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Reflections on May Storms & Hope Trafficking an Active June

Colin and I got out for a 4-day storm observation trip May 9-12, and given the quiet end to May across Tornado Alley I’m so glad that we did.

As always, I curated the video content first, gave a glancing pass to still photos second, and am only now thinking about getting some words down. At this point, I’m already looking forward to what appears to be an increasingly active June (and beyond?) so this may be a bit of a looking back, and looking ahead piece by the time I’m done clearing my head.

A little about the May 9-12 trip…

I left my driveway in Urbana at 2 AM on May 9th, and Colin and I pulled out of his driveway shortly after 4. Our first stop was the Iowa 80 truck stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich just as the sun came up over the horizon. By late evening, we were observing a tornado warned supercell, a poor-mans mothership near Pine Bluff, Wyoming.

From Urbana, Illinois to a Wyoming supercell in a days drive.

We got a well-earned sleep in Sidney, Nebraska that night before playing with a complicated mess of tornado warned storms in northeastern Colorado the evening of May 10th. We grabbed a view of a murky tornado warned supercell, before being rolled by the core of a newly developing storm to the east as we tried to cut ahead of it for a view. Some tacos and margaritas at a local Mexican joint in Yuma, Colorado erased the frustration.

We woke up in Goodland, Kansas on May 11th and spent nearly 8 hours chasing tornado warned storms across northwest Kansas. A morning-early afternoon arc of storms produced numerous tornado warnings and a few views of funnel clouds, but it was the evening storms that got the job done. Numerous tornadoes were observed, mostly from long-range as roads were flooded from overnight rains and approaching storms was not terribly easy. Luckily, visibility was quite good this day and we were even able to spot a tornado from 10 miles away southeast of Goodland.

If roads aren’t flooded and we’re actually able to drive up to this tornado, it’s possibly a career tornado. As it is, a gorgeous white elephant trunk shaped tornado, again, from 10 miles away!

We ended the day staring at an absolute nuclear thunderstorm updraft being lit a golden orange by the setting sun behind it. Colin and I enjoyed the storm, all of our cameras rolling & clicking away, on a quiet dirt road with nobody else around.

The trip ends there, for me, out of protection for my heart.

May 12th we spent the day driving around and in severe thunderstorms in eastern Nebraska, while our friends documented some of the best tornadoes of their lives on the storms next to us. It became a running gag by the end of the day… as we chase Storm A, Storm B produces a tornado. As we chase Storm B, Storm C produces a tornado. As we chase Storm C, Storm A is now producing a tornado. As we go back to Storm A, Storm B and C simultaneously produce tornadoes! And now Storms D and E on the dryline which we’d thought about playing in the evening, they’re producing tornadoes too but they’re too far away to reach now.

You deal with it mentally as you drive home, and then you avoid the internet for the next week while seemingly everyone else uploads their “BEST TORNADO OF MY LIFE” videos from the tornadoes you didn’t document.

Two things are simultaneously true. As long as you chase tornadoes, you’re gonna miss tornadoes - and, missing tornadoes never gets easy.

The trip ended on a dejected note, but still, as we pulled out of a gas station parking lot in western Iowa, the Nebraska storms still visible with their silhouette in the last of the evening light, warm, humid breeze blowing toward them, that silly feeling came over me again… gratitude.

Gratitude for the month of May, and the opportunity to get out there and observe storms on the American Great Plains.

Those storms were two and a half weeks ago. Since then, the jet stream has been blocked up across North America with the Midwest sitting under high pressure with days and days of sunny, mild weather. It’s been great to get out in the garden with Sophie, and enjoy some time in the woods.

We decided to head out to Allerton Park near Monticello, Illinois last Sunday to stroll through the gardens and surrounding woods.

This Memorial Day holiday weekend we’re keeping it low key at home, and then next weekend we’re off to “the lake” in Wisconsin to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary together.

Sophie hasn’t felt very well this weekend, and I’m mostly channeling manic bursts of energy into cleaning and reorganizing my weather photography gear for whatever lies ahead in June and beyond.

So what does await in June and beyond? I’ve long championed the idea of a stormy summer in the Central U.S. and with a dry last half of May I’ve got some folks starting to breath down my neck about it. And listen, it’s coming…

Because this is my blog and I can say whatever I want, I’m going to say it now: I think we’re heading into one of the biggest June-July-August summer periods for severe weather in the Central U.S. that we’ve seen in quite some time.

And now because I want to show my work a little more, let me explain my hope trafficking…

As this current block breaks down, most long-range guidance points toward jet stream flow reorganizing across North America. Additionally, seasonal guidance has hinted at a summer ridge axis that runs from Mexico to Alberta with northwest, perhaps at times westerly flow from the Plains to the Midwest. The presence of an energized sub-tropical jet stream could keep organized flow a bit further south during the summer months than we’ve seen over the last few years.

The Gulf of Mexico has been absolutely steamy all spring, we’ve just cut off access to it the last few weeks with this bad flow and troughing over the Gulf of Mexico.

So what happens when we open access back up to the Gulf of Mexico and we’re theoretically looking at some big instability (high storm fuel) days with unseasonably strong jet stream flow over the top of it? This sort of follows the “extremes follow extremes” line of thinking a bit too.

Seasonal guidance has long supported a wet, stormy summer in the Central U.S. and I think we may see a pretty sudden flip that direction that may last into the summer.

Potential failure mode is there, of course. How intense does troughing over the Great Lakes or eastern U.S. want to be? If storm systems dig too far and cut themselves off, we could keep this dry pattern going in the Midwest.

I certainly would not lean on the CFSv2 for day to day specifics, but it’s a pretty good model at sniffing out larger scale pattern changes at range if you watch it for consistency. And the last week or so, the consistent story from the CFSv2 has been “a lot of storms in the Central U.S.” beginning the second week of June.

Now, we’re starting to see the GFS and ECMWF begin to catch on. The GFS operational runs are beginning to ditch the no-flow/blocked pattern and open things up with an energized jet stream and potential severe weather setups in the Plains & Midwest as soon as June 7-10, and the ECMWF ensemble is showing an energized and extended Pacific Jet stream mid-month that could in theory send storm systems across North America well into late June.


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