Storm Forecasting and Observation

Storm Forecasting and Observation Program Overview

Dr. Preston and four Northern Vermont University-Lyndon Atmospheric Sciences students participated in the SUNY Oswego Storm Forecasting and Observation Program earlier this summer (May 27-June 15). This program is designed for students to apply concepts from the classroom to the forecasting and observation of thunderstorms. The first two weeks were spent in the field, forecasting severe weather and observing storm structure. This involved launching weather balloons to collect data about the environment, as well as using programs like RadarScope and Baron Mobile Threat Net® to examine radar data and track storms. For the last week of the program, students completed a research project related to their storm observations. Some of the research projects this year used GR2Analyst, IDV, SHARPpy, and BUFKIT for analysis.

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Observed Weather

During the 2019 Storm Forecasting and Observation Program, students saw three visible tornadoes (and one rain-wrapped), over a dozen wall clouds, dust devils, 0.25-inch hail, mammatus clouds, cloud iridescence, and incredible lightning activity. Students traveled through 10 different states (see trip log below), including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.

“Down” Days

During the “down” days, students got to visit the Big Well Museum in Greensburg, KS, as well as the Twister Museum in Wakita, OK. They also got to tour the National Weather Center in Norman, OK, which houses the Storm Prediction Center (SPC). Bill Bunting, Chief of Forecast Operations at the SPC, talked about the Storm Prediction Center right outside of the SPC’s forecast room.

Daily Logistics

Overall, 13 students participated in the Storm Forecasting and Observation program. This required two separate vans with ham radio communication (like in the movie Twister). On a typical “chase” day, the forecast team would lead a weather briefing around 8:00 am. The vans would then drive 5-6 hours (on average) to the target area. This would get them to their destination by 3:00 pm, which provided enough time to launch a weather balloon before the main period of thunderstorm development at 5:00 pm. Then, the students would observe the severe storm(s) for the next several hours before losing daylight. After sunset, faculty and students would decide where to stay that night to put them in the best position to chase again the next day. With this in mind, it usually meant driving late into the night.

Trip Log Summary

5/27Indianaobserved multiple wall clouds from low-precipitation supercells on the first travel day of the Storm Forecasting and Observation Program
5/28Kansaslaunched a weather balloon; chased tornadic supercells near Nebraska
5/29Northeast Texasobserved a well-defined wall cloud at 20Z; too dangerous to chase tornado near Fort Worth, TX; observed incredible lightning activity
5/30Southwest Texaslaunched weather balloon at 19Z; chased in the southern tip of Texas (near Big Bend National Park). Had to stop chasing due to the poor road network and in order to avoid hail damage to vehicles.
5/31West Texaslaunched weather balloon at 14Z; chased a cell rotating anticyclonically and saw a few wall clouds with it. Great visual of hail core with “greenish” tint; observed incredible lightning activity
6/1Texas Panhandleobserved several dust devels, followed by a rain-wrapped cell near Dumas with rotation and multiple wall clouds; squall line developed with distinctive shelf cloud; observed straight-line winds and pea-sized hail from the inside of a gas station
6/2New Mexicotarget cell had large hail core and good rotation for several hours; all of a sudden, two additional cells popped up behind vans; caught in 0.25-inch hail (pea-sized); one of the storms produced beautiful iridescence around the anvils
6/3Texas Panhandledown day; dinner at The Big Texan Steak Ranch
6/4Kansasdown day; models overproduced convection, therefore decided not to chase and instead visited the Big Well Museum in Greensburg, KS to learn about the EF5 tornado that devastated the area in May 2007
6/5Oklahomadown day; visited the Twister Museum and saw the Wakita water tower featured in the Twister movie
6/6Oklahomadown day; saw tornado damage (e.g. torn off signs, roofs, and damage to cars) from EF3 tornado that recently devasted the El Reno area
6/7Oklahomadown day; toured the University of Oklahoma campus, and visited the National Weather Center
6/8ColoradoThis was the most exciting day of the Storm Forecasting and Observation trip! The group observed two landspout tornadoes in Kanorado, KS at 20Z. Each lasted 5-10 minutes and occurred one after the other. Two condensation funnels were both visible for a short period as one dissipated and a new one formed. Following this, the group observed three supercells with well-defined hook echoes near Denver. These storms were associated with breathtaking mammatus clouds. At this point, the third tornado of the day briefly formed (occurring for about 10 seconds) in the southern-most supercell. Afterwards, some of the students spotted a brief rain-wrapped tornado in the middle supercell.
6/9-6/10two travel days back to SUNY Oswego campus
6/11-6/15work on research projects

Questions & Answers About the Storm Forecasting and Observation Program

What was the most enjoyable part of the trip?

This whole trip was an unbelievable experience, but if I had to pick what I enjoyed the most it would clearly have to be the storms. Before coming out, I had never seen anything compared to what we saw in the plains. Being able to see an entire supercell and admire its structure and watch as it tries to produce a tornado is something special that I don’t think I’ll ever experience again.

Bobby Saba – sophomore, Broadcast Concentration

Why did you choose to storm chase this summer?

I chose to chase this summer because severe weather has been a dream of mine since I was five years old. I remember sitting through a particularly bad thunderstorm and hearing the rain approach my porch.  It was torrential rain with severe lightning and booming thunder. Being able to finally chase this dream has been one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had and I am so grateful that I was able to do this. Between the people I’ve met, the memories I’ve made, and the weather I’ve seen, this has been one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever been able to do.

Catie McNeil – sophomore, Broadcast Concentration

What have you learned on this trip?

I now know how to analyze data to figure out where severe weather is likely to occur. This is very important to know as an aspiring meteorologist so I will be able to share my knowledge with the public. I have seen a lot of clouds in textbooks and pictures, but seeing mammatus clouds and wall clouds in person are so much different; it is amazing. Although I want to broadcast the weather, I love learning about severe weather. I have only completed one year of college so I am glad that I decided to do this program because there are quite a few people here who really know what they are doing and are doing a great job explaining things to me.

Camryn Kruger – sophomore, Broadcast Concentration

 Why did you choose to storm chase this summer?

It is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I remember one of the small thunderstorms with my dad in Maine just so I could hear thunder. I grew up watching Tornado Hunters and I was absolutely obsessed. Twister is also my favorite movie so storm chasing just felt like something I needed to do.

Maddie Degroot – junior, National Weather Service/Military & Private Industry Concentrations

Student Research

Bobby Saba, Canton, TX Storms
Bobby analyzed two storms that moved through Canton, TX on 29 May 2019.  He was looking to find common radar signatures between storms producing multiple tornadoes.

Camryn Kruger, Cloud Iridescence
Camryn examined the colorful iridescence that occurred around the anvils of supercells in New Mexico on 2 June 2019. Specifically, she looked for signatures of iridescence in radar and satellite fields.

Catie McNeil, High Instability/Low Shear Tornadoes

Catie studied common characteristics that produced tornadoes in high instability (i.e. Convective Available Potential Energy, CAPE), low vertical wind shear environments. Specifically, she compared the environment for the Jarrell, TX tornado (CAPE greater than 8000 J/kg) on 27 May 1997 to the 9 June 2019 tornado near Fort Worth, TX.

Maddie Degroot, Mysterious Mammatus

Maddie examined the stunning mammatus clouds associated with the three supercells near Denver, CO on 8 June 2019. This study showed the difficulty in identifying mammatus clouds using the standard WSR-88D S-Band radar.