May-June 1998 STORMTRACK features: The Gale House, Reliving Murphysboro, July 2, 1997, Registering your Footage, Chasing Oklahoma, and the TWISTER ride.


I. COMMENTARY by Tim Marshall

Jack Bruce said it best "If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all." So it was for me this 1998 chase year. Sure, I saw lots of storms -mostly HP’s during my "chase vacation" from May 15th to June 9th -but mother nature seemed to go out of her way to make sure the storms I was on did not produce a tornado. Was mother nature trying to protect me? Was this some sort of Mother Nature Truman Show or what? That’s it. I have been receiving false weather information this year which has led me to "safer" storms.

The first part of my chase vacation was dominated by a ridge in the center of the U.S. Thanks Mom. I refused to go to the ends of the earth (North Dakota) on May 17th, but managed to make it up to northwest KS from May 20 through 23 to see a lot of great storms. On May 24th, Carson and I played the dryline east of Guthrie, TX and saw several "pulse" supercells. Meanwhile, the storm of the day was near Wakita and Lahoma, OK where several tornadoes were reported. I should have chased May 25th and 26th, but the weather situation looked stale, so mother nature produced tornadoes near San Angelo both days. Getting desperate, on May 30th, Carson and I made a long trek up to Des Moines, IA only to watch a storm die right in front of us just as we reached it. A few hours later, the Spencer, SD wedge occurred. Another ridge had to pass and so it was another week before chasing resumed.

On June 7th, I was on a great storm that "was a sure thing" southwest of Melrose, NM. Carson and I tracked it through Clovis, NM and Farwell, Texas. We encountered baseball to softball-size hail three times, but no tornado. On June 8th, we were on a storm that formed near Anadarko and tracked through Chickasha, Blanchard and Norman. After several hours of chasing, we gave up on it near Wewoka in the thick jungles of east Oklahoma -then the storm produces a tornado. Final humiliation occurred on June 13th, when Carson and I got an early start and headed through Oklahoma City into Kansas. We got on a non-tornadic HP storm north of Bellville, KS and followed it to north of Marysville. Yes, tornadic storms occurred at Oklahoma City where we had been earlier in the day. So, I have lots of film left over this year. Now several chasers did manage to cash in and my hat is off to them. It really took a lot of effort, patience, and luck. I look forward to reading your chase accounts.

Several observations were made in my travels which caused me some concern. The weather information provided by the The Weather Channel was old. We had tornado warnings on storms that were not even showing up on their satellite or radar images. Second, weather information provided by NOAA weather radio was old or not updated enough -even in Oklahoma. I realize there are budget cutbacks, but warning the public of immediate weather should be the first priority. Also, there were too many tornado warnings "based on Doppler Radar". I would venture to say that 90% of the these warnings did not verify. The mesocyclone algorithms need refinement. "Heck, they put out a warning every time a storm goes through here and nothing happens", said one person. I know others feel the same way too.


Chasers are encouraged to send their chase accounts in to be published in ST. April chases will be featured in the July-August issue, May chases in Sept-Oct, and June chases in Nov-Dec. Photographs are preferred over slides.

SEPTEMBER 14-18, 1998: The 19th Conference on Severe Local Storms will be held at the Radisson South and Hotel Tower in Minneapolis, MN. The week long conference will feature numerous presentations on tornadoes and other severe weather and will include a video/slide festival.

Please note that our URL has changed to


Travis Farncombe writes about Canadian Tornadoes. "Well this year seems to be topping the charts as far as tornado totals go but the chase season seems to have been a pretty big bust. Has anyone noticed that as there are less and less chasable storms in the US, and more photogenic storms and tornadoes in Canada? Canada has had several F4 tornadoes, Barrie 1985, and Edmontom 1987 to name a few. On June 2nd 1998, two confirmed F2 tornadoes touched down on Ontarian soil. One hit the town of Elmvale and the other hit, and did significant and severe damage, in the town of Norwich. Total damage from both tornadoes was about three million dollars. Canada may not have nearly as many tornadoes as the U.S., but the storms it does get are unique and quite remarkable. When a tornadic storm does develop in Southern Ontario or the prairie provinces, there is usually relatively less humidity than Oklahoma or Kansas per say, producing quite vivid storms and photogenic tornadoes. Next year, if the season is once again a bust in the U.S., feel free to come chasing up north of the border. You're always welcome, eh!!!"

Chris Landea writes: "On Thursday May 14th, Marjory Stoneman Douglas - author, conservationist, and Miami pioneer - passed away after 108 years of life. Her written legacy includes Hurricane! (an account of the 1928 Lake Okeechobee Florida hurricane that killed thousands) and The Everglades: River of Grass (which has inspired many to fight to preserve the Everglades, a battle that continues today). Besides being a description of the Everglades, The Everglades: River of Grass is also a history of the region - including some of the significant hurricane impacts. As a tribute to Ms. Douglas, below is a chilling (the most chilling hurricane account that I have ever read) excerpt about the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane from her seminal work:

"The sickle wings of the night hawks began the long beat southward in their fall migration. In their skyey courses they may have been the first to feel that vast shape of air spinning up from the equator along the line of the Bahamas. The word reached Miami on the morning of Friday, September 17 [1926], that a hurricane moved there somewhere... Old-timers, remembering hurricanes, felt their skins prickle and began to board up...Most people knew nothing of hurricanes at all...[The storm] moved directly on Miami. Late that night, in absolute darkness, it hit, with the far shrieking scream, the queer rumbling of a vast and irresistible freight train.

