Friday, June 26, 2009

Tornado Hits Jacksonville, Florida

Photo from Mandarin/Orange Park, FL. Photographers unknown. Copied from WJXT ( and June 26, 2009, copyrights unknown.

We moved to Jacksonville in 1997 and since that time, I've managed to miss every single tornado that has ever hit around Jacksonville. Even when I've come up with a good chasing plan, I never did get lucky, and sometimes I'd miss an especially gorgeous tornado by minutes. With the low cloud ceilings (often less than 1kft AGL).

Today, however, luck (I was at work tonight--an unplanned shift to assist a colleague and therefore was in perfect placement) and a terrific friend, colleague, and future storm chaser, Dr. Michael Maniaci conspired to my benefit.

Synoptic Background:

There was no evidence that there would be anything more than pop-up thunderstorms typical of summertime in FL. The sfc observations revealed a very mild low pressure system centered over Alabama with very little in the way of brisk sfc winds. In retrospect, however, the low pressure was sufficient to create marginally good westward sfc winds over the FL PH which likely led to a delay in the normal westward movement of the seabreeze which occurs typically early in the afternoon.

T/Td spreads were around 20 degrees (90/70) in JAX in the morning and were forecast to narrow (90/75) prior to peak daytime heating. The upper air situation was unusual in that 700mb temps were less than 10 degrees as opposed to the usual subtropical temperatures typical during the summertime. As is seen below, the hodograph favored largely stationary storms with high precipitation and no upper level support for large scale storm rotation.

Mesoscale Evolution:
As the afternoon developed, a mesolow appeared over JAX and slightly offshore. The seabreeze did start as usual, but was very delayed by the sfc westward winds resulting in an afternoon seabreeze still laying across the JAX area by 21z. The SB can be easily delineated on BR draped from NW to SE.

The SB led to an area of strong sfc convergence in St. John's Cty (south of JAX) and created a line of typical summer pop-up storms in that area. However, on the northern fringe of the storms, the SB had a kink in it which is also visible in the image above. A separate cell nestled into that area and rapidly developed into a non-embedded cell. Although I don't have enough sfc data to know for sure, I suspect that winds south of the cell were out of the east and north of the cell were out of the NE leading me to believe a mesolow had formed in that area in response to the pinned up SB.
The northerly cell almost immediately developed deviant leftward motion and began to "ride" the SB like a zipper.

As it rode the seabreeze, it immediately developed moderate midlevel rotation seen on the lower tilts.

The storm gradually continued its left turn and accelerated slightly, but continuing to ride the seabreeze. At about 2050z the first reports of a tornado were noted. At 2055z, my partner, Dr. Maniaci, contacted me stating he was staring at a large tornado on the ground (which, after my lackluster season this past year, was something I felt was poor form to tease me about). After a minute of me convincing him that he was hallucinating, he said, "Go LOOK!"

I shot up to the 5th floor of our hospital and immediately saw the tornado. It was a dramatic sight since I'd never ever thought I'd see one here. The T/Td spreads were perfect giving the storm base a relative higher height than is often seen here. There was a perfect cylindrical tornado easy to spot about 10 miles to my west and moving northward at about 5-10mph. I tried to capture images w/ my cell phone, but the distance focus on this thing sucks, so you'll have to trust me when I tell you what it looked like from here. Fortunately, lots of other folks were in much better positions to capture the tornado, and I share their photos here.

This first photo is from the FL Dept of Transportation showing the tornado with good backlighting. While I was sure the storm had been reported, I didn't get my usual phone notification of warnings in our area. I called NWS JAX and told them what I was seeing. This jived with several calls they were getting simultaneously and a TORNADO WARNING was issued for Duval County. I then called our operator at the hospital and asked them to initiate a TORNADO notification overhead (but truthfully, our hospital was never in anyway in jeopardy as the tornado would not move near us).

The next SRV1 tilt shows the tornado in the middle of the warning area, but without a mesocyclone indicator. At that time, visually the tornado had a very classic supercell appearance.

