Initial target – Wooster, Wayne County OH, 1330 Eastern.
Starting point – Shanor-Northvue, Butler County PA, 0900 Eastern.
Successful intercept – 3.5 Miles southwest of Shelby OH, 1630 Eastern.
Associates – NEOChasers group, Jonny Glessner
Counties traversed – Pennsylvania; Butler, Lawrence, Mercer. Ohio – Trumbull, Mahoning, Portage, Summit, Medina, Wayne, Holmes, Knox, Ashland, Richland.
Financial Cost – $84.00 (Rounded)
Tech utilized (Hardware) – Sony HDR-CX440, Fuji Finepix XP95, Dell Latitude D630, Kyocera Duraforce PRO (Sprint), Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5″ (Sprint), WeBoost Drive 4G-S, WxWorx REWX9ID, Yaesu FTM-100DR, Kenwood TK8180, Uniden BCD996P2, Cobra CX645
Tech utilized (Software) – Baron Mobile Threat Net (PC), Gibson Ridge Level 3 (PC), WeatherOps (Android), Radarscope (Android).
Leadup – SPC had shown the potential for severe weather across the region through the issuance of a Day 3 Enhanced/Slight for Ohio and Pennsylvania, landing on 4/14/19. Longer model runs, particularly the NAM, showed potential for an outbreak of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms as early as April 12, for much of the area from the PA/OH border, south into Virginia, Tennessee, and on into Georgia. Model guidance closer to go time, in the 24 hours preceding the event seemed to be somewhat in agreement, between the HRRR and the HRW WRF-NSSL, in showing strong helicity tracks over north-central/northwest Ohio during the 1500-1700 Eastern timeframe. Models began to wildly disagree closer to the event, and as a precaution, a central initial base point of the town of Wooster, in Wayne County Ohio, was selected.
Associates – Earlier discussion of the day’s events had unfolded on the Stormtrack Discord Server, with Angelo Aristide, Commander of the NEOChasers group, showing interest in chasing the same area. Upon my arrival in Wooster, Commander Aristide contacted me via the ST Discord, and asked to meet in Wooster, at the Beall Ave McDonalds. Such meeting occurred, concurrent with initial in-service briefing, and the convoy core of two NEOChasers members including Commander Aristide, NEOChasers associate Jonny Glessner, and Myself, was formed. Issuance of one (1) Cobra CX645 UHF two-way radio was given to Commander Aristide to facilitate inter-convoy communication.
Early day – I awoke to an alarm at 0630 Eastern and took a cursory look at model guidance. The HRRR was waffling in it’s earlier assessments, however some encouraging signs were noted, and the previous day’s decision to establish base/staging in Mt. Gilead, Richland County OH was revised to Wooster, Wayne County OH, approximately a 50 minute drive east of Mt. Gilead, and a 2-hour drive from my home base of Butler County PA. Conditions at 0900 Eastern at Butler were cold, 42 degrees, with moderate rainfall and a heavily overcast sky. By 0930 Eastern, all chase equipment had been placed into my Chase Rig, had been made active and proper, and the expedition commenced. Initial direction was Route 8 south to 422 West, to the Pilot/Flying J truck stop for breakfast and fuel. Conditions at 1000 Eastern at Prospect PA were cold, 45 degrees, with heavy rainfall, and a heavily overcast sky.
Flying J saw the purchase of 4 Tornados breakfast rollers and a Monster Hydro Mean Green for breakfast, and a half tank of fuel. From there, I traveled I79/I80/I76 to Rt 224 South/585 West into Wooster Ohio. Radio traffic on various state and local public safety systems indicated that agencies were well prepared for the day’s events, and radio traffic on the MARCS-IP Ohio Turnpike Commission talkgroups consisted of event briefings and manual weather station readings along the Turnpike. I established staging at McDonalds on Beall Ave, at 1310 Eastern, and awaited earlier mentioned associate contacts. Conditions in Wooster were overcast and dry, at 53 degrees.
