Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Storm Prediction Center goes into Backup

Last Tuesday (5/24/2011), the city of Norman, as well as the Storm Prediction Center, had a bit of tornado excitement, as not one but two violent tornadoes formed west of town. Though significant structural damage, and unfortunately loss of life occurred, those tornadoes thankfully dissipated before reaching Norman due to destructive storm interference from surrounding convection. However, it initially appeared that the National Weather Center would be impacted by the tornadoes, which prompted Rich Thompson, the lead forecaster on shift that evening, to initiate backup procedures and hand off operations to Scott AFB, which is located near East St. Louis. I was working the mesoscale assistant forecaster desk that day, and spent an hour waiting for the tornado emergency to play itself out. During that time, I managed to take a few pictures of the SPC operations floor during the height of the action, which are posted below.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Encountering Rattlesnakes in the Wichita Mountains

I made another trip back to the Wichita Mountains on Monday May 17 in order to hike to the top of a peak named Granite Mountain. I arrived at around noon, and angled northwest toward the base of the peak. After moving off trail, I found a buffalo path that led to a slab of rock...after scrambling up the rock slab, I started moving through scattered brush and boulders. Twenty minutes later, it suddenly occurred to me that any one of the rocks I was walking on could be harboring a rattlesnake. A burst of adrenaline shot through my body as I further realized that I couldn't remember the way back to the rock slab that would lead me out of the hazard zone. I decided to go north along the edge of a canyon, hoping there would be a clear path back to the trail. Instead, I only encountered rock cliffs (just another potential rattlesnake community) with thick brush at the bottom, which probably would have sliced me to pieces if I attempted to bush whack through.

So, I turned around and headed back south. Then it happened, I heard a quick rattle just a few feet ahead of me. I looked down to the next rock, and there was a rattlesnake. Luckily, it sensed my approach, and slid under a rock. Tragedy was avoided for the time being. It took another 30 minutes before I found my way off the mountain, reconnected with the buffalo trail, and then found the safety of the primary hiking trail. I then spent the rest of the day hiking north through Charons Garden. The highlight of this trail was a large boulder field that required a fun scramble in order to continue north on the trail. After finishing the trail, I headed back south, and encountered my second rattlesnake of the day. Luckily, I was walking across a small boulder, above the trail where the snake was located. It quickly moved off the trail under a bush, but I could still see its black outline as it continued to rattle at me. The rest of the hike back to my car was relatively uneventful, but I felt lucky not to have been bit, and also somewhat un-nerved that I was stupid enough to hike off trail into an area inhabbited by rattlesnakes. The worst part of this whole experience was the mental stress that accompanied each step, wondering if a snake was around the next rock. Regardless, I don't plan to hike through this area again until winter, when hopefully the snakes will be hibernating.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A day in Charons Garden Wilderness

My girlfriend Elizabeth, her daughter Calee, my mom Sarah, and myself spent a day in Charons Garden Wilderness, which is part of the Wichita Mountains located in southwestern Oklahoma. We quickly found a trail that led to an outcropping of rock, and had fun scrambling to the top. After a brief hike, we ascended the top of a ridge which eventually hooked up with a small peak to our west. While topping the ridge, we found a boulder laying on top of another, which required crawling beneath...everyone managed to squeeze through. The rest of the trip was basically a long hike to the top of the mountain. After climbing a few boulders at the top, we made the trip back down to the car and called it a day. This part of the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge is quickly becoming my favorite...the rock climbing opportunities seem to be unlimited, and the lack of crowds gives the area a true feeling of wilderness.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

February and April Storm Chases

February 27, 2011: Northern Oklahoma

I left Norman, OK just in time to intercept a supercell during the late afternoon, which moved east across I-35 near Blackwell, OK just as I arrived on the scene. The storm was low-topped, but showed signs of midlevel updraft rotation. A ragged wall cloud was present as well, but had a cold/stable look to it as I followed east along highway 11. However, as the storm moved over Newkirk, OK, the wall cloud become more organized, and low-level rotation steadily increased. It appeared that the area of rotation was contracting east of Newkirk, with cascading motion observed adjacent to the clear slot. By this point, a caravan of chasers (myself included) had to navigate muddy roads in order to keep up with the storm. The mud roads, in addition to the setting sun, and an apparent weakening in low-level rotation, led me to give up on the storm. I noticed the SPC storm reports page has two tornado reports near the KS/OK border occurring shortly after 00Z...perhaps I gave up too soon.

April 14, 2011: Eastern Oklahoma

My girlfriend Elizabeth Lyon and myself left Norman by mid-afternoon, and drove east down I-240 which hooked up with I-40. A storm developed immediately to our south, and quickly evolved into a supercell as we stopped near Shawnee, OK for pictures. We were hit by dime to quarter size hail as the forward flank downdraft brushed past our location. The storm had a large rain free base, which eventually began to suck in scud, leading to wall cloud development as we drove east away from Shawnee. The most interesting part of the storm moved north of the interstate as we reached the intersection of I-40 and highway 56. We followed highway 56 north-northeast, and then drove north on highway 48. We soon re-intercepted the updraft base, which began to go through a low-level mesocyclone occlusion. Tornadogenesis appeared to be minutes away from happening, but after 5 minutes of intense low-level rotation, the mesocyclone dissipated. We gave up on this storm and drove back south-southeast to intercept another storm merging with our northern cell. This storm developed an interesting area of low-level rotation, but was soon replaced by a cold/stable look in the low-levels accompanied by minimal rotation. We gave up on the chase soon after, and made the relatively quick hour long drive back to Norman.

April 22, 2011: Central Oklahoma

I messed around with initial storm development near Maysvill, OK, finding dime to perhaps quarter size hail as this activity began to organize. Thinking I might get into big hail, I took a long detour south to Elmore City, then caught back up with the storm cluster north of Pauls Valley. By 7-7:30 pm, somewhere near Paoli, it appeared that one updraft base/possible wall cloud moved off to the east, while another flanking cell rapidly intensified as a DRC-like rain core developed. The storm soon began sucking in scud, followed by a hook-like rain curtain wrapping cyclonically around the updraft base. Unfortunately, I decided not to mess with the trees and seemingly poor road options east of my location, and didn't see the tornadoes observed by other chasers at around 8 pm. On the way home, I emerged out of a heavy rain core and got a picture of the setting sun and a hail/rain shaft.