JANUARY 17, 1999
Storm chase account by Scott Blair.
This chase day was somewhat unexpected. SPC was calling for general t-storms across extreme Eastern Arkansas with a slight risk over Western TN. I looked at the surface map around 9am and questioned their forecast. The dryline was still in Western AR. Temperatures were warm in the 60's with dewpoints nearing and reaching that. Wind profiles were good for the development of long lived storms. The NWS LIT was only calling for "thundershowers in extreme Eastern AR." I figured they were all seeing something that I wasn't. As a result, I decided they were right. Before I left for work, I stood outside and said, "This feels like spring."
By noon, I couldn't keep telling myself I was wrong. Temperatures were now hovering near 70. Cumulus tops were beginning to swell. Forget the models, because my instinct told me there would be storms. I called George Hoelzeman, my chase partner, and asked if he would run a recent forecast. He also agreed that it "just felt" unusual and he would call me back at work. George called back in 15 minutes. He said the models and forecast still looked the same. However, I think we both knew something was strange and would probably hear from each other shortly.
The time was 1:30pm when I decided to take a work break. About that same time, I was paged across the speaker,"Scott phone call line 1-6." I knew exactly what this meant. George alerted me that SPC had just issued a mesoscale discussion for the Eastern half of AR. SPC expected the usual severe weather with tornadoes! "A tornado watch may be issued shortly." My suspicitions were now confirmed. George said he was going to drive to Jacksonville to watch the weather. I asked to leave work around 4pm. However, after I received five different phone calls from other weather friends, I left just before 3pm. This was a very important detail that saved the chase day.
I rapidly drove home and half-prepared my equipment. I called Kevin Scharfenburg at NSSL to get a quick briefing. I decided that NE AR was the place to chase. A cell was slowly building near Conway, AR that I could eventually intercept along Interstate 67/167. Around 3:15pm, I walked out the door with a little equipment and the chase was on!
The first 45 minutes on the road was uneventful from my view. A tornado watch was already in effect and a few severe storms took stage from Searcy northward. Soon after, a few cells exploded and turned tornadic. As I arrived in Searcy, I could see a rough flanking line and a well defined rain shaft. George was chasing this same storm and was only about two miles away from me. The end of the rain shaft was just about to cross 67/167. At one point, there was a lowering and a wall cloud was trying to form. I kept an eye on this as I pushed northeast.
Luckily the rain shaft had crossed the road, so I was rain free. I decided to stop in Bald Knob. I needed to make a choice which road I should take to move eastbound. The choices were Highway 64 from Bald Knob or Highway 14 from Newport. I listened to NOAA Weather Radio out of Jonesboro. A tornado warning was in effect for Jackson County, where Newport was located. I decided to hop back on 67/167 to Newport.
I began to fear that my chase day was over. The storms were pushing farther east and nothing but blue sky filled the sky above me. I reached Newport and turned off on Highway 14. I found KAIT-8 TV station to watch the radar. I was also back in good NOAA Radio coverage. All the storms were supercells and under tornado warnings.
I realized that I still had a good chance at catching the southern storm. My biggest enemy was sunlight. A tornado warning was issued for Cross County, which was the county below me. I was in Poinsett County, which was also under a tornado warning. Jeff Crum, another chase partner, was chasing the Poinsett storm.
I had a choice of chasing the Poinsett or Cross County supercell. Both cells were very impressive. As I passed over Crowleys Ridge near Harrisburg, I knew the Cross County supercell would be the one.
The open fields of Eastern Arkansas provided me with the feeling
of the plains. I stopped briefly to shoot a few pictures. To my south was the Cross County storm, perfectly backlit by the setting sun. Above my head was a large anvil with amazing mammatus clouds. This was a rare sight for Arkansas, which only occurs with major storms. Lightning crawlers leaped across the anvil and mammatus. All of this was just an amazing sight! I jumped back into the chasemobile and continued east. I pulled off again as the sun sank into the windy fields. The Cross County storm was dramatic to say the least.
The supercell had a sweet anvil with mammatus. A textbook flanking line ran from the main storm tower. Mid level banding was also evident. Just before my arrival, the storm produced a tornado in Hickory Ridge and Cherry Valley in Cross County. I had barely missed it.
I watched the storm for a good 20 minutes before it became too dark to view.
The lightning display was very intense. I sat back, amazed that this storm was not producing a tornado. I decided it was time to end a fantastic chase.
Later that night, the Cross County storm produced an F-4 tornado in Jackson, TN. I was not shocked to receive this news. The storm was as classic as they get. Ten tornadoes were confirmed across AR. The chase covered 280 miles of road, but was worth every inch. This was certainly one of the best chase days I've had!