Nasty side of October to unleash wind, rain

By Meteorologist Steve Kahn

Chicago’s relatively tranquil October is about to turn nasty as a major autumn storm unleashes a barrage of rain and wind across the area.

Intensifying low pressure moving north from the Gulf states will park over the eastern Midwest late Wednesday into Thursday bringing heavy rainfall driven by racing north winds as high as 30-40 mph with gusts that could top 50 mph. The strong winds blowing down the full length of Lake Michigan will generate huge waves that could top 20 feet in height and cause considerable shore erosion and flooding in areas close to the lake including Lake Shore Drive. The rain which began sporadically Tuesday evening will become steadier and heavier by late Wednesday and rainfall totals across the area could be in the 1-3 inch range by the time the rain ends Thursday afternoon with the heavier totals targeting areas near the lake and in northern Indiana. This rainfall should quickly eradicate October’s current 1.3 inch precipitation deficit, a product of sunny and dry weather at the start of the month.

Check out our Skilling Storm Chase team

This was taken across from the famous St. Louis arch Friday as we wrapped up an amazing What a hard working group and how great to work with them. Jim Reed was a terrific guide–we couldn’t have done it without him! 

Our team ended up traveling 2,500 miles during last week’s storm chase.  We checked and found that’s the equivalent of driving from New York City to Las Vegas!  What an amazing week! Thanks to all who followed our trip online and on WGN and for the wonderful feedback so many of you shared with us!

Tom Skilling

skilchase01.jpg

Eastbound in southwest Missouri in driving rains; headed for rendezvous with strong t-storms

   Our Skilling Storm Chase team is eastbound on I-44 just outside Springfield , Missouri intent on intercepting potentially strong thunderstorms later Thursday afternoon and evening near the Arkansas/Missouri border.  It’s pouring on us and powerful t-storms are moving out of Arkansas across the Missouri border to our southeast. There’s a severe thunderstorm watch out in that area.

    Our hope is to be able to show you storm activity still to evolve this afternoon and even ing on our 9PM News tonight.  

Blinding rain, white knuckle driving through torrential rain and a hail bombardment

Oh my word–forgive us as we take a moment to catch our breath!! We’ve just emerged from a hair-raising, white knuckle trip through blinding thunderstorm downpours which obliterated visibility for more than 20 minutes as we made our way S L O W L Y through southeast Kansas. During that time, we literally had NO visibility—I mean visibility was ZERO–a situation complicated by continuous flashes of cloud to ground lightning, crashes of thunder, hail bombarded our vehicle creating a deafening roar. We are parked in a field outside just south of Norwich Kansas catching or breath and marveling we came through the last half hour in one piece.  Temperatures had dropped from a once muggy 82 to an almost chilly 57 at the height of the storm.  They recovered to 68 at the time of this blog’s posting.

     Pam Grimes was our driver and how she managed to keep the vehicle on the road through what we just passed through is absolutely beyond me.  Our chase leader, Jim Reed, was in the driver’s seat of our lead truck—we move in a caravan on five vehicles.  We wondered, when we first saw Jim’s well traveled Ford Explorer, why there was a flashing light on top.  Now we know.  It probably saved our lives! By following that beacon, Pam managed to keep us on the road when the road was invisible to us through the downpours.
     Huge clouds of dust—probably the result microbursts–were evident in the distance as we emerged from this evening’s storm. 
     Cameras were clicking and rolling all through the event. Photo journalists Steve Scheuer and Jordan Guzzardo as well as veteran Tribune photographer Zbigniew Bzdak have captured every moment on tape and in still form.  Check out video Wednesday evening on WGN News at Nine and see Zbigniew’s photos at Chicago Tribune.com.  And a complete record of the Skilling Storm Chase is always available at wgntv.com/storm chase.
Tom Skilling
    

Coming up on a squall line producing golf ball hail, frequent lightning; Doppler scanned tops to near 60,000 ft.

Skies as we proceed west are growing ever darker as we continue westbound on Highway 160 in Harper, Kansas. Warnings have been issued with the squall line we’re approaching and, for the first time this trip, increasingly frequent cloud to ground lightning can be seen. A tornado warning has been issued based on a radar-detected circulation and the line has a history of large hail production. 

     Sky now black to the west.  Looks like this is going to get interesting!

