Storms are forming in northern Oklahoma where a tornado watch is now in effect. Strong southwest winds are blowing through western Texas… getting ready to enter western Oklahoma. The air is very dry and the fire danger extremely high. Several wildland fires are buring in western Texas and eastern New Mexico. Satellite shows smoke and blowing dust approaching the western part of the state.
The month of February has really been one for the books. In fact, 22 records have been set – including some all time records. When this month is over, we are likely to be only a few degrees off of the average. How we got there is the crazy part.
The first 11 days of the month were below to well below normal on temperature. Three days saw temperatures as much as 31 degrees below normal. From the 12th to the 20th… temperatures were above normal and as much as 26 degrees above normal on the 17th when the high temperature reached 81 degrees. That was 89 degrees warmer than the low temperature of minus 8 on the 10th. The minus 8 degree temperature set an all-time record.
The 23rd was 17 degrees above normal and the 25th was 17 degrees below normal.
Our dew point has ranged from minus 16 to 60. At least some snow… and as much as seven inches of snow was on the ground for the first 13 days of the month. Wind chills were as much as 20 below zero on four of the first 10 days.
Hail fell on the 24th during thunderstorms which produced 1.99 inches of rain. That amount was the most in a day since September 12, 2009. It also put us above normal on precipitation for the first time since last April.
Three days have seen winds gusting to over 40 M.P.H. and the thunder that was heard on the 24th was the first in 103 days.
A strong storm system is approaching the state and the last couple of days of the month are likely to prove interesting in some way. This has definitely been one of the strangest months of weather that we have seen in quite some time.
1987, 1988 and 1989 were all considered down years – by numerous experienced chasers. We were lucky enough to find a tornado day in 1987 to break our tornado drought. It happened on one of the most unlikely of days.
February 14, 1987 was a seasonably mild, cloudy day across the state. A strong storm system was approaching, and while we didn’t have high hopes for tornadoes, we were looking for a reason to get out the door.
We took a drive which was pretty common for the period – down I-44 to Wichita Falls, Texas. There, we were able to pop in at the National Weather Service office and check out the latest radar. We were greatly disappointed. A north/south line of severe thunderstorms had formed about 100 miles to the west and was moving quickly eastward. The line looked solid and the severe threat appeared to be limited to hail and wind. We spent all of about a half hour in Wichita Falls before deciding to make the trip back north home into the clouds.
As we approached Lawton, we were listening to an OU basketball game on A.M. radio. We could make out the static of lightning which we attributed to the storms well southwest of us in Texas. However, it was seemingly getting more frequent and more intense. Due to the low clouds around Lawton, we were not able to visually see storms, but we knew something must be happening. NOAA Weather Radio provided us our first information about a severe thunderstorm which had formed in Comanche County – just to our west.
The timing was perfect; we jumped off the interstate and worked our way around the north side of Lawton where we could make out the base of the severe storm. We still were not expecting much, but since we were in the area…..
As we drove north ahead of the storm into Caddo County, we were startled to look back and see our storm was producing a tornado to our southwest. It was quite a distance off, but yes, we were looking at a Valentines Day tornado. This would be the earliest day of the year that I had seen a tornado for many years to come. The tornado was a 200 yard wide, F2 tornado which injured one person at Medicine Park.
Not hearing a Tornado Warning broadcast, we figured this one fell between the spotter cracks and we needed to get the information to the National Weather Service. We stopped at a roadside bar and I ran in to you use their phone. The bartenders were more concerned that I was not 21 years old and wanted me out of their bar. When I explained what it was for, I was told that they already knew about it because it had been on TV. We were shocked later to find out that the NWS did not know about it because the Lawton TV station which showed it live didn’t bother to call the Weather Service. We actually were able to stop at a one hour photo developing store and bring our catch into the Weather Service to show the warning crew. I will still remember the look on their face as they asked the question, “This happened tonight?”
We were lucky to get our tornado when we did. The 1987-1989 years were all well below normal with regard to tornadoes and frequently considered the “drought years” for long-time chasers.
Storm chasing wasn’t a priority from 1983 until 1986 as it is now. First of all, I still had to finish High School from 1983 until 1985. That really put a kink in storm chase plans. There were the occasional situations where I just had to go, and managed to talk my mother into taking me out of school. But, the overall number of chase opportunities was rather limited and when I did get out with Kenny, we only had a few decent storms to observe.
