Sunday, August 29, 2010

Plainfield, Illinois F5 Tornado 20th Anniversary

The Plainfield tornado is without a doubt the most significant tornado to strike near home. That incredible F5 tornado is not only the lone F5 to strike the greater Chicagoland area but it is also the only F5 to strike anywhere in the country during the month of August. Unfortunately 29 people lost their lives making it one of the deadliest tornadoes to strike this region. It is a classic example of an unseen event as the day called for potential severe thunderstorms but the thought of tornadoes never crossed anyones mind. The tornado struck without a watch or a warning. It was spawned from an incredible HP monster and to this day there are no known photographs or video of it which makes it somewhat of a mysterious monster.

That day was August 28th, 1990. I was only 7 years old at the time but do have several vivid memories from that day. I remember the evil green sky and the newspaper photograph of a demolished church. Plainfield is still a good 20 miles from my home, but close enough.

What caused such a violent storm? Weather observations weren't as in depth as they are today, but there was obviously an extreme amount of instability in the atmosphere, temperatures had soared into the mid 90s with dewpoints into the upper 70s, that alone provides an extreme amount of energy. A cold front was sliding south through the area but the wind field wasn't anything that screamed weak tornadoes let alone an F5, and this perhaps is was fascinates modern day forecasters to analyze this day using the vast network of new and improved forecasting techniques that have come since then. The unusual direction the tornado traveled [northwest to southeast] is yet another piece of the overall unique puzzle pieces that came together this day. The storm had to have some sort of boundary interaction and my guess is the odd movement of the storm against the very unstable surface flow coming from the opposite direction really enhanced its srh [storm relative helicity.] One can only speculate though until another similar event occurs and is further analyzed.

Could another event like this happen? Absolutely. The advantage we have now is a better understanding of weather, better radar technology along with more active spotters and chasers out there. It is hard to believe that such a significant event could happen again without warning.

The NWS put out a great pdf article of the event which includes video at the end of the storm before it produced the tornado. Its quite an eery video showing a mean green HP machine sporting a violent wall cloud and some insane rising motion. That article can be seen here:

I decided to pay a visit to the memorial to pay my respects to those who lost their lives in this underrated hazard that exists in our area. The memorial itself is quite a site, it stands taller than me [I am 6'3"] and is lazer carved from beautiful black granite.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Blowing It.

Yea, Ive seen to have blown lots of good chase opportunities lately. There have been several gorgeous tornadoes in MN this past week and I never even made an effort to even try and think about maybe wanting to see if I can perhaps chase. Alas though, I dont feel angry or any "SDS" about it...I guess thats what having an amazing season will do. Still though, I really would have like to been there for some of them.

Only a handful of chasers chase this time of year and the odds of getting something unique are greater, however one of the problems with tornadoes this time of year is what has always made me not want to chase them. They are needles in haystacks. The fact is allot of these summer setups all look the very same, at least to me and my moderate forecasting skills. Its hard to justify having the funds to run out great distances this time of year when every day looks similar. You can have the same setup 8 days in a row, and only 1 or 2 with tornadoes. Often times these come down to last minute mesoscale details which by the time I am able to pick out, its too late to make it to the target area in time. Damn this living location of mine! I never imagined the main 2010 season would be as active as it was and thus I exhausted all my chase funds early...lesson learned.

Unfortunately I am not one of these chasers whos rich parents can help fund my chasing. I do everything on my own and the fact of the matter is I am still not making enough money at the moment. What money I do have coming in is going to paying off the expenses of the active chasing I did from March - June. My chase partners help with gas but what they dont help with is the vehicle maintenance from the intense abuse I put it through, especially since I have driven 26 out of 27 chases this year. I chose to do it that way though. I don't really like being the passenger.

Speaking of March, April and May...I wouldn't even bother with those months if I knew June/July/August would be like this every year. Thats the other thing about it, the northern plains tornado season is never a sure things. In 08 and 09 it was practically non existent, this year just happens to be a year where it is very active.

Hopefully I can recover some chase funds soon to go after things in the coming months. I still hope for some local chases. Other than June 5th, IL has had a relatively quiet tornado season but there have been plenty of bow echoes and MCSs to mess around with. Those types of things I like to just sit at home and let them hit me. Especially knowing if they do anything significant I can make a media sale without putting up any cost up front. Its been a great year for local storms though so I can't complain there.

I keep a "thunderstorm log" of all the days with storms at home [yea, Im a huge nerd] and so far I have around 30 entries. Last year there was a measly 20 the entire year...stupid 2009.

I sort of get a kick out of watching spotter network on any given day there are storms around here. Allot of new names and aspiring spotters/chasers zipping around after garbage crap storms. Ahhh I remember those days...the days where I would wait for a storm...any storm to be in progress and just drive around it not knowing what the hell I was doing...luckily back then noone could track and laugh at me.

The problem I see is a serious increase in bogus reports. Yesterdays MCS came with a whopping 6 funnel cloud reports. No tornadic signatures on radar whatsoever, the storm rolls over me and I see lots of pointy, scuddy lowerings which explains the false reports. Not to mention some of those spotters bombard our beloved Tom Skilling with these "funnel" which there is NOTHING resembling a funnel in...but alas, such is chasing and spotting these days.

Anyways, back to the point. I've sat out some good chase days and missed some good storms, but I wont be sitting out much longer! I see some chasers have donation buttons on their websites...I wonder if people actually donate...I should try it. Even a dollar can get me a value meal on the road!