched area for severe weather. We decided to head towards southern Nebraska and play the surface low which was in a highly sheared environment.

We departed at 2:00 am with our guests and proceeded to our target city of Beatrice, Nebraska. As we headed north out of Kansas City towards St. Joseph, Missouri, we noticed the lower cloud deck and there was not much of a temperature/dewpoint spread. Overnight convection (storms) stablized the area and created an inversion in the lower atmosphere locking in the cloud cover and fog. Of course, it was ealy in the morning, (9:00 am) and there was plenty of time for the low cloud deck and fog to burn off and destabilize the atmosphere just ahead of the surface low track.

We arrived in Beatrice around 11:00 am and decided to wait and see what transpired. Radar was showing storms already beggining to fire in Oklahoma along the dryline and there were storms beginning to form to our southwest and west ahead or the low. We loaded up and began to proceed towards Hebron, Nebraska. A few of the cells to our southwest were becoming thunderstrom warned rather rapidly, so our excitement began to build for our first Plains chase of the 2012 season. Little did we know how big of a day we were going to have. Outside of Hebron, we observed on radar that a few of the storms we becoming tornadic and that but the storms were taking on an High Precipitation charateristic and reports from other chasers that the tornadoes that were becoming rain wrapped. The storms were beginning to congeal in to large High Precipitaion system and we not so much discreet as it moved northeast towards Omaha.

We stopped in Belleville, Kanasa and met up with fellow storm chasers Tom Stolze and Jon Kriegh from St. Louis and took a look at the latest radar trends and observations. Currently, the storms over northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas were remaining discreet and the Storm Predicition Center dropped the 60% hatch area in Nebraska as it was looking like the storms would feed into a better environment after dark as the Low Level jet kicked in across the area adding to the wind shear already in place. We decided to play the storm that was closest to us, but we were essentially 2 hours away to the north of it. There was a storm coming out of Oklahoma that has been tornado warned most of the day and was heading towards Mc Phearson, Kansas. The cells were moving at a pace that would get us there and in place about 45 minute before the storm would move through. We decided to head towards Salina, Kansas and wait it out.

We drove south of Salina, Kansas and waited at the junction of I-135 and US 81. The storm became tornado warned and reports were coming in of a large tornado on the ground near Geneseo, Kansas moving northeast. We were in perfect position to intercept. 20 minutes later, in the distance, we saw the tornado. It had still kept its wedge shape and was moving a bit more north of our position.

We decided to drive north to intercept. we returned onto I-135 and proceeded north and then east on Falun Road. We drove about 3 miles and came to a clearing at a 4 way intersection. We had a spectacular view of the meso and wall cloud to our immediate west and northwest. There we saw the wall clud produce several spin ups along it. This particular supercell kept cycling. The meso would occlude (choke off) and a new meso would form in its place.

The storm continued on its northeast path towards the city of Salina, Kansas. The wall cloud and meso were visible at all times eventually crossing I-135 to our north. Thankfully, the storm did not cycle while over Salina as it  moved towards the east. We were clearly behind the storm and proceeded east on I-70. The wall cloud was to our southeast and was moving towards the northeast. A tornado formed again, lifted and then came down again as it crossed I-70 about a mile or so in front of us. The Kansas State Police stopped traffic as it crossed the interstate.

Once the tornado crossed the interstate, it lifted but the wall cloud remained and was visible rotating as we came up along side of it. The wall cloud was to our immediate north and we were approximately 1/2 mile from the circulation as we traveled east.

We followed the meso and wall cloud as it moved along to our north and east. The storm began to cycle again as we stopped to watch in Solomon, Kansas which was about 10-15 miles east of Salina, Kansas. As we pulled of the interstate, the funnel cloud appeared and fully condensed to the ground. It took the appearance os a large cone as it proceeded to churn up land out in the country to the north of Solomon. Eventually, the tornado grew into a large stovepipe shape and it gained intensity.

we proceeded north out of Solomon to catch up to the meso and tornado as it once again changed shape and became a large cone. We watched in amazement as the tornado lifted into a funnel cloud and  then cycled again, coming down as a small cone. We could clearly see the RFD (rear flank downdraft) slot behind the meso and wall cloud and knew the tornado would be short lived. The RFD overtook the meso and the tornado begain to occlude. Before total occlusion, the tornado took the shape of an elephant trunk and a rope as the upper winds determined its fate.