Quiet weather day out in western Oklahoma Wed; storm focus shifts back east-and so do we

   Wednesday greetings to all!  We arrived back in Wichita, Kansas around 1:30 am this morning after a day long trip out to the rolling plains of western Oklahoma-not far from the Texas Panhandle.  There, the terrain rolls gently and wheat fields extend to the horizon in all directions.  What an amazing place from which to watch the weather!  It’s really quite beautiful!

    A tornado watch had been posted by the time we arrived Tuesday afternoon and towering cumulonimbus clouds would indeed breach the day’s storm and cloud-thwarting cap and anvil out before the day was out.  The air was humid and warm–seemingly supportive of the storm development which occurred. The amazing thing in that part of the country is the absolutely unobstructed view one has of any storms which form.  But in the end, while severe severe weather warnings were issued in response to several of the more energetic thunderstorms which formed, overall, the day remained comparatively quiet. It was quite surprising to us that more lightning wasn’t visible from some of the distant storms.  We had thought–and frankly anticipated– we might see quite a lightning show at one point. That never happened.
     After spending the day and evening surveying that area, and after feeding our evening report back to Chicago by way of our satellite truck, our WGN team began the long trip back to Wichita in the late night darkness Tuesday evening.
 We had been so busy all day, we hadn’t taken time to eat, other than for the snacks producer Pam Grimes had fortunately assembled for the trip, and were hungry for something more substantial to eat. We ended up stopping at a Sonic restaurant where we encountered a whole group of storm chasers who pulled in after their own long day on the road. The group included Reid Timmer, who is widely known from his storm chasing episodes which air on the 
Discovery Channel. What a nice group! There is amazing comaradery among the storm chase community and it was evident as all of us talked and exchanged stories on how things had gone that day and offered glimpses of the thinking on what might be ahead.  That group had apparently made their way to this region of western Oklahoma much as we had with the expectation of monitoring any storm development which might occur.
   Though the evening’s storm evolution ended up following its own course–nature has a mind of its own, even in this era of spectacular computer models and observational tools— there had actually been good reason to believe the region was an area in which storm development might take  take off in Tuesday’s evening hours–and we did see and photograph some spectacular towering thunderstorms which included stunning anvils (the fan-out of the cloud tops which occurs as a storm’s updrafts reach the top of the troposphere, through which temps drop with height, then spread out horizontally in a vast shield of ice crystals as the rising air encounters the warming temps of the stratosphere (the next layer up as parcels ascend through the atmosphere). 
     CAPES, an energy measure, had soared to 5,000 j/kg–amazingly high values which suggested that any trend toward storm development might well become fairly explosive.  The region was also juxta-positioned with the dry line and just west of the axis of the strongest low level southerly winds.  That’s a region of “speed convergence” in the atmosphere–where fast winds encounter slow moving air and a pile-up takes place which encourages upwelling of the air–a critical step in storm development.  Upper air forecasts off our models had indicated jet stream winds were diverging over the region and that instability (the rate at which temps cool with height) was high.  All the ingredients appeared in place.  But the atmosphere doesn’t always respond as one assumes it will–and that was the case Tuesday. There are triggers–or in this case, a lack of critical atmospheric triggers—required to contribute that final critical “kick” to initiate storm formation— that aren’t always easy to measure.  Nature still possesses its mysteries!
   We are to meet soon this morning with our storm chase leader Jim Reid and plan strategy for the day ahead. This area (Wichita) of southern Kansas is outlooked for possible severe weather development this afternoon and tonight–but so are nearby areas of Oklahoma and Missouri which are within driving distance.  We will satellite a report back to Chicago for the WGN Midday News and be heading off!  
    Check in here when you can!  We keep you posted on developments here in the field. We intend to be on the road traveling where any storms that develop take us. It’s good having you with us!
Tom Skilling

A Burger and a Tornado please

Dominator.jpg

Finding a bite to eat in rural Oklahoma late at night isn’t easy. But storm chasers can smell a Sonic burger miles away. We had just ordered when Reed Timmer from the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chaser series pulled into the same drive-in with none other than the DOMINATOR. It’s a heavily armored car designed to get up close to tornadoes. Check it out!
Post by Pam Grimes / Photo & headline by Steve Scheuer