Talking about storm chasing on national radio in Sweden

christoffer björkwall radio p3 morgonpasset
Foto: Paulo Saka/SR
Yesterday I was a guest at one of the most popular national radio shows in Sweden, “Morgonpasset i P3”. I was invited to talk about storm chasing. I was a bit nervous before but this wasn’t my first time on live radio and not even the first time talking about storm chasing 🙂

I had a lot of fun with the awesome crew at Morgonpasset and they said they might invite be to come back again after this season’s chase.

Listen to the radio show here (in Swedish).

Weather Nation with another view of our narrow tornado escape in Leoti, KS

I just found this amazing video that shows fully how close we come to the Leoti, KS, tornado last week. Apparently Weather Nation was filming the tornado from an angle facing us as well, showing even better how close we came to the (small) tornado! Check it out:

As previously showed, this is my video of the event:

and Tim Purington’s view from behind us (you can see his vehicle in Weather Nations footage as well):

Day 9 and forward: Tulsa and some minor Texas storms

After our little rainbow chase on Day 8 we went back to David’s home in Tulsa and finally had a nice and easy down day. I knew I should not be hoping for down days, especially since the upcoming weather pattern did not seem to promising but still, it was well needed. I spent the down day catching up on work and editing photos from the last week’s storm chasing.

We did a forecast on Day 9 and it was not very promising but we still decided to go to Midland, TX, for a meager chance. Since we knew the rest of our stay would probably suffer from en Evil Ridge producing nothing but sunshine and blue skies we decided to go for what was out there. Even Alex (who woke up sick) came along and slept the fever off in the back seat.

inside david's car

hail guard
Inside and outside of the Toyota in which we chase. It has a really cool hail guard.

Day 10 turned out to be a blue sky bust so we just checked in at our hotel and relaxed. During the breakfast of Day 11 an old man at the breakfast tipped us about Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns is a huge cavern (cave complex) that was supposed to be amazing. It was also the place where the potential storms would initiate that day so we went.

The storms were actually firing up already before we got down in the cave so we felt a bit stressed about missing out on them. I thought the caverns were absolutely amazing but we still had to semi-rush through them. Later, when we realized the elevator line was 30 minutes to get back out we decided to more or less run out of there. It was supposed to be a “30-45 minute walk” out but we made it in 20 minutes, albeit sweaty and with panting breath.

carlsbad caverns

 

carlsbad caverns

 

caverns1

 

cave chasing
After we got out of the caverns there was literally a severe thunderstorm rumbling above us.

 

me
I came out panting with bat shit on my nose.

As we got out of the cave we were directly under a severe storm so our (well, David’s) forecast was pretty spot on. The storms of Midland, TX, however seemed better so we sped back there. At the time we were getting there the rotation in them were coming to a halt but still put up an amazing lightning storm!

lightning
Lightning outside Midland, TX.

 

lightning texas
These lightning photos makes up the best lightning photos I have ever done!

 

Day 12 was spent solely on driving the looong haul back to Tulsa, OK. We kept a good mood in the car and I laughed so much my throat was soar when we finally arrived late in the evening.

There might be one last setup before I go back home on the 8th of June but otherwise this second part of my chasecation looks like a Big Bust unfortunately. It seems I will be having the best start ever followed by one of the worst weather patterns ever! I would have been devastated if I would have arrived 5 days later!

“Chase” dates: May 28th through May 31st 2016.

My review of Tornadic Expeditions

I have recently finished my week of chasing with Erik Burns and Tornadic Expeditions, and what a week! We had some something in the vicinity of 20 tornadoes on three different days. I have never experienced a weather setup this great and, as far as I understand, very few has! Obviously, I am very happy with the week.

Erik just started his tour company I was participating in his first tour week ever, together with David from Buffalo, NY. Erik’s goal with Tornadic Expeditions is to have a very personal storm chasing experience and it really is. It was very personal and very far from the bigger storm chasing tour companies who can have up to 15-20 people on the same tour.

When I review how good a certain tour company and tour guide I try not to be biased by how good the weather setup was, since it is nothing the tour guide can actually affect. I have been on tours with no tornadoes reported at all during the entire week and now this one with tornadoes on storms every day of the week. I believe it is fair to review the tour company according to how well they perform with the given setup.

