The Road Less Chased

Here we are now having just crossed into the great state of Minnesota. Yes, Minnesota. The consensus at this time is to go after the slight risk for supercell thunderstorms in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Why the persistence? The long range models show a strong ridge, or “omega block” pattern setting up over the Central US next week, so past Thursday there won’t be much to chase.. Therefore they want to go after whatever they can.

There was debate amongst the crew whether to aim for MN or track south to KS to get in position for tomorrow. The Storm Prediction Center has upgraded its outlook for tomorrow to a “moderate risk” for Kansas and Oklahoma. This is the best likelihood of the week and the models have been consistent in that for days.

The waiting game will likely resume once we halt in Marshall, MN where forecasters will reassess the situation.

When it comes to driving this many miles, Tim has said that can often be the biggest risk for the crew’s safety. It isn’t a tornado, lightning, or wind… It’s how safe they are while in transit. Rest is important given tomorrow’s chase forecast, but it may be compromised given the slight risk they are pursuing today! Aside from that, the prime focus amongst the crew seems to tomorrow’s increasing potential.

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What’s the plan for today?

Still deciding. We’re at the morning briefing where Tony Laubach, Tim Samaras, Carl Young an the rest of the TWISTEX team are debating what to do today. Currently we are on the banks of the Missouri River in Chamberlain, SD. Considering how the past few days have been inactive, it may be worth going after northern storms today in ND and MN. The drawback to that is thy it puts a long drive at the end of the day for tomorrow’s chase target on the southern plains. We’ll drive east on I-90 toward Sioux Falls and regather there once they evaluate the 12z data.

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Chasing Day in Review

If one word was used to describe today’s events, it would be “bust.” Chasers use that term frequently, on days that plans don’t come together, or the atmosphere just doesn’t cooperate. But it’s a reminder as to why TWISTEX and other researchers are out studying storms… to determine why some storms produce tornadoes, and others don’t. All the parameters looked to be in place (resulting in a marginal risk) but things didn’t formulate until late in the evening, and by that time the crew was out of position. Most chasers would agree that chasing at night is not advised. Although because we are so far north it was still light at 9:15pm, the consensus was to call it a night.

It was amazing to see the popularity of storm chasing in these small towns in rural locations. All chasers-meteorologists-weather enthusiasts are generally looking at the same models and radar data, so it’s common for them to converge on a certain exit off the Interstate. Dozens of cars arrived, full of thrill-seeking storm chasers. We also saw some of the tourist companies with vans loaded with tornado seeking passengers.. these signs seemed to confirm that the atmosphere would trigger severe weather in the vicinity of our location.

Members of TWISTEX said they were looking forward to a chase in South Dakota, typically because of the lesser crowds, the better visibility, and the prime location for storms to become tornadic. The one drawback is the network of roads. Because it is a less populous state, there may not be a road in a place you want to chase. That was one of the limitations in trying to access some of the late-developing storms… it would have been difficult to track them because it wouldn’t be easy to get there!

Our day began in Valentine, NE and we charted northwest to Kadoka, SD by noon before re-grouping in Murdo, SD along I-90 shortly after lunchtime. It was in Murdo we spent most of the day, as forecasters analyzed the conditions before executing a plan. I learned that at this point in the day (when afternoon heating peaks, between 2 and 5 pm on average) the best tools for storm chasing become the visible satellite, and the surface observations. Combined with what you see with your own eyes, those items usually are the best guidance.  In order to track convection, you want for cumulonimbus clouds to be tall, growing, and have definite puffy edges. These sort of clouds result when the “cap” is broken, or the upper levels of the atmosphere become favorable for towering clouds to develop.  Looking at surface observations reveal wind direction, dewpoint, and temperature… basic weather trails that are crucial when identifying where severe weather will break out.

While waiting for the cap to bust, temperatures started to cool and the overcast skies were not conducive to development in our area. Given the targeted chase areas for tomorrow and Wednesday, TWISTEX decided to halt operations for the night and reconviene in the morning! Severe weather parameters for tomorrow look similar, but there is some potential for development. Wednesday still holds the most potential.

Throughout our travels today, we logged roughly another 300 miles. 

There were some highlights today though: we crossed the Central-Mountain time zone line about four times. We chose a vintage South Dakota landmark “1880 Town” as a parking spot for a few hours to wait for initiation. We encountered the highest elevation on I-90 in Oacoma, SD.  We also caught sight of the famed “Dominator” chase vehicle, seen on the Discovery Channel show Storm Chasers.

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Waiting for Initiation

Here in Murdo, SD along I-90 with the TWISTEX crew. They are stopped to re-evaluate their chase plan for the rest of this afternoon. Also here is storm chaser Reed Timmer and his chase vehicle, the Dominator. This seems to be a popular spot because there is a tornado tour van in this parking lot, as well as a handful of amateur storm chasers and photographers. Soon TWISTEX will regroup in a more secluded area and update their specific target based on the atmospheric parameters at hand.

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Here Reed Timmer (left) and Tim Samaras (right) converse while photographers and tour group participants look on.

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Welcome to South Dakota

Just crossed the state line. Marginal severe parameters appear to be aligning in west central parts of the state this afternoon. Currently overcast and cool but the clouds will be breaking to promote instability! Storm chasers appear to be converging on I-90 making this to be the most likely spot for development today!

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Good morning from Valentine, NE

We charted about 400 miles last night to the Central Time Zone to set up for Monday’s potential severe development. Valentine, NE is right along the border with South Dakota, and driving in last night we saw vivid lightning to the northeast associated with a severe MCS (mesoscale convective system) that was tornado warned. 

We will assemble with TWISTEX crews this morning, as they are posted to our east.  The storm threat still looks greatest over central South Dakota today. Details soon!

Here’s a look at the preliminary SPC outlook for today.

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Severe prospects this week

There’s a marginal severe weather risk tomorrow for the high plains, and TWISTEX will be in operation… so we’re leaving Colorado tonight to join the chase!

In watching the computer models the last few days, it seems as though this latest Pacific storm will kick up a good deal of severe weather across the midwest and plains over the next few days. While it won’t be a significant outbreak, there should be some supercells to go after.

Slight risk now focuses on NE/SD for Monday

Wednesday looks to be the most volatile day of the week, with a dryline setting up across the central plains. According to chasers, they are looking forward to being back in territory with wide open spaces as opposed to Dixie Alley!

We’ll be sending updates from the road!

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