The tornado roped out and dissapated as the meso and wall cloud began to lift. Our chase was done. We proceeded to Junction City, Kansas and met up with the rest of our chaser friends from St. Louis and celebrated a successful day of chasing and prepared for the long drive back home.

# CHASERCON – A Storm Chaser’s Perspective

During President’s Day weekend, Barb and I traveled to Denver, Colorado to attend the 14th Annual National Storm Chaser’s Convention at the Red Lion Hotel. We were looking forward to the trip and the anticipation to meet other chasers whom we had converesed with through Facebook and other social media outlets. We decided to rent a car and headed out at 7pm on 2/17/2012 as it was a 14 hour drive to Denver. It is so much better to drive in Kansas at night since there is nothing to see. No offense to my Kansas friends of course!

We arrived in Hays, Kansas ad daybreak and stopped for gas. After refueling, we noticed that the gas gauge was reading empty. I checked under the vehicle and did not see a leak, so for verification, I re-topped off the fuel tank. The gauge still read empty! We contacted the leasing company and they told us that the nearest available car to us was 3 hours away in Denver! What a coincidence! After bickering back and forth with the leasing company, we just decided to drive as far as we could and see what happens. About 50 miles wast of Hays, the fule gauge rest itself. Whew! What a relief!

We stopped at the Colorado State Line for some pictures. It had been 10 years since Barb and I had been to Colorado and that was during our western tour honeymoon back in 2001. It was a beautiful morning.

I actually forgot how beautiful our country was. As we approached Limon, Colorado, I was reminded of this as we saw the majestic Pike’s Peak in the background. The last time we traveld through here in 2001, there was hardly any snow on the mountain. A few weeks prior to the convention, the front range received a major snow storm with some areas measuring their snow in feet. It made for a spectacular backdrop as we drove towards Denver.

Since this was our first time in Denver, I was curious to see the mountains from another part of the state. Realizing that Colorado Springs and Denver are actually not that far in distance, it was kind of cool to see the Rocky Mountains in all of their glory.

We arrived at the hotel, exhausted and hungry. We waitined until our friends from St. Louis, Jerry and Debbie Prsha to arrive by plane. Once they arrived, we ate dinner and prepared for the first class. Forecasting by Jon Davies. My wife decided to take the Basic lass and I chose to take the Basic and Advanced class. I can honestly say that Jon put a lot of what I was looking at on maps in perspective. For anyone who has the chance to take one of his forecasting classes, I highly recommend it. We called it a night after the class and was ready to go early in the AM. All of the classes and speakers paid tribute to Andy Gabrielson whom passed away a few weeks prior to the convention. Andy was actually scheduled to be one of the speakers. It was very bittersweet to listen to the accolades and tributes from his friends. Kory Hartman gave a great presentation to his friend and fellow co-worker at Severe Studios.

Next on the agenda was Dr. Greg Forbes with the Weather Channel. For the storm chasers, the majority of the presentation topics centered around the Joplin EF-5 tornado. Here is Dr. Forbes explaining some of the reasons why the storm did what it did.

Chris Novy Spoke to the group about chaser etiquette and shared some of his expierences while chasing out in the field.

The next speaker on the agenda was Timm Marshall. Tim is know for going into character and covering his topics with flare and resilence. This year, Tim came into costume as Darth Nader, champion of Storm Shelters. His talk intrigued me as he spoke of how the codes allow for the construction of storm shelters, which was right into my line of work. I even has a chance to speak to Tim afterwards about ICC 500, the standard for Storm Shelter Construction. Tim never broke from character and held his “lightsaber” close to me as he told me to “pray that he did not further alter the bargain.”

Tim was followed up by Dr. Howie Bluestein from the University of Oklahoma. Both he and  Dr. Forbes are great speakers and presenters, but for chasers who are new to the convention or new to chasing, it would have been nice to speak to the attendees in a more understandable relation and not like we all are 3rd year Meteorology students. But all in all, they were great presenters.

We broke for the afternoon to prepare for the dinner and keynote speakers, Sean Casey and Brandon Ivey from the Discovery Channel series, “Storm Chasers” We met up with our forecasters fro P.D.S. Storm Tours, Colt Froney and Isaac Pato and were joined by fellow Basehunter chasers Kevin Rolfs and Scott Peake. We had a great time at dinner!

