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Chase Log: 5/16/17 – McLean, TX Tornado

After the previous day’s chase, I stayed overnight in Pampa, TX, and didn’t really feel a need to move from there when the day started. The dryline was situated just to the east of Amarillo, so I liked my position. I wandered around Pampa, and a little northeast, shooting B-roll and just waiting. Finally storms began to fire to my southwest.

There were a few different cells, so I waited a little while to see which one would dominate. It became clear the northernmost cell was getting cut off, so I went for the one south of it. This storm went tornado warned as I dropped south to Alanreed. It was becoming wrapped up in rain from the storm to its south, however. Long story short, I went a little ways west on I-40 from Alanreed and observed the wall cloud, but never saw a lowering. Once that was completely obscured by rain, I headed back east on I-40 to get out in front of the next storm to the south, which was looking better.

The south winds were crazy on that entire drive, trying to blow me off the road! I knew there’d be big hail on this day, so I wanted to get far enough in front of it before dropping south so that I’d stay out of the hail. I exited onto 273 from McLean. Looking at the map, 273 did not have any good east options if I were to go too far south of McLean. This would mean I’d have to let the storm pass, then come in behind it in order to follow it (storm motion was ENE). So, I took a dirt road east to get to 3143, which would give me an option to go east, and then north again, staying out ahead of the storm.

When I stopped on the side of the road on 3143, there was a funnel cloud forming well away from the core of the storm. Sweet! I was quite a distance from it, but had a good view. It didn’t take long for the funnel to drop halfway to the ground, and then all the way to the ground. Tornado! A beautiful tornado!

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It grew from there into an elephant trunk, and then began getting wrapped up in the rain.

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After a few minutes it had completely disappeared behind the rain. I got back up to I-40 and had a decision to make: continue to follow this storm, which was now HP, or get in position for the next storm to the south. It looked to me like this storm was beginning to gust out (it would go on to produce another rain-wrapped tornado, though), so I went east on I-40, and then dropped south across the border in Oklahoma on 30 out of the town of Erick.

Here I had a great view of this beast of a supercell!

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I was struggling just to stay standing upright, as inflow winds were quite powerful! I ended up holding this position as the storm overtook me (once again, limited east options here). It was tornado-warned at this time, and radar indicated rotation. I was just about to drop south to escape the RFD when I noticed inflow bands picking up. I decided to hold my position.

RFD was beginning to overtake me, but no hail luckily. It was difficult to find the rotation, but I noticed it in the rain curtains. Strong left-to-right motion in front of rain feeding in from right-to-left. I kept my eyes locked on this area, and after 30 seconds or so, there was a brief spin-up of dirt/debris right where these circulating rain curtains were. Tornado from the bear’s cage! I was probably a mile away from it.

After that the heavy rain and RFD really hit, and I became blinded. Not knowing if a full-blown tornado had formed at that point, I slowly scooted north. I’d have to get behind the storm and catch back up on I-40.

Just south of Erick, at the location where 3.5″ hail had been reported, I stopped to pick up a couple big stones! I’m sure I could have found bigger had I looked, but I just grabbed a couple real quick. Also bear in mind, that these had been sitting on the ground for several minutes, getting rained on, and surely had melted a decent amount.

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Nothing like getting to see big hail without being hit by it!

I came in behind the storm on I-40, again taking care to avoid the big hail. I’d proceed a little ways, the hail would start getting bigger, then I’d stop. And repeat.

Finally took 152 east from Sayre. The core was north of here by this time, but the rotation was not. It was almost right in front of me. I proceeded slowly, paying close attention to the wind direction. It remained out of the north the whole time. It was strong, but it was just RFD. I knew there was a tornado at this time just by looking at the couplet on radar, but I could not see it.

I passed a farm on 152 that had debris strewn across the road; yep, tornado had just passed right here. It was now safe to proceed east. I thought I could possibly get east of it and catch a view, but no such luck.

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Here you can see just how close I was, and yet I couldn’t see a tornado. That’s not an old radar image either. Note the time; radar image is 7:03 pm, current time is 7:04 pm. I was 2 miles or less from the tornado.

This tornado ended up hitting the south side of Elk City, unfortunately doing quite a bit of damage. As you can see from the radar image above, it had to take an almost due north direction to hit Elk City. I noticed it took a left turn on radar. This is not unusual as the circulation occludes. That’s why being north of the tornado, even if it’s moving to the east, can be a dangerous spot.

