Above Picture: A busted chase day. George Hoelzeman in front of a billboard on Arkansas I-40 that aptly describes the 2000 chase season for most chasers. SDS (Supercell Deprivation Syndrome)!!
The year started off with promise though that was comparable to last year as an outbreak of severe weather occurred across Arkansas once again in January. However, it was also a minor show compared to the events on January 17 and January 21 of last year. Looking back, this day told us two things about the future of severe weather in 2000. One, it would only make a minor showing with a few scattered high-points, and two, many severe weather events would occur in a particularly different place than most would expect.
The five confirmed tornadoes of January 3 occurred between 4-7 a.m. in Baxter, Izard, and Fulton, counties. A surface weather map from 12z shows the position of the low in extreme west Arkansas with a stationary front extending northeast and a cold front extending to the south from the low. While most would think the main severe weather and tornado threat would take place southeast of the surface low, these tornadoes occurred to the north of the stationary front.
May 11, 2000 ended up being one of the more significant tornado outbreaks of this year as eight confirmed tornadoes occurred in Iowa. Once again, in comparing a 00z surface map to the location of the tornadoes; Grundy, Black Hawk, and Buchanan counties; these tornadoes occurred to the northeast of the surface low and north of a warm front.
Other days, but not limited to, on which similar events took place include March 26th (although there were also supercells and tornadoes south of the warm front on this day), May 16th, May 17th, and May 29th all had severe weather and/or tornadic events north of the warm front while either little happened or a weak squall line formed in the warm sector.
The reasons for the lack of activity in the warm sector and for the many busted forecasts were varied, but most of the time there was either extensive cloud cover or rain over the area, a lack of thermal and/or wind dynamics, too strong of a cap in place, or a combination of those and other elements. The storms that fired north of the warm front had extreme veering of winds to work with and produce tornadoes because of it.
There were a few chasers this year that had a decent year and a couple who had a spectacular year, and I'm guessing that they either caught onto the Y2K trend early in the year, or they just knew from experience what to look for when they were forecasting. Personally, if I had caught on earlier, I would have had far fewer busted forecasts. I can't complain too much though since I didn't get the chance to chase on many of those busted forecast days. However, by the time I joined my chase partner Scott Blair in the plains, we had both noticed the apparent "trend", and Scott had already made it work for him, setting up north of the surface low and seeing two tornadoes on May 16th in Wyoming.
On May 29th, Scott and I targeted the area north of the surface low in Nebraska, and we ended up seeing a one of the most spectacular shows of the year in which several aspects of severe weather were observed. Unfortunately, that was one of the few decent chase days I had this year, but at least it was one that I didn't miss due to a busted forecast.
For me, this year presented a lot of learning opportunities, and it will be interesting to see if the "year of the warm front" extends into 2001.