At 12z, a surface low was located over northwest Kansas. The low would progress northeast to eastern Nebraska by 00z and drag a strong cold front into western Arkansas. A dryline preceding the front would provide the focus for initiation, and a warm front lifting north across the state would provide an unstable air mass for the dryline to interact with. Backed surface winds and strong veering of winds throughout the atmosphere along with a negatively tilted 300 mb jet created a favorable environment for tornadic supercells. SPC issued a moderate risk and 15% hatched tornado probability outlook for eastern sections of the state. Unable to ignore the potential the day held, I took off work.
There were two main areas that looked favorable for supercells and tornadoes. The first was the I-30 corridor where cells would likely initiate just ahead of the cold front. The second was the Pine Bluff area where it appeared isolated supercells would fire ahead of the main line. Considering the horrible chase terrain along I-30, I hoped for isolated cells ahead of the line and targeted the more favorable chase terrain of Pine Bluff. Consulting with chase partners Scott Blair and Blake Michaleski, who were in Monroe, Louisiana and also targeting the same area, we decided to meet up in Pine Bluff at 12:30. I left Conway at 10 a.m.
After meeting Scott and Blake and grabbing a quick lunch, we located a Holiday Inn, and the employees graciously allowed us access to a data port for a few hours so we could monitor the developing situation. The warm front had already lifted north of Pine Bluff and a tornado watch had been issued for southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana, and northeast Texas by 1 p.m. However, a strong cap was still in place over Arkansas, and the highest CAPE was located near the Arkansas/Louisiana border.
Near 4 p.m., the cap finally broke in southern Arkansas and a line with a couple of embedded tornado-warned supercells developed along I-30. However, considering it would soon be dark and the cells were in horrible terrain, we decided to keep monitoring the situation for anything nearby in better terrain.
With still little going on in our target area by 5:30, we decided to target a supercell near Sheridan that had been placed under severe thunderstorm warning and began heading west on Hwy. 270 into tree land. However, within a few minutes, another severe warning was issued for a cell south of Pine Bluff. Considering the new cell was in our original target area and moving into better terrain, we shifted our attention to it and backtracked toward Pine Bluff. The cell featured a decent updraft and some intense CG activity as we tracked it a few miles northeast of Pine Bluff on Hwy. 79, but the storm began weakening considerably as it continued moving northeast.
However, at 6:14 p.m., our attention once again shifted as a tornado warning was issued for a nearby supercell in Lincoln County that was moving toward Star City. Nowcasters Philip Flory and Dave Lewison (both did a fantastic job once again) confirmed that the cell in Lincoln County was well isolated and contained strong rotation. This was going to be the one.
We blasted back southwest on Hwy. 79 and then southeast on Hwy. 65. to intercept the storm. By 6:40, we arrived in Moscow where we encountered strong winds and some small hail. Philip and Dave informed us that tornado damage had been reported in Star City and that the meso would cross Hwy. 65 between the cities of Tamo and Grady. As we pulled over near Tamo at 6:50, we began looking intently to our south-southeast. Within seconds of stopping, a few flashes of CC lightning illuminated the wedge and allowed us a few short glimpses of the tornado. Within a couple of minutes, the tornado dissipated, but the low-hanging meso persisted as it continued moving northeast over Grady.
We continued tracking the cell, but at 8 p.m., we decided to end the chase because the cell was weakening and we were out of road options.
Although observing a tornado was a great way to end the year, it was unfortunate to hear of the damage it produced in Star City. Fortunately, there were no fatalities associated with it. The National Weather Service in Little Rock rated the tornado an F2 based on the damage in Star City.