WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Stormchaser has 'very long and crazy day'

Posted May 11, 2010

Casey Letkewicz, a doctoral student in meteorology at N.C. State University, is participating in VORTEX2, a research project designed to learn more about how and why tornadoes form.

Casey Letkewicz is a doctoral student in meteorology at N.C. State University in Raleigh. She is one of a half-dozen students and faculty from N.C. State participating in VORTEX2, a research project designed to learn more about how and why tornadoes form.

Yesterday was a very long and crazy day. The models had been predicting for several days that there would be a severe weather outbreak, so no one was surprised when the Storm Prediction Center put out a high risk in Northern Oklahoma and South central Kansas. All the necessary ingredients were coming together, and SPC was predicting there would be many significant long track tornadoes.

The forecast was also calling for these tornadic storms to be moving extremely fast (~45 mph), so it was going to be difficult for the VORTEX2 armada to stick with one storm. Instead, it was decided that the armada would create a network of the various instrumentation and sample the storms as they moved through the network. The team that I am a part of (the mobile soundings team) decided to create a box around the armada, and my assigned position was in the upper right corner. While there were a LOT of tornadoes in the area (including one which narrowly missed the National Weather Center in Norman – see this link [http://www.patricktmarsh.com/2010/05/day-130-high-risk/] for more info), my position was such that I was unable to see any of them. For example, here’s a radar image of a storm producing a significant tornado east of Oklahoma City. My location is at the star (hint–look north and east of the big hook echo near the top of the image):

The combination of the fast-moving storms, high moisture content (which means low cloud bases), topography of the area (there’s a surprising number of trees and hills in that part of Oklahoma), and my position with respect to the armada, meant that I was unable to see any of the tornadoes that occurred during yesterday’s outbreak. While that was slightly frustrating (I mean, I am a stormchaser who wants to be where the action is), I’m trying to keep in mind a few things: 1) I’m out here for science, not for touring. I helped collect an unprecedented data set on an outbreak of tornadic storms! 2) Many other teams were not in desirable positions, either, so I was not the only one who missed out. 3) I’m out here for a few more weeks, so there’ll be plenty more chances to be closer to the action. And most importantly 4) I was never in harm’s way the entire day, so I need to be thankful that I wasn’t hurt (nor was anyone else in the VORTEX2 armada!). Unfortunately, there’s been several reports of fatalities and many many homes destroyed. Please pray for those adversely affected by this outbreak.

The adventures did not end as soon as the storms passed through the VORTEX2 network of instrumentation, however. Tornadic storms moved through the location of where we were staying for the night, so by the time teams arrived at their hotel, the power was out. It was a bit surreal to me to be walking around a hotel only lit by the candle in my hand, not to mention doing things like getting ready for bed, brushing teeth, etc, by said candlelight.

There’ll be no rest for the weary, as it looks like the next couple of days will also be active within the VORTEX2 domain. I’ll try to update as best I can, but for now I’ll leave you with a few of the best shots I got yesterday, given my location.

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