Chasing Tornadoes in Rita's Spiral Bands

Apr 16, 2004
Austin, Tx
I'm thinking of checking out some of the spiral band tornado action. Any of you have any experience with spiral band chasing? I'm wondering about how fast these bands are passing and the speeds of tornadoes. Will I need a jet to keep up? Any tips or tricks? Post your experiences.
Originally posted by Bill Tabor
I'm thinking of checking out some of the spiral band tornado action. Any of you have any experience with spiral band chasing? I'm wondering about how fast these bands are passing and the speeds of tornadoes. Will I need a jet to keep up? Any tips or tricks? Post your experiences.

I don't have any personal expierence chasing "spiral band" tornadoes... Yet, I do know they move pretty fast (>40KNTS), and a lot of the tornadoes are rain-wrapped and a pain to chase/photograph.
It's a LOT of fun!! I get more chances to chase these tube bands than in the Plains. The last time I chased was Katrina, in Georgia and around here - NW tip of SC. It was awesome. The storms are very difficult to track though. During last years Ivan, tubes would drop out of the sky, and not even show on radar. They were moving @ 45-50mph, which was difficult to keep up with. During Katrina, the storms were easier to track, and more traditional-like. Supercells, and the one I followed had the great bowl-shape, layered thing going, and produced a funnel. We had one F-2, and there were several F-1's, and a couple of F-0's. When chasing the bands, look for elongated lines, usually more than 150 miles from the "eye". Some cases were 300 miles from the center. The individual cells can be awesome, but unlike a lot of "normal" supercells, storms develope in these long lines all the time. In all of the bands I've chased, and it's quite a few, I've yet to encounter hail with them. That's not to say you won't ever encounter it, but the air is so tropical, hail has a hard time developing, and staying as hail. The inflow in the last band I chased was intense, and then it rained a little, and the drops were HUGE. Probably melted hail, and it was NOT rain-wrapped either, which was unusual. All in all, chasing the bands are definately worth it, but you need reliable radar in your chase vehicle, because anything less than that, and you will constantly be "chasing your own tail".

*EDIT I'm hoping to leave Saturday morning for Tyler, TX up towards Springfield, MO. IMO, this looks to be a good spot, but things change pretty fast, so we'll see. BTW - good luck to all of the chasers out there who are going after Rita. I would seriously think twice about it though. I guess it really depends on just how close you REALLY dare to get. But at rate - good luck, and drive smart!!
Just moved to DFW area

I just moved from Arizona to the DFW area. I live in the Denton area and am thinking of heading out East of here depending on where he models take Rita. Anyone else in this area heading out?
I was thinking about chasing Rita, but since I think it is going to hit the swamps in La I may be out chasing some tornadoes as long as I don't have to go real far.

This is from the Jan HWO.


With the track shifting east it should put us right in the thick of things Sat. Afternoon and I won't have to go anywhere. If anybody is going to be down this way give me a shout.
Originally posted by nickgrillo+--><div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(nickgrillo)</div>
<!--QuoteBegin-Bill Tabor
I'm thinking of checking out some of the spiral band tornado action. Any of you have any experience with spiral band chasing? I'm wondering about how fast these bands are passing and the speeds of tornadoes. Will I need a jet to keep up? Any tips or tricks? Post your experiences.

I don't have any personal expierence chasing "spiral band" tornadoes... Yet, I do know they move pretty fast (>40KNTS), and a lot of the tornadoes are rain-wrapped and a pain to chase/photograph.[/b]

Yeah, as Nick said, these storms/embedded supercells move extremely fast. Much faster than normal supercells. And generally the Tornadoes they produce are quite short lived, and generally weak, but of course there are exceptions to this. Rotations in these bands, initiate, and fade very fast, meso's are detected fast, and so are TVS', and they dissipate extremely fast, which in turn, generally makes them hard to warn/detect.
My experience here in Ivan was pretty unfruitful ... best bet is to position yourself in a good location ahead of a spiral band and hope you get lucky as it passes by. You're often dealing with very low LCL heights and near-zero visibility in wind-blown sheets of fine rain drops. All I witnessed was wind switching toward a TVS on radar ... all rain-wrapped. Fast moving mini-supercells are almost impossible to keep up with in an actual "chase" and any tornadoes are short-lived spin-ups. I have seen some pretty classic wall cloud/tornado photos from tropical systems, so it can be done, if you place yourself wisely/luckily.

