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.

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!

 

Springing Along

The past few weeks have proved a questionable spring. Temps failing to reach 60, frozen precipitation, a sun missing in action….can’t rely on Midwest weather to be on a consistent time-table.

At least two of these mentioned will be absent this week. Perhaps the most justifying, rain and warmer weather will arrive.

Rain is no stranger so far this Spring. A nice dose of 2+ inches across the region last week has us well above normal for the year(yellow line). Rain is again in the forecast for the week. Rainmakers will appear on Monday/Monday Night, as well as heading into Thursday when conditions may threaten for some severe weather along the Michigan/Ohio border. This will need to be looked at as the week progresses. Through next Saturday, a good two inches of rain could fall in already saturated areas, so flooding will again be possible.

Grand Rapids climate graph of 2013 so far.

Grand Rapids climate graph of 2013 so far.

At least the precipitation will be in liquid form. Sleet was reported in southern Michigan on Sunday, and Central Michigan University campus had a delayed start on Friday thanks to a sleet/freezing rain combination Thursday evening. That event may have been worse had the days leading up to the storm not been above freezing. Ground warmth did a good job at fighting off ice accumulation on surfaces. Trees don’t harbor this ability as well, and ice on the branches was evident while out and about on Friday.

Warm weather will filter into the region with our rain producing pattern. A ridge will amplify over the Midwest, and the warm air will be allowed to travel north. However, with that transport is the mentioned moisture. Temperatures will start in the lower 60s for Monday, and top out in the mid/upper 60s on Thursday. Once we have our stormy day on Thursday, the associated cold front and trough will bring in some cooler spring air, but still above freezing during the day. Yay progress! Hang in there!

Bitterly Cold Air Inbound

The cold will get colder next week as jet stream features carry cool air down from Western Canada (Alberta and Saskatchewan). Here is a rough ground estimated temperature from the GFS for Tuesday night. The red/blue lines show their listed temperature value, while the black lines show Mean Sea Level Pressure (MSLP) in millibars.

Cold air plume invading the Midwest from Canada.

Cold air plume invading the Midwest from Canada.

Thankfully, the warm nature of the Great Lakes will shield us Michiganders from the bulk of cold air. Notice how tightly the lines of temperature are packed north of Michigan indicating the strong temperature gradient. Also, directly west of Lake Michigan lies a -5F degree line, where we will stay a good 10 degrees warmer than that with lake shielding. Nonetheless, highs on Tuesday may only reach the mid teens, and the rest of the week struggles to get above 20. Nightly lows will be in the single digits, early morning commuters will be able to count the temperature with their fingers. These bitter temperatures combined with strong winds will make wind chills in the negatives, so bundle up!

As is common with cold air over a warm body of water, the lake effect snow machine will be churning. With this strong cold air mass moving through, shoreline locations will see a good bit of snow. Along the eastern shores of Lake Michigan accumulations will be as much as 6″. Lake effect snow events can vary in short-term, so will keep an eye on where accumulations will trend. (Worthwhile to note Grand Rapids NWS has a Winter Storm Watch out for counties along the Lake Michigan coast. Gaylord NWS also has Watches out for a little clipper coming across this weekend and the additional lake effect snows)