Monday, May 30, 2011

SevereWx and my lack of updates-and some information on the Joplin Tornado.

To say that this has been an active severe weather season is quite an under statement. We've had our share of pretty intense storms that have impacted our forecasting region. My person favorite was the April 28th morning thunderstorm that dropped the visibility  to .5 of a mile at the Greater Lynchburg airport. Comparing that to snow-- visibility of .5 of a mile is moderate snow, approaching about an inch an hour. Terms like "It's really coming down" would be used. In rain-- that's some heavy rain. We actually had a .2 of a mile visibility reported at 7:46 AM and between 7:40 and 7:52 we had .62 of an inch of rain. That's about the heaviest rain I've seen. One six minute cycle had .37 inches of rain-- WOW!

My updates have been LOW and it's by choice. This is just a hobby to me-- BY choice, I don't let myself jump in feet first to the severe weather. If I ranked my favorite events-- WINTER event wins, Hurricanes are second and Severe comes last. If I allowed myself, I could get obsess with ALL three, but I willfully limit myself. I've got a career, children and just general life balance that is needed. My spider senses do start tingling so to speak when these events are incoming, but my sanity and just being a normal guy supersedes in this case. I'd always throw out a facebook status if there was a critical storm heading our way, but the day to day

 For those who don't have him-- Sean Sublett is on facebook and twitter and is incredible at updating for our region. If you've not "liked" his fan page-- please do and he will take care of you with various updates during severe weather.

Many of you know I am a counselor by trade-- did that type of work 10 years. Part of me is an extremely sensitive and caring person who hates to see human suffering. I truly have to watch myself when they show those videos of the just horrible carnage after these huge events as it BUGS the life out of me to not be able to do much. Yeah, I give to the various charities but it hardly seems enough.

I've been very involved in an online weather community currently hosted at The short story is a ton of us found each other on some message boards in the mid to late 90's-- and finally found people who were not meteorologist but just LOVED weather. We built a community-- found REAL mets to help enhance the place and it's been a fun 10 years. One of the "regulars" lived in Joplin, MO  only three blocks away from that intense E5 from last week. His pre and post reports were pretty amazing and I thought it be worthwhile to share this information.

The Joplin Tornado was a one in a million perfect event-- the SPC only had a 10% risk of severe storms and pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did. I hate seeing the 142 ish death total. So sad and so many tragic stories. This example just shows WHY we need to heed warnings, even if it seems like we are crying wolf. This guys is an extreme weather hobbyiest like me and literally was only spared because the tornado was 2-3 blocks away.

I'm cutting and pasting this-

I'm guessing about 3-4 minutes.

I think at 5:17 I posted:

"nd there go the sirens, rotation just NW of here."

This was the 2nd couplet that formed and not the actual tornado I don't think. This slid off to the north of me.

Then at 5:27 I posted:
"Pitch black out, couplet nearly on me... Joplin, MO"

This was the 3rd storm and the EF-5 couplet. It rolled through about 3-4 minutes later.

After I posted that, I looked out west and saw the lowering, then a minute or two after that, heard the rumbling. 

This is his FULL report-- I've highlighted a couple lines that hit me. 

This is what happened as I recall, the times may not be correct and it may not have completely happened how I remember it but this is what I remember.

We are very used to having tornado warnings in Joplin. The first instinct of everyone when they hear the sirens is to jump up and go outside to look for it. It's even a joke between me and Wx24/7 that once a storm enters the Springfield, MO CWA, they'll issue a tornado warning for it no matter what.

I had been watching the HRRR all day Sunday and noticed that it was developing the very last storm over Joplin but nothing farther south. The helicity was scary crazy as well. I thought this was maybe just the HRRR being flaky until I saw the storm develop over SE KS and that it was moving SE.

As I remember it, the parent supercell storm that was moving SE developed a couple of cells on it's SE flank. These storms went from nothing but a small blip to a storm in no time at all. SPC mesoanalysis was showing 5000 SBCAPE. The last images other than the base velocity radar image I saw was the LFC and LCL heights, which were both 1000 over the area.

As the storm(s) were approaching, I heard constant rolling thunder and lightning. I was watching the initial parent thunderstorm, it had an unorganized couplet that was rather large and I knew it would slide by to the north of me. South of that another couplet was developing on the second 'blip' that had popped up. This one was farther south than the first one but was still really unorganized. I do believe both were Tornado warned. Then suddenly a third storm rapidly developed south of those storms. A tornado warning was issued that included my area and this was the one that produced the EF-5 tornado.

I watched it go from no couplet to a big bad couplet right over me in a few minutes time. ( I just watched the video that someone posted that showed how quickly the tornado went from a tiny rope to a giant wedge and I'm amazed.) I looked out the window to the west and the sky was pretty much black, much like how it looks when the sun is out at your location and there is a storm some distance away, only this time it was cloudy where I was. There was a lowering which was probably part of the wall cloud. It gave off an orangish hazy looking color against the black sky.

The sirens had gone off for one of the other tornado warnings, but they were going off a second time as well. It was then I heard what I thought was rolling thunder... only this time, it got louder.

