July 19th, 2019 Storm Chase Re-cap.
By Joe Slotter
July 22, 2019 - 9:28 PM CST | 524 1 2
July 19th, 2019...
I woke up early the morning of the 19th and learned much of Wisconsin was under an Enhanced Risk for severe weather. Which eventually upgraded to a Moderate Risk with a 15% tornado hatch across NW WI. .This is the first major severe weather event for MN and WI. this summer that got us very excited to get out and chase.
However, many uncertainties plagued the day along with 90+ degree temps with 100+ degree heat indices. NW WI was a powder keg ready to explode with the amount of instability that was building up across the upper midwest. Even the tornado parameters were high and the big concern was how the storms would evolve. The massive amount of instability could only mean storms would be discrete super cells for a short time before becoming a linear multi-cellular mess, and then becoming a major wind threat across northern WI. .
Justin Poublon and Chris Valley drove all the way from Oshkosh to meet me just off of HWY 29 in Cadott around 2 PM. We made a plan to head to HWY 53 north to latch onto HWY 8 west toward St. Croix Falls where we were expecting the intercept the batch of mature super cells entering NW WI. . A tornado watch was issued along the way for parts of NW WI and eastern MN. We made it to St. Croix Falls and made a stop for fuel and radar analysis. Our expectations fell short. Chris described the situation in MN as 'crap-vection'. A few tornado warnings were in progress across east central MN and the closest cells were moving toward Burnett and Polk counties. The storms were quickly merging together a little earlier than we hoped.
We decided to head north up to the little town of Cushing. Before we entered the village I noticed a rather disturbing display of frequent cloud-to-ground lightning to our NW. The arcs were like curved sabers stabbing into the ground from the cloud base. One thing that I noticed was that all the lightning strikes looked the same every time.
We continued north and the lightning to the northwest was becoming obviously serious. Finding a decent view in any direction in that area became very difficult. We then decided to U-turn and head back south and east toward the town of Luck. And from there we headed south toward Milltown. We reached the southern end of Milltown and decided to stop to observe the dark mass to our NW. The Lightning barrage ended for a period of time and the inflow winds out of the SE really cranked up maybe upwards to 30 mph or more. We began to notice some right to left motion to our north and moisture inflow overhead straight into the notch of the storm.
Justin started up a livestream video update to our Wisconsin Weather Facebook page while Chris and I did our best to assess the situation. Storm Velocities on radar were going bonkers with the high amount of inflow and outflow that was converging along the main storm. We finally saw the bottom of a ragged bowl shape wall cloud just over the tops of the trees about a half mile to our west. Inflow winds were increasing as well. We got back on the road and continued south through the town of Centuria and onto HWY 8 where we proceeded east until we dropped south on HWY 46 toward Amery. During that stretch on HWY 8 the storm went tornado warned. A noticeable gate-to-gate cuplet did show itself on radar a few times. I had a feeling a tornado was in progress near Turtle Lake. I could see the very dark sky behind us in my rear view mirror.
We eventually got onto HWY 64 east of New Richmond and headed east with the southern edge of the storm complex no to far away to our north. I could see nothing but a distorted panorama of green, purple, gray. no real noticeable structure. Justin made it clear we needed to find a south option fast to try to get out ahead of it.
We were just east of Connorsville in NW Dunn County when the menacing outflow wind finally reached to us. Internet service was almost nil that whole stretch and I was looking at old data for the last 10 minutes which had me concerned for a minute. My NOAA weather radio kept me up to date though. The trees were bending and whipping pretty good once we entered Connorsville and we dropped south on HWY 79 toward Boyceville. It got noticeably dark at this time. I couldn't discern a wind speed estimate but it had to be at least 60 mph.
We reached Boyceville and appeared we were safe for the time being. The main complex still to our north wreaking havoc across Barron county. We traveled to Menomonie to attempt to race out ahead of the complex along I-94 east then eventually onto HWY 10 east in Osseo. A slight traffic delay occurred on I-94 near exit 45 where some strong outflow winds blew a large dust plume over the interstate causing traffic to nearly come to a halt. This effected our plan negatively. As soon we reached the first Eau Claire exit my patience was thin and the chase had to end for me. Justin and Chris continued and did eventually get ahead of the main complex on HWY 10 east. The storm caused major damage across NW and NE Wisconsin. It seemed like the HWY 8 corridor and areas north took the brunt of the storm. Not to mention isolated areas of NE WI that also sustained major tree damage. 2 confirmed tornadoes in Polk and Barron counties as well. Storm damage surveys were still being conducted at the time this write up took place. Damage costs and number of confirmed tornadoes are subject to change given the severity and complexity of this event.
I want to thank Justin for his forecast knowledge that day and Chris for forecasting and navigating us out of harm's way that day. We never achieved what we normally set out to do but with a set up like this we knew we wouldn't have alot of time to stop and assess the situation. Safety became a priority and rightfully so after learning about the amount of damage that occurred...