2008 Severe Weather Field Experience

Tuesday, May 27 (21:45 EDT)

We safely returned to UNCA last night after covering a total of 5762 miles, or an average of about 384 miles per day.

Monday, May 26 (15:15 CDT)

The atmosphere finally began to cooperate with us at the end of this past week. Our busy schedule has prevented me from providing updates, so the following is a synopsis of the last several days.

Kansas Supercell

Thursday morning, May 22, begin with only a few showers, but the afternoon featured a stunning electrical display and some unexpected rotation. Of course, this description may not turn out the way you might expect. Our hotel had intermittent water, so some folks didn't get a shower in the morning. The excitement of the day's potential for thunderstorms, however, kept spirits high. We drifted southward from Goodland, KS and had lunch in Garden City, KS. Shortly after leaving town, a storm initiated along the dryline very close to Garden City. I didn't think that the storm looked particularly vigorous at the time, and it appeared to form in a line of semi-discreet cells, so we traveled southward to catch a more isolated storm that formed near Liberal, KS. This storm looked well-organized and at times displayed a nice rotating wall cloud and even a brief funnel, but never produced a tornado. I say this with some hesitation, since we twice viewed a brief spinup feature at the surface near some cloud-level rotation. I'm not confident that these were tornadoes.

Continuing to follow the storm eventually required us to move eastward on a county road. This road appeared on the Magellan GPS navigation system, the DeLorme map, and the Street Atlas USA 2009 software and looked fine when we turned onto it. After several miles, the road narrowed considerably with no other road options. A dirt track led to a rut next to a plowed field and then to simply a field. The road disappeared from under us. As we pushed onward, several deer passed us as they ran from the storm. Then we arrived at a gate across the county road. Yes, a barbed wire and electrified fence blocked the road. I had to fight my way through a herd of attacking tumbleweed to reach the gate, which I unlatched, carefully avoiding the electric wires. We crossed the field where another fence on the far side separated us from a dirt road visible in the distance. Meanwhile, our storm slowly disappeared to the north. After unlatching the electric fence and disconnecting the barbed wire to allow the van to pass through, Joel and I attempted to replace the gate. In doing so, I unfortunately electrocuted myself on the fence (I'm glad it was me and not a student!). Now a cattle fence doesn't give a little tingle like I thought it might. It apparently zaps the cows with a pretty high-voltage jolt. The effect is similar to a taser and I hit the ground accordingly. We continued onward to our storm, but Elaine drove for a while.

After finally catching up to the storm and switching drivers (Elaine first made sure I was alright), we needed to travel eastward on yet another county road. Shortly after I turned onto the road and hit the breakneck speed of 20 m.p.h., the van began to spin on the extremely slick wet silt (this is the unexpected rotation). Yes, I spun out in a 15-passenger van with a rotating wall cloud in the distance. We came to rest with the van completely across the road and unable to move. With half of the students pushing the front passenger side of the van toward the west and half pushing the back driver side of the van toward the east, we rotated the van in the slick mud. Then, with a little help from the accelerator and folks pushing on the sides of the van to keep it on the road, it made it back to the pavement. Our storm, however, was long gone. There were three storms in the area on Thursday and unfortunately we chose the only one that did not produce a tornado. Selecting a storm is always a gamble and sometimes the selection does not pay off. We spent the night in Russell, KS.

On Friday, we decided to wait for storms to form along an outflow boundary from overnight convection. This decision led us very close to the initiation of a rapidly intensifying supercell. We followed the storm northward to Quinter, KS along I-70, where it dropped our first tornado less than a mile away from us.


We could not follow the storm since the area lacks enough paved roads and we did not want to get stuck in the mud, so we dropped southward to wait for another developing storm to cross our path. This second storm spawned a white tornado in a field just in front of us. As we continued to follow the supercell, we saw power flashes in the distance. Unfortunately, this damaging tornado eventually struck Ellis, KS near dark. Neither of Friday's tornadoes were particularly photogenic, but the students seemed excited to see what our atmosphere can produce. We spent the night in Great Bend, KS.

Saturday's forecast for severe storms wasn't quite as impressive as for the previous two days. Nevertheless, we traveled northward to central Nebraska. We found the only storms in the state, but they never became severe. We aren't the only ones who busted today; we passed several research and media groups. However, the storms gave us crepuscular rays, a few rainbows, and a beautiful sunset.

Sunset Crepuscular rays


On Sunday, May 25, we started our return trip to Asheville. Since we can't drive the rental van in Iowa for insurance reasons, we stopped at the Iowa border for a picture and took the long route into Missouri.


