Silver Lining Tours vans rolled in Kansas

Jul 5, 2009
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This is the EXACT reason I have stuck around ST. I've been very fortunate in my chasing pursuits and made a good living. It may be difficult to extract the self-promotion and outside PR forces sometimes when making a living, but I still consider myself an average Joe chaser and have tried to avoid the "I'm too good for ST" attitude.
I've always appreciated your consistent presence on here Warren! I remember when I first chased with Marty Feely's tour group back in 1996, I met you on the road. You were the first "name" chaser I ever met; it was quite memorable, back in those days when there weren't too many chasers and no social media; any chaser that could be read about in a book or the print version of ST somehow had more "star power" to an impressionable newbie from the East Coast, compared to today's social media environment where anybody can put forth any version of reality they like. When years later I got involved in the online ST, I remember thinking "wow, Warren posts here." It was noteworthy because there were few if any others of your "generation" of chasers (even though we're about the same age) that do so.
 
Mar 30, 2008
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Norman, OK
www.benholcomb.com
I think the "Satellite tornado" explanation was BS and we smelled it from the beginning. Anything to claim it wasn't their fault. I don't have an agenda. I've clearly stated many times I take some pretty big risks that could ultimately cost me my life. It's different when you have paying customers with you though. Again, nobody goes on a tornado tour thinking they're going to die or be horribly injured and that's what needs to be kept in mind.
 
I think the "Satellite tornado" explanation was BS and we smelled it from the beginning. Anything to claim it wasn't their fault. I don't have an agenda. I've clearly stated many times I take some pretty big risks that could ultimately cost me my life. It's different when you have paying customers with you though. Again, nobody goes on a tornado tour thinking they're going to die or be horribly injured and that's what needs to be kept in mind.
I'm starting a new thread re: Show us your satellite tornado images, or tornadoes that formed far from the main visible wall cloud. Might be good to see what some of these look like.
 
May 1, 2004
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Springfield, IL
www.skip.cc
I hope to share a video analysis of this incident soon. Much of it may contradict statements from SLT staff, Jon Davies' analysis, and comments here. I have reached out to the Hills for help in the process, but have not received any. I have received much help from some of the impacted SLT guests and other chasers that were in the area. It appears the group traveled north into the storm's inflow notch, north of the bulk of the RFD core and (unknown) tornado path. They then turned around and went back south. They did not have time to clear the RFD core, but instead were almost immediately enveloped by it, and then impacted by a rain wrapped tornado less than two minutes later. The location of the tornado was characteristically typical of a large HP supercell. The tornado was long track and had been in progress for minutes and miles. The storm was well warned with ~20 minutes of lead time thanks to the velocity couplet, and visual recognition of its structure was apparent including the RFD precipitation core marking the storm's Bear's Cage, and inflow band extending to the north. The portion of the inflow band extending into the notch does not appear to be associated with the low level rotation of the primary mesocyclone, or the area from which the later EF4 would spawn. The EF4 appears to have spawned from behind the RFD gust front, in a similar position to the previous tornado relative to the parent structure, and again in a characteristic manner of HP supercells. The hazardous regions were visually recognizable and avoidable. I'm not going to make any accusations or speculate on the motive as to why such a course was taken. My hopes are that we can help avoid some future injuries and fatalities.

I'm sharing this here so that you can speak up and correct me if needed. This is your chance to do so before this video gets published. I'll likely share a draft with folks for critique too.

it just seems odd there are some who think there should be no risks when the subject is chasing tornadoes. I guess I'm more of the mindset that safety is not the thing that is most important to tour individuals.
I know many people injured and one person that died getting on a horse. But none of them stressed beforehand over falling off. Tornadoes are scary. Isn't that the big difference?
Granted, the history of storm chasing has a much better safety record than auto racing or mountain climbing, but similar dangers existed then, and they exist now. You're signing up to see a phenomena that kills multiple people every year.

