Tag Archives | April 2011

April 27, 2011 Mississippi/Alabama Violent Tornadoes


First of all, my heart goes out to everyone who suffered a loss on this horrific day. One of the worst tornado outbreaks and highest number of fatalities in US history.  A very sad day indeed.

It was evident for a couple of days before this event that this would be the final day in a 3 day tornado outbreak for the US, and that this would be the most violent and wide spread. We started this day in Jackson, MS positioned to move in any direction. The plan was to intercept storms in MS, then continue moving east into Alabama, and eventually end up somewhere around Tuscaloosa by mid afternoon. However, fate would have it that this would never materialize for us. We jumped on the first storm that developed southwest of Jackson as it quickly moved towards Philadelphia, MS (and would create destruction and death during its entire life cycle through Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and into Georgia).  One event changed what we would do the rest of the day. As we were 10 miles from Philadelphia, MS, well ahead of the storm, a vehicle with a young man and two girls ran off the road, slid down an embankment and hit a tree going 50 mph. The car spun around in a circle as we watched in horror. We immediately stopped to render assistance and called the state patrol.  Fortunately nobody was seriously injured, but now the supercell was overhead and racing away from us at 60 mph, while there was no possible way through the trees, hills and winding roads to stay with it. The rest is history. We tried in vain to catch up to it again, and quickly learned of the strong tornado it was now producing, less than 5 miles in front of us, but we were never to see it. I believe all things happen for a reason, and I will never know why we were never to chase this storm.

We dropped south towards Meridian, MS to get back on the interstate as another supercell formed and raced past us (no road options to chase it) and also became tornadic. It was already becoming a frustrating day and it had just begun!Storm motion of 60 mph, poor terrain for chasing, lack of roads and low visibility led me to rethink the entire rest of the day. I felt the only way to have any reasonable chance of intercepting tornadoes would be to get 30-45 minutes ahead of the supercell, find one of the few clearing to view it, watch it approach and fly past us, then drop south on the next storm and do it again. This approach finally paid off, however we were never able to get into Alabama, and instead stayed in the rough terrain in eastern Mississippi.

A tornadic supercell formed southwest of Jackson and right turned, heading east/slightly northeast toward Newton/Hickory, MS. we dropped south of town about 3 miles and found a great clearing to view it. The storm, already tornadic and a killer, quickly approached. As it did, a wedge tornado was quite evident over the hills and trees to our southwest. About 2 miles west/southwest of us another tornado materialized in an instant and approached us at lightning speed. As this grey cone moved dangerously close to us we blasted south out of its way and watched as cars were driving directly into the path! We honked, stopped and waived people off as the tornado, now another wedge crossed the road at the exact spot we were parked and viewing it from, uprooting trees and flattening power lines in its wake. We drove back north as the strong tornado raced away from us and crossed I-20. I was fearful for vehicles on the interstate and the town of Hickory they were directly in its path.  We drove to the interstate and went east to see if we could still view the tornado (an EF3), but now it was rain wrapped and long gone. As we dropped south through Hickory we encountered a couple destroyed homes with rescue vehicles already on the scene. We decided it best to continue south (since help had arrived) and intercept the next supercell also tornadic now just northeast of Turnerville.

We dropped south on highway 503 and headed southwest on 18 towards Turnerville. At that point we stopped, although the view was partially obstructed by woods and hills. I could see a very large multivortex tornado directly southwest, rapidly approaching. It wasn’t until later that we learned of the fatalities just north of Turnerville as numerous homes were destroyed by this EF4 tornado.  At the junction of 18 and 503 a barbeque place had a couple of people in it. We warned them of the approaching danger and they left. Amazing how oblivious people are to a dangerous situation. We told them to get south and far away from this large, violent monster. The tornado turned into a fat cone, then wedge as it blasted past our location less than a quarter mile south of it at 60 mph. The noise was horrendous, louder than any tornado I have ever witnessed.  Everything in its path was demolished. Trees, houses, power poles, everything.  We saw the tornado was heading directly into the small town of Rose Hill, and headed up 18 towards town. Trees and power lines were down and after some local help and moving debris out of the way, we proceeded into town. Rose Hill was directly hit by the violent tornado about 3-5 minutes before we got there. We found much damage, homes destroyed, animals killed, and people in need of assistance. At this point we abandoned the tour and rendered assistance. One family we immediately found lost everything. Their house was totally leveled, their barn destroyed, vehicles and horse trailer thrown and demolished. They were trying to round up their horses who of course were totally spooked and uncontrollable. Dead chickens lay around. The father, mother and daughter survived due to a freakish event. About 5 minutes before the tornado hit, their neighbor had called them and asked them to come over for a minute. The whole family walked over to the neighbors only a few minutes before the tornado hit. They surely would not have survived had they stayed in their house (without a basement or shelter!).

With our day now done, and authorities on the scene, we left our search and rescue efforts and headed back towards Jackson for the night.  We knew the supercell still had this violent tornado in it. We let authorities know this. Later we discovered the tornado had continued nearly 65 miles and leveled a big part of the town of Snell, where 7 fatalities had also occurred. A horrible discovery.

I am still amazed in this day and age of the lack of concern by a vast majority of people when faced with a dangerous situation. The NWS, SPC, local authorities, etc all approached this day and through the day with great reaction to this historic situation. Still, hundreds have perished, and maybe the toll would have be considerably larger, had not the agencies made sure the word was spread and warnings issued with as much lead time as possible.  People seemed to have the idea that nothing would happen the them, it would always be someone else. This event proved otherwise.