I followed this storm a bit further, to just north of Clinton, OK, where it had become tornado-warned again. I saw some rotation there, but it was started to get stretched out, and I ended up letting it go. That was the end of the chase, as daylight was just about gone as well.

Below are two videos from the McLean tornado, and the Erick tornado (that is just out of frame, unfortunately). I had to put them on two separate videos because I shot at different frame rates. I’m working on a project that I’m shooting 24p for, but for handheld video I switch to 1080/60p in order to use the electronic image stabilization. Hectic, handheld shots will not be in this project anyway. 🙂

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2017 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: 4/15/17 Protection, KS

Even with the mesoscale accident that produced 7 tornadoes in Dimmitt, TX the day before, I was not overly confident in the setup on this day, especially in terms of tornado potential. Upper level winds were marginal, at 30-35 kts at 500mb. I really like to see at least 40, and preferably 45 kts for better tornado potential. Dewpoints were also meager at barely 60 degrees. However, CAPE was adequate, and the HRRR consistently depicted storms firing west of Woodward, OK a few hours before sunset. I had just hoped this chase would provide some good time lapse footage and structure shots.

I left Carrollton at 10 am and headed to Woodward to meet up with Jacob Terrell. We had interacted on Facebook for several years, but had to actually meet in person, so it was good to finally meet and chase some storms together!

The first couple towers that fired were just not able to get going. What appeared to be the dominant cell made three attempts, and then died. We had made it out west to Shattuck, OK where we watched that cell die, and to the south of that there was absolutely nothing. There were some agitated Cu to the north, so we re-positioned north. As we were moving these storms started to look a bit more beefy than that previous storm that had died, but they still were struggling to really become supercells.

I lost Jacob at that point as I got to Buffalo, OK on the back end of another dying storm. At this time, however, there was a good looking tower going up to the north, which had a much better looking base on it. This storm’s base was large and flat, as opposed to the others that were very small. At this point it was nothing on radar, but it looked more promising, so I continued north of Buffalo to watch it.

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I sat here on this dirt road, where the aroma of cow manure filled the air, shooting a time lapse of the storm as it got going. If nothing else, it was visually nice, with an updraft that looked like blooming cauliflower swirling skyward.

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Photo opportunities would prove to be plentiful on this day, and prior to leaving this spot I turned to my west and was treated to this spectacular view.

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I moved north and found another spot to time lapse a little closer, as I didn’t want this storm moving too far away during the sequence. It had a really nice, flat base on it at this time, but it was quite elevated, so I was not expecting any tornadoes to develop from it.

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As the sun set, the show really started near Protection, KS. The other junk clouds began dissipating, making way for the lone supercell to stand out on its own with the last remaining sunlight giving it a brilliant glow. Even the cows came over to watch it. Or maybe they were watching me. Maybe they thought I had food. I’m not sure.

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I was too close to get all the way to the top of the anvil, even shooting vertically on a panorama, but I was at least able to shoot the storm from end-to-end using this method.

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And that right there, ladies & gentlemen, made the 6 hour drive worth it! I had gotten exactly what I was looking for on this day! Then as icing on the cake, I was able to capture what I believe was the ONLY CG strike out of the rear-end of this storm!

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Even though the storm was losing intensity at this time, it was still stunning to watch!

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Overall very pleased with the photos I came away with from this storm! I wondered for a while if we would even get anything worth photographing as those storms just kept struggling, but finally this beauty emerged! I definitely consider this a successful chase, even with a lack of tornadoes!

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2017 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: May 26, 2016 – Ashland/Coldwater, KS

This day had been on my radar (no pun intended) for a while as THE day of this week. It was the day that featured the strongest winds at 500mb. During the early part of the week, it was looking like a classic dryline tornado outbreak in western Oklahoma. Things really began changing as the day got closer, however. By the afternoon of the 25th, it was looking like NW Kansas into Colorado was going to be the best spot, to the north of the surface low.

The morning of, everyone was hyping this day up, including the SPC, who issued a moderate risk over central Kansas along the warm front. I got up early, thinking I’d be making a 9-10 hour drive to NW Kansas. However, I spent literally hours in the morning debating between that spot, central Kansas, SW Kansas/NW Oklahoma, SW Oklahoma, AND west Texas! I could make a case for every target! That being said, my hopes were not nearly as high as everyone else. The HRRR was breaking out a boatload of JUNK early in the day over western Oklahoma into central Kansas. It was also dropping dewpoints significantly all throughout western Kansas, as a result of downward transport of dry air from ongoing overnight convection (per SPC).

