August 31 Friday Feedback

Here's this week's edition of Friday Feedback.

Posted: Aug 31, 2018 2:43 PM
Updated: Aug 31, 2018 2:51 PM

In all your years working here in the Lafayette area, what is the most exciting, scary, or otherwise memorable local weather event that you've forecasted or reported on? I'd love to hear a short story behind that.

-Josiah M.

Josiah, I would have to say that the November 17, 2013 tornado outbreak was the most intense, memorable outbreak I covered while in this area.  What made it unlike anything I had ever covered was that everywhere I looked on radar, there were tornado signatures & the storms were moving so incredibly fast, you just didn't a lot of time to take shelter.  There was a lot to keep up with as that outbreak unfolded.  I remember not sleeping well the night before & blogging until like 4 a.m., then sending an email to the station staff for "all hands to be on deck".  The thought that I had was that there were homes or business standing that night that would not be standing 12 hours later. 

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The June 2010 supercell in Benton to Tippecanoe County was sort of scary.  A three-body scatter spike was on radar, showing that the storm had huge hail in it, while velocity data showed 100 mph winds at radar beam level.  This storm was headed straight for West Lafayette & Lafayette & I kept thinking, "If this storm does this, we are going to have a heck of a disaster in a highly-populated area".  Softball/grapefruit hail & winds to 100 mph would make it a historic storm in West Lafayette & Lafayette. "We are going to have hundreds of thousands of windows broken out from vehicles & businesses".

However, after that devastating storm hit Benton County, which completely destroyed upwards of 10,000 acres of crops, it turned southeast.  It did dump orange-sized hail & produced a 60-70 mph downburst & two gustnadoes that tracked through a field & into woods with tree damage.  This occurred southwest of West Lafayette.

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The July 2010 macroburst in West Lafayette was another memorable experience.  This was a complete forecast bust & a day I call the worst day of my 14-year career. 

We looked capped & very hot & humid all day with highs near 95 with dew points in the upper 70s.  It was dangerous heat with a tremendous amount of instability.  However, the short wave (cooling aloft) looked to track over Michigan & the only rainfall that showed up through model data was well north of our area.  Back then, model resolution was not what it is today.  Models never handled summer convection well & you had to really try to use your own judgement when discerning the blobs on a QPF map on model forecast data.  Boy, 8 years later, it is so much better, but still not 100%.

So, we went to Dancing in the Streets to do the live show & it became so hot that a lake breeze front from Lake Michigan surged inland.  Meanwhile, an outflow boundary (from Iowa storms the night before) arrived into our northern counties.  That Michigan shortwave tracked just a slight bit southward, cooling us aloft enough to remove some capping.

At the intersection of the outflow boundary, lake breeze front & glancing blow of the shortwave, blew up a storm.  With incredible +5000 surface CAPE, the storm exploded & became severe.  I was in disbelief watching this unfold.  The storm began moving southwestward along the outflow/lake breeze boundary toward Dancing in the Streets.  Informing the crew & running back to the station, I had gotten there just as Tippecanoe County was put under a Severe T'Storm Warning.  At this point, the storm looked incredibly intense on radar.  Golfball hail had been reported in White County & winds of 60 mph were showing up as it moving into northern Tippecanoe.

Stressed by the event in general, I remember telling a director at the station that we needed to get on-air.  When he said, "ok, here in a minute, wait", I became livid, knowing this was a major storm about to hit with 10,000 people downtown.  "GET ME ON AIR.......NOOOOWWWW!!!" I yelled.  I still regret yelling at him (he was & still is one of my good friends), but it was not him, but just afraid someone would be killed.  My normal even-keelness goes away when I can't get on-air to keep people safe.  I needed to get on-air no matter what.  He & I still talk about that day.

As it hit the station, I was on-air with our own Doppler at the time showing an intense downburst with +75 mph winds about to hit.  You could hear the roar as it hit & I watched the anemometer hit 74.8 mph while trying to talk over the roar in the studio.  The worst missed downtown Lafayette, but it was still bad there.  The macroburst over part of West Lafayette was highly-damaging with estimated winds at 82 mph at the epicenter just blocks from the station.  I remember calling NWS Indianapolis right after it hit & they were reluctant to believe me that the winds were that high or there was that much damage.  Once I set pictures, they did, however.  The report is in the official storm reports at the National Climate Data Center.  I think we were all (them included) surprised by what came out of the storm when it was supposed to be a dry day with absolutely no severe risk.  I was depressed for a days after this thinking I had let people down.  I have reviewed that day & event over & over & over & I still would have come to the same conclusion with the data at hand.  Still, it make it one of the most memorable days of my career.

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