Sean and Brandon spoke in great detail about their journeys and how the “Tornado Alley” movie came to fruition. Sean also spoke on how the TIV (tornado Intercept Vehicle) was built and where it was derived from. Brandon and I have struck a friendship when he was last here in St. Louis. I appreciate his kindness as Barb and I was very happy to finally meet his wife, Valerie at the conference.

The dinner and keynote speakers ended around 9;00 pm and most chasers headed over to the bar for some liquid refreshments. In the conference room, Tim Samaras perpared the screen for viewings of chaser videos from the attendees. It was interesting to see other chasers and their styles of chasing, some being cautious, with others looking for the closest and greatest shots. We called it a night around 11:30 pm after watching videos and eating popcorn. Just like at the movies, minus the beer of course!

Sunday was a half day of speakers. Dr. Jason Persoff, “The Storm Doctor” lead off with a talk about witnessing the Joplin tornado first hand and giving the accounts of helping the injured at St. Johns Hospital which took a direct hit.It was numbing to hear these first hand accounts from a first responder during a mass casulty incident. One thing is for sure. We decided long ago that while chasing storms if anything took a hit during the storm, our chase was over and we would focus on helping until proper help arrived. Being in the Fire Service for 28 years does not prepare you for the unexpected. i am glad that I have gone through the training I have to make a difference. Here is a picture of Dr. Persoff explaining what he came across that day.

And of course, a little storm chasing humor is thrown into the mix as well. Crazy to think that some of this made it into the press.

The next speaker was Dr. Greg Forbes. Dr. Forbes spoke for about an hour on debris balls and their signatures on radar and the new dual pol radar. He lost me on the correlation coefficient..

The last speaker of the morning was Rich Thompson, lead forecaster at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC). Rich talked about linear storm modes and how spin-ups of tornadoes can happen given the right atmospheric conditions. Rich gave great examples or radar images to help decipher what to look for within these storms. The conference ended at 12:00 with a lot of door prize giveaways. All in all it was a great 2.5 days of stories and expierences ad well as training.

This was my first convention and will not be my last. I met a lot of great chasers and wish that I had time to introduce myself to many others.  I was dissapointed by the attitudes that some of the chasers had towards me and others. Whether we are chasing for spotting, pictures, film, or for whatever reason, we need to stick together. Again, everyone has their own unique style of chasing, including me. I started this business to share my passion of weather to those who are a bit apprehensive to it and explain it to them in a simple manner. Some people are afraid of storms, others are adrenaline infused and enjoy the thrill of the chase. Whatever your position is, always take time to learn and study and understand. Be the exception, not the rule!

# Finding The Tornado – A tribute to Andy Gabrielson

Today, the Storm Chasing community lost one of their own. Andy Gabrielson was a storm chaser’s storm chaser. If anyone in their short life did it all, it was Andy. He was truly a success story. Andy was a very successful storm chaser, businessman and all around great person to the storm chasing community. His website, www.findthetornado.com showcased many of his chases. Andy was a part of Severe Studios, a web broadcasting company that streams live video from chase vehicles directly onto the Web.

Although I had never met Andy, I did have the chance to speak with him via Facebook on a few occasions. I did have the chance to chase with Andy, albeit in separate vehicles, last April in central Illinois. We were on the same supercell and actually we were right behind him as we headed to intercept. The tornado formed 7 miles northeast of Litchfield, Illinois. My wife and I were directly behind him and another chaser from his team. As the tornado began to condensate, a vehicle in front of Andy decided at the last minute to attempt to make a left hand turn into a driveway without signaling. Both Andy and his chaser counterpart avoided collision by essentially splitting the difference around this car. One vehicle went left into the oncoming lane and the other vehicle took the shoulder to avoid a collision. Due to both of their quick thinking and reaction, tragedy was averted.

But this blog is not about that. This blog is purely dedicated to a young man who lived his dream. And man did he dream big.  I have been spotting and chasing for 9 years and volunteering my services to the NWS as a storm spotter. I decided that my hobby needed to become my part time business. I saw an opportunity and decided to go for it. Andy inspired me to accomplish this. His success both in the field and behind the scenes is what most of us dream about. Andy’s charm, wit and humor was captivating. How could you not like the guy? He was truly a key part in the storm chasing community as a whole. Andy dedicated his life to his passion. Why shouldn’t we also do the same? Some will say that there are too may in our field that are in it for the money and the fame and glory. Andy was not one of these people. Andy took his passion and made it successful. In retrospect, it is what my wife and I are accomplishing as I type you this blog. We all want to live the American Dream and I intend on expounding upon what are founding fathers gave me my rights to do as an American.

