31 January 2012

Chaser Profile: Shane Adams


1) What is your name and where do you live?

Shane Adams, and I live in North Richland Hills, TX

2) Do you have a website or a brand name that people identify you as?

I have a website which has been around since 1999:www.passiontwist.com. I guess you could consider Passion Twist a "brand" by today's standards, because most people who know me associate me with it.

3) What got you interested in weather?

Just growing up where I did, in Oklahoma. As far back as I can remember, there were always storms on a regular basis. I never feared them. I was always intrigued from the beginning. Once I discovered tornadoes, those became my all-consuming passion. Never seeing one my whole life fueled a desire to witness one that was unrelenting.

4) What is your favorite aspect of weather?

Definitely the tornado. In fact, other than tornadoes and supercells, I'm really not that interested in weather.

5) When did you first start chasing?

June 6, 1996 was my first chase, but the only one that year for me. My first full season was 1997.

6) What do you see chasing as... a hobby or a business?

Neither...it's an all-consuming passion.

7) Who do you credit for getting you into chasing and what have they done to further your career?

Myself, LOL. Everyone I knew thought I was crazy because I wanted to see a tornado growing up. Once I started chasing them, they thought I was even crazier. I never had a support group when I started chasing, even into my first few years. Most veterans shunned me, because I was so unlike any of them. I don't think they thought I would last. Over the years, after it became obvious I wasn't going away, many of them finally accepted me.

8) Do you have any chase partners?

My girlfriend, Bridget Geaughan, has been my partner since 2008. I've had several partners over the years: Greg Clark (1996-2000), David Brown (1997-2000), Matt Sellers (1998-2003), Dwain Warner (1998-2001, 2004), Jeff Johncox (1998-1999), Mark McGowan (1999-2000), Chad Lawson (2001-2011), Mickey Ptak (2004-2011). I've chased with several different people, but these people were/are my main partners throughout the years.

9) What is your most successful chase?

Most difficult question in chasing, LOL. I can give you my top five, but even those would change depending on the day. May 29, 2004 (Sumner/Harper co KS tornado machine)...June 12, 2004 (Mulvane, KS tornado)...May 3, 1999...October 24, 2010 (Rice, TX tornado).

10) What is your most terrifying moment?

May 5, 2002 near Lesley, TX. Just after dark, an intense RFD slammed a long line of chasers we were in. I experienced the highest winds I've ever been in, nothing I've experienced even comes close to this night. Our vehicle was pushed across dry pavement like we were on ice, a power pole next to us snapped and flew into us, striking the "a pillar" where the windshield meets the hood, and our back wheels were lifted off the ground briefly. This was the only time in my chasing life that I thought we were going to roll over.

11) About how many tornadoes have you seen?

This is probably the most meaningless stat these days, but by my count I've seen 165 tornadoes.

12) What do you think about people who chase for sales and the need to get up close and personal with Mother Nature?

I don't get it, but to each their own. One thing I will say, is any chaser who makes it a part of their routine to make money, doesn't love chasing. They love chasing and making money from it, all together. I see people say time and again how devoted they are, but when you're always selling video, there's something more there than just the desire to see a storm. But at the end of the day, it doesn't change what I do out there, so other than answering an interview question, I really don't care.

13) Describe your dream chase.

Great tornadoes, great video.

14) What is your favorite set up to chase?

Any classic S Plains triple point setup is great, although I do love those days with rogue supercells riding outflow boundaries.

15) Which state has brought you the most success? Least success?

Being a S Plains born and bred chaser, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas have always been my bread and butter, particularly Oklahoma. My least successful state that I've chased fairly consistently over the years would probably be Nebraska, though one of my top-ten chases occurred there. Although I haven't chased there a whole lot of times (maybe a dozen my entire career), Iowa would probably be my worst state. I've never seen sh*t there.

16) Do you want to pursue a career in meteorology? Would you ever chase locally for a t.v station?

No and been there, done that, never again.

17) What do you see chasing as being like in 5-10 years?

I don't really think about it. I stopped wondering about it once the techno craze took over. What you see today is what it will always be for most, except faster, easier, and more expensive. I got off that train years ago. For me personally, chasing will be in 5-10 years what it's always been: the thing I love to do more than anything.

18) Despite all the deaths and destruction in 2011, are you looking forward to chasing in 2012 knowing you can run into a Tuscaloosa or Joplin?

Of course. I'd love to see a Joplin or Tuscaloosa type tornado...just out in the open. I don't retain guilt from human tragedy regarding tornadoes like so many people seem to. I don't control the weather. Of course, I'd much rather my tornadoes stay in open areas than affect people. But if it's going to happen anyway, I want to be there (from a distance).

19) Is there any point in time where you had no desire to chase anymore? What caused that and what gave you the power to move on.

Yes. The last part of 2006 and into the first few months of 2007. I'd gotten out of a long, grueling relationship, and for the first time in years I was both single and had money. I worked out of town Monday-Thursday, so when I was home on weekends, I wanted to just relax. I suddenly had opportunities to do things I'd never been able to do, like pursue my musical interests. I didn't like the idea of spending my weekend on the road again chasing when I was out of town already four days of the week. Fortunately for me, this burnout period happened during the off season. I missed the March 28, 2007 event because I had to commit to chasing it the Monday before, a full two days in advance. Because my car was on its last legs, and I wasn't wild about the setup at the time, I opted out and just rode down to Dallas with my boss. Well, the event ended up being incredible, I missed everything, and I was furious. My burnout had happened because it WAS the off season; chasing was far away and out of mind. But to miss a marquee event so early in the season infuriated me, and I knew that I'd always be a chaser. I never really stopped, I just thought I was going to.

20) How long do you plan on continuing chasing?

As long as I draw breath.

21) Outside of chasing, what do you like to do?
I'm not one of those people who has to have a different hobby for every season. I chase tornadoes. And when I can't, I talk about chasing tornadoes. I write about chasing tornadoes. I do webshows about the stupid things other chasers do besides chasing tornadoes. Most of what I do revolves around chasing to some degree. I think about chasing, in some way shape or form, constantly. It never goes away. Some people consider me pathetic. I overlook that, because they don't know any better.

