This blog is to talk about the chase experience I had when chasing in the Arkansas Delta on Friday March 31st, 2023. For the blog, I want to focus on the meteorological environment, chase locations and the storms that my chase partner and I managed to document and photograph. As mentioned, I did have a chase partner with me, which is one of my golden rules when it comes to chasing (might have just came up with another blog idea for another time).
For the respect of my chase partner, I will not mention them by name as they have not released all of their details and information. As a disclaimer, some of the timings and locations that are mentioned may not be pinpoint exact given that these storms were moving at a really fast speed. I was also helping my chase partner navigate and watching radar as they were driving. I think this will provide some pros and cons when chasing around the Arkansas Delta.
Meteorological Data and Chase Target
On Friday March 31st, 2023, the NOAA/NWS* Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had issued a moderate risk for severe weather that extended from Iowa to northern Mississippi and the Arkansas Delta. The 12z sounding from Little Rock, Arkansas showed a very favorable wind shear for severe weather, however, the unstable airmass had not moved into the area at this time. This can be seen within the 12z sounding, where Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) values are very low.
At 10:47 AM CDT, SPC sent out a mesoscale discussion regarding that a small portion of the moderate risk will be upgraded to a High risk with the 11:30 AM CDT update. This was due to the fact the environment was becoming very unstable and more favorable for supercells and potentially long-track tornadoes.
At 11:30 AM CDT, SPC had upgraded (area in pink) portions of the Arkansas Delta to a High Risk for severe weather. When the 18z sounding became available, it was very apparent that the unstable airmass had moved into the region and CAPE values had increased to 1,646 J/kg based on the 18z sounding data from Little Rock, AR.
To give a reference, CAPE values of 1,000 or less is considered low, while CAPE values of 1,500 J/kg is considered moderate, and anything over 2,500 J/kg is considered high. Based on severe weather climatology, the majority of severe weather events across Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama are in low-CAPE environments. With the 18z sounding data, it was evident that heading toward Little Rock would provide the best potential to see tornadic supercells during the day.
Since heading west was going to be the best option to potentially see tornadic supercells, the next decision was to figure out where and how far west.
The two main concerns heading into Friday’s chase were storm motion and visibility. There was potential for the storm motion to be around 50 to 60 mph, which is considered highway and interstate speed which can make it difficult to keep up. The combination of avoiding any heavily forested area, hills, and winding roads made it challenging.
Given these factors, it was in the best interest to head toward Forest City, AR, and wait to see what comes in our direction.
Wynne, AR Tornado
Around 4:00 PM CDT, we left Forest City and began heading towards Colt, AR, which is about 6 miles south of Wynne, AR. We decided to sit along the side of CR-239 as we waited for the supercell. This supercell had dropped a significant tornado within the Little Rock area hours before. We figured that this supercell would have the best potential since the supercell had a history of producing a tornado.
Around 4:15 PM CDT, the NWS issued a tornado warning for the supercell. Given the trajectory of the supercell and the obstruction by the trees, we decided to push further north on CR-239, about another mile to the north of our original post. From this position, we had a clearer view of the tornado as it was touching down.
As the tornado continued off towards the northeast, it had become rain-wrapped and made it difficult to see from our position. We had attempted to reposition but were unable to continue following the storm given the lack of visibility and the storm motion. The supercell was moving at about 60 mph, which made it more difficult to keep. Because of this, we decided it was in our best interest to end the chase on this storm.
Lexa, AR Supercell
After ending the chase with the Wynne, AR tornado around 6:15 PM CDT, we decided to head back towards Forest City, AR since radar imagery was showing two more tornado-warned supercells tracking towards the northeast. The first supercell was near Brinkley, AR and the second was near Almyra, AR.
It was in the best interest to chase after the southern supercell, as it would have a better chance of developing and taking advantage of the environment. This ended up being a great choice as this supercell was heading towards Lexa, AR, had a clear view towards the west and was not obscured by trees, as we were around Colt, AR.
Another added bonus with this supercell, we still had plenty of daylight to see as well. Our goal when chasing is to chase when there is sunlight. The main reason is that we are able to see around us. Chasing night is very difficult as there is very little light to aluminate the storm.
Lightning is the only source of light that can aluminate the storm and sometimes, it is still difficult to see the storm. With the decision of going to Lexa, AR, it was the best of both worlds. Also, with storm motion being around 50 to 60 mph, we did not want to run into the risk of getting behind the supercell and not being able to see or catch up to the storm.
Around 6:30 PM CDT, we made it to Lexa, AR, and decided to post along AR 1, south of AR 121. At this time, we just waited for the storm to approach from the west and managed to get some great lightning photos while waiting for the supercell.
After setting for about 30 minutes, we decided to push further south. One main reason was that the rotation was heading for our location and we did not want to be in the path of the tornado warn storm in case it did drop a tornado. As we continued heading south, we stopped for a moment and manage to see tornado warned supercell rotate and kicking up dust on the ground. It is unclear if the tornado touched down or not. Will have to wait to see what the NWS says regarding this storm.
For now, what I can say is there was rotation and dust was being kicked up and potentially spinning. Nevertheless, it was an amazing experience to be able to see it happening. Similar to the Wynne, AR Tornado, once the storm pushed off towards the northeast, it gained speed and became very difficult to keep up with the storm. We also were able to see the wall cloud to cross the road as it pushed off towards the northeast.
Takeaways from Chasing
Overall, this was a very successful chase as my chase partner and I managed to document two supercells, with one being a confirmed tornado. It also showed that it’s possible to chase within the Arkansas Delta despite having to overcome obstacles that were out of our hands. However, the chase also showed some cons when chasing in the Arkansas Delta.
For one, while there were fewer obstructions, trees and winding roads still posed some challenges when chasing. Secondly, storm motion also posed some issues as they were moving near or at highway speeds, making it difficult to keep up in these areas. Despite these issues, we managed to have a successful chase and managed to document two supercells. This shows that chasing within the Arkansas Delta can be as rewarding, or even more, as chasing in traditional Tornado Alley, especially when it is done right.
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