This weekend in general and today (May 20th) in particular has been the major conversation on social media for quite some time now and the potential seems to be as anticipated: Extreme!
SPC just issued a High Risk for today along with a 30% hatched tornado risk for the day, which is on par with the most I have ever seen, although something I have never been able to chase. Unfortunately, I am still in Sweden and won’t get to chase today! The most I have ever chased was May 26th 2016 (15% hatched) but it turned into a Big Bust to the disappointment of chasers but to a great relief of the residents in Kansas.
I cherry picked some values today from the HRRR model and the values are just insane! What you see below are Bulk Shear 0-6km values of 121kts, Helicity of 640, MU CAPE at 6078, 0-1km Bulk Shear of 51 kts, Tornado parameter at 10.9 (!!) and Lifted Index at -16. All these values just scream tornado potential!
For the residents in OK and western TX where the potential is largest, this is of course not very comforting. If you live in these areas I hope you already know from other sources that today is going to be a dangerous day and that you take precautions.
For those who are about to chase, it is not an easy day to chase. I have often heard from seasoned chasers that they do not prefer High Risk days at all, and might even sit them out. The reasons are plenty: storm modes are usually fast (50 mph) and unpredictable, there are likely thousands of chasers on the roads which could end up being and added danger, and there is also the FOMO risk – if you pick the wrong target today and miss out on a historic event, it could be extra painful.
As a chaser, I typically want to watch slow, slender and pretty tornadoes – such as the Minneola KS or McCook NE tornadoes from this weekend. They are the most picturesque and the type of tornadoes I prefer. Watching really big wedge tornadoes, which could potentially be the case today, may not be as amazing visually but a whole different experience . A violent wedge that is on the top of the EF scale is more of a historic thing “to have experienced”. I would imagine that the adrenaline will be maxed as one may end up in tough decisions whether to bail on the storm or “take one more road east”.
The main issue with these kind of days is that if a violent tornado hits a populated area, people will be injured and killed. Although most people in the area are weather aware (after all, it’s Oklahoma!), not everyone will have a real storm shelter to go to and will just have to count on luck that their best bet will hold in case they end up in the path of a tornado. Although I will follow chasers tonight, my thoughts will be with the mothers and fathers keeping a tight grip of their children in the basement or bathroom, hoping they won’t get hit.
Finally, with all said and done, and with parameters that resemble days like Joplin 2011 as well as Moore, El Reno 2013 this could also be a May 26th 2016 where it all just pfffft’ed into a spectacular bust. I hope today will be a day that chasers will remember for a long time but a day most residents and general population will have forgotten by the end of this week. That is, pretty and impressive tornadoes over fields but far from populated areas.