A midlevel feeder band (Beaver Tail) was coming in from the east into the parent storm and there were striations visible along the wall cloud and base. To the north, propagating storms began to form. On the radar, the seabreeze breaks south of the storm and begins to march due west. However, two separate boundaries (the northern portion of the SB) and some other area of convergence "scissored" together in N JAX leading to brief intensifcation of the storm (a mesoscale hiccup) and this can be seen on the following BR image). I should note that visually the boundary to the east of the storm was highly visible with low-level scud getting kicked up along it.

This led to the most visually dramatic portion of the storm which is captured best in the next two photos from Downtown JAX. The first was again anonymous from WJXT. The second photo was sent to me from one of my friends, Dr. Matt Geraci, from Baptist Hospital in Downtown JAX. Unfortunately, since the tornado was at this point over the St. John's River, it was called a waterspout by all popular media and I disagree since I believe this was in fact a true mesocyclone tornado with some non-MST features (weak circulation aloft but with highly visible structure consistent with a typical MST).

After about 20 mins, the tornado dissipated as the RFD wrapped around with a clear slot visible. To the northeast of the occlusion, a new wall cloud formed with intermittent cloud debris seen at the sfc.

In both photos (which were shot from the NE of the TOR looking SW), you can see the occlusion from the RFD behind the storm, the associated wall cloud, and kinking in the base of the tornado due to collision with the easterly boundary. This was not due to any precipitation east of the tornado: there was no precip east of it. So the kink was due to the sfc boundary in that area, I believe.
I did manage to get a single so-so photo of the boundary and the associated updraft and anvil. This was looking NNW from Mayo Hospital and the quality is better than the other photos I have but still pretty grainy/crappy. That said, features can be identified including the low-level convergence field draped from the right to left of the photo and midlevel clouds moving into the parent updraft near the top of the photo with a hint of blue sky just behind the anvil.

My chase partner, Dr. Bill Hark in Virginia, was one of my first contacts (following making sure my wife and children were doing okay with the storm which still passed well west of our home). He was nice enough to send me this animated WeatherTap (c) gif of the radar loop. Notable in the loop is just how quickly the northern cell accelerated after breaking from the other cells, and just how deviant its motion was from the mean.

This was such a great surprise and totally and completely makes me overjoyed. For a short time I was emotionally and spiritually back on the chase, and it reminded me why I so totally love this hobby. It also accentuates just how lucky you have to be sometimes and just how much more there is to learn.
My thanks to everyone who was kind enough to help me get this blog completed. My special thanks to Dr. Maniaci, though: I am delighted you thought first to call me. What a great surprise this was.

Comments/feedback are welcome, naturally. I will willingly remove any photograph that anyone feels is a copyright violation or violates public domain.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Storm Season That Wasn't...And Isn't

I've spent a wonderful week with the family since coming home early from the Plains. We went to the beach, have spent awesome time together, and actually enjoyed chasing a school of stingrays that had traveled close to the shoreline (something I'd never seen before). It's been wonderful. But, of course, now I'm back to work and missing the Plains a little bit, knowing I'm still about 11 months away before I'll be back out combing the place for severe weather.

It's true that this year is a statistical oddity. A sufficient outlier from the norm, even some of the most veteran chasers I know are struck in amazement at the silence of our usual stomping grounds. I think some perspective is in order. First of all, the following graph is based on the weather in the contiguous lower 48 states. So the bars represent total numbers of reports of severe weather. Here is May, 2009:

The irony, naturally, is that the nadir in weather began EXACTLY on the first day I was out chasing. In contrast, here's May, 2008:

Now, last year there also definitely was a small nadir right before the massive outbreak of storms that resulted in the biggest and most destructive tornadoes I've ever witnessed. But the frequency of severe weather seemed to follow an appropriately oscillating sine wave as would be expected in weather. And while that sine wave is also present on this year's weather reports, the height is absent.