From 1984 until 1986, I picked up work with NOAA Weather Radio at Will Rogers World Airport, and with Lloyd Tidwell who owned Skyscan Weather. There, we provided forecasts and warnings to several radio stations around the state. Needless to say, these jobs cut into the chase opportunities as well.
Still, there were a few days out each year, and every once in awhile, we would come across something interesting. Nice storm structure, amazing lightning or large hail. I decided that I needed a camera too and a Minolta SRT-201 became my weapon of choice. I think that the camera could have taken some pretty good pictures, but my lack of photography experience greatly limited my results. I bumped up to a Minolta X-700, but again found the photo results limited because I still hadn’t really taken the time to learn any photo skills. With tornadoes the main goal, the lack of photo skills really didn’t mean much because we came up empty through those years.
Storm chasing in the 80’s was much different than it is today. An A.M. radio, weather radio, road map and your eyes were the only tools to be had. If you knew someone on desk at the National Weather Service or back at the School of Meteorology, you could place a phone call or two to get some updated information, but it was never the same by not seeing it with your own eyes.
We also didn’t know what a chase vacation was. We barely knew anything about Kansas and Texas. Once you got near the state line, it felt like you were getting ready to drop off the face of the earth. Usually, so much had changed that visually, nothing looked like it should have from the last time you looked at data.
Trips to Amarillo seemed to take forever. Even running it quick, there were about four hours there that you had nothing available to look at and you couldn’t wait to get to the National Weather Service to get a briefing.
Forecast models in the 80’s were not nearly as sophisticated or detailed as they are today. There were many “clear sky” busts had in those early years. On one high risk occasion, we were left sitting in southwest Oklahoma when storms blew up a hundred miles to our east. The dryline was not expected to advance so rapidly eastward during the day and we were left sitting in hot, dry and dusty conditions as tornadoes moved through southeast Oklahoma.
By the end of 1986… I had started to wonder if I would ever see a tornado again.
Note: When I take to the road to observe storms this year, it will be my 30th year to do so. A personal milestone I guess… a lot longer than most and shorter than the few handfuls of “old vets”. Either way, I thought I would take the time to break down the past 29 years as we quickly approach the 2011 storm season. It’s sad to say that I have forgotten more than I can remember, but hopefully there will be a few gems to enjoy in here.
A storm chasing “career” which began in 1982 actually got kick started in late 1981. My parents knew that I had a strong interest in weather and shopped at Radio Shack in old Shepherd Mall in Oklahoma City for a scanner which would allow me to hear storm spotters. Little did they know that the person that would be helping them at the store was a meteorology student from the University of Oklahoma. He had been storm chasing (whatever that meant) for several years. After opening my presents that Christmas, Mom told me the story about Kenny Hutchison who worked at the Radio Shack. There was no way that I was going to let that opportunity pass me by.
During the weeks after Christmas, I frequently visited the store talking to Kenny and listening to his storm chase tales. He had many of his photos at the store – the most amazing collection was of the May 22, 1981 Binger day. I remembered this day well from the previous year. Not only for it being my dad’s birthday, but one of the few times that we actually gathered blankets and pillows with the possibility that we would have to take shelter as the powerful storm approached Oklahoma City.
Despite being shy by nature, I never had a problem barging in when it was something that I had a strong interest in. It didn’t take long for me to get the words, “Can I ever go with you?” out. To my surprise, Kenny not only didn’t have a problem with it, but was willing to come pick me up when the chance arose. It was a long January and February waiting for the first shot at severe weather and a chance to finally chase.
On March 14, 1982, I got the call I had been waiting for. Kenny said that the following day looked very promising for severe weather and he would be at the house around Noon to pick me up. I was only 14 years old and knew that for a couple of years, I would have to rely on the “pick-up” to be able to chase. I am indebted to Kenny for this, to be honest; I don’t think I would have ever had the patience to deal with someone like this.
We raced south on I-35 from Oklahoma City – full of excitement, anxiousness, and just a little bit scared. I couldn’t believe that I was actually going, and I really didn’t know what to expect. You have to remember that in 1982, people were still opening windows on the southwest side of their house when tornadoes approached, they could “pop” out of nowhere and change directions to come back and get you! I did know however, that it was like getting on a roller coaster that I wasn’t able to get off of. I was in for the full ride.
We targeted storms that were forming near Duncan and would be racing east-northeastward. My first ever stop on a storm chase was in the town of Elmore City where we watched a rotating wall cloud and kicked around some large hail that was laying on the ground. The sirens were going off in town, people were running around – the whole scene was rather surreal. Our stop didn’t last long because these storms were moving about 50 M.P.H. and we had to get rolling to keep up.
