2017 Severe Weather Field Experience

Thursday, May 25 (18:25 EDT)

Asheville, NC

After 4733 miles (an average of 394 miles per day), four tornadoes, and countless life-changing learning opportunities, we returned safely to Asheville this evening. I have updated the last few daily entries with some photos.

Wednesday, May 24 (23:11 CDT)

Memphis, TN

We started the morning with a visit to the Norman National Weather Service Forecast Office (OUN), hosted by Gabe Garfield. Science and Operations Officer Todd Lindley and several forecasters shared their tips and advice for those aiming for a career with the National Weather Service. Kaitlyn had the opportunity to issue a tornado emergency for a supercell storm in Texas, complete with 4.5-inch hail and a large tornado warning polygon. Thankfully, it was just a simulation that forecasters use to practice issuing warnings, but the process for real warnings is the same. Rick Smith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, set off his phone with the emergency alert sound just as Kaitlyn hit the submit button and playfully asked, "What did you do?" Rick also took a picture of us and posted it to the OUN Twitter page!

We also visited the Radar Innovations Laboratory at the Advanced Radar Research Center, hosted by Casey Griffin. This new facility houses a few meteorologists and many engineers who perform cutting-edge radar research. One of the highlights was a peek inside an anechoic chamber used to test radar components in a space that prevents electromagnetic radiation from bouncing off of the floor, walls, and ceiling. Casey also showed us two mobile radar trucks used for severe weather research. What a neat place to work!

We're on the way home now and have stopped for the night on the east side of Memphis, TN.

Inside an anechoic chamber used for testing radars (left), Kaitlyn issues a tornado emergency at the Norman NWSFO (top right), and the class learns about a mobile Doppler radar (bottom right).

Tuesday, May 23 (23:07 CDT) — Updated Thursday, May 25 (14:40 CDT)

Norman, Oklahoma

On the way to Norman from the Texas Panhandle today, the students got an eye-opening lesson in the enhanced Fujita scale in Elk City, OK following last Tuesday's rain-wrapped tornado. We found the hardest-hit neighborhood just south of I-40 and noted missing roofs, buckled walls, and broken glass. At the National Weather Center, we met with David Parsons, director of the OU School of Meteorology, who talked to us about the school's graduate program and graduate school applications in general. Several students noted that the discussion was very helpful. After a stop at the NWC library to take a look at the Godfreys' master's theses and Ph.D. dissertations, we made a trip to Pops 66 Soda Ranch on historic Route 66 in Arcadia, OK. The students enjoyed the unique selection of carbonated beverages! Just before the evening news, chief meteorologist Damon Lane graciously provided a detailed tour of the KOCO-TV studio in Oklahoma City. We watched the evening broadcast from the studio as well. Damon also showed us the KOCO helicopter and storm-chasing vehicle and let us sit in each. The students had a fantastic time!

Chief Meteorologist Damon Lane hosted us at KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City.
Clockwise from top left: Elaine shows the students her Ph.D. dissertation at the NWC Library; Kayla rides shotgun in the First Alert Storm Command chase vehicle; Damon Lane shows us the KOCO helicopter; and Jack sits in the pilot's seat of the helicopter.

Monday, May 22 (21:11 MDT) — Updated May 25 (16:47 EDT)

Clovis, New Mexico

We are presently en route to Canyon, TX where we will spend the night after a day of chasing. We began by heading toward Lubbock, TX with the hope of touring the National Wind Institute. Everyone I know there is either chasing or at a wind engineering conference, so this didn't pan out. We did, however, meet with Chase's uncle, who visited us for lunch and then gave us a driving tour of the Texas Tech campus. Then we headed to New Mexico to look for some hail from LP supercells that formed along the dryline. One storm near Kenna, NM dropped 1.25" hail (not on the van, though). We found a quiet spot with a gorgeous view of the storm and the students enjoyed taking a time-lapse video and several lightning photos. This storm exhibited rotation on radar and displayed a pronounced lowering. After it passed, we drove through the hail swath and noted a 15°F drop in air temperature. We also noted an impressively intense rainbow, which we all enjoyed.

