10/31/97 FL Chase by Amos Magliocco

From: Amos Magliocco (elmo1@ICANECT.NET);
Subject:      Florida Chase: 10/31/97

I left the Ft. Lauderdale area around 14z and headed straight up the center
of the state on State Highway 27, with the intention of staying along the
center of the warm sector and placing myself in Haines City (between Orlando
and Tampa) so that I would have enough road choices to intercept storms
moving ashore and inland.  I assumed we would see a large rain shield over
the center of the state with embedded storms and my hope was for isolated
severe cells along the southern periphery of that activity.  Wind fields
were strong and there was sufficient shear for some rotation, and, as I
stopped for gas in Sebring, there was a 15kt southerly flow at my back
pouring the moisture into the area.

At 11:36, as I drove between Sebring and Avon Park along Hwy 27, Tampa NWS
issued a tornado warning on a waterspout moving ahore southwest of Longboat
Key.  I assumed the spout would be gone soon, but the associated storms
coming ashore sounded interesting and, at Avon Park, I headed due west on
State Road 64 through Hardee County.  About two-thirds of the way through
Hardee county, funnel clouds were sighted south of Bradenton and another
tornado warning went up for Western Manatee county.  This, I believe,
(without the benefit of radar or sat) was the beginning of our supercell.

Just past state road 675, still on Highway 64, this storm moved into view to
my northwest.  Movement was northeast at 20-25 kts and the map showed no
north-turning roads for me for several miles.  I was bound to continue west
before I could go north, and the storm was bound to go northeast, so I
stopped to enjoy the fleeting encounter.

A wall cloud formed about two miles north of the roadway and began to
rotate.  The updraft base of the storm was gourging itself on the most
fantastic inflow I have ever witnessed, literally sucking in everthing
around it from all directions.  The convergence was spectacular and I knew
something had to happen soon.  The wall cloud went through several stages of
formation and degeneration before disappearing over a small hill.

My next opportunity to go north and get back to my storm was Highway 301
North, which took me to 674 and a chance to go east again.  Now I was behind
it.  I accelerated. At 1:56, a Tornado Warning was issued for southeastern
Hillsborough County.  Somewhere on 674, between roads 39 and 37, I exited
the map and took my chances with the local road network  and a compass in an
attempt to get better position.  Twisting through these unnamed roads, I saw
the most striking images of the chase.  Several large trees had been ripped
from the ground and set down like toothpicks.  Telephone poles leaned over
the road and several utility  lines were down.  From one side of the road to
the other, there was a distinct path of damage.  A few hundred yards down
the road from this, a family was standing in the front yard of their small
home, staring into the sky.

Today, I realize that these images would have made some profound
photographs, but I thought there was still the chance of seeing the thing
itself, so I drove on.  Back on 674, I sped toward Highway 37, a its
wonderful northeastern tack.  As if on queue, a Tornado Warning was issued
for Western Polk county at 2:09 EST for a Doppler indicated rotation, "just
to the south of Mulberry near Route 37."   I was about 6 miles behind now.
I raced north up 37 with the back of the storm to my northeast.   At
Bradley, fire trucks and amulances went past toward Mulberry, which was now
the new prize.  For in Mulberry was Highway 60, and a path east.

By now, the very competent Polk county SKYWARN group was conducting a net,
and were in condition "yellow," referring apparently to a status system they
use.  On the southern outskirts of Mulberry, another Tornado Warning was
issued for Polk county, indicating a tornado near Brewster (which I still
haven't found on a map).  "This tornado is moving...in the general direction
of Bartow."  While these warning weren't necessary to follow the storm, they
were a great motivation to continue my crazy navigation through the
backroads of Polk county!  Bartow is five or so miles from Mulberry, right
on Highway 60.

What must have been just a few hundred yards from 60 East, one of the storm
spotters informed the net controller that Highway 60 between Mulberry and
Bartow was closed!  Closed!!!  Cruel Fate.  My mind began to race: how could
I get through this road block?    Of course I would not, but I thought of
simply going off-road and around it, or perhaps flashing my Denton County,
Texas ARES card.  No, FHP would not be impressed.    My only hope was to
continue due north on Highway 37 another 11 miles to Lakeland and then go
east on a road that is not labeled on my map.  This path led ultimately to
my original destination of Haines City and, as I made the intersection and
turned right, Melbourne issued a warning for a torandic circulation 5 miles
southeast of Winter Haven.  My storm was alive and well, but I was too far
west now and never recovered my position.  Finally reaching Haines City well
behind the storm, I bought two Big Macs for two dollars and listned to
another warning go out for Osceloa county: a rotational signature 6 miles
south of St. Cloud, far to my NE.

Lessons learned from this chase: stick to your forecast.  If I had not
exited Highway 27 when I did, I would have been in Haines City in plenty of
time to position myself to intercept this storm, which was the original
strategy.  Still, the wall cloud, the damage path, and the tension of a true
pusuit made for a happy Halloween.

Amos Magliocco KC5VPD
1463 Presidio Drive
Weston, Florida 33327

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