Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Morgan MN 08/31/14 MODERATE RISK

I bit on the day two forecast of this event hoping that the good fortune from the chase of the previous weekend, 8/24 would continue and we'd be able to catch another late season tornado. As you can see, it was quite promising and changed little in the day one forecast release.

Most of the focus was predicted to be in the MN/IA/NE/SD area with my target being in the Sioux City IA area.

Early convection was expected to fire prior to the main event. It almost became chasable from both radar and visual hints. The intensity of the above storm peaked just NW of Redwood Falls threw off some hail, but really had no elements to create a tornadic storm. I decided to take some time to sit at the St. James airport which gave me a clear view of the storm's lifecycle and gave me the chance to finish setting up my truck and to set up a POV camera on the hood of my truck to capture some time lapse of the storm from forty miles away.

Unfortunately, as is quite common with these cameras encased in a waterproof container, as they become exposed to heat, they fog internally and that's exactly what happens here. However, you can see a bit of storm growth before it becomes completely screened by fog. I am most certainly looking at ways to eliminate this problem for the future.

After leaving the St. James area, I decided since my route to the target included Interstate 90 passing through Luverne MN. and I still had some time before storms were forecast to fire, I thought a visit to pay my respects to storm chaser Andy Gabrielson, a young man who was quite a successful chaser in his own right and who'd lost his life to a drunk driver while chasing in Oklahoma in February of 2012 was in order.

Nice to see someone leaving a Chasercon 2014 "Cheeseburger" as a memorial not only to Gabrielson, but to chasers Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and chase partner Carl Young all of whom lost their lives while chasing a tornado in El Reno Oklahoma on May 31st 2013. The cheeseburger represents a good luck charm of sorts that Samaras would place on the dash of his chase vehicle while chasing.

After my little visit in Luverne, I headed to my target of Sioux City IA. but changed my mind when I began to see a line north of Interstate 90 develop much closer to me than the now ongoing cells on the border of Nebraska and Iowa. My decision was based on the simple cost/benefit analysis of whether the miles I needed to cover to get there was going to be worth the possibility of missing something that was closer to my location. I chose a new target of Fairfax MN.

But first, as I was headed to the new area of development, I roll through the small town of Lakefield MN. and see this:

My research tells me it's a 1975 Ford Pinto. Now how many of these things do you see on the road now days? much less in "showroom new" condition! I could find no other information. no price, no phone number to call, just the for sale sign. Which makes me wonder just how much the owner really wanted to part with this thing. This is thing I love about chasing! You never know what you're going to see when you're on the road and it's not all about storms!

As we continued toward Fairfax, it appeared as though we might see some action in the form of a good hail maker. As we neared Morgan MN. There were clear signs of an intensifying cell with plenty of robust updraft and lowering base. Sheer was nil so tornadoes were out but, it was fun to watch it go through the motions anyway.

Fairfax by this time seemed to be a lost cause so I stayed with the approaching storm coming out of Morgan which at this point had basically morphed into a very large shelf structure stretching at least 20 to 30 miles in length.

As impressive as it was, it signaled the end of my chase day. everything behind it was linear in nature and no way to dive further south to pick up anything else.

Here's a (yawn) 'nother shelf cloud time lapse video that if anything shows the true length of the shelf.

And for my reward? I got to surf the line all the way back to the metro after letting it overtake me in LeSueur MN. Hwy 169 in that area is under construction and down to one lane either direction which adds to the white-knuckle fun of traversing that area during a torrential rain storm.

But there was one added bit of humor and karma to add to the end of the day. Enroute back home I encountered the one lane road construction on North HWY 169 between Mankato and LeSueur. I also encountered this asshole of a driver who try as they might, couldn't get around me because it was ONE LANE! in a torrential downpour no less. They sped up, they slowed down. couldn't just settle in for the trip through the construction zone behind me.

This went on for twenty miles. Until we met at an intersection that ended the one lane road construction for a short period. So, of course what do you suppose nimrod over in the other lane does? Yep, decides to race me across the intersection to "pass" me. and then, starts to play with me. well, watch the video and see what they get in return. and While it may look like I got the worst of the encounter? as the driver slowed down to try to keep from driving off the road, I clobbered them with my side of the roads little pond.

They stayed behind me the rest of the trip.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Benton County MN 08/24/14 SLIGHT RISK

GPS Track of this chase is somewhat inconsistent because of loss of signal or other situations beyond my control. The track is correct however, in the areas where it was most important to have detailed location information during the tornado intercept phase of our chase.