South Plains, Texas tornado May 12th, 2005
*Rice, Texas tornado crossing I 45 October 24th, 2010

*Authors note* - This is one of my FAVORITE storm chasing DVDs it is a must have! Please check out his site http://www.passiontwist.com/videos.htm and purchase some of his awesome DVDs. 

What Shane has to say:

Chasing is my life. Although I obviously can't chase year round, it's always the driving force behind everything I do. My life is completely structured around it to the best of my ability, and every decision I make regarding anything else always hinges on how it affects my ability to chase. There's nothing I love more than the freedom of the open road, the wonder and excitement of what could be, and the satisfaction of observing an amazing tornado and capturing it on video. My chasing DVDs are my life's story, told through my video camera. I will chase until the day I die. Many say that, few do. I will be the exception.

Chaser Profile: Jake Ferden

* Jake Ferden at The Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, Colorado August 2011

1) What is your name and where do you live?

Jacob (Jake) Ferden, Norman, OK, originally from Minnesota

2) Do you have a website or a brand name that people identify you as?

Not at the moment, but I've been kicking around the idea of using blogger to post some forecasts, chase logs, photos, etc. Maybe reach a slightly wider audience than my Facebook friends list.

3) What got you interested in weather?

Interested in weather since I was a little kid. I remember watching TWC's tornado specials back in '95 or '96, somewhere in there, and really developing an interest from that point forward. I I can definitely say that I was aware of chasers before Twister came out, so I have that going for me. 

4) What is your favorite aspect of weather?

I'm a pretty visual person. So I'm big into supercell structure, photogenic moments, etc. I'm still waiting for a tornado from some high plains LP supercell. I'd love to get that shot.

5) When did you first start chasing?

Did a little tentative local chasing" in Minnesota in 2008. Went on my first actual chase on April 9, 2009 in eastern Oklahoma. Probably took a bit of an unorthodox route into it, I just went off on my own in my car with a road atlas and my phone. Didn't see anything but the back end of a squall line, but I was hooked after that.

6) What do you see chasing as... a hobby or a business?

Hobby all the way.

7) Who do you credit for getting you into chasing and what have they done to further your career?

I don't know that there's any one person that I can credit for it. It was more the type of thing that gradually built as I aged. One thing that really piqued my interest by the time I got to OU was reading through the chase logs of some of the veteran chasers going back over 10 or 15 or even 20 years.

8) Do you have any chase partners?

I have chased solo the vast majority of the time, although I have a few people in Norman who I've chased with on occasion. There is something rewarding about scoring on a solo chase, although I also enjoy the companionship of chasing with other people. There are pros and cons to both.

9) What is your most successful chase?

April 22, 2010. The one textbook, perfectly executed day of my short career. Drove to my target in the Texas panhandle, refined it, got on a great supercell, witnessed awesome backlit tornadoes. Sheer bliss. Probably the happiest day of my life.

10) What is your most terrifying moment?

The evening of April 25, 2009. At that point I still didn't have much of a clue about what I was doing, wound up driving into a monster supercell after dark from the northwest. Narrowly missed getting tagged by the EF2 tornado that went through Enid, OK.

11) About how many tornadoes have you seen?

This is a tricky question to answer due to a couple of relatively ambiguous situations. I can definitely say that I witnessed one on 04/25/09, one on 06/12/09, at least a half dozen, and possibly up to 10 or more on 04/22/10. 05/10/10 and 05/19/10 were days with fast moving storms and poor visibility, respectively. I may or may not have witnessed actual tornadoes on both of these days. So eight for sure, possibly up to 10-15 depending upon what actually happened or how one counts things.

12) What do you think about people who chase for sales and the need to get up close and personal with Mother Nature?

I think chasing for sales and only sales kind of negates part of the beauty of chasing itself. I am extremely fond of driving to the target, waiting at a truck stop, engaging a developing storm, watching a supercell cycle up and down...all are positive feelings I take back from every successful chase. As far as how close one chooses to get, to each their own, so long as they aren't endangering the lives of anyone trying to stay out of the way.

13) Describe your dream chase.

 My dream chase? 04/22/10 was darn close, I would say. A family of backlit tornadoes in open country. I used to say I wanted to witness a wedgefest but 2011 has kind of put things in perspective as far as what bad things can happen. One thing I wish would happen in a more general sense is a return of frequent great storms to the Texas panhandle. You won't find better chase terrain anywhere in the world, and I've always enjoyed reading chase logs from the '90s about the awesome supercells that used to occur out there with some regularity.

14) What is your favorite set up to chase?

Classic dryline-triple point-warm front. I'm a dryline man in most circumstances, but it's nice to have all three targets to choose from.

15) Which state has brought you the most success? Least success?

Texas has brought me the most because of that one fantastic day. Kansas has probably brought me the least, as I have yet to witness a tornado there in three years of chasing. Probably in pretty select company in choosing Kansas though, as in past years it's been a chase mecca.

16) Do you want to pursue a career in meteorology? Would you ever chase locally for a t.v 

 I originally was pursuing meteorology at OU but switched out due to various reasons. I can't see myself in that field at this point, sadly. As far as the T.V. station idea...my one issue with that has always been that it tends to restrict you to the station's viewing area. I've never been one who likes settling for a closer secondary target. In other words, I'd rather drive 300 miles to my favored target than 100 miles to a more conditional situation. I certainly would be open to the idea in the right circumstances.

17) What do you see chasing as being like in 5-10 years?

I think the increase in gas prices, along with the demise of the Discovery channel series, may result in an eventual decrease of the chase mobs which, IMO, were at their absolute peak in mid-May of 2010. I don't think we're ever going back to the days when you could have a supercell entirely to yourself, but I would not be surprised to see a moderation of the current chaser convergence issues.

18) Despite all the deaths and destruction in 2011, are you looking forward to chasing in 
2012 knowing you can run into a Tuscaloosa or Joplin?

