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Chase Report for 28/11/1998 By Ira Fehlberg
I had been monitoring conditions since about Thursday night and a review of upper and mid level charts on Friday night showed that there was a mid level trough forming down the coast as is typical with our summer thunderstorms. Along with the surface feature was a good mid level moisture. I was on the net on Friday night chatting with Jacob and we both agreed conditions looked good.
By about mid morning on Saturday Altocumulus Castellatus was visible north of Perth, a good sign of thunderstorm activity looming. It also shows that the trough is already active further north. I printed out all the latest charts and headed off from my place at around 12:00pm. The trough was already ridging inland and so my plan was to drive NE to Toodyay. This is a good vantage point as its NE of the hills area and I can see from here if I need to head back to the coast or if the storms are already inland and thus to chase them East. On my way out I cloud see some nice Altocumulus Lenticar clouds over the hills. The trough line was visible by the time I had reached Midland.
Upon reaching Toodyay I could see storms building already to my NW. I went North on the Great Northern Highway towards Dalwallinu. I got myself up on the north side of the storms and since this is the side that supercells spawn tornadoes I was in perfect position. The first storm that came through was good with nice convection going. It had a nice anvil already and I followed it back down south eastwards. I paused at one spot for a while as there was a bigger storm coming in from behind. I took the opportunity to take some pictures and I waited for the storm to catch up so I could stay in behind it and follow them both. The two storms were quite close together. From the back of the second larger storm I could already see the tell tale white streaks of hail in the back which you can see in the last picture below.
I cut through to Goomalling and went through the town about 10 mins after the storm had hit. It was unreal. The sun was shining, middle of summer, but water was gushing down the streets. Locals were out walking around the streets looking to the skies like, what the hell was that? I took a few more pics and headed SE following the storm.
It was at this point that I noticed that the first storm was changing direction and tracking almost East to join the larger storm. This is usually a good sign that rotating has started as it turns east to follow better inflow. I followed dirt roads for about an hour, turning where I could to stay with the direction of the storm. It was around about this point that the storm was really starting to fire up. With two up draughts going and heavy, heavy rain punching out the back.
As I came along the roads there was water running off everywhere and it was making my progress difficult, even in a 4WD. The clay on top on the roads was soft and thick. All along the way I was seeing small bits of debris on the road. By now this thing was just hideous. It was massive, and raining hard. It had the whole supercell thing going just feeding itself, punching cool air and hail out the back, it never even looked like getting weaker. I found a bitumen road and went like the clappers to catch up a bit and got my self in perfect position. I was now about 20 South of the town of Dowerin. The storm now was just absolutely going berserk. I reckon it was easily over 50k's across and fully rotating. I parked my car on a small rise and waited for the storm to pass me. I was in perfect position. Well nearly. I was in a good spot to see a wall cloud if there was one there but still probably gonna cop the corner of the rear flank downdraught. Peering through the rain I could just make out a lowering which can be seen below.
The frighting moments of a chase earlier this year was still fresh in my memory. So I stayed my distance. The RFD is one nasty beast ill tell ya. As the storm closed in I could see and excellent updraught. I remember thinking to myself, "well if there's is gonna be a tornado this is probably where it'll be. As the storm moved closer it started to rain where I was and visibility was dropping. I noticed some movement in the desired area, I looked closer and I could see this low hanging kind of unorganised cloud appear. I thought "is that what I think it is". I got out of my car and there I saw a rotating column of air beyond a line of trees. Not the whole funnel was a condensated cloud mass. However it was plain to see that it was rotating. It seemed like it kind of got going good for a bit, then something kind of stuffed its inflow, it crapped out a bit. One kind of loses track of time in these situations but I estimate It lasted about 2 mins. I took as many pictures as I could at the time. As it turned I got three pics of the tornado before it started to rain. I had problems with the camera focusing and I really should have taken more pictures but for every second you look through the camera lens that's a second you don't see one of mother natures most awesome sights. Your caught between wanting to have good pictures and just being mesmerised and watching it. It sure is a weird feeling. For a second photos almost don't feel that important at all.