We stopped at Stratford to look at hail larger than baseball size. I had never seen anything like that before! This was starting to get really cool! We were driving east down Highway 19 – with a bit of urgency – while heading up and down the rolling hills. When we topped one of the hills, Kenny yelled “TORNADO!” We shut it down and got out of the car to start taking pictures. By gosh, there it was… just like all the books I had read on the subject; A classic tornado. We were far enough away to feel safe, and just far enough away to not know that it was moving through the city of Ada. It stayed on the ground for about 10 minutes and six miles… killing one person and injuring 36. We didn’t see much more from the storm as we tried to follow it east into the trees and hills of eastern Oklahoma. It didn’t matter, I was hooked. It was everything that I thought it could be and more. I wanted to see more – I wanted to learn more.
I often wonder if I would have maintained the same amount of passion for the hobby if it had not been for the success of the first time out. I read where people have gone 60 or 70 times before seeing their first tornado. I think my interest was strong enough to have kept going, but the success on the first time probably helped things along.
I only went out with Kenny on a handful of occasions that year, but another one of our days was a very successful one as well. On May 11th, we observed three large tornadoes in southwest Oklahoma. The largest was one mile wide near Friendship. This was actually the second tornado I had ever observed and was responsible for two fatalities. Thankfully, killer tornadoes are not the norm. Despite the rough start, only a handful of tornadoes that I have observed in 29 years of chasing have killed anyone. Coming up on destroyed homes and bodies is not a pleasing thought and something that I am glad to say that I have been able to avoid.
The first year was a rewarding one. In fact, I was probably a little spoiled. It still hadn’t set in with me how hard it was to actually see a tornado. I would get a hard, long lesson starting the following season. It would be another five years before we saw tornadoes again.
The remaining snow pack is well evident on visible satellite imagery. While most of Oklahoma is enjoying near spring-like temperatures with highs in the 60s and 70s, portions of northern Oklahoma that saw as much as 25 inches of snow with the last storm are struggling to get into the 50s. The mid-afternoon temperature in Alfalfa county was 46 degrees. It may take another couple of days before portions of northeast Oklahoma are able to say goodbye to the snow.
Records continue to fall in wake of latest winter storm:
At 12:29 a.m. this morning – the temperature in Okarche dropped to below zero. A classic case of nocturnal cooling was setup by clear skies, light winds and fresh snow cover. At 6:19 a.m. – the low temperature of minus 8 degrees was reached which sets an all time record for Okarche, having occurred just a week ago. Minus 3 degrees was reached on the 3rd of this month.
On a state level, the low temperature at Bartlesville has reached at least 27 degrees below zero. If this holds, it would tie the all time record low for the state which was set at Vinita on February 13, 1905 and at Watts on January 18, 1930.
The finer details of some co-op stations, mesonet stations and the regular reporting sites will no doubt be looked at during the upcoming days… but it appears possible that the coldest air to ever visit the state did so this morning.
Another winter storm down. I don’t keep records on the frequency of such events, but two, five+ inch snowfalls in eight days is pretty rare. The NAM won out over other models concerning this event. It was steadfast in saying that excessive snowfall would occur in the northern part of the state and nailed it. 25 inches of snow fell near Jay in the Tulsa CWA, while 15 inches of snow fell near Waynoka in the Norman CWA.
While amounts in the Oklahoma City area and along the I-40 corridor didn’t meet the forecast amounts, they still met winter storm criteria for the state.
In Okarche, 5.1 inches of snow fell from late on the 8th through the morning of the 9th. 4.8 inches fell on the 9th which broke the previous record of 1.2 inches set in 2003.
Combined with the blizzard event of the 1st… the February total is now up to 12.2 inches which sets a February record. The previous record was 8.1 inches set in 2003.
In addition, this is now close to becoming the snowiest month on record. The only month which has seen more was March of 1994 when 12.3 inches was observed.
There was also a lot of cold air with this system. By midnight on the 8th, the temperature had dropped to six degrees which broke the old record of eight degrees set in 1994.
By this morning (9th), the temperature had dropped to three degrees which set a record for the date. The previous record was eight degrees also set in 1994. The high today was 18 degrees which breaks the low high record of 22 degrees set in 1994.
With clear skies, light winds and snow cover, the low tomorrow morning may drop to below zero. This will set another record. On the third of this month, the temperature dropped to an all-time low of minus three degrees. Another run at that record is not out of the question.
