2013 Severe Weather Field Experience

Thursday, May 23 (18:45 EDT)

Asheville, NC

After 4623 miles (an average of 385 miles per day), five tornadoes, and countless life-changing learning opportunities, we returned safely to Asheville this evening.

Wednesday, May 22 (22:45 CDT)

Meridian, MS

We drove to Meridian, Mississippi today and will travel the rest of the way home to Asheville tomorrow. I have updated the May 14 entry with a few pictures.

Tuesday, May 21 (23:51 CDT)

Bryan, TX

The severe weather field experience class made the front page of the Asheville Citizen-Times. I also handled several media inquiries this morning, speaking with reporters from UNC Asheville, WLOS-TV in Asheville, WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, and the Asheville Citizen-Times. Katy Hudson did a superb job in a live interview with WLOS-TV during their noon broadcast, handling the questions quite elegantly. Because we chased storms today, I have yet to respond to requests for interviews with WYFF-TV in Greenville, SC and WJHL-TV in Johnson City, TN.

Katy interview
Katy Hudson spoke with a WLOS-TV reporter live during the noon broadcast. Here, Bobby Taylor handles the video feed.

We dropped south today to catch the tail end of a line of thunderstorms that eventually stretched from Oklahoma down to Austin, Texas. The last storm remained somewhat discrete for several hours and occassionally looked good both in person and on radar, but it never organized itself well enough to produce a tornado. It did produce some strong winds and hail. We ended our last chase day in Bryan, Texas.

Watching a storm
Students watch the southernmost storm in a long line of thunderstorms near Florence, Texas.

Monday, May 20 (23:22 CDT)

Denison, TX

My heart aches for the families in Moore, Oklahoma who lost children, spouses, siblings, and parents in today's devastating tornado. As a meteorologist and scientist, a tornado's beautiful display of the power of the atmosphere captivates me, but only if the tornado remains in open fields and does no damage. Never would I or any reasonable person wish for the destruction and casualties wrought by a storm like that observed today. Perhaps by exposing our students to current forecasting methods and by showing them the life cycle and structure of storms, these future meteorologists will be able to help predict tornadoes and effectively warn people with sufficient lead time to save lives.

We targeted the storm to the south of the Moore tornado early this afternoon. It didn't have a particularly good radar representation and, if it had been in open country, we may have moved northward to catch the stronger storm. However, chasing storms in a metropolitan area is impossible because of traffic congestion. We would also impede rescue operations, add to the traffic problem, and risk becoming victims of the storm, so we always avoid such situations. We followed our southern storm for quite some time, but it never organized into a healthy supercell and it repeatedly ingested other cells from the south. Ultimately, we gave up and had dinner before moving toward tomorrow's target area. On the way to Denison, Texas, where we will spend the night, we stopped to photograph a pretty rainbow.

Rainbow with lightning
We enjoyed a lightning show near Stonewall, Oklahoma.

Sunday, May 19 (23:54 CDT)

Stillwater, OK

We found several rotating storms—some with tornado warnings—but they all merged with other cells forming southward along a frontal boundary. After a long day of driving, we stopped to see some lightning before heading to our hotel in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Lightning photos
Lightning photos
The class enjoys a dazzling lightning show.
Lightning Lightning
We stopped just south of Ponca City, OK to photograph lightning.

Saturday, May 18 (23:26 CDT)

Larned, KS

We intercepted four distinct tornadoes from a single storm this afternoon at the intersection of routes 183 and 156 between Rozel and Larned, KS. We parked in the same position and watched the wall cloud approach, then drop the first two tornadoes toward the west. The supercell cycled and dropped the third tornado in a field to our east and then it dropped a fourth rope tornado toward our northwest. Just as the third tornado dissipated, the rear flank downdraft roared in from the west and then we felt a heat burst. The air suddenly got very warm and noticeably dry. We decided that this was a sufficient display of nature for the day, so we had dinner and grabbed accommodations in Larned, KS.

Larned, KS Tornado 1
The first tornado was close to Rozel, Kansas.
Larned, KS Tornado 2
The second tornado touched down briefly. See the debris swirl on the ground.
Larned, KS Tornado 3
The third tornado touched down on the other side of the road.
Larned, KS Tornado 3 and UNC Asheville students
UNC Asheville atmospheric science students enjoyed seeing another tornado.
Larned, KS Tornado 4
The fourth tornado at the same intersection near Larned, KS.

Earlier this morning, KOCO-TV meteorologist Danielle Dozier, a UNC Asheville alumna, treated us to an excellent tour of the KOCO studio in Oklahoma City. We started by viewing a live broadcast from the studio and then Danielle discussed her career path and described her job responsibilities while showing us the studio.

KOCO-TV Studio
Danielle Dozier, center, treated us to a tour of the KOCO-TV studio in Oklahoma City.

