3/27/98 Missouri Chase Summary by John Farley

From: "John E. Farley" (jfarley@SIUE.EDU):

Subject: attempt at SDS cure fails!

Attempting to cure a bad case of SDS, I headed out from Edwardsville, IL (20 mi. NE of St. Louis) on my first chase of the year at 1:15 p.m. Friday, March 27. To make a long story short, the attempted cure failed - in other words, folks, I busted. But here's the story.

My target area was southeast Missouri, in the Sikeston-Poplar Bluff area. Several lines of thinking led me to this area. Though I knew severe storms were also possible in my home area and west of St. Louis, I thought tornadic storms were more likely to the south, given the better wind shear profiles. The ETA model forecast for 0Z, for example, predicted an energy- helicity as high as 4.9 in the northeast corner of Arkansas, despite marginal CAPE. In addition, the area west and southwest of St. Louis is wooded and hilly, and the city would be in the way if I needed to retreat or stay ahead of the storms. In fact, most of the southern half of Missouri is poor chase country, wooded and hilly with very poor visibility. But in southeast Missouri south of Cape Girardeau, there is a wide flat flood plain with much better visibility - and the best likelihood for tornadic storms appeared to be in this area. One concern was whether the storms would reach this area by dark, but with a strong jet stream headning into the area I thought they would punch eastward here as fast as anywhere. Also a line of strong storms had formed in SE Kansas and NE Oklahoma and moved into SW Missouri and NW Arkansas, with the easternmost part of the leading edge near the Ark./Mo. border.

With the temp. in the mid-70s and a south wind 20-35 mph as I headed out, I took I-255 around St. Louis and I-55 south to Sikeston. At 3:30 NWS Paducah requested activation of spotters in SE Missouri, and at 4:00 a tornado watch was announced for E. MO, W. IL, NE AR, and W TN valid from 4:30 to 10:00. It was centered on a line from just W. of Memphis to just E. of Alton, IL. I had managed to place myself near the center of the red box, so far so good! At this time there were a lot of accus, sky about 50% overcast. After a quick stop to eat I headed west on route 60 to near Poplar Bluff. The sky became totally overcast with high and mid-level clouds, but no obvious storms. Around Poplar Bluff I began to hear warnings for storms in the St. Louis area. Seeing nothing interesting in this area, I decided to head back east into the flat area east of Poplar Bluff and consider heading north to catch the tail end of the storms to my north. But then I got a radar report. It indicated one line of storms extending south from St. Louis then SW to West Plains, about 50 miles west of my location. Another, stronger line, extended SE from West Plains then back SW to Little Rock. All were moving NE at 40-50 mph. I decided to get SW of Poplar Bluff and wait for the Arkansas storms.

By now (about 6:15) I knew I was in danger of running out of daylight. New radar reports indicated storms weakening near West Plains, but strong storms to the SW in Ark. It took forever to get through Poplar Bluff, and by the time I got a good viewing point just S. of there, daylight was fading fast. Some very dark updraft base appeared from the south and SW - clearly rain-free in one area, but dark to the horizon elsewhere. In the fading light, I couldn't tell whether that was because of precip or more clouds behind. There was static on AM radio but no visible lightning. As the cloud moved overhead and light sprinkles began about 6:45 p.m., I knew I was out of daylight and the chase was over. NOAA weather radio in Sikeston issued a statement that heavy rain and 40-50 mph wind would reach Poplar Bluff by 7:15. I headed north on 67, the shortest route back to the St. Louis area. Lightning appeared to my NW then to my W, and the rain increased. Soon the storm swept over me, and I encountered extremely heavy rain (visibiliity 1/4 mi or less) and gusty wind for about 10-15 minutes, just south of Greenville, MO. Due to darkness and hilly wooded terrain I can't estimate the wind strength, but do not think it was severe - but the rain was very intense. From there on I had occasional lightning and intermmttent rain all the way back. The best CGs and heaviest rain the rest of the way were all within 5 miles of my home, where I arrived back shortly before 10:00. Total chase distance: 440 miles.

Final notes. The radar replays on the 10:00 p.m. news showed 2 distinct bow echoes - one which produced winds over 60 mph in parts of the St. Louis area between 5:00 and 6:30 and scattered minor damage. It may have also produced a brief tornado in Sangamon, CO, IL around 6:45 p.m. This line turned out to be the easternmost of the system, not the one to the south that I was on. The tail end of this one did extend SW to West Plains, but weakened abruptly around 5:30 or 6:00. The other formed over Ark. and moved NE across SE Mo. (the one I observed and was caught in heavy rain from on the way back). This one much later (around 11:00) resulted in a tornado warning in extreme southern IL. Another line formed in central MO around 10:00 closer to the upper low and moved NE. This one, which developed after all the watches and warnings were over, turned out to be the most significant. It produced a heavy storm here that woke us up at 3:30 a.m. - very heavy rain and maybe some small hail - but when I looked out I could not see any sign of high wind. This line - and based on time, direction, and distance, possibly this cell - went on to produce a damaging tornado in Matoon, IL, about 100 mi. NE of here, around 5:45 a.m. John Farley

Comments to John Farley, jfarley@siue.edu

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