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Ask Away! I'll Answer pt. 10

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Catching up on a few viewer questions this week! Thank you for asking. 

Question - What’s the weather outlook for the next few months?

The long-range outlooks are looking hot. The latest three-month temperature trends for May through July have the entire country in a region of above-average temperatures. The bullseye for these warmer temperatures is over the four corners region to our southwest. The La Nina pattern is holding on strong, which is supportive for above-average temperatures. Expect a hot summer.

Precipitation outlooks have us just between the region for below-average precipitation to the west and above-average precipitation to the east. This means there is not enough information to determine if we’ll have below/above-average precipitation. In which case, our precipitation for the next three months will be about average.

Summertime in the Ozarks is dry anyway, with afternoon storms fueled by small-scale local factors, and not so much by fronts moving through or upper-level atmosphere troughs of low pressure. We will have enough rain or moisture in the air for it to feel hot and humid when outside.

Question - why does the dang wind always blow here in Harison?

Without wind, we would have boring weather. The unequal distribution of surface heating by the sun creates an imbalance in our atmosphere, which needs restoring. The way it does this is through storms, moisture transport, wind, etc. So what causes wind? In the atmosphere, air flows from high pressure towards low pressure, which creates the wind. The greater the difference is between the high and low pressure, the stronger the wind. High and low pressure and the resulting wind drives the weather changes. So while the wind may be annoying and gusty at times, it’s essential for our weather. The wind moves the rain needed for agriculture and drinking, and for mixes temperatures in the atmosphere which helps maintain a balance.

Question - How much snow did we get?

We've had some great snow this year. The February snow was during the two-week period where we not only had a record-breaking cold snap but also many locations saw upwards of 12 inches of snow over the course of several storms.

Then on April 20th, a system pushed through bringing brief cold air and record-breaking overnight low temperatures. In the afternoon we had snow falling which lightly accumulated. When the system moved out, all the snow melted within the hour. 

November 2020 through April 2021 snow totals

Question - What’s the closest you’ve ever been to a tornado?

I was asked this question on April 14th. At the time, I had never even seen a tornado. Before I answer honestly, I want to give a word of warning. Storm chasing is dangerous, no matter what. Never storm chase alone. If you are not a meteorologist, or just have limited knowledge of weather, do not storm chase. Even for professionals, it is risky and can be dangerous. Not just for the obvious reason that tornadoes are dangerous, but there are also strong winds, hail, heavy rainfall, which all make driving conditions hazardous. Additionally, storm chasing has become popular so there are now many chasers out on the roadways, at times not following the speed limit or even the most basic traffic laws like stopping at a stop sign. The weather is one hazard when on a chase, but people are another hazard. So yes, I’ve been storm chasing before. I go out in groups of at least three or four, with one person whose single focus is driving and following the traffic laws. I also never chase at night. I will never say storm chasing is "safe" because you are never completely safe, but there are better ways to chase.

So, with that out of the way. I have seen five tornadoes. The closest I’ve been is within a mile of one. It was April 23rd, a Friday. I had the rare weekend off work for a last-minute vacation. Severe weather happened to line up with my vacation time. Since I was in Oklahoma anyway for a visit, this was a perfect opportunity to go chasing with a few of my other meteorologist friends from college.

We hopped in the car and drove down to Lawton, OK. The day started slowly with the storms well out in the Texas panhandle near Childress, TX. We waited in Lawton before dipping farther south and crossing the Red River into Texas. The storm out near Childress was already tornado warned by this point, with some reports of funnel clouds or a brief tornado. Two severe warned storms were firing up south of the Childress supercell.

About 4:15 pm, we decided to book it to Lockett, TX, which was about a twenty-minute drive. The chase was on. Two storms now in Texas were tornado warned, and with our position on the road, we were placed just between the two warned supercells. The Childress storm approached just to our north while supercell two was just to our south. The road we were on was virtually empty of other storm chasers.

Things developed quickly. The first brief tornado touched down within the northern storm just after 5 pm. While it was only on the ground for a minute or two, it was enough for us to see the weak circulation of the tornado as well as the dust debris cloud below. I was thrilled. This was my first tornado, and while small, it blew my expectations. We continued down the road before stopping a safe distance away.

The northern storm was moving eastward away from us. We were worried the southern storm would weaken the rotation of the storm we were currently chasing. It did the opposite. Outflow winds from the southern storm shot northward, nearly blowing our chase team over with the gusts. The winds wrapped into the inflow of the northern storm, and the supercell went crazy. Another tornado touched down shortly after, and while that tornado was still chugging along, a second twin tornado formed just to the right of it. Our tornado count was now up to three.

April 23rd, 2021 Storm Chase
Lockett, TX tornado. Rated an EF-1

The twins roped out, and we were able to take in the structure of the supercell. The storm was backlight by the sun, with no precipitation cutting off the inflow and circulation. Shortly after the formation of the twins, a fourth tornado touched down. This one was much larger and a slow mover, almost gracefully spinning through the open field. Nothing was in the tornado's path, we were able to enjoy the beauty of the storm while knowing there was little risk for damages. We later found out this tornado was rated EF1. 

After the tornado wrapped up we booked it east to maintain good positioning with the storm and avoid being hit by golf ball size hail. The last tornado of the day was the best of them all. The tornado touched down, with a double rainbow forming right in front of it. We watched in awe again as the twister just swirled over open fields. Because of our position, we could hear the roar. This tornado later received a rating of EF2.

5th tornado from the April 23rd, 2021 storm chase. Rated an EF-2

It was a perfect chase. Storms and tornadoes are dangerous, yes. I never want to discount that or make someone think I don’t understand the harm they do. All tornadoes should be taken seriously. As a meteorologist, being that close to one in person, especially when they are over open fields and not harming anyone, is an inspiring moment. My passion for meteorology was rekindled. It was as if all the theories and equations I had studied were playing out in front of me.

So, to answer your question, yes! I have seen five tornadoes!

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