2019-7-19 NOVICE REPORT: MN/WI/MI

Jul 25, 2019
16
11
1
Minnesota
Pine City, MN: Moderate Risk Turned Derecho

Although I’ve been out looking at clouds during tornado watches and warnings before, I may put this down as my official first chase. My knowledge and experience with severe storms is minimal, but I thought this storm was interesting enough to be shared. The following events happened during a tornado-warned storm, but my footage only documents what happened as the storm approached and then what it was like to be inside my car as softball-sized hail totaled my vehicle.

The day started with parts of Minnesota already at Moderate Risk. To me, this meant greater chances of a tornado. As a novice, I didn’t really think about how severe the rest of the weather could be. I asked a person on twitter where might be a good place to camp to take photos. He suggested northerly, so I packed up what I thought I’d need and headed out.

Before I reached my targeted destination of Hinckley, Minnesota; I received a tornado warning via my cellphone. I went to the nearest gas station, which was just south of Pine City, to assess my situation. According to the radar app, the warning was actually to the west. All the clouds appeared to be to the north and heading easterly. Since I had just come through some serious construction to the south of me, I decided to stay put. Given the circumstances, I thought I was in the safest area to take photos and document my new adventure.

19380

As the storm progressed, I was soon to discover that I was pretty much in the worst place I could possibly be in Minnesota at that time. Although Wisconsin wound up receiving the worst of this storm, at least 2 different news vans showed up at my location to talk to various people that got extensive hail damage.

after storm 4 st.jpg
What radar looked after the storm hit my area.

No tornado was spotted during the warning, but several were later reported as the storm pushed into Wisconsin. According to several news reports and NOAA, “A record strong jet stream by mid-July standards in the Pacific Northwest punched into the northern Plains and southern Canada just north of an east-to-west oriented frontal boundary that stretched across the upper Midwest. These ingredients combined to provide both the extreme instability (hot, humid air near the ground topped by relatively cool air several thousand feet aloft), moisture and source of lift (the frontal system) for this squall line of severe thunderstorms. An atmospheric sounding taken at the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen, Minnesota, Friday evening found a measure of instability known to meteorologists as surface-based CAPE was the highest on record, there. This prompted a rare "potentially dangerous situation" severe thunderstorm watch from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, which mentioned potential peak wind gusts up to 105 mph possible. According to Storm Prediction Center warning coordination meteorologist Patrick Marsh, the last time the SPC issued a watch with that high a potential thunderstorm wind gust was in mid-June 2009.” - quoted from TWC.

I have a small YouTube channel that initially focused on my journey to lose weight, but I've wanted to start incorporating how my body image has affected some of the goals I’ve wanted to achieve. Storm chasing has definitely been one of them. As I mentioned before, I documented most of my experience of that day. I broke it into 3 videos to help those that may only want to see one aspect or another. Part 2, is definitely the one I’d say best suits this forum. It’s a tad dramatic, but I did try and break down how the storm developed using time stamps and personal footage.


I show more of my car’s damage in my third video, but I will share some of the photos here.
backwindow 4 st.jpg
My back window, shortly after the storm.

backwindow2 4 st.jpg
The large dent is an indication at the size of the hail as it went through my back window.

side window 4 st.jpg
There is nothing left of my driver's side window, but you can see 2 of the hail still inside my car.

front window 4 st.jpg
The front windshield. Thankfully, I was able to drive home.

Looking back on that day, I go back and forth between feeling like a cautionary tale; to feeling like it's probably a right of passage for anyone that goes out looking for severe weather. If nothing else, I'm hoping it delivers a strong message of the difference between romanticizing the idea of storm chasing; to the reality of the dangers and risks that are involved, even when you're trying to stay "safe".
 
First of all, welcome to the hobby. I always recommend going out with an experienced chaser before you try to chase on your own, and this is a good reason why. That's an expensive lesson!

For radar, I would recommend you switch to Radarscope, which will give you a better visual of the hail. Then run away from anything on radar that's white.