I figured those storms along the warm front would be really messy, as warm front storms typically are anyway. Nonetheless, I thought this was probably going to be the best spot to see a tornado, so I left Carrollton around 9am with a target of Salina, KS. I was already way behind.

As I approached OKC and that junk I spoke of previously was going up and beginning to intensify, I realized I wasn’t going to catch it. I actually liked the prospect of more isolated storms in NW Oklahoma/SW Kansas along the dryline, so I began heading that way. A couple storms broke out as I was on my way, and I approached my first storm of the day, which was severe warned, near Arnett, OK.

Long story short, it was very high-based, had some decent hail in it, but that’s about it. I followed a little ways, then let it go. Back to the west in the Texas panhandle, it appeared further initiation off the dryline was starting. I went southwest to Shattuck, OK and stopped there, as these storms seemed to be struggling to develop. Finally, the cell to the north began intensifying, and I raced north to catch it. I got to it near Englewood, KS.

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Another high-based storm. I wasn’t very hopeful for tornado chances when I saw that. I followed it north and then east, and went through some pretty good hail, maybe up to ping pong ball size (1.5″) at most. I finally noticed the distinct sound of the hail hitting my sunroof hail guard during this barrage, and I was glad I had that!

Out in front of the storm, it did have some great structure!

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I stayed in front of it for a while, then it finally died near Greensburg as I felt the ice cold outflow coming from the storm. Time to call it a night. Well, maybe.

As I got south of the storm, I noticed a beautiful scene and had to stop! I could see mammatus forming at the top of this storm, with the updraft of another to the south, as the sun was beginning to set over a wheat field. What a beautiful scene!

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I just love those wheat fields. Especially the way they wave in the breeze. This to me is the very essence of the Great Plains! It is far from boring, especially with those violent storms!

Unfortunately I wasn’t going to get a great mammatus shot, as low clouds expanded and took over this scene. It was still amazing to see the orange glow on the wheat fields as the sun set!

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After going through Coldwater, I headed back west and noticed quite a lightning show going on! I got a KILLER shot of an anvil crawler, but came to find out later it was not in focus! Ugh! I had been zoomed in on an updraft earlier and forgot to re-focus (it was on manual focus) after going back to wide angle. That’s not the first time I’ve completely forgotten I was on manual focus and it needed to be changed!

I was at least able to get several great shots of lightning darting through the sky around a new updraft!

No tornadoes for me on this chase, though I apparently missed one RIGHT where I had been earlier in the day; Arnett, OK. So again, I nailed the forecast, but just wasn’t there!

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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Chase Log: May 16, 2016 – Felt, OK & Perico, TX Tornadoes

Sometimes a bit of luck turns a chase with low expectations into a great chase. This was one of those days! Several days prior, this looked like it could be a big day, but there was a huge lack of consistency in models from run to run, and by the time it was the day of, it looked as though tornado chances would be fairly limited.

I set out with a target of Stratford, TX. This wasn’t a very difficult decision, as I was basically targeting the triple point. By evening, the surface low was going to be in NE New Mexico, with a warm front extending east through the Oklahoma panhandle, and a dryline going south/southeast through the Texas panhandle. Earlier in the day, these features had a bit of a different placement, but I didn’t expect storms to be doing much early on. I expected initiation further west in New Mexico, or possibly SE Colorado, but I figured it would be at full strength at or near Stratford.

Storms did fire early, and seemed almost stationary in the NE corner of New Mexico. Additional storms traveled NE into Colorado, but I was not worried about those, as they were going to cross the boundary into less favorable air. I was still SE of Amarillo at storm initiation, but was able to get to the dominant storm before it had really done anything.

I headed east out of Boise City, OK on 325 until it curved north, and stopped there to watch the storm. It was a little unorganized at that point, but looked promising. I did not have any radar data at that time, so I could not tell what it looked like in that respect. It seemed to be moving more south than east, so I dropped south toward Felt.

Here the storm started looking better. There were a lot of low clouds, but looking through them I could see a big striated updraft tower. This storm was starting to get its act together!

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The structure was pretty textbook at this point, and we had a wall cloud forming, and inflow picking up. I kept watching the wall cloud to the right of the rain shaft, but then I noticed a funnel right in the center of the rain. It appeared to touch down, then it became obscured with rain again. I re-positioned further south where the rain started to let up, and the funnel became more visible.

