A Night of Tornado Chaos in Oklahoma City: 9 Killed, 71 Injured

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 7:21 PM GMT on June 01, 2013

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It was a terrifying evening of tornado chaos and extreme atmospheric violence in the Oklahoma City area on Friday. Three tornadoes touched down near the city, killing nine, injuring at least 71, and causing widespread destruction. Huge hail up to baseball-sized battered portions the the metro area, accompanied by torrential flooding rains, widespread damaging straight-line winds, and lightning that flashed nearly continuously. The strongest tornado, which touched down west of Oklahoma City in El Reno, has been preliminarily rated an EF-3 with 136 - 165 mph winds. The tornado warning for the storm was issued 19 minutes before it touched down. Two other EF-3 tornadoes touched down near St. Louis, Missouri, and NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) logged 20 preliminary tornado reports on Friday. Tinker Air Force Base on the east side of Oklahoma City reported sustained winds of 68 mph, gusting to 88 mph, at 8:09 pm CDT. The Oklahoma City airport had sustained winds of 53 mph, gusting to 71 mph at 7:26 pm. These winds were generated by the massive and powerful downdrafts from the supercell thunderstorm that spawned the El Reno tornado. Thankfully, Friday was likely the peak day for this week's severe weather outbreak, as SPC is calling for only a "Slight Risk" of severe weather Saturday and Sunday.


Figure 1. TWC's Mike ‪Bettes‬ crew caught this image of the El Reno, Oklahoma tornado of May 31, 2013 before the tornado caught them and rolled their vehicle.



Figure 2 and 3. Radar reflectivity (top) and Doppler velocity (bottom) images of the May 31, 2013 El Reno, Oklahoma tornado.


Figure 4. Preliminary tracks of the three tornadoes that touched done near Oklahoma City on May 31, 2013. Image credit: NWS Norman, OK.

Tornadoes and cars: a dangerous mix
A vehicle is about the worst place you can be in a tornado, as the tornado's winds can easily roll a car. (The only place less safe is probably a mobile home, as a tornado's winds can roll mobile homes almost as readily, and mobile homes don't come with seat belts and air bags.) At least five of the deaths in Friday's El Reno tornado occurred in vehicles attempting to flee. There was one local TV station that urged residents without underground shelters to get in their cars and "get south" in advance of the tornado that was approaching Oklahoma City, since chasers were reporting that the El Reno tornado may have been so strong that only an underground shelter would have provided adequate protection. This terrible piece of advice likely contributed to the incredible traffic jams that we saw on I-35, I-40, I-44, and other local roads Friday night. Thousands of cars were bumper-to-bumper on the roads as a dangerous tornado approached them. Had the El Reno tornado plowed directly down one of these car-choked interstates, the death toll could have easily exceeded 500. If you are located in a metro area and don't have an underground shelter, the best thing to do it to take shelter in an interior windowless room or hallway, with protective furniture over your body. Getting in a car and attempting to flee the tornado is the worst thing you can do in an urban area. You may not be able to see the tornado if it is dark or the tornado is wrapped in rain. You are likely to encounter hazardous winds, rain, and hail, run into unexpected traffic, or flooded or debris-blocked roads that will put you directly in the path of the tornado. Even without an underground shelter, most people will be able to survive a dangerous EF-4 tornado. Case in point: during the Mannford, Oklahoma EF-4 tornado of 1984, a packed church received a direct hit, and everyone in the church survived. The only fatality was a man who drove to the church to get his wife. (Thanks to wunderground member AGWcreationists for this link.) It's better to abandon your vehicle and take shelter in a ditch, if you are caught in a car during a tornado.


Video 1. The Weather Channel storm chasers weren't the only ones who got themselves in an extremely dangerous situation on May 31. StormChasingVideo.com storm chaser Brandon Sullivan and his chase partner Brett Wright got caught in the tornado northwest of Union City, OK and slammed with debris as the tornado hit a barn that exploded in front of them.


