Daweathablog

Charles E. Roop giving his own forecasts, weather discussions, photos and adventures for the Starkville, MS area, Florida, and beyond.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chase Log: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - Eastern Mississippi / Western Alabama

When Wednesday, April 27, 2011 began, I knew it could be a crazy day. But never in a million years did I think it would be as phenomenal or deadly of historic proportions as it was.

As I mentioned in the last two blog posts, this event carried a high risk of tornadoes - even strong ones - with severe wind and hail probable. With this in mind, many meteorology students at Mississippi State thought of firing up their cars and smart phones and heading out to observe and document this force of nature. My girlfriend and broadcast meteorology undergraduate student Damaris Jaime and I planned on doing some storm chasing as well. Also, friend and storm chaser Jim Edds was in Starkville to position himself for chasing these storms. Damaris and I randomly ran into Jim at a McDonalds in eastern Starkville. Jim was watching the radar and chatting on the phone with friend and storm chaser Jeff Gammons, who was at his home in south Florida monitoring the weather for Jim. Jim offered us to follow him in his chase and we left Starkville. Since Jim and I are both licensed ham radio operators, we mostly communicated on the 2-meter band with our handheld radios.

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Jim waiting for things to fire up.

We initially set out for west of Starkville, but Jeff then suggested we moved south for a supercell near Philadelphia, Miss. After being separated for a bit, we caught up with each other south of Macon, Miss. and attempted to position ourselves for this storm that was on its way to the area. After some position changing (see video below), we managed to find the rotating storm and got video and photos of it.



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Storm to the south of Macon, Miss.

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Damaris shoots video of the storm to the south of Macon, Miss.

We got word of a cell to the southwest of us that was on the way to Scooba, Miss. Sound familiar? We moved south and positioned ourselves at a gas station and faced our cars west to wait for the storm. We got a little rain, pea-sized hail and some really close lightning strikes before we saw rotation and a wall cloud.


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Damaris noticed the rotation first. Jim then moved his car to the overhang at the gas station while we stayed put. Damaris shot some of the video as it moved from our 12 to 3 o'clock. Then I grabbed the camera and got what appeared to be a developing tornado roughly 600 feet to my north. Below is the video of the developing tornado.



After seeing that, we then proceeded westbound on State Road 16 to try to catch up with the storm. In the process of doing so, we witnessed three storm chase vehicles - one being a tour van. When we had clearing, we saw what looked like a tornado on the ground probably a couple of miles to our north. We only had a couple of seconds of video of it until we lost it in the trees and the rain. Jim said there was a north-south road we could take to catch up with it. We finally stopped in Geiger, Ala. - a town that was already hit by a tornado on April 15. A lot of the damage from that tornado remained. It was sad to think that this town could get hit again by another one. Luckily, it turned out not to be the case as nothing developed from that supercell that continued to move towards the northeast.

As we were leaving Geiger, we witnessed The Dominator, a vehicle designed for storm chasing in part by Reed Timmer, with the Discovery Channel support crew behind them. Of course, I incorrectly called it the TIV on the video. Sorry, Reed.

We then stopped on a long bridge (State Road 39) over a river near Gainesville, Ala. We could see the tornado far in the distance that was quickly becoming wrapped in rain. I was losing contrast, so I grabbed whatever photos I could while Damaris grabbed video. Below is the tornado with the last bit of video.

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We then proceeded to follow Jim so we could get to I-20 and chase this supercell as it moved towards Tuscaloosa. Along the way, Jim went really far ahead of us and we lost communication via the ham radio. We ended up taking a wrong turn, getting lost temporarily, and winding up near I-20. By time we were able to look at the radar - thanks, AT&T for your crappy cellular service - the cell was 30 miles away. Because of the slow Internet speed, I was only able to pull up storm relative velocity on RadarScope. The radar scan showed rotation that really stood out. It looked like a bad storm. Still, we knew there was no way we could catch up with it and decided to call it a day. After running into a road block (tree on the middle of State Road 14), we went back on I-20 southbound to State Road 28, then took State Road 17 northbound (which paralleled the AL/MS state line) to try to get back home. Along the way, we saw a cool sunset which was a nice way to end a crazy chase day.

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At this point, we did not know about the chaos that occurred in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. We started getting phone calls regarding a massive power outage in the Golden Triangle area that most said could last days. We later found out a substation was taken out by a tornado to the north of Starkville that helped supply power to at least three counties.

Expecting basic services to be out in Starkville, Damaris and I stopped for food and gas in Macon. That's when I was able to check my Twitter feed and find out about the massive devastation that took place in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. I was blown away from the photos I saw on Twitter. It looked really bad. Jim called me and said he missed the tornado, but witnessed a lot of damage. He grabbed some aftermath footage and interviewed a UPS driver who was caught in the mess (video of damage and interview with UPS driver).

