The first Moderate Risk of 2018 is issued for parts of Tennessee and Alabama for the possibility of several strong tornadoes. After making an 8 hour drive south from my friends house in Ohio, I was sitting in a a great environment for tornadic supercells to develop by late afternoon. Once storms fired, they were very HPish and visibility was quite limited. The chase was a constant battle between road options & rough terrain but with a little luck on my side, a successful chase in my eyes. I captured parts of a rain-wrapped tornado near Russellville, AL and 70+ mph RFD winds along with some hail damage to end the chase.
Date: March 19th, 2018.
Miles Driven: 1,361
Chase Partners: None
Photogenic Tornadoes: 0
Largest Hail: 1.75″ (Golf Ball)
Top Wind: ~ 70+ mph
States Chased In: Alabama
For close to a week out, I kept a close tab on the models for the possibility of a chase across the southeast. A compact shortwave looked to track across the central US with some eye catching parameters in place. There were definitely some concerns I had in the models severe days out which had me on the fence about chasing. With a planned trip to Athens, Ohio to visit my friend and chase partner Russ Smith, the possibility of being able to chase was unclear. Just in case I was able to pull it off, I went ahead and packed my vehicle with all my chase equipment.
Fast forward to the night before where we about to sit down and analyze the models, we were quite impressed with what we saw. Discrete to semi-discrete storm development looked likely from Nashville, TN and points south into Alabama in a primed environment supportive of tornadic supercells. A warm front was forecast to be draped across the area with backing of surface flow towards 00z, increasing low level shear values. With plentiful moisture and instability to the south, it looked great. One of the concerns we discussed was the lack of much strengthening in the low that was forecast to track across central Tennesse along with weak surface winds that models were hinting at. Even with that being said, we knew it still looked very good. After talking it over with Russ, I finally made the decision to make the 8 hour drive south into Alabama. On the drive down, I kept a close eye to GOES satellite and surface observations while looking over a few short term models. The latest HRRR continued to show several nasty helicity tracks across northern Alabama and into Tennessee. I had that eerie feeling that things were going to get real nasty in just a few short hours. At the 11:30 AM update, The Storm Prediction Center upgraded to a Moderate Risk mentioning long-lived, tornadic supercells. Upon arrival, I noticed late morning convection across extreme northern Alabama and southern Tennessee was limiting the advancement of greater instability and the play was going to set up further south than expected.
By later afternoon, a PDS (Particular Dangerous Situation) Tornado Watch was issued and I knew it was game time. Storms began to fire to my west in Mississippi and quickly track east into a very favorable environment. As I began to head west and arrive to my first tornado warned storm west of Russellville, Alabama, I was shocked to see the lack of organization to the storm. Rain wrapping around the RFD and HP nature of the storm was making it difficult to distinguish if anything was on the ground or not and terrain wasn’t helping. I pulled over to shoot some video and shot back east after it was quickly gaining on me. Once I got in town, I briefly pulled over into a parking lot and realized it was going to happen just to my north. Rain curtains were wrapping in from the south and I knew I needed to get east. Once I got on the interstate, I could tell the main area of circulation was just to my northeast and going to cross the road somewhere ahead of me. By this time, I could tell that it was going to be completely rain wrapped and it was going to be very difficult to see. Driving east, I captured a transformer blowing up a 1/4 mile away on 24 and debris falling out of the sky as the tornado tracked southeast. After it dissipated, I followed the storm for a couple more hours where it cycled several times. I ended up making another attempt to try to get a visual on the developing tornado (later reported) to my southeast but never had any luck. I instead crossed paths with some very strong winds causing widespread damage to trees and some homes. I ended up making one last attempt to see anything before dark on a tornado warned storm heading directly for the town of Good Hope. Unfortunately lighting was horrible and I simply couldn’t see anything. I dropped south to the next exit to avoid the tennis ball size hail I knew it had and the chase would end there.
While there were still several tornado reports in northern Alabama and Georgia later that evening/night, the day didn’t pan out like I had thought. I believe weak surface winds played a major role in what could have been a much worse tornado event. One particular city that got hit the hardest was Jacksonville, AL. Storm surveyors have rated it as a low end EF3 with winds of 140 mph. Overall it was a successful chase day for what it had to offer and it looks like the chase season is just getting started.