Storm Chase Tour - Sept & Oct 98.
1 - Despair as the death ridge from hell
For several months Jimmy Deguara of Australian Severe Weather had been trying to organise a group chase for the 1998 season. The only dates suiting many of the interested parties was during the University and School holiday break of late September to early October. Ideally to chase in November / December would be more productive, but the target area of the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales has produced many severe September storms. It was a gamble, one that was lost in the first week. Had the chase been started one week later we would have had supercells and tornadoes.
Conditions on day one, the 26th September 1998 were looking slightly optimistic, there was some instability in the middle layers of the atmosphere, and the MRF model in particular was predicting some light shower activity just over the border into Queensland. Joining the chase this week was Jimmy Deguara, Paul Graham, Paul Yole and Michael Thompson. We pinned hopes in the south east Queensland trough triggering some storms and decided to move as far north as possible on day one. The total trip for the day was around 600 kilometres ( 350 miles ). Near the small town of Uralla we witnessed a superb sunset. We stayed the night in a small truck stop motel at a place called Black Mountain, at an altitude of 1350m ( 4500ft ).
The next morning was cool, unfortunately all trace of the middle layer instability had cleared. Early in the morning there was fast moving stratocumulus from the west associated with upsloped air, we had some small hope that this may burn off and cumulus develop during the day.Mid morning we visited the small city of Armidale ( that in September 1996 had been hit by baseball sized hail and downburst winds) to check the internet models. The prognosis was very poor, there was a weak surface trough in south east Queensland, but the jet streams were converging over eastern Australia, aiding a persistent high pressure that was ridging all the way back from near New Zealand. By noon the stratocumulus had burnt off and small cumulus had developed from surface convection, but it was capped tighter than a soda bottle. We put our slim hopes on the weak surface trough and drove another 200 kms ( 120 miles ) northwards to the small town of Tenterfield. Conditions to the north looked visually poor so we decided to quit for the day and sought accommodation. With a couple of hours to kill until sunset some of us took a run eastwards to the eastern escarpment, the best cumulus development had occurred on the weak seabreeze front, which by 6pm had penetrated inland to the escarpment, but again it was well capped.If nothing else it made a colourful photo.
With the poor outlook we decided to sleep in the next morning. Mid morning we again checked the internet models, the situation was getting worse, the ridge had strengthened, although the weak surface trough in south eastern Queensland still persisted. The Queensland Bureau of Meteorology was forecasting afternoon showers east of the trough, with this small hope we pushed further northwards into Queensland.
The town of Stanthorpe in Queensland is the only part of that state were snow can occasionally fall, the area is blessed with rich soils and stone fruits and apples are grown in the area. Hail is that common in Stanthorpe that many orchards are covered with hail nets, and believe it or not the local farmers still swear by their ' hail cannons'. Unfortunately none of these devices were to be needed this week. We decided that pushing further into Queensland would be futile and called it a day. We filled the rest of the day taking silly photos such as the Texas and Storm King Dam road signs. ( the Queensland town of Texas has recorded a tornado ).
Tuesday the 29th September 1998, and the charts and models looked dreadful, the shallow Queensland trough had disappeared, and the high pressure ridge had consolidated, upper atmosphere was also poor with full on convergence over us. Michael Bath of Australian Severe Weather who unfortunately could not come on the chase had christened the situation as the ' Death ridge from Hell ', indeed it was producing some early spring heat in southern Australia with Sydney aiming for a record run of over 30C ( 86F ) days. The chase team decided to stay put and went for a 150km ( 90 miles ) drive eastwards to the world heritage listed Washpool National Park, this park contains several different rainforest zones from sub tropical to cool temperate. There was some cumulus development on the escarpment edge but it was capped. On our return to Tenterfield Jimmy's car suffered at flat tyre.
If yesterdays prospects were bad, today's were worse, the Death ridge from Hell was very much alive and was dominating all weather over eastern Australia. We drove southwards back to Armidale from where we checked the internet. The models suggested that some activity may develop later in the week along the New South Wales / Victorian border, almost 1500km ( 900 miles ) from Armidale. We discussed the options and decided to push southwards in the hope that the weather may meet us somewhere down the track in the next two to three days. One thing was certain, staying in Armidale was only useful for a suntan. At 4pm in Tamworth we had a roadside discussion, Tamworth was situated at the junction of three major highways, we had two options, the first to gamble on the weather and take the Oxley Hwy westwards, then the Newell Hwy southwards, this would commit us to two to three days on the road in anticipation, or secondly to basically postpone the chase and head back to Sydney that night and wait for better weather. We decided on the Sydney option and reached home about midnight.
The next few days vindicated our choice, the ' Death ridge from Hell ' gave Sydney its record run of plus 30C ( 86F ) days, and no activity occurred in New South Wales or Queensland.
Saturday, October the 3rd and at last the ' Death ridge from Hell ' was breaking up. A weak cold front was pushing into New South Wales and afternoon thunderstorms were a slight possibility for Sydney. With two chasers from Victoria in Sydney it was decided to have an informal chasers meeting in Sydney, the venue chosen was Rooty Hill, from where we could keep an eye on the weather during the meeting. The meeting went well, the weather just did not do it, the lasts gasps of the ' Death ridge from Hell ' keep humidity less than 30%, winds were strong from the North West. Late in the day some cumulus developed off the coast in the far south east, this held promise for tomorrow.
Some Australian chasers - from left to right CLYVE HERBERT, Geelong, Victoria. Michael Bath, Sydney, New South Wales. David Croan, Sydney New South Wales, Darren Heys, Sydney, At laptop, Jimmy Deguara from Sydney, New South Wales. Sitting Paul Yole from Murtoa, the Wheat fields of Western Victorian. Paul Graham, Sydney, New South Wales. Photo taken by Michael Thompson, Shellharbour, New South Wales.
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