It was eerie driving through Starkville with no street lights or power at homes and businesses. The Piggly Wiggly grocery store was the only place on the way back to Damaris' apartment that had backup power, and the store was packed with people.

I kept checking my Twitter feed on the phone during the night and continued to get a glimpse of what really happened. It was depressing to see all of the destruction and the ever increasing death count.

Three days later, I am amazed at the storms Damaris and I witnessed but saddened at the devastation that took place in parts of Mississippi and Alabama. This severe weather event exceeded what I expected. So far, at least 350 are dead across the south - 249 dead just in Alabama - according to Reuters. Damage from this outbreak could be between $2 billion and $5 billion. This could be the second deadliest outbreak in US history, topping the 1974 Super Outbreak.

For my second storm chase ever in Dixie Alley, I was able to see tornadoes and the damage they could cause to life and property. As a meteorology student, I find these storm fascinating but deadly. Events like this keep me motivated to continue studying this field and one day be able to effectively issue life saving warnings to the public.

My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this outbreak.

UPDATE
Below is an image of the cell we chased from Scooba, Miss. to north of Gainesville, Ala. It turns out this supercell kept firing up tornadoes all the way to North Carolina. Insane. Thanks, David Cox for sharing this with me.

Brian Tang/David Cox, Facebook

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

High Risk of Severe Weather Today for the Starkville Area

Good morning, everyone. The early morning hours were pretty wild with a line of storms passing through and near the Golden Triangle area that causing some damage with a possible tornado to our north near Euproa. Unfortunately, this severe weather threat is not over. The Storm Prediction Center has placed parts of northeastern Mississippi - including Starkville - under a high risk of severe weather today. This is something that isn't issued very often and should be taken very seriously.

A surface low is sitting over Arkansas with a cold front over eastern Texas. At 850 mb, winds are primarily out of the southwest between 50 and 60 knots - a very strong low-level jet. A 500-mb trough sits over Oklahoma and Texas with the SPC Mesoanalysis showing really good divergence aloft downstream (see below).

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At 300 mb, a jet streak can be found near the rear, NVA side of the jet stream.

Visible satellite imagery shows storms firing up near the the delta in Mississippi and Arkansas with storms to our north. Columbus Air Force Base radar shows strong to severe storms near Tupelo north to neat Iuka.

The models show the mid-level trough kicking through the area and becoming negatively tilted by roughly 0Z. The 850 mb winds will likely die down by 0Z, as well. The SPC has noted that temperatures have quickly rebounded this morning; therefore, further destabilization is expected to continue. The jet streak aloft, the approaching surface low, good diurnal heating, good moisture flow, and good dynamics spells trouble for the area.

The SPC has issued a mesoscale discussion which states a PDS tornado watch may be issued soon...

...A VOLATILE SCENARIO IS EXPECTED TO UNFOLD THROUGH THE AFTERNOON. CONVECTIVE INITIATION OF VIGOROUS CONVECTION BY EARLY/MID AFTERNOON IS WELL SUPPORTED BY EXPERIMENTAL GUIDANCE SUCH AS SEVERAL RECENT HRRR RUNS AND THE 12Z WRF-NMM. SHORT TERM FORECAST SOUNDINGS FROM GUIDANCE SUCH AS THE RUC/12Z NAM...ACCENTUATED BY VERY LONG/STRONGLY CURVED LOW LEVEL HODOGRAPHS...SUPPORT THE NOTION OF SUPERCELLS CAPABLE OF STRONG/POTENTIALLY VIOLENT TORNADOES THIS AFTERNOON/EARLY EVENING ESPECIALLY ACROSS THE HIGH RISK AREA.

There is a good chance that I will be chasing this afternoon across the state. As for everyone else, be on the lookout for rapidly deteriorating conditions. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed for the latest.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

High Risk of Severe Weather for Parts of TX/AK/TN/MS

It was a wild weather day on Monday as tornadoes smashed across Arkansas, including Vilonia where the death count now stands at 4 (story from CNN). The same system may bring more storms to roughly the same area as Monday evening.

Currently at the surface, a 994-mb low sits over southern Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa with cold front stretching through Missouri, Arkansas and Texas. Dewpoints in the 60s can be found along the lower Mississippi River delta with a good southerly surface winds of roughly 15 knots at best. At 850 mb, the winds veer a bit to more out of the southwest at 40 to 50 knots. SPC mesoanalysis at 700 mb show winds remaining mostly southwest but become more west in northern Mississippi. The 700 mb layer also gives a hint of little shortwaves embedded in the trough near the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. The 500-mb mesoanalysis show a trough with over the central plains with what looks like embedded shortwaves - one over Illinois and the other near Colorado. The 300-mb map appears somewhat similar to the 500 mb map with respect to patterns.

