The Wrong Message
At least 9 people were killed in Friday evening's Oklahoma City EF-3 tornado, including 3 professional tornado researchers. Unlike amateur chasers out searching for a cheap thrill Tim Samaras was pushing the envelope as a scientist. Previous projects included planting "turtles" in the path of tornadoes to get video, wind and pressure information.
On Friday one of the local OKC TV weathermen encouraged viewers to get into their cars and try to drive away. The result? Gridlock. Massive traffic jams. Tim, his son and a third tornado intercept professional were caught in a deadly logjam of cars, unable to escape to safety as the tornado took a sudden 45-degree turn.
Word to the wise: if you're already home and a Tornado Warning is issued stay home! Otherwise you're just a sitting duck.
A tragic story.
There's a Frost Advisory just northeast of MSP this morning, more evidence of chilly air unusually far south with an atmospheric tug of war playing out directly overhead. This will mean more showery rains Tuesday & Wednesday; another slug of rain late Saturday & Sunday. If it's any consolation (doubtful) it may be too cool for anything severe.
The atmosphere still thinks it's May 3.
* Image upper left from RadarScope app shows location of storm chasers in relation to El Reno tornado. Image upper right shows traffic jam on I-35 south of Oklahoma City, courtesy of KWTV.
A Few Thoughts About Tornado Chasing. Things have really gotten out of control. This has been an accident waiting to happen for the better part of 20 years now. On some level I blame the movie "Twister", which glamorized tornado research and inspired countless hundreds (thousands) of amateurs to try their hand at a tornado intercept, with visions of great video and local or national TV weather-glory. Ironic, since I helped with special effects with "Twister" and even had a line in the movie. I don't want to be a hypocrite. I was in Oklahoma on 3 separate occasions, intercepting tornadic storms with NSSL, the National Severe Storms Lab. Every time I went down to Oklahoma I was struck by the number of people tagging along. Often scores, even hundreds of chasers would converge on the same cell by late afternoon. It's a free country - you're obviously free to drive when and where you want, and I certainly don't want that to change, but something has to be done to avoid another tragedy like the one that killed 9 motorists Friday evening, including 3 professional tornado researchers Tim Samaras, his son, and intercept partner.
They weren't out there to videotape the tornado and try to sell it to KFOR-TV or The Weather Channel. They were conducting research, and yet the sheer number of chasers converging on the El Reno supercell (apparently) made it impossible to get away from an EF-3 erratic tornado in time. I honestly don't know what the solution is here, but one would hope common sense would apply. With the May 20 EF-5 which leveled much of Moore, one of the local TV meteorologists warned local residents that, without a basement or storm shelter, the tornado was "unsurvivable" - he told them to get into their vehicle and try to drive away before the tornado struck. That only makes sense if you have HOURS of lead time, which just isn't realistic with the state of tornado detection and warning, when the average lead-time is closer to 13-15 minutes.
If you had 10 minutes and you were the ONLY one trying to get out of Dodge, maybe. Just maybe. But the problem is this: tens of thousands of local residents heard the same admonition, and if everyone is trying to get onto the interstate to drive away from a tornadic supercell, the result will most likely be gridlock, making you and your family sitting ducks. A bad idea. If you're home, stay home. Get into your tub (with bike or football helmets, if you have them) and try to ride out the tornado on the ground floor, away from outer walls and windows. Statistically that's still safer than getting into a car or truck and trying to zip down the highway out ahead of a tornado. Friday evening's multiple fatalities proved it.
Photo credit above: "Overturned semitrailer from El Reno tornado, May 31, 2013." (Omaha World-Herald, Chris Machian/Associated Press).
* Andy Revkin has a write-up on the El Reno Tornado disaster in the New York Times here.
* USA Today questions the role of amateur tornado chasers in this Sunday article.
Unrecognizable. I'm not 100% certain, but I have a strong hunch this is the vehicle that Tim Samaras, his son and chase partner were driving when they were killed by the EF-3 El Reno tornado, that changed direction suddenly. If this doesn't make you shudder, and reconsider the wisdom of getting close to tornadoes, I'm not sure what will. Image courtesy of CNN.
Not Again. Our in-house TPO algorithm (Tornado Potential Outlook) shows another significant risk of tornadoes for Oklahoma Tuesday afternoon and evening. I hope it's wrong.
Where Are We Living Again? I had to do a double-take when I saw the Frost Advisory posted for northeastern MN and much of northern WI for early this morning. Are you kidding me? We're still witnessing a 4-6 week lag in the weather; as far as the atmosphere is concerned it's the last week of April or first week of May.
Ditto. Like cool and soggy? Well I have a forecast for you. We salvage a mostly-dry Monday, as clouds increase out ahead of the next trough of low pressure. Showers are likely Tuesday and Wednesday, the atmosphere probably too cool and stable for anything severe. We dry out (for a few hours) Thursday and Friday, before the next system comes in late Saturday into Sunday. ECMWF model guidance prints out 1.3" rain on Sunday.
More Blobs. A southward-sagging jet stream, about 300-500 miles farther south than average, is bringing unusually chilly Canadian air into northern tier states. Storms are most likely to spin up along the boundary separating hot from cool, so as long as that huge north-south contrast is hovering nearby, with the core of the jet stream howling almost directly overhead, it's going to stay wet. 84 hour NAM loop courtesy of NOAA.
Timing The Puddles. All the models pull in some .5 to 1" rainfall amounts Tuesday and Wednesday, then a dry stretch most of Thursday, Friday and the first half of Saturday before more showers and T-storms slosh in; right now Sunday appears to be the wetter day of the weekend.
East Coast Tropical Depression? NHC only attaches a 20% risk of strengthening to tropical storm strength, but a moisture-laden depression or tropical wave will push flooding rains into Florida Thursday; the storm then pushing right up the east coast the end of the week, possibly soaking New York, Providence and Boston by Saturday. Stay tuned. ECMWF guidance above courtesy of WSI.
* photo above taken at the Guthrie Theater Sunday evening, where my wife and I took in "Primrose Path", which was excellent. That's me, pretending to have culture.
Photo credit above: "Thai students urge people to quit smoking during 2001 World No-smoking day parade. Steven Suranovic has compared societal dependence on fossil fuels to individual addiction to tobacco." Photograph: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/EPA.