March 2 2012 Indiana and Kentucky Tornado Outbreak

Mar 05, 2012

Crazy Start…

Summary:

Feared we couldn’t make target area/storm in time so opted for challenging intercept along the Ohio River catching 2 lesser known tornadoes in Kentucky during a deadly early season outbreak. Also got into large hail and had building debris falling around us. Called off chase after losing storm when we encountered damage caused by our second tornado.

 

Stats:

 

Tornadoes:2
Largest Hail: < 2.75 [baseball]
Highest Wind: est 65mph RFD surge
Number of chases in a row yielding tornadoes: 5!
New state chased in: KY
First tornadoes in the following state: KY

 

Detailed Account:

A good 7 days before the event this system began showing up on forecast models. Largely in unfavorable chase area I really didn’t consider it until a fluke run of the NAM made it look like there would be potential tornadoes in Central IL. I began to make arrangements to chase but the forecast models began going back to their original target area. I was not pleased by this but I had already gotten so excited over the thought of chasing I decided to just chase no matter where it ended up.

I planned for an intercept near the OH river, along I-65. I was teaming up with Jonathan Williamson and for the first time Alec Sholten, Devin Lewis and Lorraine Mahoney. My original plan was to leave at 10am but I switched it to 9 the night before due to the farther south target. Unfortunately I made a communication error and didn’t let everyone know. Luckily everyone was here by 930 and we were on our way. Storms were just getting going as we took off so it was time to high tail it down there.

We made good time, stopping for gas near Lafayette as some grungy storms moved overheard bringing the tiniest hail I’ve probably ever encountered. I really don’t think hail gets any smaller than this. Photo by Lorraine.

After stopping for gas we already had our target storm in mind and had enough time to get ahead of it. Of course as fate would have it as we approached Indy we learned of a wreck on I-65 that supposedly had things shut down, we now had to detour around the city on 465 which cost us probably 20 minutes. A new storm now formed ahead of ours, and quickly went tornadic. It was going to be very close, and with 60mph storm motions we didn’t want to risk missing it by a few minutes and falling behind, so we opted to keep heading southeast out of Indy to get ahead of it and intercept in the favorable terrain of southeast Indiana.The two storms on radar, both producing tornadoes.

I always hate this style of chasing, making the long, fast dash of doom to catch storms already ongoing. Initiation had occurred earlier than I had anticipated though. We began to hear the reports coming out of the Henryville area of a major tornado. SN report icons began popping up from fellow chasers with tornado reports and I got that nasty gut sinking feeling, but we had to press forward. Much to our dismay and as another twist of fate, the supercells veered to the right and were now on a course to cross the Ohio river. This made things difficult but we found a potential crossing in Madison Indiana where we could get where we needed to be.

Until our 3rd twist in fate slapped us in the face in the form of incredibly slow moving local traffic, it must be the weather but this always seems to happen to me. As we were battling traffic in Madison building debris began raining down around us. Not small pieces of debris either but large chunks of sheet metal some as big as my truck. We knew a significant tornado was in our storm and it was time to move.

Screenshot from video of a large piece of falling debris.
Knowing there was a significant tornado in our storm, and being stuck in slow traffic near our planned crossing we aborted the plan to cross in Madison because the storm had gained ground and we again didn’t want to core punch our way into a significant tornado or even worse, fall behind it and have game over. We were now at the river which had a frontage road along side of it. That was our only other option. We turned east along this road, inside the storms core. Golfball size hail began pummeling us as we finally gained a view of the storms wall cloud, on the other side of the river. The storm was literally tracking along the river, OF COURSE.
Finally, Jon spotted a rope tornado. Sure enough it was able to be seen between the trees. We cheered our redemption, but had to keep going. Random hailstones larger than golfball were falling around us, but none ever struck the vehicle. The tornado became better organized, fully condense and then morphed into a multi vortex tornado with all sorts of crazy motions. It was an awesome tornado, but we had a terrible view of it from the other side of the river and in between trees. Because of this my video turned out poor but I managed to salvage a couple video stills.

This tornado caused damage in Milton, KY which is where we would have ended up had we crossed the Ohio river at Madison, IN like we originally planned. We eventually found a great view after our road curved south along the river, but OF COURSE the tornado had lifted by that point. We were still treated to a nice view of a rapidly rotating wall cloud as a new RFD surge blasted us. At this point we began to lose ground on the storm as we had to eventually cross the river. We finally did so around the tiny KY town of Warsaw. By this point we decided to let storm 1 go and drop to the next one. This was my first chase into actual Kentucky.

Terrain was hilly but largely treeless so we at least had views. Roads were the challenge now, as we had plenty of N/S options to choose from but very few E/W options. We punched the core of storm #2 and got into the cage. Upon arrival into the cage we noted very intense rotation directly above us. A tornado was probably developing over our heads so we kept a close eye out when Jon spotted another funnel cloud in the nearby rain.

We stopped and watched for a few minutes as the funnel lowered to just above the ground. Given our position and the extreme HP nature of the storm we had a very limited time to view it as it became wrapped in the rain. The storm was moving due east and our only roads moved north and south. We were at the junction of state roads 35/127. 35 went straight south, 127 went east for maybe a mile before curving back north. Our gamble was to take 127 and try our luck with horrible winding roads that slowly went east. That gamble, as expected did not work out as the roads were very narrow and twisted allowing for only slow speeds. We eventually lost the storm and called the chase. Just as that happened we came across a massive swatch of damage, likely from our tornado as it matured and became stronger.
We tried to find a spot to document damage and help out if needed, but EMS crews were already well present on scene, so we turned around to stay out of the way and head for home. It was a wild chase for the first of a the season, but unfortunately this outbreak went on to cause major damage, and at the time of this writing I believe the death toll is at 31. Thoughts and wishes go out to all those involved. This is not the way we like to start out the season.

Conclusion:

The feeling of failure from missing the big, photogenic catches of the day is hard to ignore, however the day was far from a failure. When push came to shove we made all the right decisions to get into the cage of 2 very intense supercells in difficult terrain with a poor road network. We documented 2 tornadoes in Kentucky very few people saw, they were also my first ever in the state along with the first chase. Kentucky now joins the ranks with Alabama as being 1 for 1 with chases and tornadoes. The core punching with large hail while watching the tornado was something I always wanted to experience and if we had better terrain/roads we would have pulled off a truly amazing intercept so its nice knowing we have the skill to get it done in the most difficult situations. It is a great way to start off a chase season, and is certainly the best start of my career to date.

Map:
1 – Falling debris location
2 – Area we viewed the Milton Tornado

3 – Location where we viewed the second tornado.

SPC Storm Reports:

 


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