At the moment it appears that this trend will continue with only scattered severe weather here and there. The SPC is reporting that during the latter half of May they issued the fewest number of Severe Weather Watches ever. Just thought this was kinda interesting.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Abbreviation of the Chase...Getting Back to What's Important

Today I've hit a sort of critical mass, one that requires I refocus my efforts on my family and take the time I have remaining in my vacation to be with them. I love chasing, but I love my family more. I just don't get enough time off to spend with them. For any number of reasons, they're feeling my absence more this year, and I am really needing to be with them too. Heading home one week early from the Plains allows me to acknowledge that this year's chasing prospects are nothing but recurring marginal days with hours of driving and a lot of expense with only a lonely heart away from my family--my wife and kids. I choose to be with them. Financially, emotionally, and intellectually, I know this to be right. There will always be "next year" for chasing. My real life beckons, and I will yield to its lovely siren song.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Unexpected Chase: Saturday, May 23, 2009

///UPDATED 5.23.09 @ 2130
Terrifically fun little chase day (<150 miles round trip). Early initiation along a boundary mentioned below led to briefly rotating LP storms that sadly congealed rapidly into multicell squall lines. I did take a few photos today, but as I work on them in the digital drylab, I continue to be a bit disappointed with the quality. There's not a lot of cool dynamic interaction between the sky and the land, and the colors are bleachy. Still, I made it home before dinner and under a tank of gas. Believe me that I'm not sated. But some of the pain of the year washed off just by getting to feel like a chaser again for a little while over chase terrain on which I'd cut my chasing teeth in the 1990s.

Totally unexpected day...I'm on home chase territory and agree we're in landspout mode. Starting in DEN and heading along I-70 to the DCVZ. Confluent wind fields N/S along the Palmer Divide have set up nicely. T/Td spreads are very small for this area, and in fact there is more humidity than I could have hoped for (Tds are 50+). All of this is about initiation and catching the early landspout. I can't be too picky. But I'm liking the current mesoanalysis. Off to I-70.

Again, you can follow my progress by looking at the car-shaped icon in the map below.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chase Forecast for Monday, May 25, 2009

///UPDATE 5.24.09 @ 0845
I keep looking at the latest NAM, and it seems as if the dryline will be pretty fairly crisp (50+ ahead, <30 behind) over a very narrow corridor along the NM/TX borders on Monday. A hint of a buldge evolving over the subsequent days may act as focus over LBB-Midland, but likely won't be a player for tomorrow.

Upper level winds look more favorable than before. But the damnable upper level GOM low is screwing up the meatier juice we needed from the GOM and so Gulf moisture will take a pretty far detour east and then north before turning toward the Plains. That's going to hurt our storms a bit, that overall lack of midlevel moisture.

Rotational shear shouldn't be a problem, but speeds AGL for all levels have about the same magnitude without any really good speed acceleration with height.

So far, this spells HP bombs of very short duration, mostly multicellular, and with possibly pretty structure early on from a distance.

Why does this year feel so damned hard to forecast?

///UPDATE 5.22.09 @ 1330
Geez...Looking at the GFS and NAM, it's as if someone sprayed jetstream repellant over the whole of the US Plains. Just north and south of the US borders there are jets. That they are mirror opposites in their wave phase only adds to the feeling that the jetstreams are trying hard to avoid touching the US.

So, Monday...The GFS and the NAM are both showing the same gist.

At the surface a sharply delineated dryline will set up over the Cap Rock area, with Tds in advance of the line >55 deg. The dryline will develop a bit of a bulge around the AMA area. Sfc temps could near 100 deg. A low is forecast to form over NM and push out into the TX PH. Upper level divergent flow regime will be aided by an upper low pressure system over Baja. But that "aid" is merely to add a touch of buoyancy to an awful flow with 200mb winds barely exceeding 30kts out of the WSW and some "impulse-ish" 35kt WNW flow at 500mb. There will be rotational shear with height, but it's not a nice looking hodograph over the LBB to AMA area (sfc ESE at 10+, 850mb SSE, 700mb WNW, 500mb WNW, 200mb WSW). There won't be a lot of CAPE (AOA 1000 J/Kg). Tc should be surmountable from daytime heating, a lack of cloud cover, and the dryline. UVV forecast to be good, but mixing ratios are absolutely dismal.

It's hard for me to look at this forecast and feel enthusiasm. Current models suggest this is almost too borderline even to hope for Caprock magic. I sit flabbergasted at the year that isn't. When I saw that the 4-8 day outlook was a mere 3 sentences this morning, I bowed my head in mourning.