Video 2. When the hunters became the hunted: Weather Channel storm chasers ‪Mike Bettes and two photographers were in their Tornado Hunt vehicle when they were hit by a tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma on May 31,‬ ‪2013. ‬The tornado picked their car up off the ground and rolled it 6 - 8 times before depositing it in a field 200 yards away. All the occupants were wearing seat belts and the air bags deployed, likely saving their lives. Bettes sustained minor injuries, including stitches in his hand. It was the first injury sustained by a Weather Channel personality covering violent weather, according to company spokesperson Shirley Powell.

A storm chasers' nightmare
Cars and tornadoes can prove a dangerous mix even for the world's most experienced storm chasers. Driving at high speeds though heavy rain, large hail, and high winds is hazardous. If one is lucky enough to chase down a tornado, even the most experienced chasers can find themselves in a serious life-threatening situation when unpredictable events occur. Tornadoes by their nature are unpredictable, and can change course unexpectedly, or pop up suddenly. It's particularly dangerous when a tornado is wrapped in rain, making it hard to see, or if a chaser is operating in a heavily populated area, where roads may suddenly become congested. All four of these conditions occurred Friday during the El Reno tornado, and it is very fortunate that multiple chasers were not killed. The El Reno tornado was wrapped in rain and difficult to see as it headed west towards Oklahoma City. The twister suddenly made a jog to the southeast as a Weather Channel team led by Mike Bettes was attempting to get in front of the storm, and the tornado lifted their vehicle off the ground, rolled it multiple times, and hurled it 200 yards into a nearby field. StormChasingVideo.com storm chaser Brandon Sullivan and his chase partner Brett Wright got caught in the tornado northwest of Union City, OK and slammed with debris as the tornado hit a barn that exploded in front of them. Meteorologist Emily Sutton and storm chaser Kevin Josefy of local Oklahoma City TV station KFOR also had a very close call with the El Reno tornado Friday afternoon. They got too close to the tornado, and were forced to floor the car in reverse to escape flying debris. With branches of trees crashing around them, Sutton began feeling debris hitting her back, and realized that the rear windshield of the car must have gotten destroyed. Both were uninjured. Reed Timmer's armor-plated "Dominator" chase vehicle had its hood torn off by the tornado. Wunderground member Levi32 was out storm chasing during the El Reno Tornado, and got stuck in traffic on Highway 4 and couldn't move. "We looked up above the car and saw the wall cloud over top of us, with very quick rotation and rising scud indicating the updraft. We were definitely too close. We made it home safely last night, but not until after an insanely wild day. One hour of chasing turned into six more of being chased by at least 2 tornadoes and a 3rd wall cloud, one of which was the one that went right through downtown Oklahoma City. At one point we were stuck in traffic underneath the El Rino wall cloud watching rotating, rising scud directly above the car. I am hoping and praying that the daylight does not reveal more fatalities.

Would I go again? Yes, but not today, or tomorrow, and I would take even greater care. We had no clue we would get caught the way we did. I thought we had done everything right. We were kind of freaking out for a while. That velocity signature you guys saw with radar folding and multiple vortices - we were under the southern edge of it. We never got a clear view of the tornado, but we could tell just how close it was to our north. It was unreal. The inflow got pretty strong.

We were almost ready to jump out and take cover right before we found a route south, which ended up being slow. It became a six-lane highway south as everyone panicked and drove on the wrong side of the road. Even we did so. We thought we were clear until we saw the training of tornadic supercells on radar, all connected somehow. I've never seen anything like that. My best pictures of the day were of the wall cloud that followed behind the El Reno storm. We didn't see a funnel from that one either, but it chased us south for a long time, and we heard from radio that it spawned a confirmed tornado in Tuttle, when we realized that we were in Tuttle.

A third mesocyclone showed up behind that one as we continued slowly south, eventually reaching Blanchard. It looked weaker than the others but we weren't going to escape it, so we took shelter in a storm room in the local grocery store for about an hour. It then took a long time to find a way around the huge hail cores to get back home. Lightning flashes were occurring 10 times per second as we drove home in the dark. It was almost calming to watch as we got over the semi-shock that we were all in. None of us in the car had seen a tornado before. We didn't see one yesterday, but we were chased by two."



