Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 Year in Review

What a year! Was able to take my entire vacation during the only active period for tornadoes this year, scoring 7 tornadoes on 4 separate days in May. Pulled down two of the best pieces of footage I've ever taken, and got extremely close to the prettiest tornado I've ever seen on May 18th, 2013.

I started on May 16th, chasing with Jonathan Williamson, Alec Scholten, and Nick Nolte. We chased an uneventful "day before the day" type setup on the 17th in South Dakota, with only a weird leading-edge funnel on a squall line. Also experienced a heatburst as a thunderstorm collapsed on top of us.

From then is was south, through Nebraska to southwest Kansas. We bit on the first storm of the day since nothing else was initiating, and, even though we hung with the north storm for about 10-15 minutes too long, we managed to escape south and punch through the core of the Rozel storm. We saw 3 tornadoes over the next 40 minutes - one EF-4, followed by two amazingly photogenic tornadoes just east of the town.

The next day was a bust, plain and simple. We elected to play the outflow boundary and eastward propogating gravity waves on the OK/KS border. Let the initial storm (that produced a large tornado in the Wichita suburbs) go, snagged a brief tornado near Caldwell, KS - then attempted a mad dash south towards the monster tornadoes ravaging the towns east of Oklahoma City.

As we entered the south side of Stroud, Oklahoma, we were stopped by a train. Frustrated, we barely noticed the debris starting to fall out of the sky. When we eventually looked up, the sky was filled with insulation and other debris drifting towards the ground. The most eerie thing you could ever imagine.

We punched through the core of the Shawnee storm, catching a brief glimpse (from a dangerously close vantage point) of a tornado deep in the rain curtains as we fled south. In Okmulgee later that night, we met Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young at a Mexican restaurant and spoke with them briefly. We swapped stories of what had happened that day, and Tim talked about his theories on deeply rain-wrapped tornadoes.

On the 20th, we played the south storms around Pauls Valley, OK. Elected not to mess with the boundary through the OKC metro due to traffic concerns, and waited back too long to see the tornadoes near Duncan. All in all, a busted chase day, but that paled in comparison to the destruction in Moore.

I returned home for a week, and set out with my wife, Ellie, and my old friend Mike Brady for the setup on the 27th. Saw two tornadoes in north-central Kansas, the latter the very beginning of the Esbon wedge for about 30-45 seconds before it wrapped itself into the rain curtains of the monster HP supercell. Wasn't able to get video of the latter, as the chaser convergence was as bad as I've ever seen it. These were Ellie's 4th and 5th tornadoes, with none of them being very impressive. Stopped in Salina for the next day's setup, which looked marginal but in the same general area.

The 28th was Bennington day. I have a writeup below, but suffice to say that it was the easiest chase day I've ever had. Clear target, drove maybe 40 miles the entire day, sat under the anvil and watched the mammatus as the updrafts merged, and then meandered in in time to see both tornadoes, one of which was the incredible EF-4 stationary wedge.

The 29th was a bust for everyone. In NW Oklahoma at about 3:30 PM, I looked at the 18Z sounding and realized that the veer-back-veer wind patterns were awful, so we left for Arkansas and Ellie's family. Sat out the 30th and 31st - and can honestly say that I'm glad I did so.

All this was overshadowed by the news I got the morning of June 2nd, though. When Mike texted me early in the morning telling me of Tim, Paul, and Carl's passing, it was earthshaking. 3 of the most experienced guys in the field - guys I'd looked up to for a decade - just gone. They left a legacy that's impossible to live up to.

The only other notable chase of the year was on February 10th in Mississippi, the day of the Hattiesburg wedge. A frustrating day filled with HP blobs and heavily rain-wrapped tornadoes we were within a mile from but couldn't see. Got into Hattiesburg within a half-hour of the tornado, and tried to do what I could to help. Just surreal.

2013 will be remembered by chasers primarily for 2 violent, deadly weeks in May. Even now, in October, the fate of the Twistex team dominates our thoughts. Knowing that myself and most of my friends have been in dangerous positions close to strong tornadoes and could have easily shared their fate doesn't help. I don't think there will ever be a chase day again when we don't keep an eye to our phones and social media to make sure that everyone we know made it through the day. Even though we understood the danger of our obsession before, we now have a constant reminder of the horrible cost that can ensue from one, single mistake.

Final Bennington, KS tornado video - May 28, 2013

Went back to my Bennington footage and timelapsed a few chunks of the entire thing down to 13 minutes. Pretty incredible to my spot almost 15 minutes before the second tornado touched down, and was able to get tripoded HD footage of the new wall cloud developing.