... the expectation of absolute safety cannot be made in this case. While technology has made road cars, race cars, mountain climbing gear, and yes, storm chasing, safer, nothing is ever going to completely remove the risk associated. There will still be highway deaths, there will still be racing crashes, people will still be frozen into the side of Everest, and there will still be chasing incidents where people are injured or killed.
It's not about storm chasing being risky. It's that we have identified risks that are wholly unnecessary to accomplishing the goals of the activity, and identified ways to avoid the dangers associated with these risks. This was accomplished by sharing decades of knowledge obtained through trial and error, risky experimentation, and even scientific study. This is how everything in life works. It's why we let babies attempt to walk, knowing they will fall and hurt themselves many times in the process, AND YET we also put baby gates in front of the stairs. It's why you don't stand behind a horse. It's why we wear a helmet when horseback riding, racing cars, or rock climbing and yet these activities still result in fatalities. It's why we wear seat belts.

It's why we don't drive blind into the Bear's Cage of a tornado warned HP.

Not because this assures 100% safety in these activities. But because this prevents needless death and injury. Just because you haven't heeded these precautions dozens of times in the past and gotten away with it, does not mean these precautions do not prevent needless death and injury. As dangerous as some of these activities can be, they all have hard earned safety lessons and precautions that responsible people who engage in these activities follow.

It's just going to happen, no changing that.
Yes, it's going to happen again. Let's not let that dissuade us from promoting safe and responsible storm chasing practices, even if risks remain that injure people, even if people don't take these hard earned safety lessons to heart and are needlessly injured or killed as a result.

I have done the same maneuver with Roger a number of other times, and have done it on several other chases over the years.
Now, if it happens again....
This is it happening again. What we're finding out here is that there's a long history of this behavior. And by "this behavior" I mean taking an inexperienced group/caravan into the Bear's Cage of a tornado warned HP: Close calls, even from the same group (22 May 2011 Joplin, 4 June 2015 Simla); Minor incidents with other groups (Wakita, OK 10 May 2010, Beaver Crossing, NE 11 May 2014); Even catastrophic casualties that should have driven this home for everyone (31 May 2013 El Reno).


Can you point to me a source of information - a manual, guide, course, tutorial, textbook, lecture, science paper, article, blog post, web page - one widely recognized in storm chasing as authoritative and credible - that declares a general HP RFD transect as a 100% no-go scenario? Can you provide any evidence that the tour owner should have known this maneuver brought with it a high risk of what occurred?
In my perfect world waivers would cover almost impossible to detect tornadoes in what appears to be, from available radar data, surging rfd. But I don't live in a perfect world.
Tornadoes buried in the RFD gust front are rare, but do occur
2.) Strong tornadoes that have no discernable couplet on radar velocity imagery can exist within RFD.

You can come at me all you want about #2; say to me duh, you should already have known that. I wonder though if you knew that before this happened.
The above is what I find most baffling in all of this. The RFD core on an HP supercell is the Bear's Cage. That circular green region is the rain wrapping around the mesocyclone, forming the bars of the Bear's Cage. It is the ball at the end of the hook. It is the most likely place for a significant tornado. It is the most dangerous part of the storm. I can point you to dozens and dozens of photos and videos showing significant tornadoes buried in the RFD core of an HP supercell. There are indeed books, blog posts, websites, lectures, and even scientific publications (SLS '14 had an entire section devoted to El Reno) highlighting the dangers associated with the Bear's Cage region and HP supercells. We've known this for decades thanks to publications from folks like Doswell, Stormtrack, and even chase video from NSSL going back to the 70's and 80's. Roger's video and shots from other nearby chasers on the 28 May 2019 Lawrence storm clearly show textbook Bear's Cage structure on the RFD gust front of an HP supercell.

It may be as simple as a pattern of core punching the Bear's Cage until luck finally ran out. There *shouldn't be* any mystery to this. That there might be to some is astounding to me. It should be painfully obvious once one is presented with video of the approaching storm structure and the radar. That some who built storm chasing as we know it today might even try to undermine these safety lessons and undo what we've learned is disheartening.
 
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B. Dean Berry

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May 25, 2014
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HP is a total mess, yes. It's kind of disheartening that they'd be punching through the cage itself, absolutely.

My point is more philosophical in nature, though. Sort of a point that the danger exists, and will always exist, when dealing with a natural entity that kills a number of people every year. Zoo tours have gotten a lot safer over the years, and of course, no one is saying to take the cage bars off the windows of the safari Jeeps, but it still seems that a small number of people manage to become meals every year at zoos.

