Nov 17, 2013 Severe Weather Outbreak, White County, Indiana EF-2 Tornado

November severe weather. How often does that happen? Not much for full outbreaks. This is an account of my adventure into a rare High risk severe weather outlook in mid-November.

We left from Mount Pleasant at 7am Sunday, dark and early. The air was cool, but a warmer wind blew as I crossed the parking lot with 4 items under my arms and on my back. Two cameras, a tripod, backpack with instruments, and a laptop. Our destination was unknown at the time. We had a goal to reach South Bend, IN as this was a reasonable distance to travel and still be within an area of elevated severe chances. We went through all sorts of data on the trip down. It all gets overwhelming and at some point you just need to let it happen.

We took a pit stop at a BK. Kevin and Bryan take notes on current conditions before heading further south.

We took a pit stop at a BK. Kevin and Bryan take notes on current conditions before heading further south.

We reached South Bend and carried on. At this time, storms were firing in central Illinois. We stopped at a fast food restaurant and used some stronger Wifi. About this time the Peoria, IL storm was really cranking up. The storm showed strong structure and looked to remain on a fixed path towards Chicago. Things could go sour fast. This was the EF-4 tornado that affected Washington, IL, carving a large scar through a populated area. From our current spot, we had no chance in intercepting this storm as some of these were moving to the northeast as fast as 60 mph! As we went south, wooded areas became fields with only pockets of trees.

From the NWS in Chicago, IL. Note the cell that has a hook-echo signature near Peoria, IL and continues NE where it impacted Washington, IL as an EF-4.

As we traveled south, the area of storms started to fill in from single cells, to a uniform line. This was bad news if seeking tornadoes. Usually large and strong tornadoes spawn from single power-hungry supercells so they have no neighbors to compete for energy, or be bothered by outflow winds. A line of storms meant winds would be straight and not possibly rotating, thus little chance at a tornado. The line directly to our west was filling in to just be severe thunderstorm level winds and heavy rains. We had a new goal of intercepting a cell coming from Champaign, IL. The cell had exhibited rotation from central Illinois, and had been tornado warned earlier.

We continued to race south on I-65. Towards central Indiana, 65 starts slightly curving to the east so that it goes trough Lafayette, IN. This bought us some time and we found ourselves immersed in a large wind farm. We exited I-65 at  the SR-18 interchange. There we sat for about a half hour to assess storm motion. Looking at the storm, we noted the good structure had diminished and it could just form into a line of high winds instead. Storms moving through Lafayette were looking enticing, but there was no way we would make it down there in time. So this was it. We made our way back towards the interchange and sat pointed west, awaiting our prize.

Turbines lined the road in front of us. These closest ones were the last to disappear in front of our eyes.

Turbines lined the road in front of us. These closest ones were the last to disappear in front of our eyes.

Being in a large wind farm, we could see turbines disappearing in the heavy rain as the line approached. We enjoyed that as entertainment, helping heal the wound of not finding a tornado after a long travel. It traveled quickly. One turbine gone, and then the next. Then the wall of rain and wind hit us.  It immediately reminded me of hurricane videos. My ears popped from pressure change, which was really weird when you are used to that happening changing altitude. Rain was being whipped around in sheets and you could see no further then 10 feet in front of our car. Grass was mimicking the behavior as it was whipped around. This was probably enhanced by the lack of any large objects to block the wind. The wind was traveling over clean and flat farmland for acres in our W and SW direction. It quickly became frightening. Although it didn’t seem much different from a squall line in Michigan. Some other things suddenly became realized.

light

I looked down to my phone with the current radar displayed. We had underestimated the storm’s strength and organization due to poor storm velocity data outside of radar range. This is called range folding. Range folding is purposefully put in place on weather radar to prevent having a false signal reported, so it helps accuracy within reliable ranges. We decided to set up shop in a spot of ambiguity between two nearby radar sites. This is a big no-no as we had virtually been blind.

After a moment of panic in the car with the suddenness of wind and blinding rain, it quickly got worse. New radar scans came in and the velocity image showed a spot of rotation making its way straight for our area. The signature was not a strong tight rotation typically associated with tornadoes, but given the environment we were in, there could be a rain-wrapped tornado on track to us.Fear continued to sink in.
This is NOT how you chase/spot/report severe weather.

whitecountyef2

Our location, marked by a yellow cross, with reflectivity, velocity, spectrum width, and rotation radar overlays. CLICK for ANIMATION and larger.

Winds seemed to calm a bit, I could see further out the side window, at least the field  to the north 20 yards away. We discussed the ears popping and how much the pressure needed to change for that to happen. We had Kestrel devices with us, so we could check that later. At this point we were furiously waiting for radar scans to come in and keep us updated. The winds began to increase again. They got stronger then when the storm began. Rain caused a complete whiteout and I could no longer see anything out of the window, front or sides.

heavy

Lighting was quick, bright, and frequent. The car began rocking like a boat. Sharp clatter prompted Bryan to call to duck our heads. Debris began a migration across the road in front and behind us, maybe even over us. Lots of twisted sheet metal tumbled by like pieces of paper. Then, it was done.

debris

A car drove through behind the wall of rain, like some sheep dog corralling a heard. Sheet metal continued to carry on a path across the road from south to north. Pieces lined a wire fence nearby. We waited for remaining lightning to stop while rear flank winds licked at our car. Once it was safe, we emerged and checked the car. No damage at all. The van that had been behind us checked on us and drove on, wiping his arm across his forehead with relief. Mammatus filled the sky as the system moved out. We could also make out a beaver tail of clouds flanking the storm.