That's all of my footage for the year except for the Caldwell, KS tornado, which I timelapsed on my YouTube page. Not bad, would've liked to have scored bigger on 5-19 but I'll take the two tornadoes I was able to get that day!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Final complete footage from the Rozel, Kansas tornadoes

Had knee surgery last week so I'm on convalescent leave for a month...gave me time to finally get this footage edited and posted! Pretty awesome stuff...the second tornado is the best tornado footage I've ever shot, hands down.

Friday, July 5, 2013

New footage from May 18th, 2013 Rozel Kansas Tornado!

Still working on editing footage, but here's some of the best I've ever gotten...less than a 1/4 mile away from an incredibly photogenic tornado a couple months ago! Trying Vimeo out for better quality since I suck at video editing.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Chase Log - 5-28-2013 Bennington, KS Tornadoes

What a day! After the incredible chaser convergence and brief views of 2 tornadoes the day before in north-central KS, we headed back down to Salina for the night. Met Brandon Sullivan, Brett Wright, and Gary Schmitt for lunch...and finally met Roger Hill there, as well. Models were pretty well in agreement in showing a small but significantly potent tornado threat just north of Salina, where an outflow boundary would intersect with a deepening low pressure center and southward extending dryline.

We left, activated a US Cellular data card, and sat just east of Salina for a while. As we were waiting, met up with Matt Phelps and ETT for a bit, then left as towers started to fire. Headed over to Abilene, and watched the dryline bubble. Finally, a cluster of updrafts fired and moved slowly to the northeast. We headed west towards it, stopping for 20 minutes or so to watch it organize. As we did, an incredible mammatus show appeared overhead!

By far the best mammatus I've ever seen...myself and Ellie just sat on the hood of the Jetta and watched it for a while. Then, as the core of the supercell started to organize rapidly, we blasted west to get a better view of the meso.

As we approached, a large wall cloud became apparent...

This wall cloud dropped a brief tornado as we approached it. We pulled over on the side of the road about  a mile or so west of Bennington, KS. What followed was the most amazing tornado I've ever witnessed...

The mesocyclone recycled, and a second wall cloud started to take shape to the northeast. Here's a radar shot with our position indicated by the white circle...GPS integrated into the radar software.

At this point, the storm stalled. Literally. No forward motion at all. At this point, it was obvious that it was just a matter of time until a big tornado was going to form. Rotation from the second wall cloud was unbelievably rapid.

The structure was incredible...look at the mid-level inflow bands wrapping around from the southeast into the wall cloud at the top-center of the picture! These feeder bands would eventually extend for miles south of the storm, injecting it with primed warm, moist air to feed on.

Several scuddy funnels started to drop from the wall cloud as tornadogenesis became imminent...

And then, a massive cone drops from the skies above.

The tornado partially wrapped itself in rain several times during the early stages of its' life cycle, all the while slowly growing into a monster.

Then, incredibly, the tornado emerged completely from the surrounding rain curtains, and entered what would be its' most photogenic phase.

The tornado then wedged out to over a mile wide, and became almost completely rain-wrapped. I swung east about a mile to get shots of the meso above...

We got a couple more good video shots while the tornado was over a mile wide.

The tornado eventually occluded and dissipated, deep in the rain curtains, after being on the ground for over 45 minutes! It was rated EF-4 due to wind speed measurements from the DOW. And, it was Ellie's first good Plains tornado!

UPDATE: Finished editing the video, here's the final work!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

GoPro Timelapse Video of the Rozel, KS Tornadoes!

First chunk of footage is from the Ness City, KS tornadic supercell...we dropped that and headed down to the Rozel cell. My chase partner Jonathan Williamson put a GoPro on the hood, and this is what it saw...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Monster Wedge Tornado! - Bennington, KS, May 28, 2013

Got incredible footage of a photogenic, monster wedge tornado near Bennington KS today! Video is below! First 10 minutes are of the wall cloud developing and cycling...tornado touches down at 10:05.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Incredible Rozel, KS Tornadoes! May 18, 2013

Pulled down 6 tornadoes over a 5 day chase trip last week, including 4 incredible close-range tornadoes near Rozel, KS. The first one of the day was the strongest, garnering an EF-4 rating.

As we came out of the rain curtains after core punching the storm from the north, a huge cone tornado appeared out of the mist, backlit by the sunset. 

We got closer, eventually watching a second tornado develop and rope out about a half mile in front of us.

We blasted back east after the second tornado had dissipated, and captured the third tornado of the day from 1/4 mile away! 

This third tornado was the most beautiful and photogenic tornado I've ever witnessed. It cycled through several different shapes, eventually re-forming as a rope tornado under a brilliant mammatus-filled sunset behind us. 

I'm still editing the video from this day, but it'll most likely be a week or two until I'm able to finish up. In the meantime, looks like there's solid chances of tornadoes in Kansas the next two days, with a dryline play in SW Oklahoma Wednesday to finish out my trip!