The wind instruments blew away at a hundred twenty-five miles. The leaves went, branches, the bark off the trees. In the slashing assault people found their roofs had blown off, unheard in the tumult. The water of the bay was lifted and blown inland, in streaming sheets of salt, with boats..., coconuts, debris of all sorts, up on the highest ridge of the mainland...At eight o'clock next morning the gray light lifted. The roaring stopped. There was no wind. Blue sky stood overhead. People opened their doors and ran, still a little dazed, into the ruined streets... Only a few remembered or had ever heard that in the center of a spinning hurricane there is that bright deathly stillness. It passed. The light darkened. The high shrieking came from the other direction as the opposite whirling thickness of the cyclonic cone moved on over the darkened city." Chris Landsea <landsea@AOML.NOAA.GOV

TORNADO YIELDS CLINTON CHECK (AP) - In a bizarre Whitewater discovery, a repair shop owner opened the trunk of an abandoned tornado-damaged car and found a cashier’s check for more than $20,000 payable to Bill Clinton from his former partner’s savings and loan along with thousands of other "missing" documents. Witnesses say the markings on the cashier’s check, which bears no Clinton endorsement, suggest that the source of the funds was James McDougal’s S & L, and that the proceeds may have been deposited in one of two Arkansas banks the Clintons used. The documents were in the trunk of a Mercury Marquis -it’s paint was pitted and windows blown out when a tornado swept across Arkansas in March 1997. The president’s private lawyer scoffed at the discovery saying, "Documents found in the trunk of an old and long abandoned used car may have the authenticity and credibility of a newly discovered and freshly written Elvis autobiography". The FBI is investigating.

Tim Vasquez submitted this news story: Recently, a forecaster at the Kansas City Weather Office received a phone call from Pittsburgh, PA. "Why don’t you apologize for your weather instrument (radiosonde) hitting me in the head and causing so much trouble?", the person replied. The caller explained they were playing golf one evening when this package fell out of the sky and hit him in the head -knocking him off his feet. The caller took the package home -and after a while, it began to emit a foul smell prompting him to put the package on the front porch. The caller’s wife arrived home, and seeing a package with wires on it, she suspected a bomb and called 911. The bomb squad arrived and made the decision to evacuate a two-block area in the subdivision before examining it. Close inspection revealed printed instructions on the package to send it to Kansas City for reconditioning; the package was promptly mailed.


I read a somewhat morbid account of the 10 June 1938 tornado which concludes the Gale farm home was transported 150 miles northeastward from east-central Kansas to the town of Osborn (NO "e"!), Missouri. I must, regrettably, inform you that I do not believe the Gale house ended up in Osborn. My credentials to refute these findings are, as follows: 1) Up-close-and-personal knowledge of the immediate area of Osborn, Mo. from numerous chasing episodes in said locale, and 2) a year-long teaching assignment in the community immediately west of Osborn (Stewartsville) providing some long-term observation of the community, it's residents, and architectural attributes (or lack thereof).

It was alleged that the Wizard of Oz tornado was an F-2. I submit that the likelihood of an F-2 producing storm maintaining the necessary updrafts for the long-term suspension of an structure weighing well in excess of several tons was not a probable scenario. In the event that a supercell were to generate such an updraft, the resulting tornado would certainly be "the largest F-5 tornado on record." Also, the recollections of Ms. Gale, derived from a "bump on the head", related to the existence of numerous residents of varying species and sub-species. The collective known by Ms. Gale as "The Munchkins" while colorful, to say the least, could not now, or then, possibly reside in the vicinity of Osborn, Mo. Most persons who have visited Osborn in the past 50 years have taken note that the majority of the residents of the community are involved in family agricultural business units. The average size of the local residents is 5 feet 7.5 inches, hardly close to the recollected size of this collective's residents. Again, anybody with any experience or observation of the community's residents would surely agree that the Munchkins have a MUCH higher intelligence quotient than the average Osbornian! An additional collective known as "The Winkies", who are gifted in vocal talents, are documented in Ms. Gale's recollections. Being a music teacher and having witnessed the musical talents of the youth of the community of Osborn at some extent, I can personally attest that absolutely NO group of more than 10 persons can sing like that in Osborn!

Having spent considerable time in the vicinity of Osborn, and spoken to it's long-time elder residents, no recollection of the existence of any of the following physical features has ever been known or recorded: 1) a multi-acre tract of land whereon any commercial or non-commercial venture in poppy production has taken place, 2) a multi-story masonry structure sometimes referred to as "the big, green, glow-in-the-dark house on the hill" although there IS some recollection of a two-story frame structure which was painted an unusual shade of pastel green with dark green trim, and 3) numerous wooded areas DID exist where several large, foreboding trees were present, however the only person known to have documented the now-famous dancing and talking apple trees was locally known within the community as the "town drunk". While there is a certain "mystical" quality to the recollections of Ms. Gale, it should be readily apparent from the above accounts that the touchdown point of the Gale farmhouse could not POSSIBLY have been in Osborn, Missouri.

Now despite the film evidence of the house flying through the clouds, the trajectory of the flight was vertical both in the ascent and descent phases of the flight. The touchdown of the house from any height would have shown considerable angular stress resulting from horizontal velocity combined with vertical descent speed on touchdown. The pictorial evidence suggests a vertical drop without any horizontal motion present based on the outward stress fracturing of the various building elements such as the support members of the porch which would only result in a straight descent.

Also, given the transportation and communication methods of the day it is also highly unlikely that Ms. Gale's guardians would have been present at the final resting place of the farmstead house as the local officials or persons finding the structure would have not had sufficient information to determine it's origination point until Ms. Gale had awoken from her unconscious state. Even with the most rapid transportation of the day (railroad passenger trains or cars), the Gale family would have taken a day or two to travel the distance to the landing site. All the facts presented thusfar with out a doubt indicate the Gale house did not end up in Osborne, MO.

Editors note: A rendition of Dorothy’s house exists in a park in Liberal, Kansas along with the Wizard of Oz characters of the tin man, scarcrow, and cowardly lion. We’d be interested in hearing from any of our subscribers who have visited Dorothy’s house.


