Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The right place at the right time

Thumbprint of a Tornado. Click on Today's Forecast (upper right) to see video of the tornado that touched down over South Minneapolis! The spectacular video of the EF0 or EF1 tornado that hit south Minneapolis around 2 pm (no watches or warnings at the time) corresponded with this SRV, Storm Relative Velocity image from the Twin Cities, MPX Doppler Radar. Note the vivid "couplet" just east of St. Louis Park, over south Minneapolis. The bright green is air moving toward the radar site (in Chanhassen), while the bright red air is moving away from the site, suggesting very strong rotation in this particular T-storm cell. The Doppler signature is a strong hint that this was, in fact, a small tornado, and not straight-line winds. (source: WeatherNation,

Doppler Evidence of a Tornado. Close-up of the SRV Doppler display, showing a developing tornado over south Minneapolis around 2 pm Wednesday afternoon. Check on the complete weather video at Conservation Minnesota to see the tornado that hit south Minneapolis.

By now you may have clicked on the video at Conservation Minnesota ( and seen the fairly spectacular footage taken by WeatherNation meteorologist Kristin Clark this afternoon around 2 pm. She was on her Uptown balcony, with a sweeping view of downtown Minneapolis, with her parents, Tom and Noreen Clark (who I went to college with). Tom is a dear friend, the best man at my wedding, and a phenomenal TV meteorologist up in the Twin Cities of northeastern PA, Wilkes/Barre - Scranton. So they're standing outside, admiring the view, no watches, no warnings, no sirens.

WeatherNation meteorologist Kristin Clark, who captured the tornado that formed over South Minneapolis around 2 pm Wednesday afternoon. The video can be seen at

Suddenly skies brighten a bit, their eyes focus on a dark, lowering cloud. What the...? It sure looks like a wall cloud, but how could that be? No tornado watches, no way! Suddenly, with camera rolling, Kristin, Tom and Noreen are witnessing debris being thrown up into the air, the EF0 or EF1 tornado racing north towards downtown Minneapolis! My friend, Doug Williams, who works as a patent litigator at Fullbright Partners reported seeing flying debris from his high-rise office building around 2:30! What the tornado sucked up over S. Minneapolis it dropped right on the downtown.

What does this prove? It's good to be lucky, and Kristin was in the right place at the right time. In her words "I'm no longer a tornado virgin." Amen to that. It also underscores the fact that tornadoes can hit major cities. Just because you live in a metropolitan area does not mean you're immune from a tornado risk.

Today's freak-downtown-tornado also underscores the fact that Doppler radar isn't perfect. It works best on the big tornadoes. Many times the small twisters, the EF0s and EF1s will get "lost in the sauce", it's very difficult catching every tornado of this size in advance. The bottom line: there's still no substitute for common sense. Even if the sirens aren't sounding, if you see clouds rotating, lowering to the ground, if you're witnessing debris being tossed up into the air, do the right thing and head for safety!

In Kristin's defense, she's a smart gal: she could see - instantly - the tornado was moving away from her, racing north toward the downtown skyline at close to 30 mph. As much as we all liked watching her video, nothing is worth putting your life at risk, no more how dramatic the visuals. I'll have more on today's crazy tornado touchdown later this evening (there were other touchdowns near Cottage Grove - so far damage appears to be fairly light, but we don't have all the information just yet).

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