Video 3. Birth of the El Reno wedge tornado. As the tornado touched down, it produced a rare display of suction vortices.

Video 4. Storm chasers Jeff Piotrowski and Kathryn Piotrowski captured impressive footage of a double vortex tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma on May 31, 2013.

Severe storms causing major flooding
The 5.64" of rain that fell at the Oklahoma City Will Rogers Airport on Friday was their 6th wettest day in city history, and brought the total rainfall for the month of May to 14.52", the wettest May in Oklahoma City's history (Thanks to BaltimoreBrian for this link.) The North Canadian River in Oklahoma City rose sixteen feet in twelve hours, cresting at its 2nd highest flood on record this Saturday morning. The heavy rains have spread eastwards on Saturday, causing more flooding problems. Paducah, KY had its wettest June day and 3rd wettest day on record on June 1, with 5.73" of rain (all-time record: 7.49" on 9/5/1985.) Major flooding is occurring along a substantial stretch of the Mississippi River in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri.


Figure 5. The North Canadian River in Oklahoma City rose sixteen feet in twelve hours, reaching its 2nd highest flood on record this Saturday morning.


Figure 6. Radar-estimated rainfall in the Oklahoma City area reached 8+" over some areas from Friday's storm.

Remains of Hurricane Barbara may bring heavy rains to Mexico, Florida, and Cuba
Today, June 1, is the official first day of the Atlantic Hurricane season, and we already have our first Atlantic tropical disturbance to talk about. Hurricane Barbara, which died on Thursday as it attempted to cross Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec into the southernmost Gulf of Mexico, has left behind an area of disturbed weather over the southernmost Gulf of Mexico. There is very little heavy thunderstorm activity associated with Barbara's remnants apparent on satellite loops this Saturday afternoon. Wind shear is a high 20 knots in the region, and the area of disturbed weather is quite small, so I don't expect any development to occur over the next few days. NHC is giving the disturbance a 10% chance of developing into a tropical cyclone by Monday. Moisture from the remnants of Barbara may combine with moisture from an area of heavy thunderstorms expected to build over the Western Caribbean this weekend, and begin bringing heavy rains to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and Western Cuba on Sunday and Monday. These heavy rains may spread to Southwest Florida as early as Monday night. The computer models predict that this disturbance should be large and poorly organized, making development into a Gulf of Mexico tropical cyclone unlikely.

My next post will be Monday at the latest.

Jeff Masters

LotsOfWater... (CalicoBass)
from the heavy rains overnight, flowing over this low water bridge. We were waiting to see if something about our size drove over it okay (we were in a Toyota Pickup), this is a bit bigger than us, lol.
LotsOfWater...
Sunset Strike (mrwing13)
NE Oklahoma is under the gun, again today. Severe weather, threatens to produce more damaging storms.
Sunset Strike
tornado (modernsourdough)
near bennington, ks
tornado

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Quoting Patrap:
zoom here,RECENT IR SATELLITE STILLS


Thank you! bookmarked
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167. VR46L
Quoting SFLWeatherman:
No that 10 to 15 inches for C FL


Thanks My Geography might be a little out !
Member Since: March 1, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 7100
The next 7days for WPB!!
Member Since: May 23, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 5004
No that 10 to 15 inches for C FL
Quoting VR46L:


Looks to me like, its about 6-8 inches for there but it is the GFS which has not been exactly accurate in quite a long time !
Member Since: May 23, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 5004
164. VR46L
Quoting HurricaneDean07:

Or Post/Extra-Tropical cyclone.