I've already began to explore the costs of changing my reservation to fly back to FL and turn in my car rental a week early. It's a good cost-saving maneuver given the situation...I laugh a bit: thus far this year, I've shot a total of 2 pictures and 30secs of pea-sized hail video. That's it.

///ORIGINAL POST 05.21.09 @ 1300
I have absolutely no correlary to this year in my nearly 2 decades chasing. None at all. I cannot remember anytime I've ever seen such an incredibly dead end-of-May. While I've joked with my chase partners, Bill Hark and Robert Balogh, that I can still live and breathe the storms from last year in my memory, and that that somehow that would carry me over through a potentially dead pattern, I am nevertheless shocked at how unfavorable everything has become.

I thought '05 and '06 were awful, but '09 is easily the worst in memory. I'm still scheduled to fly out of DEN on 5/31. But for the first time ever, I'm considering the costs of flying home early. Hell--Bill Hark isn't even out chasing with me this year (also a first).

Everything is so out of phase, that ingredients for svr are separated by over 1000 miles. It's as if someone sprinkled the northern hemisphere with the components, and they fell randomly where they may. Rare disturbances appear over the PAC right now, but none of them look like huge impulses that will bolster systems beyond brief buoyancy enhancements. While the airmass over the Plains has a shot at gathering some flow from MX and moistening some, only brief bubbles of Tds >50 are forecast here and there in OK or ArkLaTex areas.

The GFS 12z run this am is showing a tightening dryline in the TX PH around Tues 00z, coinciding with a low pressure system in that same area. But the moisture there will be quite shallow and the 500mb winds will struggle to achieve speeds >20kts. Perhaps the only upper level joy that will exist is that the winds in the upper levels will be divergent over this area owing to ejection from an upper level low over Baja. Convective temps are going to need to be hot with 700mb temps in excess of 10deg in this region, but this shouldn't be too much of an issue given temps in excess of 90 deg forecast in Midland. A dot of convective precip breaks out over the NE NM/TX & OK PH region after 00z.

So, I'll keep monitoring that area and won't bag the entire season just yet. But even I am pessimistic and deflated. It's tough looking down the barrell of 12 more months before I can be back out here chasing again. So for now I'll take a couple of days just to chill out and get some non-chasing work done.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chase Forecast for Wednesday, May 20, 2009

///UPDATE 5.20.09 @ 2030
Wow...and that's that. Pea size hail and some rain. That was all. No good structure except a small rear-flank hail core. Cells just never got their stuff together. Thus far, the tally for me this year is: zero TOR watches, zero SVR watches, zero TOR warnings, and zero SVR warnings. No severe weather at all. Next prospects for anything don't appear likely until the weekend, and even more realistically next week. I'm just flabbergasted.

///UPDATE 5.20.09 @ 1417
SPC issues an MCD for this area and storms pushing out of WY are now taking on a better radar appearance. Any move to the north is now on hold.

///UPDATE 5.20.09 @ 1400
Early afternoon ambivalence...

The LCLs appear much better (about 500ft lower) in SD in the area and CIN appears to be wearing off in that area. Satellite suggests that the convergent field in that area is isolated, but looks pretty clumped like a cluster, and that worries me a bit.

I'm not thrilled with the stuff pushing off of the SE WY area either. The LCLs are very high there and they have a pretty linear appearance to them. The best Td in the region looks to be Chadron which is reporting 73/50. N and S of there Tds are very low (in the 30s).

So I'm going to go to Hemingford, NE, at the moment. This seems to offer the lowest tradeoffs, but still with some hopes.

And I was way wrong earlier about the winds not backing. They definitely are rotating to the SSE just S of I-80. Also, a mesolow has evolved on mesoanalysis right at the junction between SD/WY/NE PH. That settles the need to push north from Bridgeport, NE, where I'm writing this.

///UPDATE 5.20.09 @ 1130
Geeez...I'm in Ogallala now, planning on zipping up US26 toward Bridgeport, NE. In fact, I laughed when I saw that the new Spotternet location (which is pretty slick) locates me at the moment "1 mile south of L and L trailer park". I was unaware that that was a new geographic destination.