Conference – Activity at staging was jovial and in good spirits. Over food, many potential plans of attack were discussed, with the only truly acceptable plays being south and west. The Ohio River Valley was deemed to be too dangerous, and general consensus was that nothing would fire in Eastern Ohio/Western PA until very late in the day. Discussion also centered on the conditional loss of cloud cover, relative to chances throughout the day, due to suppression of daytime heating. As we were in conference, a noticeable change in daylight outside occurred, with most of the lower cloud deck disappearing to reveal beautiful blue skies. We moved staging to an automated gas station outside of town on 585 to await initiation. Conditions 1mi north of Wooster at 1400 Eastern was calm southerly winds, dry, at 65 degrees. Team operations were kept on Stormtrack’s “7’s Initiative” simplex channel of GMRS 7/Code 7 (462.7125/85.4 TSQ).
Initiation – Near/around 1420 Eastern, storms began firing in southwestern Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southern Indiana. What appeared to be tandem lows were moving north-northeast from southeastern Indiana, pushing a warm front northward and dragging a trailing cold front, with storms beginning to fire along the warm front. Initially, we agreed on the southern targets, as storms were firing around Columbus. After a fuel and restroom stop, Glessner took the lead in his Chase Rig with the NEOChasers on-board, and I followed. Travel was southward, into the center of Holmes County, before turning westward in the town of Millersburg. During this time, both parties had been watching developing discrete supercells forming just north of Dayton Ohio. We stopped on 39, just outside of Millersburg on a hilltop to get a better handle on the day. Conditions at Millersburg at 1545 were sunny, dry, clear, and 75 degrees.
Re-Selection of Target – At Millersburg, a re-evaluation of targets occurred. Glessner, Aristide, and Myself all concurred that the southern storms were taking on a messy appearance, and that the western storms were far more organized. It should be noted that, at this time, neither my phone nor tablet had data, and I was basing my own evaluation off of tops visible to the eye from our vantage point, and on low-resolution NEXRAD composite radar delivered to Mobile Threat Net.
Pushing for the Target – We agreed to shoot for the western storms, and made haste into Loudonville Ohio, then north through Hayesville Ohio, onto Route 30 west through Mansfield. Public safety radio traffic on the Loudonville DMR system, Mansfield P25 system, and local county talkgroups on the MARCS-IP system indicated awareness of the event. Highway Patrol talkgroup traffic on the MARCS-IP system indicated that OHP was staging around the area, prepared for disaster response, and a check of on-board radar countermeasures revealed, near posting positions, that OHP was indeed staging for disaster considerations, and did not have their speed monitoring equipment activated. Shortly after 1600 Eastern, the Richland County Skywarn Amateur Radio Net was activated by RCEMA on Richland 1 (146.940, 71.9 TSQ), which I checked in on. The Skywarn Net denoted the presence of hail falling in Ashland County. We continued west on Route 30 as the target storm went TOR-warned. Baron issued the vocal “twisting storm” warning multiple times at this point, as we closed a distance gap of 40 miles. By 1615, we had reached the exit for Route 61, to a very dark sky to our west, with left-right movement, a rain-free base, and strong easterly winds.
Site Operations – We positioned roughly 200 feet north of the 30/61 interchange, north heading, near Crestline, and disembarked the Rigs. A pronounced, shaggy, gray, donut-shaped lowering with persistent rotation was noted moving rapidly on our location, emanating from a consistent blackish-blue wall cloud. Notable features were said donut/nascent funnel cloud, RFD cut, inflow notch, and tail cloud. Commander Aristide reported this rotating feature through SpotterNetwork, and I reported same to the Richland County Skywarn Amateur Radio Net, and we moved our position approximately 1/2 mile to the south, withdrawing from the Killbox, and allowing the center of rotation to pass over our former position. Our new position was nearly immediately determined to be unsafe, as a visible rear inflow jet feature was seen blowing branches out of the treeline, approximately 100 yards to our west, and adjusting closer on our position, as the center of rotation moved just beyond the treeline, and thus, our sightline.