First of all, Tornadic Expeditions is run in a very comfortable Toyota van. Since we were only two people on the tour we could spread our stuff out in the entire van which was very convenient (although this will probably not be the case in future tours). The seats are very comfortable and the van is arranged with a screen in the back so you can see everything that Erik is looking at on his computer, which some but not all tour companies have. This is very useful and makes you more involved in the chase.

The downside of the vehicle is that the setup of some inside features makes it a bit difficult to look outside, especially forward. The view is blocked by a camera setup and the fact that the wind shield is quite low. This did in fact make me miss out on one brief tornado completely and much of the first tornado we saw. It was annoying but not much worse than the view from most other tour companies I have been in either.

van tornadic expeditions
The inside of the Toyota van with the screen where you can see radar etc. The orange/black camera setup is mine and not the normal setup.

Compared to other tour companies we tended to stay in hotels of higher quality than what I am used to on other tours. This was highly appreciated by me and David!

In terms of forecasting skills and finding tornadoes I believe Erik is very skilled. It was obvious when we caught the amazing Dodge City tornado outbreak where he spotted the boundary rotation and predicted a tornado outbreak one hour before it happened, convincing his chase partners to go for it when they were quite reluctant to change target.

tornadic expeditionsWe also missed a few tornado targets but that always happens. Tornado chasing is just like baseball in that sense. No batter hits all the balls and no tour guide will get on all the tornadoes.

We did however miss out on the 90 minute Chapman-tornado which was a huge bummer, both for Erik and us. Many seasoned chasers, and even SPC, missed it in the forecast and nowcast. When you experience busts like this, it is always painful but I would have wished for some more leadership in terms of looking at the situation on a more positive and progressive side when it happened. It would have made the situation less painful.

tornado tour

We did, more importantly, get to experience the Dodge City-outbreak which I will be forever grateful. In addition to that we also had a very exciting close encounter with an EF0 tornado at Leoti, KS, and saw a nice wedge tornado together with some smaller spin-ups in Texas. Erik did great in terms of finding tornadoes.

As a tour guide Erik is very energetic, emotional and caring. He truly loves chasing and that love is contagious. Chasing with him is very much like just coming along on a chase with a veteran chaser and experience his storm chasing style, rather than going on a tour.

One thing both me and David was concerned about however was the attention to driving. He did, like many tour companies where the tour guide is also the driver, have to focus a lot on the GPS, the radar and, at times, on the tornadoes. I have seen this problem in previous tours as well. Still, it is something that made us both very nervous and something we brought up with him. For next season he mentioned he will consider hiring a driver to remove this problem.

All in all, I think there is a few things that can be improved and could have been handled batter but my general feeling about Tornadic Expeditions is that I can highly recommend choosing Tornadic Expeditions for your next storm chasing tour. The things that were not so great seemed to be things Erik will be dedicated to work on for upcoming tours and, after all, this was his very first tour as well.

I am very grateful to have been a part of this week and to have experienced the best chase day of my life, thanks to Erik and Tornadic Expeditions.

Day 8: Rainbow chasing in Oklahoma

For the first time in ages I woke up after a good nights sleep. I had a large breakfast and brought up my laptop in order to catch up on some work. After such an amazing week I was way behind on photo editing, video editing and normal work so it was great to get some time to prepare.

At 3 p.m. David Williams (Tornado Alley Chasing) that I chased with last year came by to pick me up along with his other Swedish (!) guest Alexander. We had randomly seen each other on at least four different times during the week but now it was time for me to change chase company and enter David’s hail guard protected Toyota.

The outlook of the day was not great but we thought we might get the most out of what was there. Since we were a bit late we went for the closest severe warned cells north of Oklahoma City. The storms never really shaped up but we were treated with some amazing rainbows and really photogenic sceneries during our chase. Mostly, the chase was about catching up and chatting about the previous week.

rainbow wheat
Rainbow over a wheat field in Oklahoma.

 

wheat field

 

double rainbow
Double rainbow

 

road storm

Chase date: May 27th 2016.