Danger is danger. Mitigating the risk of incurring said danger's wrath is absolutely paramount. No argument here.
 
Feb 27, 2009
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Texarkana, AR
The RFD core on an HP supercell is the Bear's Cage. That circular green region is the rain wrapping around the mesocyclone, forming the bars of the Bear's Cage. It is the ball at the end of the hook. It is the most likely place for a significant tornado. It is the most dangerous part of the storm. I can point you to dozens and dozens of photos and videos showing significant tornadoes buried in the RFD core of an HP supercell. There are indeed books, blog posts, websites, lectures, and even scientific publications (SLS '14 had an entire section devoted to El Reno) highlighting the dangers associated with the Bear's Cage region and HP supercells. We've known this for decades thanks to publications from folks like Doswell, Stormtrack, and even chase video from NSSL going back to the 70's and 80's. Roger's video and shots from other nearby chasers on the 28 May 2019 Lawrence storm clearly show textbook Bear's Cage structure on the RFD gust front of an HP supercell.
This is true. I completely agree. I can see why you would be baffled if you think people are saying it's OK to cut through or across the actual bears cage. All my comments were as if I were in there looking at the bear then drop south through the rain and found another bear in the heavy rfd rain. There is misunderstanding here somewhere.
 
Jun 16, 2015
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quincyvagell.com
HP and a total mess for sure. I know a lot has been focused on velocity radar data, but as has been covered, they passed me going north at 5:58 p.m., which is the time of the radar image below with my location. Well within the depths of a rain-wrapped mess. It wasn't like they were threading the needle along the edge of the
"bear's cage," they were in the thick of it. The vans were going north (toward the path of a developing, large mesocyclone) and then they turned back south at 6:01 p.m., which should have obviously been a red flag given recent radar scans that a tornado was in progress and rapidly approaching. Especially since they went south at an intersection that had a clear eastbound escape route (contrary to their own "policy" on safety, below), which is what I took. Based on the data I have compiled, the vans probably flipped between 6:02 and 6:03 p.m.
radar02.png

I'm not sure if this has been updated, but either way SLT's own safety statement is, to put it mildly, contradictory to what happened here:
We will NEVER stop in close proximity to a tornado unless there is a clear and proper escape route. We do not take unneeded risks around a storm and view them from safe distances and safe vantage points.
Safety Info - Silver Lining Tours - Tornado & Storm Chasers

I posted a quick video on this topic with a more detailed account of what I experienced, as well as some other commentary below:
 
May 1, 2004
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Springfield, IL
www.skip.cc
Quincy's shots have been really helpful. I've contrast enhanced and annotated them to the best of my abilities. Also included here is the storm relative velocity, both Quincy's position and SLT's as they passed him, and the tornado's position ~2.5 miles just a little south of due west. This is 5 minutes before impact.

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The structure here looks conventional and is well defined for an HP, and the tornado is pretty much right where you'd expect it to be. There's an extremely prominent couplet on SRV at this time, although it's much fainter in subsequent scans.

There's a couple points here I'd like to make and open up for debate before I publish this in a video:

1. The area to the north of the couplet is not the "larger mesocyclone" or "primary mesocyclone". The region indicates broad rotation over a large area. However, it also indicates convergence. Notice the line demarcating the inbounds and outbounds of the couplet is pointing right down the radial (at the radar). The demarcating line on what's being called the "larger/primary mesocyclone" runs at an angle. I believe you're really seeing an inflow surge in the notch, and an RFD surge behind the RFD gust front in this area to the north. This is the storm breathing before it spins up the EF4. The EF4 does not emerge from the center of this region, and it would be a mistake to assume it would.

2. Instead one should rely on the visuals provided by the storm's structure. A timelapsed and contrast enhanced version of Quincy's shot indicates the area to the west and southwest is rain wrapping around the RFD gust front, effectively the Bear's Cage (bounded in green), and that the area to the north is an inflow band (yellow arrow). These structural landmarks are readily apparent to chasers at these positions even without video enhancements. One can infer a horseshoe shaped updraft base, the northern or top end curling back into the RFD of the HP (orange line). This is the most likely location to find a significant tornado on a supercell, and indeed that's where the EF2 is. This was not an amorphous blob with tornadoes in random locations.

