May 10 2008 Tornado Outbreak Storm Chase

Mar 05, 2012

Summary:

Chose to play the terrain game on this one. Two target zones saw decent potential, the dryline along eastern OK and the warm front which extended also from eastern OK all the way to GA. We decided to play the terrain game and head down to eastern AR in hopes the warm front would light up before the dryline. Just the opposite happened [stronger cap along the warm front…DOH!] So as usual our storms went up in the evening in a hazy environment making it hard to see the beauty but at least we got to mess around with the most beastly tornadic supercells so far this year [for us.]

Stats:

Tornadoes: Maybe 1 [will explain later]
Highest Wind measured: Anemometer is broken so 00.0mph
Largest hail: 0.00″ [didn’t get into any hail this time. BOOOO!]
Features: Very large, violently rotating wall cloud.

Miles: 1520

Number of SBDs i set off without Matt knowing: 6

Number of people who came up to chat with us because we were chasers: 11

Detailed account:

So 2am Saturday morning rolls around, I’m out having a blast and I get the text I had been waiting for all night. “We better leave now” and off I went. I had all my gear ready at home so all there was to do was rush in and pick it up. Got Matt and we were off, we didn’t have a target city but we had a target zone so the plan was just to get down there and see where we would want to stop.

 

Drove on the new 355 extension for the 1st time, its very nice might I add. So I drive all night and we get down to Arkansas around 11am when we decide to head west to Forrest City. I noticed a rest stop not too far from there and chose that instead. It was a more ideal place to steal a nap but of course the locals come to chat with us and often woke us up but I did manage to snooze for 15 minutes [it helps believe me!]

 

Irresponsible pet owners! It was 70 and humid!

During our roughly 3hr stop there some elevated crapvection developed out to the west and worried me a bit, yet I was still confident in our location, tornado watches were up everywhere except for our section of the state. I told matt those would get replaced by the PDS watch which would also include us and sure enough that is what happened! PDS = particularly dangerous situation [the mother of all tornado watches.] So once this happens we decide to head a bit more south to better terrain and to be in a better position.

 

I choose Stuttgart, AR because the road options are supreme. We arrive there to cheap gas prices BUT NO FAST FOOD! So with nowhere good to sit we head back out of town and sit behind a giant sporting good store. I snap a few pics, it looks like convection is trying to build to the west but the towers are getting sheared off, indications the mid and upper level support is arriving.

We decide to leave because data in that area was slow so we went back north, lured by the storms moving in towards Little Rock and gambling on the fact they might strengthen. We shoot back up to I-40 and start to notice a particular storm that looks good so we turn off the highway to follow it. As we get closer we notice a very large rain free base!

Its apparent this storm is strengthening, but low and behold we now find ourselves in bad terrain and on HORRIBLE county back roads, some of the worst Ive ever driven on. Winds are intensifying and we’re driving along trees which has me nervous that one could come crashing down. We hit a clearing and then our storm now looks like this:

Now thats what I call a lowering!! The whole meso was practically on the ground, this was also rotating very nicely and coming together, so we manage to get ahead of it briefly to observe it…at this point my laptop data card crashes so it was time to put our visual instincts to the test.

Thinking it would continue east we went north to a better road to blast ahead of it and then the plan was to dip south. The storm had the same plan and made a turn to the SE [it was a right mover!! a good sign for tornadic potential] and we had lost it on the road and got far behind it.

So we’re back at I-40 trying to catch this thing, tornado reports are coming in, the storm produced! we had lost it and then it produced a tornado. As if that didn’t sting enough I was in for another blow when the next report comes in.

Stuttgart, AR has just been hit. The town we were in just 2 hours ago. Our data connection comes back and 3 of the largest supercells I have ever seen pop up on radar. At that point I could have swerved into a tree to end the pain but we decided to race after them. Now traffic is stopped and all is chaos [as often is the case when tornados move through populated areas.]

Here is the supercell that produced the tornado in Stuttgart, for some reason my stupid GPS icon isn’t showing up but we can still get a good idea of where we are at due to the road files we installed. What a hook!

What you can’t see though is there is another one behind it that is just as intense. We were basically threading the needle and going in between them, lightning is all around us and so is thunder. Part of me is hoping the hail core would get us as the GR3 was indicating 3″ hail but that never happened.

To FFWD a bit, we stay ahead of the second supercell and beat it across the MS river into MS. We chose an interception point somewhere near Clarksdale. We make it there with only minutes to spare. We pull off the highway to observe it for awhile noting lots of lowerings but nothing definite. After about 5 minutes and decide its over but no more than 5 seconds after me stepping on the gas a bright power flash right infront of us. Three seconds later another one just to the right of where the 1st one is. Something is there so Matt freaks out and we bolt north to “get out of harms way” when it becomes apparent we went too far and now we cant see and have to blast back south.

We reposition ourselves again looking into town. I pull out the camera and start recording. Here are some stills:

I turn my camera off and then it happens again. ANOTHER POWERFLASH! So I turn the camera back on and manage to get the next one that happened about 10 seconds later:

Whether this is being caused by a tornado or not is hard to say, there is a definite lowering above the powerflash, as seen in this still here:

Needless to say Matt wants to move again only now we find ourselves trapped in the town because the cops have every single damn road blocked off due to extensive damage. We drove around in circles for about 20 minutes but at least we got to observe some of the damage for ourselves. Some large signs blown over, trees down and a truck or SUV rolled over on its side. We sat in a gas station that had all its cans and signs blown everywhere and chatted with more people who came up to us to ask if it was safe to move on. Eventually we found a way out of town and we headed to Memphis where we stayed the night.
The hotel gets 2 thumbs up, a massaging showerhead and direct phone service to Dominos pizza. So I got an amazing nights sleep. I woke up and drove home while eagerly awaiting the NWS survey to see if they would conclude a tornado or straight line winds. They did both actually, straight line winds through Clarksdale which is where we were at, but they confirmed some tornado touch downs not far at all from where we were at. It is possible the power flashes we witnessed were also caused by a weak tornado, or strong straight line winds which the NWS estimates at 110mph!!!! either way the verdict is INCONCLUSIVE.
The setting sun along I-55 as we drive home.

SPC storm reports for the day. Unfortunately 23 people lost their lives. 2008 has been a deadly year so far.

My google map of the chase:

That sums up chase number 6. 2008 has been very challenging with the stalled weather pattern, the chase setups are less than favorable, mostly in bad terrain and in hazy conditions which aren’t photo-friendly. Every opportunity must be taken though and thats just the nature of the game! I’m already excited for next time.

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