It was March 18, 1997, and I’d just finished making the morning coffee, when I noticed a "shimmering thing" out in the backyard. It was a large, door-shaped region that you could sort of see through, and sort of couldn’t. I immediately decided to check this out. It was a two dimensional rectangle standing about six feet tall. I walked around it then decided to walk through it.

I emerged on a dusty street, lined on both sides by wooden sidewalks. A model-T Ford passed nearby honking its squeeze horn -- not at me, but at a horse and buggy half a block up. After I regained my composure, I looked back toward where the shimmering thing should have been, but it was gone. I’d kind of expected that. It seemed pretty clear that I’d somehow moved back in time to somewhere around 1920 (plus or minus a few years), and maybe even into a later part of the Spring season. The temperature was considerably warmer than the March day I’d left. The sun told me it was still early morning, but the temperature had to be in the mid-fifties. A brisk wind was blowing from the south. The air felt humid, and overhead, low cumulus scudded northward. Above that I could see cirrus moving east-northeastward, while to the far north I saw what looked to be anvils from an overnight MCS of some sort. I noticed some buildings down the street, and figured I’d better go on down there and see if I could learn something.

The sign beside the door on one of the buildings gave me my first spark of hope. It read "U.S. Weather Bureau, Cairo, Illinois." Weather guys! Things were looking up. Stepping inside, I was struck by how much like an old movie the place seemed. There was an old, old pedestal-type phone on a long wooden counter. Behind the counter was a guy wearing a green visor, banging away on a telegraph key. A couple of other guys were at a big table plotting observations from the telegraph transcripts. The telegraph guy looked up, his face kind of asking what I needed, but I really didn’t know what to say. That was when I noticed the calendar on the wall. March 18, 1925.

"Great," I mumbled. "No satellite, no radar, no fax maps … nothing!"

"You here about the car?" the guy asked.

I ‘d been standing there wondering if I’d really gotten myself trapped back in a place with absolutely no basic accommodations, and almost answered "no" without thinking. I caught myself, though, and in order to give myself a little time to think, answered, "Yes. Yes, I am. Say, what’s that you’re working on?"

The guy was actually pretty nice. He took the time to explain that they were tracking a low pressure area which was currently in northwestern Arkansas. It was expected to cross into Illinois later that day. I noticed on the plotting chart behind him that the low had a central pressure of 29.60". He casually mentioned that thundershowers were already being reported in central Illinois (which would be north of the warm front if his extratropical cyclone position was correct). That was when the significance of the date sunk in. March 18, 1925. I would need wheels!!

"If you’re the one who’s selling the car," I said, "I’d sure like the chance to take it for drive before I decide anything."

"What kind of watch is that?" he answered, pointing at my Casio, 200 meter depth-tested, impact-resistant digital dive watch.

"It’s not really a watch," I answered in a surprisingly normal voice. "It’s a jewelry thing my daughter made for me as a present, and I have to wear it for a while to make her happy. About that car …"

Well, I’ll have to admit that I felt a little guilty as I drove out of Cairo with a stranger’s car, but I figured I could park it in a safe place later -- with a note -- and nothing would be lost. Plus, I felt pretty sure I’d be able to get back to the future if any of those movies were a clue. Self-delusion and rationalization aside, I found myself driving north on a pretty nasty dirt road called Highway 51, hoping against hope that I could avoid the flat tires that I remember plagued these early vehicles. Statistically, I knew that I could expect a flat about once every fifty miles. Ah, the good old days. But the road wasn’t really too bad, and I estimated that I was cranking along at a steady 20 mph (no speedometer), and would probably reach my destination in no more than 2 ½ to 3 hours. Bad guess. What with one flat tire (thank goodness there was a repair kit on board), and a bridge out at Anna that forced me to turn onto what would be highway 127 (though I saw no signs then), it was around one o’clock before I reached my destination. I was about two miles south of state road 149, west of Murphysboro. I knew that by this time events were already underway -- a farmer had been killed 100 miles to the southwest, near Ellington, Missouri. This kind of scared me, since I’m not really a fast thinker, and I was starting to fall a little behind the curve.

I still needed to park the weather guy’s car here, in a safe spot, and get a ride north. (I know sentiment has no place in a chase, but what the heck, I was running behind anyway.) I parked at a little nearby store, left a note, stole a couple of apples for lunch and hitched a ride in a mail truck north. There was already anvil cirrus streaming overhead from a storm to the southwest. I assumed it was originating from "my" storm.

It was almost two when I finally got to Murphysboro, and I knew that by this time the tornado -- the one that had killed the farmer near Ellington -- was still on the ground, and headed directly for me at just under 60 mph. It had killed two more people near Annapolis, Missouri and injured 75 others. Right now it was probably approaching the little rural communities in eastern Missouri where eight more people would perish. I remembered that several of the injuries over there across the river would be to children caught without warning in schools. No deaths among them, though.

As the mail truck reached the west edge of town, I spotted a ’22 Ford idling at the side of the street. A block later I asked the postman to let me out, doubled back to car, then jumped in and was off. Pretty bad form, I suppose, but I figured it was probably going to get pulverized by the tornado, anyway. I was probably doing a good deed, really. Yes, a good deed. In any case, the massive vortex would be ¾ mi. wide by now, doing F3-F5 damage. It would continue that way across southern Illinois, and on into Indiana, staying on the ground a total of 219 miles, and arriving at Murphysboro – its halfway point -- at 2:30. It was now 2:05, and I figured I had to get out of town -- south preferably. But Murphysboro was due to take a big hit, so I stopped at a couple of places on the way out of town to point out the storm to a few people. About the only reaction I got were several positive comments about the coming rain. Nothing I could say (short of claiming to be a time traveler) seemed that it would have made a dent. I left town, looking for the road south.