Another thing is that modest, unassuming showery squalls can spin out tornadoes without lightning or very high cloud tops. If dry air gets entrained into Rita at or just before landfall, you could get a prolific outbreak of tornadoes along the boundaries that develop east of the circulation center.
Anyone have any pics of these spiral band tornadoes. Some people say they've seen em, some say it's kinda pointless. I'm sure they happen I'm just curious if they’re worth attempting to photograph.
A photog named Kevin Ambrose, who lives in D.C, had a great shot of a tornado in Ivan near Dulles International Airport --- wall cloud, wedge, on a small scale, very low to the ground. I saw it at a weather conference I went to earlier this summer. I'll see if I can find something about it.
I have chased the rainbands of Ivan (2004), and Dennis and Katrina this year. During Ivan and Dennis, the most prolific rainbands were well to our east. During Katrina, we actually got into one nice rainband which produced several tornadoes in eastern Alabama. I have some nice video of a couple of wall clouds, and some distant transient funnels.

The difficulties of chasing rainband tornadoes have already been listed above. Like Kevin mentioned, though, if you can manage to position yourself in an active rainband, odds are several cells will propagate in your vicinity. I'm waiting until the last minute to decide about Rita. If she makes landfall far enough east to put some potential activity in the Yazoo basin of MS, I may go for it. It's nice and flat there.

This paper:
Eugene W. McCaul Jr.. 1987: Observations of the Hurricane “Dannyâ€￾ Tornado Outbreak of 16 August 1985. Monthly Weather Review: Vol. 115, No. 6, pp. 1206–1223.

has some nice photos (although the reproductions are poor) of tornadoes from Hurricane Danny in 1985. I saw my very first tornado that day, up close and personal. It was weak, and doesn't even show up in Storm Data. It was still amazing, though. It's my "That's why I chase" story.

I'd planned on chasing rainband tornadoes, but I'm not driving to Arkansas to do it. Once again, Oklahoma avoids any semblence of active weather. Add a hurricane to the list of astmospheric phenomenon that OUN has destroyed.
My advice on chasing tornadoes in the outer bands of a hurricane.


I picked targets last year for Ivan and one other late season hurricane in the East last year and then at the last minute decided not to chase because of how hard I heard it could be. I still regret this decision. Both Hurricanes produced quite a few tornadoes within a 10 hour drive from my home.

I have spent way too much time in my car this year but I still may give Rita a shot. For tornadoes that is. I do not have the stomach for the constant pounding of the eyewall of a major hurricane.

Some of these hurricanes are prolific tornado producers, it would be a shame to miss them. Sure they are hard to chase, but isn't all chasing hard ?

Good luck, 30% chance that I head south myself.

Tom Hanlon
mini-supercells in tropical systems

...Yeah, I can concur with Kevin on positioning oneself in a favorable place and waiting for the cells to roll over you. In Ivan last year (not able to chase in that one) and Cindy this summer, it was fairly easy to judge a general area where a band would set up. Individual cells typically move rapidly, and many of them has some degree of rain between cells, so lots of times you find yourself traversing low-vis conditions just getting to a storm. I did manage to catch a nice cell in Yadkin Co. NC this summer, but found myself on the western side of a rain-wrapped circulation. Kevin actually helped guide us thru the mess, and once we exited to the east we did catch a very low rotating wall cloud. Lots of rain, and no picts this time though. -Dave
I mentioned this earlier, but it's so important, I'm mentioning it again. You REALLY need a great radar connection when chasing these bands. Things move so fast, that you really can't count on just hearing about it when it's happening. You need to be there AHEAD of time. And it's DEFINATELY worth it. Don't expect hail. or even lightning. Expect AWESOME cloud displays, and a pretty good chance of seeing something worthwhile if you go. And be prepared to change your plans at any given moment, like I'm doing now. I was going up towards Springfield, Mo, but now......that seems to far North AND to far West. Try Lake Charles, LA towards Jonesboro, Ark. Just my opinion.
I havent read every messages in this thread thoroughly, so someone may have covered this before me.. and maybe better than me..