We got very lucky. Once things calmed down, I called a report of a possible rain-wrapped tornado to the National Weather Service in Indianapolis (we were actually in Northern Indiana’s forecast area, but they forwarded the report). We found other evidence when investigating to the southwest. A few barns had been destroyed and a roof removed from a house. Photos can be found in this Flickr album.

20:09 13 NW LAFAYETTE POSSIBLE RAIN WRAPPED TORNADO. SHEET METAL CAUGHT IN A FENCE. NEAREST BUILDINGS ACROSS A FIELD A FEW ACRES AWAY.

With the Canon 6D, all of my photos were geotagged. This made it easy to document where we were relative to the damage we found, and to further report to the NWS.

Example of some photos geotagged to a map in Lightroom. Very handy to have for documentation!

Example of some photos geotagged to a map in Lightroom. Very handy to have for documentation!

The National Weather Service in Northern Indiana confirmed a EF-2 tornado with max wind speeds of 125mph near our location. You can read the full writeup including more maps and radar imagery on their event summary page, which included 15 tornadoes from EF-0 to EF-2 across their forecast area alone!

RATING: EF-2
MAXIMUM ESTIMATED WIND SPEED: 125 MPH
MAXIMUM ESTIMATED PATH WIDTH: APPROXIMATELY 1400 YARDS
PATH LENGTH: 9.52 MILES (LONGER IF YOU INCLUDE BENTON COUNTY
SECTION)
START TIME: ESTIMATED AROUND 246 PM EST
END TIME: ESTIMATED AROUND 255 PM EST
LOCATION: ENTERED WHITE COUNTY NEAR BENTON/WHITE/TIPPECANOE COUNTY
BORDER. LIFTED APPROXIMATELY 2 MILES WNW OF BROOKSTON.
DESCRIPTION: CONTINUED FROM BENTON COUNTY. VERY WIDE CIRCULATION
WITH EMBEDDED VORTICIES. 20 TO 25 BARNS DESTROYED WITH DEBRIS THROWN
UP TO 2 MILES AWAY. 10 TWO FOOT DIAMETER WOODEN ELECTRICITY POLES
SNAPPED AT THE BASE. SMALL HOME HAD ITS ROOF COMPLETELY REMOVED WITH
THE DEBRIS THROWN UP TO HALF A MILE NORTHEAST. SECTIONS OF THE ROOF
WERE STUCK IN THE GROUND LIKE PROJECTILES.

Again, we were super fortunate to drive away from this. There is so much to pour over and be thankful for. Witnessing the damage done by these storms is shocking, and I can’t imagine what places like Washington, Illinois looks like first hand. My thoughts go to those who have lost all.

Other sites with storm review:

EDIT:

Some track maps were released earlier Friday and the picture is a bit clearer where the exact path went, just across a field south of our position at the I-65 and 18 interchange.

October Lights

Some great looking Aurora for Michigan Tuesday night following a Coronal Mass Ejection from the Sun on Sunday. It finally made its way to Earth’s magnetic field! And boy was it a strong impact.

Full Tilt

Arrived to a spot just in time to catch the opening act!

I first learned about the ejection from Tamitha Skov on twitter. She posts plenty of great space weather updates, and also the science behind the sun and its Earth effects. Upon hearing that Lights in North America were possible via the NWS Space Weather Prediction Center’s Facebook Page, I thought I would at least probe the skies of Michigan later.

Around midnight things started to ramp up on the Kp Index, a rough indicator of aurora visibility. Its dark, and parking along side a rural road is a little dangerous due to unsuspecting travelers, so I decided to start small and bike across the street to an apartment complex that opened to a large field. I’m still south of some intense light pollution, so was not expecting much, but just wanted a hint.

Kp ranges. The higher the Kp number, the further south aurora may be visible. On this October night, we reached about 6.5/7 on the Kp scale.

My tripod was missing in action, so this complicated things greatly. Taking photos of the aurora requires the camera to be very steady while the picture, sometimes 8-20 seconds in length, is being taken. So I just relied on setting the camera on the ground and placing some items under the lens to prop it a bit. Turns out on my first shot I got what I was looking for. The hint. Circled is just a slight green band of aurora popping up between two patches of loud light pollution. So lets trouble shoot; northern lights = check, tripod work around = check, no light pollution = no check.

Just a taste of aurora!

Just a taste of aurora!

Having to get up at 7am the next morning was also a negative factor, if these lights took off, I could be up for awhile.

Dew was forming on my car windows, a quick roll down of the windows and a wiper swipe and things were clear. I traveled to McDonald Park along Pickard Rd. which is west of town, and north of any obstructive light pollution.