We repositioned south, east, and back to the north, onto a hilltop with fairly decent sightlines. Potential debris was noted at one point shortly after 1630, on our watch, and we had a clearer view of the parent supercell, which was still exhibiting turbulent lower-level motion and dragging an RFD and tail cloud. EMA Sirens were audible in the distance. It was at this time that the tornado was causing damage in the town of Shelby, of which we were unaware at the time. We decided to try getting a better view of the storm by taking the next available routes north and east to get back into sightline.
When leaving this vantage point, I began to intercept radio traffic on the Richland County VHF fire system and the Shelby P25 police channel that Shelby had taken a hard hit. Shelby was approximately 2 miles to our north at this point. Traffic was relayed to Aristide, and a course was set for Shelby. At one point on Route 314, the dying tornado was briefly visible through the treeline to the east.
Upon arrival on Route 314 into Shelby, we disembarked, and spoke to local residents, attempting to gauge any potential casualties, to which none were known or apparent in our immediate area, south of town, at 314 and 61. The area had sustained obvious tornado damage, in my experienced opinion. Whole stands of trees had been broken off, some with an obvious twisting motion, at 8-20 feet above the ground, while others were felled in random directions. Multiple power poles and lines were down as well. One man we spoke to had damage to some vehicles on his property, and another woman we spoke to had lost the roof of her house, and an entire tool shed whole. The thick stand of trees at 314 and 61 was mostly flattened, and a house on the east side of 61, about a quarter mile north of 314/61 was missing it’s roof. Damage was also apparent down 61 to the west, with the entire road covered in power poles, electrical wires, and trees, and a 100′ pole barn visible with no roofing material, and multiple damaged houses. Damage footage was respectfully obtained, with some footage transmitted to NWS Cleveland. Seeing/hearing of no injuries in that immediate area, and seeing fire and EMS arrive, and then leave, we likewise left, leaving an EMA volunteer blocking 61 with multiple farmers now arriving on the scene. Due to downed trees and lines, we were unable to continue into Shelby proper, and had to head back south on 314, and leave the area, by 1715 Eastern.
New Targets – Commander Aristide gave an interview to News 19 while leaving Shelby, on the phone. At this point, the cell that birthed our tornado had weakened and was moving on, while what was the southern storms from earlier had congealed into a massive line segment that stretched from Lake Erie southward, across the entire area, about 30 miles to our east, moving eastward. WeatherOps and Mobile Threat Net had the entire line as having significant potential for tornadoes, with Critical Weather Intelligence marking nearly the whole line with a BTI of 2.0 or higher, as well as high electrical activity. We decided to head northeast on I71, and I76 and I80 eastward, attempting to punch through the back of the line, and to get ahead of it. The temperature en route had dropped into the 50’s, and rain was very heavy, with haze. Road conditions were treacherous, and we were losing daylight.
Breaking Off/Going Home – I had to slow my speed, as driving was becoming significantly difficult on I80 east, just past the OH/PA border, while Glessner and NEOChasers pushed forward. After Sharon PA, I lost radio contact with the other vehicle, and at the Pittsburgh I79 exit, I ditched southward to get out of the rain core that I had been moving in for miles. Commander Aristide contacted me by cell phone, and we arranged the end of the chase day. They continued on with their chase to Emlenton PA, and I continued on to home. Conditions at Butler at 1945 Eastern was 58 degrees, with a thunderstorm, and cold rain.
Update – The following day, an NWS CLE survey team concluded that this tornado would be rated EF2, with winds at 120-125mph, a track length of 17 miles, and a path width of 1/2 mile. Video from Shelby residents would show a messy gray wedge tornado, consistent with positioning, coloring, and motion vector that we had observed earlier.