Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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                   Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 5:30AM CST

2011 storm season blog kickoff

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It's that time of year again: the central USA's tornado season is already off and running, and so it's time to start thinking and planning for storm chase expeditions! As I've alluded to in previous posts, this year will mark a radical shift in my own observing operations in that the Great Plains (due to the storm chaser traffic crisis) will not be the focus of my tornado/supercell forecasting and travels. The associated traditions of these trips are sadly a thing of the past. Rather, the American Midwest region - generally marked by east of a line situated about 200 miles west of the Mississippi River - will be the 'playing field' for 2011 chases. This includes primarily the states of Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Nonetheless, I do have at least one Plains guided tour chase planned for the second week of June - which this sub-blog will cover as well.

The Midwest region is a relatively new and uncharted one in the world of storm chasing, and thanks to my new home in the heart of it here in the St. Louis metro, I'm ideally positioned to make it my focus for an extended tornado/severe storm season from March to July (and beyond, as events can happen all year here). Without a dryline, it's a different game here - a challenge in both forecasting and technique I look forward to tackling head-on. At best, I only anticipate a couple of tornado intercepts a year with this new strategy, and a high bust-to-intercept ratio - but the quality, solitude and exclusivity (few to no other storm chasers) of the storm chase days will more than make up for the lower numbers.

So with that said, what do the next couple of weeks hold for Midwestern observing? Let's take a look at some long-range models. A very active jet pattern was seen during late February/first week of March, with a series of strong upper troughs moving through the Midwest. I've already logged two solid storm chase days from these systems on February 27 and March 4. The GFS and ECMWF models show the continuation of an active jet pattern over the central US, though not as amplified - more zonal in nature with small ripples in the flow. These ripples are shown shedding from a strong but de-amplifying trough setting up in the Pacific Ocean next week. Here is the GFS's current take on a system moving through around next Tuesday:

The issue with low-amplitude waves like these is that they tend to 1.) not develop good southerly surface flow to bring deep moisture northward from the Gulf, a critical thing this early in the season; and 2.) not promote surface cyclogenesis and good directional shear in the low levels. Nonetheless, moisture is shown slowly creeping northward toward the southern extent of this upper support - it remains to be seen whether they can sufficiently overlap and bring an observable severe threat. The European model also shows at least one small wave coming through next week, though no major upper trough is depicted by either model in the long-range. In a nutshell, I don't see any major storm chase days ahead for at least a couple of weeks - but as we all know, that can change.

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