Andy was at the top of his game. We should all be at the top of our games. We should all give 110% to our dreams, hopes and aspirations, much like he did. Andy was an inspiration to all of us in the chaser community and will always be. we will always chase, whether successful or not. It is our passion. it’s our mission to warn the public and be the eyes and voice to the NWS for field verifications and ground truth reporting. Andy would want us to continue in his legacy. He would not want it any other way.

Godspeed my colleague. Your work here is done. We’ll take it from here….

# Never stop learning

Taking a class or two in weather or storm spotting is great, but never assume you know everything you’ll need to know. Whenever someone asks me, I always recommend taking more classes and getting to know people that know weather!

Living on the eastern side of what is typically considered “tornado alley,” a large number of our tornadoes come during late evening or night when it is hard to see and next to impossible to chase. There have been many occasions where storm spotter training has not only allowed me to get a good shot, but actually saved my life, even when I wasn’t going for the chase!

Mammatus clouds before the storm hit

For example, in the spring of 2003, when I was crazy enough to chase storms but not smart enough to know what to look for, a tornado-warned storm approaches near my home.  I had just arrived home when the warning was issues, so I didn’t have ample time to check the weather radar websites, and even then it would of just been on basic storm direction.  Deciding on impule, I drove closer to the storm to get some pictures…

1 mile down the road, I can see the bottom of a black cloud mass come into view over the trees. (Had I known what to look for, I would of known this was the wall cloud and to head back or relocate for visibility and safety)

4 miles down the road, I am essentially in the core of the storm.  I look out and see what can best be described without knowledge as a dark, ugly looking cloud.  Not the typical cone shape funnel cloud or what people normally see on The Weather Channel.  (Had I known, this actually was a messy looking funnel cloud at approximately 1/2 mile…at MOST…away from me).

I drive a little further and decide to stop at the driveway of a friend’s house to observe and photograph.  Thinking… I realize that the “ugly cloud” was my point of interest, but my moment of opportunity has passed!  Looking back towards the “target”, I see bands of rain moving sideways in mid air, everything is turning a pea-soup green, pea and nickle-size hail is falling, visibility opposite of where I was looking is reducing to nothing and very quickly!  Unsure of what to make of everything, I drive down the driveway of my friend’s house to be better prepaired in case things turn south.  Second guessing myself, I start to wonder if the “ugly cloud” was just an ugly cloud and the real tornado is rain-wrapped and heading this way!

Rain is coming down very hard, lightning is striking all around, winds were fairly strong but sustainable.  Suddenly, the wind accelerated very quickly!  The hail and rain came down bigger and faster.  It was at this moment I decide to abandon the car in their driveway, run around the side of their house and take shelter at the back corner of their walk-out basement.  Thankfully, as I ran…scratch that…flew past the basement window, they saw me and let me come inside.

Hail that fell during this storm, photographed a short time later as it already began to melt.

Moments after the storm passed, we went outside to examine the aftermath.  Their siding looked as if somebody took a machine gun to their house…holes everywhere!  Hail left some dents in the car as well, although nothing major.

Overall, if I had proper storm training, I would of known what the danger signs were and how to avoid them. Thankfully, it wasn’t a fully formed tornado.  If it was, the results would of been much worse!  I urge everyone to take at least a storm spotter class to learn the basics. And for those that want to actually chase storms and get the “good shots,” check out the Training page for more in-depth information!

Below is the storm damage summary from the NWS-STL Office.  My location was close to the center part of Gasconade County that day.

# Mobile Software

Storm chasing has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Wow, it’s actually been over 10 years since I’ve started actively chasing storms! Here is a quick flashback to my early days chasing the Arizona monsoon lightning in 2001…

Software: Typically used free weather webpages for data. NWS radar images, perhaps a lightning probability graphic and a satellite image loop.  No GPS. No internet on the cell phone. Oh wait, I didn’t even have a cell phone then!  I did have a big road atlas in the chase van tho! You had to study the maps and motions, and try to guess the best place to be!

Flash foward to 2012…

Most smartphones (which require internet plans) have a wide variety of apps to get you up to the (last few) minutes of weather data. There is always controversy between which is better, Android or iPhone. I’m not fighting that battle here, but I will highlight some of the Droid apps that I find especially useful.