Anyway it was started to rain heavy now and my earlier plans of missing the RFD went down the tubes. The storm had now caught up to me. I turned my car directly into the wind across the road so as not to be side on to the wind, I was in no danger of being hit by another car, I couldn't even see the front of the car, no one would be driving in this. The hail came in hard and fast. Not big hail, about pea to Kool Mint sized, but fast. I couldn't take one single picture as the camera wouldn't even work and you know what a flash looks like reflecting off the inside of a windscreen. I opened the window a bit but it was like being in sandblaster. I gave up the idea of a picture and just sat back. This time there wasn't a tree for miles so I felt a little more comfortable. The whole thing lasted about 5-10mins. I went to drive off and it was very difficult to drive, it felt like I had two flat right hand tyres. I got out and trod into about 3 inch thick mud. I took a piccy of the tyres, got back in, stuck the car in 4WD (god bless my Subaru Brumby, a great little chase car!) and drove off.
Boy what a storm!! As I drove off I could only do about 40kph in the mud. Water was running of everywhere. Up until this stage I wasn't 100% confident that what I had seen was in fact a tornado. I thought it was definitely a funnel cloud but I was unsure if at some stage it had in fact been a tornado. What I saw as I came over a crest in the hill removed all doubt from my mind. The road was now bitumen and was perfectly clean except for a strip about 100mts wide that had about five trees down across the road completely blocking it. I pulled up and got out. Man I got goose bumps down my spine, I just thought "f--k me, I'm standing right where a tornado just passed minutes ago". the road also had wheat strewn across it, perfectly laid out. It was a sight, beautiful gold wheat across the road glistening in the sun. It looked so peaceful. The edge of the track was so defined. Looking at the ground Its like there's, a strand of wheat, a strand of wheat, a strand of wheat, clean road. It didn't like slowly get thinner over a few meters it was just there and then nothing. Hard to imagine with something so small. I stood on the bonnet of my car and took a picture of what I could see. It took me a while to get through as I had to drag several smaller trees out of the way. I drove around the larger trees and only just made it around the last big one. God bless my Subaru Brumby, again. A car any bigger wouldn't have got through. My first thoughts were to alert the SES in the area and I saw a farm house not far away and headed for it.
The damage where the Tornado crossed the road. Trees down and the wheat blown flat.
On the road up to the house there was small debris everywhere. I pulled up at the house to find no one home but two young girls. I asked if their father was home and they told me that "a Cockeyed had just past through their neighbours house and their father was helping them over there"! I looked around and noticed that the garage had been crushed some sheds had tin peeled off and were left open, the close line was down in the paddock, water tanks and general farm debris was everywhere. The place was a mess. I though boy if he left this mess the neighbours house must be rooted. I asked to use their two way radio and after some city folk bumbling around, come again, breaker, breaker, rubber ducky stuff I managed to alert the SES and help was on its way. I took a walk around to survey the damage. I asked the young girls if they had a rain gauge, they showed me where it was. It had 18mm in it and there was also a Dick Smith Anemometer next to it. It only goes up to 120kph and It was off the dial!! All the while the second storm I had seen earlier been approaching on the same track as the first. Shortly after this the farmer returned. I introduced myself, explained what I was doing and I asked the farmer if I could ride the next storm out with him inside his house, as I didn't fancy being in my car again. I decided to wait here for the next supercell to pass before I went to investigate the damage track of the tornado I had seen. I told him to tell everyone on the two way to baton down cause it wasn't over yet. This second super cell also looked like a ripper. The storm took about 45min to come in. As it came nearer it was just awesome. Dropping CG's everywhere. It was as good as the first storm just smaller. The gust front was just unreal. This thing had some real motion. It was just hanging down but unattached to the main storm. The whole storm base was rotating with motion I've never seen. I really cant describe it. Just think of the most intense moments you've ever experienced in your life and how pathetic it feels trying to explain how it felt to someone else. Words simply do not do it any justice. I took pictures every minute or so as it came in. I suppose they tell the best part of half the story. The easterly wind of the inflow was quite strong.