I’d gone about three miles when it finally dawned on me that I must have passed the road I’d been looking for several miles back. I was well outside of town, and remembered being very near Murphysboro when we’d hit the intersection earlier. The storm had gotten much closer, and it also dawned on me that I might be painting myself into a pretty nasty corner. The storm was now a massive wall of black to the southwest with fingers of anvil lightning dancing out toward me. I strained to see, but could find no sign of the southern edge other than a lighter area, dimly visible to the far south.

As the sky got blacker and blacker, it became obvious that the southern end was heading directly for me. This was not good -- I was on 149 just southwest of Murphysboro, and directly in the center of what was soon to be a ¾ - 1 mile wide, F5 damage path. Furthermore, I reminded myself again that the vortex would be rushing toward me at roughly 60 mph. I had to keep doing that, since I seemed to be stuck with chase vehicles that averaged around 20 mph. Where in the heck was that shimmering thing, I remember thinking. The closest south road looked to be about five miles in the direction of the tornado, so I decided that the prudent course would be to take a north road that was back the other side of town. I’d get into some horrendous precipitation, and probably miss seeing the vortex, but I might live.

The storm was closing the gap with frightening speed by the time I turned north. As I sputtered along the winds picked up, rain began to fall and soon small hail mixed itself in with the rain. The car that I’d "borrowed" was not completely enclosed, so this was a really bad turn of events. "I’m not really enjoying this!!", I said aloud to no one in particular. However, as the hail size increased, and my brain started to rationalize turning back, I remembered that the Murphysboro reports included 234 deaths (was one of them me?), over 600 injuries, and a ¾ - 1 mile swath of rubble right through the center of the town. Now it was a question of being too afraid to "chicken out." Then came a culvert! I turned into the culvert, drove along it to a small wooden bridge, then stopped. I won’t take credit for coming up with this great safety tip. I saw it in a movie. Actually, I had to stop. The hailstones were getting larger now and were being driven by what I estimated to be 50 - 60 kt winds. The racket was incredible. Most of the stones were around ¾" in diameter, but a few were a lot bigger. They would later be described as "irregular-shaped chunks of ice as large as goose eggs", which seems an appropriate description of the chunk which nearly hit me in the head. Goose egg, I mean.

The large hail and strong winds ended abruptly and the air turned deathly silent, except for a sound like rapidly flowing water in the far distance. Even as my mind raced to try and figure out what the sound could be, it was becoming louder. Deeper tones became audible as the volume increased, and suddenly my straining eyes caught sight of the vortex. A giant mile-wide wedge with multiple vortices and lots of debris, dimly seen against an inky black backdrop. The wall cloud was only slightly larger than the wedge itself and was rotating at a frightening rate. Scud was forming and converging beneath cloud base at super time-lapse speeds. The sound was getting bad. Real bad. I was obviously not far enough north for I could now see large debris lifting and ejecting. If I stayed where I was I was definitely going to get hit -- at least by the north side of the giant wedge, and probably by some house-sized thing. A young man raced by my position, heading south in a car. He stopped about a half mile down the road, got out carrying a Kodak Brownie, ran to a nearby fence and fell on his belly to begin shooting pictures. He rose into the air and disappeared like a scud tag.

I needed the shimmering thing right now, and decided to try some non-conventional methods for its retrieval. I tapped my heels together three times and chanted "there’s no place like home." It didn’t work. I gave up. Instead, I noticed a roll of baling wire in the back of the car, and decided to tie myself to a nearby pipe I saw coming out of the ground. However, as I attached the wire to the pipe and turned to loosen my belt, a stray lightning bolt hit the fence about a quarter mile up the road, traveled down the fence, and into the roll of wire. The "door" appeared, and I stepped through into my own backyard.

The experience I had with the Tri-state Tornado has taught me several things. First, stepping into amorphous shimmering doors might lead to bad outcomes. Second, you probably shouldn’t chase F5 tornadoes in a model-T Ford. Third, remember everything you see in the movies -- they can turn out to be useful, indeed. Fourth, in comparing 1939 technology (heel tapping) to 1996 technology (pipe tying), there’s no contest. And last, wives have a tendency not to believe shimmering door stories as an explanation for torn and dirty clothing, missing shoes, and what not.

Author’s Note – Though this account is probably fiction, the Tri-state tornado is not. This "king of all vortices" touched down at roughly 1 p.m. on March 18, 1925 just northwest of Ellington, Missouri. It produced a continuous damage path that at points were measured ½ to 1 ¼ miles wide along a 219 mile strip which included southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and southwest Indiana. Over the course of nearly four hours, the storm killed 695 people and injured 2,027 others. Total damage in 1997 dollars was over $200 million.


There have been several interesting discussions about how boundary-layer humidity and high T-Td spreads theoretically interfere with low-level mesocyclone development. Erik Rasmussen noted that the LCL (lifting condensation level) and LFC (level of free convection) height were some of the better predictors of tornadoes in an unpublished study of his. Just to throw in my thoughts, I've been kicking around a similar idea over the last couple months, and have been computing crude LCL heights AGL (above ground level) in tornado and non-tornado situations from surface T/Td data and station elevation using a standard atmosphere. This would translate to a rough initial cloud base for surface-based storm updrafts prior to precipitation recycling into the updraft and inflow cooling that would bring the cloud base down. As Erik explained, the higher the cloud base, the more evaporative cooling and bigger the cold pool under the storm interfering with low-level meso development... --the lower the cloud base, less evaporative cooling, hypothetically --less outflow. Also, if you think about it, it seems like it would be harder for updrafts and particularly downdrafts to stay "focused" for interacting with each other with too much distance from cloud base to ground through unsaturated air.