I'm actually really looking forward to this spring for one simple reason...recovery. 2011 was far and away the most trying, disappointing season I've had, and I'm eager to put it behind me. My stance on the mass casualty issue is that I can't control what the tornado does. It's going to do the damage and killing regardless. If I come upon that sort of situation, all I can do is help as best I can. I'm sure I'll witness destruction many times in the years to come. It comes with the territory.

19) Is there any point in time where you had no desire to chase anymore? What caused that and what gave you the power to move on.

 I came close once, in late May of 2010 following the awful chase caravans and other various incidents. Not an anger at the situation, but more of a fear that I might have been unduly contributing to it. I snapped out of it quickly enough, though.

20) How long do you plan on continuing chasing?

 As long as I'm physically, mentally, and monetarily able. I don't know if that will be for one year or ten years or fifty years. However long it is, I'm going to savor every minute of it, because there's nothing I enjoy more.

21) Outside of chasing, what do you like to do?

I love traveling to various parts of the country. I kind of view myself as a bit of a free spirit. So I love going to national parks, hiking a trail, eating in diners, sometimes I just drive somewhere for the hell of it. Love the open road.

*Tornado near I 40 on 4/22/10

*Tornado near I 40 on 4/22/10

* LP supercell near Greensburg, KS - 4/9/11
What Jake has to say:

I view chasing as an extension of who I am, what I do, and what I am thinking about with regard to everything in life. When I am standing under a meso, or watching a tornado in progress, or even when I’m just driving to a target under a sunny sky with puffy cumulus developing ahead of me, I just feel…alive. Secure in who I am, relishing a connection with the earth and its atmosphere, in sync with everything that is going on around me. To me, chasing isn’t about me. Chasing isn’t about the storms. Chasing is about both. Every day I chase I feel permanently and irreversibly connected with everything that occurs, for better or for worse. I am not a religious person, but I guess you could say that it is my time of harmonious, spiritual realization. A time of growth. A time of rebirth. That is why I can’t imagine stopping any time soon. To take such a powerful, unrelenting pleasure from anything is something that a person can’t afford to take for granted, and who knows what the years ahead will bring? But I know this…as long as I’m able, I’ll be out there. Maybe I’ll see you under a meso this year.

Jacob Ferden

30 January 2012

Chaser Profile: Tom Purdy


* Tom Purdy enjoying life outside of chasing *
1) What is your name and where do you live?

My name is Tom Purdy, I live in Janesville, Wisconsin

2) Do you have a website or a brand name that people identify you as? 

Currently no website but I do have a youtube page wich is "Badgerfan81"

3) What got you interested in weather?

My interest was actually sparked by fear from a younger age. I remember being about 5-6 years old and the power going out in an overnight thunderstorm, the fear was so intense in me I literally peed my pants. 

4) What is your favorite aspect of weather?

The fact that it is ever changing, there is no "normal" when it comes to weather. You always have to be on your toes.

5) When did you first start chasing?

November 22nd 2010 was my 1st official chase.

6) What do you see chasing as... a hobby or a business?

For me right now it is a hobby. 

7) Who do you credit for getting you into chasing and what have they done to further your career?

There are several people That I give credit to, 1st would be my brother for pushing me to go after it before he left to join the USAF. Then id have to give credit to Adam Lucio, Danny NeaL and Jim Sellars for answering all my questions and being more that willing to take the time and explain and teach me all about weather. 

8) Do you have any chase partners?

Not per se, I have chased with a few different people but none I call partners completely, in 2012 I will be partering more with a gentleman that is also getting started.

9) What is your most successful chase?

I would have to say July 27th 2011, even though we didnt see the tornado after running out of daylight, it was a huge moral victory to nail the forecast. the storm we were on did produce 2 tornadoes.

10) What is your most terrifying moment?

Being in golfball size hail and torrential rains in the mountains near Custer, SD visibility was nearly non existent and the roads were slick as ice.

11) About how many tornadoes have you seen?

While chasing I have seen an astonishing 0 but i have seen 3 in my lifetime.

12) What do you think about people who chase for sales and the need to get up close and personal with Mother Nature?

as far as sales, to each his own, I cant say id turn down any money so im neither for nor against it. As far as up close and personal, I fully get that, I also love the rush of being right there.

13) Describe your dream chase.

As odd as it may be, my dream chase would be to bag my 1st tornado in my home state on a slight risk day. Just a tube tearing up a cornfield is my dream.

14) What is your favorite set up to chase?

It would have to be a strong low pressure with a potent WF, I love playing the warm fronts 

15) Which state has brought you the most success? Least success?

As in terms of some of my favorite chases so far id have to say Illinois, it has been good to me. Really dont have a least spot yet.

16) Do you want to pursue a career in meteorology? Would you ever chase locally for a t.v station?

As much as I love forecasting, I dont think id want to be a meteorologist. I absolutely would chase for a local T.V> station at this point. I think some of the best exposure starts locally.

17) What do you see chasing as being like in 5-10 years?

Its hard to tell, as with anything I still think you will have people that are very passionate out there doing it. As technology advances and social media gets bigger, there will likely be more people doing it.

18) Despite all the deaths and destruction in 2011, are you looking forward to chasing in 2012 knowing you can run into a Tuscaloosa or Joplin?

I am looking forward to it very much! I dont think anyone expects to run into a Joplin or Tuscaloosa but I have the belief that no matter what we say, what we do or what we know, we can never change what mother nature does and have to take the good with the bad in this activity.

19) Is there any point in time where you had no desire to chase anymore? What caused that and what gave you the power to move on?

I have never wanted to actually quit, I have gotten frustrated at times with choosing the wrong storm but never enough to lose any desire.

20) How long do you plan on continuing chasing?

I plan on doing it as long as I can. As long as I am healthy and my family is healthy and I have the means to do it, ill be doing it 

21) Outside of chasing storms, what do you like to do?