The gust front finally hit us, followed by an uneasy calm for a bit, then the main outflow wind came. We went inside and it quickly picked up. I stood at the sliding door facing the storm to watch at first. As the wind picked up I could see tress going down in he paddock and the whole house started to shake, every door and window was rattling. Then as we were looking out the back the roller door of the garage peeled off and came over the top of the house and crashed into the paddock on the other side of the house. I took one picture and then the roller door along with the shaking windows and walls encouraged me to get everyone further inside the house. We stood in the hallway at the front of the house as rain came in around the shut back door and down the hall. It was like someone had a hose and were spraying it down the hallway. Two windows blew in at the height of it all. Below is the view from inside the house.
We waited it out. With the wind dying off we went out to see what had happened. One funny point, never take your shoes off as you enter someone's house to ride out a storm unless you fancy walking around bear foot in mud trying to find your shoes in the paddocks. I found my shoes not far away but the farmer wasn't so lucky. With the storm moving away I went around the house to look at the storm going away from us and it had a beautiful rainbow right across the back of it. Seems like such an irony.
Damage around the house.
The supercell disappearing eastwards.
I followed the farmer over to his neighbours house about 2k's south. Its actually his house, one of his workers lives there. There were several large trees down in his yard and one large one had come down on the power lines. About 60% of his trees were snapped off. Small debris lying around is too numerous to mention, antenna, water tanks, cubby house gone, etc etc. There are several items throw out to the side. Bits of tin and stuff about 100m out in the paddocks. Some tree branches are wrapped around the fences. Damage to the house was minimal. Antenna's gone, a few tiles lifted and some broken fibro panels etc. The damage is consistent with an F-0 Tornado.
Damage around the second house
The farmer, Ray and his wife were home at the time of the tornado. He and his wife were watching the approaching storm when they said it started to rain quite heavy. Then all of a sudden it kind of stopped raining and the wind just built really quickly. They said that they have never ever seen wind like that. The farmers wife described what she saw to me as this. "I was looking out the front and the clouds just before the wind hit were really weird, hanging down real low and just going all over the place" ( she was indicating rotation with her hands as clockwise ). "There was no warning and when it hit it just hit with a real blow". "We shut the door and crouched in the hall with the kids". "The noise was so loud, the house was shaking and rattling, trees snapping in two". "It only lasted about 30 seconds". "We couldn't go outside straight away as the hail and rain started up again almost immediately and lasted about 10 mins or so". Her description matched that of what I saw, a tornado wrapped in rain. Their house was in the direction of where I was looking while parked on the road and is in a straight bearing to where the trees were down over the road. The track length is approx 2k's long.
I took some photos here of the damage and I didn't really have enough petrol to chase the storms further east as there were no petrol stations. Plus the storm were now well ahead of me and powering away fast. So I returned to Perth. 600k's later I got back to my home in Perth around 8:30pm. I later found out from the BOM that another Tornado removed a roof from a house about 100k's further east.
Upon reflection a few days later It certainly was a great chase. However not a difficult one. I often listen with frustration to people saying things like, man I wish I was there, or your so lucky or whatever. All I did was observe a mid level trough, the channel 7 news will tell you that much and then drive to Toodyay. All the rest after that anyone could have done. I simply followed storms that could be seen from 100k's away. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm passionate about severe weather and I want to encourage others to be the same. The next decade I believe will be revolutionary in Australia concerning tornadoes and their deadly mix with people. To all who read this, be a part of it!! learn all you can and get out there, you don't see jack sitting at home watching the cricket. Its really not that hard.