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I was unsure at the time whether it was touching down or not, but video from Reed Timmer almost directly underneath it does show some ground circulation at that time. As you can see in the photo above, there was also a very nice wall cloud to the east of the tornado, and I was hoping this would eventually produce, and stay clear of the rain.

Dropping further south to stay with the storm, the wall cloud picked up some rapid rotation as inflow really started streaming into the storm.

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The first tornado was actually still ongoing in the above picture, and you can vaguely see it on the left edge of the wall cloud, back there behind the rain. As rotation on this new wall cloud picked up, it seemed as though the RFD advanced east and began wrapping around this wall cloud. I was afraid rain may again obscure the tornado if this storm did drop another.

From the town of Felt, I traveled east a ways to get out in front of the rain. When I parked and looked behind me, I saw a big cone tornado! I didn’t get any still photos of it, but I do have some good video (see below).

Staying out in front of the storm, it looked a little more unorganized, but still very strong. There was still a lot of inflow feeding into the storm, so I wasn’t worried about it gusting out anytime soon.

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I continued south on 385 as this storm exhibited strong rotation on radar, but I could not see any well-defined lowering. I went right through the RFD, which was pretty strong, looking for a good east option. Unfortunately this is right in the middle of the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands, and none of the roads I passed were paved. I’d have to go all the way to Dalhart, then northeast on 54 to get back in front of this storm.

I hadn’t been paying any attention to other storms, but just so happened to look to the west and noticed a funnel cloud off in the distance. I couldn’t tell if it was on the ground or not (confirmed later from other chasers that it was).

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After that I attempted to get back in front of the first storm, now approaching Stratford, but I was unable to beat it to town. Looking at pictures from other chasers, that thing turned into quite a beast with some beautiful structure, so it sucks that I missed that, but unfortunately you can’t be on all of the storms at once!

At this point I felt as though tornado chances were diminishing, plus I was hungry, so I continued south to Amarillo for a steak! This has long been a tradition of chasers to get a steak after seeing a tornado, but I had actually never done it! I did have to make one last stop for a photo, however, after getting well out in front of the storms and seeing the beautiful structure as the sun was on its way down for the day.

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Three tornadoes is my 2nd best chase day ever in terms of numbers, and gives me 6 now for 2016, which is the best of any year yet. However, none of those 6 have been the truly photogenic tornado I seek! It looks like there might be a few days with more opportunities next week, so we’ll see what happens! Chase season is still far from over!

Here is my video from the chase:

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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Forecast: 5/8/16 SW Oklahoma

I’m starting to gain confidence in Sunday’s setup. This might actually be the best setup of the year so far, knock on wood. Something about SW Oklahoma…

The 00z NAM hasn’t changed much from the last few runs. This trough will finally eject and bring 60+ kts at 500 mb out of the southwest:

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Moisture return is questionable, as dewpoints down in the Gulf of Mexico are currently only in the mid-to-upper 50’s, and we’re less than 48 hours from the event. The NAM is currently progging mid-to-upper 60’s in the warm sector, however, and a very sharp dryline:

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I don’t know the term for this, but I suspect the NAM is banking on moisture pooling, I guess as a result of ground moisture. Unless the low-level jet really ramps up all day tomorrow and overnight tomorrow night, I don’t see how we’re going to gain 10 degrees in this short of a time span. Nonetheless, this has been consistent on several runs, so we’ll see.

The result is a relatively narrow band of 3000 J/kg CAPE on the warm side of the dryline.

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There is a little bit of veer-back-veer still showing up in the soundings, but it appears the backing doesn’t occur until above the 3m level. This is very similar to Elmer last year, which had S-curves, but they were in the upper levels.

We have a couple of advantages over 4/26/16 in a similar setup. The cap should hold until around 21z, the VBV is not as pronounced in low-levels, as mentioned above, and storm motions come off the dryline instead of nearly paralleling it. The result should be more isolated storms, and a better chance of tornadoes.

This sounding from SW Oklahoma also notes surface to 1km SRH at 227. On 4/26 those values were barely over 100. Surface to 6km shear is also higher, at 65 kts, thanks to a stronger 500 mb jet.

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I’ll definitely be chasing, as it’s only 3-4 hours from home. We’ll see how the models progress through tomorrow, and I’ll make my final target decision on Sunday morning. I’m planning on getting to the target area early on this one!

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2016 in Forecasts

 

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Chase Log: April 26, 2016 – Snyder, OK

I had high hopes for this chase several days in advance, but as each new model run came out, those hopes diminished a little bit more. CAPE was forecast to be incredibly high, especially for this time of year, but other ingredients left something to be desired. Hyped up as a potential outbreak, this day didn’t live up to the hype.

