The March-April 1998 issue of STORMTRACK features CHASING AROUND THE WORLD

MOTHER NATURE STRIKES BACK

I. COMMENTARY by Tim Marshall

Mother Nature has demonstrated this spring that there is no such thing as "tornado alley". So far, tornado outbreaks have occurred in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, and Minnesota. I believe only one tornado has been reported in Oklahoma. Never in my 22 year history of chasing, have I had fewer than two chases by May 1st -until this spring! Some people may say that El Nino is to blame by shifting the storm systems eastward, whereas I see climatology favoring these areas in the early spring. As typical with early spring systems, one of the key deficiencies has been the lack of low-level moisture. There have been plenty of storms passing through this area, but the deeper moisture has been shunted eastward each time. Also, once the storm systems pass, we are slow to recover the low level moisture as we remain in northerly winds for several days. Hopefully, things will turn around in the next few weeks.

Each spring I am asked what this year will be like in terms of tornadoes. I donít have a crystal ball or fancy computer program, however, the average number of tornadoes per year is around 1100. Several tornado "outbreaks" are bound to occur and the chances of one or more tornadoes killing 30 people are pretty good. So far this year, the U.S. has had twice the number of tornadoes and twice the number of tornado fatalities than average. Some of this increase is due to the number of storm systems which have occurred, however, there are a number of other factors. Our cities and towns are growing at phenomenal rates, thus, the "targets" are getting bigger. People are paying less attention to storm warnings than before; most people do not know what a weather radio is. In contrast, there has been an increased effort in spotter training and warning. NEXRAD radarís now cover the entire country, so a tornadic cell in the remote hills of Tennessee will now get reported. More F0 and F1 tornadoes are being reported.

In surveying the damage from the recent tornadoes near Birmingham and Nashville, one thing has become clear to me. We are in for a major tornado disaster. I mean a biggie, one with thousands of fatalities. I saw several tornado tracks this spring that were 20 to 30 miles long, 1/2 mile wide or better, and created F4 to F5 damage. Rural damage in southern Tennessee and northern Alabama was so complete, that the tracks looked like utility easement lines through the forests. I saw similar damage in surveying the Palm Sunday event in 1994. This year, mother nature is striking back. My fear is that she has only begun to fight back.

II. CHASER NEWS

MAY 17, 24, 31 or JUNE 7: The ANNUAL STORMTRACK PICNIC and VIDEOFEST will be held at the editorsí house at 4041 Bordeaux Circle, Flower Mound, Texas 75022-7050. (Note the new zip code change). The party begins at 1 p.m. on May 17th unless there is a slight risk or better for the plains states. Alternate dates are the following week. For latest updates and changes, call my telephone recorder at 817-430-0517 after May 15th. Take I-35W southwest of Denton or north of Fort Worth and exit FM 1171 Flower Mound. Go east about three miles and you will pass Rt. 377. Continue east on FM 1171 about two more miles. Youíll top a steep hill (slow down) and youíll see the Roanoke Hills subdivision on the south side of the road. Continue to the next subdivision which will be The Vineyards on the Lake. Turn south into this subdivision; the street is Bordeaux Way. At the stop sign, turn right, and we are at the top of the hill.

SEPTEMBER 14-18, 1998: The 19th Conference on Severe Local Storms will be held at the Radisson South and Hotel Tower in Minneapolis, MN. The week long conference will feature numerous presentations on tornadoes and other severe weather and will include a video/slide festival.

NOTE: Our internet address (URL) has changed. Please update your bookmarks.

 

III. LETTERS/EMAIL TO THE EDITOR

William Kucharski, INTERNET:kucharsk@netcom.com wants to keep the paper version of STORMTRACK: " One reason to keep the paper version going is that it's the easiest way to disseminate the combined chase account/photos/map articles that have always made up a majority of its content. While people may have ready access to email I haven't seen more than a few chase reports on the various mailing lists complete with links to web sites set up with that day's soundings and chase maps. The information in the Jarrell, TX issue was quite enlightening in respect to the fact that it is not just your home construction quality that is important but that your house is no better off than the most poorly constructed house in your neighborhood lest its debris turn your home into Swiss cheese."

Dr. Arnold Newman writes: "I am a concerned storm chaser. While the conventional measurement of hail speaks of peas, marbles, golf balls, baseballs, softballs, and grapefruit, we all know that storm chasers DONíT eat vegetables, certainly DONíT play marbles or golf, and have little to do with baseball or softball. Also, have you ever seen a grapefruit in tornado alley? This is a tough breed of rough and ready folk. The only food I have seen chasers consume is what is readily available while gassing up at those mini convenient marts. So, I submit that hail should be measured by these familiar parameters: i.e. the size of a milk dud, the diameter of a Ritz cracker, smaller than the cross section of a Twinkie, the length of a pork rind, bigger than a ding-dong, the size of a ring ding, or the circumference of a marshmallow moon pie! This is something we can all understand instinctively! Iím sure there will be no resistance to this from the meteorological scientific community!"

John Stokes saw a rare California tornado on March 23, 1997: "I finally saw my first tornado. I was in a bus riding south on California Highway 395 just north of the town of Independence, sometime between 2 and 3 PM. The tornado was east of the Highway and to the west of the Inyo Mountains. The lower 1/3 of the tornado was filled with dust, the upper 2/3 was somewhat transparent -but clearly visible. I watched the swirling dust on the ground for about five minutes, then realized what I was looking at. The tornado then broken apart in the middle and a large area of dust persisted near the ground after the tornado dissipated. The area was sparsely populated. There were several strokes of lightning and rain -almost all of the rain evaporated before reaching the ground. I reported the tornado to the San Diego weather office."