3. The EF4 emerged from basically the same part of the storm, slightly displaced to the north as the storm cycled with a hand-off in a fairly conventional manner. It did not emerge from the inflow band in the notch, north of the RFD core. Tornadoes are possible on the inflow band, and the next supercell cycle and tornado cyclone can develop well ahead of the old RFD core. But this doesn't appear to be the case on this storm, and the EF4 remained firmly behind a rain wrapped RFD gust front while the inflow band continued to extend to the northeast in a linear orientation.
 

Dan Robinson

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Jan 14, 2011
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Skip, I would caution on assuming that everyone's interpretation of storm structure and evolution is so uniformly "obvious", even among veterans. I would also advise against what seemed to me to be a very scolding tone and an accusation that some (including Davies and me presumably) have ulterior motives is discussing counter-points. If you have reason to believe so, then please state them so we can talk about it.

As I pointed out before, we all ultimately have to learn these things on our own in the field independently. I have read and viewed most of the presentations you cited, and my understanding of the "bears cage" as it is loosely defined (as does presumably a large part of the chase community) was not the RFD itself, but the immediate region where the inflow and RFD are interfacing ("curling" around each other). The RFD can extend for many miles south, west and east of this location. The assertion that the entire RFD is now a 100% no-go region is equally baffling to me, as you put it, and seems a rather rash overreaction to El Reno. Is every supercell El Reno now? At least that is my takeaway here, if I'm misunderstanding you, then please accept my apologies.

Secondly, the couplet was evident on Level 2 imagery, which is what is being used in your and other examples posted in this thread. On Level 3 imagery - such as what is pulled in GRLevel3 by chasers in the field - the couplet was not as apparent. That is an important distinction.

I feel like this discussion is devolving into a blame game, with some who have put themselves on a higher plane of storm knowledge insulting the intelligence of us more inferior types for "not knowing better" or worse, instead of an honest inquiry into what happened and learning from it.
 
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Dan Robinson

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This has always been my conceptual model of a HP supercell.

supercell1.jpg

Dark Blue Area: RFD/rain
Hatched Blue Area: Inflow notch, may be partly or all rain-filled
Red Area: Mesocyclone/Bear's Cage
Light Red: Tornado Track

I have always been under the impression that RFD (blue area) south of the meso *should* be a region where a tornado would not normally be expected. Have I always been wrong? I'm open to that possibility. I'm really trying to understand the controversy here.

EDIT: Added area to depict partial or full rain wrapping, gradient added to take blue out of FFD.
 
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Sep 7, 2013
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Strasburg, CO
Releases do not cover events where there is overwhelming proof of negligence. Negligence in civil law is defiend as follows: "Negligence refers to any failure to exercise reasonable care in one’s actions, resulting in injury or damage to another person or party. Negligence, the most common form of civil lawsuit, falls under the category of unintentional behavior, as opposed to intentional acts of harm."

For example: Acme Ultimate Spin Tours is **aware** that on big chase days, along lines of cars are possible near storms. They are also **aware** that long lines of cars could create a very dangerous situation. Acme drives towards a big storm with hundreds of vehicles clogging roads. Acme **decides** to join the caravan when they could have **avoided** it. An accident with injuries completely blocks the roadway in all directions. A secondary storm produces a violent tornado, preventing Acme's retreat. The twister hits Acme's van killing all 10 passengers.

No release is going to cover that situation.

This is NOT a direct comparison to the current situation as all the facts are not known. It does illustrate civil "negligence" when obvious hazards are known to exist and they are ignored. If a volleyball-sized hailstone is hurled 10 miles from the parent storm, hitting a tour van, one could argue it was a freak accident and did not involve an obvious risk.

Having said this, the obvious legal antidote is that participants should be aware of the dangers. The best example of accepted risk would be climbing Mt. Everest. The participants are well aware of the multitude of deadly events that can kill you from HAPE to avalanches.
Sorry i had to pause at volley ball hailstone...can you imagine if that was a real/common occurrence? This hobby of ours would be very different.
 
