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.

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