Antonio Caridade sent in a newspaper article about a tornado in Japan from the Asahi Evening News: "Twisters and storms hit the Kyushu region on Tuesday, October 14th, killing one person in Nagasaki Prefecture and seriously injuring two students in Fukuoka Prefecture. Hailstorms raged in Izuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, and over Saga. Meteorological officials said the unstable weather was caused by a cold front moving south. Officials said the twister began gathering force around 1:40pm on the sea about 500 meters from the town of Gonoura, Nagasaki Prefecture. The twister had grown to 400 meters in height by the time it arrived in the neighboring town of Iki. It turned over five boats and blew the roofs off ten homes."

Colin McIntyre sent in a newspaper article about a tornado in Alberta, Canada. " A twister over Missawawi Lake near Lac La Biche caused $250,000 in damage, but no injuries, when it hit cottages and trailers on June 8th. Lac La Biche is about 100 miles northeast of Edmonton, about 54.5 degrees north latitude. The tornado was on the ground for about 40 seconds, but wasnít detected by radar."

Chris Valdina writes: "It was amusing reading about your commentary about telling television forecasters to "get out of the way" of the weather map. We on the east coast say the same thing! Why not have all weathercasters wear bodysuits in the chroma key color so their body would not block the map. All we need to see is the disembodied head and hands to deliver the forecast!"

ROSTER

The ST Roster lists brief biographies of those persons who are interested in storms or storm chasing.

Paul Seabolt, Rt. 1, Box 137-C, Bastrop, Texas 78602-9631. "Iím 29, divorced, and employed by Advanced Micro Devices in Austin, Tx. Iím native to the Metroplex, but moved to Austin after serving eight years in the Navy. Iím active in the skywarn spotter network and chased the 5/27/97 central Texas outbreak. Iíve been chasing since 1985. I am looking to make the acquaintance of any experienced or novice chasers, but particularly those in central Texas."

BRITISH TORNADOES IN 1997 by Mike Rowe and David Reynolds

1997 was a remarkable year for British whirlwinds in several respects. There were 35 tornadoes in 1997, the highest annual total since 1984. With an average of 33 tornadoes each year, its also been the first time that the mean has been exceeded since 1984 - an indication of how quiet recent years have been. February had eight, which is the equal second highest total on record for this month. Two of them, in Norfolk on the 18th, were on parallel tracks close together. One had a long track of 10.5 miles; the other carried a one-ton caravan over a fence and wrecked it. There were seven tornadoes in May, easily exceeding the previous record of four in 1950, and nine in June, exceeding the old record of seven in 1968. The most widely reported tornado during these two months was at Rougham, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, on 11 June. This struck an industrial estate, ripping off roof panels and lifting a car. The tornado was evidently an impressive sight, judging from photographs published in the national press.

Tornado activity continued at an above-average level in July, when three were reported. August had five, which was the highest number reported for that month since 1985. Probably the most "newsworthy" tornado of the year occurred in Nottinghamshire on 31 August, at the village of Cromwell. Many journalists believed this would have made national news, had not the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, occurred earlier that same morning. One man lost his carport, fencing and many roof tiles; a neighbor lost the gable end of his house. Nothing special for the media (or for TORRO for that matter) - but what was eye-opening were flying pigs. Householders observed pig-pens and pigs being thrown through the air from a farm in the same road. Many pigs were killed. Some press reports claimed that pigs had been hurled through the air for over a quarter of a mile and that pig huts had been carried up to half a mile. The tornado continued to Sutton-on-Trent, blowing debris from trees onto the main east coast railway line, disrupting services until the following morning. Oddly enough another tornado had struck only a few miles away on 28 June. Since the end of August the only tornadoes known are two in November - which is in itself remarkable as most British tornadoes usually occur in Autumn and early winter. All of the year's tornadoes reported so far were weak, that is of an intensity of T0 to T3 on the Tornado Intensity Scale. It is very unusual that no reports of strong tornadoes (T4-7) have been received. Violent tornadoes (T8 and greater) are extremely rare anywhere in the world.

Waterspouts (major whirlwinds reaching down to a water surface) were virtually absent in 1997. The only confirmed case was a tornado that crossed the tidal River Orwell near Ipswich as a waterspout on 4 April. The last year to have only one confirmed waterspout was 1964.

Funnel clouds are major whirlwinds that do not reach the ground (or water). 36 funnel clouds were reported in 1997. The TORRO collection of funnel cloud data has yet to be fully tabulated, but the 1997 total is easily the highest on record, possibly almost double the previous record. Most reports were in May, June and July.

TORRO also collects whirlwind reports across Europe. However we always receive far more British reports than from the rest of Europe put together. Severe weather undoubtedly occurs frequently (particularly in Autumn) but unfortunately the differing languages and cultures of the many nations acts as a partial barrier to the flow of information. When tornadoes are reported, details are often very sketchy.

Three funnel clouds are known from Ireland, a tornado from Germany and a funnel cloud from Denmark. A tornado which hit the marina of Bibione, Italy, on July 20 injured 50 people, one seriously. Dozens of boats were destroyed by this tornado which was also a waterspout. At least two tornadoes, at least five waterspouts and at least four funnel clouds have been reported from Finland. On September 8, one waterspout lifted a man and his 800 kg boat to a height of 10 meters and then threw them about 50 meters, seriously injuring the man when he landed in shallow water full of rocks. The boat was anchored and tied to a pier at the time too. One report mentioned that over 30 tornadoes had been recorded up to the first part of the summer. Sadly details are lacking so nothing can be added to the European Tornado Database. Assuming them to be all real, it does hint at the vast number of European tornado reports that are being missed.

