April 10, 2013


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Litchfield, IL
Joplin, MO 9:34 AM 4/10/2013
Springfield, IL 9:55 AM 4/11/2013
Melbourne, AR
0 mph
Wall Cloud


MS valley cold front setup. Started in Joplin, MO targeting central IL for low instability, high shear warm front storms, but retargeted to AR due to timing concerns and more favorable parameters. Waited for prefrontal development or cold front line to make it into flood plains in eastern AR, but target failed to materialize before dark so headed into hills intercepting tornado warned cell near Melbourne, AR noting rotating meso and wall cloud. Storm quickly fell apart and front lined out so called it a chase and headed for St. Louis for the night and Springfield in the morning.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Sean Casey, Jennifer Casey, Adam Lucio, Jonathan Williamson, Alec Scholten. Equipment: Canon 60D, Canon t2i, Canon EFS 10-22, Canon EF 50mm, Sony HDR-xr500v.




Wednesday, April 10, was Jennifer Brindley Ubl’s and my last chase and chase with the TIV crew for this plains run. Brandon Ivey couldn’t join us for this one, so much of the forecasting and navigating for the chase was up to me. A couple targets initially stood out for this setup with a cold front running from eastern MO down through Arkansas and a warm front draped across central IL into IN. My favored target was initially central IL, and not just because it would put me closer to home at the end of the chase. The warm front would be favorable sheared, instability was forecast at a modest 1000 J/kg but enough for supercells and a couple of tornadoes. Additionally the terrain is much more favorable than the other target: Arkansas. Supercells were also expected on or ahead of the cold front in southern MO and AR. Prefrontal initiation looked possible, but much of the activity looked to occur on the cold front. Arkansas has horrific chase terrain except for a 40 mile wide swath of floodplain along the Mississippi. If we picked this target, we’d have to hope for some prefrontal activity or probably wait until the cold front made it to the floodplain, which wouldn’t happen until the evening, if we wanted a chance at seeing anything. So we decided for the Illinois play.

TIV in Joplin, MO
4 miles ESE of Joplin, MO
9:07 AM
We assembled in our Joplin, MO hotel lobby at 8:30 ready to go. We had a couple minutes while people were still packing their vehicles so Sean, Jenn, and Philip (a journalist writing a story on our chase for “The Telegraph”) took the TIV into town to get some pictures and see how the town was fairing since the deadly F5 that had struck there nearly two years ago.
9:13 AM
Sean driving the TIV.
9:14 AM
Sean working the IMAX camera mount inside the TIV's turret.
9:14 AM

Chase Discussion
7 miles WSW of Black Rock, AR
3:53 PM
After the photo shoot in town we were rolling in our three car caravan down I-44 with the TIV in the lead, followed by my van, and Alec’s Rav. With Brandon unable to chase, I was given the task of routing and nowcasting for the TIV and rode shotgun in the armored vehicle with my laptop. It was my first time in the TIV and I needed lessons just to get in and out of it. My initial impressions of riding in the TIV were that it was very much like being in a WWII bomber or tank, with big heavy hatches, round gauges and levers on the dash, bare metal everywhere. I tried not to act like a giddy fan riding in the TIV, but it was actually a ton of fun. Starting the day behind the cold front, I also quickly discovered that the TIV has several leaks in the roof. It was tricky trying to find a position to hold the laptop so that it wouldn’t get dripped on. It was also my first chase in someone else’s vehicle in almost eight years (not counting our aerial chases last year). Sean drove us while Adam rode in the back, ready to switch seats for when the chase actually began so Sean could work the IMAX camera. Just past Springfield, MO we second guessed our chase target. Storm initiation was imminent in IL and we were way too far to make a play on the initial cells it looked like. Cloud cover was overtaking much of the IL warm sector, and the surface winds were also starting to veer there. Meanwhile, the clouds were opening up across eastern Arkansas, destabilizing the atmosphere while the surface winds remained nicely backed. The Storm Prediction Center upgrading the tornado probabilities to 10% was the kicker. We abandoned our central IL target and started to make for northeast Arkansas, hoping to catch a prefrontal supercell ahead of the cold front. We took a winding, hilly series of highways down through southern Missouri into Arkansas before stopping in what was half a ghost town to assess the situation.

1 miles WSW of Black Rock, AR
4:09 PM
Storms were starting to fire and organize on the cold front to our west, but the terrain out there is absolutely horrific. Some showeres were ongoing to our east, but were really struggling to organize. We decided to head east, hoping the sputtering showers would eventually take off, wait for new development or eventually catch the cold front storms as they came to us.

Decision Time
Black Rock, AR
4:23 PM
We stopped at a gas station on the western edge of the Arkansas floodplain where the terrain opened up to our east. After a few minutes of discussion it became apparent that our prefrontal activity was dying, there would be no new prospects there before dark, and the cold front storms also would not arrive in the floodplains until after dark. If we wanted to see anything in the daytime, we’d have to make a move on the cold front storms in the hills and trees and now.