Day 7: Moderate Risk Day semi-bust

I woke up feeling really tired but excited about the day. Almost everything was pointing towards a big day with several big tornadoes. The SPC was predicting an 80% chance of tornadoes and 60% chance of strong tornadoes rated EF2 or higher. The area we targeted had a 15% hatched risk which is the highest risk I have ever chased in.

After last year’s SPC-busts I was not allowing myself to get too excited though. I was also struggling with computer problems all morning which kind of removed the focus from the anticipation of the day. But, of course, the day was a bust – at least in terms of a tornado outbreak in Kansas.

The storms all started around 1 p.m. (which is really early) and it washed out the entire area leaving all central Kansas cool and stable and thus very unsuitable for severe thunderstorms. When Erik realized that was going on we hauled down to the Kansas-Oklahoma border where the air was still untouched and unstable.

chase area

We got on a storm that was slowly becoming better looking, albeit being too linear. For a while it seemed pretty promising, had some really nice structure and we experienced some large hail but that was pretty much it. It was a rather decent chase day per se but with the build-up of the day it felt more like a bust than a nice chase day.

supercell
The supercell near Wellington, KS, at its peak.

 

funnel
It may have produced a brief, cone-shaped funnel for a while. This photo was not timed perfectly so I am not 100% sure.

We ended up in Greensburg, KS, where we stopped at a gas station where I randomly ran into three (3!) previous chase partners / tours: Charles Edwards, Gene Robertson and David (again). We all hid from pea-sized hail for some 10 minutes before heading back to Oklahoma City.

Dave
Dave photographing the storm.

My tour with Tornadic Expeditions was thus over and I was expecting the first long, good sleep for a week. An amazing week was at its end with some 20+ tornadoes and three tornado days. I have never been so lucky with the weather pattern for a tour and Erik did a good job finding the right targets as well.

Chase day: May 26th 2016

Day 6: Painful bust in Kansas

Today started as a marginal risk day and I was so satisfied with the amazing day in Dodge City yesterday I did not really care too much what happened. It felt like nothing could go wrong today but I was wrong.

Our first plan was to position ourselves in McPherson, KS, but later changed a bit further south around Newton, KS, to watch storms go up around the boundary (again). Towers started firing and we picked a target that was fairly nearby and watched it struggle….and struggle….and struggle. At the same time a better looking storm was firing north of Salina, KS, but it was 80 miles away which meant roughly 1.5 hours, we would be there around 7.30-8.00 p.m. We were never really thinking about going up there, even when it got tornado warned or even when there was a small tornado reported. We trusted our storm to start performing since it was in a great enviroment.

kansas
Waiting for the storms to fire.

The northern storm soon got a tornado report of a small tornado and the reported a wedge tornado. At that point we were a bit bummed out we had not gone up there instead. However, we later realized that the northern storm had turned into a monster cell with a 90 minute wedge tornado. 90 minutes! That is incredibly rare!

At that point we had completely busted on our target area and it was an incredibly painful bust. The incredible day yesterday was almost forgotten and Erik was bashing himself completely for not having gone further, as he previously planned. The storm however was outside of the SPC warned area and it was a surprise to many seasoned chasers (who also missed the storm). No matter what, the drive back to Great Bend, KS, was not a very pleasant one. We could even see the anvil from that storm even though it was 100 miles away.

Chase date: May 25th 2016

Day 5: Dodge City, KS. The Perfect Storm.

As of the morning on Day 5 I had seen 13 tornadoes in total. I was about to double that number today. Day 5 was an epic storm chase day and many seasoned storm chasers have mentioned this was their best day ever. I was fortunate enough to experience the Dodge City-tornado outbreak of 2016.

We knew today was going to be a major chase day but the target area was not 100% clear. Some things pointed towards the Texas or Oklahoma Panhandle and other further up in Kansas. We positioned ourselves in the heat in Woodward, Oklahoma, in the early afternoon.

Around 4 p.m. cells started firing up near Minneola in South west Kansas. Erik noticed a subtle low pressure in that area and was convinced that would definitely be a major event – “I have seen this before, this storm will go nuts!” he mentioned to his two chase partners who was more convinced of staying in our area. They discussed for quite a while until Erik convinced them and we blasted north.

Erik was right. The storm positioned itself on that boundary and just grew bigger and bigger and for us it was a race against the clock and I was super stressed in the back seat worrying we would miss the show.