No strong or violent tornadoes are known by TORRO to have occurred in Europe this year, nor have any killer tornadoes been reported to us. However, with perhaps as many as a thousand or more tornadoes across the continent, it is highly likely that there have been many strong and some killer tornadoes across the continent - perhaps even one or two violent tornadoes as well. For further details on TORRO and severe weather in the UK & Europe, please refer to http://www.torro.org.uk/

SEVERE WEATHER IN ASIA by Tim Vasquez

The four areas in Asia that contend with severe weather are Japan, Korea, China, and India/Bangladesh. Although waterspouts do occur, tornadoes associated with supercell storms are exceedingly rare in Korea and Japan. One factor is the inability of the atmosphere to create steep lapse rates. A Korean forecaster I spoke with in 1996 speculated this is because of subsidence and warming as upper-tropospheric winds converge on the lee side of the Tibetian plateau. Indeed, after spending a year in Korea I rarely saw CAPE values in excess of 1000 j/kg in either Korea or Japan, and I never managed to find a photograph of a Korean tornado. China has greater access to deep moisture, however much of this is blocked by mountains throughout the southern country. Press reports of severe weather are usually sparse, and I rarely observed any storm activity in China that appeared severe. China does hold the record for the deadliest hailstorm in recorded history.

Bangladesh and northeastern India are another story. Together the region is roughly the size of Oklahoma and is filled with over 200 million residents. It is arguably the hottest spot for severe weather in the eastern hemisphere. During the spring I used to watch the 4 km visible satellite photos in amazement as huge, isolated cells exploded to life at the time of maximum heating. And indeed it is no surprise that reports of destruction stream from the area every spring. For example, on April 26, 1989 a single tornado north of Dhaka killed 1,300 and injured 12,000. In April 1995 a tornado killed 30. In May 1996 a twister claimed 1,000 near Tangail. On March 24, 1988, eastern India was struck by tornadoes from three separate storms that developed west of Calcutta. The final death toll was 66, with 1,000 injuries. These severe storms tend to appear in late March. They are locally known as nor'westers, or kal'boishakhi, and are most often seen during the afternoon hours. They develop along the Ganges river basin in northern India and track east or southeastward into Bangladesh, bringing rain, high winds, and occasionally tornadoes. The incidence of nor'westers generally decreases after mid-June as the tropical "monsoon" rains set in. Sounding characteristics and satellite signatures strongly indicate that many of these isolated storms are HP supercells.

On severe weather days, Bangladesh is usually in an area of deep low-level moisture. Dewpoints in the moist air mass run about 75 to 80 deg F. Dhaka and Calcutta soundings show a definite elevated mixed layer (EML) based at about 800-900 mb, and west of Bangladesh a SW-NE dryline appears on surface charts. Modification of soundings often shows a forecast CAPE in excess of 5,000 j/kg and occasionally up to 8,000. In the dry air mass to the west, skies are clear, lapse rates are steep, and dewpoints may be as low as 10-20 deg F. Blowing dust and strong west winds may occur during the afternoon as momentum is ducted downward. These are known locally as "andhis". Aloft, the winds tend to come from Iran/Turkmenistan and are forced around the Himalayas. The southern stream is usually west-northwesterly (as strong as 100 kts) and because of its more northerly origin cold air advection is more pronounced, helping steepen lapse rates. It also brings short wave disturbances into the region. On a classic day, the strongest storms fire northwest of Calcutta and move across the border into Bangladesh during the evening. Other storms may form later along weak outflow boundaries and orographically in northeast Bangladesh and Burma. All storms tend to propagate southeastward.

So, do you want to head to Dhaka or Calcutta? You can get a round-trip ticket for $1300 with a change of planes in London, Bangkok, or Hong Kong. You'll need to have an International Drivers Permit to get behind the wheel, and you'll be on the left side of the road. The region has a marginal road network, in part due to the difficulty in maintaining a transportation system across the world's largest flood plain. Cross-country journeys average about 20 mph due to congestion in towns. It can take up to nine hours to drive from Dhaka to the western border, 120 miles away. Once you do find a storm, haze will be a significant problem, affecting chase navigation and photo quality. Chasing this region will be nothing short of a challenge, but I'm convinced someone will do it soon. Once you've looked at a visible imagery loop of Bangladesh during an active spring day, you may never see Asia the same way again.

STORM CHASING IN ASIA by Vladimir Dinets

The giant Asian continent is an area of extreme climatic differences with some of the World's most powerful atmospheric events and an endless variety of meteorological conditions. No wonder it is a great place for weather observation, although its enormous size often makes it difficult to get in a right place in a right time. Some areas of Central Asia resemble USA's Midwest climatically, but surprisingly tornadoes are very rare here. Once in few years, local newspapers report a tornado destroying a couple of villages in the European part of Russia, but usually this "tornado" appears to be a straight-lined wind from a severe thunderstorm. In July 1997, a few unusually violent thunderstorms passed through Moscow, and among them was one suspicious supercell hanging just above Kremlin, but luckily nothing serious happened.

 

Probably the only place in Asia to have tornadoes on a regular basis is a short stretch of Black Sea coast between the city of Anapa and Suhumi (the capital of Abkhazia). In a short period between August 15 and September 20, up to 30 tornadoes formed from thunderstorms within watching distance from the popular beach front resorts. They appear offshore, mostly at night, but some of them came onshore, dropping thousands of tons of salt water on vineyards and gardens. Not one of them penetrated more than 1-2 miles inland.

Usually the only years with rainy summers have tornadoes. Most of the damage occurs in an area north from Sochi city. This part of the coast, covered with dense subtropical forests, is almost unpopulated for this reason. The summer of 1996 was very rainy, and every day there were one or two thunderstorms. I had spent two weeks in the Utrish Nature Reserve, south of Anapa, before I saw one of these nocturnal monsters. It appeared at 5 am, in a middle of nice thunderstorm, which was moving northward along the coast. Although it was also raining in Utrish, most of rain seemed to fall approximately 2-3 miles offshore, and the tornado also formed there. Frequent lightning made it very easy to observe this "classic" tornado, which existed for about 10 minutes, and disappeared a half mile from the beach. The next day I went back home and missed another tornado, which leveled homes in a few blocks of Anapa the very next night. The only other "tornado" I've seen in 28 years in Eurasia was a strange rope-like thing above Agrahan Bay in Dagestan in 1983. It connected two levels of small cumulus clouds very high above the sea and slowly sucked the smaller lower cloud into the bigger upper one. The weather had nothing to do with thunderstorms - it was a clear post-cold-front day in late March.