Late season full court press to bag at least one tornado this year. Didn't really know how the day was going to pan out while assessing the morning "Day One"  forecast and comments. Took my time getting the truck set up knowing full well that anything that was going to initiate was going to be well within 90 minutes and a tank of gas. The question was: Which direction?

The midday D1 was a little more in line with what I was thinking. Go north an hour or so and set myself to quickly jog west when the line begins to show itself. Plan was to go to Hinckley MN. with an end target around St. Cloud.

While enroute up interstate 35, I stopped in North Branch MN for a top up and a quick view of the radar and hourlies. Noticed a local chaser Brad Winger was in the area in Cambridge MN so I initiated a quick chat with him. We decided to meet up in Cambridge and chase together along with his partner, Wendy. I've had the pleasure of chasing with Brad several times in the past and we've always had great chases regardless of the outcome. Truly a great guy... Him and Wendy clearly make a great chase couple.

We chose to continue our trip west toward St. Cloud MN and taking our cues from the hourlies we decided to hang out at what appeared to be an old abandoned rest stop just adjacent to Interstate 94 at the St. Joseph exit. For about a half hour we watched towers develop literally over our heads. Chaser Matt Salo then joined us and the convoy was set.

The MD above details the situation at the time we were waiting in St. Joseph and solidified our decision making that something would be happening nearby. And soon.

We were fortunate to get out ahead of the development enough to be able to enjoy a few moments of watching the towers climb with little resistance from the atmosphere. In our haste to position, we took a sudden exit which our third chaser, Matt ended up missing. He stayed on the same storm we were on and eventually landed some great video of the storm being in a better lighting position than we were.

Brad suggested we get a weather selfie of the two of us before the chase begins. Smart move! I never think of these things during a chase because I'm trying to figure out my next move given the moment to moment changes in the situation. That's why it's so much more enjoyable to chase with others. Everyone in the group add to the collective knowledge for the benefit of the experience. Thanks Brad!

As Wendy navigated us toward our storm intercept, clearly the storm was looking more as though it was going to TOR. I had great radar data to assist us in getting there, but the sky was telling the story better than any radar could.

The rotating wall cloud pic above was fairly sizable and being still three to four miles away yet, we had to get there in a hurry! clearly this thing was not waiting for us to arrive!

Of course, we always have to deal with the occasional ground obscurities once we make visual with the possible tornado.

By this time the tornado had enough definition from this distance and light angle to be able to identify it. Unfortunately, it was already beginning to become rain wrapped.

Once we got a little closer we decided to get a photo session in before the development became completely rain wrapped.

Textbook tornado image as seen by radar. Nice inflow notch was just north of our position and we decided to make a play toward it.

Here's our GPS track as we approached the now rain wrapped tornado. Various points on this track indicated damage of a minor scale. Trees down, small branches in the road, building materials located near the road traveled.

As you can see we were on the low contrast side of the storm which gave us short views of the tornado as it ducked in and out of the rain curtains. At this time it is most definitely on the ground.

As noted in the photo, path of tornado was determined by damage surveyed by NWS employees and was determined to be an EF-0 tornado event. Compare the similarities between our track and the confirmed track of the tornado. We literally were right behind it as it seems. Both Brad and I are cautious chasers and refuse to drive headlong into an area where a rain wrapped tornado may be lurking.

At the end of this track we were "greeted" by the remnants of this storm. A rotating vortex stood right in front of us and while not what I would call "stout", it was moving things around on the road in front of us. A driver coming from the opposite direction at the time, drove right through the vortex as it was crossing the road in front of us. Remnants of what had just gone through? Redevelopment? we'll never know as it disappeared as quick as it came. Remember, this thing was rated an EF-0 so the remains of that you would expect not to have a whole lot power behind it. But we didn't know it at that time. And playing it safe allows us to chase another day.

The following videos contains highlights of our chase day:

After a brief stop for food and fuel, we decided to see if we could meet up with a developing cell to the south of us over Princeton MN. On our drive down Hwy 169 we encountered the boundary and we experienced about a ten degree increase as we crossed over to the warm side almost instantaneously when both vehicles windshields fogged up briefly.

We doubled back up 169 toward Milaca after noting intensification in the line to the north. Upon further review it appeared to be getting into some dirty air and we gave up on that storm as well. We decided that would be the end of our great chase day and we parted as we usually do saying that we'll do it again in the future.

We were treated to a terrific front lit sunset of a tower rising to our south.

Just to seal the deal.