On that run I dont think its ever a tropical storm it only really comes together @156 hrs but the bars are not tight ... so EXtrop I would agree to but Post tropical I would not

Member Since: March 1, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 7100
Quoting HurricaneDean07:

What software/program do you use for your graphics?
Simple Paint.NET program. I sometimes do GIMP, but most of time I'll use Paint.NET because I'm a simple kind. I like to make simple graphics, not too fancy.
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162. VR46L
Quoting anotherwrongyear:
those totals are mostly for south florida anyways


Looks to me like, its about 6-8 inches for there but it is the GFS which has not been exactly accurate in quite a long time !
Member Since: March 1, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 7100
Quoting Patrap:
Penn State e-Wall : THE ELECTRONIC MAP WALL



Thanks for the link, Pat. Penn State did a nice job putting almost everything we need on one page.
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Sorry, please check my correction I noted in the post.

Numerous papers suggest that the vast majority of people following the official tornado advice will survive a direct hit from a tornado. On average, the majority of people directly hit by an EF4-5 tornado will survive inside a small interior room inside of a sturdy structure. I've seen the fatality rate range from 1-10% in various papers... that's a 90% survivability rate... although I'm not sure of the exact break-down between underground and above ground. Let me see if I can find the papers.

Either way... your vehicle has a significantly larger risk than an above ground interior room. This is established fact.
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Quoting VR46L:
Dont appear to be tropical but looks like a bit of of a noreaster


Or Post/Extra-Tropical cyclone.
Member Since: October 3, 2010 Posts: 40 Comments: 4129
Quoting ScottLincoln:
Relative Risk from Tornadic Activity
1 is the highest risk, 8 is lowest risk

1) Standing upright outside
2) Mobile home
3) In a vehicle
4) Lying flat in a depression or ditch
5) Inside a sturdy structure
6) Inside a sturdy structure, interior room away from windows
7) Interior room in an underground section of a sturdy structure
8) Inside a certified tornado shelter or safe room

There are some instances where it would it might make sense to use a vehicle to increase your chances of survival in a tornado. One example might be if you are in a mobile home... using a vehicle to get to a nearby sturdy structure in your neighborhood before the storm arrives would likely reduce your risk.

In most other situations, leaving a sturdy structure for a vehicle greatly increases your risk of injury or death from tornadic activity. An interior room inside a sturdy structure will protect you from the vast majority of tornadoes, and even from most parts of the damage path in a violent (EF4/5) tornado. Fatality statistics can vary greatly, but in most sections of tornado damage rated as violent, <10% of the people in an interior room of a sturdy structure - even above ground - survived the tornado.

As such, in most cases there is no scientifically justifiable reason to advise persons to go from a relatively low risk category to a higher risk category for reasons of safety.

Scott, I assume you mean that <10% of the people in the interior room of a sturdy structure did not survive a violent tornado; conversly, 90% made it. A lot better odds than hopping in a car and hope you're going in the right direction or you make it to a better shelter in time.
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155. beell
Am I reading this right, Scott?

Fatality statistics can vary greatly, but in most sections of tornado damage rated as violent, <10% of the people in an interior room of a sturdy structure - even above ground - survived the tornado.



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18Z 45HR out!

Member Since: May 23, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 5004
Relative Risk from Tornadic Activity
1 is the highest risk, 8 is lowest risk

1) Standing upright outside
2) Mobile home
3) In a vehicle
4) Lying flat in a depression or ditch
5) Inside a sturdy structure
6) Inside a sturdy structure, interior room away from windows
7) Interior room in an underground section of a sturdy structure
8) Inside a certified tornado shelter or safe room

There are some instances where it would it might make sense to use a vehicle to increase your chances of survival in a tornado. One example might be if you are in a mobile home... using a vehicle to get to a nearby sturdy structure in your neighborhood before the storm arrives would likely reduce your risk.

In most other situations, leaving a sturdy structure for a vehicle greatly increases your risk of injury or death from tornadic activity. An interior room inside a sturdy structure will protect you from the vast majority of tornadoes, and even from most parts of the damage path in a violent (EF4/5) tornado. Fatality statistics can vary greatly, but in most sections of tornado damage rated as violent, <10% of the people in an interior room of a sturdy structure were killed by the tornado, my understanding is that this statistic also includes people above ground.*

As such, in most cases there is no scientifically justifiable reason to advise persons to go from a relatively low risk category to a higher risk category for reasons of safety.