The monsoon is probably the most famous feature of Asian weather. It brings rains to all southeastern part of the continent, from Amur River to Pakistan. Sometimes it is so strong that it can cross the Himalayas and spoil weather in Tibet and Kuen-Lun. Spectacular hailstorms have been known to occur in Tibet. Usually hail is not big enough to kill sheep, but it provides locals with fresh hare and hamster meat. In southeastern-most Siberia, in east Mongolia and northern parts of China, the monsoon season is short, lasting only from early May to mid-July. In August and September the weather is mostly sunny with only short periods of rains when agonizing typhoons strike from the southeast. But August and September is also time for thunderstorms. They travel in packs, shoulder to shoulder, hitchhiking on cold fronts from Siberia. Ulan-Bator, the Mongolian capital, sometimes has up to 25 brief thunderstorms in one day, separated with tiny breaks of hot sunny weather. Twice I was lucky to see unusually severe thunderstorms in this part of the world, one on Hanka Lake north from Vladivostok (in August 1986), and another on the plain NW from Nanpin in Eastern China (September 1993). Both were spectacular supercells with strong rain, but what was unusual was their lightning activity. During more than 45 minutes, lighting was so intensive that there were no breaks more than a second long. While coming closer, these storms looked like black centipedes with a fringe of moving lightning legs below. The first storm was accompanied with a strong wind, and this wind forced Lake Hanka to move and surge more than one mile inland.

Typhoons usually strike Asian coast from August to October. Some of them manage to get as far north as to Kamchatka, and still be strong cyclones while arriving there. If they break through the island chains and reach the mainland, their main effect is flooding, but seldom have wind. In taiga forests of Northern Korea, Ussuriland, Sakhalin and Southern Kuril Islands some narrow river valleys are filled with giant logs from numerous typhoons. Trekking along such valleys is not easy: sometimes you have to jump from one moss-covered log to another for miles, never touching or even seeing the ground. To be caught by typhoon in taiga is not a pleasant surprise, especially if the wind is still strong: you have to avoid valleys, and on higher places any tree can fall on your head any moment. e-mail: vdinets@vdn.com

Storm Chasing in Australia by Michael Bath

Storm chasing in Australia is quite different to what U.S. chasers experience. The season extends from October to March, however there is no concentrated period of guaranteed supercell weather like the US. We can have several days of severe weather, followed quickly by another outbreak, or we may have two weeks or more of hot and dry weather with very little storm activity. Severe weather is most likely from October to January, commencing in southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales, then increasing and spreading south as the season progresses. Australia does get tornadoes, and from various sources it is agreed that Australia is second only to the US in tornadoes each year.

Major hurdles for the Australian chaser are: 1) lack of roads - our road network away from the major cities and towns can be classified as sparse, like the population. The areas most prone to the largest storms are in fairly unpopulated areas. 2) lack of meteorological data - we have no free radar, no ten minute hires visible satellite imagery, and no detailed analyses available. Soundings and observations are from a limited network and generally not available in real time. 3) Basically, we cannot intercept storms hundreds of kilometers away as we have no access to early data to pinpoint the most likely convection areas. We chase when we see something starting to happen, which usually limits us to within a 100km radius of home. An extended chase is planned for early October 1998 in northern NSW to test whether it is possible to successfully chase in our "tornado alley" regions under the right weather conditions. Anyone is welcome to join this chase. My email address is mbath@penman.es.mq.edu.au

Supercell Storm Chase, Saturday 28th October 1995 by Jimmy Deguara

At the time this article was written, not much evidence was available to illustrate the true significance of this storm. Recently, radar imagery related to this storm supplied courtesy of the Bureau of Meteorology have resparked interest in this storm, particularly the hook echo observed for a period of at least 10 minutes. Consequently, this article has been reviewed to include the radar imagery. Also included are important times that were critical to certain parts of our storm chase and associated observations.

The day began with cirrostratus areas: some being the reminiscence of tops from weak thundery activity of the previous day. There also was a thick haze, mostly consisting of moisture or pollution, smudging the view to the Blue Mountains. Around midday, cumulus towers to the southwest developed into weak thundery showers that dissipated by 1pm. One thundery shower that developed near Richmond persisted and headed east towards the Northern Suburbs. It produced some heavy rain and pea sized hail. An interesting feature of the storm was that low cloud developed at the rear flank below a rain free base and formed into a lowered base. However, it did not appear like a tornado or lowered wall cloud. I decided not to chase this storm but photograph it nevertheless.

I also watched the development of two adjacent large thunderstorms to the south off the coast near Wollongong, and to the southwest barely visible through the haze. The rear tops of the anvil of the southern storm, although barely visible, had a rounded like shape and lead me to believe it may be a supercell. The front anvils were facing northeast indicating their line of movement. However, only the anvil of the thunderstorm to the southwest was visible. The time of these observations was around 3pm.

As this thunderstorm approached, it began to reveal its true features with its tops exploding towards the north. At 3:30pm, I initiated a storm chase and rang my friend Geoff to inform him of the situation. After picking up Geoff, we headed for Rooty Hill to pursue what was promising to be a massive storm. Geoff seemed surprised with this storm to the south as he had focused his attention on the storm to the north and had no view of the supercell anyway. "This storm will definitely have hail in it", I prompted Geoff as I pointed out the expanding tops. At the top of Rooty Hill, I photographed another storm to the north although it was quite weak: something to do as the thick haze was obscuring the view of the supercell's structure. The anvil was streaming well off the coast.