I wasn’t that confident the morning of, or even the night before, that there would be a good chance for tornadoes. There were a couple of key issues. Meridional flow at 500mb, plus S-curved hodographs meant there would be messy storms that would interact with each other, and quickly form an MCS. It was even worse than I expected, however. I thought we’d at least get an hour, maybe 2 hours with isolated cells, but things went linear almost immediately. There just wasn’t enough directional shear to keep cells isolated, plus the storm motion almost parallel to the dryline didn’t help that, either.

In the morning, high-res models were showing some enhanced sig tor values in southwest Oklahoma, so I decided on the target area I had been flirting with since the night before: Lawton, OK.

I set out immediately after work and went straight to Lawton, then on to Cache, where I sat at a gas station for a few minutes looking at a developing storm near Vernon, TX. I decided it was good enough to go after, so I head toward Frederick.

I watched the storm develop from west of Frederick, and saw a funnel-shaped scud cloud that was reported as a funnel cloud. The storm was subsequently tornado-warned. This is somewhat frustrating to me, because this was clearly not a funnel cloud to anyone who has seen one before. It was not rotating at all. Not even moving, really. People are already pretty numb to tornado warnings, so we really need to avoid false warnings.

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There were a few moments where I saw some rotation on this storm, but they didn’t last much longer than about a minute. When the storm was approaching Snyder, it was looking its best.

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My only good road option to get east of it took me right through the back edge of the storm, and into some hail. I got hit by a few golf balls that I believe added a couple new dents to the car. I had my hail guard on over my sunroof, but I’m not sure if any stones even touched it. It did stay put like a champ, however, even up to 80 mph, so the four 82 pound magnets are sufficient enough.

I broke away from this storm at this point, choosing the better road options to get in front of it, and beat it to Apache, OK, which I did. Nothing really changed with the storm, and just north of Apache after snapping the photo below, I decided to call the chase.

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There was quite the squall line that had formed to the south in Texas. By the time I hit Wichita Falls and began tracking southeast on 287, I was on the back end of the line. I was treated to a wonderful lightning show on the way home. One round of strikes started in front of the vehicle, then worked their way around the right side and all the way behind the vehicle. It was quite an amazing sight to behold!

As soon as I got back to my apartment I rushed to set up my camera on my balcony, where I was able to capture this shot.

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Overall this was a pretty uneventful chase. It certainly didn’t live up to the hype, but I had said that morning I’d consider myself lucky if I saw a tornado that day. I guess I wasn’t lucky!

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2016 in Chase Logs

 

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First Chase of the Year?

Tornado Tuesday Part II? It’s certainly a possibility. Talk about luck in that I have a half-day on Tuesday, so I’ll be able to chase a reasonable distance from home, and things are certainly starting to line up within a reasonable distance from home! The NAM is now within range, and I’m liking what I see.

A big trough will be digging through north central Mexico on Tuesday afternoon, resulting in 60 knot 500mb winds downstream in central and north Texas, extending into southern Oklahoma. At the surface, dew points will reach the low to mid 60’s thanks to a low-level jet from the south-southeast. Surface temperatures will be near 70 by mid-day. A dryline will set up in central Texas, with a bulge forecast just to the northwest of the Metroplex.

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The NAM tends to be a bit bullish on dewpoints most of the time, and I’m a little concerned that we won’t really see 66 dews in Decatur as the above map indicates. Still, given the amount of shear in place as a result of the upper-level trough, there looks to be a decent tornado threat. CAPE is also forecast to reach 3000 J/kg in the area above the dryline bulge, which again, may be a bit optimistic, but given the shear, that much CAPE will not be required for supercell development. There may be a narrow window of opportunity before isolated cells merge into an MCS, though in this area north-northeast of the dryline bulge, more backed surface winds resulting in greater directional shear should be more favorable than the more unidirectional winds south along the dryline in the I-35 corridor in central Texas.

It’s too early to pick a target, but as of right now anywhere along the dryline bulge looks like the place to be. Here’s a sounding from near Decatur, TX at 3pm:

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Definite S-curve in that hodograph, but the first 3 km look great, and I’ve seen 2 tornadoes in areas that had the S-curve in the past, including the Elmer, OK tornado last year (that was a big concern leading up to that chase). Time to start prepping and charging all of my equipment!

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2016 in Forecasts

 

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