When I got out of the car, I saw the tell-tale signs of an ongoing Northern Lights performance. What you see with your eyes is different than what the camera picks up. Aurora could look different in high latitudes then what I saw last night, but if I could describe it, it looked like an elevated fog. You could tell it was there because the sky above looked similar to sky right along the horizon, but in between… was the Lights. I modified a photo from early on to represent what I could see myself.

Estimation of what was visible to eyes early on.

Estimation of what was visible to eyes early on.

The camera tells a more colorful and stunning story. By having the shutter open and the camera taking a picture for 20 or so seconds, any lights in the dark sky are more pronounced. So stars are plainly visible, as well as the aurora colors. This was a few minutes after the above photo:

Lights by Man and Nature

Getting a little creative with the show still on. Timed a car going by to add a different type of light.

The sky lit up with activity right as I settled down. I mean I could actually see some vertical elements moving across the horizon to my naked eye. I teared up a bit. This was amazing. You see countless photos of the Northern Lights online(guilty here), but seeing it in the flesh, is just spine tingling. Red is apparently more rare as it is Oxygen reacting with the disturbance, and this take a little longer to process, may explain the abundance of green, but little sprites of red.

Dugout Lights

Nearby baseball field provided some foreground interest. This dugout seemed to be nicely enveloped in some lights.

If you’re interested in Aurora spotting, there are a few resources to keep an eye on. Things may get confusing along the way, but stick to sources that blend public viewing and educational. You’ll learn a lot fast!

Be patient, and be ready to be disappointed. Computer models and predictions can point to an event, but the light strength just may not cooperate. At the same time, the opposite can happen, and you may get a treat! Happy hunting!

Week Rumblings (Sept 18, 2013)

Cardboard skies have given way to a beautiful Wednesday heading into what looks like a dreary end of the week. This doesn’t necessarily include the weekend.

Thursday will be hot and humid with thunderstorms likely on Friday as we will reside in the ‘warm sector’ of a mid-latitude cyclone. The warm sector is a region of warm moist air that is located between the associated warm front and cold front of a low pressure system. Typically, the warm sector is a nice place to look for thunderstorm development as the cold front sweeps behind acting as a lifting mechanism. This will be the case on Thursday with hot and humid conditions in place, and an increased chance of thunder on Friday when the cold front moves through.

Forcasted surface map for Thursday evening showing Michigan in the warm sector behind the red warm-front, and blue cold-front.

Forecasted surface map for Thursday evening showing Michigan in the warm sector behind the red warm-front, and blue cold-front following for Friday.

Cooler and drier air will move in for the weekend as the cold front wipes this mess clean. An area of high pressure will dominate this weekend bringing temperatures in the mid 60s and clear skies to the area.

Tropical weather is off to a slow start as Tropical Storm Humberto wanders along disorganized out in the Atlantic. Humberto is expected to remain a Tropical Storm, and take a journey northward. A broad region of low pressure over the Yucatán Peninsula looks promising, but remains plagued by its own disorganization. As this area moves north and west, it is expected to achieve depression status, but this is over the next 48 hours.

In the Eastern Pacific, Tropical Storm Manuel is docking along the Baja peninsula. Manuel is actually on the weather map above painted as a Tropical Depression in the coming days.

Week Rumblings (Sept. 9, 2013)

Been a rather busy summer. Despite some neat weather events taking place, I’ve either; A: written half of a post and it got past a relevant time to be posted or B: just was flat-out too busy to write something up! Let’s see how far we get this time…

Big story this week is our temperature fluctuations. Around the beginning of September, temps were right on the money and we were getting that nice Fall vibe going on. Beautiful weather topped off last week with highs in the mid-70s and clear skies. It also felt nice and crisp outside, actually noticed this due to slightly increased distance visibility. Our slate had been wiped clean early in the week after some storms, and the humidity had retreated south. However the weather systems had other plans and threw us a curve ball early this week. Today felt like we were back in the middle of summer! Highs topped out at 93F today, dew-point temps were in the mid 60s, so the humidity was around as well. This is all thanks to a ridge that developed early this week which pumped warm, moist, southern air into our region.  Last week with our cooler temperatures, a strong low pressure area over NE Canada provided us with air drawn from the cooler north. So we are seeing tales from both sides, in other words, Fall.

Won't be long before trees start looking a little more diverse in color!

Won’t be long before trees start looking a little more diverse in color! (and the sun setting earlier)

The heat won’t last long. This was the one day that stood out reaching the 90s. We will begin cooling down for the rest of the week, and enjoy a 60s weekend. With this temp swing, there are scattered showers and thunderstorms to go with it. These won’t last past Thursday evening. A few short-range, high-resolution models show a line of showers and thunderstorms developing along the cold front as it slowly drapes across the region. This line will begin in northern Michigan late tonight/early Wednesday morning and progress SE.

Bottom Line: This was a one-off hot day, expect the next two days to be cooling down, but filled with on and off showers. Weekend looks clear and cool. Enjoy temperatures in the mid 60s, 30 degrees cooler than Tuesday!