STORM CHASE ACCOUNTS - 1998
JUNE 4 & 5
The following document is a reliable and accurate storm chase account from June 4 & 5, 1998. This is an account from the detailed chase log of Scott Blair and George Hoelzeman. Enjoy the report!
STORM CHASE ACCOUNT #21/#22 Thursday, June 4, & Friday, June 5, 1998-- This was the first day in 1998 that I decided to cross the Arkansas border into Oklahoma to chase.
I knew the chance for severe storms existed as well as the threat of tornadoes a couple of days in advance. On the 3rd, the place to be was not very clear. Eastern Oklahoma looked good, but the SPC had a moderate risk over AR. I forecasted for several hours, looking at every item of information I could find. By the evening, I called George. "We are going to Oklahoma", I announced. I finished my forecasting at midnight on the 4th. I was determined to have great placement. "The target area should be in East Central Oklahoma", I narrated to the camera at 12am. I set the alarm clock for 6am. This would give me a chance to look at plenty of graphics, discussions, and forecasts. I checked over all the equipment and maps. The chasemobile (also known as The Weather Wagon) and forecast was in order.
The excitement began at 12:13pm, as we left North Little Rock and drove west on I-40. Temperatures were hot as we sat in a non-AC car. At 12:48pm, we arrived at Conway. Cumulus clouds were slowly building as hazy conditions restricted visiblity. The best towers were to the west of Conway with pointed tops. However, most were elevated convection. At 12:51pm, I talked to the camera describing the towers of white. By 1:07pm, we passed Morrilton. Hazy and hot (temp at 91) conditions persisted. More cumulus swelled to the NW.
Around 2:15pm, we reached Atkins. We switched the NOAA Weather Radio on to the Russellville transmitter. Temperatures were warm, 91 in Little Rock, 88 in Fort Smith, and Atkins at 92. The forecast for AR and OK was holding. At 1:30pm, we stopped in Russellville. George voted to go to Wattaburger. For the next 45 minutes, we ate lunch and scouted areas for future chases. These areas consisted of the city Lamar, an overlook, and the old "March 30" location. By 2:30pm, we reached Clarskville as it brought increasing haze.
Note- At 2:38pm, an interesting event took place on I-40. A semi-truck crossed the median in front of a police car, as the police man ignored it. Odd enough?
By 2:43pm, we received the first static NOAA reports from the Fort Smith transmitter. Tulsa Office was still calling for "possible severe storms this afternoon." By 3pm, hazy conditions grew strong as the temperature hit 93. At 3:08pm, we pulled of at Alma and parked at Taco Bell. We listened to the now clear NOAA Weather Radio. We heard a Severe Weather Statement issued by the NWS in Tulsa. To sum up the long statement, NE and E Central OK plus NW AR is likley to see "large hail, damaging winds, and the threat of tornadoes." Everything was in place and our spirits were very high. The only bad news in Alma was no "Z" in the Taco Bell contest.
At exactly 3:43pm, we crossed the frontier into Oklahoma. Ten minutes later, we noticed a significant increase in cumulus building and increase in cloud cover. Temperature was hovering around 90.
At 4:06pm, we pulled off in Sallisaw. This would be the last few miles to the west. At 4:15pm, we picked the Best Western to set up our equipment and discuss the situation. I liked the shelter roof in case we encounter rain. At 4:16pm, George saw an unusual barn and ran over to shoot some pictures. I stayed at the chasemobile and recorded the earlier weather statement on video. Around 4:25pm, the Best Western folks invited us to use their lobby to watch The Weather Channel. They were very excited to meet us and drilled us with many questions. However, they were nice people. Best Western folks were not the only ones interested in our search. A couple of others came about asking questions and telling stories. One told us "...and when I was 10, I sat on my bike and a bolt of lightning struck that tree right in front of me. I mean BOOM, split that baby apart." As these stories proved to be entertaining for a short time, we had work to do.
At 4:40pm, the dewpoint was 75 with a temperature of 88. The pressure was falling. The vapor imagery showed a weak line starting to develop. A severe t-storm watch covered Kansas and Southern Missouri. Later, a tornado watch was issued for North Central Texas. Still no watch for Oklahoma. By 5:10pm, conditions remained the same, but very humid conditions were strongly in place. I said, "Somethings gotta give!" And it slowly did!