Outside of chasing I love being outdoors. Fishing, hunting camping, etc. I am also a huge sports fan and go to as many sporting events as possible. I also love spending time with my family.

* Severe thunderstorms near Custer, SD July 2011
* Mammatus from Supercell near Custer, SD July 2011
What Tom has to say:

Its been great to get to know people that share a common interest. Like many of you I am just an ordinary guy that has an unordinary passion. I like to laugh, joke and have a good time. As people have helped me to learn over the past couple of years, I am more than willing to help others learn the best I can. I look forward to meeting some of yall in 2012. Good luck and stay safe! Also feel free to follow me on Twitter @TomPurdyWI 

One chaser a day

I have adopted the idea of showcasing one chaser a day (maybe every few days depending on my availability) to be a featured subject on my blog. While I am not the biggest named chaser out there, I would like to think at least if people hear my name they associate me with storm chasing. A lot of newer chasers out there just want their work to be seen, so I am going to dedicate a portion of my blog to them and their voice. I am going to come with 10-20 generic questions to ask, then ask them for ONE video, and a couple of their best photos. At the end I will allow a paragraph or two of their words and mission/goals for chasing.

Question template:
Intro pic
1) What is your name and where do you live?
2) Do you have a website or a brand name that people identify you as?
3) What got you interested in weather?
4) What is your favorite aspect of weather?
5) When did you first start chasing?
6) What do you see chasing as... a hobby or a business?
7) Who do you credit for getting you into chasing and what have they done to further your career?
8) Do you have any chase partners?
9) What was your most successful chase?
10) What was your most terrifying moment?
11) About how many tornadoes have you seen?
12) What do you think about people who chase for sales and the need to get up close and personal with Mother Nature?
13) Describe your dream chase.
14) What is your favorite set up to chase?
15) Which state has brought you the most success? Least success?
16) Do you want to pursue a career in meteorology? Would you ever chase locally for a t.v station?
17) What do you see chasing as being like in 5-10 years?
18) Despite all the deaths and destruction in 2011, are you looking forward to chasing in 2012 knowing you can run into a Tuscaloosa or Joplin?
19) Is there any point in time where you had no desire to chase anymore? What caused that and what gave you the power to move on.
20) How long do you plan on continuing chasing?
21) Outside of chasing, what do you like to do?
22) What kind of music do you like to listen to on the chase or in general?
23) What is your favorite professional and college sports team?
24) Do you have a family or pets?
25) Tell me 3 things that someone outside of chasing may not know you for.
26) If you have kids or plan on having them... would you like to involve them in your chasing?
27) Do you have a job and what do you do?
28) How do you feel about people who say they chase tornadoes for the sole purpose of saving lives?
29) If there was one event in history that you wish you were around for to chase, what would it be?
30) Do you only chase severe weather or do you chase hurricanes and winter weather as well?
31) Do you go to a college or university, if so, what do you major in?
32) What do you expect in 2012?




28 January 2012

Introducing a new addition to my blog: PHOTOGRAPY!

I finally caved and did it! I bought a DSLR from a co-worker in my first true attempt at taking good still photography. A lot of the times out on the chase I have documented some high quality HD video but always missed out on "the shot" due to not having a camera. I can not imagine how 5/22 or 6/17 would have looked through the eye of an DSLR instead of a screen grab. We can finally scratch that off the list and add a new weapon to my arsenal out on the plains. I have shot some test shots of my animals and I must say I do like the detail already. There is a lot I need to learn about the camera and a lot the camera needs to learn about me. Overall though I think this will be a happy marriage that will last a long times. I will attach some images I have taken with the camera. Look back for more images in the next few weeks!

A quick look at 4/9/11 and why it produced numerous strong nighttime tornadoes in Iowa.

4/9/11 was one of the few days I was able to chase in 2011. I had made two targets this day.... one sure target north of Omaha, NE and another sleeper target in W. IL. The sure-thing target went nuts after dark while the sleeper target was a bust. Let's take a look at why so many tornadoes occurred after dark in NW IA.

All day conditions were favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms across IA/NE border region. By 5p the cap started to break and thunderstorms developed off to the northwest. Initially these storms produced large hail and numerous gustnadoes. While tornado warned, the initial storm wasn't getting it's act together until it reached Mapleton, IA. That is when an EF-3 touched down and hit the town producing major damage but no deaths. We missed the Mapleton tornado due to a poor choice of roads. I wasn't confident the storm would produce anytime soon so I made a play at going on the south road up and around a hilly region so we could emerge on the otherside just as the supercell was moving into the area. We missed the Mapleton tornado, but soon after caught the storm that was now producing another brief tornado. It was at this time where other storms started developing off to the west and south and we figured the tornado show was over as storms looked like they were lining out. On our way to Ft. Dodge I noticed a suspicious lowering off to the north and proceeded to head that way.... one of my chase partners Matt Cumberland said he spotted a wedge. We scanned the skies, and through the lightning flashes there was in fact a large wedge tornado in progress. Our data had been shady all day, but when we regained it we quickly noticed a training line of supercell thunderstorms all producing large tornadoes. I had the best night chase of my career and capped off an amazing day with lots of large night time tornadoes.

Let's take a look at a couple of reasons why Iowa went nuts that night....

*03z 0-3 EHI values over 9 in NW IA showing environment very conducive to rotating supercells*
*03z Effective Bulk Shear values in the 50kt range, most supercells thrive in 25-40kt bulk shear* 
*03z H85 winds/low level jet screaming into the area bringing a warm moist influx of energy for supercells*
*STP shows a major bullseye in the area the tornadoes occurred.
So with the maps I have provided I can tell you conditions were more conducive for supercells after dark with a strong LLJ aiding low level moisture and rotation. The big factor that came into play was a warm front draped across the MN/IA border. To the south of it warm moist air and to the north cold damp air. It was something like mid 30's north and mid 60's south. We feared that these supercells would cross over into the cool stable air and quickly become elevated. This simply did not happen, each supercell latched onto the warm front draped across the area. With the low continuing to lift across the area, storms continued to form in the area and latch onto the warm front and produce tornado after tornado. EHI values at 9 in April during the night are pretty significant. A southerly LLJ feeding into a storm that broke away from mean flow is just asking for trouble. Since bulk shear was at the 50kt+ range all that wind shear promoted supercells with low level rotation.