Friday, May 17 (22:20 CDT)

Oklahoma City, OK

Today we visited the NOAA Radar Operations Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Our gracious hosts gave us an incredibly thorough tour of their facilities, explained the roles of their meteorologists and engineers in day-to-day activities, and showed us each of the required components of a functioning NEXRAD WSR-88D radar. We made the rather precarious climb up a 30-meter tower and peaked inside a NEXRAD WSR-88D radome, where we learned about the structure, construction, and function of the systems that power the antenna. Afterward, we returned to the National Weather Center for an official tour of the building.

Pushing the radar antenna
Daniel and Corey push the radar antenna around a NEXRAD WSR-88D radome.

We are staying at the Best Western Plus Broadway Inn & Suites in Oklahoma City.

Thursday, May 16 (23:35 CDT)

Norman, OK

The class did an interview with Asheville's WLOS ABC 13 this afternoon on the way back to Oklahoma. The story aired on the news this evening and shows my photographs of the Millsap tornado and discusses the nature of our class. They interviewed both Daniel Thomas and me while we stood in front of an abandoned house on a ranch near Wichita Falls, Texas.

Group in Texas
We paused for a group photo on a ranch near Wichita Falls, Texas while waiting for the WLOS interview.

Later in the day, we climbed to the summit of Elk Mountain in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. On the way, we saw some interesting animals, including buffalo, lizards, and prairie dogs. We stopped at the unique Meers Store and Restaurant in Meers, Oklahoma for dinner.

The class at the summit of Elk Mountain
The class at the summit of Elk Mountain in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.
Prairie Dog Lizard
We observed some wildlife in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.

Wednesday, May 15 (23:55 CDT)

Benbrook, TX

Today was a busy day. This morning, Bill Bunting, the operations branch chief at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), hosted us at the SPC. After an overview of the SPC and various forecast products, he stepped through today's forecast for central Texas. Afterward, David Grimsley introduced us to the calibration equipment in the Fred V. Brock Standards Laboratory where all of the Oklahoma Mesonet instruments are calibrated.

Visit to the SPC
Bill Bunting (left) hosted us at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
Millsap Tornado
The Millsap, TX tornado.
Millsap Tornado
The Millsap, TX tornado.
Watching a wall cloud
The students watched a rotating wall cloud near Millsap, TX shortly before the storm produced a tornado.

We decided to travel to northwest Texas to catch some potential activity ahead of a developing dryline this afternoon. We found a tornado near Millsap, TX. Shortly thereafter, the location of the storm didn't quite match up with a reasonable and safe road network, so we settled for seeing some nickel-sized hail on the back side of the storm and a spectacular display of mammatus. After a lovely meal at IHOP, we retired to the Best Western in Benbrook, TX.

Tuesday, May 14 (23:15 CDT)

Norman, Oklahoma

Today we visited the phased array radar, an Oklahoma Mesonet site, and a rain gauge field site. Then Dr. Chuck Doswell gave a rousing pep talk about owning one's education. I think that his conversation with the students will change their approach to learning in their remaining years as undergraduates. This afternoon, we were treated to a delightful visit at WDT with alumnus Justin Reid, who discussed the expectations and responsibilities of someone working in the private sector. Both Mr. Reid and Dr. Doswell stressed the need for strong computer programming skills in order to achieve success in meteorology. Daphne LaDue followed up with a discussion of internships and undergraduate research experiences for meteorology students. We capped the day with a Twister movie night.

Inside the phased array radar
Mark Benner describes the function of the radar antenna inside the radome of the phased array radar.
The pit
I described the purpose of the rain gauge pit and the function of both a Geonor vibrating wire rain gauge and a tipping bucket rain gauge at a field site near the phased array radar and an Oklahoma Mesonet site. (Photo by Stephen Hudson)

Monday, May 13 (23:45 CDT)

Norman, Oklahoma

We arrived in Norman this afternoon and met with Celia Jones in the OU School of Meteorology at the National Weather Center. She discussed the graduate school application process and suggested several tips for improving graduate school applications. Recommended undergraduate courses include partial differential equations and computer programming. Afterward, we visited a few locations in the National Weather Center, including the observation deck where several people enjoyed the Swopper chairs. We visited Bricktown in Oklahoma City for dinner, where half the group tried calf fries—an Oklahoma favorite. We are staying at the Best Western in Norman, Oklahoma.

Thomas, Corey, and Kelly enjoy the Swopper chairs on the observation deck at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Sunday, May 12 (23:45 CDT)

Conway, Arkansas

Walking on Beale St.
Taking in the sights on Beale St. in Memphis, Tennessee.

After departing from Asheville on Sunday morning, we picked up our navigator, Dr. Stephen Hudson, at the Nashville airport. We had dinner at the B. B. King Blues Club and Grill in Memphis, Tennessee and listened to some great live blues music. After a stroll down Beale St., we continued onward to Conway, Arkansas where we are spending the night at the Best Western.

Departure from UNC Asheville
The 2013 Severe Weather Field Experience participants moments before departure from UNC Asheville. (Photo by Alan Winesett)
North Carolina's Public Liberal Arts University