Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chase Report - March 26, 2011

Incredible chase yesterday...ended up chasing what was reported as a large wedge tornado just east of Birmingham, Alabama after dark with Mike Brady and Jesse Risley ( Still working on verifying these reports - at this point, it looks like the spotters that reported the tornado may have been seeing things, but I'll wait til the damage surveys come in to make a call on that.

Looked like an early show - tornado watch was issued for portions of Alabama and Georgia, and we started booking east to catch up with the cells that were popping. Got on a tornado warned cell in Fayette County, AL, but it moved north of the warm front and petered out fairly quickly. Ended up getting stuck in traffic around Birmingham while trying to drop down to a set of southern storms that looked extremely impressive, and decided to head back west. Saw a nice wall cloud while getting out of Birmingham, but at that point, we were thinking that we might have busted.

We got back into northern Mississippi, and sat in Columbus for a bit. After about half an hour, we noticed a nice updraft tower going up in the warm sector south of the warm front, and decided to go after it.

Best. Decision. Ever.

As soon as we got close to the storm, a huge wall cloud was evident. Over the next three hours, we raced east, staying just ahead or just behind the rotation. The storm was a classic supercell, that just kept recycling the rotation...the wall cloud would disappear every once in a while, but come back quickly, even bigger than before.

As darkness fell, we decided to stay on the wall was still exhibiting strong rotation, and, at one point, the RFD (rear-flank downdraft) slot was directly above us. The lightening was absolutely incredible - we're pretty sure it hit a transformer at one point.

At about 9:30 local time, we decided to head for a few miles down the road and changed our minds. Flipped a quick uie, and raced SE to get back in was about this time that we started receiving reports of a large wedge tornado near Jasper, AL.

As we caught up to the wall cloud, it was obvious that the wall cloud had recycled again - it was huge, and had a beautiful lowering. At one point, it looked like there was a nice tornado on the ground, but with the trees and darkness, it was difficult to tell for sure. If there was a tornado on the ground, it definitely wasn't as big as the reports were - we were right next to the wall cloud, and had a pretty good view at times.

Ended up core-punching a nice severe storm on the way home - got half-dollar sized hail out of that, and stopped in Memphis for the night.

The adrenaline and tension from chasing a huge wall cloud/funnel/reported wedge tornado at night in the terrain around Birmingham was incredible. The structure on the mesocyclone was fantastic, and, all in all, we ended up with a great chase.

Here's the first video we have...of the wall cloud/updraft/mesocyclone fairly early on in its life cycle. You can see the strong rotation and great upward motion, as well as a funnel about a third of the way through...hope to have video from the more impressive stage of the storm soon!

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