The winds here are almost out of the west, and the current mesoanalysis shows that Tds have just plummeted across the NE PH. 3hr Td change is highest over the Badlands NP. All indications thus far show that most convergence will be on the back end of the cold front where WNW winds will abut the westerly winds here.

I am increasingly inclined toward Alliance, but will reassess in Bridgeport. Still posting in FCST thread because we're still hours away from any nowcasting. A bit disheartening seeing the day playing out even drier than I'd expected.

///UPDATE 5.20.09 @ 0800
Chase day...

Today feels a lot like watching a waiter who's stacked the cups too high, and they're just slightly askew, beginning to tilt over. Will he make it or won't he? And that is how the vertical look at the atmosphere this am appears: out of synch, delicate, almost too fragile for something good to happen.

My surface analysis reflects this. The best CAPE is well south of the best upper level support. Worse, the air is forecast to dry out at all levels substantially as the T/Td depressions intensify.

I can only hope at this point that the upper level impulse will somehow combine with the other meager ingredients to give up some okay cells over beautiful chase terrain. I'm going to remain in N Platte for now, though expect I'll be heading north toward Valentine, NE, as the day progresses.

///UPDATE 5.19.09 @ 2000
12z NAM continues to focus a dry punch along the Sand Hills (along the NE/SD borders) Thurs 00z. I'm inclined to believe the progs given the amazing southerly winds blowing across I-80 today transporting the thin moisture up to this area. Upper level support, naturally, is much further north, but a shortwave should rotate through by tomorrow afternoon/evening. I'm hoping the winds to respond a little more than they're progged at the surface. If we can get any backing with the upslope, tomorrow actually could be a diamond in the rough. I'm counting on it; even a single photogenic storm would be rapturous.

So I've pulled into North Platte and look forward to pulling out pen & paper in the morning. Tomorrow, the chase is on.
So, I've decided to stay in leisurely mode, and won't be attempting MT or SD today (5/19) as I'm in Lincoln, NE, and that's way too much of a stretch. So my focus will be on tomorrow. Initially I was going to continue my drive straight to Denver, but today will be a leisurely roll toward the NE/CO border for tomorrow's potential convection.

Current target is North Platte, NE.

At the surface, the cold front will meander SE-ward and will be in a NE/SW orientation from CO up to E SD. A dry punch appears pretty well demarcated in W KS with Td's in advance of the intrusion a mere 45-50 (though that's more than enough in the CO/WY/NE area). Sfc winds will be a touch problematic as they'll be out of the SSW, and risk running more or less parallel to the front. But, if the forecast low in NE CO can tighten up a bit, we may see some backing winds in response. T/Td spreads are on the order of 30-40 deg if the highs verify, meaning very high based storms. These still can be photographic treats, and may offer good, highly visible lightning shots. And in this regime, that's a lot.

CAPE will be in ample supply...if we were in FL. But in the Plains it will be CIN vs. CAPE in a duel of the air parcels. Assuming we hit the Tc, we should see CIN erode sufficiently and hopefully capped enough to allow only a few cells to poke up (instead of MC clusters). The 700mb temps are summer-warm (at or above 10 deg).

As a disturbance pushes across the region, there is hope of a teeny jet streak at 250mb (W around 50 kt) with a stretch-of-the-imagination entry region at 500mb (W winds only around 20-30 kt there). 800mb winds are out of the SE.

So, using my IF-casting model. If the cap can be overcome by the front and daytime heating, if the parcels can keep it together enough to become organized, if the sfc winds back more, etc., than iffy conditions will spell some beautiful single cell high-based storms. If we're luckier, they'll situate the selves over some good looking shrubbery (sufficient to make the Knights Who Say Ni proud), and we'll get photographic storms.

In this pattern, it's really all I could hope for. It's enough for me to be heading to N Platte today.

Again, you can follow my progress by looking at the car-shaped icon in the map below.

Monday, May 18, 2009

On A Lighter Note...