When we arrived the storm was south west of Dodge City and was showing an impressive wall cloud. At this point we knew it was just a matter of when the storm would fire a tornado. We got a little bit closer but when the storm started producing a funnel we stopped and looked.

The show of the decade was about to begin.

There was not long until a tornado started to form. After that everything was just going crazy. The first tornado stayed on the ground for about 30 minutes. The storm generated a second wall cloud which started spitting out secondary tornadoes as well. At one point there was four tornadoes At The Same Time!

four tornados on the ground
At this brief point, the Dodge City supercell actually had four tornadoes on the ground at the same time!

 

two tornadoes
Many times the cell had two tornadoes on the ground at the same time.

 

supercell with tornado
Structure shot of the supercell with a rope tornado on the ground. This is one of my all time photos!

We drove a little bit closer as the storm progressed and regrouped but never got really close. First of all, we did not want to waste time in the car when there was tornadoes on the ground, second of all the roads to our west (where the tornadoes were) were mud roads not suitable for our car and thirdly, the storm was dropping tornadoes everywhere so it was not safe.

tornado
One of the multiple tornadoes we saw.

 

tornado tour
Another storm chasing tour company enjoying the tornado at a safe distance.

 

tornado rope out
One of the last tornadoes roping out.

 

wall cloud dodge city
The wall cloud of this storm was MASSIVE.

The storm missed Dodge City, KS, by a mile or so and while we were driving into town we saw the last tornado rope out behind the trees and houses. We chased it a bit further and followed another tornado warned storm for a while until we called it a day and headed back to Dodge City.

Like most of these amazing days you don’t just get tornadoes but we also saw some amazing (anvil) lightning, some while there was a rainbow. On our way back we also stopped to photograph the most amazing mammatus field I have ever seen (even better than Leoti, KS, last Saturday).

anvil lightning
Powerful lightning from the dying anvil above us.

 

mammtus clouds and wind mills
Mammatus clouds at sunset by a wind mill farm. This is one of the best photos I have ever taken, I think. Just love this one.

I feel so grateful to have experienced this day since it surely will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I don’t know how many tornadoes we saw today but it was somewhere around 15. Not only did we see many tornadoes but they were all unobscured, good contrast and high based. We saw all ranges of tornadoes, from wedges to drill bit-tornadoes. Thankfully, the tornadoes never hit Dodge City either and there were no casualties. In other words – it was the perfect storm.

We finished the day at Applebee’s in Dodge City that was full of storm chasers. I got to meet storm chaser legend Reed Timmer (from the Storm Chasers TV-series) and had a well deserved beer.

Update: I will probably continue to update this blog post with more photos and videos as I am getting them edited.

Chase day: May 24th 2016.

Day 4: Beautiful supercells but no tornadoes

Today looked really well with CAPE-values of 6.000. The problem was that there were three targets to choose from: Big Spring, TX (where I saw a landspout tornado in 2014), Woodward, OK and Donley, TX. We chose Donley since there was a big flood risk in Big Spring and Woodward did not look as good as Donley.

There was an apparent target already at 3 p.m. coming up along with a tornado watch in our area. We watched it for a while at a distance before we headed out there. We arrived at a beautiful immature LP-cell in the perfect environment. For the first time on this tour we could observe it without rain and, in all other aspects, perfect environment.

immature LP supercell
The LP supercell that died off.

 

anvil sun dog
A neat sun dog feature in the anvil.

For some reason, it started dying off more and more and completely evaporated after a while. There were no other good options really in the area so we sat and waited to see where we should go. It felt like the day was over.

hail jericho texas

After about an hour a second wave punched through and pushed up a new set of storms a bit further west. It did not look all too impressive at first but generated, lowered to the ground and started to look really impressive. For some 20 minutes it formed a wall cloud and apparently spun up a brief tornado (that we did not see).

When the sun was about to set it was the absolutely perfect setting for a photogenic tornado. We had the sun in our back, we could see the entire storm structure and there was a rainbow to our left.