As some low developing stratocumulus cloud obscured the sun, we were able to get a better view of the cloud top with greater contrast. I took a few photographs of the expanding top but could only fit a very small portion because of its immense size and because we were so close. Upon getting a better view of the storm's main features, we decided to head towards Penrith to locate on the northern side of the storm which is where most wall clouds and tornadoes develop, if any do develop. This proved to be a costly decision in terms of lost time. It also meant we missed out on all the best high contrast photograph opportunities of this cloud free base! As we headed west along the F4 freeway, I also blew the opportunity of heading down Mamre Road towards Kemps Creek as I was not familiar with the road at the time. Mamre Road would have perfectly positioned us to view and photograph this most spectacular sight. Instead, we traveled further to Penrith and observed the spectacular, high contrast rain free base cloud as we traveled along the freeway. Unfortunately, no photographs were taken of it even whilst in motion. It was not clear whether there was a wall cloud or not. We turned down the Northern Road, and back east towards Kemps Creek along Elizabeth Drive. The storm had intensified dramatically and I kept watch of other thunderstorms rapidly developing to the west and northwest. The last thing you want is to be chased by a storm!

Around 4:40pm, we were driving into Kemps Creek, and ran into wind squalls and misty drizzle followed by heavy rain and some hail, 2-3cm in diameter. Because of the reduced visibility and possible damage to the car, I decided to head off Elizabeth Drive and onto Mamre Road (the other end!!!). I told Geoff to look up the street directory for any other roads off Mamre Roads that would take us to some good vantage points as I knew the storm and hail would not affect this region. We traveled off Mamre Road onto Arlington Road and I took further shots of the main tower and precipitation cascade one kilometer away. It also allowed for some breathing space and time to decide our next move.

At around 5:00pm, we decided to continue chasing the storm which was now rapidly heading east. But because of traffic and the fact that the storm by this point had changed direction and increased in speed, we missed out on that opportunity. However, we were able to observe the aftermath of the storm: mostly severe runoff and leaves and twigs stripped from trees indicating some areas of larger sized hail. Some hail still lay on the grass or in the Bushland.

My mind then turned on the darkening skies to our west, and the other approaching thunderstorms. After traveling along Cowpasture Road, we headed west towards Horsely Park along Horsley Drive. It was Geoff's job again to find a high vantage point to our west, and suggested that Jamieson Road would be the go. He was right. This spot allowed us to view the spectacular precipitation cascade and adjacent to it a roll cloud. After a few photos, we decided that the very severe bolts of lightning was enough warning that we should head north along Wallgrove Road and back towards Rooty Hill. This again placed us into an uninteresting and low contrast region of the storm. We passed through some heavy rain around Rooty Hill and Plumpton. At this point, I decided it was best to head for Quakers Hill for some easterly views of the back end of the storm. After a few last photos from Corbin Avenue, we decided that two and half hours was enough, and we headed home.

This storm was significant in many ways. First, backed up by the hook echo observed on radar images by meteorologists at the Bureau of Meteorology, I had earlier observed two separate supercells that had developed and split from one thunderstorm near Picton. This particular storm was what is known as the left mover. i.e. it veered to the left as viewed from the rear of the storm. Second, it was the first supercell we had chased, providing us with valuable experience in chasing future potentially more severe supercells in the future. The last supercells to strike the Sydney region were the March 18, 1990 hailstorm that devastated Auburn, and the January 21st 1991 storm that devastated Turramurra. Finally, this storm provided a lesson for observing and identifying future supercell storms. It also allowed me to reflect on previous thunderstorms in the mid 1980's that contained structures resembling this storm. I had always wondered if they were really supercells. Check us out at Australian Severe Weather http://australiansevereweather.simplenet.com/

 

The Long Beach Tornado of 1998 by Bill Reid

It will never rank up there with Wichita Falls of 1979, Red Rock of 1991, or Pampa of 1995, but the Long Beach tornado on January 9th, 1998, was pretty strong by California-tornado standards. As is often the case for tornadic activity along the California coast, the storm cell which spawned the twister was relatively unimpressive.

On the 9th, a slightly negative-tilt trough moved through Southern California. (Troughs tilted with a negative orientation, i.e., northwest to southeast on a weather map, generally promote greater air-mass-lifting than those with positive orientations.) The 2 p.m. forecast discussion out of NWS Oxnard noted: "weak front is now pushing through the Southern California coastal waters and it is moving at a pretty good clip...pilot reports down near San Diego indicate a 140-knot jet...so that explains the frontal movement and the bowing evident on the satellite picture...mostly light rain ahead and with the front...along with areas of moderate/heavy rain...a voracity max is swinging down behind the front...and will move through tonight." The 2:30 p.m. discussion out of the San Diego NWS office noted thunder earlier that morning at Pacific Beach, and "a funnel cloud near Long Beach."

A special weather observation at Long Beach Airport (LGB) at 1:45 p.m. was rather un-noteworthy. The base of an overcast layer was at 3400 feet, the visibility was 10 miles, and the wind was 140 at 8 knots. The normal hourly observation made only 11 minutes later (at 1:56 p.m. PST) indicated heavy rain, one-mile visibility, and a wind of 160 at 6 knots. The overcast layer was at 2800 feet, with broken clouds at 1800 feet, and the rain had begun at 1:52 p.m. Another special observation, made at 2:18 p.m., revealed that the rain had ended at 2:15 p.m., 0.41 inches had fallen, visibility was 10 miles again, and the wind was from the south-southwest at 7 knots. Temperature and dew point were both 16C, or 61F. During this time, a tornado was uprooting trees, destroying roofs and signs, and forcing people to run for safety, less than three miles away!