At 5:25pm, we had a good feeling that the cap was about to break. We
observed darkening skies to the west as southeast winds blew with a fury. A red reflectivity was shown on the local news channel's radar. At 5:38pm, very dark skies approached from the west. It was obvious the cap had broken and a cell was about to explode right on top of Sallisaw! Perfect location, perfect forecasting! At 5:40pm, the first signs of lightning were observed. Mostly sheet lightning blinks, but a large cg struck 1.5 miles away. At 5:45pm, the storm became wild! Increasing lightning and rain started as the video camera and 35mm rolled. Cg increased with the next strike 3/4 of a mile away! The next few cg became closer than that. The sound of the storm really took over as the NOAA Weather Radio tone sounded and alerts us of a tornado watch for most of Eastern OK and the NW half of AR! At 5:50pm, the outflow winds changed to a strong inflow. Horizonal rain flew at us from the north. We escaped inside into the lobby away from the horrid rain. The employees at Best Western are terrified of the storm. Thunder continues to echo throughout the lobby. Finally at 5:55pm, the storm moved away. The alert tone from the NOAA sounds to terrify the workers a little more. A severe t-storm warning is issued for Sequoyah County. The path includes Sallisaw, Bushy, and Short. By 6:00pm, the storm had pushed through, and shortly after, the sun came out with some light rain. At 6:02pm, the temperature had fallen to 78 as we left Best Western to continue the chase.
We stayed on I-40 pushing east. For the next 30 minutes, we would see some of the most interesting and terrifing cloud features in this chase. At 6:04pm, a large rain shaft is to our east and northeast. Low clouds began to quickly develop to the south of our location. At 6:08pm, skies continued to darken to our east. Inflow winds increased rapidly as the color to our south turned an ugly orange, and developing scud clouds rose into what appeared to be a developing wall cloud. Around 6:18pm, the weather continued to pick up in action. A severe t-storm warning was issued for Crawford County and shortly after for Washington and Madison Counties. Lightning flashed and strong winds gusted from the north.
This became dangerous driving so George turned on the yellow roof light to alert other drivers. At 6:21pm, we arrived near Dora, OK and Roland, OK. For the next few minutes, heavy rain, pea size hail, and gusts near 50MPH hit the chasemobile. Around 6:27pm, we quickly crossed into the Arkansas border, still moving east on I-40. At 6:30pm, the precip had ended, and we spotted once again the developing wall cloud cross the road in front of us. We stopped the car under the first overpass in AR. We grabbed our cameras and ran to the top of the overpass. The lowering became better defined and weak rotation continued. After a couple of minutes, the wall cloud weakened as we lost visibility. Lightning flashed significantly as north winds gusted away. We began to feel a few sprinkles and realized the rain was about to hit us again. Therefore, we grabbed the cameras, ran down the slope, and took off eastbound on I-40.
Around 6:40pm, we arrived in Alma. We could see we were about to enter the strongest part of the storm. The rain picked up along with pea-size hail. This produced very low visibility and the traffic immediatly slowed. Many motorist quickly pulled over to the side of the road. By 6:50pm, the rain was still intense and lightning grew more frequent. We also saw another storm hunter, which was a first. It was a van with a tornado on the back (most likley a Fort Smith media hunter). The meeting was short lived due to the dangerous conditions and the very fast speed of the van. The temperature was a steady 68, a far cry from the earlier 90+ temps. At 6:54pm, we arrive in Franklin County. The next five minutes, conditions became more dangerous. Very strong wind with heavy rain and lightning smashed the chasemobile. I took a quick glance at a blurry local TV stations radar and figured the worst of the storm was near.
The theory of the storm was correct. At 7:06pm, we entered the core. The next six minutes, two miles east of Ozark to one mile southeast of Hunt, allowed the core of this amazing storm to do its worst. The first two minutes started with the windows of the car fogging up due to the temp and moisture difference. Very strong winds estimated around 60mph, close lightning strikes, and flooding rains presented the introduction of the core. At 7:08pm, dime to quarter-size hail began to fall. The video camera continued to roll as George quickly changed to a fresh battery. We arrived in Johnson County. I rapidly called the National Weather Service in Little Rock to give my spotter report. I talked to John Lewis, who told me we were the first to report anything and the storm was near 75 DBZ on the doppler! By 7:11pm, the hail had ended. We were out of the core! At 7:25pm, we arrived in Clarksville. The rain was lessening and a lighter sky was visible to the east. The NWSFO in LIT issued a severe weather statement for Johnson County, warning residents of the type of weather we were driving through the past hour and a half.
At 7:27pm, the dark clouds were clearing as the gust front was becoming visible to our west. Channel 11 reported that purple and black reflectivities were being recorded on their radar. By 7:33pm, we passed East Edge. The gust front became well defined as intense outflow blew leaves of trees. The temperature had raised significantly to 81. At 7:41pm, we pulled of in Knoxville to have a better look at the storm. An extreme gust front threw winds around 50mph. The wind kicked up sand that stung us as we attempted to take video and photographs. Large trees were in full motion. The wind was becoming very strong and the gust front was overhead. We voted to escape and relocate in Russellville.