Pretty classic night time tornado outbreak situation that unfolded. Very good learning material. Warm front + strong low level jet + strong bulk shear = \__/

27 January 2012

A Beginners Look At April 27th, 2011 and My Decision Not To Chase.

This passage I am about to type is going to partially replay the events of a historically tragic tornado outbreak .... the likes of which may never be duplicated. In this piece I will overview the event, incorporate a timeline, interject my own thoughts, and discuss why I did not chase. Super Outbreak 2011.


* Tornado reports from 4/27 - Absolutely staggering.*
One word to describe the event on 4/27/11. Textbook. Everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING fell into place. Normally in terms of tornado outbreaks, all ingredients come together partially enough to kick off a few supercells with associated tornadoes. Some of the better known outbreaks have a lot of those ingredients put together but a little to much of one thing and not enough of the other usually makes those outbreaks significant but not historically epic. This wasn't the case on April 27th. Every single ingredient was present for an outbreak of epic proportions. Furthermore, each quantity of every ingredient far surpassed the minimum quantity to get things going for a sustained period of time. What does this mean? In terms of an outbreak, a lot of vital ingredients need to be put together and utilized at the right time or else one will wane and wreck the setup. It does no good to have 3,000 CAPE with zero forcing from a shortwave ejecting out or outflow boundary to name a few. Furthermore it also does no good to have non-zero CAPE with 800 m2/s2 helicity values and no trigger. There are a lot of potential days that have a few thousand CAPE, several hundred helicities, exceptional divergence in the upper levels, but a badly timed shortwave.

April 27th had many factors going against it on the onset of the day. What I most amazed is how those negative factors ultimately proved meaningless in terms of detouring an outbreak, but in fact aided in it's destructiveness. For example..... when chasing we look for boundaries, a trigger, clearing, moisture convergence, etc. April 27th started off stormy for portions of the outbreak area... many of those areas stayed stormy all day. A tornadic linear MCS was traversing MS/AL region at the start of the period seriously complicating matters. SPC forecasters nailed this setup many days in advance, but it is impossible to predict mesoscale anomalies 3-4 days in advance. All signs were pointing at a widespread severe weather outbreak with associated risk for tornadoes, but the question was how this MCS came into play. As it turns out only half the risk area was affected, in turn sparing much of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia from a memorable severe weather episode. Further south wasn't so lucky. In the end 300+ lives were lost, thousands injured, billions of billions of dollars of destruction, cities changed forever, and a new found respect for Mother Nature.

Mesoscale and Stormscale features and synopsis:

As eluded to earlier, this outbreak feature all of the right ingredients. Telling you is one thing, showing you is another. I am going to provide sets of data from before initiation, during initiation, and during the most violent of tornadoes. I will post the images and make captions underneath them and then below that I will explain the significance of such a model and what to look for when looking to forecast major tornadoes and severe weather.

April 27th was the 3rd day of 3 consecutive severe weather outbreak days. It was unknown the extent this outbreak would be, but it had the potential to be huge. At the onset a tornadic MCS was moving through the outbreak area producing winds over 80 mph and many strong tornadoes. Normally when an MCS moves through early in the morning it kind of puts a damper on things knowing it had to be timed just right to kick a boundary, clear out and allow for destabilization, and hopefully not contaminate the atmosphere. As the MCS was moving through and causing severe damage it was becoming increasingly feared that all this MCS would do was kick down a boundary somewhere for the inevitable barrage of tornadic supercells to train on. Areas hit hardest by the MCS were hit 100x's worse by violent tornadoes no more than 6-8 hours later.

*SPC outlook at the time of MCS 12-13z*
* Aforementioned MCS and tornado watch issued by SPC for the early show* 
*12z Sounding from Jackson, MS - note the impressive wind fields*
* H25 winds showing impressive trough digging into the eastern plains/mid Mississippi Valley*
 Important to not the classic divergence in the upper levels promoting maximum lift. At 12z this was located just behind the MCS with maximum lift occurring over N. MS. You can see divergence by winds in C AR blowing out of the SSW and winds in C MS blowing WSW. 125 kts of shear rounding the base of the trough.

*H30 winds... much of the same only added the yellow contours to represent max divergence*
*H50 winds. Note the stacked wind barbs noting very strong winds at the 500 MB level.*
In this we have established that upper level winds were strong and diverging promoting maximum lift over the outlook area. The 500mb chart shows a significant trough digging into the mid-south and an impressive jet max speeding around the base of the trough just before peak heating. Speed shear was there... but that doesn't make a set up alone. Many times there have been impressive speed shear, but no directional shear and storms fire up and line out right away. Below I will show you the lower level wind fields and explain just how INSANE this set up was.

*H70 winds are seen also roaring into the area with it being pretty moist area seeing early morning storms*
It is important to note that each of the 4 charts I have shown have featured winds blowing mainly out of the WSW or SW at varying intensities. Again... exemplifying speed shear. What this means is if a storm goes up it will have the capability to move along but since there is no turning with height and only a uni-directional profile... storms will basically form into lines with attendant potential to bring down some of those powerful winds through downdrafts. There was plenty of strong speed shear with 4/27, but was there directional shear?

* H85 map showing winds screaming out of the due south just above the surface
You better believe there was directional shear.... even early on. The most STUNNING map I have seen was an H85 plot about 22-23z of winds out of the south at 75 KTs!!!!!!!!! That is nearly 90 mph south winds overlaid by a H50 jet max blowing out of the west at 100 mph and upper diverging upper level winds at a similar speed. Classic. Now a lot of times the upper level winds will be weak, but mid level winds and low level winds will be strong so a storm will be able to form, but rain on itself and eventually commit suicide. On the flip side there is a lot of times where shear is just to strong and every tower will just topple over on itself. In the case of 4/27 upper level winds supported sustained storms, mid level winds promoted updraft rotation, and low-level winds were EXTREMELY conducive to violent rotation and/or tornadoes. So visualize a south easterly surface wind, a southerly low level jet, a southwesterly H70 wind, a westerly H50 wind and a diverging H25 flow... all at increasing speeds the higher up you go. You may visualize a hodograph that looks something like this.