*Note correction above.
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152. VR46L
Quoting anotherwrongyear:
anything that starts to go towards daytona beach almost always hooks away or falls apart


I guess we will see but the totals they are projecting for that area are Really impressive even though its doubtful its a storm at that stage ....
Member Since: March 1, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 7100
GOES-14 RECENT VIS SATELLITE STILLS/loops
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
Got most of graphics lined up. Still got some left, but that's what you get for making a good blog. I got stuff to do so I'll get started on blog later.

What software/program do you use for your graphics?
Member Since: October 3, 2010 Posts: 40 Comments: 4129
zoom here,RECENT IR SATELLITE STILLS
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
funny low in the GOM heads to fla then retros back sw in the gom



Not sure if I buy that midlevel rigding over the SE that the GFS is painting.
Would like to see the Euro and/or some ensemble mean with the same look before I jump on that forecast...
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146. VR46L
Quoting anotherwrongyear:
20 bucks ses daytona beach florida gets nothing over the next 5 days they never do


LOL ... I would nearly take that bet ..
Member Since: March 1, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 7100
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143. VR46L
192 hrs crazy totals projected

Member Since: March 1, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 7100
Penn State e-Wall : THE ELECTRONIC MAP WALL

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Quoting ProgressivePulse:
125. stormchaser19 10:11 PM GMT on June 01, 2013

Low is sitting under NE High pressure in your first image. Notice the trough that develops in the southeast in your second image?

Correction.
I shouldn't say develops. The trough is visible off to the west in your first image. Correct statement would be that the trough breaks down the high and starts to influence the low.


When i said, breaks, i'm referring when the system(Low) splits..
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Looks to be a fairly flat trough though. Question would be, it is strong enough to grab it or does it head more to the N / NW gulf.
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Hello everyone again. Getting an early start I see.
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Hello everyone. I was at the Weeki Wachee FL. hurricane expo all day. It was nice to see so many people there. The more people prepared, the better. My wishes are that all are safe in any weather!
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137. VR46L
The 5 day total for Florida area are still crazy

Member Since: March 1, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 7100
136. VR46L
Dont appear to be tropical but looks like a bit of of a noreaster

Member Since: March 1, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 7100
Maybe for the Carney EF3 on May 19, and also on May 19 for east Norman to Shawnee tornado, preliminary rated EF4, leaving was appropriate. This violent tornado and the EF3 set down in less densely populated areas, and some might have done okay driving away, conditional on certain knowledge of storm motion, roads and other storm activity in the vicinity. Because of that, and because the weather broadcasters mentioned had won awards for saving lives, I defended the May 19 broadcast. This time I will be silent until what will come to be known is known.

I hope the NWS does a post-analysis to see what prompted people to leave e.g. facebook, twitter, friends and family, related and unrelated to TV broadcasting. Lots of knee-jerk nervousness is/was going on in all layers of the populace following May 19 and especially May 20, and "drive away" may have been the upfront plans of a lot of people. NWS Norman might have been reacting to the public pulse when they tweeted Yesterday, May 31 at 12:04 pm, If you think you need to flee in your car...

As I mentioned in my own blog a little while ago re: "the katrina effect" shoreacres brought up at comment 45, "I'm guessing some studies and new safety recommendations will come out of these past couple weeks of storms on the Plains, same as May 3, 1999 spurred 'don't shelter under a highway overpass.'..."

My further thoughts on evacuating OKC are on my Oklahoma weather wublog, comment 47.

The chasers. The way I see it, this incident was the Earth and Sky bringing a lesson full of secrets, secrets I hope the scientific-minded among severe weather "experts" will study and discover. These chasers caught unaware likely did not realize how big the circulation in that cloud was until it set down near them. I have photos of this cell forming and three, yes it took three photos to capture the entire storm top in its mature stage. I was quite aways west and a little ways south of the area where the initial tornado touched down.