But in reading a few of these posts I'm not sure some of you realise how nearly impossible it is chasing these things. Its not like this thing is going to set up shop as a typical low and give you some tornado producing supercells. A system came through earlier this year, dont remember the name, but it was in June or July. Either way, it brought tornadoes to Indiana.. but there was no point in going out. The tornadoes are only down for a very short amount of time, usually are only known because of the damage they caused in their short lifetime, because hardly anyone sees them as they are embedded in heavy rain 90% of the time, and travel at very high speeds. Its not like chasing a supercell; though there are embedded sups. Im not trying to say this is impossible, its just not as ideal as some may think. Its like chasing a March set up, with 60 mph storm motions, only this time a hell of a lot more rain making it impossible to see.
I've seen some photogenic supercells, including a very nice LP (!) from Charlie, back from last year...

Yet, this is pretty uncommon. Like many have already covered (and I myself mentioned in the first reply) these tornadoes often come with embedded storms. You'd have a better time chasing MI HPs on a July day, then hurricane-spawned supercells, most of the time :lol: :wink:
Yes, chasing hurricane associated tornadoes is difficult, but not impossible especially with WX WORX. Check out the links below for some cool images.

Bill Hark

Nice structure during my chase of Katrina induced storms in Virginia

Virginia tornado from Ivan in 2004

Streaming video of Ivan induced tornado in Panama City

Ivan induced tornado from northern Virginia
WOW. Impressive video. Im hoping for some of this type activity in the Wichita Falls Texas area but that may be too far West and North. Hopefully not. Id like a nice rainy weekend and with a front stalling in the area and very warm tmps and high dewpoints it could be an interesting weekend to say the least.
They DO move fast, but still GO!! With these bands, it's not like you get one chance, then it's over. Sometimes, you can get band after band, and Every band has that chance. Look at all the warned areas right NOW. It's noon EST on Friday. I got some great video from Katrina in Northeast Georgia a few weeks ago, and the cells were very structured. I forgot my digital camera, but took a few with my cell phone, and you can clearly see the layers and the bowl shape as it moved across the area. LP as well as very little lightning, and NO hail. Perfect. You can tell from radar where the bands are going, and despite how fast they move, you can be there. You can't follow them, but you CAN be there. And don't forget the awesome cloud displays you'll see, with or without any tornadic activity. My area I'm going to is the Shreveport, LA - Jackson, MS, then a further North later in the weekend, or first of the week.
Tornado warnings all over central Ms. I am going to head out in a minute and should be a lot to chase today. If anyone else will be in the area give me a shout. So far everything is staying pretty isolated so it should be fun.
Just got back in from a quick chase. There's nothing like chasing close to home. I was on three storms, all three had nice wall clouds and prompted tornado warnings. The most impressive of the three started about a half mile from my house and I chased it about 30 miles north. 60mph storm motion brings a whole new meaning to the word chasing. At one point the wall had very nice structure with some strong rotation. I couldn't tell if there was a tornado or not because I was very close and couldn't see past the trees. There were some damage reports about a half mile from where I was, but I don't know if it was from a tornado or just wind damage. I never even had to open up my computer because channel 16 WAPT in Jackson had non stop coverage of the storms. I was just watching my TV in the dash and Ken Johnson (stormtrack member and met) was showing the radar and wind velocity products as well as street level mapping so it worked out great. I don't know if I could have navigated through the curvy roads and work the computers because these storms were flying.

I'm hoping for some more action later this afternoon, but more than likely we are done for the day. There is clearing right now and some smaller stuff out to my S so it is possible.
WAPT in Jackson just reported significant tornado damage to the town of Belzoni in West Central Ms or about 70 miles to the NW of Jackson, Ms.