Sunday, March 20, 2016

February 23rd, 2016-Convington, Louisiana Rain Wrapped Bustfest

Well, it finally happened. After saving, and saving, and saving all Winter. Missing many good tornado days such as the Rowlette, Texas EF4, Clarksdale MS EF4, and the Alabama EF2 both the GFS and NAM were showing a powerhouse Low Pressure system for the Gulf Coast states. The low was so deep, that it was looking to set records. I had the day off, and I wasn't missing this setup. However, the setup was far from perfect. The first major issue that I noticed, was the Low was so far South there was a risk of all of the storms being out in the ocean. Yes, you read that correctly. Another major issue was morning convection. Wide open cap at 18z, saturated soundings, and minimal cape values. I personally hate chasing low cape, high shear days. Its almost like clockwork. Storm goes up in about 500 cape, then gets fluffy, and flops over to the right and dies. But, with shear vectors supporting strong tornado potential I had to give it a try. As I am so close to leaving for my hike, I'm not sure how many more opportunities I'll get.

While driving out to meet up with the first member of "Dream Team" Alec Scholten the SPC issued a 15% hatched area for strong tornadoes later in the day across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. With several "intense tornadoes likely".

Honestly, I was pretty amazed that they had gone 15% so early. I expected to see a 10% hatch to start with the possibility of a 15% upgrade later, pending on what the morning precip was like. While driving down after meeting up with Alec, neither one of us seemed too optimistic. While the SPC wording was slobbering, there was a massive rain shield moving in from Texas. Which would be the damper on the setup and potential waste amazing parameters.

We arrived in Jackson, Mississippi around 10am and met up with the final member of "Dream Team" Stephen Jones. I won't lie, that was probably the most sketched out gas station I have ever spent time in. While we were filling up, and Stephen was setting up the live feed. We noticed there was a tornado warning in Louisiana much earlier than expected. Then, a tornado was confirmed on the ground. Which was odd, because it was associated with the morning's WAA (Warm Air Advection) We originally had plans to eat breakfast in McComb, MS as initiation didn't appear likely until late evening and into the night. But, with confirmed tornadoes (and large ones at that) we had to set our hunger aside and race South towards Louisiana.

We arrived in Amite, LA just as the reported large tornado would be approaching. Our friend Bill Oosterbaun scored a view of it, about 20 minutes before our arrival. Warm inflow was screaming into the storm as we sat on an exit ramp outside of town.

This is about a typical chase in Dixie Alley. "IS WHAT A TORNADO? WOW LOOK AT THAT THING ABOVE THE TREE LINE!" followed by contrast enhanced video stills further asking more questions than answering. While a tornado was indeed confirmed, we never got a visual. Could see the rapid rising motion, crazy inflow, and racing rainbands but no funnel. Even while being positioned North of the hook region. To make matters worse, the storm completely died shortly after this video still was grabbed.

The chase was already off to a frustrating start, as we knew the chase day would be incredibly frustrating going into it. We also still needed to find a place for all of us to pile into one vehicle. But, once we arrived at a gas station in Roseland, LA an MD was issued with the highest risk for strongest tornadoes highlighted well to your East. An area we had discussed earlier that night on the drive down there with the talks of upgrading to a "High Risk". Something that hasn't happened since 2014.

But, this would be the only time I have chased a high impact event and not even be excited with the talks of an upgrade, and a rare PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation) Tornado Watch in place. Why? Because we were still sitting under a rain shield, and gray skies. Honestly, I think I even mentioned to Alec at some point "I can't believe they aren't considering downgrading due to all of this rain. But are somehow talking about upgrading? Weird day". But, they are the great minds and work at the SPC for a reason. So, it was time to position for the later show. We hurried East towards Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A town famous now for the "Continue" video shot by our friend Scott Peak. Along the way we passed the damage path of the Columbia, Mississippi EF3 from 2013. Which was hopefully not an omen for what was to come later that day.

Once arriving in Hattiesburg, we realized the only play in that area was a convective line of storms pushing quickly to the Northeast. Which would not be ideal for visible tornadoes. So, we blasted on highway 59 towards an isolated supercell that was taking shape near New Orleans. But then, the convective line we were on went tornado warned with two, significant couplets (areas of rotation) were appearing on radar. Now we had a decision to make. Stay up here and hope we could get into the cage and get a view? Or haul it Southwest towards an ongoing supercell almost an hour away near New Orleans with a confirmed large, tornado on it. Eventually, we decided to go back and forth on highway 59. But, once we got a view of the storm instantly realized we were not going to see anything.

Great chase terrain right? lol. So, before we got hit with damaging, straight line winds, we floored it Southwest and committed to the Southern most storm. Which was still producing tornadoes. We quickly made it to Highway 10 where we continued hauling it Westward towards the approaching (still tornado warned supercell) which was now making its way over Lake Pontchartrain. But, not before we randomly bumped into our friends Max Olson, Marcuz Diaz, and Tony Mesias! Had no idea that they were on the highway we merged onto, let alone were coming through at the same time. Which made for some priceless video. This moment alone made the drive down worth while lol.

We finally arrived on the supercell, still tornado warned, with a confirmed tornado on it. However, the couplet was significantly weaker, and the overall shape of the storm appeared to becoming very disorganized (big surprise since that was the trend all day that day). We positioned ourselves North of the hook region but, due to trees, rain, and lack of roads we couldn't see anything except small tree debris falling out of the sky. We did however at one point cross an area of large tree branches down and lots of limbs covering the road, which would later be confirmed as an EF0 tornado. Right there, and we still couldn't see it if that tells you anything about chasing in Louisiana.

At this point, we could continue the chase, but the storm continued to just look disorganized, and we had all been up for well over 30 hours straight, and I felt like death. So, we decided to cut our losses and head for Hattiesburg, Mississippi where we'd sleep for the night as an unexpected blizzard was raging across Illinois. But, not before finding a buffet and chowing down on tons of food. Storms had initiated so early that day none of us had eaten since the night before and my stomach was hurting it was so hungry. To get another slap in the face, we tried to find a hotel with a hot tub to relax. I guess Mississippi is religious against hot tubs, because not a single hotel we checked within reason had a hot tub, or was under maintenance. So, a swimming pool hotel it was after grabbing a quick beer at Buffalo Wild Wings, where we chatted with a really cool waitress for awhile, who actually follows the TVN weather streaming app.

Conclusion-Chasing in Louisiana sucks. Don't do it.

But, in all seriousness, this was by far one of the toughest, and most frustrating chases I have ever been on, but we knew that going into it. If I could go back and change one thing, it'd probably be to look at how South the low was and realize a lot of the supercell potential would be over the ocean and would be lucky to have any of them come on shore. Also should have realized the lack of EML that day and how the low wasn't near as deep as models suggested it'd get. But, I don't regret going down for a second. I got to see my best friends before I leave for my hike and it felt great to have the chasing atmosphere back in my life.


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