I correctly predicted two weeks ago that there would be a severe weather outbreak on the day we travel home (this is Murphy's Law of Atmospheric Events). Fortunately, we ran into some impressive towering cumulus clouds and a nice severe thunderstorm along I-70 in Missouri. We made a small detour to photograph one of the storms. After a dazzling lightning display, we stopped at Applebee's in Warrenton, MO for dinner. Shortly after we ordered, we heard tornado sirens. The staff at Applebee's performed superbly as they quickly moved everyone in to the kitchen while a thunderstorm with weak rotation passed directly over the town. This storm chased us! Everyone was fine and we continued to the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown St. Louis, MO.

We stopped briefly at the arch in St. Louis this morning (Monday). In Illinois, the sky treated us to a bright 46-degree halo, which is relatively rare. We expect to arrive in Asheville this evening.

The arch

Saturday, May 25 (01:40 CDT)

I will provide a thorough account of the last few days, including a description of several Kansas tornadoes, after I get some sleep. We are in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Comfort Inn (402-474-1417).

Wednesday, May 21 (11:45 CDT)

Today we traveled to Seibert, CO and waited for the storms to initiate. Amazingly, we watched a cumulus cloud form just to our south and grow to a cumulonimbus cloud (i.e., a thunderstorm). This storm was the only storm in the area, so we decided to chase it. It ended up producing severe hail, but it never had a well-defined structure. We abandoned this storm near Wray, CO and traveled westward to Yuma to let another disorganized storm run over us before catching dinner at Pizza Hut. After nearly a week of clear skies, the atmosphere finally treated us to a spectacular lightning show as we returned to Goodland, KS to spend the night. We are staying at the Americas Best Value Inn (785-899-3621). Everyone is still enjoying the trip, especially the severe weather aspect. Though we have all had lots of togetherness since we started in Asheville, we'll have to cooperate tomorrow as we go after some more serious convection.

Wednesday, May 21 (00:40 CDT)

Today (Tuesday) began with a slight modification to our plans for a tour of the National Weather Center. Our scheduled tour guide was in Washington, D.C. With nobody else available to give the tour, I became the tour guide! Afterward, we had lunch with some School of Meteorology friends and colleagues and then Celia Jones from the School of Meteorology discussed the steps necessary to apply to graduate school at OU.

Graduate School

Since there is once again not much to see in terms of weather, we drifted northward and visited the Twister Museum in Wakita, OK. Linda, the museum's curator, graciously stayed an extra hour after closing to welcome us to the museum and gave us a thorough overview of how the movie production changed the town. Linda appears below with the rest of our group in front of the museum and Wakita water tower in the center of town.

Twister Museum

We made it to Hays, KS this evening and are staying at the Days Inn (785-628-8261).

Monday, May 19 (20:45 CDT)

The atmosphere today displayed a dazzling display of wispy cirrus clouds...and no storms. Today was the hottest day so far this year, with highs surpassing previous record high temperatures across the state. So after sleeping in and visiting the Sooner Fashion Mall for lunch, we received an informative tour of the facilities at Max Westheimer Airport in Norman. Ken Carson, chief ground instructor with OU's Department of Aviation, let us sit in an OU airplane, discussed the impact of weather on aviation, displayed a few aviation weather sources on the Internet, and showed us the air traffic control simulation room. It's fascinating to see the aviation side of meteorology.

OU plane

In the early evening, Andy Taylor of the Norman National Weather Service Forecast Office allowed us to see the entire process involved with launching a rawinsonde. He discussed the required steps before the balloon flight and detailed the role of each piece of equipment. Then he launched the 0000 UTC KOUN sounding and we watched the 1-second data arrive on the computer in real time (well, delayed by one minute anyway).

Balloon Launch

Monday, May 19 (10:45 CDT)

Sunday offered us yet another down day. Elaine, two students and I had the opportunity to attend church and visit some old friends. After a scrumptious lunch at Subway, most of us headed to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma. We toured the visitor's center before setting out to see several herds of buffalo and a prairie dog town. Then we hiked up Elk Mountain and absorbed some spectacular views.

Elk Mountain

For dinner, we were treated to some great food at the Meers Store & Restaurant in Meers, Oklahoma. The Meersburger is particularly delectable! On the way home, we stopped at Braum's in Chickasha. Today's weather features hot and dry conditions, so we are again exploring Norman.

Saturday, May 17 (23:00 CDT)

Today's weather featured hot temperatures and low dewpoints. In other words, we have no storms. So we slept in this morning and made a lunchtime trip to Pop's Restaurant on Route 66 in Arcadia, OK. We brought with us Andy Taylor: a National Weather Service meteorologist, OU Ph.D. student, and our friend. Below is a photo of all of us in front of the Round Barn historical marker.

Route 66

After perusing the items in the Round Barn, we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which honors the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The photo below shows Aaron Woodward at the memorial.

OKC Memorial

Next, we made a stop at the Oklahoma National Stockyards to see some cows. After dinner in Norman, we all watched Twister, complete with amusing commentary from the audience.