I would also recommend you take a local NWS skywarn spotter training class. And if you're really excited about storm chasing, take the classes on SpotterNetwork, and pass the test before you head out again.

Best if luck fixing your car, or replacing it. I hope your next chase goes a little better.
 
Jul 25, 2019
16
11
1
Minnesota
Thank you for the welcome and for the advice! I purchased Radarscope about 3 weeks ago. Nothing Pro yet, but I have been using it and trying to get the hang of it. In fact, I just got back from 2 weeks in Puerto Rico, where I used the radar to see when storms were coming. Talk about timing. White on radar? I've seen pictures of others using the reflectivity modes, so I've mostly been sticking to that. Would the white be in precipitation?

I don't know how many times I've looked into those classes and then chickened out. I'm working myself up to take them next time. The more storms that happen in the area, the more I'm realizing just how much I've loved them and been putting off actively chasing them. My husband is super supportive at letting me go out, but he really hates it when I ask him to join me. It's kept me from going out locally for many years now, so last month I finally decided to not wait anymore and just go for it. Personally I'd love to find a chase partner! I've been trying to follow chasers in Minnesota on Twitter, but I'm also hoping that maybe some of the local members on ST and I can create a dialogue. Maybe they'll like my vlogging and editing style enough to give me a chance to collaborate.

I'm still waiting on my driver's side window to be ordered and put on my car. I guess I also learned which window company not to use next time. Since the car is already totaled, I'm just going to make her my official chasing car. I walked away with a check over $2800. I like to joke and say I actually made money on my first chase, but I also know that money will go back into the car with preparation and future damage. In fact, my husband suggested that I may want to order an extra driver's side window for next time. That way I can get my windows repaired faster. See? Supportive.
 

James K

EF2
Mar 26, 2019
192
78
6
Colorado
Glad that you are ok. Also nice that your husband is supportive.

I'm going to have to see if the weather app I have has an option to show hail.
 
Jul 25, 2019
16
11
1
Minnesota
That's so nice of you!

I think I may have found it. Well I found two, actually. One is the Digital Vertically Integrated Liquid, and the other is Vertically Integrated Liquid. If there are others, I'd still be happy to hear about them. I still haven't added either pro to my app. I think I may do that in a few months. As it stands, I'm currently looking into Spring classes with DuPage, and then both their labs.
 
Mar 3, 2014
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The "Digital" (DVL/134) would have better spatial and color resolution in this case, the legacy (NVL/57) is probably there for completeness (someone please correct me if wrong) unless it's a TDWR radar in which case there is only one.

This might be useful to you, I just pulled it as the first hit off google (note the white colors indicated by the 3 arrows in image with DVL in top left corner) :

Hope it helps.
 
Apr 24, 2015
75
27
11
Grand Rapids, Michigan
I don't know if I'd 100% trust radar to detect hail. The problem is a hail core can develop in minutes. It can appear in a single scan where it wasn't apparent 3 minutes before. Reflectivity isn't always useful as it doesn't always differentiate well between sparsely spaced large hail stones and densely falling small hail and/or extremely heavy rain. Lots of precipitation types can show up as 60dbz+ returns, and sometimes sparsely falling large stones don't even top 55dbz. The hydrometeor scan feature can detect large hail, but it's a more complicated derived product that doesn't always update quickly enough. People at the NWS offices vigilantly watch every scan in order to get timely warnings. You can't watch the radar constantly if you're driving or navigating the roads. You're better off recognizing that any cell that has supercell characteristics is capable of producing large hail and just staying out of the direct path. Problem is it's easier said than done, especially with big murky low-based storms where if you're close enough to see something interesting, the storm is probably close enough to be on top of you in a matter of minutes.
 
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Jul 25, 2019
16
11
1
Minnesota
Thank you all for your continued comments with this thread. As I continue my education, any type of information is valuable to me. I've been half wondering if there's a way to jimmy-rig multiple phone or tablet devices into one cohesive screen so that you can see multiple types of radar images at once. It would be nice to be able to see, for instance, reflectivity in one panel and the DVL in another. As it stands, like Marshall pointed out, a chaser can't watch the radar constantly while driving, much less be switching from one mode to another.