I am pleading to every person who reads this account to get involved and donate your resources to help those in need. It will be a long time before things return to any sense of normalcy in the southeast. Please get involved!

Here is a video I put up of the tornadic events from this day.

April 26, 2011 Ben Wheeler, TX Tornadoes

A bit of a frustrating day today for us as there were so many cells to choose from. We targeted the initial supercell that formed near Hillsboro, TX (again) and followed it until it finally produced tornadoes near Ben Wheeler in Van Zandt county Texas. The storm just couldn’t focus rotation in one spot for long before occluding and the meso jumping ahead. Finally, just west and then north of Ben Wheeler, it produced two truncated slender tornadoes, followed by a 5 minute multivortex which caused damage to roofs, trees and power lines.  Below are only a couple photographs and two video stills. Check out the Youtube video of the multivortex tornado.

April 25, 2011 Hillsboro, TX Tornadic Supercell

April 25th took me to Texas. Early day indications looked like northeast Texas would be a sweet spot. We headed early to Paris only to be disappointed by early afternoon convection that was slightly elevated. Meanwhile a tornadic supercell developed southwest of Ft Worth and produced at least 2-3 tornadoes before we could recover and make the 130 mile trek. We did catch up to it near Itasca, TX and encountered a pretty structured supercell that produced two brief tornadoes between Itasca and Hillsboro.  Nothing worse than being 130 miles from a nice supercell and hearing about the tornadoes that occurred before you have a chance to reach it!

April 22, 2011 Southern Oklahoma Tornadoes

April 22nd took me to south central Oklahoma to play a dryline/triple point setup. Good shear, albeit a bit weak upper flow, excellent instability, dewpoints in the upper 60s and lift along the dryline would spark severe storms this day. Storms became HP fairly fast due to the weaker upper level flow. I intercepted a couple of supercells near Paul’s Valley, that later produced tornadoes near Stratford, OK. HP structure was good and they were extremely electrified. We also viewed 3 tornadoes from these storms.

April 21, 2011 Hawley, TX Supercell and Tornado

A surprise for me this day as I didn’t expect much. By late afternoon a storm formed at the triple point near Sweetwater, TX. This storm quickly anchored and spun like crazy! Some of the most amazing inflow bands I have ever seen developed and made for spectacular photography! To my surprise, just after dark, the storm produced an 8 minute long elephant trunk tornado just west of Hawley. Pardon the blurriness from the tornado shots, as a high ISO and 15 second plus exposure made the photo blurry due to storm and tornado motion. All in all, an extremely satisfying day and witnessing the only tornado in the US!

April 9, 2011 Mapleton, IA Tornadic Supercell

April 9th took us to the warm front in western/northwestern Iowa. A supercell developed on the southern flank of a cluster of storms, and became the storm of the day.  Very good shear, moisture and instability would allow this beast to spin for hours! We witnessed 12 tornadoes from this monster, with many strong tornadoes occurring after dark. Photography is tricky when you don’t get a ton of lightning, thus a few of the images are a bit blurring caused by long exposures at high ISO.

April 19, 2011 Carlinville, IL Tornado

A pre-birthday present for myself brought me to a quick trip into Illinois for what appeared to be a significant tornado event. It did not disappoint! By mid afternoon, I was heading towards the Bowling Green, MO area and ended up too late for the supercell that produced 2 good tornadoes there. Heading east, I decided to get ahead of a cluster of supercells and play the southern storm.

As I was passing through Carlinville, a tornado warning was issued. Not long after heading east of of town, a funnel formed to my south. It dissipated quickly only to be replaced by another one. It also dissipated. As I stopped near the I-55, a strongly rotating mesocyclone formed, and quickly dropped a large tornado. This tornado did damage to homes, power lines, and trees and was rated EF3. Most of the shots here are video stills, as I didn’t have a chance to take still photos.

April 14, 2011 Oklahoma Tornadic Supercells

Caryn and I took a group to Oklahoma for what appeared to be a significant tornado event. Even though we did see a tornado near Burbank, OK, it did not live up to the hype that had been built up this day. A weakness in the low level shear would result in lots of supercells that were rotating, but very few that actually did produce a tornado. We witnessed a tornado during the afternoon near Burbank as a supercell spun wildly and dropped the elephant trunk shaped tornado in the photos below less than a quarter mile from us. A fun day, but not as wild as anticipated. We were saddened to learn of the 2 fatalities in southeast Oklahoma from a strong tornado that did occur near Tushka.

April 8, 2011 Medford, OK Tornadic Supercells

We headed to northern Oklahoma this day for what appeared to be a high risk/high reward setup. By late afternoon a few supercells developed on the dryline and intensified as the evening progressed. The low level jet strengthened as stronger mid and upper level flow overspread the region, creating a nicely sheared environment. One supercell spun like crazy as a wall cloud formed directly overhead, while another became a classic monster after dark.

April 3, 2011 Lawrence, KS Gustnado/Tornado

April 3rd brought Caryn and I to eastern Kansas to play the dryline/front intersection. By late afternoon a supercell developed and tracked just north of the boundary, occasionally pulling it into it. The high based nature of the storm limited its ability to produce a significant tornado, however, just north of Lawrence on US24 the storm spun up “something” that has been dubbed a tornado, landspout and a gustnado. It did cause damage to irrigation systems, trees and destroyed a building. Due to the strong RFD associated with this, I would be more inclined to call it a gustnado or a weak tornado. The debate will go on.