By 2:25 p.m. the NWS in Oxnard had issued a tornado warning for "southwestern Los Angeles County," as "a spotter at Long Beach reported a tornado in Long Beach at Spring and Palos Verdes streets near Cubberly Elementary School." (Cubberly School is about a half mile northeast of Palo Verde Avenue and Spring Street.) The storm moved northeast and the NWS continued the warning, especially for La Habra Heights at 2:40 p.m. and for the 57 and 60 Freeway interchange area in Diamond Bar at 2:55 p.m. At 3:10 p.m. the storm had dissipated and the warning was canceled. Though the official observations from Long Beach did not mention a tornado while it was in progress, the METAR observation taken at Long Beach at 2:56 p.m. remarked: "tower reported tornado two to three miles east of field at 2 p.m. moving northeast and dissipated." At 2:58 p.m. the observer at Los Alamitos (SLI) reported "CB NW-NE and OVHD-S-W moving NE. This station, about five miles east of Long Beach Airport, was also very close to the storm's path. Wind at Los Alamitos was 160 at 13 knots at 1:23 p.m., and 150 at 8 knots at 1:55 p.m., about the time the tornado was forming. None of the reports from SLI indicated anything unusual, and no rain was reported except for a light rain shower at 2:58 p.m.

News video of the storm damage showed a good chunk of a Lucky supermarket's roof torn off and numerous trees blown down. (The Lucky is at Spring and Palo Verde.) An amateur videographer at Cubberly School caught the tornado for a few seconds. His video showed an intense and tight rotation very close to the school. The Weather Channel showed the tornado as a waterspout moving onshore near Long Beach Harbor, with a strong and tight circulation on the water and a spectacular funnel cloud. Apparently this video was taken by a news stations' "tower-cam." The damage path (as investigated by the NWS) was less than two-miles long, but approximately four miles separate the "waterspout/tornado" near the harbor and the southwest end of the NWS' damage path (see below).

I spoke with David Danielson of the National Weather Service in Oxnard about two weeks after the tornado. He has investigated the event, and he shared some of his findings with me. The Long Beach tornado tracked parallel to the Los Coyotes Diagonal and "skipped intermittently." It took off a 60-foot by 60-foot portion of the Lucky roof, and would be rated F0 to F1 on the Fujita scale, according to Danielson. The average path width was about 20 yards wide, and was about 30 yards wide at the Lucky market. Touchdowns were confirmed near Barbanell Street and Los Coyotes, north of CSU Long Beach, and as far northeast as Cubberly Elementary on Monogram. The tornado occurred from 2:00 p.m. to 2:10 p.m. PST. There were no injuries, according to the Fire Department and Police Department, but media reported an injury to a clerk at Lucky due to flying glass. At Cubberly Elementary, a "Mr. Bogel" moved two bus loads of kids into an auditorium when he saw the tornado approach. It is amazing that the tornado caused no major problems on the San Diego Freeway and at Millikan High School.

On the meteorological side of things, no thunder or hail was reported with the storm. At 1:43 p.m. the storm's top was at 29,000 feet, and at 2:03 p.m. it had collapsed to only 24,000 feet. At 1:58 p.m. the Santa Ana Doppler radar beam intersected the storm at an elevation of 4970 feet, and the archived reflectivity "doesn't look that awesome," according to Danielson. Rich Thompson of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, did not include Southern California for thunder in his Day One Severe Weather Outlook (issued at 12:30 p.m. for the remainder of January 9th). Thompson reported that the Long Beach storm was "quite small on radar, and would have been difficult to do much with" (in other words, little large-scale storm rotation was evident). He noted that the "thunder line" means an average point-probability of thunder of 10% or greater within the bounded area, so "this may have rightfully been a no thunder forecast even with the tornado!" Thompson also said that "near-surface flow around Santa Catalina Island may have played some role in improving low-level shear." I might add that the Palos Verdes Hills may have been important, too, in augmenting wind convergence beneath the storm.

Several storm systems have spawned tornadoes, waterspouts and funnel clouds in coastal Southern California this winter season, the Long Beach tornado just one of many. Now if we could only get a big thunderstorm attached to one of our tornadoes...maybe some screaming 15-knot inflow, too.

MORE CHASER NEWS

The joint session of the High Plains Chapter of the American Meteorological Society and the High Plains Chapter of the National Weather Association is pleased to announce the Second Annual High Plains Conference to be held on August 17-19, 1998. The conference will be hosted by the National Weather Service Office in Hastings, Nebraska and Hastings College. The primary theme of the conference focuses on weather challenges entering the new millennium. The conference is intended to serve as a platform of ideas, concerns and knowledge and also as a vehicle to discuss the impact of weather and weather forecasting on commerce, life and property in the 21st Century. We intend to keep the conference registration fee very modest, thus no conference pre-print or post print will be available. Abstracts may be submitted, no later than June 30, 1998, to: Jim Brewster, High Plains Conference Chair National Weather Service Office, 6365 N. Osborne Drive West Hastings, Nebraska 68901. (e-mail: James.Brewster@noaa.gov) (Tel: (402) 461-3826 ext. 805.) Fax: (402) 462-2746) or to:

The celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the first tornado forecast has passed. The final merchandise associated with the celebration is limited and no further orders are planned. If you are interested in obtaining souvenirs of this once in a lifetime event now is the time to get them! Coffee cups and magnets have been added to the merchandise list. Please see the following web page for ordering info: http://weather.cod.edu/fifty/gaclothing.html Bill Conway, National Severe Storms Laboratory, 1313 Halley Circle, Norman, OK 73069 (405) 366-0461. fax 366-0400 conway@rossby.metr.ou.edu

Mr. Jerry Jarrell, 63, will become the director of the National Hurricane Center. The former director, Bob Burpee, stepped down for health reasons. Jarrell joined the National Hurricane Center as deputy director in 1988. He earned masters of science degrees in meteorology and management from the Naval Postgraduate school in 1967 and 1973 and was an assistant professor there from 1972 to 1977. He was deputy director of the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Guam from 1970 to 1972 and a senior research scientist with Science Applications International Corp. in California.