It's okay though. I'll have the fall and winter to figure a lot of this out. I'm still in the infant stages, so I'm just trying to content myself in being happy with the baby steps that I'm taking. In the meantime, it's so nice to have a discussion about this with all of you. I'm so glad I finally stopped lurking and decided to take a chance.
 
Mar 3, 2014
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From a software standpoint I'm probably missing some but here are four examples of software that display multiple nexrad radar products at the same time. RadarScope has versions for iOS, Windows, and MacOS. wX has an iOS version called "wXL23".

GRLevel3 Main Page. (Windows only)

RadarScope - Apps on Google Play. (according to their main website you would need Pro One Tier subscription)

wX - Apps on Google Play ( shameless plug - I wrote this )

RadarOmega: Advanced Storm Tracking Toolkit - Apps on Google Play (again, I think you need a subscription above and beyond the base price)

The ideal thing is to have someone else in the front seat so you don't have to worry about operating the devices and navigating...
 
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James K

EF2
Mar 26, 2019
192
78
6
Colorado
Christene G said:
I think I may have found it. Well I found two, actually. One is the Digital Vertically Integrated Liquid, and the other is Vertically Integrated Liquid.
Ok.. I see the app I use does have a "Vertically Integrated Liquid"
In the general radar settings it also has options checkboxes for "show hail index" & "show hail labels".


Marshall Stoner said:
I don't know if I'd 100% trust radar to detect hail.
(...)
You can't watch the radar constantly if you're driving or navigating the roads.
I agree, I wouldn't trust it 100%, but it would still be nice to know "radar shows hail in that storm"
Yep, can't be looking at radar while driving, both danderous and illegal(where I am)


Christene G said:
one cohesive screen so that you can see multiple types of radar images at once. It would be nice to be able to see, for instance, reflectivity in one panel and the DVL in another.
Something like the attached image? (this is from a modified version of the wX Joshua Tee mentioned)
 

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Apr 24, 2015
75
27
11
Grand Rapids, Michigan
The ideal thing is to have someone else in the front seat so you don't have to worry about operating the devices and navigating...
This is the best solution. I'll mount my phone next to the steering wheel so I can take quick glances, but even swapping back and forth between basic radar loop and map/GPS is distracting. Trying to closely study multiple radar modes AND navigate AND look at the sky at the same time while driving really isn't manageable no matter how well you set up your apps and rig your devices. You REALLY need to find a place to pull over for storm assessment and route planning, even if it costs you time. Having to pull off the road a lot is the #1 disadvantage of having to chase alone. Causing a wreck can ruin your life in the blink of an eye though. With chaser convergence the problem is even worse as there may be other distracted and/or speeding drivers you have to be on your wits about. Taking calculated risks that put only yourself in danger is tolerated in the chasing community, while stuff that puts other people in danger is not.
 
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Jul 25, 2019
16
11
1
Minnesota
@Joshua Tee - Thank you so much for those recommendations! I tried to download your app on my computer at first. It says it's downloaded but can't seem to access it. Perhaps I can't use the app on my computer unless my phone is connected. For some reason the only device it recognized was something called digiin Trio AXS? I went ahead and downloaded it directly onto my phone, although at first, I wasn't sure if it was the same app. You are listed as Josh Green via my iPhone app store. I'm looking forward to digging in today and learning more about the features!

I also agree with you, @James K and @Marshall Stoner in regards to driving safely and partners. On the day this happened, I was hands free. When the tornado warning went off, I took the nearest exit to park and gather more information. I may be enthusiastic about this new endeavor but I'm an older woman who values her mortality and those around me as well. That being said, I seem to be having a hard time getting anyone to volunteer to chase with me. I've been putting myself out there on this forum as well as those that follow me on Twitter (not that I have many followers). So far my dance card has remained completely open.