Shear is just one piece of the puzzle. High shear events are common in the early months and generally produce a low visibility, grungy, sloppy mess of rainshowers that rotate and produce tornadoes. While the environment is conducive to producing tornadoes, it is less than desirable from a chasing stand point. We have already established shear was off the charts.... how about some other factors into the development of thunderstorms.

To review there are four ingredients to the development of sustained thunderstorms... shear, instability, lift, and moisture. Shear was MORE than adequate. What about instability? As early morning storms were moving through the north-central regions of Alabama.... most of southern Alabama and Mississippi were allowed to clear out and warm into the 80's.  Even at 7a most of the areas clear of cloud cover were baking and very conducive to supercell development as evidenced by this plot of EHI values.

It was clear to where the boundary was and associated convection to the north.This was worrisome to forecasters as that airmass would have a long way to go in just a few hours. Without instability thunderstorms may not form in northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, and southern Tennessee. This was also another pretty stunning occurrence. Normally a warm front will slowly usher in warm moist air into areas that had previous storms... basically a battle between cool stable air and warm unstable air. On the 27th the ENTIRE air mass basically shifted. There was no battle. By 16z EHI values in previously storm ravaged area were already very high. Way before peak heating.

*By 16z MUCAPE values were pushing 3k in C. AL
The stage is becoming set. Insane shear with moderate to extremely unstable instability give us 2 values of severe weather formation. Moisture was already pooling into the region. With such a strong low level flow and the Gulf within sneezing distance, it wasn't hard for upper 60/low 70 dew points to shift with the air mass. Temperatures in the 80's and dews in the 70's provided an extremely volatile environment. Would there be a spark? The last thing missing is lift. 

To go off topic a smidge.... a lot of days have these ingredients in place. Not to the magnitude and quantity, but still have ingredients in place. How many Iowa days out there will have temperatures in the 80's, dews in the 70's, very good shear, but no spark? The key to most severe weather episodes is the spark.... whether it is a surface low, dry line, pre-frontal convergence boundary, out flow boundary, shortwave, sea breeze... ANYTHING to induce lift. A poorly timed shortwave or frontal passage will result on many a busted chase. Unfortunately for residents of the south.... there were 3 main sources of lift at the WORST possible time (peak heating)

Source of lift #1 - Outflow boundary laid down by previous day thunderstorms. After the MCS moved across northern Alabama it left a remnant boundary that slowly drifted north and stalled out near the AL/TN border SW toward the Tuscaloosa area. 

Source of lift #2 - Cold front/surface low/warm front. An intense center of low pressure was churning in the ArkLaTex area and started ejected NE toward the Ohio Valley .... 

Source of lift #3 - Upper level shortwave overspreading the area during peak heating which steepened lapse rates

Some days you can't buy a source of lift, others (like 4/27) you don't have a shortage of them. Unfortunately all three of these sources of lift erupted during peak heating and with more than adequate instability and shear in place the favored mode was supercells. On top of all four ingredients being more than sufficient, that aforementioned outflow boundary just added MORE low level turning and likely was the culprit of the most violent of tornadoes in N. AL. 

The first war rock is thrown: 

*The last activity loop before all hell broke loose after 1715z
Just after the 1700z time frame the jet streak was just entering MS overriding the surface low, on top of the short wave over spreading the area . The result? Thunderstorm development in SE AR/N MS. While storms weren't very organized to start the second they started to race ENE into better wind profiles they quickly turned supercellular and started dropping tornadoes. As the day progressed the already impressive parameters turned into unfathomable.

* 0-3km EHI Values in the 13-15 range over C. AL around 22z

* STP values over 13 in NW AL... unheard of
*0-3km SRH values at 1000 (0-1km were at 900) m2/s2
*Effective Bulk Shear profiles of 90+ kts
Textbook historic tornado outbreak plots above. Notice the effective bulk shear numbers... supercells generally thrive in the 25-40 kt range..... when you have 90 kts of bulk shear.... a puff of smoke from a camp fire will rotate. There was one point in time where a 30dbz rain shower with no lightning was tornado warned. Some times weather models like to pre-cast these values 10 days in advance and you throw them out because you think "no way that could ever happen." As I was watching this event unfold I was looking at these values REAL TIME and thinking "no way IS this happening." 

As the low level jet ramped up .... winds just above the surface were gusting to more than 90 mph aiding intense low level turning and basically guaranteeing major tornadoes. In the end this outbreak will probably be the biggest on record and will live in infamy. 