Friday, May 16 (23:50 CDT)

Today provided us with a plethora of exciting learning opportunities. We kicked off the morning with a tour of the phased array radar with our host Mark Benner of the National Severe Storms Laboratory. He also showed us the circuitry for the KOUN NEXRAD WSR-88D radar, but we'll have to reschedule our peek inside the NEXRAD radome because it has the potential to start unexpectedly if operated remotely. I also showed the students the Geonor pit, designed to reduce undercatch errors, which also contains a tipping bucket rain gauge (I wonder where the 2-D video disdrometer went?). I described the instrumentation at the NRMN Oklahoma Mesonet site and several experimental instrumentation configurations in the field behind the phased array radar. Hold your mouse over each picture below for a brief description.

Inside the Phased Array Radar

NRMN site

We attended two Experimental Warning Program Spring Experiment seminars at the National Weather Center. Dave Hotz from the National Weather Service in Morristown, TN discussed "The GFE Forecast Monitor" and Ron Przybylinski from the National Weather Service in St. Louis, MO provided an "Overview of the 2 April 2006 Tornadic Squall Line Event." Following the seminars, Dr. Chuck Doswell presented a motivating speech to the students with a theme of taking ownership of their education. After a brief break, we learned about the various internship and career opportunities available for meteorologists in a discussion with Daphne LaDue, director of the National Weather Center Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

Dr. Doswell

Meteorologists Brady Brus and Brandon Chambers graciously hosted us with a tour of the KSBI-TV 52 Family Television studios and then invited us to stay for the evening broadcast. Chief meteorologist Brady Brus surprised one of our students by inviting Jessica Tavernier to talk about UNCA and to give the 7-day outlook live on the air! She did a great job. I'll post a video as soon as it becomes available.

Live on the air

We rounded out the evening with a visit to Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill in Bricktown in Oklahoma City. After several days of early-morning activities, we'll sleep in tomorrow morning and enjoy a day of rest.

Thursday, May 15 (23:45 CDT)

We returned to Norman, OK today and found a fantastic and brand new hotel for a very low price because nobody knows yet that the hotel exists! We're staying at the Best Western Norman Inn and Suites (405-701-4011) and will remain here for several days until the weather gets more interesting.

Below is a radar image from yesterday's storm. Our location at this time was at the tip of the yellow arrow. I've also included a zoomed version of the same image.

Texas Supercell

Texas Supercell Zoomed

SPC sounding David Imy discusses a sounding profile.

Thursday, May 15 (00:45 CDT)


This morning, we were treated to a fantastic presentation from David Imy, NOAA Storm Prediction Center operations branch chief. He gave an overview of SPC products and walked us through the wealth of information available to SPC forecasters. With his guidance, we decided to take a stab at some possible storms in Texas. Sadly, we left Elaine in Oklahoma to visit with her advisor. We traveled southwestward to Wichita Falls, TX, southwest on route 277 to Seymour, south on 283 to Throckmorton and on to Albany and to Baird at the intersection of route 283 and I-20. Our target was a well-developed supercell traveling eastward along I-20 near Abilene. Traveling south of I-20, we stayed to the south and east of the storm roughly along route 36. The supercell had several tornado warnings throughout the day, though none of them verified after we arrived at the storm. The storm did contain some large hail. At one point, the uncooperative road network forced us to take one golf ball-sized hailstone to the windshield (no damage). Everyone enjoyed the strong outflow from the storm at a few points and we were treated to a nice lightning display after dark. I'll post some pictures as soon as I can get them off my camera. We're staying tonight at the Best Western in Weatherford, TX (817-594-7401).

Wednesday, May 14 (00:30 CDT)

We crossed a moderate risk area today to reach a developing cumulus field near Pauls Valley, OK. Unfortunately, the storms that did appear had trouble maintaining themselves. Several of the storms along the advancing cold front were warned as severe, with hail reports from the multicellular line just to our north. We followed a more isolated cell until dark and it treated us to a few showers and some lightning strokes. We're safely in Norman, OK at the Quality Inn (405-364-5554).

Tuesday, May 13 (9:30 CDT)

Morning map discussion.

Monday, May 12 (22:55 CDT)

North Little Rock, Arkansas

With 654.9 miles spanning the distance between UNCA and our hotel (Red Roof Inn) in North Little Rock, AR, we can finally get some rest. The students kept me alert with a rousing game of Mad-Libs after dinner at Cracker Barrel in West Memphis, AR. Spirits are high and we are looking forward to our first day of potentially severe weather. We plan to meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning to assess the day's conditions.

Monday, May 12 (15:30 CDT)

We're all crammed into the van and headed westward! We've got 375 miles behind us with a plan to reach at least Little Rock, AR this evening.

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