Looking back at the data set of tornado cases Bob Johns and I looked at a few years ago (242 cases 1980-1990), over 95% of the tornadoes occurred with LCLs under 1100m AGL. This translates to a max T-Td spread in deg F of around 15-16 or less, which might be a useful forecasting tool in combination with parameters that relate to other processes. A lot of boundaries feature low T-Td spreads on their north side, while cloud bases are much higher to their south. This may be one of the reasons tornadoes often like to occur near or north of boundaries, as Erik has pointed out.

A notable exception to this LCL "rule" seems to be tornadoes where a primary process is rapid stretching of an updraft in an environment with a very high lapse rate between roughly the LFC and mid-levels (roughly 500mb). So-called "landspouts" fall into this category. The rapid drop of temperature just above the LFC would translate to rapid parcel acceleration and stretching at low-levels for spinning up a tornado along a boundary. Many of these events occur with LCLs/cloud bases in the 1000 to 2000m AGL category, suggesting that when stretching through parcel acceleration is a more dominant process, this process can "penetrate" or "remain focused" through a deeper layer of unsaturated air. Plus "landspouts" often occur earlier in the updraft process, before significant precipitation occurs to generate a cold pool.

And occasionally, it seems that high-based supercell tornado events can happen that combine aspects of both ideas above. The Sunray TX area tornadoes on 6/9/71 that Roger Edwards and Al Moller have highlighted in past discussions occurred with LCLs 1300 to 1500m AGL. Looking at the AMA and DDC soundings, the Sunray environment appeared to incorporate lots of CAPE, high lapse rates in the lower part of the sounding (not always a "given" with large CAPE), and enough vertical shear to somehow combine and generate high-based supercells with large slow-moving tornadoes, rather than smaller "landspout" type tornadoes.

I will use a fairly obvious example to illustrate my point. I compared the 4/10/97 West Texas tornado event (Corey Mead's chase) with a similarly dynamic system in West Texas two weeks later (4/24/97) that had considerably less moisture to work with, but still was blanketed with a tornado watch. Results:

4/10/97 tornadoes near MAF: 4/24/97 high based downbursts near MAF (no T’s)

3-6km s-r mean wind: 17 kts (+2 kts at 500 mb) 3-6km s-r mean wind 23 kts

0-3km helicity: 150 m2/s2 0-3km helicity 262 m2/s2

CAPE: 3600 J/kg CAPE: 1900 J/kg

SLI: -11 SLI: -5

EHI: 3.27 EHI 3.14

BRN shear: 13.6 m/s BRN shear: 18.9 m/s

BRN: 39 BRN 11

sfc-based LCL: 820 m AGL sfc-based LCL 2052 m AGL

Both situations have parameters taken together that look favorable for tornadoes, but look at the difference in LCLs. The notably tornadic day had LCLs under 1000m AGL, while the other day produced downbursts but no tornadoes (LCLs around 2000m - 2x as high). Jon Davies,

 "Registering That Terrific Storm Footage in 7 Easy Steps" by Martin Lisius

If you have great storm footage, you should register it with the US Copyright Office for security purposes. It's so easy! Here are the painless, step by step instructions:

1. Decide what images you want to register. Your entire library since birth? You can do this but a more practical method might be to think of the most dramatic, important and or beautiful images you have (you can also register non-storm things too).

2. Think of a nifty title to give it. Maybe by year? How about "36 Giant Wedge Tornadoes, 1997 by Martin Lisius." Or simply, "1997 Storm Highlights by Martin Lisius." Or do several years like, "101 Giant Wedge Tornadoes, 1990-1997, by Martin Lisius."

3. Make a dub of these images. VHS is fine.

4. Label your tape.

5. Get Form PA (Performing Arts) from the US Copyright Office. How? Well, here's a couple options. When you order the Standard form PA from the US Copyright Office over the phone, they will send you instructions, believe me. That document is titled "Filling Out Application Form PA."

a) Call them at 202-707-9100. It's open 24 hours a day! What a deal! They say it takes about two weeks to get, but I've seen them sooner. You will leave your name, address, and form needed when you call this number. Remember to ask for Form PA. It's free (actually we pay for it with taxes).

b) Get it on the Internet! Yes, you can get forms via cyberspace! Here's how. Go to Bam! The form will appear. That's if you have a viewer like Adobe Acrobat loaded. This is a pdf file. If you don't have it, an option should appear allowing you to download Acrobat. Once you have it, you can print that form. The Copyright Office wants you to print it on both sides of one piece of paper, heads up. So, print page 1, then turn it back over and print page 2. Remember, heads up on both sides. Now, I've had some problems printing these pdf files even with 32 RAM. Give it a few tries. If it doesn't print, then just order over the phone. Your local library MIGHT have them as well.

You can get the instructions from the US Copyright Office Internet site as well at As always, like most Federal agencies, they are more than specific in telling you what to put in that envelope you send to them. Read their instructions and you can't go wrong. Any omissions may cause the application to returned to you, like with almost any Federal agency. It will probably take you more time reading the instructions than filling out the application. There is a handy little check list at the bottom of the application form next to the signature line. They will NOT let you forget anything!

6. Fill out that form. It's nothing like an IRS form. It's really quite mindless! It takes maybe 15 minutes. So, you can do it during the superbowl half-time break.

7. Get a padded envelope, or small, sturdy box. Throw in that tape you made, the application and 20 bucks. Seal it good. You can ship it via "book rate" since it's a video tape. One T120 VHS tape with the application and check will cost you (4) 32 cent stamps, but you must mark the package "book rate." If you're in a hurry, mark it "priority mail" in big letters and put (10) 32 stamps on there or $3.00 worth of other stamps. You don't have to take it to the PO if it's under 1 pound. One T120 is well under a pound.