At 7:49pm, the temperature hit 86 as we continued eastbound on I-40. In our area, hazy conditions were present as the winds
calmed to still levels. At 7:51pm, a severe t-storm warning was issued for Pope County. Russellville was in the path of this dangerous storm. Around 8:00pm, we pulled off the second exit in Russellville. We chose a location in a parking lot, next to an open field. The gust front was an amazing sight. The shelf cloud was a dark black in contrast with a sunset sky. The storm was about five miles away from our location. The wind was slowly increasing with every passing second. Local residents became aware of the dangerous storm as they caught a glimpse of two storm chasers photographing to the west. By 8:03pm, a large group gathered in the parking lot watching us and the storm. The outflow wind rapidly increased. A large flag began to wave in a violent motion. The large group in the lot quickly jumped into their cars and sped off. I stood on the car while operating a video and 35mm camera. At 8:06pm, the storm hit the west side of Russellville. The outflow winds blew in fury of the approaching rain and hail shaft. We knew it was time to leave. We packed up and jumped back on I-40 moving east.
After a few miles on I-40, a new severe t-storm warning was issued for Van Burean and Northern Conway County. The sun had set and the light condition was poor. The storm that lived for nearly two hours was falling apart. At 8:44pm, we arrived in Morrilton at the bean field. The humidity was very high. We debated to what our next move should be. I watched the radar and discovered a new line of storms developing in Western AR. A severe t-storm warning was issued for Logan and Pope Counties. The line was just developing, and it was questionable if it would hold together. The chase day had already been a long one and George voted to return to Little Rock. At 8:52pm, we started back eastbound to Little Rock. This actually turned out to be a great decision.
Around 10:00pm, I dropped George off and arrived at my house. The line had significantly strengthened. Polk County had reported a tornado on the ground, with many other locations across AR reporting wind damage. Storm Prediction Center issued a new tornado watch. The watch warned of tornadoes, hail, and winds over 100mph. WOW! More severe t-storm warnings were being issued as the line approached any county. George e-mailed me and asked, "Is there anything interesting to expect from this line?" I responded, "If the line keeps its current track, Little Rock will be hit with the northern section of the bow echo." The northern part of a bow echo is where circulation is the strongest and tornadoes are most likley. The line held its track!
By 11:30pm, the NOAA Weather Radio was playing its music every ten minutes. I continued to watch the amazing line move closer to Little Rock. I made sure all my equipment was in order, battery charged. With no surprise, at 11:57pm, Pulaski County, along with three other counties, were issued under a severe t-storm warning. I took one more quick look at the radar, and left to chase once again. I positioned myself in West Little Rock at 12:05am. At about that same time, lightning began the show. The bolts were frequent and steady. The air was still. I watched a shelf cloud appear to the southwest, marking once again a dangerous gust front.
The line appeared to my southwest first because I was at the northern extent of the bow echo. Around 12:10am, the wind increased with every passing second. The gust front was almost above me. Luckily, no rain was present in front of the gust front, so I continued to film this fast moving line. As the shelf cloud moved above, I could feel a wall of wind nearing. I quickly packed up my camera and jumped into the car. I knew the heavy wind would blow from the southwest, so I positioned the chasemobile to the passenger side facing southwest. This allowed me to shoot video out of the drivers side with the window down. (Not bad planning!) Finally, around 12:15am, the squall line hit. The winds first started around 30-40mph gusts. Then, all at once, the winds rapidly jumped to near 55mph. Wind gusts increased to near 60mph. Sheets of rain were blasted to the northeast. Trees bent as the relentless winds battered everything in their path. The chasemobile began to sway back and forth with the wind. This was a big severe thunderstorm! The video was going great. This storm was providing me with incredible shots. Could anything wake me out of this weather trance? Oh yes! As the winds continued to blow, the unexpecting blast of the tornado sirens began to sound across West Little Rock. "What! There is no tornado warning!" No information on TV was providing anything about this new development. Shortly after, the sirens stopped. "Whew." I was happy to hear only the storm. As I continued to film, a power flash lit up the sky to my northeast. Immediately after, the sirens sounded again to make me have an uneasy feeling. Within ten seconds of the sirens resounding, all power in West Little Rock went dead by heavy winds. This was NOT good! The area was now completely black with sirens filling the stormy sky. I drove a small distance on both Cantrell and Rodney Parham roads. The power briefly flickered, but went dead again. The power would stay off for at least an hour in most places, with some areas out until morning. As I drove home, small branches and leaves littered the streets. Light rain continued to fall as I stepped inside my home. What an amazing day!
Later that day, I scouted the area in West Little Rock. Most of the damage was located near my area where I had shot video.
The damage consisted mostly of trees snapped or pulled out of the ground. One large tree had fallen onto a roof. George scouted in NLR near the Park Hill area. Many large trees had also been blown down. The National Weather Service confirmed that three tornadoes had touched down in Pulaski and Lonoke Counties. They also hinted that other small brief tornadoes may have touched down that went unnoticed. Aross the state, other severe damage reports were confirmed.
All in all, a very rough outbreak of severe weather for Arkansas. Many considered this to be the biggest storms and outbreak of 1998 for AR. After chasing for nearly 12 hours, and driving about 400 miles, the chase was a huge success. The forecasting could not have been better, and the placement was great throughout the chase. The pictures and video turned out great. Another classic chase was in the bag, and I sat happy, reliving this chase and dreaming about the next one.
--- Scott F. Blair
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