Clockwise from top left: An intense rainbow in New Mexico; students photograph a storm; the big white van; and a lonely windmill.
Clockwise from top left: Chase checks the surface conditions; the best storm of the day; the storm tosses small hail at us; and Kyle photographs a rainbow.

Sunday, May 21 (23:09 CDT)

Canyon, Texas

The Amarillo National Weather Service Forecast Office hosted us this afternoon. The students learned a good deal about the career path and day-to-day job duties of a National Weather Service forecaster, as well as some of the unique aspects of work at the Amarillo office. The tracking software for their soundings had a problem today, so the 12Z rawinsonde package was never released. The students had the opportunity to examine the sonde that would have been released and we visited the balloon barn to see a fully-inflated hydrogen balloon (no smoking!).

The class visited the Amarillo National Weather Service Forecast Office in Amarillo, Texas.
Sonde Balloon
Ty examines a sonde (left) and Lead Forecaster Ken Schneider shows the class the sounding balloon (right).

After our visit to the AMA WFO, we hiked in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. We all had a great time climbing the canyon walls. We even visited a weather station at the bottom of the canyon and discussed the various instruments on the tower. I'm impressed that my meteorological instrumentation students remembered a good deal of what I tried to teach them! We returned to Amarillo this evening for dinner at the famous The Big Texan Steak Ranch on Route 66.

Palo Duro Canyon
Slide Cave
Palo Duro Canyon Tower
The class hiked in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas Panhandle.

Sunday, May 21 (00:34 CDT) — Updated 23:46 CDT

Quanah, Texas

Given the absolutely clear skies and dewpoints near 40°F today, we decided to visit the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma. We saw prairie dogs, bison, longhorn cattle, lizards, and deer. We also met with Corey Lea (UNCA '16). The class trekked up Elk Mountain and enjoyed impressive views across the plains. After a delicious meal at the famous Meers Store and Restaurant, the students learned about astrophotography in the dark skies of far southwestern Oklahoma.

Hiking in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.

Friday, May 19 (23:43 CDT)

Henrietta, Texas

We saw our fourth tornado today! This morning, we decided to travel to North Texas to catch some storms just ahead of an advancing cold front. Several of the storms we encountered produced nice shelf clouds. We noticed an area of moisture convergence in the SPC mesoanalysis graphics at the intersection of some moist, warm air that had not been modified by earlier and ongoing convection. So we decided to target that location. Once we got to the general area, convection initiated right over us. We followed the storm as it matured, eventually producing a brief rope tornado. This was the only tornado report from this cluster of storms in North Texas today. The students heard tornado sirens for the first time in Windthorst, TX. We watched a few areas of rotation on this storm and later cells, but decided to quit as the Sun set and the storms moved over the Red River into Oklahoma. After dinner in Nocona, TX, we stopped to learn about lightning photography.

Markley Tornado
Rope tornado a few miles northwest of Markley, TX on May 19, 2017.

Shelf 1
Shelf 2
A few storms gusted out and produced shelf clouds.
Kayla photographs a shelf cloud (left), Jack takes a panoramic photograph (top right), and the class learns about lightning photography (bottom right).

Thursday, May 18 (22:47 CDT)

Fairview, Oklahoma

Today, the SPC issued a rare high risk for portions of northwestern Oklahoma and southern Kansas. We started the day with a lengthy map discussion and chose a target area in northwestern Oklahoma. After a brief stop in Seiling, OK, where Dr. Reed Timmer showed us AccuWeather's 360° Tornado Probe, we targeted and followed several areas with strong convection. After a somewhat circuitous route, we decided to aim for a strong supercell near Seiling. We approached the storm from the west, so we had to wait for the hook to cross our path. Shortly afterward, we saw a lovely cone tornado below a well-defined and rapidly-rotating wall cloud. We followed the storm until it passed Alva, OK and then dropped southwestward to another storm near Woodward, OK. This storm gusted out, so we let it run over us and then visited a nice Mexican restaurant in Fairview.

Seiling Tornado
Tornado a few miles north of Chester and Seiling, Oklahoma on 18 May 2017.