I listened to the 'rolling thunder' get louder for about 5-10 seconds before I figured out that it was not thunder. I looked up towards where I heard the sound but the blinds were closed so I decided to get in the only safe place which was a closet before the windows blew out. As I turned on the closet light, the power went out. I was not really expecting an EF-5.

The sound was exactly like what people compare it to, a freight train. It was a loud roar, and it had times where it almost sounded like it was growling. The winds at my location were from the north or northwest because I heard the air screaming in the garage door, it screamed, stopped for a few seconds and then screamed again and then the roar got quieter so I ventured out.

I looked into the rest of the house, no glass was broken, still had a roof. I decided to look outside and despite having a tree that fell over, most of the other trees had no damage. It was now foggy outside though. I suspected I had just been through a weak tornado. I went outside and the first thing I smelled when I made it outside was the smell of freshly cut trees or wood. I thought that was a little strange, but some neighbors trees had broken limbs so I thought it was from that. The roof had sustained some shingle damage but nothing really bad.

I came back inside and I turned on a battery powered radio because I was wondering what the rest of the city was getting or what had happened. It was then I heard that St. Johns Hospital was 'leveled' (a report that was not true, although it had sustained heavy heavy damage) I was like.. whoa that's not good. It was around that time I heard firetruck/ambulance sirens. These sirens ran constantly from right after the tornado hit at around 5:40 PM until midnight. They also ran a lot the next day as well.

I walked down the street, heading to a local church (there's almost one on every corner here) and as I was walking that way I noticed a lot of trees down on just the next street over and the damage got progressively worse. People's privacy fences had been blown over, but this was nothing compared to what I saw at the end of the block. As I was walking I noticed the smell of natural gas, it was getting stronger the closer I got but I just had to see. People had gathered at the church and it was being used as some sort of local triage for minor wounds. I kept walking until I reached the end of the block where everything to the south of the intersection was completely destroyed. I looked down the street and I didn't recognize anything and I realized I could see much much much farther than I could before. There was a lot of traffic that was being turned around there and I didn't want to interfere with the rescue work so I returned home.

 I didn't sleep at all that Sunday night, the days events, the sounds, the thought that I wouldn't probably be here if the tornado was three blocks closer, all kept replaying in my head.
I let the rescuers do their thing on Monday and it was raining most of the day, but on early Tuesday morning I walked back down there and down the street, and I almost could not stop walking. The entire area looked like it was a landfill. On my left, a car parked in the 'garage' where a house would have been but there was nothing but a slab there, water gushing out of a broken pipe. On my right, another street where nothing remained but debris. On the ground there was a St. Johns medical braclet from someone.

The streets were marked by wooden signs spray painted with the street name. "Haz gas" was spray painted on a piece of wood next to a gas meter, a couple of guys pulled up to check and make sure it wasn't leaking still, it was, so one of them phoned the gas company to tell them it was still leaking. The area was being patrolled by police officers from the area and from other counties farther away, but they didn't have much to say or didn't care I was there since I was on foot.

I ran into a lady who had brought a camera to take pictures, she told me that the State trooper guarding the intersection had told her that she had to see it. Pictures don't really do it justice though, people who have lived here all their lives and are older get turned around and lost because there are no landmarks left since it's just a debris field. It reminds me of a post-apocalyptic scene but it's real life. I probably stood on top of a hill and looked around for about 10 minutes at everything, how far I could see and where the damage path was then I returned home.

I decided to go back on Wednesday, a little later in the day and people had returned home to gather their belongings. There were also rescue workers in the area. I saw a boy and his mother on the 2nd floor of what was left on their house. It didn't exactly look safe but nobody was stopping them. I heard an insurance adjustor talking to a woman as another woman was inside what was left of their house attempting to gather whatever she could. I saw a man sitting on the back deck of his destroyed home, holding his head. I looked down and saw that a bunch of debris had gathered down in this valley and rescue workers were there, attempting to find people in the rubble I guess. I felt uneasy and like I was intruding so I decided to return home.

The last trip down there I took this evening. They had cleared away a bunch of the trees. The road was blocked by electrical trucks working on the electric lines, I didn't want to disturb them so I just watched them work. There was other equipment working in the area as well, no heavy equipment yet though.

There have been helicopters flying over for the past few days. I don't remember what day it was but there were 2 blackhawk copters from the National Guard on patrol then two A-10's flew by. I'm not really sure what the point of all that was and most of my neighbors thought it was really stupid. It's not like they were protecting us from some kind of invasion or something.

The city has a curfew in the disaster zone from 9 PM to 6 AM. You can't be in the area after that time. They were going to make people get permits, but they ran out of permits pretty quickly so they just decided to beef up security.

This radio station did a great job of locating people and getting information out there:

Link of the tornado blowing up in a SHORT time.

Various stories about individuals- the HS story is the worst.

Doctor's first hand account.

Dedicated thread at about the Joplin tornado.

Pretty amazing events-- always love reading the goodness of man despite horrible circumstances.