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.

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Wakita, Oklahoma: Home of the Twister Museum

Remember 1996? I do. Well, I remember Twister being released at least. I remember seeing the movie during my time living in Texas and immediately being annoyed that the chasers called TOTO “Dorothy” in the movie.  Then there was that whole tying oneself to a pipe while an F5 tornado passes overhead and still being left with skin afterwards — but, I digress.

Back on topic… It’s still pretty cool to have weather featured in a movie, and there is perhaps no weather phenomenon more worthy of film than a tornado. The movie Twister turned this sleepy Oklahoma town into a worldwide sensation. Over the years, the quaint “Twister Museum” has seen visitors from all over the world — including some folks there today from South Africa who came out for a chase tour. Now I don’t feel quite as bad for driving from D.C. to see sunshine so far.

We stopped and spoke with several townspeople and went into the local store to buy some drinks. There is something about people in this part of the country that makes them better story tellers than many of those back east. Perhaps it’s the slower pace of life? As much as I’m anxious for the weather to turn stormier as soon as possible, there have been many moments I might have missed had things been more active through now.

Despite the fact that no tornadoes have hit the town center (apparently folklore says there is a spell protecting the area) since it was developed in the late 1800s, there was also a pretty amazing multiple-vortex tornado near the town on May 10, 2010. Multiple touchdowns around the area caused damage throughout the county on that day.

Below is a panorama of the Wakita water tower created by 6 vertical images stitched together. It is available in larger size by selecting the image.

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.