Class with Seiling Tornado
The class with the Seiling tornado on 18 May 2017.

Supercell Class
The class in front of a supercell thunderstorm.

Dr. Elaine Godfrey leads the map discussion (left) and Dr. Reed Timmer and the AccuWeather crew visit with the class (right).

The Seiling, Oklahoma tornado.

Zach finds some hail (left), Alex watches the temperature drop as the thunderstorm outflow passes (top right), and hail from Seiling, OK (bottom right).

Wednesday, May 17 (23:59 CDT)

Norman, Oklahoma

It seems we saw two tornadoes yesterday. We observed a power flash at the base of the rain-wrapped cloud feature shown below. This is the same storm, time, and location where the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado following today's damage assessment.

Wheeler Tornado
Tornado a few miles south of Wheeler, Texas on 16 May 2017.

This morning, Bill Bunting, the operations branch chief at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), hosted us at the SPC. After a brief visit to the Norman National Weather Service Forecast Office, David Grimsley of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey showed us the Oklahoma Mesonet demonstration site near the National Weather Center. Inside, he described the calibration equipment inside the Fred V. Brock Standards Laboratory. This afternoon, 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. Then we crossed the road for a visit to Weather Decision Technologies, Inc. (WDT) to learn about meteorology in the private sector. After dinner in Bricktown in Oklahoma City, we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Some of the students had never heard of the events described at the memorial.

Clockwise from top left: The NOAA/Storm Prediction Center with Bill Bunting; an Oklahoma Mesonet demonstration site with David Grimsley; the class with Chuck Doswell; and the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Wednesday, May 17 (00:50 CDT)

Norman, Oklahoma

We had an exciting day today. We started at the NOAA/Radar Operations Center in Norman, OK where we heard from several people about the many aspects of the nationwide NEXRAD WSR-88D radar network. We learned about the varied career paths of the employees, the complex components of the radars, and the new phased-array wind profiler. We also toured the interior of a WSR-88D radome. After this fantastic tour, we drove west to the Texas Panhandle where we caught a tornado just south of McLean, Texas. On the way home in Woodward, Oklahoma, we ran in to Josh Wurman and Karen Kosiba, who generously gave us a tour of the Doppler on Wheels (DOW) radar truck and showed us the tornado pods that they place in the path of tornadoes to collect valuable surface data. We returned to Norman, OK for the night.

McLean Tornado
Tornado a few miles south of McLean, Texas on 16 May 2017.
McLean Tornado
The Severe Weather Field Experience class in front of the McLean, Texas tornado.
We had to run back to the van when the hail started.
Clockwise from top left: Standing on the platform of the new phased-array wind profiler; learning about the WSR-88D pedestal; inside a WSR-88D radome; and an impromptu tour of the Doppler on Wheels radar truck from Josh Wurman in Woodward, OK.

Monday, May 15 (23:56 CDT)

Norman, Oklahoma

We traveled to Norman, Oklahoma today. We first met with Dr. Daphne LaDue to discuss internships and career options in the atmospheric sciences. After a brief tour of a few aspects of the National Weather Center, we noticed the ascending 0000 UTC sounding balloon. After dinner, we had a Twister viewing party in the hotel.

Clockwise from top left: Dr. Daphne LaDue speaks to the class; a group photo at the National Weather Center; watching an ascending sounding balloon (white dot); and another group photo at the National Weather Center.

Sunday, May 14 (23:15 CDT)

Conway, Arkansas

After 675 miles, we made it to Conway, Arkansas for the night. On the way, we stopped in Memphis, Tennessee. The class walked across a portion of the Mississippi River on a pedestrian bridge and then dropped in for dinner and great live music at B.B. King's Blues Club. For several people, this is the first trip across the Mississippi River!

Departure In the van
Mississippi River Beale St.
Clockwise from top left: The crew before departure from UNC Asheville; everyone in the van; taking in the sights on Beale St.; and the group on a pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee.

Sunday, May 14 (8:30 EDT)

Asheville, North Carolina

We're on our way out west!

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