Joplin

Dit is een samenvoeging van enkele posts van mijn oude blog met betrekking tot de tornado op 22 mei 2011 in Joplin. In 2011 hield ik mijn blog in het Engels bij.

May 22, Morning

The [tour group] meeting is in half an hour from now, though I’m not sure everybody is here already as I’ve heard about some people who got stuck in Minneapolis due to a massive power outage.

SPC has issued a moderate risk for today, roughly from north east Oklahoma all the way up to Chicago and then even further north. But reading through the description of the outlook it appears that there actually are two target areas: the cold front and the dryline. The areas affected by the cold front are those that have been given a moderate risk, while the dryline has a slight risk.

Still, the description of the scenario involving the dryline sounds better to me. The chances of storms forming are smaller as they have to battle a warm layer of air somewhat above the ground (Elevated Mixing Layer), but if a storm does form it will have a massive amount of energy available (CAPE up to 6000 J/Kg!). These storms should also remain isolated longer which means they will not destroy each other.

If we will challenge the Cap (the more common name for the warm layer of air) then we will probably spend several hours waiting in the sun. Last night the storms did not fire until 18.00 and the big supercell started even later.

So… untill the end of today’s chase watch my twitter account for updates!

May 22, Evevning

We were targeting a storm that moved from Kansas to Missouri. As it approached Joplin we received reports of a tornado on the ground. We continued along the highway and noticed a debris ball on the radar crossing the road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think we got there just a couple of minutes later to find massive damage to houses and at least 10 big trucks overturned. The guys from Cloud 9 did check on some of the drivers and as far as I’ve understood they appeared to be okay.

If this thing went over Joplin, then I’m afraid not everyone is okay though.

After yesterday, I’m must that this was on my list of things not to see.

We just stopped at a gas station to regroup. Joplin is hit hard, many buildings have been destroyed. Some of the truck drivers actually were not quite OK after all. We have a fourth driver on this tour and he actually took two injured motorists to the hospital, we are driving back into Oklahoma to meet up with him now.

May 22, Night

Right now it’s almost midnight. We’re at the Super 8 motel in Tulsa and I guess today was that day I have talked about several times already. The thing you don’t want to happen, the thing you don’t want to see, but the thing that is undeniably connected to stormchasing. Today I met it’s dark passenger.

I woke up quite early again, so I browsed a bit on the net. At about eight o’clock I decided to go for breakfast and noticed several other tour members already being out. I did grab some sandwiches and pretty soon it was time for the ‘pre-tour’ meeting.

During the meeting I handed over the O.S.C.A.R. Award to George (Outstanding Stormchase Celebrity Ape Replica) to make up for making him cry by calculating has celebrity value earlier in the year.

At about noon we started to drive and our target was north eastern Oklahoma. We drove east out of Oklahoma City and waited a bit at Henryetta. In south east Kansas a storm fired up and we were expecting new storms to be appearing in our direction. That did not happen right a way, so the decision was made to give us a better position by moving north a bit.

We headed for Tulsa and as we drove there we noticed the Kansas storm was actually moving really slow. So, it became our target. Some small new cells appeared to the south of it, but they all merged quickly with the old cell. Yet as we got close some smaller storms did form and we had to drive through them to get to our target.

By now the Kansas cell had got a tornado warning on it, after a sheriff reported a funnel cloud. A hook echo began to form, but there where no actual tornado reports.

Then things started to go really fast. As we almost cleared the other storms on the radio power flashes where reported, which are caused by power stations being destroyed, potentially by a tornado. Not long after that a tornado was confirmed, but immediately there was talk of lots of debris and damage.

The cell now had a very clear hook echo, but attached to it was a so called ‘debris ball’, a radar reflection not caused by rain but by debris picked up by the tornado.

We carefully tried to approach the tornado, but never saw it as it was completely covered in rain. As we drove further along the I-44 the first damage became visible: some snapped trees and destroyed highway signs. We drove further and

began to see more extensive damage to buildings along the side of the highway. Then we approach a highway overpass, with at least 10 big trucks lying scattered across the highway.

We pulled over and some of our guides started to inspect the trucks together with Jason Persoff (the stormchase doctor who helped me in 2008 when I was really sick). On the radio I heard someone say that the drivers were okay, but later I found out the some of them actually were injured.

Our tour was actually overbooked and Charles arranged an additional vehicle to accomodate all the people. The driver of the additional actually took some of the injured people to a hospital. They returned with horrifying stories of how Joplin was looking. Right now there are at least 24 confirmed fatalities and I’m worried about what that number will be in the morning.

We decided to get out of the way so professionals could take over. So most of us, including me, did not see the destruction in Joplin itself.

Sunset illuminates the departing storm; empty lanes heading into Joplin
Sunset illuminates the departing storm; empty lanes heading into Joplin

We drove a bit further east, but moved back shortly after, carefully avoiding the surroundings of Joplin and met up with the fourth car at the world largest McDonalds. As we were driving west on the I-44 the opposite lanes were empty, apart from the occasional emergency vehicles racing towards Joplin.

We actually had dinner at the McDonalds and then moved to Tulsa, still seeing emergency vehicles heading towards Joplin all the time.

A nice lightning storm accompanied us and when we got out of the vans at the motel we were greeted by some rather big hail. Right now there are still some storms in the area, but nothing severe.

Tomorrow we meet at 10 and we will probably be heading back to central Oklahoma where there is a moderate risk for severe weather. We all are hoping this time it won’t get anywhere near a populated area. But still I’m wondering what the feeling will be like after today.

May 23, Morning

I managed to sleep for some hours, but woke up at 5.30 or so again. I’m still not adjusted to the time difference and as I woke I wanted to do a quick check on the situation in Joplin and make sure that everybody back home knew that we were ok.

The situation in Joplin is really bad, the dead-toll is rising steadily and at the moment a new line of storms is moving over the city with possibly large hail and strong winds. All this while there probably still are people trapped.

Hail stones from the storm in Tulsa
Hail stones from the storm in Tulsa

I’m really curious about the mood of the tour group today. In 2008 I have witnessed many tornadoes, almost all of them in the middle of nowhere, where it was truly possible to admire the force nature can display. I can’t imagine what it feels like for the people on the tour for whom this was the very first chase day on their very first chase. But then again… we all chose to do this and the ones we should be concerned about are the people in Joplin.

While I can’t speak for others, my desire is to see tornadoes, not the destruction they cause. But of course, as I have written several times before, that is a part of it.

I have uploaded a clip to youtube that I filmed as we approached the location on the I-44 where the tornado crossed. The people you see running towards the truck are our tour guides. As we move on, several other trucks can be seen. Probably they all got stuck due to other cars and trucks trying to take cover under the overpass, which is actually the most dangerous thing to do.

I’m sure we’ll be chasing as there is another moderate risk today, also covering South West Missouri again. But our target no doubt will be Oklahoma. Right now, I want to keep chasing but I’m not sure how I will feel during the day.