Wait about 2-6 weeks for that pretty certificate. When it arrives, celebrate with a tall beer (I prefer lager myself). Now, file it in a good spot, or frame it. You might need it some day. Have fun. And remember, registering that footage makes great sense! Of course, be sure to read the application instructions carefully to make sure you've done everything required. These steps are simply a brief overview. Incomplete Copyright applications may be returned and/or delayed. If you have questions, call the US Copyright Office at 202-479-0700. They are very friendly and helpful. They are open 8:30 AM-5:00 PM ET, M-F except holidays.

MICHIGAN CHASE FROM CANADA: JULY 2, 1997 by Shane MacDougall

July 2, 1997 was shaping up to be a promising chase day. A massive cold front was approaching Michigan along with very strong mid-level winds of 80 knots. With predicted CAPES of 5000 (actual 3500) it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that it would be a good day to take off work. With SPC (along with every chaser on the planet) ranking Michigan and Indiana as moderate risk, we decided to hit Lansing by 1600 hrs. Due to unexpected delays (a misplaced wallet), my partner (Marion Law) and I didn't hit leave Toronto until 1230, which placed us ninety minutes behind schedule. A serious accident closed our route, detouring us onto another highway with construction on it - even better. As my driver's seat became covered with the dust from my gritting teeth, we finally got on our way, encouraged by the tornado watch in effect for southern Michigan.

As we hit Hwy 401, we got word of a line of rotating supercells developing over Lower Michigan. At 1530 we missed our exit to Hwy 402 (Flint) and opted to continue to Detroit. As we approached Chatham, the sky filled with gunge, obscuring our visibility of the storms ahead. At 1700 we made Windsor and took some quick shots of an impressive storm tower to our east. The NOAA radio was crackling with tornado warnings for Saginaw, Genesee - it was time to boogie. In our haste we made a near fatal mistake - we forgot to get some Yankee greenbacks. Our gas was pretty low so we decided we'd hit Detroit, grab some money from an ATM, some cheap gas (half Canadian prices) and head toward Ann Arbor. This was the linchpin that would soon prove disastrous. Across the border I chose I-94 and was instantly hit with gridlock. Panic began to set in. We were getting critically low on gas, had no money to pay for it, and an extremely violent storm system was rapidly approaching us. The last thing I wanted to do was storm chasing in a crowded city, but that's what it was quickly degrading into. Pulling off the I-94 we ended up in what could best be described as Detroit's version of East LA. Not a bank machine in sight, we finally nailed one after twenty minutes of searching at 1800, just as the local sirens started blaring.

We decided to take shelter at a gas station at Glendale and Woodward and wait it out, with Marion manning the camcorder and me manning the Bible! At 1810 the gust front nailed the intersection, bowing big trees at 45 degree angles. Within two minutes the storm core hit us, and visibility went to zero as rain began to wrap around, dropping, then rising back up to the storm. It was without a doubt the eeriest thing I have ever seen. As quickly as it came, it left, revealing an incredible amount of destruction. The muffler shop across the street had been destroyed, and it, along with the façade of a house, had collapsed on a car, somehow sparing its shaken occupants. Within minutes people began looting (not my first response to a brush with death), so we backed out and by 1900 decide to head back to Canada to track a system of strong storms. Leaving Detroit, we encountered a rotating wall cloud at Hwy 10 and I-75 moving toward Belle Isle. Having no desire for further urban storm chasing, we head east, snapping some shots of a supercell over Tilbury that radio reports say has dropped a funnel. It looked promising with perfect form and rock hard knuckles, but when we get under it at 2040, strong upper level winds blew it apart. Time to call it a night and watch the video. Trip Total: 867 km.

JULY 2, 1997 CHASE ACCOUNT by John LaJoie

I guess it was once said.. "The hunter will someday become the hunted." and this day wasn’t far from the truth. After returning from a chasing trip a month before in Kansas with little luck, I was more surprised to see an unusually strong storm system moving into the Great Lakes region. That morning, I listened to the weather statements from the Detroit, MI NWS. By 1pm, the first tornado watch was in effect and by 3pm, our SKYWARN branch as well as the surrounding areas were put into effect. Thirty minutes later, northwest of Detroit, the sky was darker than I have ever seen before and within 20 minutes, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. Smiling, I knew that I wouldn’t need to chase today. It was coming for me! No sooner than the first bolts of lightning were occurring, a tornado warning was issued at 3:41pm. The wind started to pick up as well as the rain and hail. Getting into my car, my portable weather station indicated the pressure was now 29.53 inches with a wind gust to 67 mph. Time seemed to fly as I watched the sky.

Finally, at 6:10pm, the rain and wind gave way to stillness. This was not good. Rolling down the window, I watched low clouds pass. The scanner was reporting a TVS to my southwest and reports of tornadoes were coming in. Then, a report came in for all members to take cover immediately. So, I pulled beneath an overpass just as the storm hit. My car rocked back and forth. Moments later, mother nature let me go. The radio continued airing reports of a tornado to my east with downed trees everywhere. Whew, that was close. Looking up, the clouds to the west started to break up and the color of blue sky shined down on me. I snapped a couple of pictures of the supercell which had just past. That day, my respect for the weather had reached a new level.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY TO CHASE by Stephen Eric Levine of Tornado Alley Safari

Tuesday, June 4th, Omaha, NE. We awaken to crisp cold weather. Brilliant sun shines out of deep blue, with temperatures in the 40’s -a bit chilly for the season. Across the distant western sky, an arc of high cirrostratus beckons us; announcing the leading edge of the warm and steamy air that we want. After consulting with various sources, I determine that our target areas will be either Dodge City, KS or Wichita, KS. Southward we roll, into high overcast. Bit by bit the overcast thickens. The air remains crisp, but warming quickly ensues.

