Chase Accounts

February 24, 2001
Pictures from this day.

Scott Blair and I had been monitoring this day closely for a few days in advance as extreme dynamics, such as a 70 knot low-level jet and a negatively-tilted 300 mb trough, would be coming into play. Not only would the dynamics provide a favorable environment for tornadoes, but these dynamics would also include an unfavorable aspect for chasing. Any storms that developed would move at an extreme rate of speed.

The night before, we had made a tough decision regarding the target area. Our choices: either stay in central Arkansas and hope for storms to fire in that area during the late afternoon hours or chase a squall line in east Oklahoma and west Arkansas and look for supercells ahead of the line. We eventually decided to target Sallisaw, OK. early in the morning but also decided to keep an eye on central Arkansas throughout the day.

We left Conway at 7:30 a.m. and headed west on I-40. We were still north of a lifting warm front, and overcast conditions were dominant. At 9 a.m., Scott drew a surface analysis using regional observations and determined that the surface low was located in central Kansas. The warm front had lifted into east Oklahoma and was draped across Arkansas, just south of Ft. Smith to Clarksdale, MS. A north/south oriented cold front eminated from the low in Kansas and was located across central Oklahoma, and a squall line had developed ahead of it.

After stopping in Sallisaw, OK. for data, we targeted a promising severe storm near Hanna, OK. and took Hwy 69 northeast off I-40 to intercept the storm. By 11 a.m., we began getting a good look at the cell, and it featured an intense core and a bowing shelf, which indicated strong outflow. We tried to stay ahead of the cell, but because the storm was quickly moving northeast, we were overtaken by the core and pounded by intense outflow and blinding rain.

We weren't able to keep up with the cell's fast progression, so we dedided to leave the storm and take a southeast road back to I-40. During this time, we noted some cyclonicly rotating rain curtains in an area just ahead of the core, but the situation wasn't a tornado threat. We continued on to I-40 and got our last view of the storm's gorgeous structure before making a data stop in Webbers Falls, OK.

After analyzing the latest data, we noticed a second line beginning to form in western Arkansas, and we began pushing east on I-40 back into Arkansas. The first squall line that had developed in Oklahoma would eventually weaken as the second line grew severe. However, just after noon, a third line of cells that would later turn tornadic began developing in southwest Arkansas and training along I-30.

At 3:15 p.m., while we were pushing east toward White County, our new target area, in order to intercept a cell that was producing a tornado in Saline County, SPC issued a tornado watch for central Arkansas. At 3:30 p.m., spotters reported a tornado and debris with the Saline County storm, which was moving at 50 m.p.h. and under a tornado warning. Soon after, NWS in Little Rock issued another tornado warning for the Saline County cell that was beginning to move into Pulaski County.

We finally arrived in Conway at 3:50 p.m. and took Hwy 64 east into White County. Our efforts to intercept the cell were hampered by heavy rain and an 18-wheeler driving at a very slow rate of speed. However, after taking Hwy. 67/167 northeast to Hwy. 64 east in Woodruff County, we eventually caught up with the cell, which was still under a tornado warning, west of Augusta. Scott spotted a wall cloud at 5:10 p.m., and we quickly pulled over to observe the meso. However, precipitation began falling in our location, and we were forced to bump further east to get rain-free.

Once we cleared the rain and found a suitable location for viewing just north of Augusta, we again pulled over. At the time we were pulling over, the meso passed just behind us and was now directly north of us about a 1/4 mile away. The meso was rapidly rotating, and scud was converging into it at an incredible rate. The meso then tightened up into a funnel that dipped halfway to the ground about a 1/2 mile away from us before moving away from us to the northeast at 50-60 m.p.h. The funnel eventually became distant and rain-wrapped and was no longer visible. At this point, we again continued the pursuit.

The chase took us into northeast Arkansas, and we got our last view of the wall cloud just before dark. The meso had a decent appearance and exhibited a few inflow tails, but it eventually became outflow dominated.

After dark, around 6:45, we also chased a tornado-warned cell near Harrisburg and viewed some tremendous lightning associated with it. We also experienced some strong inflow with the cell, but we didn't see anything that appeared to be tornadic.

We called the chase off at around 7:30 p.m. and began our trek back home, driving through blinding rain, which forced us to pull over at one point, and close CG lightning strikes from the other two squall lines that had formed earlier in the day.

Overall, 13 tornadoes were confirmed across Arkansas on this day with one fatality, a baby, occuring in Fulton County; located in north-central Arkansas. The strongest of these tornadoes, an F-3, occurred in Desha County, which is in southeast Arkansas. It lasted 44 minutes and had a path length of 42 miles.

After reveiwing weather data from this day, Scott and I determined that the location of the low-level jet, in conjunction with other elements, played a significant role in the formation of the tornadic supercells that raked parts of Arkansas.


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