Week of April 18-24th:
Long and Medium range models begin to indicate that another
outbreak of severe weather is possible the following week. By this point April has
already broken all-time records for number of tornadoes.
APRIL 25th:
The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma issues its first probability outlook
for a severe weather outbreak on April 27th.
20110425 1730 UTC Day Probabilitic Graphic
Meanwhile a significant severe weather outbreak and heavy rain event in its own respect
was ready to unfold on this day. A high enough threat that the NWS issued a Public
Information Statement on the day.
5:02 AM: Birmingham, AL AFD (Area Forecast Discussion) mentions the likelihood for long tracked
1:10 AM: The overall evolution of storms has become much clearer as short range
models indicate a potential historic tornado outbreak may unfold later in the day across
the Deep South. SPC upgrades parts of AL, MS, TN and GA to a HIGH RISK.
2:25 AM: The first tornado watch over Alabama is issued. It also includes parts of MS
and TN.
2:29 AM: Choctaw and Webster County MS EF-3 Tornado hits.
6:45 AM: Dekalb County AL Tornado reaches EF-2 strength.
8:10 AM: Second round of severe thunderstorms prompts another tornado watch over MS
and AL to be issued.
11:05 AM: PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation) Watch is issued over MS, LA and
AR as the atmosphere begins to reload from overnight and early morning convection.
This watch replaces parts of the tornado watch issued at 8:10.
1:39 PM: Lafayette Co. MS EF-3 Tornado begins.
1:45 PM: Second PDS Watch issued for AL, TN and MS. All probabilities on the watch
indicate >95% chance for significant severe weather in all categories. 
2:30 PMEF-5 Philadephia, MS tornado touches down.
3:00 PM: Approximate time for first radar returns of Tuscaloosa/Birmingham Supercell.
3:04 PM: Chicksaw and Monroe Co. EF-3 Tornado strikes.
3:05 PM: EF-5 Tornado touches down. It will remain on the ground for an incredible 132 straight miles.
3:27 PMSmith County, MS EF-3 touches down for 11 minutes.
3:35 PM: An amazing third PDS watch was issued for TN and NC.
3:44 PM: Second EF-5 Tornado of the day; Strikes Monroe Co. MS. Winds are estimated at 205MPH.
3:57 PM: Shotsville, AL EF-3 Tornado forms.
4:39 PM: Limestone and Madison Co. AL EF-5 Tornado continues
4:53 PM: Tornado crosses into Franklin County AL and continues to produce EF-4 damage.
5:08 PM: Newton Co. EF-3 Tornado strikes.
5:10 PM: Haleyville, AL EF-3 Tornado forms.
5:30 PM: Sawyerville/Eoline EF-3 Tornado beings at least 71 mile track.
5:35 PM: EF-3 Tornado crosses AL into GA in Dade County.
5:42 PM: Long lived tornado forms near Raleigh, MS.

5:47 PM: Tornado Warning issued for Tuscaloosa, AL for storm which would eventually
strike the town.
6:08 PM: Tornado enters Tuscaloosa city limits.
6:10 PM: Violent Tornado strikes near the University of Alabama campus.
6:23 PM: Argo, AL Violent EF-4 touches down. Remains on the ground through the GA State line (72 miles).
6:38 PM: Tornado Emergency issued for Birmingham, AL.
6:50 PM: As tornadic supercells push east and fourth PDS watch is issued for AL, GA,
TN, SC, and NC.
7:14 PM: Long tracked Raleigh, MS tornado crosses from MS into AL. It has already been on the ground for 65 miles.
7:50 PMArgo Tornado crosses from AL into GA. While not as strong, it remains on the ground for 3 more miles.
8:15 PM: Catoosa, GA EF-4 Tornado touches down.
8:29 PM: EF-4 Tornado is on-going in Hamilton Co. TN
9:20 PM: EF-3 tornado develops in Bartow county GA and travels through Cherokee and
Pickens counties.
9:40 PM: Storms along the dry line are still cause for concern, prompting another series
of tornado watches in AL/MS/GA
10:18 PM: Tuscaloosa storm looses supercell characteristics over North Carolina.
12:03 AM: Meriwether County, GA EF-3 tornado touches down.
12:38 AM: EF-3 tornado forms in Pike County GA and moves through Lamar, Monroe
and Butts County.
3:15 PM: The last tornado watch of the outbreak is issued.

Last Tornado Watch of the Outbreak

Pics Courtesy: Jackson Weather Examiner, The Decatur Daily

Thoughts/Personal reflection:
Days leading up to this event, I knew I wasn't going to be able to chase it due to starting my new job. I had been closely monitoring the situation and knew some where in the south SOMEONE was going to "get it". Models did an extremely good job at handling this storm system as well as the Storm Prediction Center, local NWS offices, and local media outlets. This event was predicted more than 5 days in advance. Everyone had sniffed out what mother nature had up her  sleeve. She decided to throw a major curve ball though. That line of storms that formed in MS overnight and raced across MS and AL was an event within itself that was overshadowed by the tremendous tornado outbreak that soon followed. That MCS produced many strong tornadoes and killed people. Had the 4/27 outbreak not occurred, the early MCS would have been a pretty big story. Not only did it injure and kill people, but it destroyed vital lifelines by knocking out power to more than half the residents of N. AL. Not only were residents without power, tv, and radio.... but the storm also knocked out NWR transmitters all over N. AL. The recipe for disaster was there in an atmospheric level and a sociological one too. It would be almost impossible to say whether or not more lives would have been spared had that earlier line of storms not destroyed many lifelines.... but one would assume that it wouldn't hurt the chances they had to survive. 

As storms developed, news webcams captured amazing footage of tornadoes affecting Cullman, Tuscaloosa, and Birmingham. Perhaps the most HORRIFYING sight I have ever seen was watching ABC 33/40 live as a major tornado touched down just outside of Tuscaloosa and ground it's way through the southern business district toward the University mall area and points northeast. I had seen tornadoes on webcams before, I even watched the one that hit Cullman earlier. To see this 3/4 mile wide tornado churning into a major population center sent chills up and down my spine. I inevitably knew people were dying live. I couldn't see them dying, but I knew they were. With each mile this monster moved, it threw roofs, vehicles, houses, everything miles away from it. Amazingly enough many of these tornadoes had tentacle like vorticies streaming out a mile or two ahead of the main vortex. It was the fabled "dead man walking" that legend has it you see before you die. 

It was tough to bear.... at the second it was happening I was numb and just stood frozen. I had to be at work in a few minutes but I stood there. One pant leg on, toothbrush in mouth, completely frozen in time. I thought for sure that was an EF-5. I thought for sure I watched an EF-5 hit a city live and destroy a major college campus. It wasn't easy to take. Later it was ultimately rated a strong EF4 but no matter the strength or size... it changed the face of Tuscaloosa forever. 