FEMA HOSTED TORNADO SUMMIT IN ATLANTA. This was a surprise to us here at ST. The conference reportedly was held on Friday, April 24, 1998 at the FEMA building, 3003 Chamblee Tucker Road in Atlanta and had little press until after it was held. If anyone attended this conference, please let us know.

The TWISTER RIDE opens at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida on May 4th. All sorts of tornado stuff is available at the local gift shop. Please let us know if you attend and send us pictures.

EVANSVILLE, INDIANA TORNADO: JUNE 17, 1997 by David Hicks

I was fortunate to witness a tornado event in southern Indiana last summer but wish to express some concerns about a phone call I made to the local National Weather Service (NWS). I phoned the NWS approximately 10 to 15 minutes after I witnessed the tornado, but I became agitated as I felt the voice on the other end of the phone was skeptical of my account. I attempted to establish credibility with the person at the NWS, but to my knowledge, no watch or warning was issued. I later realized that the NWS skepticism was justified as I found out that the low tops involved with the cells meant a short life span for any severe weather phenomena that they generated. Still, I do want to inform you that this was definitely a tornado (See Cover). I have heard mention of a "gustnado" for what happened this day. That is not what I witnessed.

As I pulled into North Park, I noticed an intriguing downdraft on the southeastern edge of a cumulonimbus. The opposing updraft base was dark and low. I began scanning directly overhead and noticed scud clouds were racing toward the west. This aroused my curiosity because the upper level winds were blowing from the north. The veering winds made me suspicious and I began looking for rotation in the cloud base.

Small striations on the slightly visible northern edge of the updraft revealed cyclonic motion but I was still not convinced that this cumulus tower could be a threat. To confirm that rotation existed, I chose to watch an individual scud cloud and follow itís path. The scud cloud headed west for a short time, then turned south, then turned back towards the east. It began raining heavily and enormous droplets were hitting me in the back at such an angle that my eyeglasses were not getting wet.

I searched the cloud base and thought I found the center of rotation, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move extremely rapidly. A scud cloud had disappeared into the base of the storm and a clear-air hole, perhaps 50 yards wide, spread open at the center of the rotation as I watched another scud cloud quickly draw up into the hole. A few seconds passed and the hole darkened and formed a small bell shape, much like an inverted pie pan. This wall cloud lowered about 100 feet from the base of the updraft. Rotation was obvious and intensifying.

Soon, a small, transparent finger, only visible due to itís white outline, began descending from the center of the wall cloud. At the same moment, light debris began circling on the ground below this lowering. The dust grey toward the cloud as the finger came down to meet it half way. When the two met, smaller vortices began circling the core. The tornado widened and I watched it lift roof material from a nearby bowling alley. I took chase and watched the tornado darken, widen, then narrow, and rope out. I estimated the tornado was on the ground about 40 seconds. A ground survey by the NWS rated the tornado damage F1 on the Fujita scale.

A SO-SO YEAR by David Hoadley

1997 was a minimally successful chase year for me. I saw three small tornadoes and videotaped two --but managed to miss the big ones south of Wichita on May 25 and Jarrell on May 27th. My chase began on May 18 with a long drive from Terre Haute, IN to a tornado watch in eastern Iowa --but I arrived minutes late for the tornado reported west of Mechanicsville. Storms looked outflow driven, and the weakly rotating wall clouds were being chased by expanding rain cores. Then I was chased! Stopping in Galesburg, IL that night for a burger-break in heavy rain and lightning, the sirens suddenly announced approaching rotation -a funnel was sighted. I dismissed it and drove a little further down the road to a motel in Peoria (more buckets of rain!) and walked in to the tune of more sirens and frightened people milling about the lobby. A state trooper reported a tornado northwest of town and moving in our direction. I went to bed.

The 25th made the most photogenic tornado southeast of Hutchinson. The morning forecast took me to south-central Kansas and then Buffalo, OK. But when reports of tornadic cells began coming in from northern Kansas, I was too far south. Leaving behind a scattered cumulus line that extended far into Oklahoma (no clear dryline yet), I began driving north and east, attracted to a slowly building cell near Hutchinson. I did briefly turn back toward Kingman, noting a new, small but uneven anvil (which later made the big wedge near Wellington). However, I soon wrote it off as just one of probably several small storms that would fire all the way into Oklahoma along the old cumulus line --a fatefully wrong decision.

I caught the Hutchinson storm on the west side, and --without a good city map --just drove into town, guessing at main roads and looking for a fast eastbound exit. Fortunately, I chose well and made it out just as observed rotation was reported over Haven. On the road south to the storm, I turned back and saw cloud base rotation in a cell north-northeast of me (looked like a doughnut). Within minutes, a thin stove-pipe tornado dropped from an adjacent cell to its right. Distant dust swirled above the tree line, as two rural homes were destroyed (no injuries). Afterwards, and while driving back to Wichita, I went from elation to depression --seeing the mammatus south of there --and the obvious implication (now too far and too late).

On May 26th, I sat with a few other chasers just south of a wind shift boundary across southern Kansas and near the Tonkawa, OK I-35 exit, waiting for the dryline. When the tornado box was issued from southern Kansas to east-central Oklahoma, I was already closing with one cell cluster to the northwest --just across the border. It produced a nice wall cloud but no tubes. Thereafter, I hurried east and south, but was too late for the Oklahoma show.