Instead the RFD undercut the storm and you could start feeling the wind in your face (coming out from the storm, instead of going in) which was a sure sign it was dying off. It did so in a spectacular manner though.

dying storm jericho texas
A beautiful dying storm near Jericho, TX.

outlaw chaser car

We finished off at Big Verne’s steakhouse in Shamrock, TX, where I realized I had dinner before (after the Canadian, TX, tornadoes). It always feels funny when you realize you arrive at a place you have already been to in Tornado Alley.

Arriving at Elk City, OK, I saw a familiar car at the parking lot of our hotel. Apparantly, Randy and Lisa from the Outlaw Chasers that I chased with last year, was in the same hotel. I had a quick chat with them before finally crashing in my bed.

Chase date: May 23rd 2016.

 

Day 3: Tornadoes, lightning and flooding in Texas

Yesterday was an amazing chase day but the setup for Day 3 was looking even better! Our target area was the dryline in the eastern panhandle of Texas where we ended up in the early afternoon. The bases of the storms, however, looked ragged and dry while storms an hour to our east were showing much better potential so after some 30 minutes we decided to give up the dryline and chase those.

We caught up with the storms around 5 p.m. and picked the south end charlie over the northern storm that had already had a funnel cloud, according to reports. It was a rather wet chase where we often ended up in the strong forward flank downdraft that was rocking our van.

hail
Quarter sized hail from the day. One hit me straight on top of my head!

The lightning at this point was IMMENSE. I have never experienced any lightning like this before, it was striking down left and right and literally shook the van when it did. It was incredibly powerful and I loved it!

When we stopped the second time it did not take much time before the storm was wrapping up and started to look more and more tornadic. We made a stop when the storm reorganized and creating a new base and that’s when we saw the first tornado of the day.

I really did not see it until Erik shouted “Tornado!” again. It was not fully condensed to the ground but rather a bowl with multiple vortices underneath. Those vortices wrapped up to become a wedge tornado that rather quickly disappeared into the rain where we could not see it any more.

plaska texas tornado
The tornado in the beginning when it was multivortex (having more than one ‘tornadoes’ on the ground).

 

plaska texas tornado
The tornado as it matured into a wedge. As you can see it is not fully condensed to the ground but there were constant fingers dancing on the ground.

At the time of the tornado I was expecting it at another place and had my wide angle lens on so my photos and video of the camera is a bit wider than I would have liked, especially since there was so much fine detail action going on underneath.

We regrouped and drove through some intense rain before we got up on a hill and saw the cell spawning a brief needle tornado for about 5-10 seconds. I did not have time to bring up my camera so I never caught it on camera.

The third tornado was at the same spot. I had some issue with my telescope lens not being able to focus on the low contrast targets so I was still using my wide angle to that distant tornado. It was cool to see a tornado, especially with all the lightning going though.

tornado plaska texas
The third tornado of the day. It was far away and shot with a wide angle lens so the image quality is not great.

 

lightning and funnel cloud
Lightning just when the tornado was just a funnel.

Soon thereafter our HP supercell spawned a fourth (!) tornado. This was a cone tornado but also very brief, not fully condensed and low contrast so it was not too impressive. Still, 4 tornadoes in one day! I did not expect that when we left the dryline earlier that afternoon.

tornado plaska texas
The fourth tornado is barely visible in this video grab. It shows as a cone a bit to the right and behind the central portion.

At that point we did not expect to see much more under the rainy conditions we had so we started driving out from the storms passing severely flooded towns. We were lucky to get out of there since many other storm chasers got trapped from fallen power lines and flooded highways!

We stopped at Childress, TX, and let the now congealed storm pass over us while having a late pizza at Pizza Hut. Childress was getting a LOT of rain and the lightning was hitting us hard. I feel asleep, dead tired, to the sound of crashing lightning.

Although I saw a record amount of tornadoes and the first wedge was quite impressive the tornadoes were not very picturesque and we were mostly under rain. This made the “tornado experience” rather mediocre and although that was really cool but what I really loved from this day was the absolutely incredible lightning!

lightning plaska texas
This lightning was the strongest lightning I have ever heard. I quickly got into the van at this point 🙂

There were 32 tornadoes reported that day. David caught a great wedge tornado in the northern storm and there were reports of tornadoes all the way up to South Dakota!

Chase date: May 22nd 2016.