MyCast Weather
There is a free version (last I checked) and paid versions. I have the paid version plus the lightning plug-in (which cost more than the app to begin with, that’s Viasala for you!)
What I like about it is the smooth radar plus good zoom-in levels. The lightning add-in is worth it for me when I’m shooting for bolts. Various forecasts (daily, hourly and text). Satellite graphic is nice. StormWatch shows the warnings on the map and the auto-center w/ the phone’s GPS is a nice touch!  I’m watching a hook echo on the radar animation as I type (and yes, it’s January!)

F5App
Free!
This is for the more advanced chasers, but it gives direct links to forecast maps such as Instability, Sheer, 500mb Vertical Velocities, etc…

iMap Weather
Free!
Also a good one for radar!

For those that have laptops and a tethering or Wi-Fi HotSpot plan on their phone, here are some good PC weather programs!

GRLevel
Not Free   But there is a free trial!
A little techincal for the novice, but the 3D storm features in the GRLevelX is a nice feature to really see the storm engine in progress!

WeatherScope
Free
This is one where you customize the map you want from the ground up.
Nice features I find useful are the 10m wind fields, radar overlays, temperature gradient maps and in the winter, I can customize a freeze line on my map to see where the rain will become snow.

More to come!

# Great Plains Storm Chase Tour 5/14/2011 – 5/19/2011 Part 5

May 18, 2011. Waking up in Blackwell, Oklahoma after our bust day. We needed to get some laundry done so we attempted to find a laundromat. Everything in the town was closed until Noon. We returned back to the hotel and since check-out was late, did our laundry and just decieded to hang out for a while in town as we awaited for other chasers and our forecasters to arrive.

Colt and Isaac arrived in Blackwell and we all decided to head to Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch before departing to our target area. Isaac wanted to get his fix of Popcorm Chicken so we oblidged him. We departed Blackwell and headed for our target area in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. We knew it to be a chase day! The interstate was full of chase vehicles as we drove into Kansas. We went west on Kansas 160 towards Medicine Lodge and you could see the chase vehicles ahead of us, behind us, and along side us. Laptops were gleaming in cars, antennae at the ready. There was even one chaser who had a large siren on the top of his camper shell to warn people of tornadoes in areas that did not have a siren.

We stopped in Medicine Lodge for fuel and noticed that the cumulus field was beginning to fill in. This time, the were not getting sheared apart by mid level winds. We stopped north of Medicine Lodge and south of Pratt to get a better view.

We were accompanied by not only Colt and Isaac, but the remained of the Basehunters, Kevin Rolfs and Scott Peake. We moved north to Pratt and eventually east to Cunningham, Kansas to await the set-up. There were storms firing off well to the north of our location and north of Interstate 70. These areas we closed to the dynamic part of the low pressure system what was lifting out of the east slopes of the Rockies. Tornado Warnings did go up in that area, and one very brief touchdown was noted by spotters and chasers.

The storms started to fire off of an upper level low pressure system to our west. The first cells went up east of Pratt, Kansas. We chased for a few hours from Pratt noth towards I-70. We did have a persistant wall cloud, but nothing became of it.

Our chase lead us east on Interstate 70 and then north towards Minneapolis, Kansas. It was here that we ran into Sean, Brandon & Marcus and the TIV. Our guest, Tom, wanted a photo opportunity so we oblidged him. Sean even popped his head out of the side to take a look around.

It was nearing 8:00 pm and the storms were actually becoming elevated in nature and began to lose their severe characteristics. We opted to head towards Salina, Kansas with fellow chaser Jerry Prsha. There we stopped for dinner, got our hotel room for the evening and decided to head home the next day. All in all it was a great week even though we actually chased a few days. Our guest had a great time and wants to tour with us again soon.

# Great Plains Storm Chase Tour 5/14/2011 – 5/19/2011 Part 4

May 17, 2011 found P.D.S. Storm Tours waking up in Woodward, Oklahoma. We finally met up with our friend and fellow storm chaser, Jerry Prsha. While packing our items and getting our game plan together for the day, I had the chance to meet fellow storm chaser Charles Edwards and John Guyton, both with Cloud 9 Tours. Charles has been chasing for years and was in the midst of one of his 2 week tours. John is a part of his tours, coming all the way from Maryland to assist Charles. John is also a fellow firefighter, so were able to talk shop for a little while. Cloud 9 Tours clients were all from England and these chaps were itching to see some active weather.

