Do you remember what you were doing on April 3, 2012? The day of the tornado outbreak? Here is what I did.
April 3, 2012 will be remembered by many people here in DFW for the local tornado outbreak that took place rather unexpectedly. After it happened the weathermen said an outflow boundary not detected by the many computer models provided the final factor needed to form twisters. Regardless of the amount of wind shear, CAPE, or the dew point the tornados that were spawned got the attention of just about everyone, including me, since I am somewhat of a “weather nut”. Yes a weather nut but not a spotter or a storm chaser. But that changed a little that day since I went on a short, impromptu chase.
As I said I am a weather nut and I look at the National Weather Service (NWS) and other sites like www.stormtrack.org every day. I look at more than just the forecast and also examine the Forecast Discussion and satellite images plus more exotic things like the Storm Prediction Center’s Convective Outlooks and Mesoscale Discussions. I won’t bore you with what all of these things are, we weather nuts know their content, but suffice to say there is a huge amount of publically available weather data on the internet. More than you can read in fact. Looking at the data on April 3, one saw there was a slight risk of severe weather in the morning with separate, discrete storms followed by a linear squall line forecast. By mid morning one could see the storms appearing to the west that would later form the line plus some individual cells too to the south and west of DFW. So far reality was matching the forecast. But then that changed.
I recall seeing the first tornado warning on the NWS site. Then there were more than one and I knew something was cooking above my head. The storms were tracking to the northeast and were south of me hence I was not the direct line of fire. Not much later the civil defense sirens went off for the first time – they would sound two or three more times in my neck of the woods. Seeing the constant streams of warning on the screen and coming over my NOAA weather radio it was obvious we were seeing a local outbreak of severe and tornadic weather. At that point I decided to do something I had never done: chase a storm.
Well not much of a chase but having listened to chasers, read their books, and watched their DVDs I knew how they approached a chase and followed their methodology in my little search for a storm. I first assessed the movement of the storms replaying the NWS radar loop and saw that the discrete storms would miss me but the linear squall line would arrive in maybe 30 minutes. I next planned my route. I would go south on Park Vista into Haltom City and park on a hill where I had a clear view to the west and the south to see if conditions changed or a twister brewed up near me. If one did I had two escape routes: back north on Park Vista or west on Western Center depending on storm motion. So I left the house and all the while I had my car radio on Keller’s rebroadcast of the local NOAA All Hazards radio frequency to hear new warnings or statements. So I parked my car perched on the hill on which resides the Watauga Presbyterian Church and gazed at the sky with my digital camera and binocculars in hand. And what did I see? Not much at all really.
There was a lot of high cloudiness and no sun breaking through and the only distinct feature I could see was part of the updraft column on the back of the storm that spawned the twister that went through Kennedale and Arlington that day. It was impressive and large but a twister I did not see. I watched it for a bit and then realized my safe window of time was about to close so I quickly returned home and pulled my car into the garage in case there was hail later on.
When I walked into the house I heard something I did not expect: there were TWO tornado emergency warnings going at the same time, one each for Tarrant and Dallas Counties. Issuing even one of those was a rare event – picture the 1999 Moore OK F5 – so I imagined the worst and turned on the TV to see how the TV stations were covering the destruction I saw in my mind. I turned on the TV and saw the now infamous shots of the truck trailers swirling around and watched the events unfold for the next couple of hours – like a true weather nut would of course. Then it was over, as was my first little chase. And it didn’t even hail at my house much less get hit by a twister as many more unfortunate people did. I saw just some heavy rain and thunder, plus some gusts of wind. At least there were no deaths and the damage was not that bad when compared to other Tornado Emergency events.
As I said above I am not a chaser or a spotter but I got a little taste of what the chasers experience and feel that day. A bit of prudent planning to guide where I went, plotting where I could escape to, ingesting a lot of weather warnings and information, feeling the thrill of being “out there” with the storm, and most realistically I must say, seeing nothing of great interest or importance from a meteorological point of view. Just like what the real chasers will tell you about doing an actual chase.
So perhaps that qualifies me to be a chaser of sorts but I know that is an entire world unto itself and there is much left for me to learn if I ever want to really do a chase. So I guess I better start re-reading all of the weather and chasing books I have and begin to prepare…….