Getting back to the topic of this particular chase, it seems that Minnesota will be getting another strong storm today. I'd love to go with anyone that wouldn't mind the company, but I may have to acquiesce to the idea of armchair chasing today. Now that I have Josh's app, I'm curious to compare today's weather to that of July 19. I keep reading people saying "lines" a lot. I'm probably wrong, being a newb and all, but I can't help wonder if today is going to wind up being another Derecho.

Thanks again for all the advice!
 

James K

EF2
Mar 26, 2019
192
78
6
Colorado
Christene G said:
@Joshua Tee - Thank you so much for those recommendations! I tried to download your app on my computer at first. It says it's downloaded but can't seem to access it.
His app is for Android devices, so to run it on a computer you'll need an Android emulator ... such a setup does work(not perfectly, but not bad), I've tried it myself just to see what would happen. :)
 
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B. Dean Berry

Moderator
May 25, 2014
279
90
11
Welcome to the sport! I will offer this - Commercial glass shops will offer a product called Security Film from 3M. It's a thick, though clear window film that goes on like tint. I would recommend that for the inside and outside of all your glass. It would be much harder to break in the future.
 
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May 18, 2013
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A follow up on VIL - Don't rely on it to tell you where hail is located. As a derived product that requires a full scan at every tilt, it takes much too long to update. Also, hail cores are not always perfectly vertically stacked.
 
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Aug 18, 2018
15
4
1
Novi, MI
I really appreciate this thread, and especially the fact that you were willing to share your personal experience. It really shows how careful we need to be out there. I’m currently a junior in high school, and I don’t have time to chase, just observe from wherever I am if a storm happens to roll in. Your experience really shows what can happen at the truly bad end of the storm chasing scenario spectrum.

Considering hail, wind, tornadic potential etc., the Storm Prediction Center’s Mesoscale Analysis page is extremely helpful in evaluating which severe hazards will be dominant on a particular day. However, you have to be able to understand atmospheric parameters and apply them to the severe setup. I certainly recommend understanding the basic parameters like CAPE (instability), wind shear, lapse rates, etc., at the least.

Link: SPC Hourly Mesoscale Analysis

Thanks again for sharing, Christene!
 
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Jul 25, 2019
16
11
1
Minnesota
You're welcome @Nick Dewhirst. At first I felt pretty embarrassed about it, but after watching more videos, it seems to be a mistake that many make when first starting out and not having the proper training. I'm so glad you not only enjoy the thread, but that it was insightful. My perseverance finally paid off today as I was able to meet 2 meteorologists who are skilled with storm chasing. Plus, I got to ride with one of them for the latest storms in Minnesota. I'll be looking forward to checking out your link. Thanks.

Also thanks to @B. Dean Berry for the glass suggestion! I'm looking forward to learning more about that as well.
 
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Oct 31, 2013
408
316
21
Eastern TX Panhandle
Yes, a lot of good comments here. Some main things to watch out for and know when chasing...

Know what direction and speed the storms are traveling at all times.

Pay attention to right turning supercells. These are ones that turn right....Example...storm begins heading east, then takes a drastic turn to the southeast or even south.

If you don't have a standalone Garmin GPS, get one before you chase again. You always have to know where you are, and what roads are near your location.

In regards to the above tip, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS know at least 2 escape routes at all times.

Stay away from HP High precip storms. They are no fun to chase, at least in my opinion.

Always keep your gas tank half full, and fill up whenever you can.

Never chase at night. Again, this is just my opinion.

Never put full trust in any radar app. Like the others, I recommend radarscope, but learn to look at radar for some guidance, but put full trust in your eyes, especially when you get better at identifying storm structure/type.

Personally, I recommend having 2 radar apps. I use Radarscope and RadarOmega. I've been chasing when 1 app was acting weird, so I was able to rely on the other for guidance. Most of my equipment is treated like outdoor survivalists. The saying goes......2 is 1, and 1 is none.

Stay a few miles away from the storm until you get comfortable with getting a bit closer. Try to identify features from 5 or 6 miles away. Generally, being south of the storm will be the safest place to be.

Kudos to you for taking on your first chase, but be careful out there. Also, good call on staying put in your vehicle. It could have turned nasty if you would have tried to run into the gas station.
 
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