After chatting with Charles and John, we planned our trip for the day. We decided to head south out of Woodward to get closer to an area that had potential to develop with the advance of a dryline coming in from western Oklahoma and the texas panhandle. There was a chance to storms forecast this day, so due to the recent uneventful days that we spent driving aimlessly across the Plains, we were going to jump at anything that looked like a storm! Initially, the forecast models showed very limited moisture return to aid in lifting the dewpoints to an area that would ripen the atmosphere. We continued south towards Seiling, Oklahoma where we refuled and took another look at the models and forecasts.

During our stop in Seiling, Oklahoma, I made contact woth P.D.S. Chase Forecaster Isaac Pato and was briefed on any upcoming changes. His look of the models hinted at some development near Watonga, Oklahoma and points to the south and west. We proceeded from Seiling to Watonga to wait things out. We arrived in Watonga, Oklahoma about mid afternoon and converged on a gas station in the center of town. Apparently our target area was to the liking of other chasers as the parking lot in and near the gas station became quite crowded. P.D.S. Chase Forecasters Isaac Pato and Colt Forney, along with Basehunters Scott Peake and Kevin Rolfs arrived. Everything was pointing to a chance of thunderstorms for our target area.

During our wait, the Storm Prediction Center placed our target area under a slight risk for severe thunderstorms. Cumulus clouds were building to the west and you could see the fine line where the dryline met the moisture return. And we waited. Reports were coming in that a tornado was spotted by chasers in eastern Colorado near the Kansas border. Thsi was in response to a low pressure system that was spinning itself slowly out of the Rockies. The best lift and chances for severe weather seemed to be centered around this low, however, a trigger along a dry line is well worth the wait. And we waited! Around 6 pm, we began to notice that the cumulus clouds to our west were getting sheared apart by upper level winds. Our day was done. A BUST! It was time to regroup and figure out our next target area for the next day. We proceeded to Oklahoma City for dinner and then drove north to Blackwell, Oklahoma for the night to be in position.

# Great Plains Storm Chase Tour 5/14/2011 – 5/19/2011 Part 3

Amarillo, Texas May 16, 2011!  We began our Monday as we always do. We spent a little more time looking at weather maps and forecasts today. The day quite possibly looked promising. Even though a dome of High Pressure was over the Great Plains, a possible dryline set-up was possible to the north of Amarillo near the Oklahoma border and northern Texas panhandle. Since we were basically in place with a minimum hour and a half drive away, we decided to spend the morning and early afternoon taking in the sights of Amarillo. It seemed as if we drove all around the city that day. Downtown, Old Route 66, the east side, the west side. While out on the west side, we happened to come across a field right next to Interstate 40. In this field were prairie dogs! Lots of them! It was kind of odd to see this as development was all around them.  These little critters are very photogenic!

As we started to get back on the interstate to our next stop, we caught a glimspe of one standing next to the road. We wonderedm if this little guy or gal had enough of the city life and was looking to hitch a ride to a better prairie!

Our next stop took us to Cadillac Ranch. A famous area just to the west of Amarillo, Cadillac Ranch offered us a unique view of art as for years, these Cadillacs have been placed into the ground at a unique angle. Thousands of vistors have came here and spray painted their names or other types of graffiti onto these vehicles.

Of course, my wife, Barb wanted to “get” in on the graffiti action!

It’s quite amazing that people from all over the country and overseas come to this attraction. We spoke to a couple on their way to California as well as from England. We were able to obtain a “group” photo from one of the tourists.

With the winds of change blowing, we decided it was time to venture north towards the northern Texas panhandle. We stopped for lunch in Borger, Texas and then continued to Dumas, Texas. Dumas was the town where Barb and I witnessed 4 tornadoes that were produced out of one supercell back in May, 2010. A view of the weather maps showed dewpoints increasing in our area, with mid 50 degree dewpoints being reported near Dumas and slightly east and north. The dryline was very noticable on the weather map, as the reporting stations in Tucumcari, New Mexico and near Chandler, Texas were reporting dewpoints in the teens. Very dry air! All we needed was a trigger. So we sat and waited..

The cumulus tried to start but never quite made it. Knowing that the dryline was advancing east, we pulled the plug on this wait and decided to call it a day. Our friend and fellow storm chaser, Jerry Prsha, was heading to Woodward, Oklahoma for the night, so we proceeded to meet up with him and start out fresh in the morning.