A bright side on the outbreak (if there was one) was it brought national attention to one of the great tv meteorologists of all time .... James Spann. I am a member of NWSchat and have seen James in there from time to time. He came off as a brash, no nonsense type of guy that carried an attitude about him. I didn't know what to think of him. I had watched some of his archived newscasts of tornadoes hitting the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham areas in the past, but never got a good feel. I must say though, watching all the coverage of 4/27 live with James Spann made me respect the man an infinite amount. You don't get much better than that. He kept his cool during the worst tornado outbreak anyone is ever going to see in their lifetimes. His own family at risks, friends and coworkers potentially set up to be killed, he carried about his business in a professional way and undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.... I will never forget his words during the Tuscaloosa tornado.... "All you can do is pray for those people" 

Another bright spot was the SPC and NWS offices that coordinated the event. Amazing job forecasting, amazing job getting warnings out, and exceptional teamwork. Most will say "well with such a text book outbreak, it should have been a slam dunk anyway".... It was that and so much more. Everything was executed to near perfection... the only gripe I have is that some offices totally abandoned the tornado warning and started issuing tornado emergencies. While it was a dire situation, it seemed like everything was a tornado emergency and I fear in the future events that people will think it is "only" a tornado warning.

To recap my thoughts on 4/27.... This day was the biggest of the big. The most textbook outbreak I have ever seen, the scariest one I could have fathomed, and the most emotionally taxing situation I have ever witnessed live. A day I do not care to repeat.

My decision not to chase: 

I have chased for 15 years now. It was always my dream to chase that classic tornado outbreak with amazing supercells, huge wedges, and any storm I choose. It was supposed to be like that. I guess I was semi blinded by my own personal gain that I didn't realize for such an outbreak to occur... many will die and many mores lives changed forever. I had always pictured an outbreak like this to occur in the middle of no where, where you can see for miles, and the only thing disturbed was cows, trees, and wildland. I like to think I am a pretty recognized chaser, and pretty recognized chasers chase just about anything anywhere. Multiple factors prohibited me from chasing anyway, but with this set up... I just had no desire to.

Since I started my new job, I didn't have enough time accumulated to call off so right off the bat I was down in the count. Coupled with the fact I was on limited funds all year and couldn't get out that much it was a no brainer that I couldn't chase. I didn't want to chase this dream set up anyway and I will explain why.....

Reason #1 - Terrain -  I knew this set up was going to be in heavily hilled and wooded areas of the south. There is something unsettling about chasing a major tornado outbreak when 90% of the time I will be looking at trees. 

Reason #2 - Human Impact - This had a huge potential to effect millions of people throughout the south.... What happens if multiple major cities were hit? What happens if I have another field incident in the path of one of these monsters in the middle of an area I can't see? 

Reason #3 - Storm Motion - This was probably my main deterring factor, coupled with #1. This was such a classic tornado set up, but was not ideal for those chasing it. Storms moving 70 mph with 1-2 mile wide tornadoes on windy roads up on mtn tops and valleys. Even if I did catch a glimpse of a tornado I wouldn't get a good view without being in a dangerous position. If I had chased I would have targeted W. AL west of Tuscaloosa on I 20 at the MS/AL border. Would I have gotten tornadoes? It was hard not to that day, but I can't say with certainty that I would come home satisfied... especially knowing those tornadoes killed.

Reason #4 - Documentation - Eluding back to #3... I chase storms for personal passion. To document Mother Nature and to do my part in helping the warning process. With such fast storm motions, dangerous roads, and populated areas being nuked... I don't think any worthwhile documentation would have justified the trip down there. I cannot justify a trip down there simply because it is "my passion" and I want to be a part of "history". Sorry that is just not the type of chaser I am.... Furthermore I think it pretty shallow to use the "it fuels my passion to chase every single set up" line. Please. Most of the people saying that are the ones that never had to work a day of their lives or lift a finger without something falling into their laps. If I don't think I can successfully document a weather event and do so safely then I just sit it out.... there will be other storms. Maybe not another outbreak like this, but you can't see every single tornado of an outbreak and most of the people I know got crappy footage for 3 minutes while dodging trees and low visibility. 

Reason #5 - Mentally - Perhaps the longest lasting impact of chasing a set up like this would be how it affects me afterward. Had I been on I 20 chasing the supercell into Tuscaloosa, the things I would have encountered after 5:10 P.M. would have lasted me an eternity. Greensburg/Moore/Hallam/ choose your tornado disaster and talk to the people who saw it first hand. That type of memory doesn't go away. I would for sure have not been the same chaser. I am used to seeing people at their worst working as a firefighter and assisting with the ambulance. Those are mostly medical issues.... not gruesome tornado aftermath injuries..... How would I deal with seeing a 6 year old missing half their body or an 83 year old with a 2x4 impaled through their chest. I get the risks every time I go out and chase, but most of those set ups are in the middle of no where and away from towns . 4/27 seemed to have something personal with everybody in the south. No towns in the areas went completely unaffected and communities that took a direct hit will never be the same. I honestly think I would enjoy chasing a little bit less had I been witness to that. 

You may or may not agree with my reasoning not to chase even if I was capable to. It is just my opinion and doesn't take any of my passion away. If I had unlimited funds or rich parents I would be out there every single chase day in the plains. I am not a huge fan of deep south chasing based on sour experiences in 2002. I am not a storm snob and definitely possess the knowledge to keep up with chasing in unfavorable areas, but it really isn't worth it to go out of my way to prove to others that I can do it. I have seen many people commenting on how others are "afraid" to go chasing in the deep south. Such asinine statements hold no water with me. I could just as easily say most people don't have the balls to crawl into a burning building.

Take what I have written as a learning resource, wise words from someone who has done it, or just as garbage from someone who likes weather. I have taken now 10 hours to type this out over the last few days and will ultimately add more to it as I go over some stuff. I know with a busy schedule ahead of me, my time may be limited to finish it completely so I thought I would throw together what I have for you all on an event that has pretty much consumed my free time since it happened. 

Thanks for reading... direct any questions to me on FB or through the comments here. 

Big thanks to Ryan Wichman of our group Convective Addiction for compiling most of the timeline and posting it on our site right after it happened. 

Danny Neal