Friday, June 27, 2008

And I Shall Never Wash My Face Again

Ever since April 4th, 1974, when I experienced the Super Outbreak, I have been smitten by the weather. That was the largest outbreak of tornadoes in recorded history- 148 tornadoes in 13 states in 48 hours. One went close by our house and did some minor damage.

I had determined to become a meteorologist early on in my life. I made weather stations in grade school and got ridiculed for it. I had even interviewed with an Air Force recruiter in high school to check in on their program for meteorology. I was in the process of planning to go to Florida State to get my undergrad in meteorology and then go out to the plains and study severe thunderstorms and perhaps find a career in forecasting. But I think God had other plans for me. Okay. I I know he did.

The best I have ever been able to do is to make it a hobby and become an advanced storm spotter with the National Weather Service office out of Wilmington, Ohio. I have, on occasion, chased storms whilst in Louisville and since we've moved up here. But all the weather has almost always seemed to have either happened where I left to go chase or just plain not happened at all. I was on the verge of developing a slight mental imbalance in my conclusion that the weather machine was deliberately keeping me from the sweet stuff.

Then came June 3rd, 2008.

It was near 8:30 pm, Tuesday, the usual night Chad Moore and I meet together. We were in Uptown Oxford, sitting outside Kofenya coffee shop when an employee came outside, hurriedly gathering up the furniture. She stated that we might have to take cover shortly because of the "tornado in Cottage Grove" (just across the border in Indiana).

I was incredulous, though we had severe weather and even a tornado watch earlier in the day. Thunder was rolling occasionally now. I checked my Treo for the National Weather Service site and sure enough- there was a tornado warning for Franklin County, Indiana. I looked at Chad and said, "let's go!" All he needed to do was grab his camera, which was a good one, given the fact he was a photojournalist in Mississippi before moving to Ohio. If "it" was going to happen, we'd get good pictures.

We took off north about a mile from our original location on Hwy 27 toward Indiana and pulled off at a gas station under the canopy and took several pictures. The tornado warning was extended to our county now and the sirens were blaring. The storm was exhibiting very obvious signs of strengthening. This picture is one from this location looking southeast at the anvil overspreading our location.

A store clerk came out to inform us a tornado was on the ground five miles from where we were. We got in the car to drive a little bit closer to the storm to get a better vantage point. We headed north on Hwy 27 for less than half a mile when I noted the precipitation core was getting really close to us. We didn't know if there actually was a tornado with the storm but if it was, it could be rain-wrapped so I didn't want to get any closer with no way to spot it visually.

We pulled off under an abandoned gas station canopy with marble-sized hail falling now. Just adjacent to our location was a trailer park with a police car driving through, warning the inhabitants of the storm and issuing evacuation orders through his loudspeaker. All the while, the town warning sirens were still wailing. There was an inflow tail cloud forming in this picture with low level warm air being drawn into the storm (the slightly inclined cloud deck just above the trees is flowing from left to right into the main part of the storm):
By this point, this storm meant business. You can actually see my blurred hand at the lower left pointing to what structures of the storm for Chad to shoot.

The precip core was almost ready to overtake us and we determined that we needed to get south of the area. We jumped back in the car and by this time, there was no traffic coming in or out of 27, which is usually very busy. I had intended on taking up another position conveniently at my house, just a mile away. We only got so far as Kroger when we realized we needed to take cover.

We parked and ran into the store and ran into the store manager and a few other employees gazing into the sky, asking if "there was going to be a tornado." It was hard to hear them over the warning siren and the rain was beginning to blow horizontally now. I began to see that people weren't really sure of the gravity of the situation so I loudly alerted everyone to to get to the center of the store and get as many walls between us and the outside as possible. I didn't know for sure if this storm had a tornado with it or not. Better to be safe than sorry.

A college student, completely oblivious to the conditions, tried to forge out the door into the storm with her groceries. We all looked at her rather befuddled and I told her she needed to get inside. About 30 of us now were all gathered in the center of Kroger. I had my phone out, all my friends who knew me were calling to see if this was the real deal. I was trying to get radar updates and warning updates from the NWS site as well as telling Cathy and Mom to get in the basement. It was about all my phone could handle. The manager and employees were huddling around me, asking me questions about how long this would last, were we going to be okay, etc. I became severe weather hero guy for a brief moment when a lady asked me if I was a storm chaser. I could have died and gone to that storm spotter class in the sky, prepared for me by God's own angelic host. It couldn't get any more dreamy for me.

In a few moments, the storm abated and me, Chad and the manager, followed by a few employees, went to the front of the store and then to the parking lot. This was where I figured we'd see something if this storm was going to produce.

Immediately to our west was a rotating wall cloud. There is an area just to the left that is brighter...that is perhaps and indication of a slight rear flank downdraft- an area of tornadic storms where air rushed downward. It is thought that the RFD plays a key role in spinning up tornadoes. The filamentous clouds to the left were rapidly forming and shooting straight up into the rotation.

After about a minute, the wall cloud was on top of us and it produce this small, short-lived funnel cloud, just visible to the left of center. This area is broadly rotating
and the white/bright area to the left is a meager RFD (rear flank downdraft).

Of course, I am not believing what I am seeing or that I'm actually getting to witness this. The whole thing is coming to us instead of us trying to chase it down. It would figure, I suppose.

About another minute later, the area of rotation moved just NW of our location. The cloud's appearance was changing and a very narrow wall cloud with observable rotation extended very close to the ground now.

This is looking NW from our location toward Hueston Woods State Park. There were unconfirmed reports of a touchdown just west of this area also. There was very clear rotation evident with this feature.

Shortly thereafter, it produced another short-lived funnel cloud, just above the two spikes in the lower right of this photograph. The funnel has smoother edges to it, compared to the ragged scud just below it. This funnel's duration of 5-10 seconds as well.

This is some damage being surveyed by a city officer in NW Oxford in the area where the wall cloud was observed after being directly overhead. The damage here was from straight line winds, which can accompany the features we witnessed.

Here I am helping to move said branch (I am the goon to the far right). In just a second, I'm going to go beside the officer pictured and we both will lose our footing while trying to move the branch. This action will succeed in crashing our skulls together. That's the first (and hopefully) last time I head-butt an officer of the law.

The next day, we are bombarded yet again by a line of severe thunderstorms that move through, once in the morning (which dropped a weak EF0 tornado in Newtown, near Cincinnati). That evening, a line moved in yet again and caused widespread straightline wind damage across the Tri-State. At one point, well over 200,000 Duke customers were without power. We lost ours for about 12 hours and the whole next day saw rolling brown-outs. Large trees were down across the area.

All told, there were 5-6 severe weather episodes from June 3rd-June 4th, 2008. The National Weather Service out of Wilmington would confirm a weak EF0 tornado touchdown just less than a mile SW of my house! That completely rocks. We were actually photographing the weakening storm that dropped that tornado.

I sent these photos to the NWS in Wilmington and they are posted in their "Photos" section, currently under "Recent Events." This whole event is broken down here.
What's sweet is that the lead forecaster emailed me, thanking me for the pics, stating that this was just what they were looking for and might even use them in their spotter training courses. That's pretty luscious stuff right there if you ask me. Since you probably didn't ask me, I told you anyway, so there.


Marsh said...


+ Alan said...

DUUUUDE! YOU DID IT! That one looked like a freakin' double funnel cloud. Yeee haaaw!

glenn said...

HaHAAAAAAAAAAH! I sure did! But it wasn't as good as your funnel cloud. The storm did drop a short-lived 'nado just less than 2 miles from my house tho.