Perhaps my comment belongs in the recent thread about RFD/tornado causality, but.... It has for a long time been my observation based on earlier supercomputer simulations and eyeball observation, that there are two semi-independent processes contributing to what is called the RFD. The first is a downward propagation of vorticity from mid- and upper level dynamics, which tends to reveal itself as a clear slot due to adiabatic warming of the descending flow. The second is the addition of surface vorticity to the precipitation-generated downdraft and its transport around the mesocyclone axis base, which tends to reveal itself as a rain-wrap. Each process contributes to the initiation and maintenance of a tornado in varying degrees depending on the supercell structure. Disclaimer: I am not a meteorologist, but a dedicated amateur.
 
Mar 8, 2016
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Article seems to contradict position, wasn’t the meso supposedly to the north of the vans and they were trying to move south when they were hit? The article says the meso / tornado development was south of the vans.
With a cyclic supercell the new meso will generally form to the northeast of the old occluding meso, and in some cases while a tornado is still in progress with the old occluding meso. As a result, you can end up with two separate mesocyclones at once, with the old meso trailing off into the RFD while the new meso begins to become the dominant circulation. In the case of the tour vans, they were hit by the EF2 tornado being produced by the old occluding meso that was approaching them from the Southwest while the new meso was spinning up to their north getting ready to put down the EF4. Here's a nice visual aid, ironically from the same day further west:



My view is from almost directly east of the occluded meso/tornado and southeast of the new meso/tornado. This Supercell was a Classic Supercell so the whole process was quite visible and as such easy to position/plan for. In the case of the EF4 producing Supercell in Northeast Kansas though, that Supercell was fully HP and as a result that entire region where the occluding meso/tornado is located would be completely buried in rain filled RFD, rendering it invisible. So rather than either the meso being north or south of the tour vans, it was actually both.
 
May 1, 2004
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www.skip.cc
Article seems to contradict position, wasn’t the meso supposedly to the north of the vans and they were trying to move south when they were hit? The article says the meso / tornado development was south of the vans.
It's consistent with the info I have. SLT stopped on highway 56 two miles east of Overbrook with the velocity couplet ~6-7 miles to their southwest, and held there for several minutes. This was about 35-25 minutes before impact. This is likely what the author is referring to as the parent supercell structure was visible here, including the midlevel rotation and long inflow tail feeding into the base. NWS Topeka noted the velocity couplet and this is what triggered the next tornado warning. After leaving this position, SLT didn't stop again until they were impacted.

One of the main takeaways in this, however, is that the part of the storm producing the tornadoes was never miles to the north.

19139
 
Feb 27, 2009
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Texarkana, AR
The above is what I find most baffling in all of this.
One of my comments was included here.
Comments in this thread where I use the acronym 'rfd', I'm referring to heavy outflow rain that cuts into the meso and wraps around the wall cloud or developing tornado in HP supercells. As the outflow wraps around on the outside of what is inflow feeding into the storm, the inflow creates a drier curling slot with less rain. The bears cage would be that area inside bounded by the rfd rain and hail. Of course it gets very messy and every storm is different and storms evolve rapidly. But evidently I should have made clear how I defined these terms and how I thought they have been historically used in the chase community. Maybe this is intentional or maybe there is genuine confusion about this. In talking about rfd I would say a person would drive through the rfd rain core to get into or out of the cage. I'm thinking surely this was clear from my comments. You use 'rfd' or 'rfd core' to mean the whole rfd bounded region, all the rain and everything inside, it seems.
 

Jeff Duda

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This has always been my conceptual model of a HP supercell.

Blue: RFD/rain
Red: Mesocyclone/Bear's Cage
Light Red: tornado track

I have always been under the impression that RFD (blue area) south of the meso *should* be a region where a tornado would not normally be expected. Have I always been wrong? I'm open to that possibility. I'm really trying to understand the controversy here.
Supercell morphologies exist on a continuum, so your particular drawing is not necessarily wrong, but it ignores the variability in HP structures. A large fraction of HP supercells have rain completely enclosing the meso/tornado, so you need to fill in a big chunk of white north and west of the big red dot in blue.
 

