Thursday, June 2, 2011

It was a dark and stormy night...

"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them.

- Madeline L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time.

Photo by Luke Rottman

I'm not sure if I'd agree with Mrs. Whatsit, but I do enjoy seeing unusual weather. I certainly got my fill yesterday. The picture above was taken a little over a mile from where I work and was not the worst of yesterday's weather. Uncharacteristically for this corner of the country, yesterday was a day of severe thunderstorms, tornado watches, tornado warnings and, as the picture above show - tornadoes.

For about the past week or so, we've had unseasonably hot and humid weather and when it gets like that, we usually have severe weather when it finally "breaks". This usually means a thunder-shower with high winds as the cold front passes through. Yesterday was another animal altogether. In the morning, the weather called for thunderstorms. At lunch, the weather called for tornado watches. About two hours later, one of my co-workers came in and mentioned that there was a tornado warning. He was particularly excited.

First, you've got to understand that when not building canoes, I work with a bunch of true weather geeks. We build weather radar systems for all kinds of applications. They were all crowded in one of the cubicles checking out the NOAA live web information that is available for reasearchers. The wind came up and the sky turned black. Rain and hail started to fall - fortunately small hail - and then thunder and lightning picked up. Then something really unusual happened. Civil defense sirens at a nearby college started up. I was told it was a "shelter in place" warning. (The picture above was taken at the college.) Then our power blinked out for a bit.

After the power came back on, I checked what local news had to say on the web. I found this:

Be sure to pay attention to the vortex sucking the water off the surface of the river...

Later, we found out this tornado traveled about 50 miles across the state. This was one of three reported tornadoes yesterday, and we were fortunate to have not damage where I live. Unfortunately 4 people were reported killed and many others injured with severe damage to property in the area where the video was taken and to the east for many more miles.

Although there was a mixture of clouds and sun for my ride home, thunder continued to rumble around the area until probably about 8:30 in the evening. Flooding was evident along the roadways from the heavy rain. After supper, we went outside to watch a strange ballet of turbulent clouds rotating and dropping little funnels while the tops of the clouds were also quickly rising in impressive cottony thunder-heads. Truly impressive and dangerous-looking clouds.

Edited to add: The National Weather Service finally had their say about the tornadoes. On the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the main tornado was an EF3 with up to 160 MPH winds and was on the ground for 39 miles with a maximum width of 1/2 a mile. Wow.

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