February 5, 2008 Storm Chase
Got started early after just a few hours of sleep. A strong (fomerly severe) storm came across the Ozark, AR area and I intercepted just north of there. The storm had definte supercellular characteristics but I couldn't chase it into the mountains due to no roads.
For the remainder of the chase I was joined by Bart Comstock. I remained uncovinced of the certainty of storm development further east so we stayed on I-40 between Ozark and Russellville much of the day. We intercepted several severe warned storms but even the severe warned storms were pretty much garbage. The strongest storm during this time did put down some quarter size hail just north of Clarksville around 2:30pm. While following this storm north for a few miles we also stopped a small lake to take a few pics of some fog that had developed on it and we spotted a Great Blue Heron which provided a nice picture. This area also had recieved quite a bit of rain from training storms and there was quite a bit of pasture/street flooding.
Around 415pm we decided to head further southwest into much better chase terrain to intercept a severe storm coming out of Scott County, AR. On the way to that one the cold front finally starting surging and unfortunately the suring front squashed the storm into a linear mess. About the same time as the storm was dying we noticed a storm we had been watching about 20 miles east of us get much stronger. We headed east but speed was limited due to the surging front causing storms to develop all over us. We saw the storm getting extrememly well organized on radar and soon a tornado warning was issued. We just couldn't get there in time before it crossed the road so we focused on trying to get to the same area for a new storm that was also getting better organized.
We saw (on spotternetwork) that Scott Currens (www.violentplains.com) was in perfect position to see the tornado and here is a picture that he took as the tornado was moving through Atkins, Arkansas.
Scott also got video and has posted it on youtube and it can be viewed HERE
We just made it through Russellville ahead of the hail core of the next storm (we got nickel hail though). A few miles east of Russellville in the town of Atkins we saw the tornado damage from the previous storm. The tornado was obviously quite strong and I-40 was backed up for miles. Below is a picture of the tornado damage showing a overturned 18 wheeler. We also learned moments later of the fatalities in Atkins. Luckily, it seems that warnings were issued well ahead of the storms and the sirens sounded so many people were able to take cover.
After a short delay at Atkins caused by traffic backups we continued east towards Little Rock in hopes of intercepting more storms developing south of there. We could see them pretty good on the way.
We got to a few miles east of Lonoke when we realized we just weren't going to be able to catch up the stronger storm ahead of us. We pulled over a waited for the line and a isolated storm in front of it to overtake us. We thought the isolated storm was done because the frontal line of storms was nearly touching the back edge of the storm on radar. We began taking lightning pictures but after a while my GPS/XM unit alerted us to a tornado warning. We had not been paying attention to the storm features at all so we didn't know exactly where everything was. I believe from the wind changes that the circulation passed nearly right over us but probably just west/nw/n of our location. We followed the storm a mile or two northeast and then parked as the storm left us and as the squall overtook us. Here is where the night got real fun. We were parked in front of a farm near a metal barn and the electricty went out as the strong winds hit. Then a spotlight starting shinning from the house that was about a hundred yards away. We lock our doors at this point as we are well off the main roads. As the rain lets up we start back towards the interstate but we didnt very far before we saw a large truck racing out of the house. It seemed it was going to try and cut us off but we just beat him. Another large truck was coming down the road and it seemed to not want us to pass. Both vehicles followed in behind us and we were pretty worried! We had seen and talked to a officer just a little ways off the interstate so we headed that direction in hopes of finding him. The vehicles continued to follow us as we got to him and parked right next to him. The truck behind us pulled right beside us and he asked us who we were and we told him. He then smiled and said OH, Sorry man I thought you were lost (apparently his idea of giving directions is very serious! ha!). We told him he scared the crap out of us and he smiled and said we could come back and he would give us some beers! We politely declined. We shot some more lightning and then after a while of that we headed home.
On the way back home we exited the interstate at Atkins to check out the damage. It seems likely to be at least EF2 damage but I bet on EF3.
The NWS Little Rock has determined the tornado that affected Atkins and Clinton and many other communities along its 123 mile path was of EF-4 strength. The 123 mile continous path length is the longest tornado track ever observed in Arkansas and ranks right up there with some of the most violent and longest lived single tornadoes ever observed. Here is a few exerts from their reports which can be viewed HERE :
THE WORST DAMAGE WAS FOUND AROUND THE ZION AREA...WITH THE TORNADO RATED AS AT LEAST EF3. SEVERAL NEWER HOUSES WERE DESTROYED...WITH A SPORT UTILITY VEHICLE THROWN SEVERAL HUNDRED YARDS. A JEEP WAS FOUND IN A TREE.
Photo Credit: NWS Little Rock
THE OTHER TEAM VIEWED DAMAGE FROM AROUND SHIRLEY BACK THROUGH CLINTON AND CULPEPPER. MUCH OF THE SWATH OF DAMAGE WAS ONE HALF MILE TO A MILE WIDE...WITH THE TORNADO RATED AS AT LEAST EF3. THERE SOME CASES WHERE HOMES WERE SWEPT OFF OF THEIR FOUNDATIONS... INCLUDING AT LEAST ONE BRAND NEW HOME. THERE WERE TWO INSTANCES WHERE PEOPLE WERE LOOKING FOR THEIR VEHICLES. THE VEHICLES WERE THROWN FOR A DISTANCE AND COULD NOT BE FOUND.
Photo Credit: NWS Little Rock
Photo Credit: NWS Little Rock
Here is a elevation map showing that this tornado crossed up and over some extremely mountainous terrain. While weak tornadoes can be negatively affected by mountains, strong tornadoes like this are too large and strong to be affected much at all.
We stopped at the Russellville nuclear plant and took a quick picture in the now extremely cold and windy air.
Many other storm chasers were out during this severe weather outbreak and here are the best of those.
Tony Laubach intercepted a large multi-vortex tornado near Memphis, TN
Scott Currens was in Atkins, AR and got video of the tornado as it tore through there
Chris Collura intercepted several storms and a couple tornadoes around Memphis, TN
Dan Robinson captured spectacular lightning shots hitting tv towers in Lexington, KY