Dan Robinson

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Jeff, you are correct - I added that to the graphic. The diagram also does not depict a handoff situation, which would place another dissipating tornado on a more southerly track. This, as I've previously assumed, would have a very clear couplet even on Level 3 radar to alert a chaser to the tornado's presence. The main lesson I see with this situation is that we can indeed have a tornado there without a clearly-evident radar signature. I assert that this convergence of factors truly is a rare situation, and dare I say, without precedent in storm chasing. We've seen handoffs. We've seen rain-wrapped tornadoes. We've seen weak tornadoes with ambiguous radar signatures. We haven't seen strong tornadoes in RFD that never had a clear couplet. Someone can prove me wrong, I'd gladly retract that statement with supporting evidence.
 
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May 1, 2004
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www.skip.cc
19145
Blue: RFD/rain
Red: Mesocyclone/Bear's Cage
Light Red: tornado track

I have always been under the impression that RFD (blue area) south of the meso *should* be a region where a tornado would not normally be expected. Have I always been wrong? I'm open to that possibility. I'm really trying to understand the controversy here.
This model is totally fine, Dan. There are other configurations and Jeff makes a great point about variability, but even this storm is consistent with the above model.

19143

The tornadoes are in pretty much textbook locations: the top/north side of the curling RFD. It totally jives with your drawing. They were not "miles south" of the mesocyclone. This is what SLT staff stated initially, and I think many are still assuming this was the case. The video and radar show otherwise.


There's an important caveat here, however. I think the above model works great for a classic supercell, in which you actually have visibility under the rear flank. In the above annotated photo, you can't actually see the bounds between the red and blue regions. On a classic, there's a clear slot and then spiraling rain bands. On an HP, there's simply RFD core. So what should you do? Assume this whole region is blue? I think you should assume the whole region is red. The RFD core on an HP harbors the tornado. The RFD gust front is the Bear's Cage on an HP. Anyone behind this red line could be impacted by tornadic winds without warning. You have no situational awareness once you are behind the red line. I'd hope this is a safety tip from the storm chasing 101 course because it's extremely important for all chasers to know this. If folks don't, we really need to drive it home.

19144


I would also advise against what seemed to me to be a very scolding tone
I'm trying to be direct and concise. Folks are getting hurt and killed out there, and I'm far more concerned about that than I am about offending people.

accusation that some (including Davies and me presumably) have ulterior motives is discussing counter-points. If you have reason to believe so, then please state them so we can talk about it.
I value your openness and honesty in this discussion, Dan. That line wasn't directed at you, and I left it intentionally vague because I didn't want to dive down that hole. I think it's far more important that we simply stick to what went wrong and how it can be avoided in the future.

There's misinformation that's going around and I think it's important to correct it because it has the potential to do further damage. Others have already made accusations as to why this misinformation is going around, but I don't want to speculate. I think there are lots of reasons.

Is every supercell El Reno now?
No, every storm is not El Reno. But nearly every year there's a mile+ wide tornado inside of an HP RFD core that is even larger still. These storms need to be treated with extreme respect or future injuries and fatalities will be inevitable.

The Bear's Cage on a large HP supercell, that big green circular region, can span miles. When the storm is warned for tornadoes, you should assume there is a tornado inside of it. When you punch that Bear's Cage blind, you are playing Russian Roulette.

Secondly, the couplet was evident on Level 2 imagery, which is what is being used in your and other examples posted in this thread. On Level 3 imagery - such as what is pulled in GRLevel3 by chasers in the field - the couplet was not as apparent.
The radar is important for illustrating how this event unfolded. An important point in a discussion on chaser safety, which will be part of this video analysis, is that chasers should not rely on the radar data for their safety, but should instead be using storm structure visuals. The radar data is old, coarse, tilted, and not indicative of what's happening at ground level, making it prime for misinterpretation. However, this storm did provide ample visuals. When chasers don't have those visuals, they've lost situational awareness.
 

Dan Robinson

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Skip, so as I understand it, the main issue in question wasn't whether a transect through the RFD south of the meso is or isn't a safe move, it is where the vans were relative to the storm's primary meso (south of the meso or in its path). The argument you're making I presume is that visual storm structure indicated they drove directly into the meso, not that they encountered a unusual tornado *far* south in the RFD that they should have expected to be there? The latter assumption is what I've been basing pretty much every post I've made so far in this thread on.
 
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