A few pictures after clearing up after the event:
A major winter storm / with near blizzard conditions now expected / will be affecting the state during the next 36 hours. While this update spreads the heaviest amount of snow farther south… it does not change total amounts.
Winds this afternoon over southern Oklahoma remain out of the east southeast and temperatures are near 40 degrees. Winds in central Oklahoma have come out of the east and northeast winds and colder temperatures are spreading into the northern part of the state and the panhandle. The trend toward northeast winds across all of the state will continue during the next several hours. This will start to bring in much colder air / temperatures in the single digits over Kansas and Missouri this hour / into the state.
All model data is quite consistent in producing heavy amounts of snow, and most of the state will see at least six inches / many seeing eight or more /.
The latest SREF suggests that snowfall rates are likely to approach one to two inches an hour in some bands across mainly central and northern Oklahoma. These rates would be greater than the last blizzard in all but the northeast part of the state. So, combined with the gusty winds – near whiteout conditions may be experienced for a decent amount of time. Thus… in some respects, this may be more of a blizzard for some than the last storm.
Winds are going to be out of the northeast at 20 to 30 m.p.h. with higher gusts creating widespread blowing and drifting snow. Travel by Wednesday morning is likely to be near impossible.
Very cold air will allow wind chill temperatures to fall to as low as 10 to 20 degrees below zero.
TIMELINE: Heavy snow is starting to fall in the panhandle and will spread into the far northwest part of the state before sunset this evening. By midnight, most of the northwest half of the state will be seeing heavy snow. All but the extreme southeast will be seeing heavy snow by daybreak Wednesday. Snow will start to decrease in the far western counties by 9 a.m. By noon, a decrease will be noted in central Oklahoma and the snow should be exiting the southeast part of the state by sunset on Wednesday.
It was time to put down graphically where significant snowfall is expected in the state late Tuesday and Wednesday.
This forecast is a little tougher than the last with regard to the track of the heaviest snow. Despite model data being in good agreement that there will be heavy snow in the state… there has been considerable differences as to where.
One thing about it, each individual model has been consistent in the placement of the heavy snow. The operational NAM likes the northern and northeast part of the state… SREF likes central Oklahoma… and the op GFS likes the central and southwest part of the state.
The low level trajectory of warm air in advance of the system nosing up toward central Oklahoma gives higher confidence to the NAM or at least the SREF solutions of a more northward placement of the largest snow. On the other hand, a certain amount of confidence should be given to the GFS for its handling of other recent snow events.
Since we still do live in a state where a warm nose of air spreading across a surface cold dome has many times impacted snowfall totals in the past… I’m going to lean toward a more northward solution. This includes a broad area of 8 to 10 inch amounts generally north of I-40 – and reluctantly – the OKC metro area. Forecasting and hitting an eight inch snow in Oklahoma City is a little like hitting the lottery. But, that’s what we’ll go with for now.
Southern Oklahoma should still see enough snow to meet winter storm conditions by Oklahoma standards.
Giving the NAM the nod and using it primarily for guidance… very cold air over the northern plains will make good headway into the state by late afternoon Tuesday. Precipitation in the form of snow will be breaking out over the northwest and panhandle in response to strong frontal forcing and lift from an approaching storm from the southwest U.S. A sub-1000 mb surface low is forecast to be in southwest Texas and the gradient over the northwest and panhandle should be rather tight. Winds will be blowing out of the northeast at 20 to 30 m.p.h. quickly creating hazardous conditions with blowing and drifting snow.
By midnight going into Wednesday, snow will become much heavier and start spreading southeast. While the surface low does not remain closed off… a strong inverted trough of low pressure will be found in central Texas – nosing northward into Oklahoma. With it should be a bit of warm air which is likely to cause difficultly in changing precipitation to all snow during the early morning hours on Wednesday in south central / and possibly / central Oklahoma. Still, a changeover to all snow is likely during the daylight hours Wednesday as the system shifts to the east.
While the surface pressure gradient won’t be as strong as the recent blizzard, it still looks quite breezy with winds out of the northeast at 20 to 30 m.p.h. This will be more than sufficient to producing widespread areas of blowing and drifting snow. Once again, areas that see the heaviest snow are going to have widespread areas of the road network shut down through Wednesday night and into Thursday morning. Thursday is likely to remain cold – as well as the first of Friday before we start trying to shove the arctic air eastward and get melting underway. Our prize for enduring all of this will be a nice warm up over the weekend when we should be able to finish off the remaining snow cover.