As morning moves into afternoon, we drive into the outer reaches of the semi-stationary warm front that lies across southern KS. Along the way, I stop to get faxed radar’s to fine tune our direction. Wichita is our destination. As afternoon progresses, the front remains stationary, and it appears that we will need to move further south than Wichita. Darkening clouds begin to drip into showers. Heady sweetness from freshly rain wetted earth suddenly fills the car, and our noses. The sky takes on a ragged "severe storm" look and an occasional looping bolt of lightning hits the earth in the distance. But these are scattered and weak storms. Breaks in the overcast reveal low cloud tops that lack the type of turbulence we need for wild weather to ensue.

A strange opulence seizes the various layers of clouds; pools of warm and cold air riding on top of each other. This opulence tells me that the potential is there for severe weather. To underscore my sense about things, the weather service has just issued a tornado watch box in our area. Fifteen miles north of the Oklahoma border, a fax update reveals our target storm. A large circular-shaped storm with tops to 55,000 feet moving southeast towards Enid at about 45 mph. We want to beat the storm to Enid and position ourselves on the storm’s southern side. It is about 5:30pm, large breaks of clearing ensue, and fat cumulus clouds tower higher and higher. Humid, buoyant air envelops us in the brisk SE wind. Unfortunately, the cloud tops mush out; they seem to lack the support to blossom into thunderheads. In Renfrow, OK we stop to stretch and reassess the situation. Way off to the west-southwest, a very high, saucer-shaped overcast from our target storm hangs over the horizon. However, to our north, the mushy towering cumulus have grown into thunderstorms. We stop to reconsider our target storm. The sky around us within one-half hour has completely transformed itself from benign to explosive.

A pickup truck stops by and the couple inside asks us if we are lost. I explain that we are storm chasers (they get very excited) and that we trying to decide to continue for our original target storm near Enid -some 1-1/2 hours away versus heading back north to investigate the exploding clouds that are also moving in this direction. They are eager to talk to us about storms that they have experienced in this part of OK. They wish us luck. In the mean time, I decided to head north to intercept the new storm.

Closer and closer we approach the gigantic mountains of a grey and white thunderhead. Vast shelves of anvil cloud shoot outward towards us, pulling us in. The storm has a large rain-free base and appeared to have a needle-shaped funnel. Our adrenaline surges -the road feels too small and our car too slow for what we want to accomplish. The weather service issues a severe thunderstorm warning just north of our location; the storm has produced tennis ball-size hail and high winds. Finally, we drive under clouds dark as charcoal. The air turns sharply colder and stillness hangs heavy. Our radio suddenly blares out a tornado warning for our storm. Suddenly, we see a large wall cloud, complete with beaver tail to our north. Immense bolts of platinum lightning frequently arc across the sky and shoot straight down the wall cloud to the earth. With big hail in that direction and a rental car in my hands, I feel reluctant to drive any closer. We find a place to pull over and watch. Almost immediately, emergency vehicles with sirens blaring rush by us and head straight to the storm. A combination of haze and distant trees makes it impossible for us to see if there is anything on the ground, but the wall cloud hangs low over the earth. Intense lightning darts and dances everywhere, but especially across and down the wall cloud. Spider egg-like mammatus clouds erupt just to my southeast, while another wall cloud begins to take form about three miles to my west.

Several vehicles pull off the road to join us in our watch. It soon becomes a storm watch party. Everybody is electric with excitement while the sky churns. We watch in awe as the cloud to our west drips and seethes towards the ground, amazingly not dropping any tornadoes, but looking like it could at any time. Hunks of scud develop just above the earth and move up to join the wall cloud. After a time, the western wall cloud dissipates and becomes part of a huge arc of pitch black cloud. Our comrades leave and we watch the glory of an entire sky, a sunlit flank downdraft and stunning outbursts of nearly constant lightning. Then hail starts to fall. By divine grace, we find a service garage and watch one of the most spectacular storms I have ever seen. Hail up to golfball-size bounce like popcorn off the grass and roofs.

A peculiar two-tone quality of black and sunlit white seizes the sky. Wind and rain grow harder and harder, soon escalating into sheet upon sheet of whiteness blowing horizontally. Visibility drops to yards as pulsating sheets of swirling rain, fog, wind, hail bits, and lightning blanket the world. Immense puddles spring to life both inside and outside the garage, while nearly invisible trees bend deeply to the tempest. The storm tapers into calmness. Towering overhead, walls of thundermountains careen upward into concentric circles of dense anvil that in turn splashes like ripples on a pond into deep blue sky. Multi-layers of clouds seethe every which way across the blueness. Flashes and rivers of lightning ripple across the wall of thunderheads as they slowly retreat southeastward. Bit by bit, they grow into orange then pink of sunset while a red ball of sun drops for the northwest horizon. Puddles and ponds of water shimmer in the sunlight, while rumbles and exploding towers of a new thunderstorm shoot up to our northwest. We savor a spectacular lightning show into the darkness and enjoy comparing notes with the town sheriff. Later, we drop down into Medford, OK. We stop for a bite to eat at the diner there and have a wonderful time chatting with the owner. She is very sweet and motherly who just happened to supply the chickens for the movie TWISTER. Our day ends after a total of 570 miles, with a 2 am check in at the motel in Blackwell, OK.

 TWISTER: THE RIDE by Stephen Hodanish

Twister: Ride It Out, the attraction, is based on Twister, the hit movie. Paxton and Hunt return to narrate the attraction's two video preshows. The first introduces you to (or reminds you of) the premise of the movie and includes a little bit of behind-the-scenes information on how Twister was filmed, using plenty of clips from the film.

