2011-05-25 Poplar Bluff, MO Doppler-Indicated TOR

What am I doing? (Or:  Captain Ahab was a stormchaser…)

Woke up Wednesday morning in Tulsa, spent an hour in the hotel hot tub trying to work the tennis elbow out of my right arm, with limited success.  Internet still sketchy, so TWC told me that southern Missouri was the place to be, but also hedging by saying that you should keep an eye on northern Kansas…western Missouri…western Kentucky and Tennessee…Illinois…Indiana…yikes.

I came this close to cutting bait, heading back to Omaha.  Might have even seen something…  But the siren song of PDS watches sent me east.  By the time I got to US-69, I was committed to heading east some more, because there was no way I was driving on US-71 north.  Through Joplin, no stopping.  I could still smell shredded trees…

Between Joplin and Springfield, I started hearing tones on the radio, and at first I couldn’t figure out why.  Turned out they were for TORs in the KC metro, I probably would have been in KC by then, but no guarantee off seeing anything (I haven’t seen any storm vid yet) and the storms were crossing the whole state, doing damage all the way to STL.

For all the time I’ve lived, vacationed and chased in Missouri this was my first time in the south.  Springfield, and the Steak ‘n Shake franchisee pours Pepsi products!  I recoiled in horror.

US-60 east for the rest of the day.  Really, a beautiful road.  Yeah, it’s hilly, but not mountainous like I’d been led to believe.  I felt that if things fell right, one of these mile-wide wedges that I was promised could be intercepted.  There are plenty of examples in Grazulis’ SigTor of southern Missouri /northern Arkansas outbreaks of huge tornadoes, and it was a high-risk PDS day–and I was in a Red Box soon after noon.

This is when the road network began to bite me.  Not much was forming to my south, and chasing the odd TOR to my north would have put me out of position for anything that did develop.  Too many cumulus, hard to get any feel for the structure, though it was a beautiful, bright, hot, humid, glorious day.

Mountain Grove, MO–Doppler-Indicated TOR, no way to catch it but very pretty.  Radio was doing a decent job, considering what they had to work with.  By now, I was feeling that this was getting bust-ish, and radio resorted to asking for reports from the public–“Yeah, we got some dime-sized hail for about ten minutes”…”We had a bit of a west wind for a minute”…”It just got done raining”…

Stuff started to get a little more organized in northeast Arkansas, and I could start to see it, but warnings weren’t forthcoming and there was nothing for me to park under.  Still east on US-60, missed an EF-3 by I’d guess ten minutes in Ellsinore, MO.  Problem was, that there was no one to nowcast, no one to report this nowcasting to local radio, not that many chasers to call what they saw to EMS, and I was staring right at the storm and saw nothing notable–until I crossed the damage path and by that time, help was there and nothing else to add.

If I can just get to Poplar Bluff…named that way for a reason, it’s where the Ozarks end and the Mississippi floodplain begins.  Add to that, a couple supercells were just across the Arkansas line, right on the edge of the bluffs and heading toward Poplar Bluff.  Found the Mickey D’s and used the restroom just at the sirens went off.  The McManager was going to lock the doors, so I had to sneak out the one he hadn’t got to…and their Wi-Fi was working just fine.  Even though the sirens were going, no one in town gave a rat’s–not even the radio station (which went back to music even thought their county was warned!) or an ambulance that was getting gas when I was, shooting the breeze with other customers.

Well, I really didn’t want to be in town, anyhow…US-60 to between Poplar Bluff and Fisk, beautiful floodplain and a wall cloud passing over those oblivious people in Poplar Bluff.  No road grid, so this was going to be it:

I don’t know how close, but no cigar in any case.  Ten years ago, I would have chased this puppy to at least Paducah and with a few days off, maybe even Louisville.  But I don’t chase squall lines anymore.  Back to tha STL, Residence Inn in O’Fallon.  Fourteen hours in the car turned me into a cripple, hot tub helped a little bit.  Seven more hours to home, then time to ponder what could have been.

Chase southern Missouri again?  If I was starting in Tulsa and it was another High Risk / PDS day, sure.  I still think I could make the topography and roads work.  Would I drive 1+ days to get in position?  No.  I’ve seen too many tornadoes to chase that far to see another.  I know, heresy…

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Author: Damon Hynes

Used to chase tornadoes, until Ma Nature ran out of them...

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