The next morning (the Jarrell day), I was in Joplin, MO, checking the early morning Storm Prediction Center (SPC) outlook. The "T" word wasnít mentioned, just hail and humongous instability. With the low in northeast Oklahoma, I assumed Arkansas was most likely, but the moderate risk from the southern part of that state into Texas was through poor chase country. Also, fearing an early outbreak with a large MCC, I headed home. Subsequent chaser reports said that later SPC outlooks continued to omit tornadoes from the forecast. Apparently this one caught a few by surprise.

I was at Brownfield, TX on June 9 (nice wall cloud and beaver tail), east of Tribune, KS on the 11th (weak distant tornado), southeast of Dumas, TX on the 14th (too late for that tornado) and southwest of Abilene, TX on the 16th (under strong anticyclonic rotation), but the most dramatic day was June 12th south of Wheeler, TX. I watched the tower first go up from Harmon, OK, then drove to it as it went through a complete severe life cycle. It produced a beautifully back-lit, rock-hard wall cloud that rotated for almost an hour and nearly passed overhead. A brief ground spin-up tube formed underneath, while I was driving to a new filming site ahead of the rain --and missed taping it. This was also the first time I encountered true "chaser convergence", when perhaps 30 cars and vans showed up and crowded into every available roadside pull-off. I had to search to find enough space to stop safely and take pictures. (It was not a funnel funny!) One excited chaser called as I pulled up, "Better leave the engine running, you may have to leave fast!"

Otherwise, several delightful days were spent driving through the beautiful Conchas Valley of northeast New Mexico, with its widely varying ruggedly beautiful terrain. Finally, there was a stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana to tour that historic site for the first time. A winding, hilltop road now follows the battle scene from where Custer and a few dozen fell to the distant camp of Major Reno, who was surrounded and unable to bring help. And all those hills on both sides of the road, in eloquent silence, a scattering of small white markers --one or two here, five or ten there --recalling a running, desperate battle across those wind swept spaces, where the Seventh Calvary lay down for the last time in prairie grass.

SEVERE WEATHER OVER PARK CITY, UTAH by Rich Conn

Everyone is familiar with the usual criteria for severe weather in the Plains: southeast surface winds below southwest flow aloft. In general, the stronger the shear, the bigger and better the convection. On a gentler scale, northeast winds above a northwest surface gradient flow created a stationary thunderstorm with more than two inches of rain near Park City, Utah. This ski resort town is nearly at the rim of a north-south mountain range, the Wasatch Front. Directly northwest is the Great Salt Lake which sometimes gets as warm in mid-summer as a tropical ocean, about 82 degrees F.

On Sunday, June 15, 1997, the morning sounding at Salt Lake City (SLC) indicated a northwest flow in the lowest 300 mb under a moderate (30 kt) northeast flow from 500 mb to 250 mb. The air was saturated and cool at all levels after four days of "severe" weather as a persistent upper low remained over southern Nevada. Convergence between the lake-enhanced northwest flow towards Park City and weak outflow from earlier "dry" thunderstorms to the east over the mountains provided initial moderate convection over Park City. As relatively warm air moved towards the town from the northwest, the stationary thunderstorm was enhanced. Shearing upper winds removed the rain-out away from the storm and the rim of the Wasatch Range protected the updraft from the undercutting outflow. Thus, for over an hour, this "severe" storm contained Texas-style lightning, hail, and damaging winds."

KENTUCKYíS GOOD FRIDAY TOUCHDOWNS by Shelby Ennis, W8WN

I had just finished washing mud off my back pack and was trying to grab a quick bite of supper when a glance out the west window revealed two funnel clouds heading toward me. No, those werenít some type of optical illusions caused by the hilly landscape and scud clouds; they were the real thing. I had never been able to go west to chase twisters, now it appeared as if they were coming after me!

"I have a funnel over the Movie Palace, and I think it may have touched down. I think I see debris", came the report on the weather net. "I confirm", I shouted into the walkie-talkie as my wife Lora called to one of the dogs and started toward the outside basement door. One funnel was a smooth and tapered whereas the other one was a small ragged rope. The smaller funnel quickly dissipated while the other one lasted a couple of minutes. The larger funnel had touched down near Rineyville and followed a seven mile path to Colesburg doing F1 damage to several mobile homes, barns, and an apartment complex.

By now, three Louisville television stations, the local weather net, the scanner, and NOAA Weather Radio were all going wild, making it impossible to keep up with the reports that were coming in from several different areas. About 1904 EST, the strongest tornado of the day touched down outside Bonnieville. For the next 20 minutes, it chewed a path through the countryside of Hart and Larue Counties, completely leveling many structures before lifting a few miles past Magnolia. The weather net control station was on the phone with the Louisville NWS at that moment, so they received the information immediately. But this was too late for one family, as we learned later. The tornado had already become a killer.

Early the next morning, several of us left the Elizabethtown area for Magnolia. As we approached the town, the local electric company had closed the only direct road to begin their work. A small substation beside the road was wrapped in sheet metal ripped from barns and sheds, and several high-tension towers and wooden poles were toppled. My partner and I decided to take a back road and this led us right along the path of the tornado. We were able to stop and briefly examine several of the major damage sites.

The tornado damage path was narrow, at times less than 100 yards. A number of homes were blown down and swept away. Examination of several of the foundations indicated they were not substantially built. However, two homes were better built with the houses actually bolted to their foundations. One of these homes was leveled, and we gave it an F-4 rating on the Fujita scale. This tornado did an estimated $6 million in damage, including $1.5 million to a dairy farm in which 80 cows were killed. In all, the Good Friday outbreak spawned at least seven tornadoes, causing 28 injuries and two deaths. So far, for the 1997 year, there have been 17 tornadoes, well above average. Kentucky has averaged 8-10 tornadoes per year since 1952.