Visible satellite loop of the May 24, 2011 “high risk” tornado outbreak in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas

The amazing tornado year of 2011 rolls on. Today’s tornado outbreak, on the heels of a rare “high risk” from the Storm Prediction Center, has caused many more deaths and again seemingly impacted major cities, including the Dallas, Texas metropolitan area. Here’s an 8-hour visible satellite loop showing the outbreak’s evolution as seen from space.

Read more

On the road in Kansas searching for tornadoes

We’ve departed Pratt, where we stayed last night. We’re currently on the road north — not quite sure where we are headed yet but we’ll probably try to position near the triple point for now and wait out the morning rain/storms in the area (mainly south and east, but we’re in the clouds and some rain will come through). Maybe not what you look for, but it’s early enough the atmosphere should recover, and some folks like Mike Smith have talked about tornadoes following morning rain.

I’m going to keep this short for now as things are somewhat up in the air, but generally on track for big storms and tornadoes later. I did a quick writeup for Capital Weather Gang this morning on the threat and chase as a whole. There has been some concern because the initial moderate risk from the Storm Prediction Center has been dropped back to a slight risk. However, much of their mod risk was hail related and the new tornado probabilities are not much different than before.

Fire “smokenadoes” and the open views of Kansas

We’re in Great Bend, Kansas this morning, still waiting out the break in action. More on that later…

Kansas tornado?

We managed to fill our afternoon/early evening yesterday by finding a large brush fire near Ellinwood (named after one of my chase partner’s family), Kansas. The plume showed up on radar, and we used it as an opportunity to track something down on a dirt road in the open spaces of the state.

The spot we ended up at to watch the fire move was a great one for imagery, with a setting sun behind the column creating interesting lighting — I picked up several dozen “useable” photos and some video. We were close, but with the wind pattern we were in no real danger and we were stacked up next to a bunch of firetrucks that would hopefully alert us if wrong.

We saw a unique phenomenon of “smokenadoes,” which are basically fire whirls with no fire (though some of them progressed slightly from the main fire area). These dust-devil looking entities are caused by updrafts from the heat and convergence around the fire. Winds were generally dying off as we got there heading into evening (fire appeared contained when we were leaving).

Rather than spend time editing video now, see below from Mark Ellinwood (and see his quick recap).

While we’re still looking for the apparently elusive peak of the season thunderstorm in the Plains area, I have been enjoying the wide open views of Kansas (my first visit here). Below are two panoramas — one from the fire, and another from the evening prior of a few showers around Wichita.

I’m going storm chasing!!

It’s been a wild severe weather season thus far, somewhat typical of a La Nina spring.

The plan is to depart Maryland somewhere between May 1 and May 6 (probably early end) with the ultimate destination the Central U.S. Note: I did not say “the Plains”, even though we’ll be there most of the time with any luck, since severe weather seems to have migrated east a bit over recent years.

Though the early concentration of events over the South, the Tennessee Valley and into the Carolinas is a fairly typical starting point for the season. This year has mainly been much more intense and active than usual. We saw similar throughout the winter, with multiple disturbances quickly flying along an active jet stream. While this should wane as Nina fully dies, it’s not likely to right away.

I will be headed on this ~7,000 mile journey with Jason Foster and Mark Ellinwood — the former a seasoned storm chaser and the latter a meteorologist and storm chaser. Jason is also known as “The Weather Warrior” and he contributes to Mark’s MADUSweather Web site. They recently intercepted tornadic supercells in the historic North Carolina outbreak of 2011 and are on a quest for the perfect mid-Atlantic tornado.

I am both eagerly anticipating the chase and also somewhat anxious, as the weather is unpredictable and we did “arbitrarily” choose a period to head out well in advance of knowing the evolving pattern — one that even of this writing is still fairly cloudy. Of course, arbitrarily choosing the best time of year for tornadoes (May has the most by the numbers, and May is prime-time in parts of Tornado Alley) is at least a well educated move.

My hope is to end up hitting a few good storm, with at least one productive chase day in the Oklahoma/Kansas/Nebraska area — prime Tornado Alley real estate. Though I am keeping expectations low (a nice rotating supercell and a great evening lightning storm would suffice), the goal of course is to see a twister if not more than one.

Being a photography buff, I already had plenty of gear ready to go. But, in the last month, I’ve been beefing up the collection to include an entry level HD video camera, a new mobile-friendly laptop, plus a ton of accessories and batteries.

We’ll be as wired up as possible, with multiple mobile internet accounts on different services. As long as there is a way to transmit, I will do my best to share imagery and video as quickly as possible either here, on Twitter, or via postings on the Capital Weather Gang. I also hope to return home with countless photos and video clips to properly document the journey in its entirety.

It should be a blast (as long as a high pressure ridge doesn’t park itself out over the area).  I’m starting to look over data to get an idea of what to expect. So far, the initial time-frame seems murky, and there may be a short break in the recent flurry of activity we’ve seen in what may be a record-breaking April of severe weather. Indications are it would be days rather than weeks, as the pattern reloads and probably shifts northwest with some broader-scale changes occurring during the period.

I’ll probably post some thoughts on chances/areas for early in the trip soon, plus I’m doing some general background research I might share if I have time, but for now feel free to peruse Mark’s recent thoughts here and here.