Targeting Melbourne
2 miles SW of Melbourne, AR
5:58 PM
We decided to go for it. There was a supercell that was already tornado warned, a good 80 miles to our west and heading northeast fast. The plan was to head it off in West Plains, MO where the terrain was actually decent and where we thought we could make it in time before the storm did. En route, however, the cell slowed substantially and turned right. We corrected our course a couple times taking into account the changing motion and eventually wound making for Melbourne, AR for the intercept.
5:58 PM
We stopped a couple miles north of town where we had something of a view to the southwest amid the hazy skies, and hills and trees that surrounded us. Everyone got out of the follow vehicles, but without warning we decided to roll the TIV closer for the intercept. In the haste to get going we temporarily lost the follow vehicles. We radioed our route to my van being driven by Jen Casey with Brindley and Philip riding inside. A couple minutes later we got a frantic call on the radio from one of them, “There’s a dog in the van and we can’t get him out!” Sean getting the turret ready responded with, “yank his ass out of there!” We continued on to Melbourne while the Jennifers struggled with the dog. A larger breed, the dog had apparently been spooked by the storm and jumped into the van while the doors were open, refusing to budge. With a combination of pushing with feet and yanking on the collar, they were finally able to dump him out of the van and get on the road. They were just out of radio range by that time, however, with a tornado warned supercell bearing down on them. They did their best to try and catch up with us though. Alec and Jon in the other follow vehicle, had no radio communication with the other vehicles and decided that, with no visibility on the storm, it was time to bail and they temporarily broke off from the caravan.

Tornado Warned Supercell
2 miles SW of Melbourne, AR
6:04 PM
We stopped in the town of Melbourne where we could kind of see the western sky, but not really. The sirens wailed ominously, and the sky grew dark. My heart beat faster at thought of a tornado looming somewhere in the distance and for the first real chase action that we had seen on the trip. Seemingly oblivious to the potential dangers of the situation, a few local residents came out and crowded around the TIV excited to see the vehicle that they recognized from TV. We were able to get a tip from one of them of where there was a good spot with a view of the western sky. We took his advice and headed just southeast out of town. We were able to raise “Bubbles”, the radio nickname for my van, told them to head directly into Melbourne, and miraculously we met up with them at the four way stop in town. They followed us to our viewing position, which turned out to be a good one. From a driveway to a house atop a hill we could see the storm approaching from the southwest. It was super low contrast but we could make out a large meso approaching, midlevel clouds feeding into the rotating mass, and a large dark lowering under the base with rapid rising and inflow motion.
6:06 PM
The residents of the house came out to see us. We asked if we could park on the drive, and they agreed, enthralled that we chose their driveway at which to stop and came over excitedly to talk to us. The storm approached with lots of low level motion, but no tornado was evident.
6:08 PM
Sean, donning his helmet, popped out through a hatch in the TIV. The rest of us perched on the door frames standing to get a view above the brush and better look at the storm. After several minutes, rain from encroaching storms started to kill our view and our storm started to die on the radar. Our excitement for an intercept and view of a tornado was cut short.

Jumping down the line
7 miles ESE of Melbourne, AR
6:21 PM
We decided to move east before the rainy core of the storm overtook us. Jon and Alec caught back up with us and we headed south toward the next cell in the line, which wasn’t tornado warned, but showed something that resembled an inflow notch on the radar.

End of the chase
12 miles NW of Batesville, AR
6:31 PM
That storm fell apart as well and the entire cold front was now looking very mediocre. With the light fading, it was apparent that our chase was over. We decided to call it, and split up, but the storm caught up with us before we could make a move. A barrage of cloud to ground lightning strikes hit all around us. Inside the TIV, we were careful to stay off the metal surfaces and outer frame as a few of the bolts hit less than a few hundred yards away with tremendously loud pops of thunder. The lightning subsided and with a moderate rain going we unloaded our stuff between vehicles and said our farewells as the caravan split up. Jon, Alec, and Adam heading north to Chicago, Sean taking the TIV back to Wichita, and Brindley and I dropping off Jen Casey and Philip at the airport in Saint Louis.
It was an exhausting drive back to Saint Louis, through the dark, in the rain, and down winding rural highways in the forest. We came upon an accident scene: an overturned semi, but otherwise had no issues ourselves making it back up north. En route we learned that Saint Louis had been hit by a couple tornadoes, one just barely missing the airport, which was temporarily closed. It was a good thing Jen Casey and Philip decided to stick with us for the chase instead of heading to the airport earlier in the day. We made it to Saint Louis by about 1am and got a room near the airport, before Brindley and I continued the drive to Springfield the next morning so Brindley could catch her train back to Milwaukee.


Our last chase of the trip was fun and exciting, and the best chase action we had seen the entire trip. Still, our momentary view of hazy supercell structure turned out to be a bit disappointing and ultimately the chase was a bust as a result. We had high hopes for seeing a tornado with the TIV on this trip, and we tried our best, but the weather did not cooperate with our chase strategies. A deadly tornado was produced by the storm we intercepted, but further southwest while we were still en route to it. Other chasers were on the storm at the time, but nobody had much of a view, which we feared would be the problem with chasing in that area. Tragically, this is the result of many of the tornado events in the south, where people wind up in harm’s way and storm chasers are unable to report or document what they’re seeing. Tornado warned supercells also tracked across Illinois, but the only tornado reports coming out of the warm front were in Saint Louis, which is also largely unchaseable as a metro area. The other supercells were also well out of reach from our starting point, so it was a good thing we diverted south. Chasing with the TIV crew was an absolute blast. Brindley and I hope to do it again this season or another time in the future.

Lessons Learned

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