Well, it's supposed to be storm chasing season, but for now it's only driving with sunglasses on :). Still, I'll try to post my forecasts and various rants as I drive along. You can follow me via the following Flash widget (pretty cool). I'll eventually set-up the webcam when there's something to see. There appears to be an issue right now with the data flowing properly onto the map below, but when it's working, I'll appear as a little car icon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Requiem for Vivid People and Beautiful Minds

So I weep here, unabashadly unmanly, a blithering fool, with teardrops coursing over my fingertips, obscuring my vision, for people whose lives touched mine through fleeting connections or brief emails, or deeply thoughtful and witty banter, and who, through murder have left this world. It hurts even to breathe right now.

I am a private person and keep many of my emotions deeply from view. It is rare that I share my grief or vulnerability so publically, but this is grief that needs to be shared in a communal way. One that allows me to share stories that don't belong to me, but resonate within me, in a way that perpetuates the lives of those lost.

It seems horrifically unfair that time offers up such awful resonance that memories of the past--Columbine and Oklahoma City--are now stuck on memories of the present, amplifying the resonance of pain and loss.

On Friday last week, an amazing person who I am getting to know only in memoriam was struck down by her husband. Worse, her husband took their three childrens' lives, ages 2, 4, and 5, and then took his own life. I don't know where to start here...Francie Billotti-Wood was 33 at the time of her death. She knew my wife; my wife and she had enjoyed a time together about a year ago talking about childbirth and childbirth education as my wife purchased Francie's educator materials since Francie was preparing to move away from education to focus more on her family. Francie was well known to the First Coast parenting circles: LaLeche League, Attachment Parenting, etc. To that extent Irma and she were communal partners in looking to better our childrens' lives.

Francie moved to Maryland last summer but maintained an active presence in these same circles courtesy of Facebook. She was an amazingly beautiful person with an amazing wit and charm that touched me with a smirk and smile. Last week, as my wife has said several times, Francie posted a picture of a grilled cheese she'd made for lunch. The reason she posted it? It was the most perfect grilled cheese sandwich she's ever seen. Let's zero in on that one more time: she posted the picture of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Nothing about that story can possibly leave you without a smirk or giggle. But Francie was sincere, and that made her a child-like imp with amazingly endearing banter.

We'll never know if the sandwich lived up to its expectations. We only know that for that one glorious moment in time, that moment there, an entire personality was captured in a snapshot. For that one moment in time, Francie could be everyone's friend, everyone's crush, everyone's envy. Somehow she achieved in that pinnacle of bread and cheese a perfectly embodied moment of life, of living, and of joy.

Francie noted in her last blog, wittily called "", that "... I am thinking that I am pretty lucky to be awake and to be thinking about such trivial things. How truly blessed am I to be thinking about being able to give back to my community, to get to stay home with my children, share time with my childrens' grandparents, and to have such wonderful friends that I care so much about...and to have my health and to be able to exercise. I am thinking how grateful I am!"

How can such vibrance leave this world? How can you measure the positivity of such a remarkable person? Usually you look to those who fill their world with joy and love and reflect their beauty back at them. You look to their children...

It is harder for me to type this now, because I cannot think of more hallowed ground than the innocence of childhood. Her children cannot serve as her legacy because they were slain too. Lost are her two sons, Chandler and Gavin, and her daughter, Fiona. What possible reason could there be to justify their losses? I am struck with utter throes of sorrow and fits of weeping when I look at their photos, their smiles...and I know that their mother adored them in ways that few parents truly adore their children.

Francie didn't expect to love them so deeply, she just did. She described the experience as one of crashing into parenthood. Life is indeed what happens while you're making other plans.

This grief is so profound for me, a stranger twice removed from the tragedy. I cannot quite get past a sense of guilt that I am feeling so deeply about someone who was not part of my life but who resonates so deeply inside me as being someone I shamefully hoped I could be in many ways.

And so...this sorrow I share with many and in particular her family and friends. For someone who glanced past my life, brushed briefly against me fleetingly for a moment, that such profound feelings can manifest, then I can not imagine the horribly intense loss those who loved her are feeling.

I hope so deeply that life in all its frailty will reward such wonderful souls with rebirth as new life, new hope, or new awareness. She and her children will forever exist if only as frozen moments in time, still life on an ever moving canvas that, inexorably, continues even in their palpable absence.