My Favorite Tornado Story

Last week my Wife and I went to the local SKYWARN training session held here in Boise. I hadn’t been to one here since I moved back to Idaho. Actually this was my first skywarn meeting I’ve been to aside from back east and in the plains. This was also my wife’s first training. I’ve been chasing storms since I can remember, a weather nut from way back. I didn’t really expect to learn anything at the session but I went as a measure of support. I was really impressed with how well the session went. It was about perfect for the attendance and our scope of severe weather in Idaho.

Many NWS offices back east teach several different levels of classes, I really miss some of those advanced classes they usually consisted of Storm Chasers like myself and really got into the dynamics of tornado development. They got beyond the “don’t go chasing storms” of the basic classes and accepted that a large portion of us were at least occasional storm chasers. I got to thinking about how much I missed being able to pull up all the information I could ever dream of via the internet for those places I’ve lived and chased back east.

I made the comment to the meteorologist after this session about how much I missed having access to good radar data as well as some of the computer models that focus on the south and the plains. I do miss that data, here in Idaho the majority of our severe storms come over the owyhee mountains which lie to our southwest. These mountains obscure the storms from radar (there isn’t radar on the other side of them either). Most storms pick up a bit of speed off front of those mountains and once they are in radar range we have very little time to go chase it under the odd occurance that it’s worth chasing.
Back east I monitored the SPC forcast, Meso discussions and models at least twice a day. If anything had potential I would really get obsessive till I prepositioned myself for the event. If you’re out of position for one storm you’ve always got the next line coming. Here, there isn’t much to talk about, we get about two severe events per year. Obviously I don’t live in Idaho for the storms. It just makes missing one storm more annoying cause it might be the only one.

Though, sometimes I let myself get too caught up in missing good radar and other data… I have to remind myself that it’s interpretation of what data you have that’s important. I recall one of my most accurate tornado predictions ever was with the least amount of data of any of my predictions. It’s also, my favorite tornado story ever and I didn’t even get to chase the storm.

My wife (then girlfriend) and I were in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Headed across town to meet some of her friends for lunch. She was driving as I was staring out the side window. It was one of those perfect Iowa summer days. Very few clouds in the sky, bright sunshine and bit of a breeze. Saw the TV radar just before leaving her house, not a blip on it. But as we drove the half hour or so over to the north end of town I watched those short white puffs of cloud closely. We stopped for gas about half way and I still kept watching those clouds. It was about 90 degrees, winds were light out of the east, really humid (even for back east) and those clouds started to build. We weren’t near magic hour but everything else had fast storm development written all over it. Those clouds were scattered, but somewhat low and they had that really sharp cauliflower look. They started gathering just a bit and showed the first hint of vertical development.

It was one of those times where you could just swear that the wizard of oz music was starting to play. As we got back in the car and back on the highway Joy asked me;

“what ya looking at.”
“Clouds…”

After a few seconds I made the statement; “We’re about to have a major storm.” I’m sure she thought I was crazy but she indulged me by asking how long.

I recall almost verbtim what I said.

“By the looks of the clouds and ‘other indicators’, if it does what I think it’ll do, we’ll have a severe storm, probably tornadic, in the next half hour.”

Meanwhile it still looked like a calm summer day. We met her friends at Perkins (next to Rockwell Collins) on the north side of Cedar Rapids.

I, at the urging of Joy, ordered some stuffed French toast plate, which wasn’t that great. Just as the food was put in front of us, one of her friends mentioned it was getting dark outside. I turned around, noticed the green color in the storm moving toward us, smiled and went back to eating my overcooked French toast.

About a minute later the Warning Sirens went off. The tornado touched down within a half a mile of Perkins. jumped around a bit and hit over next to an airport.

I recall being off by about 5 minutes in my prediction. I don’t think my wife has questioned my fascination, understanding of or desire to chase a storm since.

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