From there you move into a mock-up of part of Aunt Meg's tornado-ravaged house from the film. This area is well themed, with plenty of details to catch your eye in the dim light. Note the slightly modified house number above the door, and don't forget to look up when turning the corner near the end of the room. Here a second short video, shown on overhead monitors, shows more about the film as well as tornadoes themselves and their aftermath.

The main show borrows little from the plot of the film, which was concerned with the two stars romantic relationship as they attempt to get a flying sensor package picked up by an F5 tornado. Here we're simply concerned with the sheer spectacle of destruction, as created through state of the art special effects. Walls collapse, heavy objects fly through the air, and -- as anyone who has been through the other Universal Studios attractions will have guessed as soon as they see the gas pumps -- things explode. The presentation has a fair amount of realism, especially considering the rather small dimensions of the actual show set. It's also rather short, but makes up for that somewhat in intensity. The real tornado was not as impressive as I had hoped (more of an F1 than an F5, at least, at the "technical rehearsal" I caught) but it's still an interesting effect.

For best results you'll want to be up close and in front for this one -- sight lines drop off rapidly on the far sides, while the back row view is adequate but not at the best angle to take in the forced perspective set. (For the same reasons, the back and sides make the best place for small children who are frightened by storms and might find the full effect a bit

too intense.) Note that you stand throughout the entire presentation, and may also get wet in the process.

On the whole, I'd have to give Twister a B+ -- it's a fine effort, but not quite up to the blow-you-away factor of an attraction like Terminator 2:3D. Plotless destruction of property can only take you so far. Unlike the movie, there's little of the human interest factor to give meaning to the power of the storm -- and, aside from the controlled whirlwind, it plays like a re-run of Earthquake. Expect long lines (in a sparsely themed and mostly outdoor queue) this summer as the attraction is introduced. Your best bet will be to arrive early and head straight for Twister -- just continue directly ahead from the entrance toward the New York skyline in the distance. Twister is next to the boneyard, in the show building that formerly housed the Ghostbusters attraction. meso@QUANCON.COM>


I had the opportunity to see Twister, the Ride at Universal Studios at its opening last month in Orlando and enjoyed it tremendously. Originally the opening was delayed after the Kissimmee tornado outbreak in February (the storms which were responsible for over 30 deaths); I thought this was appropriate as the advertising blitz occurring here in Florida currently would have seemed insensitive in the wake of the disaster. As with the movie, chasers looking for explicit realism in Twister, the Ride, may be disappointed. However, those who are willing to forego some of the technical realities of chasing will enjoy an impressive experience.

All rides at Universal go through several staging areas to enhance the sensation of continuous movement (and to keep people from feeling like they're actually in line). The first staging area is outside of the main theater: as people approach the ride, the building is riddled with damage from a major tornado including embedded cars in the wall and remnants of a tractor on the sidewalk. As you enter the line, familiar chase vehicles from the movie (with their array of gadgets) lie on either side of the walkway. Meanwhile, famous tornado video footage is played on overhead televisions which are dubbed with some adrenaline-pumping background music.

Our wait was less than 10 minutes (ahh, the off-season!). The next staging area presents viewers with a video featuring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton discussing how dangerous tornadoes are. Despite being pretty empty dialogue, it's still quite exciting.

As the doors open to the last staging area, viewers are in Wakita, KS after the tornadoes have struck. Wonderful touches (such as a real car dangling precariously through the roof of the house people enter) suggest a nearby F4-F5 tornado had uprooted the entire town and placed it indiscriminently in the viewer's path. Here, overhead televisions discuss the trials experienced by the Twister crew while filming the movie (including tornadoes occurring just south of the filming location).

Finally, as the tension begins to mount the doors open into the Wakita main square just in the early evening as a tornado warning is issued for the Wakita area. Chasers will feel the familiar excitement of an impending tornado hearing the far-off air raid sirens as they view the darkened skies over the town. The square feels vast and large. It is packed with familiar Twister icons: the drive-in movie theater is off in the distance (the perspective is incredible in this interior sound stage), complete with a live movie in-progress (the same freaky movie seen in Twister). The pick-up with Dorothy is off to the left (parked by the ice cream parlor), and a television is visible through a window off to the right that is projecting the tornado warning from the beginning of the movie (from Helen Hunt's childhood).

Chasers will instantly find themselves reading the sky above them and in the distance for signs of the storm. You are actually looking at an angry sky (the effect is amazing), the clouds in the distance are sharp, angry, and turbulent. Lacking typical storm features, a funnel suddenly forms and touches down perhaps one mile away. Concomitantly, it begins to rain heavily in the sound stage; viewers are not spared from this rain--while not getting soaked, people will find themselves damp. A 15 knot wind blowing into the tornado begins to whip up behind the viewers (and coupled with the rain, the sensation of being outside on a chase is compelling).

Lightning crashes everywhere while the tornado actually tears apart the movie theater 1/4 mile away and suddenly dissipates. The wind picks up speed until a debris cloud (kinda small-appearing but cool) begins to form on the ground directly in front of the audience. It suddenly picks up tremendous speed and joins with an overhead funnel (provided, I believe, by a jet engine somewhere in the ceiling). Right before the audience is a real, three-story (possibly taller) cyclonic tornado whipping around with remarkable reality; the tornado is created similarly to "minitornadoes" seen in museum demonstrations). Destruction occurs everywhere with explosions and chaotic cacophony. The obligatory cow swings by the audience, and sadly, after 4 or 5 minutes the tornado dissipates for good, and the ride is over.

The doors open into a chaser's paradise. Every tornado product in existence greets people in the gift shop. Tornado boxers, tornado key chains, videos, T-shirts, tornadoes in a box, etc, etc. It's pretty cool. In the park itself, twister cups are available for purchase that are in the shape of a tornado (which is incidentally also cyclonic) for about $5. It was a great experience and absolutely is worth seeing. I can't wait to go again! Jason@Doctormail.Com