Both the GFS and NAM indicate a strengthening 850 mb southerly jet bewtween 0Z and 9Z Wednesday over the southern states with the GFS firing up the jet at 0Z. This could aid in pumping more moisture and warm air during the overnight hours. The 500-mb NAM gives a hint of divergence over the delta, but notably over Arkansas while the GFS indicates the same thing. Since the NAM is a mesoscale model, it indicates more vort maxes due to the embedded shortwaves in the trough. The NAM is showing some pretty good helicity numbers late tonight and early morning over the delta region. The RUC is indicating a dryline boundary over eastern Texas. Storms could initiate from this line in the evening hours.

Based on the model runs, it appears as if the best chance of severe weather will be overnight starting in Texas near this dryline and would move further east and enter more of a favorable environment. In the SPC's discussion, some things aren't clear...

THERE IS CONSIDERABLE UNCERTAINTY REGARDING THE EVOLUTION OF STORMS AS THEY PROGRESS INTO THIS ENVIRONMENT. THE STORMS MAY REMAIN DISCRETE ACROSS AR WITH A RISK OF STRONG/VIOLENT TORNADOES...OR THEY MAY GROW UPSCALE INTO A FAST-MOVING BOW ECHO WITH THE RISK OF WIDESPREAD SIGNIFICANT WIND DAMAGE AND ISOLATED TORNADOES. IN EITHER CASE...CONDITIONS ARE CLEARLY FAVORABLE A HIGH-END SEVERE WEATHER EVENT WELL INTO THE NIGHT.

How they know/don't know the evolution of the storms is out of my league of knowledge at this point. If any mets out there can explain that to me, I'm all ears.

The SPC has moved the high risk to include extreme northwestern Mississippi. Starkville is only under a slight risk category through 12Z Wednesday. The SPC highlights our area with a moderate risk for day two (12Z Wednesday to 12Z Thursday).

For now, a high risk for a tornado outbreak looks probable for parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. People living in those areas need to take this event very seriously. Make sure you have a NOAA Weather Radio on standby tonight and keep tabs on the weather before you go to bed. Starkville looks to be in the red on Wednesday. I'll have a better handle on things as Wednesday approaches. Stay tuned to this blog and my Twitter feed for the latest.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Another Day of Severe Weather

Five days after Cecilia, Evan, and I got to see our first tornado, another round of severe weather has made its way to the Starkville area. Insert a stationary front with some instability and decent dynamics, you get the slight risk of some severe weather. I wasn't sure if things would remain favorable later today for severe weather, but my novice knowledge of mesoscale meteorology once again proved me wrong.

This afternoon, I was watching a cell to the northwest of Oktibbeha County that was moving towards the area. It maintained a hook echo with some pretty high reflectivity values and VILs pushing into the 60+ mark according to the Jackson NWS radar (since the Columbus AFB radar seems to be out for "maintenance." Good timing, NWS...good timing). I decided to head home from campus and noticed a pretty nice cloud formation on the west side of town. I quickly went to my apartment, grabbed my camer, put on some chase-appropriate shoes, and drove a mile or two away to get some photos. Here are a few...


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I then decided to cross the street to get a better view of the storm as it continued to move to the east-southeast.


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The storm then dumped really heavy rain with some pea-sized hail. Some gusty winds at one point even prompted me to take shelter at a nearby Waffle House for a few minutes.

On the way back to my apartment, I noticed some flooding along Stark Road.


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There are still plenty of storms firing up to the west of Starkville with the potential for severe weather. Things should begin to quiet down later this evening as daytime heating is lost. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed for the latest.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chase Log: Scooba, Mississippi

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It has been a while since my last post. Life, as usual, has been getting pretty busy. Life was pretty interesting Friday as there was a severe weather threat for some southern states. Mississippi was included under a moderate risk of severe weather. After a short discussion of the weather situation in Weather Analysis II - and learning that the best helicity would be to our south in central Mississippi - graduate meteorology students Evan Thomas, Cecilia Reeves, and I contemplated a chase. We decided to catch the cell that impacted the Jackson, Miss. area and produced a tornado. We originally thought of heading to Macon, Miss via U.S. Hwy 45, but later realized that being further south near Scooba, Miss. would be our best bet. We kept an eye on the radar on our smart phones and adjusted our position periodically. When we slowly started edging our way back to the north, we saw a lowering to our northwest above the tress. Sure enough, it was a confirmed tornado just south of Scooba. For all of us, it was our first tornado experience. I still can't get over that find. I sobered up a little after seeing some of the damage on the way back to Starkville, including an SUV that appeared to have flipped multiple times.

Below are a few photos and a video of our chase adventure.



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