If any of you want to discuss anything with me, please do so by commenting in my wublog. I'll probably be back sometime tomorrow. I do not have time to respond to comments here, or today.
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125. stormchaser19 10:11 PM GMT on June 01, 2013

Low is sitting under NE High pressure in your first image. Notice the trough that develops in the southeast in your second image?

Correction.
I shouldn't say develops. The trough is visible off to the west in your first image. Correct statement would be that the trough breaks down the high and starts to influence the low.
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Navgem still wants to keep a closed low and organized system near the end of the run and in the northwest gulf instead.
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Quoting stormchaser19:
slightly more stable system than the 12z run...


But then breaks the system!!!





Sheared apart with the MLC heading NE and the LLC getting left behind in the surface flow.
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Well I am back for the 2013 season. Hailing from Galveston as usual.

GFS and navgam still not certain on this central gulf scenario, going to wait 48 hours and see if anything forms in the way of a low Certainly a small trough of low pressure over the Yucatan right now could possibly do something.

Glad to see the tornadoes yesterday while severe were not as bad as the Moore storm, also mike bettes should be more careful.
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Quoting GTcooliebai:
Gulf windshear probably increases and destroys the system stretching it out into a trough. Regardless look for periods of heavy rainfall along central and southern FL. with this one.


If the GFS is right...I wonder if the system has the chance of becomes Andrea until it breaks
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Quoting Hurricane1956:
I'm not a expert neither,I just follow the news and the graphics of the potential rain amount for South Florida,I believe nobody said 20" in 3 days,we are talking about a period of almost a week as per the experts.


SEFL anyway can shrug off a lot of daily rain. Problems arise when you get up to the 1.5" to 2" per hour rate.
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Quoting Autistic2:
Does anyone know what the NHC forecast for named storms this year is?

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is predicting 13-20 named storms. NHC does not make their own seasonal forecasts.
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Quoting stormchaser19:
slightly more stable system than the 12z run...

But then breaks the system!!!
Gulf windshear probably increases and destroys the system stretching it out into a trough. Regardless look for periods of heavy rainfall along central and southern FL. with this one.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
funny low in the GOM heads to fla then retros back sw in the gom


That's because the low realized it was getting too close to Alabama, and any rain would mean a precipitous drop in revenue to my city's water department as I struggle to keep my lawn alive. :-)
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slightly more stable system than the 12z run...


But then breaks the system!!!



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Quoting Autistic2:
Does anyone know what the NHC forecast for named storms this year is?

18 named storms. Look for that number to be updated frequently as we do or do not get close to that forecast.
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18z GFS still very much wants to split potential Andrea in two:

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Quoting BaltimoreBrian:
There are so many good tornado vids on youtube for free that I can't imagine tornado vids bringing in much money.

Go to Reed Timmer's Store and check out all the cool stuff he has for sale. You can even get an autographed poster of Reed, Chris, and Joel for the amazing price of $183.31 plus a mere $5.50 for shipping. I'm sure the poster (on archival paper, no less) would have an honored spot in your weather shack. He also has lots of stock footage for sale to the media, but you have to e-mail him for the price. I'm sure it's very reasonable.
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funny low in the GOM heads to fla then retros back sw in the gom

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Does anyone know what the NHC forecast for named storms this year is?
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GFS 84 hrs. shows a rather flat pattern across the US.

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Quoting MontanaZephyr:
What's with all the preaching and moralizing?

Sometimes people get hurt doing what they love to do. Skiing. Scuba. Sailing. Flying. Hunting. Football. Baseball. Martial Arts. Even Dating.

And we are supposed to lecture others like nannies lecture children because of storm chasing?

Seems like a weird disconnect to me.

You're right. Driving way above the speed limit through heavy rain and hail, obstructing emergency vehicles, standing in the middle of the road taking videos, putting myself in harms way so some poor saps have to come rescue me when there are other people who also need to be rescued...sure, it's all good, as long as I love what I'm doing.
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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